Let me state right off the top that I Spy is my favorite television series of all time — to this very day.

I believe that there are certain times in your life when you are exposed to a story, a writer, a movie, a performer (or performers) that has an impact on you that stamps like a branding iron into your brain.

In 1965, the first time I saw I Spy, it was love at first sight.

I told Robert Culp that when I introduced him on stage on the Queen Mary some years ago.

The above photo collage was taken during Matt Sherman’s Spy Convention on board the Queen Mary. I asked the talented and kind Paul Scrabo if he could put together clips from episodes that Robert Culp had written and/or directed on screen behind us during my talk with Culp. Paul had done the trailer for my Detectives Inc., better than I ever could.

The young Don McGregor who watched the Culp-scripted pilot episode of I Spy, “So Long, Patrick Henry”, would not have believed you if you told him that one day he and Bob would become friends and that one of the few pieces of art he has on his wall is the I Spy poster, On it, Bob writes to me:

“To Don, My dear friend and champion.

Robert Culp”

I only have three pieces of art on my wall and with the exception of the Nathaniel Dusk poster, which states This is an honest man…That makes him as good as dead, none of the art is from my books. The other two pieces are this signed I Spy poster and photo from Robert Culp, and the other a litho I designed of Hopalong Cassidy, rendered by Tom Yeates and inscribed to Marsha and me by Grace Bradley Boyd (Mrs. Hopalong Cassidy). The above photo was taken by David Smith, who also designed my new business cards.)

So what was that I saw that fateful evening of the premiere that I so loved? I can tell you immediately. It was Bill Cosby and Robert Culp.

I’m not much of a joiner of groups, but I do relish and treasure individual friendship.

One of the most iconic images I’ve ever described and had done for comics is in Detectives Inc. On the cover, which Marshall Rogers penciled and Tom Yeates inked, private eyes Ted Denning and Bob Rainier stand back to back in a rain-swept ally. Neither has to turn to see if the other is there.

It’s that kind of friendship.

And that was the kind of friendship Bill Cosby and Robert Culp brought to TV.

The Timeless Media Group have just released the Complete I Spy on DVD. Here why I Spy is historically important.

Many columns on I Spy will tell you that it made history by having a black actor as the star of a TV drama series: not as a sidekick but as a partner. More importantly an equal partner.

Even as the show was announced, there were already NBC affiliate stations in the South that declared they would not run a series with a black guy as a lead, and punching out white folks, and looking at women.

But one of the most memorable things you get with I Spy is one of the great screen teams of all time. When I would read about Paul Newman and Robert Redford, and what chemistry they had in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, I’d think, “What the hell are they talking about?” Now, I really love Paul Newman’s work, and I don’t dislike Redford, either.

But when it comes to camaraderie on screen, that magical chemistry between two players, I am hard pressed even now to think of two who were closer in spirit and generosity than Bob Culp and Bill Cosby. One of the things TV can do effectively is bring performers together who act and play together, and capture an affinity over the months and years, which is someting truly hard to do during the short time shooting a film. Diana Rigg and Patrick Macnee of TV’s Avengers are another two that come to mind in those terms.

But I Spy does more things for the first time on a TV series than just break the racial barrier. It really brings the buddy show to a pitch perfect blend week after week.

Sheldon Leonard, the producer, decided he would film the series globally. Can you imagine a weekly television series somehow managing to film on location around the world! It had never been done, because everyone in the Hollywood business, I’m sure, knew that as insanity to even contemplate.

Herbert B. Leonard (no relation to Sheldon) had managed to shoot Naked City using New York City and environs on location in a way that it had never been done before — then or now. And in Route 66 he pulled off filming the famous road show all across the United States, and seldom used a set.

By 1965 television had become such a mainstay in American homes that the creators were finding different ways they could use the medium. Still, no one had dared have a black action star. And it was purely nuts to try to film a weekly show — 28 episodes a year then — around the whole damn world!

What is more astounding, Sheldon didn’t really know how he was going to pull it off until a young Egyptian cinematographer Fouad Said came in and told Sheldon he could do the location shooting, and he could do it for the kind of money NBC was willing to pay.

