The Man From UNCLE: What Happens When James Bond Comes Out of the Cold and Into TV

We are in the midst of our Murder, Mystery, and Mayhem series this month. In the mid-1960s, westerns were still the most popular show on television with rural sitcoms coming on the scene. Crime shows still had their fair share of air time, but spy shows were non-existent. With the end of the Cold War, Bond movies, and books like The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, these types of thrillers were bound to hit the small screen. From 1964-1968, The Man from UNCLE took us behind the scenes to observe the dangerous life of special agents.

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Beginning on Tuesday nights on NBC, the show was produced by Metro Goldwyn Mayer. The creator, Norman Felton, asked Ian Fleming to act as a consultant. (Some sources list Felton as the sole creator; some credit Sam Rolfe as a co-creator.) The book The James Bond Films mentions that Fleming suggested two characters: Napoleon Solo and April Dancer. Napoleon Solo became one of the main characters on The Man from UNCLE, and we will learn more about April Dancer later. Solo was also a villain in the movie Goldfinger. Originally titled “Solo,image of ” the popularity of the film led to a title change in the television show to The Man from Uncle.

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Solo (Robert Vaughn), being an American, was set up in a partnership with a Russian, Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum). The duo would take on multinational secret intelligence work under UNCLE, The United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. They sometimes worked with Alexander Waverly (Leo G. Carroll) who headed up an English organization. They frequently went up against THRUSH. We never learned who was part of THRUSH or what their goals were, apart from taking over the world of, course.

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David McCallum

Solo was supposed to be the typical ladies’ man, with Kuryakin being the intelligent, funny, and loyal partner, but McCallum turned into an instant celebrity. Hysterical fans attended promotional appearances and magazines gave he and his wife Jill Ireland little peace and quiet. One article I read discussed an incident in Baton Rouge, LA when McCallum was locked in a bathroom so the police could clear out the screaming women. When he was supposed to do a spot in a Macy’s store in New York, police had to disperse 15,000 screaming women who made it too dangerous for him to appear and did “a colossal amount of damage” to the store.

Solo and Kuryakin accessed their secret headquarters through a tailor’s shop, Del Floria’s.

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In an interesting twist, the creators decided to feature an “innocent character,”–a Joe Doe or Jane Smith who the viewers could identify with—in every episode.

The theme music was created by Jerry Goldsmith, changing slightly each season as new composers came on board, eight in all.

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With the exception of one show, the episodes were titled “The ______ Affair.” Every year at least one two-part show was aired. The pair of shows became theatrical films released in Europe. Additional footage was added to the movies. Some of these films were later seen on American television and include To Trap a Spy (1964), The Spy with My Face (1965), One Spy Too Many (1966), The Spy in the Green Hat (1967), and How to Steal the World (1968), among others.

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Although stuntmen were hired for the two leads, they also did their own stunts. Typically, the actor and stuntman did each stunt, and the final version combined the best of them. However, McCallum tried to avoid heights, and Vaughn disliked water scenes.

Like Get Smart, the recurring characters were a small group, and guest stars were necessary for each episode. Both high-profile and up-and-coming actors were eager to appear on the show. William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy can be seen together in “The Project Strigas Affair” two years before they starred on Star Trek. Other actors who appeared include Judy Carne, Joan Collins, Yvonne Craig, Broderick Crawford, Robert Culp, Chad Everett, Barbara Feldon, Anne Francis, Werner Klemperer, Janet Leigh, June Lockhart, Jack Lord, Ricardo Montalban, Leslie Nielsen, Carroll O’Connor, Vincent Price, Cesar Romero, Kurt Russell, Sonny and Cher, and Telly Savalas.

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Of course, spies need technological gadgets to get a leg up on the competition. Some of their communication devices included a security badge and a business card. They could also communicate with a portable satellite disguised as a cigarette case or fountain pen.

Like all good crime fighters, the duo needed a car, and theirs was a Piranha Coupe, based on the Chevrolet Corvair.

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Weapons were also a necessity in their line of work. The UNCLE Special was a semi-automatic weapon which was useful except at night when THRUSH had access to a “sniperscope” which allowed the villains to shoot in total darkness.

