Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A Fun Night, as Horror Icons do Weird ‘60s Television!





In previous posts, such as THIS ONE and THIS ONE, I’ve mentioned the Horror and Sci-Fi Appreciation Society weekly Thursday night sessions that I attend, hosted by Keith Crocker

Our usual format is for five members, plus Keith, to get together, watch a vintage Horror or Sci-Fi (or Spaghetti Western) film, and go around the room giving our impressions and critiques.   It is great fun for all who attend. 

For our “second anniversary” this summer, I proposed that, instead of Keith putting together sessions of four related films packaged as a four-week program (as he usually does), that WE the members each pick something unique to ourselves, and show that to the group, under the same format and ground rules. 

I called it “We Give Keith the Business” and, for the last four weeks, we have – with such classic member contributions as “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”, “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman”, and the more recent “The Sixth Sense” - with "Battle Royale", still to come. 

When it was my turn, I proposed an “Out-of-the-Box” option that Keith heartily approved.    And, so, on the evening of Thursday, August 6 th, 2015, and with the aid of my extensive DVD collection, I was my pleasure to present: 

Horror Icons do Weird ‘60s Television! 

In the sessions, we often joke about “My Wheelhouse” – that being sixties TV, films, comic books, etc.  And, on that night, the members were invited into “My Wheelhouse” – but with a horror film connection, as you will see from my prepared presentation text below:

In the mid-sixties, TV got really weird.  That weirdness, and that TV, formed the basis for my Wheelhouse, and I’m pleased (though you may NOT be pleased) that I’ve chosen to share two prime examples with you tonight.  Both of which I’ve seen in original prime-time network airings.


You could see the Age of Weird Imagination building with classic early fantasy shows like THE TWILIGHT ZONE and THE OUTER LIMITS, and forgotten older ones like ONE STEP BEYOND, SCIENCE FICTION THEATRE, and TALES OF TOMORROW (all of which I’ve gotten into lately on DVD) but some have said the ball actually got rolling with MR. ED, a series about a talking horse.


 

From ED, we moved on to all sorts of oddball supernatural characters in series like MY FAVORITE MARTIAN (a character whose popularity prompted the creation of The Great Gazoo on THE FLINTSTONES), the ever popular BEWITCHED and I DREAM OF JEANNIE (successful, doubtless, due to the attractiveness of their respective stars) – finally culminating in MY MOTHER THE CAR.  



Sidebars of this weirdness included THE MUNSTERS and THE ADDAMS FAMILY – and even, in the non-supernatural sense, THE MONKEES. 





The camp approach to BATMAN, starring Adam West and Burt Ward, cemented the deal – particularly for the hour-long non-sitcom series, bringing profound changes in approach to existing series such as LOST IN SPACE (especially, as it was on opposite BATMAN), THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., THE WILD WILD WEST, and VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA. 


STAR TREK, to its credit, managed to resist the pull toward “fantastic weirdness”, despite episodes about Tribbles, Chicago-style gangsters, and Roman Empires in space.  Perhaps that’s why it’s still so popular today.  But that may also be why it’s Third Season is so deadly dull, with many episodes I deem unwatchable – like “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky”!     

Star Trek and Lost in Space BOTH did Westerns!  

I was a kid during this time, and with this and the incredibly imaginative Silver Age of comic books, it was a wonderful time to be young and impressionable.  When it finally all "went away" (...and I can pinpoint the exact moment when things began to change -- that will be some homework Blog post reading -- you can read it HERE!) I missed it to such a degree that television was never quite the same for me!     


The period of “fantastic weirdness” was in its fullest force from 1965-1968, with the epicenter being the year 1966 – not coincidentally, in January of that year, BATMAN premiered! 

But, our focus tonight is not just the foundation of my Wheelhouse, but two instances of beloved Horror Movie Icons finding themselves in the thick of it. 

We begin with VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA “The Deadly Dolls”, airdate October 01, 1967 – and guest starring Vincent Price!  It was Episode 2 of Season 4.  
  


VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA was the saga of the Submarine Seaview, a super-sub designed for the Government-funded “Nelson Institute of Marine Research” by Retired Navy Admiral Harriman Nelson (played by Richard Basehart) and run by Captain Lee Crane (played by David Hedison).   It was created by producer Irwin Allen, as a 1961 feature film starring Walter Pidgeon in the Basehart role, and later a successful TV series, running from 1964-1968.   


VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA had four separate and distinct seasons:  1: Black and white, primarily tales of espionage with a smattering of sci-fi.  2: Color with amped-up special effects. Begins as espionage and converts fully to sci-fi.  3: Moves from general sci-fi to “Monster of the Week”.   4: Moves from “Monster of the Week” to what I’d describe as “weird fantasy”.   The weirder it got, the more I liked it!