In the first season alone, I Spy films in Hong Kong and Mexico. Later they go to Mexico, Spain, Italy, Greece, among other countries.

These are historical visuals, a recording of the mid-’60s around the world and what those pla es looked like. There’s no CGI here. You’re looking at the real places with Culp and Cosby right in the midst of them, honing their seemingly effortless repartee, running after killers and enemy agents. You will never see its like again.

Another historical point is that to pull this incredible effort off Fouad creates what becomes the Cinemobile that is used in movies to this day to film on location.

Then there’s the music. It’s by Earle Hagen.

Earle Hagen travelled to the various countries, met with the musicians from all the places they were filming to use music that was right for the culture the story was set in. It is, to my knowledge, the first time stock music was not used over and over for a TV series.

Earle would incorporate the theme song in various ways, at times, with an Asian instrumental approach, and then in Mexico with Mariachi players.

Earle had written “Harlem Nocturne”, among many other songs, before working on I Spy. He also did the Andy Griffith theme (and it is Earle’s whistling you hear) for Sheldon in the beginning of the ’60s. Leonard and Earle worked together on the Dick Van Dyke Show as well. But with I Spy, Earle went where no other musician had gone before on TV.

(By the way, just as an obscure bit of information: Earle did the music for the beginning episodes of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman a decade later, and even, in one episode, briefly used the theme from an episode of I Spy called “Lara” in Mary Hartman.)

Another facet of I Spy that was also radically different from any other American spy show of the time was that the United States government pushed their agenda at the expense of people, even their own agents. The agents in Mission Impossible, for instance, always did what the government asked, even engaging in the political voting process of other countries at times, without question, and knowing their very existence will be disavowed.

In I Spy there are lots of shades of grey. In Culp’s script for “Magic Mirror”, Kelly and Scotty (Culp and Cosby’s characters) are referred to as goldfish in a bowl, with no individual rights. In “A Room with a Rack”, Kelly is tortured into a nervous breakdown – an event that his government agency knows about.

When Gloria Foster’s character is kidnapped and being tortured, Kelly and Scotty are at odds with their bosses, who want them to let it happen to further their own goals.

This was rare stuff indeed on American television in the mid-’60s. Patrick McGoohan certainly would go after such things in England, with hammers and tongs, with Secret Agent and The Prisoner.

So with this wonderful set from Timeless you get all of this time capsule history.

Oh, and for all of us comics fans, I have to tell you straight out: Cosby and Culp were the first TV heroes to read comic books.

That’s right. Back in a timeframe when Hollywood used characters reading comics as shorthand that the character portrayed was slow-witted, Bill and Bob lounge around Las Vegas swimming pools reading comics. Go on, show me a TV series that did that before this! In “Home to Judgment”, scripted by Culp, he longingly stares through fevered eyes into his past, speaking past parched lips of the comics he loved, including Terry and the Pirates and The Phantom.

So embrace that, comics fans.

Here is just a partial list of the guest stars you’ll see in this set: Ivan Dixon, Cicely Tyson, Michael Conrad, Eartha Kitt, Martin Landau, Jeanette Nolan, Keye Luke, Jay Novello, Laura Devon, Albert Salmi, Julie London, James Shigeta, Roger C. Carmel, Godfrey Cambridge, Kent Smith, Victor Buono, Diana Sands, Victor Jory, Dolores Del Rio, Antoinette Bower, Rory Calhoun, Howard Duff, Sally Kellerman, Alejandro Rey, Carroll O’Connor, Dane Clark, Nancy Wilson, Raymond St. Jacques, Barbara Steele, James Best, Ron Howard, Nehemiah Persoff, Elisha Cook, Jr., Leslie Uggams, Nina Foch, Carol Wayne, Jack Cassidy, Jean Marsh, Salome Jens, Boris Karloff, Peter Lawford, Ricardo Montalban, Barbara McNair, Don Rickles, Wally Cox, Jim Brown, Beah Richards, Eduardo Ciannelli (The Mysterious Dr. Satan himself), Dorothy Lamour, Will Geer, Una Merkel, Andrew Duggan, Richard Kiel, Richard Denning, Diana Muldaur, Gene Hackman, Jim Backus, Gloria Foster, Lloyd Nolan, and — I’m not kidding — more. In this one set.

