Sunday, August 3, 2014



July 16th’s Third-Wednesday-of-the-month Cowboy Lunch at the Autry was great fun, and an eye-opener for many who, like me, had little knowledge of the topic.  Rob Word’s theme this time was COMICS & COWBOYS, and the comics were not the side-kick kind, but the full-color sort.  The program opened with Maxine Hansen of Gene Autry Entertainment paying tribute to actor Dick Jones, who had been under personal contract to Gene, and starred in two series he produced, THE RANGE RIDER and BUFFALO BILL JR.  He was also featured in many comics.

Among the artists discussed was Everett Kinstler, now an official portrait artist to presidents and movie stars, who once drew Zane Grey and Zorro comics.

Kinstler's Zorro

Rob Word and Mark Evanier

Mark Evanier, animation writer and book author, and a guiding light of ComiCon, was a guest speaker.  He discussed working as an assistant to legendary comic artist Jack Kirby, and gave an overview of the comic business in general.  Among the things I learned: that while Dell comics put out many Western comic series, often tied to movies and TV shows – the heyday of western comics and western TV coincided – the work was actually done by an outfit called Western Publishing – the folks who do The Little Golden Books. Western comics always were published under Dell until 1962, when Western decided to do their own publishing, under the Gold Key name. 

A Jack Kirby cover

Dan Spiegle, who would become famous for his comic-book adaptations of Western TV shows, actually got a break when he didn’t get hired to draw a Bozo the Clown strip.  They told him his work was too dark and hard-edged for the clown, but some bright guy realized it would be just right for the Hopalong Cassidy strip they were starting; he drew it from 1949 until it was cancelled in 1955.  He worked on the MAVERICK and SUGARFOOT comic books, which were adapted directly from episode scripts.  He even went on-set to sketch James Garner at work, a pleasure, since Garner was such a nice guy.  An issue with some actors, though not Garner, was that actors had art approval on their drawings, and often expected to be made more attractive than they really were. 

Spiegle's Maverick

Sergio Aragones, the celebrated MAD MAGAZINE artist for more than half a century, was the next guest.  A native of Mexico, his father had worked in Mexican movies, and Sergio told about visiting the set of THE BEAST OF HOLLOW MOUNTAIN, and watching Guy Madison trying to play scenes co-starring a ball on the end of a stick – which would later be replaced by a dinosaur. 

Sergio Aragones' Bat Lash

Sergio would soon create the Western comic BAT LASH.  With his English not so strong at the time – he jokes that it’s still not so great – he tried to tell the stories as visually as possible, with Denny O’Neil writing the words.

Sergio Aragones with a 'Bat Lash' page

Switching to European comics, actor Martin Kove told about how, during his CAGNEY & LACEY days, he almost got to star in the film version of Lieutenant Blueberry which, despite the sound of its title, was a serious and hugely popular adult Western comic-book out of France.  As so often happens, the script that was developed had nothing to do with the comic strip, and the project died in the dust. 

Martin Kove with a painting of Lieutenant Blueberry

The last guest speaker was Olympic athlete and movie stuntman Dean Smith, who was signing his autobiography, COWBOY STUNTMAN.  He credits James Garner for starting him on his 55 year career as a stuntman, and recalled being hired to double Strother Martin in the John Wayne film MCCLINTOCK, and ending up doubling Maureen O’Hara as well!

Dean Smith signing his autobiography

It was a great event, a packed house, including a number of well-known stuntmen, and western stars L.Q. Jones and Morgan Woodward.  On August 20th, the theme of the Cowboy Lunch will be Gene’s Autry’s old headquarters, Melody Ranch.  Be there or be square!