And “The Deadly Dolls” falls squarely into the realm of “weird fantasy”.  Wait until you see Vincent Price’s “partner in crime” in this one.  

It’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers on a submarine.  It reunites Vincent Price with David Hedison, who starred together in “The Fly”.  Hedison has said it was a delightful reunion.  Vincent Price previously worked with Irwin Allen in such films as “The Big Circus” (1959) and the tragically obscure “The Story of Mankind” (1957).

On the Vincent Price Timeline,The Deadly Dolls” falls between films we’ve seen in the class – “The Masque of the Red Death” and “Witchfinder General”, with “Witchfinder General” looking as if it were the VERY NEXT THING he did after “The Deadly Dolls”!  At this same general time, he was also appearing as “Egghead” on BATMAN.


The Deadly Dolls” was written by Charles Bennett, who wrote the VOYAGE Feature film, 7 episodes of the TV series, and previously wrote screenplays for Alfred Hitchcock – Including Foreign Correspondent(1940), “Sabotage” (1936), “The 39 Steps” (1935), and the original version of “The Man who Knew Too Much” (1934) with Peter Lorre.  Classic Hitchcock to “Deadly Dolls”!  That’s some range!    


As “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman” is a “comfort view” for Keith, “The Deadly Dolls” (and certain other artifacts from that period) are for me!  I’ve watched this more times than I can count, over its nearly 48 year existence.  A reviewer on IMDB (and what would we do without it!) said of “The Deadly Dolls”: “Just a totally unique, totally insane, totally epic hour!”


I’m not sure everyone here will agree, but Irwin Allen did describe VOYAGE in general as: “An action-packed hour full of things you didn’t see elsewhere on TV!”  I have to say he delivered on that promise - weekly. 




It’s hard to imagine today how HUGE THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. was in its time (1964-1968 – same years as VOYAGE).  There were images of the stars, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, EVERYWHERE, and parodies of the name “U.N.C.L.E.” were irresistible in all media.  Inspired by the James Bond / 1960s Spy Craze, Robert Vaughn’s “Napoleon Solo” was the James Bond of the small screen. 


In U.N.C.L.E.’s third season (1966-1967) it was given a 29 episode spin-off THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E., staring Stephanie Powers (later of HART TO HART) as agent “April Dancer”, with Noel Harrison (son of Rex) as her partner Mark Slate.  



Leo G. Carroll of Jack Arnold’s and Universal’s Tarantula (1955) starred in both series as U.N.C.L.E.’s director Alexander Waverly. 


The episode we are going to see, “The Mother Muffin Affair” with guest star Boris Karloff in a cringe-worthy role, was part of a coordinated stunt between the two U.N.C.L.E.  series.   For the THIRD WEEK’s EPISODES of both series, the U.N.C.L.E. agents switched partners.  David McCallum got Noel Harrison on MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. for that week, and Stephanie Powers was the lucky recipient of Robert Vaughn for “The Mother Muffin Affair”.  So, besides Boris Karloff, you get TWO U.N.C.L.E. leads for the price (not Vincent) of one! 

April Dancer AND Napoleon Solo! 

As mentioned, “The Mother Muffin Affair” was Episode 3 of Season 1 (and only) of THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E., and aired on September 27, 1966 – again at the epicenter of my Wheelhouse madness. 



It also becomes clear just how much the U.N.C.L.E. concept benefited by the cool, understated, and sometimes comedic abilities of Robert Vaughn as “Solo”.  Even WITH perhaps the most bizarre performance of Boris Karloff’s career, Vaughn still manages to steal a large part of the show for himself – and, perhaps a second U.N.C.L.E. series simply could not have survived without him. 



As for Boris Karloff, I cannot imagine him needing the money bad enough to do what he does here! 

Goodness Gracious Me! 
Oh, it’s wonderfully funny to watch, but you will certainly cringe and squirm at some of it.  Karloff had at least two great films still ahead of him at the time of “The Mother Muffin Affair”, “The Sorcerers” (1967, directed by Michael Reeves, who also directed Vincent Price in “Witchfinder General”) and “Targets” (1968), the directorial debut of Peter Bogdonavich.   I hope Keith will show both of these at some point, because Karloff is woefully underrepresented in a class like this.  Imagine his debut in this setting will be “The Mother Muffin Affair”! 