I Spy was released on DVD starting in 2001 by Image Entertainment. There were four episodes on a disc. They released Naked City in much the same manner. This is rather early in the days of DVD radically invading the entertainment space. Few companies could figure out how to sell television shows and make money on them on videotape.

TV was a stray dog wandering into the fray of video from time to time, but most of the big companies did not see TV as being worth their time. It took awhile before merchandisers saw the way to make TV series into lucrative competitors: Sell whole seasons on a series!

Extras also became an added attraction. If you loved a show, not only could you now own an entire season, you might find the stars that brought you to the show in the first place talking about what it was like making the show.

Image released 21 volumes of I Spy. The last two volumes contained commentaries by Robert Culp on the seven episodes he wrote and in one case, directed. Those commentaries are among the most involving, most emotionally revealing, most complex but also informative and entertaining commentaries I have ever heard, equaling those of noir expert Eddie Mueller on many of Fox film noir releases.

Later, Image would release I Spy as individual season sets. Robert Culp’s commentaries would appear on whichever volume that contained his epiode. I once asked Bob about the commentaries. He sounds so conversational in them, as if remembrances verbalized in the moment.

And yet…

In an episode like “Magic Mirror”, the commentary and the events on the story itself dramatically, beautifully synced, collide with what’s on the screen and what is happening behind the scenes. He could not possibly have timed it without knowing exactly where he was going. He was using material for a book he was writing on I Spy for the commentaries, but had the ability to make it sound as if it was just a conversation between him and the listener.

Now, Timeless has picked up and released I Spy as a complete set. There are no extras. Negotiations apparently could not be made to include the Robert Culp subjective narration. This is an important loss.

The nice thing is that you can view the episodes in order and see Bill Cosby and Robert Culp evolve in that kinship, that back and forth of easy talk and pop culture references unlike any other show at that time. Or really, for the most part, even today.

The prints have not been remastered. This is a shame, what with all of the location footage from around the world alone. The prints do not appear to be better — or worse — than the Image prints. The color photography comes across just fine, maybe not as sharp as some series have done, but certainly good. There doesn’t seem to be any episode that is inferior.

I find it strange that this has happened with Timeless. The company included marvelous extras with Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, with interviews and a really informative booklet listing every episode as well as reviews of the show at the time.

There is a booklet with I Spy that lists all the episodes, but no one was proofreading much. In the third episode, “Carry Me Back to Old Tsing Tao”, Michael Conrad of Hill Street Blues appears, but in the booklet he is listed as Robert Conrad of The Wild Wild West.

Timeless’ release of the Complete Hill Street Blues and individual seasons of L.A. Law had filmed conversations with much of the cast as part of the extras. When Timeless released Peter Gunn and Mr. Lucky, the company included CDs of Henry Mancini’s record albums of the series. So, I’m not sure why Earle Hagen, who does such incredible work, and who had I Spy albums released during the years the series aired, weren’t included with the set. This may be a hard sell for Timeless. I haven’t kept track, although I am aware the third season of I Spy from Image had a substantially higher price. I don’t know if that is because Robert Culp’s “Home to Judgment” is in the last season and is favored by many of the shows fans as being the best (or at least one of the best) I Spys ever done.

I certainly would have used cover art from later seasons in the series, when Kelly and Scotty have altered the regular attire of suits and ties to T-Shirts and tennis shoes. That attire was just unheard-of in television land in those days unless you were working on a boat.

And now that I’ve set you up, I’m going to take you on a tour through the first season of I Spy, with visuals that will let you see what you can expect when you have the series on your DVD player.

Get ready, here we go!

