HMSS’s favorite character actors: Robert Drivas

Robert Drivas, as Morgan Midas, struggles with Robert Conrad's James West

Robert Drivas in The Wild, Wild West

One in an occasional series

Robert Drivas had a talent for playing characters who seemed normal on the outside but were wound just a little tight on the inside.

In the first season of The Wild, Wild West, Drivas portrayed Morgan Midas, who had a rather ambitious scheme. He stole diamonds and melted them down to create a serum that allowed him to move at super speed.

The episode, The Night of the Burning Diamond, written by Ken Kolb, was pure fantasy, stretching the limits for a series that was often unconventional. But Drivas was an engrossing villain, one who often dominated the scenes where he appeared.

Drivas appeared in a number of episodes of Quinn Martin-produced shows. One of his best performances was in a two-part story in The FBI. Drivas played Paul Clamenti, a man in his mid-20s with lots of issues. Clamenti’s parents had been killed as part of La Cosa Nostra violence and he was adopted by his aunt and uncle.

Problem: his uncle, Edward (Telly Savalas), was one of the chiefs of the Cosa Nostra. He also fell in love with Chris Roland (Susan Strasberg), who was the daughter of Leo Roland (Walter Pidgeon), another mob boss.

On top of all that, Paul Clamenti decided to be a hit man on the side. His specialty was to shoot his victims twice in the heart, earning him the nickname Cupid. That sounds rather melodramatic, but Drivas pulled it off, more than holding his own in scenes with old pros.

Drivas also played a key role in the only three-part story in the original Hawaii Five-O series, V is for Vashon. Drivas, by this time in his 30s, played Chris Vashon, the early 20s scion of the Vashon crime family in Hawaii.

Once again, Drivas played opposite old pros (Harold Gould as his father, Luther Adler as his grandfather) and held his own. Chris Vashon died at the end of the first installment, an event that drives the remaining parts of the story.

Drivas played a variety of parts during his career, including Loudmouth Steve in Cool Hand Luke. He died of AIDS-related cancer in 1986 at the age of 47.

The FBI’s homage to The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

We were checking out the DVD release of The FBI’s second season and came across what had to be a clear homage to The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as The FBI's Lewis Erskine


The FBI episode involved was the first of a two-part episode called “The Executioners,” in which guest stars Walter Pidgeon and Telly Savalas play a pair of mob bosses and aired in the spring of 1967. Anyway, here are the similarities to U.N.C.L.E.

U.N.C.L.E.: U.N.C.L.E.’s New York headquarters uses Del Floria’s Tailor Shop as a front. U.N.C.L.E. personnel go into a changing room, pull on a hook, which activates a hidden door that leads to the security entrance, where viewers would see Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) enter.

The FBI: La Cosa Nostra uses Milo’s clothing store in New York as a front. Mobsters go behind a changing screen that obscures a door. Once inside, they pull a hook, which activates a hidden door that leads to La Cosa Nostra’s hidden armory.

Robert Vaughn and David McCallum in an U.N.C.L.E. publicity still.


Another similarity: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s pilot, The Vulcan Affair, was directed by Don Medford, and later released as a movie, To Trap a Spy. The FBI episode was directed by Don Medford and later released as a movie, Cosa Nostra, Arch Enemy of the FBI (outside the U.S.).

Meanwhile the new DVD has three bonuses. 1) At the start of part I, we have the “bumper” where announcer Hank Simms says, “Next…The FBI…in color!” That has been stripped from other episodes after it went to syndication and color became commonplace. 2) In the main titles, we see the Ford Motor Co. logo. “The Ford Motor Company presents…The FBI, a Quinn Martin/Warner Bros. production!” That’s from the original broadcast version and has been stripped from other episodes after the show went into syndication. 3) At the very end, we see star Efrem Zimbalist Jr. tell us we’ve only seen the first half of the story and to tune in next week.

UPDATE (Feb. 22): We watched Part II on the DVD. It also has the Ford Motor Co. as part of the main titles. At the end (no spoilers): we see a brief sequence with Efrem Zimbalist Jr.: “Next week, The FBI will not be seen so the Ford Motor Co. can present an inspiring motor picture, The Robe, starring Richard Burton, Jean Simmons and Victor Mature.” Zimbalist assures viewers that The FBI will return in two weeks.

UPDATE (April 14): Warner Bros. uploaded a clip from Part I of The Executioners to YouTube showing the secret Cosa Nostra weapons drop. Decide for yourself whether Milo’s resembles U.N.C.L.E.’s Del Floria’s secret entrance.

Season Two of The FBI coming to DVD

Season Two (1966-67) of Quinn Martin’s The FBI series starring Efrem Zimbalist Jr. is coming out this spring, according to the TV Shows on DVD Web site.

Some details:

Efrem Zimbalist Jr., star of The FBI

Last May the folks at the Warner Archive released an MOD (manufacture on demand) DVD set for The F.B.I. – The 1st Season, Part 1, and then followed it up quickly in August with their The F.B.I. – The 1st Season, Part 2 MOD set. Both titles, like many Warner Archive releases, were also made available from Amazon’s CreateSpace program, too.

The Warner Archive Collection team hasn’t announced this themselves, as it’s a bit earlier than they normally would do so. However, two new pre-order listings at Amazon.com show that MOD versions of “The F.B.I. – The 2nd Season, Part 1” and “The F.B.I. – The 2nd Season, Part 2” are in the works, with an availability date on both of them marked there for April 3rd.

Assuming this is all true (and the Web site has a good record of accuracy), that means a treasure trove of espionage-related episodes of the 1965-74 series will become available. They include Vendetta, where John Van Dreelan plays an ex-Nazi now spying for the Eastern Bloc; List For a Firing Squad, where The FBI and Eastern Bloc agents are after the same operative who has obtained a list of underground leaders in an unnamed Communist country; and The Assassin, where a very ordinary looking man turns out to be an assassin working for an Eastern country (and there’s a brief dig at James Bond).

Other highlights of the season include a two-part story, The Executioners, which was released by Warner Bros as a movie outside the U.S., with a guest cast that includes Walter Pidgeon, Robert Duvall, Susan Strasberg and Celeste Holm. (The FBI was a co-production of QM Productions and Warner Bros.)

UPDATE: On Feb. 7 Warner Archive made THIS TWEET about this post. It reads:

Rumors of Season Two of The FBI appearing at places like The HMSS Weblog – Oh Internet! http://bit.ly/xZOwa8

Not clear whether that’s a denial or a confirmation.