Morgan Woodward, L.Q. Jones & Martin Kove

Looking over this article, it strikes me how often James Garner’s name came up at this event, just a couple of weeks before he died.  I’ve enjoyed his work since I was a kid, on MAVERICK, ROCKFORD, and everything else I saw him do.  There has been so much written about Garner the man and Garner the actor that I really don’t have anything to say that hasn’t been said much better by the people who actually knew and worked with him.  Tom Sellick, who early in his career worked with Garner on ROCKFORD FILES always said that no one wore their stardom better than Garner.  We’ll all miss him.


As part of their ‘What is a Western?’ series, and in conjunction with their ROUTE 66 exhibition, the Autry will present ‘BOUND FOR GLORY’, starring David Carradine as folk-singer and political activist Woody Guthrie.  Directed by Hal Ashby, scripted by Robert Getchell from Guthrie’s autobiography, the film won the Best Cinematography Oscar for Haskell Wexler, and Best Musical Score for Leonard Rosenman.  The film, free with museum admission, screens in the Wells Fargo Theatre at 1:30, and will be introduced by Jeffrey Richardson, Gamble Curator of Western History, Popular Culture, and Firearms.    

I SPY – The Complete Series – A Review

The success of the James Bond films, based on the Ian Fleming novels, created a vogue for spy TV series, commencing with THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. and SECRET AGENT in 1964, I SPY, THE AVENGERS (it really started in ’61 but wasn’t shown in the U.S. until ’64), the spoof GET SMART and the western version WILD WILD WEST in 1965, and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE in 1966.  They were all delightful in their time, but in my opinion, I SPY has aged better than the others, so it’s great news that Timeless Media has released the entire three-season, 82 episode run on DVD as I SPY – THE COMPLETE SERIES.    

I SPY seemed more grounded in reality than the competition.  While most of the other spy series aped the Bond films’ fondness for gimmickry – walkie-talkies hidden in pens (“Open channel D”), shoe-phones, and cameras, radios, hats and what-have-yous that converted into guns, Robert Culp as Kelly Robinson, and Bill Cosby as Alexander Scott, had guns that looked like guns, and that killed people when nothing else was going to work.  While most other shows pitted their agents against a succession of hard-to-distinguish Fu Manchu/Moriarty/Dr. No-like criminal masterminds, or a seemingly endless collection of neo-Nazi organizations, Robinson and Scott were usually up against the Soviet Union, or other recognizable and seemingly real enemies. 

And while the other shows made often obvious studio back-lots stand in for foreign countries, I SPY went all over the world for real.  Episodes were shot in Hong Kong, Japan, Turkey, Mexico and much of Latin America – and that’s just in season one!   Their cover was ingenious, and made all of the travel logical.  Kelly, a former Princeton law student, was a top-seeded tennis pro, traveling the world to play in international tournaments.  Alexander was his trainer, as well as a Rhodes Scholar.  (In a remarkable example of life imitating art, Eugene Fodor, one of the great travel-writers, would reveal that since 1936 he had been using his travel-writing as a cover for his secret work for the OSS and CIA.)

Famous for the amusing banter between the leads, the characters took themselves lightly, but their work seriously, often following orders they did not agree with or fully understand, when necessary.   One of the crucial differences between I SPY and the other espionage shows is that while the others were plot -- or ‘mission’ – driven, I SPY was largely character-driven.  Should an arrogant black American athlete who’d defected to Russia, and now wanted to come back, be helped, or was he more trouble than he was worth?  Should one of Kelly’s mentors in spying, now considered a double agent, be killed without a hearing?  Will an incompetent senior agent doom Scotty and Alexander’s mission to failure?  In one of my favorites, the agents must safeguard scientist Boris Karloff, who has created a formula of international importance, but whose ancient brain keeps drifting off to his obsession with Don Quixote.  In many ways, the series resembles an international spy version of classic ‘guys on the road’ series ROUTE 66.   

with Boris Karloff

The series was created and produced by writing partners Martin S. Fine and David Freidkin, who had worked together on series like THE VIRGINIAN and THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR.  The Executive Producer was Sheldon Leonard, who started out as an actor, his unmistakable Brooklyn accent making him famous as the Racing Tout on Jack Benny’s radio show.  He’s probably best-remembered as Nick the impatient bartender in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE: “We serve hard drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast.  And we don’t need any characters around to give the joint atmosphere.”   He’d already had tremendous success as a TV producer, with comedies like MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY, THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW and GOMER PYLE, U.S.M.C., when he decided to switch to drama with I SPY.  He also shook up the industry by casting Bill Cosby – the first time an African American had ever been cast as a lead in a TV series. 