The gadgets, props, and clothing for the show were so popular that they are exhibited in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. The CIA also exhibits some of the show’s items.

Season 1 was a great success even though partway through the season, the show moved from Tuesdays to Mondays. With season 2 came more “tongue-in-cheek” dialogue, and the series switched from black and white to full color. Athough the show was moved to Friday nights, its popularity continued.

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Season 3 added a campy element, a la the Batman and The Monkees craze, against the stars’ wishes. The ratings decreased and the show never attained the same quality and ratings again. It was renewed for a fourth season but cancelled partway through when there was no increase in viewership.

Although the show was only extremely popular for two years, it garnered eight Emmy nominations and five Golden Globe nominations, including a win for David McCallum as best star in 1966.

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Of course, like all popular shows from the 1960s, a tv movie was made a few years later and a big-screen remake came decades later.

The Return of the Man from UNCLE: The Fifteen Years Later Affair was seen on CBS, not NBC, in 1983 with both Vaughn and McCallum reprising their roles. At the beginning of the movie, we learn that although THRUSH was obliterated with the arrest of its leader, he has now escaped from prison. Rather than stick with the chemistry of the two leads, the tv movie pairs each lead with a younger agent.

In 2015, Guy Ritchie’s big-screen The Man from UNCLE was set in the 1960s featuring Solo (Henry Cavill), Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), and Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander). The trio must work together in a joint mission to stop an evil organization from using Gaby’s father’s expertise in science to build a nuclear bomb. All the while, they don’t totally trust each other, and secretly put their own country’s agendas first. As far as reboots go, the film was actually a good rendition of the original show.

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Of course, there was no limit to the merchandising in connection with the show. Several comic books based on the series were published, as well as two dozen novels. In addition to membership cards, viewers could show their love

for the show with board games, action figures, model kits, lunch boxes, and toy guns.

I did promise to get back to April Dancer. Halfway through The Man from UNCLE series, the network released a spin-off, The Girl from UNCLE starring Stefanie Powers as April Dancer. Not as popular as the original, it was cancelled after one season.

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Dancer works with British agent Mark Slate (Noel Harrison). Leo G. Carroll appeared as Mr. Waverly in this series also. Luckily Powers was fluent in several languages, because Dancer often went undercover with a foreign accent.

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Unfortunately, Dancer reeled in the bad guys, but Slate was the one who got to kill them. However, April did get some cool gadgets such as a perfume atomizer that sprayed gas and exploding jewelry.

This show also used Goldsmith’s theme music in an arrangement by Dave Grusin.

Both The Girl from UNCLE and The Man from UNCLE are available on DVD.

Although The Man from UNCLE was only hugely popular for two years and The Girl from UNCLE never attained a fan base, the shows ’ concept spawned a huge pop culture obsession. At one point, more than 10,000 letters a week were delivered to the network. The show sparked an interest in spy shows that would pave the way for future shows such as Mission Impossible; The Wild, Wild West; I Spy; and Get Smart. Like The Man from UNCLE, each of these shows would result in reboot big-screen movies in later decades, as well as a large output of memorabilia.

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It’s interesting that this show feels dated now with the current technology, yet Get Smart continues to be a hit. I think the humor and campiness of Get Smart keeps it relevant which is ironic, because that is what basically brought about the end of The Man from UNCLE. Despite its current non-relevancy, it was an important part of pop culture and deserves to be celebrated for its cult status in the mid-sixties and the realistic portrayal of spies to generations of viewers.

Paging Dr. Stone: The Career of Carl Betz

For the month of June, we are celebrating some of our favorite fathers. One of my favorite dads was Carl Betz in his role as Dr. Alex Stone on The Donna Reed Show.

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Betz was born in Mary of 1921 in Pittsburgh, PA. He came from an upper middle-class family, and his father was a laboratory chemist.

While still in school, Betz started a rep theater company with several friends. They performed plays in his grandmother’s basement.

During WWII, he served in the army.  He was deployed to Italy and North Africa and left the military as a technical sergeant with the Corps of Engineers.

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When he returned to the States, he enrolled at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon) in Pittsburgh, majoring in drama. While going to school at Carnegie, he played football and made an appearance in the Sugar Bowl against Texas Christian University.