“So Long Patrick Henry” was not the first I Spy written and filmed. “Affair in T’Sien Cha” was. The pilot was virtually rejected by NBC and the suits were saying they wanted to fire Bill Cosby because he was too inexperienced an actor. In the months after “T’Sien Cha” was filmed, Robert Culp wrote scripts to showcase the direction and depth he believed the series could have. Culp let people know if they got rid of Cosby, they would lose him.

The show had been greenlit, but there were things few were ready to do. One was the question of a black guy shooting white guys. Or hitting them. I never understood why there was such a big deal out of Sidney Poitier slapping the wealthy white guy in In The Heat of the Night, when by that time, Bill Cosby was now punching the tickets of bad guys and sometimes shooting at them, as well.

“So Long, Patrick Henry” is the first episode aired and is considered the true pilot. Not only does the episode have a black dramatic lead in an action series, but Culp goes further and has Ivan Dixon play a wealthy black Olympic athlete who rejects the United States and takes up with Communist China.

How in the hell Bob ever got that through, in 1965 (think of that time now, not 2014) beats me. Cicely Tyson plays the woman he loves, from an African nation.

Bob comes up with a way to get it so Bill can shoot a gun. Kelly and Scotty take a cab that has a Hong Kong driver who is really an assassin. When the driver turns to shoot them in the back seat, gun shots blast, then he grimaces and slumps dead. The camera then cuts to two guns smoking. One in a white hand. One in a black hand.

And then we see Scotty and Kelly holstering their guns, complaining about how silencers ruin the weave of their jackets. And that’s how Bob got around that roadblock.

 

 

A three-panel still-frame continuity that shows Kelly inching along the outside of a Hong Kong hotel to ambush the bad guys, with Scotty coming in through the door.

 

The second I Spy was written by David Friedkin, who also plays Kelly’s espionage mentor and friend. Kelly’s Little Orphan Annie decoder says the Pentagon wants him to kill his teacher, and not with kindness.

The storyline has a nice usage of Hong Kong locales, and the first “locked room” situation with Kelly and Scotty. It also has a delightfully wild diversion setup as Robert Culp does many of his own stunts after “accidentally” setting off fireworks in a Hong Kong shop. That’s Bob up in the rafters, above and below, kicking out the bad guys while hanging from rafters. Check this out.

Kelly shouting for his diplomatic rights as firecrackers explode, bringing every bad guy in the place ready to ground him into chuck steak.

The big guy tossing Kelly like a kewpie doll, sliding down the length of counter and onto the floor

.

I suspect the insurance people had no idea Robert Culp was doing all these acrobatics. If he’d asked, they’d have said, “No. Use the stunt guy. We need you next week, able to move about unhurt.”

Kelly protesting his innocence and demanding contact with the American Embassy while clinging to the rafters.

While NBC had approved a black actor starring in an action adventure series, there were still serious issues and boundaries many did not want crossed. One of these dealt with whether or not America was ready for a black guy to have love scenes.

Robert Culp, while writing the four scripts to set the tone for the series, wrote his second one just for Bill. How many actor/writers can you think of that would write for the other guy, not the role for himself? He wrote a role for Eartha Kitt (who was nominated for an Emmy for Angel) to get the suits used to the idea that Bill Cosby could have stories that included women. If you are involved in pop culture as a writer, you have to determine what you can squeeze through, and how do you manage to get it to be reality.

This is the script and story, airing as the sixth episode of I Spy, which opened that locked door.

Believe me, I can tell you that doing the first interracial kiss in Marvel Comics in the mid-’70s was not a slam dunk, and an artist could refuse to draw it, editorial could tell you “No” if you didn’t find the right protocol to get it through. In the mid-’70s, don’t even think of a homosexual relationship in comics as a writer. That’s your last damn book in those days. Believe me.

“Tatia” has the I Spy team back in Japan, and for the first time they take the lead actress, Laura Devon, with them. This results in the show being able to film close in on the actors against beautifully textured location backgrounds, from ornate temple carvings to redwood impressive trees to cascading waterfalls as Kelly falls for the “Tuesday’s child” Tatia Loring.