Leonard also went along on the foreign sojourns, directing much of the on-location footage: the exteriors were shot all around the globe, while the generic interiors were shot in L.A.  The tone of the series was freewheeling and hard to pigeonhole; Sheldon Leonard was EMMY-nominated for Best Director in a Drama Series in the first season, and next year the prolific Earl Bellamy (who also directed my first film, SPEEDTRAP) was nominated for Best Director in a Comedy Series. 

The show’s accolades were many.  Eartha Kitt won an EMMY for her guest performance.  Robert Culp and Bill Cosby were both nominated for Best Actor every year the series was on, and ironically, all three years, Culp lost to his best friend, Cosby.  When Culp died unexpectedly in 2010, Cosby told Greg Braxton of the L.A. Times that they were so close, they practically had their own language.  “Bob was the actor and I was the entertainer. The day after each of those awards, I went to work with a feeling of guilt and darn near embarrassment. As soon as Bob appeared at work, he would come and say, ‘How you feeling?’ I said, ‘OK.’ The next thing I knew, I had forgotten all about the Emmy.”

Culp was active behind the scenes as well.  He directed one episode, and one of the seven he wrote – more than any single author except the show’s creators – was Emmy-nominated.  The guest casts were full of big stars and familiar character actors.  Because so many shows were set in Asia, every Asian actor who was ever in a CHARLIE CHAN movie, or who would soon be in HAWAII FIVE-0 was represented.  So were much of the soon-to-be casts of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and STAR TREK. 

I know I SPY is an odd series to review in The Round-up, even though Bill Cosby starred in MAN AND BOY, and Culp had a long career in the western genre, from starring in the series TRACKDOWN, and features like HANNIE CAULDER, to his work and close friendship with Sam Peckinpah.  But sometimes you need to ‘cleanse the pallet’ with a non-Western, and I SPY – THE COMPLETE SERIES is a terrific way to do it.   


Edith Head, the Hollywood costume designer with more than 400 movies to her credit, will be th subject of a retrospective of her work entitled WHAT I REALLY DO IS MAGIC: EDITH HEAD AND HOLLYWOOD COSTUME DESIGN, from August 8th through September 27th at The Billy Wilder Theatre.  Among the many Westerns she designed costumes for were THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN, TELL THEM WILLIE BOY IS HERE, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, CHUKA, EL DORADO, THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER, THE HALLELUJAH TRAIL, ROUSTABOUT, THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERY VALANCE, HELLER IN PINK TIGHTS, THE LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL, THE TIN STAR, GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL, all the way back to THE TEXAS RANGERS in 1936.  

While none of her Westerns are being screened, some terrific non-westerns are, including SUNSET BLVD., THE LADY EVE, SHE DONE HIM WRONG, and others, many with guest speakers.  Friday night’s opening program will feature DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID, introduced by director Carl Reiner and costume designer Deborah Nadoolman.  Learn more here:


I’m finishing the Round-up around nine tonight – three hours earlier than usual – to prepare for my big adventure of the week: acting! I’ll have a small bit in a turn-of-the-20th-century western called BOONVILLE REDEMPTION – the picture shows me in costume (my dog, Dodger, isn’t in he movie).  I’ll be playing a man whose leg gets busted in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, so go ahead and tell me to break a leg!  I’ll have much more about this movie soon in the Round-up!  

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright August 2014 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved

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