There’s also a great director who’s never been represented in this class.  His name is Tex Avery, also known as “The King of Cartoons”.  No one took as full an advantage of the cartoon medium – and the ways you can unconventionally and outrageously exaggerate it – as Tex Avery, who made theatrical cartoons for Warner Bros. (he came up with the line “What’s up, Doc?”), Walter Lantz, and MGM – and later created advertising’s animated insects who flee in mortal terror from a can of RAID! 


We’ve all seen cartoons where the plot is to not wake up the sleeping bulldog, royal highness, or whatever – but never quite like this!  In “Deputy Droopy” (1955), you will see Tex Avery and his protégé Michael Lah take FULL HILARIOUS ADVANTAGE of the medium of animation. 


The program proceeded, and everyone had a great time, with lots of lively reaction and Q&A. 

I sometimes wish I could occasionally do something similar at my house, as I have so much to enthusiastically share  – and, if nothing else, this session has encouraged me to more deliberately consider the possibilities. 

To my Blog readers, if you have seen any of these – or would someday LIKE TO, you are welcome to share your reactions as well.  Or, just comment on the fun in general.  I’d sure like to have you all over to do the same program.   


Look, Droopy's already here for the show!  

19 comments:

joecab said...

Even Mister Ed had an actual Martian in it! Remember Moko? Saying that episode was an outlier would be an understatement!

And one can never have too much Tex Avery. (Well, maybe not the later H-B stuff...)

Joe Torcivia said...

JoeC:

MISTER ED, by the end of its run, was truly a different series than it’s early “daily and domestic awkwardness and difficulties of living with a Talking Horse” type of episodes that the series began with.

MISTER ED totally embraced the weirdness of the sixties in its later episodes with Spy episodes (more than one, with even a sequel), teen dancing, and even surfing! I’ve got to see the Martian episode which, oddly, I do not recall. And, as I have “The Complete Series”, I can!

And, yes… “…one can NEVER have too much Tex Avery!” . Oh, and Avery had nothing to do with my “Sixties Weirdness” theme, as much as it was to “cleanse the palate”.

joecab said...

"Moko" is on YouTube if you get curious. It was a tryout for a series that went nowhere. I don't remember it coming up when I was a kid so maybe it was pulled for syndication? It's silly, but when you see it I think you'll be pleasantly surprised :)

Joe Torcivia said...

Looking at the MISTER ED Complete Series set, “Moko” is the final episode of MISTER ED’s fourth season (of 6), with an airdate of May 17, 1964!

I will have to watch this!

Joe Torcivia said...

Based on JoeCab’s comments above, I dove into my MISTER ED Complete Series set, and watched the “Moko” episode last night. …Coincidently, as a comment to this post, after returning from my weekly Sci-Fi and Horror Film Appreciation Society meeting – which means I watched it after midnight, just before turning in to bed!

That may have been the perfect time – and the perfect mood – for watching it, as it was clearly a prime specimen of mid-sixties weirdness!

Though I watched MISTER ED in its original run, and later in syndication, I do not recall seeing this one! And I WOULD have remembered something as odd as this!

Imagine the normally offbeat MISTER ED situations, but with a “Mischievous Martian” thrown in to further complicate matters! An ANIMATED Martian, to boot! Animated as a disembodied head (and a very non-threateningly, cartoony head, at that)! Indeed, in the opening credit sequence, there is additional “cutaway credit” to the normal opening that bills him as “Moko the Mischievous Martian”.

And “mischievous” Moko is! He can fly INTO people’s ears, make them act uncharacteristically, and fly out the other ear, leaving them bewildered at their actions! So much did Moko dominate his one and only media moment, that even Mister Ed was reduced to being a (four-legged) bystander in his own show.

No voice actor is credited for Moko! It was really a great “mid-sixties trip”, and I thank JoeCab” for pointing this out to me!

joecab said...

Ha! I couldn't believe Mr. Ed had any animation in it either!

The animation wasn't credited either (no surprise, that's how they did it and sometimes they preferred not to take a credit), but the voices are easy to identify: Dave Willock, Mr. Wacky Races announcer himself as Moko, and Richard Deacon, Alan Brady's abused brother-in-law Mel Cooley, as his companion.

But I wanna know who animated it! I can't quite place the style ...

Joe Torcivia said...

I *KNEW* I recognized those voices, though they’re not even credited on IMDB, much less the show itself!

There *was* an animation studio credited for one line at the bottom of one of the closing credit screens – but it was not a name I recognized! The Martians looked much like those old “Funny Face Drink Mix” characters like “Goofy Grape” and “Loud-Mouth Lime” (…look ‘em up, folks). Maybe the same studio later designed those characters.

Later on, when I can pull out the DVD again, I’ll list the name of the animation studio.

TC said...