You might note that it is Tatia herself, who might be more than a photographer, just as Kelly and Scotty are more than tennis player and trainer. She may be a ruthless murderer for the opposition. But it is the incarnation of Tatia herself helping me make this one of the most visually striking I Spy pieces you might ever see.

I hope it also showcases what you will find within the episodes, which often defy a neatly summarized line or two about what the series is. Unlike many shows, it is not a strict formula, delivering expected specific forms of entertainment week after week. Stories can be cold, hard, and angry; some stories can be gentle and funny and live on the quick by-play of Cosby and Culp; some can be romantic; some can be bleak and filled with melancholy.

“Tatia” blends many of these elements in one story. Here are Kelly and Tatia becoming more serious about each other, sexually attracted to the other against incredible backdrops you could not see on any other TV series. Without CGI, these days, as I have written, I don’t believe you will ever see it again.

“Tatia” aired on November 16, 1965, when I Spy was only on the air for a couple of months. The episode is especially noted by fans because it features Scotty trying to stop Kelly from going to Tatia’s hotel room for a romantic evening. Scotty believes Tatia might just be planning to kill Kelly. Scotty calls the hotel desk to tell them to ignore any calls of disturbance, that he is playing “sound effects” records. And then Scotty blocks Kelly’s way. The two men are about to go at each other.

Before the show began, no one could have predicted that so many people would care about these friends who were not at such odds with each other that they would do battle. It is a testament to the chemistry of Culp and Cosby and their dedication to bringing everything they had as creative people to the show. The fight is filled with tension, anger, and even humor as it proceeds out into the corridor, where hotel guests are unsure as to what the hell is going on between the two of them.

This is an exquisite I Spy sequence.

“Three Hours on a Sunday Night” is Sheldon Leonard’s vision for I Spy, a much better representative episode than “Affair in T’Shien Cha”. I Spy would still have been the groundbreaking series for all the reasons I listed above if “Affair in T’Shien Cha” had aired first. But it would have been painfully dated as a show testing the waters, with Bill giving back-rubs to Bob, and little kids trying to see if the black would come off his skin.

Here is the way Sheldon thought it would go, and he plays the heavy Sorgi in it with a gun to Robert Culp’s head. There may not have been a lot of acting here.

That written, “Three Hours on a Sunday Night” showcases the guys nicely, with Scotty held at gunpoint and Kelly having to try to raise the money to free him within three hours. It has Julie London, having a good time playing romance dallying scenes with a lot of fluff and traditional movie by-play. She brings litz and glamour and suspense and a little bit of sex, a TV version of a Hitchcock Cary Grant and Grace Kelly movie.

In short, a good time was had by all.

Watch out for flute players with their heads in baskets. I think I learned that lesson later in the Zatoichi film series. But it applies here, as well. If you want to learn more about the series of films about Zatoichi, the blind swordsman, here is a Riding Shotgun piece that examines the long-running franchise.

At the time I first saw “Tigers of Heaven”, I had never seen any Zatoichi movies. I did not even know they existed. The flavor of the samurai films, with their political and emotion intrigue, were all evident here.

I always smiled whenever I saw the party sequence with Maureen Arthur, who always has a martini glass in her hand whenever Kelly stops by to flirt with her. He asks her if she likes Martinis. She replies, sultrily, “I loovvve olives.”

I just recently saw her in the Maverick – Volume 4 series I reviewed a while back. But I won’t forget this smaller role. Her comic timing was perfection.

Kelly on the tennis court with Scotty, a rare circumstance in the series. Everyone crowds around the elder Hong Kong statesman who is a target of a violent revolutionary group that wants to return to the ways of Bushido. See the little patch of discolored dirt behind Scotty. We know, but the tennis players don’t, there is a bomb buried a few inches below. No wonder Kelly doesn’t play much tennis.

The father comes to realize it is his own son that hates him with such venom. It is classic dramatic father/son conflict, played broadly aggressive by the son, grieved achingly by the father. Kelly and Scotty just want to punch him out.

George Takei stands beside the leader of the Tigers of Heaven All his dialogue is in Japanese. A year later he would be Sulu on Star Trek and these days a spokesman for human rights and dignity.