His first job after graduation was a radio announcer. He moved to New York and worked as a doorman at Radio City Music Hall while auditioning for Broadway productions. He received his first part in “The Long Watch” in 1952. He then toured in “The Voice of the Turtle” with Veronica Lake.

In discussing his work as a young adult, he said, “Those were good times for the beginning actor. There were so many summer stock companies. We worked for room and board and the princely sum of $45 a week.  By eliminating haircuts, we managed to keep ourselves in shaving cream, clean shirts, and beer.”

Twentieth Century Fox offered him a contract, and he received a number of supporting roles in films. In 1953, he made an incredible six movies.

In 1952 he married Lois Harmon. They had one son and divorced in 1961.

His first job on television was a soap opera, Love of Life. Throughout the fifties and sixties, he performed in a variety of plays, including “The Seven-Year Itch” and “The Zoo Story.”

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On Perry Mason

In the mid-1950s, he began appearing on television shows, and shows up in reruns on Perry Mason, Gunsmoke, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Mike Hammer.

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In 1958, Carl was offered the role of Alex Stone on The Donna Reed Show, and he was with the show until it ended in 1965. The heart-warming show centered around Donna and Alex Stone, a pediatrician, and their two children, Jeff (Pete Petersen) and Mary (Shelly Fabares). Betz continued his stage career in his off time with the show.

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Both Carl and Donna were protective of their television children. In an interview in 2011 when Petersen was 66, he discussed his second set of parents. “They made a commitment to Shelley and me as surrogate parents to be on our side and be with us for the long haul. They kept that commitment up to their deaths.”

As Alex, Betz was the voice of reason. When anyone got too worried, he gave advice and put things in perspective. He had a fun side to him and could always see the humor in situations. He was a caring doctor and had fun in life, realizing death and illness were always lurking around the corner. He often made fun of Donna and the kids but in a loving way, not cruel. His comments typically illustrated that things were not as dower as they appeared. But when there was an emergency or a serious situation, he was calm and collected and took charge.

Carl continued to take roles during breaks in taping for The Donna Reed Show. In 1964, Betz received amazing reviews for his performance as the Rev. T. Lawrence Shannon in “The Night of the Iguana.”

During his time on the show, he ironically married Gloria Stone, and they would remain married until his death in 1978.

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With co-star Stephen Young

In 1967, he starred in Judd for the Defense where he played an attorney. Clifton Judd, a lawyer based in Texas, would travel across the country to defend a client. Many cases involved labor unions, draft evasions, civil rights, and murder. The series featured a number of guest stars, including Ed Asner, Mike Farrell, Norman Fell, Beverly Garland, Ron Howard, Ted Knight, Cloris Leachman, Ruta Lee, Gavin MacLeod, Vera Miles, Tom Selleck, and Dennis Weaver. The critics gave the show great reviews, but the ratings were always a struggle. In 1969, ABC cancelled the series and that same year, Betz won the Emmy for Outstanding Performer by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Series.

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Once the series was cancelled, Betz continued in plays and also picked up several television appearances on a variety of shows, such as Love American Style, Medical Center, McCloud, The Mod Squad, Ironside, The FBI, Mission Impossible, Barnaby Jones, and Quincy ME. Since he handled comedy so well on The Donna Reed Show, I was surprised to learn that most of his career was spent on drama or crime shows.

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On Love American Style with Harrison Ford

In 1977, Betz was diagnosed with lung cancer. He kept the illness a secret until November when he was hospitalized. He died in January of 1978, 56 years young. Ironically, thinking about celebrating fathers, my dad also died at age 56.

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From all accounts, Carl Betz wanted to be an actor from a very young age. Fortunately, he was able to spend most of his life in the entertainment business.  Unfortunately, his life ended much too early, and his career was cut short. Any time someone can spend their life pursuing their passion, it’s a life well spent. Happy Father’s Day to one of our favorite dads.

The Show That Never Really Ended

 

The past few weeks we have been exploring the shows that were part of the Friday night schedule from 1970-1972. We end this series by getting to know The Brady Bunch.

