Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Mission Impossible: This Blog Will Self Destruct in Five Seconds...

The cast of Mission Impossible in 1970.

When I was a child. My sisters and I "created" computers by drawing them on typing paper. We taped them on the wall (computers back in the day were as big as entire rooms) so we had research equipment for our spy activities. We had dozens of friends on our block and a huge park at the end of the street, so we had a wide area for our spy territories. Playing Mission Impossible was fun because it was pure action. The show didn't develop the characters very well, which left us plenty of freedom to develop our own spy characters, but I was always the sneakiest and the smartest. Of course, now that I've written this down I'm sure one of my siblings will send me a message to argue this point, therefore, this blog post will self destruct in five seconds...

That is one of the most interesting aspects of Mission Impossible. Besides the fact that it was one of television's first action series, it had barely any character development and was a bit slim on the dialogue, as well. It was pure action. Perhaps the violence (low key by contemporary standards) and occasional exposure of cleavage was a bit much for children, but the action was fun, fun, fun! 

Great Characters Considering There was Little Character Development! 

Mission Impossible was an hour-long adventure/spy television show that aired from September 17, 1966 to September 8, 1973, so it had a fairly long run as far as television shows in the 1960s is concerned in spite of the fact that it came in on the tail end of the spy/adventure television craze (according to some views, but I believe there will always be a market for these shows). 

The interesting thing about the action on this show is that the focus on action over characters set it apart from all the other spy/adventure shows of the time, such as Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Wild, Wild West. (Oh yes, I'll get to those eventually! They certainly were favorites, too!) In Mission Impossible, the plots are complicated enough for a two hour film and yet, the characters manage to complete their missions in 48 minutes (subtracting for commercials). This, of course, explains the focus on action and lack of attention to character development. 
Barbara Bain who starred as Cinnamon Carter on Mission Impossible, was also married to Martin Landau, who starred as Rollin Hand, the master of disguises on the show. 

There are other aspects of this show that were "firsts," and some interesting trivia involved with this show. For instance, this was the first appearance of Martin Landau with his wife, Barbara Bain. Landau plays Rollin Hand, master of disguise for the I.M.F. (Impossible Missions Force) and Barbara Bain plays Cinnamon Carter, the show's femme fatale. 

Leonard Nimoy replaced Martin Landau on Mission Impossible in the show's fourth season.

Landau's involvement in Mission Impossible is also a curious classic television bit of trivia intermingled with actor Leonard Nimoy. Landau was offered the role of Dr. Spock on Star Trek at the same time he was offered the role on Mission Impossible. He wisely chose Mission Impossible, which lasted much longer. Five years later, Landau was making more money than the show's star, Peter Graves, and he was replaced on Mission Impossible with...Leonard Nimoy! 

Peter Graves as Jim Phelps in Mission Impossible.

Peter Graves starred as Jim Phelps, the leader of I.M.F. Graves is the brother of one of my all-time favorite actors, James Arness, and changed his name so both actors would receive the attention they deserved for their individual talent. (Okay, maybe there was some sibling rivalry there. Who knows?) Graves was a star before he left high school. He was the state champion hurdler and had his own orchestra. However, he had his heart set on becoming the next Gary Cooper. When he left for Hollywood, big brother Jim chased after him and tried to convince him to go home, but Graves was a stubborn young fella! He landed his first film role within a year and made 30 years and three television series in his lifetime.

Then there is Willie Armitage, the I.M.F. muscle man played by Peter Lupus, who was also a former Mr. Indiana and Mr. Hercules--yes, he was well-cast for the part. He was 6'4 and 220 pounds, but he also had a personality that made his character seem human--he was more than a hunk. After Mission Impossible ended, Armitage became an author of health books.

Greg Morris stars as Barney Collier in Mission Impossible.

Greg Morris is another interesting character in this show when you place the show in its cultural perspective. Morris plays Barney Collier, an electronics expert who creates the gadgets and gimmicks. In fact, he was televisions first electronics genius! However, Morris was also a talented and intelligent actor. He was not the "token black man," a phrase often so unfairly used during the 1960s when a black actor was hired on a show. Morris was hired because he was the right man for the part, and the producers made this clear from the start. In promotions and media discussions about the show, Morris was praised for his talent as an actor, and not for the color of his skin. 

So, what is I.M.F.?

Good question, if I must say so myself. I.M.F. stands for Impossible Missions Force. Assignments for I.M.F. agents are delivered on audio tapes that self-destruct (love that plot device!) The messages are sent from an unidentified government agent who seems to know Jim Phelps because the messages always ends with, "This tape will self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck, Jim." 