The first 16mm print I ever had of I Spy in the 70s was “Tigers of Heaven”. I had Robert Culp’s speech to the arrogant, loudmouth samurai son down almost word for word, and quoted it more than once when playing around with friends as if there was going to be a showdown.

My friends Alan and Betty Gold had their son, Adam, who was about 4 or 5 at the time, (about the same age as my daughter, Lauren) had him come up to me to deliver the “I throw it at your feet” line. Adam walked up to me, announced solemnly, “Don…I…frow it at your feet.” The “frow” cracked the whole room up with laughter.

And now, here is Kelly Robinson talking truly from the heart to the fanatical group that intend to slice and dice him and Scotty.

“Okay, let’s get on with it. We’ve followed your bouncing elf. Do the community sing. The knife act. Now, for the second act closer, you pronounce sentence on us right?”

TOSHIO: Hai!

KELLY: Well, let’s go. What’s it gonna be? Is it gonna be the rack? The honey and the ants bit is good. How about the Algerian Ice Taunt, haven’t seen that in years?

TOSHIO: However you die, it will be without grace. You will beg for your dying. Since you are not honorable men who can be trusted to commit hara kari, my Tigers will dispatch you to your ancestors.

(Scotty spits some fiery words, burning with anger at Toshio. The Tigers stand them up for execution. Now, Kelly speaks, with controlled fury, quiet, hard, penetrating.)

KELLY: Toshio, for the last time in my life, I speak to you truly from the heart. As a man of honor, you must listen. You are a Tiger of Heaven, leader of the samurai, yet you have tried to kill an old man and failed. Now you would have your followers, your children, dispatch us as if we were cattle.

I throw it at your feet. You have lost face. We will take to our graves the knowledge that you are without honor, that you are not samurai. I give you one chance to prove you are a man…to prove you have courage…to prove it…on me.

What will you say? Just you and me.

Despite Scotty’s protests, and Kelly’s refusal to back down, with a hard disclaimer that it’s just Kendo, Scotty tries to speak sense to him that Kendo is with sticks. The swords are unsheathed.

Now, seriously, how many TV shows in that time period, or just about any time period in American drama/comedy/action/buddy series, had a sword fight like that outside of Japanese films like Zatoichi and in Kurasawa’s Seven Samurai? Scotty and Kelly are facing questions of ethnic extremism in Hong Kong on a high visual note.

There is nothing about “Bet Me a Dollar” that looks like a television episode.

If you did not know it was a weekly TV series, you’d never be able to tell that when viewing it. It has exquisite locales, beautifully composed shots that showcase public places in Mexico City and in surrounding areas of serene isolation. Those shots are on the episode all while maintaining a thriller atmosphere filled with acting of range and consequence, conveying intensity, fear, friendship, guilt, and illness.

In the teaser, Kelly is sauntering with a date through the nighttime streets when they witness a brawl taking place outside a cantina. Kelly intervenes when one of the men goes down, but the adversary quickly whips out a blade. Culp moves with a Matador’s grace and step as he wraps his jacket about his arm, hoping to save himself a slash, and dancing with a Matador’s step before the bull.

The dirty blade scores flesh! And then the opponent is down, the fight finished. An ordeal is about to begin.

At the hospital, Kelly’s wound is treated and bandaged while the doctor takes a blood sample.

This is one of David Friedkin and Mort Fine’s best I Spy scripts, deliciously simple in its setup and complications.

Kelly and Scotty sit in a small bar: Kelly in a morose mood, Scotty realizing his state of mind. In tone and spirit, the scene somewhat reminds of the two in Hickey and Boggs, the Culp-directed feature film from a few years later, but here, despite the somber attitude, there is a warmth between the two men who work and play together. Scotty challenges Kelly to a bet. For a dollar wager, Scotty says he can track Kelly down no matter where he hides. Kelly brightens at the challenge thrown.

The two buddies shake on it. And then Scotty learns from the doctor that the knife wound has infected Kelly with anthrax germs. The time limit for the game is now for life and death. How many hours before Kelly will succumb?