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How It All Began

Sherwood Schwartz read a stat in LA Times that 31% of all marriages include children from a previous marriage. He put together a script for a show based on that statistic. All three networks liked it, but they all wanted significant changes, so he shelved it. In 1968, the films With Six You Get Eggroll and Yours, Mine, and Ours debuted. Schwartz’s script predated the two movies, but because the movies were so popular (Yours, Mine and Ours was the 11th top grossing movie that year), ABC decided to put Sherwood’s show on the air. At the time, the title of the show was either “Yours and Mine” or “The Bradley Brood.”

ABC gave Schwartz a 13-week commitment. John Rich was brought on to direct the pilot, the cast was hired, and sets were built at the Paramount TV Stage 5. The filming began Oct 4, 1968 and lasted 8 days.

The Brady Bunch

The show was supposed to reveal how a blended family overcomes daily problems, but by the second season, we forget that this was ever a blended family and the family deals with the same issues all siblings do.

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Realizing how popular The Brady Bunch has been for decades, it’s surprising to learn that the show was never in the top 30 during its original run. When it had the number of episodes it needed for syndication, it was canceled by the network. The series found a new life in syndication becoming an American icon. When anyone says it was a “Brady Bunch” kitchen, dress, etc., everyone instinctively knows what that means.

 

Casting the Show

Shirley Jones was offered the role of Carol Brady first. Joyce Bulifant was then given the role. I’m not sure why she did not get the role; the only information I could find was that she was surprised because she had already signed the contract and had the wardrobe. But for some reason, they tested Florence after and thought she was the better choice for Carol.

 

Both Kathleen Freeman and Monty Margetts were auditioned for Alice. When Florence Henderson got the role, Ann B Davis was hired because they wanted a comedienne that seemed a better fit for Carol.

To find the 6 Brady kids, 464 were auditioned. Sherwood felt it would be more realistic if all the boys had dark hair like Reed and the girls were blonde like Henderson. Mike Lookinland, hired to play Bobby, was really a blonde and they had to dye his hair dark brown.

Allan Melvin played Sam Franklin, Alice’s boyfriend who owns the butcher shop. He was only in eight episodes but was mentioned often.

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Tiger the dog appeared in half the episodes from season 1 but only six in season 2 and then disappeared altogether.

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During the middle of season 5, Robbie Rist was introduced as Oliver, Carol’s nephew who came to live with them while his parents traveled overseas.  It was an attempt to get the younger audience back since the youngest kids were now 11 and 12. The addition of Oliver felt forced and it wasn’t a popular change.

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Schwartz’s daughter Hope was on the series four times:  Jenny at a slumber party in season 2, episode 3; Rachel, Greg’s girlfriend in season 3, episode 18 and in season 4, episode 15; and in the series’ finale as Gretchen, a graduate in Greg’s class. Many of the script ideas came from her real life.

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Many famous guest stars who played themselves met the Bradys: Davy Jones, Desi Arnaz Jr., Don Drysdale, Don Ho, Deacon Jones, NASA astronaut Brig. Gen James McDivitt, Joe Namath. Imogene Coca starred as Aunt Jenny. In an early episode Cindy and Bobby are ill; without discussing it, the parents each call their doctor to make a house call, so two doctors arrive at the same time played by Marion Ross from Happy Days and Herbert Anderson from Dennis the Menace. It worked out because the family decided to keep both doctors.

The Theme Song

The well-known theme was written by Schwartz and Frank De Vol with the famous and often-parodied tic-tac-toe board featuring the family members.

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The Peppermint Trolley Co. recorded the theme in season 1. The Peppermint Trolley Co. was a pop band that is known for performing on The Beverly Hillbillies and Mannix. They released one album in 1968. When Christopher Knight was heard singing it on set, the producer decided to have the Brady kids sing the theme, and a new arrangement was recorded each year.

If you need a reminder, the words are:

Here’s the story of a lovely lady Who was bringing up three very lovely girls. All of them had hair of gold, like their mother, The youngest one in curls.

Here’s the story, of a man named Brady, Who was busy with three boys of his own, They were four men, living all together, Yet they were all alone.

Till the one day when the lady met this fellow And they knew it was much more than a hunch, That this group would somehow form a family. That’s the way we all became the Brady Bunch.