The assignments generally involve saving the life of an unidentified European diplomat. Each member of the team is a specialist of some kind. Barney Collier's expertise is electronics; Rollin Hand is a master of disguise; Willie Armitage hauls the heavy spy equipment (lucky thing all of our equipment when I was a child was drawn on typing paper!); Phelps is the organizer, the leader; and Cinnamon Carter is a fashion model who skillfully leaves the top buttons of her blouse undone. 

Barbara Bain and Alf Kjellin in Mission Impossible.

The show used a tremendous amount of fancy gadgets, a fact highlighted in the contemporary film versions starring Tom Cruise. The show also made use of spinning camera shots; snare drum music; and a skilled use of tension that continuously builds to the climax like a well-written novel. In fact, one plot device used often to increase the tension is a ticking clock. Another is dripping water. 

They also used a lot of scams, which may have inspired films such as The Sting, which was released the same year the show ended. One of my favorite "stings" was "The Sting," which aired in 1971. In this episode the operators must convince a hit man that he received a heart transplant with a heart that belonged to a priest, then subtly convince him that his personality is changing due to the priest's heart. 

The Beginning and the End of Mission Impossible

The creator of Mission Impossible was Bruce Geller who, like supernatural televisions Rod Serling, was considered a Hollywood whiz kid. He sold his first script at 23 and by 35 he wrote, produced, and directed dozens of TV shows, two off-Broadway musicals, and won nearly as many awards as the shows he created. In 1965, Geller wrote a screenplay that was rejected, but he had faith in his idea, and a fascination with action shows. He approached Lucile Ball and Desilu Studios who backed the show, then sold it to CBS. Geller won an Emmy for Dramatic Writing the first year Mission Impossible was on the air. 

Peter Graves in Mission Impossible.

So, what was the problem? An exciting show, hot actors, action, action, action--what went wrong? Money, and not from the place you would expect. Not from the star of the show, Peter Graves. In 1965, Martin Landau was a hot commodity with numerous films and television shows on his resume. When he was first offered the role of Rollin Hand he demanded--and received--$4000 per episode for a yearly contract, which gave him the freedom to up the ante if the show took off in ratings. In 1969, Mission Impossible was #11 in the Top 25 and Martin Landau's per episode salary was $11,500, $4500 more than the star of the show, Peter Graves. Surprisingly, CBS believed he was worth the money, Paramount did not. 

Martin Landau in Mission Impossible.

They replaced Landau with Leonard Nimoy and the ratings went down, though not by much. Eventually, however, the actors and writers lost interest, believing they were running out of story ideas. Peter Graves felt it was best to leave the show with a good reputation and completed his last mission on September 8, 1973. 

Awards, Revival, and Films

Peter Graves and Martin Landau both received Best Actor Golden Globe Awards for the original Mission Impossible and the actors, crew and show received an additional 14 wins and 36 award nominations. Clearly, it was possible with viewers and critics. 

In 1988, Mission Impossible was revived with Peter Graves leading a completely different cast. This version lasted until 1990 and won two Prime Time Emmys. 

Tom Cruise at a Mission Impossible press conference in 1996. Photo by Hendrike.

In 1996, Tom Cruise revived the Mission Impossible story as the producer of a blockbuster film. He has now produced four films in this series: The 1996 version of Mission Impossible; Mission Impossible II released in 2000; Mission Impossible III released in 2006; and Mission Impossible--Ghost Protocol released in 2011. According to an article on Wikipedia, Tom Cruise revealed in a 2011 interview that he will most likely make a fifth Mission Impossible film soon.  

  • Javna, John. Cult TV. St. Martin’s Press. New York: 1985.
  • Mission Impossible. Creator: Bruce Geller. Perf. Peter Graves, Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, Greg Morris, Peter Lupis, Leonard Nimoy. Desilu Productions (1966-1968), Paramount Television (1968-1973). Running Time: 50 min. 
  • Winship, Michael. Television. Random House. New York: 1988.


Mary Purpari said...

Hey darla, thank you for bringing back some good memories of the days that were. I was a freshman in High school when the show started, and I remember best the part where it said that the message would self-destruct in 5 seconds. What a fun, fun show.

Darla Sue Dollman said...

Hi Mary! It's good to hear from you! I've been so involved with this A to Z Bloggers Contest that I've neglected your blog. I need to stop by and say hello!

I'm glad my post brought back memories. That's why I like writing about classic shows and history--it reminds people of their childhood with good, fun memories. When I research the posts I can see myself with my sisters and brothers wrestling on the couch for the best TV viewing spot or pretending we are characters in the show. Some memories are just too fun to let go. It's nice to have reminders!