Would you believe...I actually remember Moko the Martian. And it must have been a syndicated rerun ca. 1970, as I have no memory of ever watching the show during its original network run.

The episode was a change of pace, not only for having more fantasy (or science fiction) than usual, but also because Ed was not the instigator. In fact, he didn't know what was going on any more than the humans did.

Star Trek never did succumb to the camp influence. It had occasional comedy episodes, and/or comedy relief in the straight episodes, but then, so did a lot of drama series (Bonanza, Gunsmoke, and Dragnet). Camp comedy would have undermined the morality plays that Gene Roddenberry wanted to do. If anything, Trek took itself more and more seriously as time went on, and it got even worse when fans began to build a cult around it.

I watched Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea when it was first-run, but I don't recall seeing "The Deadly Dolls" until years later, in syndication.

I don't know how to describe 1966-67 to anyone who is too young to remember it. There were popular TV shows before and since, but Batman was EVERYWHERE.

And the spy-fi fad, which had started with James Bond, peaked in 1966. The first Flint movie, the first two Matt Helm movies, Mission Impossible. Also, The Avengers (I mean the British TV series with Patrick MacNee and Diana Rigg as MI5 agents) came to American TV. And, of course, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Wild Wild West were still running.

The spy fad also influenced comic books in the the mid-sixties. T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., and even Blackhawk. (The team became agents for "G.E.O.R.G.E." No, I did not make that up. No, I do not do drugs.)

Of course, there were parodies out the wazoo. I remember "The Mouse From H.U.N.G.E.R." animated cartoon and "The Mouse From T.R.A.P." in the Tom & Jerry comic book. And the Three Stooges as agents for N.E.P.H.E.W. (in one issue of their comic book), and The Inferior Five meeting Caesar Single and Kwitcha Belliakin (top agents for C.O.U.S.I.N. F.R.E.D.), and Not Brand Ecch, where Knock Furious, Agent of S.H.E.E.S.H. fought the B.L.U.N.D.E.R. Agents.

Ever hear of a tongue-in-cheek spy adventure movie called "Matchless"? It came out in the mid-1960's, and starred Patrick O'Neal. There was one scene where a villainous henchman was watching a TV show called "The Dragnet From A.U.N.T.I.E."

Oh, yeah, I also recall Mister Ed and Wilbur going up against a villain named Coldfinger. If that series had lasted a little longer, they probably would have done some sort of Batman parody, too.







Joe Torcivia said...

TC:

Well, that’s “two of you” who remember Moko, and I can safely say from having watched it this week, I have NO recollection of having ever seen that episode before. MISTER ED stopped just short of the time in which it certainly WOULD have done a Batman parody… too bad. If I recall correctly, even GILLIGAN’S ISLAND and F-TROOP managed to work quick Bat-Joke-References into episodes, even if they were not full-blown parodies.

Again, that’s odd that I never saw “Moko”, because I watched MISTER ED pretty regularly – and I would not have forgotten something THAT uncharacteristically offbeat, even if I only saw it once. Strangest thing is, it could just as well have been a pilot on its own, without any of the ED characters, the way it played out. Sorta reminds me of STAR TREK’s “Assignment Earth”, the Gary Seven pilot, where Kirk and Spock were also reduced to acting almost as bystanders.

Similarly, I recall hearing that Irwin Allen’s “Man from the 25th Century” pilot (Starring James Darren) was to be similarly framed as the 25th episode of the Third Season of LOST IN SPACE, but it ended up never getting made that way, and exists today only as a short promo film sans any reference to LIS. You never know how true any of this stuff is, but what a pity, if so.

I particularly liked GUNSMOKE and BONANZA when they did comedy episodes, but I’m also glad they were used as “changes of pace” and not the norm.

I would say you are pretty much right-on, in your description of 1966-1967! What a great period that was for the sort of things we enjoy – TV, comics, film, music, etc.! Still unsurpassed, in my view! I’m forever grateful that “young me” got to experience it firsthand.

And I never heard of “Matchless”. Isn’t it funny, the gaps different people have, even if they DO like the same things! It’s another thing that I’ll have to put on the ever-growing To-Do List.

Joe Torcivia said...

Oh, and in keeping with my earlier promise, the animation studio responsible for “Moko” was called: “Spungbuggy Works”. …Can’t say I ever heard of them.

That is the ONLY animation reference in the entire end credit sequence. No voice actors, animators, or animation directors mentioned.

TC said...

I don't remember ever seeing "The Mother Muffin Affair" although it seems vaguely familiar. I may have seen a still photo from it in a magazine (e.g., Famous Monsters of Filmland or Castle of Frankenstein) article about Karloff. And, as with you and Moko, I would probably remember something that weird if I had seen it. And I remember the MFU episode that teamed Illya with Mark Slate, but I don't recall ever seeing Robert Vaughn on GFU.