The Brady Bunch, the Brady Bunch That’s the way we became the Brady Bunch.

The Brady House

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The house was a mid-century modern split-level home at 11222 Dilling St., Studio City, CA. Schwartz chose it because he thought it looked like a home an architect would live in. To make it look like there was a second story, a window was placed on the A-frame. The interior was used in two Mannix episodes and one Mission: Impossible episode. It was also re-created for an X Files episode “Sunshine Days.”  In that show, Scully and several agents investigate a bizarre murder case where the main suspect has an obsession with The Brady Bunch.  The Bradys’ address was given as 4222 Clinton Way. To help with privacy when the show ended, the owners put up a fence and tried to let some of the greenery grow to block the house from the street.

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Vehicles

The vehicles were provided mainly by Chrysler. Throughout the series, Carol drove a brown Plymouth Satellite station wagon, using different models each year.

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Mike primarily drove convertibles: Pilot – a blue 1968 Dodge Polara 500 convertible, Season 1 and 2 – a blue 1969 Plymouth Fury III convertible, Season 3 – a 1971 Plymouth Barracuda convertible, Season 4 – a blue 1972 Chevy Impala convertible, and for something different Season 5 – a red 1973 Chevy Caprice Classic convertible.

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In one episode, “The Winner,” from season 2, Carol and Mike take Bobby to a local television station to compete in an ice-cream eating contest. They leave in their blue convertible but return in the brown station wagon. Whoops!

Spin Offs

This show spawned a variety of spin-offs and reunion shows including The Brady Bunch Hour (1976-77), The Brady Kids (1977), The Brady Girls Get Married (1981), The Brady Brides (1981), A Very Brady Christmas (1988), The Bradys (1990), and a big-screen movie, The Brady Bunch Movie (1995).

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Kelly’s Kids – a pilot for a spinoff was one of the episodes about the Bradys’ friend and neighbor Ken Kelly, played by Ken Berry. Ken and his wife Kathy adopt three boys, all of different racial backgrounds. One of the boys was played by Mike Lookinland’s younger brother. (Todd Lookinland went on to have a successful acting career.) The show was not picked up by the network.

The Brady Kids was a show from 1977 with 9 episodes. Eve Plumb declined the role, so Jan was played by Geri Reischl. It was scheduled sporadically and did not receive great ratings.

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The Brady Girls Get Married was supposed to be a one-night tv movie. It ended up being split up into four half-hour weekly shows with the final one being the pilot for a show called The Brady Brides. In the movie, Jan and Marcia have a double wedding. It was the only time the entire cast worked together again after the original show. Mike is still an architect while Carol is a real estate agent. Marcia is a fashion designer, Jan is an architect, Greg is a doctor, Peter is in the Air Force and Bobby and Cindy are in college. Alice has married Sam. The concept of the series is that the two married couples buy a house and live together, but the guys are very different and don’t see eye to eye about much. After ten episodes, the show was cancelled.

THE BRADY BRIDES, Susan Olsen, Mike Lookinland, Eve Plumb, Christopher Knight, Maureen McCormick, Ba

When the show ended, the kids released a few albums; however only Barry Williams and Maureen McCormick stayed involved with the music business in their future careers.

In 1983, Robert Reed, Florence Henderson, Maureen McCormick, Christopher Knight, and Cindy Olsen competed on Family Feud in a celebrity edition of the show.

Life After the Brady Bunch

The cast was close and remained friends after the series ended. Robert Reed did not always agree with Sherwood Schwartz on the details of certain episodes, but he was close with the crew, especially Florence Henderson. At his own expense, he took all the kids to London on the QEII in 1971. When he was dying in 1992, Florence called each of the kids to tell them personally.

 

Maureen McCormick battled several demons before finding herself after the series ended. She performed in Peter Pan and Grease. Maureen has appeared in many television guest spots and feature films, including Dogtown in 1997, Baby Huey’s Great East Adventure in 1999, and The Million Dollar Kid in 2000.  She has released several albums and played country singer Barbara Mandrell in a tv movie. She wrote a memoir, Here’s the Story. She also recently competed on Dancing with the Stars.