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JoJo said...

I can't say that I've ever watched this show as I was way too little to understand it when it was new and never watched the reruns when I got older.

sdk_2010 said...

Really like Mission Impossible. I remember seeing reruns of the old shows when I was little. Of the Cruise movies, I still think the first one is the best one, although Philip Seymour Hoffman's bad guy performance was brilliant in number 3. Good choice for your "M" post.

Darla Sue Dollman said...

Thank you! It was a difficult decision for M! Lol! I thought Mission Impossible would work best, though, because I played it as a child and as an adult I worked as a legal investigator for seven years. I think it was the early MI influence! It was a tough decision, though. Seriously, think about how many great classic shows start with M-The Munsters; Maverick (I already promised another reader I would write on that show, so I still have to post on Maverick!); Mary Tyler Moore; M.A.S.H.; Man from U.N.C.L.E.--Oh my goodness, I need to have an M week!

Darla Sue Dollman said...

Anonymous--thanks for the comments! Your link doesn't seem to go anywhere, though.

JoJo, I'm sorry you missed the show. It would have made great spy training! The film versions are very different, in my opinion. More attention to character, sometimes a little hokey on the action scenes, but still fun.

Kathy said...

Wow that's a great post. I didn't know Leonard Nemoy was ever in Mission Impossible. I guess during the 70's I was busy raising my family and didn't notice character changes on some of the television shows.
Kathy at Oak Lawn Images

Darla Sue Dollman said...

That did surprise me, but I was equally surprised by how much he looks like Martin Landau!

Faye North said...

One of my favourites from a way back when. Enjoyed reliving the memories!
Faye at Destination: Fiction

Darla Sue Dollman said...

Mine, too. I think it was all the action, action, action! Lol! Thanks for stopping by!

Jessica Peterson said...

I never knew there was a mission impossible tv show! Very interesting. :)

Darla Sue Dollman said...

Yes, in fact if you watch the first Mission Impossible film starring Tom Cruise you'll see that the characters are very similar to the television show.

Sandy said...

Loved the show, always thought it was rather sad that a defunct tv show spurred all those movies...you gotta wonder if people are losing their creativity to make movies out of old tv shows. Looks like you didn't make it through the a-z, better luck next year. Making my way through the road trip afterwards.
<a href="http://travelingsuitcase.blogspot.com/</a>

Darla Sue Dollman said...

Actually, two of my blogs were hacked and I was in an accident. I'm still recovering, but intend to complete the challenge anyway. Thanks for stopping by!

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Rockaway Beach Hotels said...

Mission impossible is one of my favorite tv series in 80's awesome.

Anonymous said...

Great blog! I just finished all 7 seasons and like 5 with Leonard Nimoy and Lesley Ann Warren best. The movies are NOT Mission Impossible IMHO.

Paul McTaggart said...

Leonard Nimoy came in at season four. Also, it got to # 11 in the 1968-69 season, which was the third season.

Paul McTaggart said...

Leonard Nimoy came in at season four. Also, it got to # 11 in the 1968-69 season, which was the third season.

Darla Sue Dollman said...

Yes, you are correct on both points. Sometimes I type too fast! Lol! I've made the corrections.

Anonymous said...

After I initially commented I seem to have clicked the -Notify me
when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on whenever a comment is
added I get four emails with the exact same comment. Is there a way you are able to remove me from that service?

Darla Sue Dollman said...

I don't know of any service. I'm sorry I can't help.

Anonymous said...

With havin so much written content do you ever run into any issues of
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it looks like a lot of it is popping it up all over the internet without my agreement.
Do you know any solutions to help protect against content from being stolen? I'd
definitely appreciate it.

Darla Sue Dollman said...

It's a long, difficult process. I think the main goal of stealing content is to try and make money from Google ads, so your goal is to prove to Google that it's stolen so they'll remove the ads. It's also important to contact the host site, like Blogger, and try to have the theft site taken down. I always start small with comments requesting they remove the articles, but once I start I am relentless. Some of my blog posts, such as my Wild West History posts, take as much as two weeks or longer to gather the research and the pay is so low for online writing these days that there's not a chance I'm going to let it go once I discover someone is stealing my work.

CelticThugPoet7 said...

Interesting Read Darla Sue, i Was Curious as to What These Actors Made Per Episode & Tis Peanuts Compared to These no Talent Peeps Today...

Darla Sue Dollman said...

Good question. I'm curious, too, and may have a great source. I'll do some digging in the morning.