Tuesday, August 28, 2012

R.I.P. Steve Franken

Sadly, another obit. Steve Franken was one of the first character actors I recognized on sight. He was in darn nearly every sixties sitcom--seven times as seven different characters in BEWITCHED alone! TV fans probably remember him best, however, as spoiled rich teenager Chatsworth Osborne the Third on THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Land of the Giants

Around here, LAND OF THE GIANTS was considered just another kids show so the local affiliate bumped it to Sunday afternoons for, I believe, its entire two-season run! Former Teenage Frankenstein and BURKE'S LAW co-star Gary Conway toplined as a the Captain of the Spindrift, a futuristic spacecraft-style air transport. Its passengers and crew get stranded on a planet where they are the size of dolls.

Thanks to Allen Singer for many of these rare magazine and newspaper clippings.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Who's Your U.N.C.L.E.?

Premiering in the Fall of 1964 as TV's response to the popularity of the James Bond movies in theaters, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. was the story of a top American secret agent with the unlikely name of Napoleon Solo. In fact, the original pilot was just entitled SOLO. The name itself was more or less created by Bond creator Ian Fleming and, in fact, a "Solo" appears as a minor character in '64's GOLDFINGER.

The initial black and white season of U.N.C.L.E. presented some fairly serious spy stories but as color came in the following year, the series took a turn for the camp, with some episodes worse than others. Essentially, week after week, the good guys of U.N.C.L.E. (Sam?) fought to stop various plots by the bad guys of T.H.R.U.S.H.

Robert Vaughn, who had made a hit in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, was cast as the star. Unfortunately for him, this became one of those series with a breakout character who usurped all the fan mail. In this case it was English actor David McCallum as Russian U.N.C.L.E. agent Ilya Kuryakin. His minor role became a major co-starring character who was, in fact, sometimes the lead in some scripts.

The pair worked well together with great chemistry and both were equally merchandised and exploited in books, magazines, toys, games and record albums.

The series was popular enough that quite a few feature films were released to theaters featuring the TV spies. These were actually re-edited versions of two-part episodes and were released mainly overseas, then syndicated back to US TV. 

Two seasons in, there was even a spin-off series, THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E., offering the first major role to actress Stefanie Powers. Rex Harrison's son Noel played her sidekick Mark Slate. Although it, to an extent, ripped off the classic UK comic strip MODESTY BLAISE, GIRL, premiering at the height of Batmania in 1966, was played mostly for camp. 


Writer Michael Avallone made a career out of hacking out surprisingly good TV series adaptations including the MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. and, seen here, it's spin-off.

 Both MAN and GIRL had successful if unspectacular comic book runs from Gold Key, a company that ran mostly licensed projects in the sixties.

Veteran actor Leo G. Carroll (later immortalized in the ROCKY HORROR theme song) crossed over in both series as U.N.C.L.E. head Alexander Waverly. 

Stefanie's April Dancer character wasn't mentioned, if I recall, in THE FIFTEEN YEARS LATER AFFAIR, a 1980's reunion movie for television that proved one of the better of its type. 


Monday, August 20, 2012

R.I.P. Phyllis Diller

Here's a clip from THE PHYLLIS DILLER SHOW which was previous;y entited THE BEAUTIFUL PHYLLIS DILLER SHOW and, at the beginning f its sole season in 1966-67, THE PRUITTS OF SOUTHAMPTON.

Phyllis had been a funny housewife who started doing stage comedy. An early appearance on Groucho's YOU BET YOUR LIFE led to more TV and eventually film work. Along the way she became a walking ad for successful plastic surgery. Her outrageous comedy and acting weren't for all tastes but she had a best-selling book in 1966, this famous flop TV series and became  a favorite co-star of Bob Hope, appearing with him in movies and later on his TV specials for many years.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

William Windom's World and Welcome To It

Today there are reports of the passing of actor William Windom. Windom was one of THE great TV character actors, leaving behind a legacy of performances in many classic episodes of TV series such as NIGHT GALLERY, STAR TREK and MURDER, SHE WROTE. I first "met" him, however, in the Fall of 1969, as a new TV series called MY WORLD AND WELCOME TO IT premiered. It was not a success but it WAS unique in terms of sitcoms. 

The show was based on the works of humorist James Thurber with Windom playing a cartoonist with a Walter Mitty tendency to drift into his own fantasies, much to the confusion and consternation of his wife and daughter. It was apparently too different for America at the end of the sixties. Although critically somewhat successful, it lasted only a  single season with some reruns a bit later, then obscurity. Windom, however, rode it on to a long and successful career.  In later years, he even toured in a couple of one man shows as Thurber. Rest in Peace, sir. Thanks for all the great performances.