 

Eve Plumb starred in Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway to combat getting locked into an image when the show was cancelled. She has done guest spots on a variety of television shows including One Day at a Time, Murder She Wrote, and The Love Boat. She played the mom on the Fudge series in the 1990s and was in the television special Grease: Live. She has become a well-known artist, primarily painting still lifes.

 

Susan Olsen sang on The Pat Boone Show and in the Elvis movie The Trouble with Girls before becoming Cindy Brady. She studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, became a radio talk show host, an artist, an animal advocate, and co-wrote a book titled Love to Love You Bradys about the variety show.

 

Barry Williams starred in Pippin after the show ended. He has been a radio host and co-wrote a tell-all book Growing Up Brady: I was a Teenage Brady. He also guest starred in many shows including Murder She Wrote, Three’s Company, and Highway to Heaven. He tours with music theater and does speaking engagements.

 

Christopher Knight has been employed as a businessman for many years in the high-tech industry. During the 2000s, he appeared in several reality shows.

 

Mike Lookinland also had his share of issues to deal with after the show ended as he grew up. He attended the University of Utah and became a camera technician for two decades. Currently, he creates concrete countertops. (Photo on right courtesy of huffingtonpost.com)

 

Ann B Davis rarely acted after life on The Brady Bunch. She was very involved with her church. (See my blog “Oh Alice” dated February 5, 2018). She passed away in June of 2014.

 

Robert Reed was a trained Shakespearian actor, studying at Northwestern and at the University of London. He continued to guest star in a variety of television shows after The Brady Bunch ended. He passed away in 1992.

 

Florence Henderson continued to stay busy performing after the show. She and Shirley Jones traveled, performing together. She also wrote an autobiography titled Life is Not a Stage: From a Broadway Baby to a Lovely Lady and Beyond. She also spent much of her time raising money for charitable causes. She passed away in November of 2016. (see my blog “The Passing of a Pop-Culture Parent dated December 6, 2016.)

 

Allan Melvin continued to accumulate many acting credits after the show, primarily in animation. He passed away in 2008.

 

Conclusion

It’s amazing how popular the show has been for almost fifty years. Rarely does a show that aired for five seasons have so many spin-offs and show variations. It probably hurt the cast more than it helped because they could never overcome their strong identification as a Brady kid. The cast went on to do a variety of careers. Currently, The Brady Bunch can be seen on ME TV on Sundays for their “Brady Brunch” from 11 am to 1 pm central time.

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In July of 2012, there was a lot of talk about a new version of The Brady Bunch. A reboot was approved by CBS to be produced by Vince Vaughn. The sequel apparently revolved around Bobby as an adult. I could not find any information about the status of the project.

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While I enjoyed watching The Brady Bunch, I was a Partridge Family fan. I loved Alice though and always wanted to be Jan. I remember hoping I might have to get braces when she got them. I think it would be hard to find a show that had such an impact on so many different generations. Brady Bunch memorabilia is still being created and there are a ton of quizzes on the internet such as “Which Brady Kid Are You?”

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I hope you enjoyed getting to know a little more about these Friday night shows from the early 1970s. I am looking forward to a Friday night when I can sit back and watch a few episodes of each show for my own dream line-up.

 

It Only Takes One Episode to Get Smart

In the mid-1960s, spy shows were all the rage.  James Bond drew large audiences to theaters:  Dr. No in 1962, From Russia with Love in 1963, Goldfinger in 1964, and Thunderball in 1965. Inspector Clouseau was big at the box office too appearing in The Pink Panther in 1963 and A Shot in the Dark in 1964. If you were checking out books at the library, you probably would have read Len Deighton’s The IPCRESS File (1962), The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1963), or Harriet the Spy (1964). On the small screen, The Avengers was ahead of the curve, premiering in 1961, but in the mid-1960s, we would see some of the classic television shows debut: Mission Impossible began in 1966, The Man from UNCLE showed up in 1964 and in 1965, The Wild, Wild West and I Spy got network approval.