Then again, I watched The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., but I never really paid much attention to anything but Stefanie Powers. My crushes in the 1960's were Stefanie, Julie Newmar, and Diana Rigg. (But Yvonne Craig, Grace Lee Whitney, and Marta Kristen were super-cute, too.)

BTW, the Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode that was the pilot for the "Girl" spin-off starred Mary Ann Mobley as April Dancer and Norman Fell as Mark Slate. Maybe they decided that April needed a partner her own age. Of course, Fell and Noel Harrison didn't even have a slight resemblance.

TC said...

I also meant to list Archie among the comics that were influenced by the spy-fi craze. Several 1966 issues of "Life With Archie" featured "A.R.C.H.I.E." and "B.E.T.T.Y." as agents for R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E.

Joe Torcivia said...

TC:

Keith Crocker, our host, said the very same thing about seeing stills of Boris Karloff as “Mother Muffin” in a book or magazine – but never managing to see the episode. Small wonder, considering that THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. (as a one-season series) had no afterlife in syndication. It’s not even on ME TV, as (presently) is THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. – and VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, for that matter.

Keith was delighted to see this at last (coming, as it seems, from the same general pop-cultural sensibilities as I) and the overall reaction from all of our members, to both THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. and VOYAGE was a positive one, indicating that the, clichéd but true, “good time was had by all”! It was a FUN night – as, I might add, were ALL of the “turnabout” sessions. …As I said, I wish I could, somehow, do this for you all! Or find some way of replicating it, on a limited basis, in my own home. It was that kind of “magic in a bottle” thing I’d love to experience again.

Rather uncharacteristic of me but, at the time “young me” was originally watching THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E., I was more interested in the “spy stuff” than in Stephanie Powers. Needless to say, the reaction in the room that night was the expected opposite! And, yes… Yvonne Craig, Grace Lee Whitney, and Marta Kristen, were – and remain to this day – my “Big Three” of sixties television beauty. And, they just happened to appear on three of my favorite sixties-era shows.

Yep, Archie too! The U.N.C.L.E. influence was everywhere, back then.

As for Mary Ann Mobley as April Dancer and Norman Fell as Mark Slate, I’d like to think that they were both “in disguise” for that episode… and they were THAT GOOD at it! Especially Slate!

Joe Torcivia said...

Oh, and I just Googled “Spungbuggy Works”, to find that they have only TWO credits at IMDB. HERE is the link. Needless to say, one of them is MISTER ED’s “Moko”

Joe Torcivia said...

I should have mentioned this as part of the last comment, but I watched “Moko” again last night, and those uncredited voices were very definitely Dave Willock and Richard Deacon.

top_cat_james said...

Hi Joe. Spunbuggy Works was a short lived studio founded by story man John Dunn, layout artist Victor Haboush, and animator Herb Stott after WB closed down their cartoon studio in the early Sixties.

Amid Amidi wrote an excellent essay on Dunn for his "Animation Blast" fanzine nine years ago that goes into some detail about the studio. Since I would have trouble providing a link, simply Google "Animation Blast John Dunn", and click on "Walt's People-: Talking Disney with the Artists who Knew Him" five results down. You should then be able to read the article.

Joe Torcivia said...

That’s a great piece of info, TCJ!

I know the first two of the three names mentioned… and, for what it’s worth, I think John Dunn may be the most sadly underrated animation storyman of all time.

Look at how he carried Warner Bros. after most of their best known talent (Foster, Maltese, and Pierce) were gone – and how he carried DePatie / Freleng after that! And did so concurrently, for a while, too! All the more so because, at DePatie / Freleng he seemed to come up with new situations and good variations on the classic ones.

And, yet, he’s not appreciated to the extent someone as prolific (and GOOD) as he was ought to be.

Looks like he would have been working on “Moko” at about the time The Pink Panther started up!

joecab said...

Wow, I never imagined this much info could be dug up. Good work!

And just for the record, I don't remember Moko in syndication either; I just discovered it later. I imagine Joe and I watched the same reruns since I grew up in the Bronx. It ran on WPIX weekday mornings IIRC until at least the late 70s.

Joe Torcivia said...

Yes, I would say that, in addition to some of the original run (certainly by 1964, when “Moko” would have aired, even if I do not remember it), I watched the same WPIX MISTER ED reruns that JoeCab did – and then lost touch with the series until the fabled run on Nick at Nite. Then, not again until getting the DVD collection.

Ain’t it great to compare notes on this stuff!