Kelly taunts Scotty with the aid of a small Mexican boy who shines shoes to earn money. Kelly gives him a per diem to help him taunt Scotty.

Kelly playfully toots on a toy flute, before disappearing on Scotty with young Ramon’s help. It’s a fun piece of business, a little humorous, and yet ending with the stakes growing higher. The frenzied search and chase takes place throughout colorful locales, including the Floating Gardens, that you won’t find in a CGI-rendered TV show.

Ramon helps Kelly flee from the city on a country bus, but his illness starts to become pronounced during the bus ride. Pepito Hector Galindo plays effectively off Culp’s playfulness and then illness. Pepito captures a carefree child’s spirit, to be on the run, to be playing the game, until a grim reality seizes everything, and now he is the child having to care for the adult.

Culp and Galindo beautifully capture the pain of becoming seriously ill and the caregiver who feels helpless, yet has to hold on to faith and courage.

The framing device for “Return to Glory”, with Shelby in the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City’s accounting office quizzing Kelly and Scotty always charmed me. I had no idea it was filmed only because the episode ran short, timewise, and they needed an added sequence to fill up the minutes to 51.

I loved Antoinette Bower as Shelby, the flirtatious back-and-forth while the two agents have to explain the miniscule expense of “glass pants.” It was long after that I realized Antoinette was in a lot of TV series at the time, including the Wild, Wild West and others. But Antoinette will always be Shelby to me.

Dolores del Rio makes a rare television appearance as Cerita, whose husband is an ousted dictator with plans to return to his former glory. Victor Jory plays the aging dictator with a range of emotion that reflects who he was when he was younger and before the ravages of age hit him.

Victor Jory played The Shadow in the 1930s, and with the mask, and the hawk-like nose, he certainly looked the cloaked part. He is a long ways from Lamont Cranston.

Scotty and Kelly have to meet the leader to see if America should send support to his plans for military overthrow of the existing government that is anti-American. Does this deposed leader, who has been more pro-America, have a plan of invasion that is more than delusion?

American politicians still make deals with leaders who might end up biting them on the ass one day, if they, themselves, perpetuate inhumane acts against their people. The problem is that when Scotty and Kelly try for a meeting with him in a town square, an assassination attempt is made. As the gunshot rings out in the crowded Mexican square, the two agents race for the car and leap onto the moving vehicle.

A head is blasted. It isn’t human.

There’s a manikin where a corpse should be.

This is an example of “tag team” Scotty and Kelly. This scene has always appealed to me. I guess it is because we really see the ease with which they work in tandem. Before facing the man with the machete in the narrowed, confined labyrinth, Bill and Bob banter about sugar cane before realizing they are being followed and lead into a trap.  They didn’t talk about the plot. They had a conversation that sounded as real as daily life. Dialogue between two friends. That didn’t happen often in television.

And they looked cool taking out the bad guy, as well.

When the two agents end their story for Shelly, the “glass pants” are revealed.

I could include a photo showcasing the Temple of the Moon pyramid for “Crusade to Limbo”. Or shots of Howard Duff, Ida Lupino’s actor husband, could be here. Or even Sheldon Leonard punching Robert Culp (as Kelly, of course), which may have been a simmering small flame at the time.

But remember I wrote and put in the title about the first heroes reading comics. Here is Bob, before climbing the steep, narrow steps to the top of the pyramid, reading a comic book.

He’s reading Konga.

Konga?

Of all the comics in all the world.

Okay, but Terry and the Pirates and The Phantom are coming.

Before Archie Bunker defected to the United States he was Doctor Karolyi. Carroll O’Connor is the brain manipulator who uses mirrors to have Kelly kill Scotty. Fay Spain was in a number of films in the ’50s, and was probably in every single series Warner Brothers did, from 77 Sunset Strip to Maverick. Fay lures Kelly into O’Connor’s torture and consequence lab.

Like “Bet Me a Dollar” I often forget this is a first season I Spy. In just the span of months what the show can do in front of the camera and behind them have broadened in scope.