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Another show came on the air in 1965 as well – on September 18, 1965, Get Smart was seen for the first time. Dan Melnick, a partner in Talent Associates thought a spy satire might be a good fit for their upcoming schedule. He recruited Buck Henry and Mel Brooks to write the show. The team took the show to ABC. ABC bought it but they wanted a few changes.  They wanted Tom Poston to take the role of Maxwell Smart. They wanted a dog on the show to add “heart.” Finally, they wanted Smart’s mother to be a major role and envisioned Smart coming home at the end of the episode to explain the case to his mother. Henry and Brooks said no to the mother, so ABC rejected the show and sold it back to Talent Associates.

Grant Tinker from NBC agreed to buy the show with the caveat that Don Adams star in place of Tom Poston.  And so, the creative talent of Brooks and Henry brought Maxwell Smart (Don Adams), Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon), and the Chief (Edward Platt) to life. The show would stay on the air for five seasons, producing 138 episodes.

The first four seasons were filmed at Sunset Bronson Studios.  In 1970, the show moved to CBS and the last season was filmed at CBS Studio Center.

Mel Brooks left the show after the first year, but Buck Henry stayed through 1967 as the story editor.

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Most of the administrative cast stayed with the show for its run. Leonard B. Stern was the executive producer for all the shows. Irving Szathmary was the music and theme composer, as well as conductor, for all five seasons. Gerald C. Gardner and Dee Caruso were the head writers for the series. Don Adams would get to direct 13 episodes and write 2 of them.

The show centered around the three main characters. Maxwell Smart is Agent 86.  He works for CONTROL, a US government counter-intelligence agency in Washington DC. Max is resourceful.  He is a adept marksman, has hand-to-hand combat skills and is extremely lucky. He uses several cover identities, but the one he uses most often is greeting card salesman. He insists in going by the book and this, along with his clumsy nature, cause problems for him.

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He and his partner Agent 99 take on world threats. We never learn Agent 99’s real name, although we think we have in one episode.  In “99 Loses CONTROL”, she says her name is Susan Hilton but at the end of the episode, we learn she was lying. Agent 99 is smart and competent.  Her father was apparently a spy as well.  (In real life, Barbara Feldon was also smart; she won on The $64,000 Question with the category of Shakespeare.) If you look closely, you will often see Agent 99 slouching, sitting, or leaning on something to conceal the fact that she was a bit taller than Adams.

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Their boss, Chief, whose real name is Thaddeus, is sarcastic and grouchy but also serious, sensible, and smart. He began his career as Agent Q and his cover name is often Harold Clark. Other CONTROL agents we meet during the series are Agents 8, 13, and 14, as well as Larrabee, the Chief’s highly inefficient and bumbling assistant.

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Their primary enemy is KAOS, an international organization of evil founded in Romania in 1904 (a Delaware corporation for tax purposes!). The two KAOS employees we see most often are Conrad Siegfried (Bernie Kopell), the VP for Public Relations and Terror and his assistant Shtarker (King Moody), whose personality can change from sadistic to childlike. While Siegfried and Smart are mortal enemies, they respect each other.  Sometimes they begin talking like old friends.  In one episode, they are discussing the flavor of cyanide pills each side has that month.  CONTROL is giving out raspberry, and Smart tries to give one to Siegfried.  Like CONTROL, KAOS has a bowling team to build rapport and fellowship among their employees.

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Another KAOS agent is Hymie the Robot played by Dick Gautier. Dr. Ratton of KAOS built Hymie for evil, but Smart manages to turn the robot into a CONTROL agent. Hymie is faster and stronger than any human.  He also has the ability to swallow any poison and then identify it. He has emotions and a need to maintain neatness.  Unfortunately, he takes commands literally; if Smart says “Get ahold of yourself,” he literally wraps his arms around himself.

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The opening sequence of the show is one of the most spoofed openings in television.  Smart walks through doors that continue to other doors. It was ranked as the number 2 opening out of the top ten by TV Guide viewers in 2010.

The show is still known for its catch phrases that became part of the American vocabulary including “Would you believe?”, “Sorry about that Chief,” “And loving it,” and “I asked you not to tell me that.”

The series is identified with its James Bond-like gadgets.  Telephones could be concealed in neckties, combs, and watches, but most often it is in Smart’s shoe which he had to take off to answer. Agent 99 has a compact phone and a fingernail phone which forces her to look like she is nervously biting her nails to talk on it.

The show features a bullet-proof invisible wall in Smart’s apartment which lowers from the ceiling; he often forgets to put it back up and runs into it. Cameras can be in a bowl of soup.  A laser weapon was concealed in a suit jacket button, the blazer laser. The Cone of Silence are two glass domes that cover Smart and the Chief when they talk about a case.  Smart insists on using it because it’s  regulation; however, they can hardly hear each other, but anyone on the outside can hear their conversation clearly and often reports what the other person said.

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Other weapons and aids for the spies included a parking meter telegraph, a perfume bottle radio transmitter, invisible icing, and a pencil listening device. Guns were hidden in a charm on a charm bracelet, in a pool cue, as a hairbrush, as a flashlight, and in a crutch. CONTROL even had gloves with fingerprints already on them – the fingerprints were KAOS agents so they would get the blame for a break-in.

Blowing up stuff is always good on a spy show and Get Smart had explosive rice; toothpaste that is really a fuse; an exploding wallet, ping pong ball and golf ball; and a horoscope book or lipstick case that contained knock-out gas.

Smart had several cars but his most famous was a red 1965 Sunbeam Tiger.  The two-seat roadster had a machine gun built in, a smoke screen, a radar tracker, and an ejection seat.  When the series went off the air, Don Adams received the car and continued to drive it for ten years.

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Get Smart probably had some of the most famous guest stars of any show.  Just a few of these celebrities include Steve Allen, Barbara Bain, Milton Berle, Ernest Borgnine, Carol Burnett, James Caan, Johnny Carson, Wally Cox, Robert Culp, Phyllis Diller, Jamie Farr, Jack Guilford, Bob Hope, Martin Landau, Julie Newmar, Pat Paulson, Tom Poston, Leonard Nimoy, Vincent Price, Don Rickles, and Fred Willard.

The show stayed true to its character through its entire run.  In Season 1, Hymie is introduced and the dog, Fang, disappears. In Season 2, we meet Siegfried. Smart and Agent 99 get engaged and marry in Season 4.  NBC demanded the change to boost ratings. In Season 5, they have twins.  Agent 99 continues working and is one of the first, if not the first, mother to be viewed as a working woman.  When the ratings did not increase, the show was cancelled. It went into syndication where it was very successful. Unfortunately, the DVD set was held up in legal battles and only came out weeks before Adams died.

Get Smart was one of the most clever and creative sitcoms ever airing on television.  It had `21 Emmy nominations including two for Feldon and won 7 of those awards.  Don Adams won best actor on a comedy three times and the show won best comedy twice.

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William Johnston came out with 9 paperbacks based on the series in the late 1960s and Dell Comics issued 8 comic books in 1966 and 1967. For the March 5-11, 1966 TV Guide, Andy Warhol designed a pop art piece using Barbara Feldon. Numerous collectibles were created:  board games, lunch boxes, dolls, and model cars.

The show produced many spin-off projects. The Nude Bomb was a theatre release in 1980 with Feldon and Smart reprising their roles. Get Smart Again debuted in 1989 as an ABC TV movie.  After its release, a show appeared on FOX starring Feldon and Smart again called Get Smart in 1995.  In 2008 a movie was made starring Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway. Don Adams was known to later generations as the voice of Inspector Gadget.

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Of course, everyone has their favorite episodes, but after reviewing several polls and interviews with Nick at Nite and other 50th anniversary celebrations, I have come up with these top five.  Take a rainy fall day and give them a peek. However, if we are looking just at titles, I have to give a shout out to “Spy, Spy Birdie”, “Bronzefinger”, “Impossible Mission”, and “Tequila Mockingbird”.

  1. A Spy for a Spy
  2. The Not-So-Great Escape
  3. Ship of Spies
  4. The Amazing Harry Hoo
  5. The Little Black Book

 

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Unfortunately, this is one of those shows that doesn’t get as much recognition and respect as it deserves.  Considering how much technology has developed in the last 50 years, the show is still up to date. The dialogue is witty; the characters are likable, even when they’re mortal enemies; and the show is just plain fun.