Some folks who recall the series think of it as fun and games, Bill and Bob trading cool repartee. Some forget how dark the show could become. I find in Carroll O’Connor being the personage who would corrupt Kelly into believing Scotty a traitor and programming Kelly to kill his partner some kind of hint of the actor’s future. He makes Kelly believe, through tight editing quite unlike most TV shows, how Kelly’s memories can be twisted through his mind assault methods so that when the torture is finished he will view Scotty as a black man who hurt him when he was young.

And as the sessions continue, this reminds me somewhat of what Robert Culp went through in The Outer Limits: “The Architects of Fear”. However, the consequences here are more disturbing. As Kelly’s paranoid aggression grows, we see the two buddies separated; Kelly torn to the point of physical confrontation; Scotty trying to figure out what the hell is happening?

I Spy did not just create jobs for actors of color, but also for people working behind the scenes, of many ethnic persuasions. I would be remiss not to mention that Calvin Brown became the first black stuntman to be a regular fill-in for Bill Cosby in the rougher action sequences. The show helped Calvin get past much of the good ol’ boys stunt associations.

It is really shocking when Kelly aims a gun at Scotty and states, “You’re all alike!” Scotty’s instinctive, quick, hurt, angry reaction is powerful, that these two men who we have cherished together for weeks now are torn apart by the racism that Karolyi exploits. “What?” “All alike…” Kelly manages, gun hand wavering, his mind splintering under the assault by mirrors, and then sobs, “…traitors, I mean.”

In an ending probably sadly all too true to life, Doctor Karolyi makes a deal with the American government and isn’t punished for what he did at all. I seldom read any mention that the show would keep in the real world of the ’60s. Just about every other American TV series was “Gung Ho!”,  that an American could never be on a questionable side, or make a pay-the-devil deal.

That wraps up this column and I have only covered the first season of I Spy.

If I could only own one season, it would be the second season. But then, the set would be missing “Home from Judgment” from Season 3.

Be here for the second season of I Spy. Travel to Las Vegas, Italy, and Spain. See how Boris Karloff meets Cosby, Culp and Don Quixote. See Don Rickles, Bill Cosby and Robert Culp trade insults on a train — Murder on the Orient Express was never like this. Wally Cox gets bashed on the head and Kelly and Scotty are in a locked room full of oranges. And Robert Culp becomes a Chinese Warlord thanks to John Chambers who will go on to do Planet of the Apes and become involved in the elaborate makeup chicanery of Argo.


The hardcover edition of Detectives Inc. is still available. Continued sales on the series can help make the new Detectives Inc.: A Fear of Perverse Photos/A Repercussion of Violent Reprisal a reality. The hardcover edition of Detectives Inc. is still available. Continued sales on the series can help make the new Detectives Inc.: A Fear of Perverse Photos/A Repercussion of Violent Reprisal a reality. I’m not sure if IDW still has any volumes left of the hardcover, but you can buy it on Amazon

The newly designed http://www.donmcgregor.com is up and running, and Gary and Dawn Guzzo have brought it up to date. I’m talking to Gary recently about having an update Blog right there on that very page where I can Post and you can reply. Check us out!


The biggest I Spy forum on the internet is here, and without Tatia Loring, this Riding Shotgun piece could never have become the in-depth, visually elaborate I Spy celebration that I wanted to do.

My two-part Starlog interviewwith Robert Culp is available on the forum: 

Part One: “Robert Culp – A Volatile Talent in the Electronic Wasteland”.

Part Two“Robert Culp – Building A Career in The Hollywood Jungle”

Okay, I love I Spy. You all know that from viewing this. One of the best books ever done on a television series is Marc Cushman and Linda LaRosa’s I Spy: A History and Episode Guide to the Groundbreaking Television Series. People often asked me over the years if I would write an I Spy book. I could never have done one as all-inclusive and well researched as this one. You can find the book here.

 

Copyright © 2014 Don McGregor

the 1st one - “ROBERT CULP – A Volatile Talent in the Electronic Wasteland” is at http://www.network54.com/Forum/172251/message/1056355796/