How A British Secret Agent Became An American TV Icon
By Chris Oakley
adapted from material previously posted at Othertimelines.com
Summary: In the first two chapters of this series we recalled the creation of Quinn Martin’s 007 TV series; charted the show’s growth in popularity during its first two seasons on ABC; explored how 007 found an international audience; and looked at the debut of the 007 spinoff Felix Leiter. In this chapter we’ll see how life and art frighteningly overlapped for the 007 cast and crew during the Cuban missile crisis, look back at the series’ third and fourth seasons, and recall the debut of Martin’s crime drama The Fugitive.
Just over a month after "Wolf at the Door" was first broadcast on ABC, Quinn Martin was in his production offices overseeing final edits for the upcoming 007 episode "Diamonds Are Forever" when one of his assistants happened to turn on his transistor radio so Martin and the rest of his production team could listen to music to help pass the time; what they heard instead was a news bulletin about a scheduled televised address by the President of the United States regarding some information that had just come to light regarding the Soviet presence in Cuba. At first Martin wasn’t unduly concerned; there was always, it seemed to him, something going on with Fidel Castro and his buddies in the Kremlin.
When his production staff gathered for dinner at the ABC studio commissary, however, he realized just how serious things really were. President Kennedy was breaking the grim news that U-2 reconnaissance flights over Cuba had detected evidence of Soviet missile launch sites on that island, which meant Soviet nuclear warheads were closer than ever to US cities and military bases. Within minutes after Kennedy’s speech ended, Martin was phoning the rest of his production crew and his cast to arrange a meeting to discuss what could be done to keep production of the series going if worst came to worst and the 007 team had to evacuate Los Angeles. In the days that followed the meeting, a leaden tension hung over the 007 set as cast and crew anxiously waited for a resolution to the crisis.
The situation was much the same over on the set of Felix Leiter, where Robert Wagner had been keeping in touch with his former 007 castmates since the Cuban missile crisis began. When US Air Force U-2 pilot Maj. Rudolf Anderson was shot down on October 27th, pushing the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of full-scale nuclear war, Wagner and several of his fellow Leiter cast members made their way to the 007 set to offer what moral and psychological support they could to their 007 peers. Just about everybody on the Quinn Martin Productions backlot was trying to beat back the creeping fear that by next week they might be nothing more than radioactive cinders, and at least a few people on Martin’s payroll dealt with the threat of atomic holocaust by getting inebriated.
When President Kennedy finally announced the withdrawal of Soviet missiles from Cuba in exchange for the closure of U.S. missile bases in Turkey, the 007 and Leiter casts and production crews gave a huge collective sigh of relief. For that matter, Quinn Martin himself felt like a ton of weight had been lifted off his shoulders; Martin threw himself into making the next batch of 007 and Leiter episodes with a gusto that would have left many other producers gasping for breath. He also devoted considerable time to putting the finishing touches on the pilot for The Fugitive.
The Cuban missile crisis had one unexpected side effect for Quinn Martin Productions: the 007 episode "Fox’s Den", a follow-up to "Wolf at the Door" that was originally scheduled to air during the November sweeps, had its broadcast postponed until mid-April of 1963. Martin himself suggested the postponement; he felt-- and ABC executives would agree --that to subject TV viewers to a fictional nuclear standoff so soon after the world had narrowly survived a real one would be in, at best, questionable taste.1
In place of "Fox’s Den", ABC aired "The Living Daylights", a romantic thriller about a newlywed pair of Czech classical musicians who needed James Bond’s assistance in defecting to the West; while that storyline might have drawn TV viewers in, what truly made the episode memorable was a poignant subplot in which Ms. Moneypenny tried to come to terms with a friend’s unexpected suicide. Bond’s efforts to help Moneypenny get past the grief resulting from this traumatic event humanized him in a way 007 fans hadn’t seen since "On Her Majesty’s Secret Service", and "Daylights" would later gain the series its second Emmy nomination and first Emmy win.2
Two weeks after "Living Daylights" was first broadcast, Felix Leiter aired its second season premiere "Famous First Words", a colorful if somewhat far-fetched caper saga about the KGB smuggling microfilm out of the United States in the covers of medical school textbooks. Its lighthearted tone was a welcome change of pace for TV viewers-- and for Martin himself --after all the somber material that had been filling the airwaves of late. Guest star Cesar Romero, later to make his mark in American pop culture history as the Joker in the TV version of DC’s Batman comic, turned in a bravura performance as the mastermind of the smuggling plot.
In early December The Fugitive, Martin’s latest crime drama, made its long-awaited debut; starring David Janssen as the title character, it debuted right after Felix Leiter and, to the surprise of very few, won its time slot. Fugitive’s breakneck pace, gripping premise, and "ripped from the headlines" undertone made it an instant hit with viewers-- and Janssen’s driven, obsessive performance as series protagonist Dr. Richard Kimble made audiences want to tune in for the next show to see whether he got the truth about his wife’s murder or was arrested for breaking out of prison. Martin seemed to have the Midas touch when it came to making hit TV dramas...
...and if anyone doubted it they got further proof in the spring of 1964 when Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, his anthology chiller series having finally been cancelled by CBS because of budget issues and creative disputes between Serling and the CBS brass, embraced the "if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em" philosophy and wrote up the first of eight scripts he would contribute to 007 as a guest writer. Few people were more surprised about this 180-degree reversal in attitude than Serling’s one-time archrival Quinn Martin; Martin quickly recovered from that surprise, however, and before long Serling became as much a part of the 007 milieu as the show’s regular writing staff. Serling’s intricately plotted and literate scripts for the series received high praise from TV critics and viewers alike; there was a push to make him a permanent member of the show’s writing team, but Serling’s various other commitments and financial concerns expressed by the ABC budget department kept that push from reaching its goal.
Still, the association of the veteran TV and film auteur with 007 brought the series a renewed prestige that helped it a good deal on the ratings front. Serling’s debut script for the series, "Through Yonder Window", laid out a tightly plotted and absorbing story of Bond trying to unmask a traitor within the ranks of MI6 who was betraying Western agents to SMERSH. "Window", the next-to-last episode of the 1963-64 TV season, won its time slot and generated massive buzz for the show’s 1964-65 season premiere. But that wasn’t the only thing to get 007 fans’ tongues wagging; in an interview for the British tabloid paper News of the World the week before "Window" was broadcast, series star Sean Connery had dropped the bombshell that he would be leaving the show when his contract with ABC expired after the 1963-64 season was over. His castmates had known about his impending departure for several months and he’d told ABC brass about his decision two weeks before the interview, but this was the first the public had heard of it.
The search for a successor to Connery as James Bond would be one of the major news stories of the summer of 1964, second only to the Gulf of Tonkin incident off the coast of Vietnam in terms of headlines generated and TV news time allotted. The list of potential heirs to the 007 mantle read like a veritable "Who’s Who" of heavyweights from the entertainment world; some of the supposed possible candidates for the job included Laurence Harvey, Edward Judd, veteran movie leading man Dirk Bogarde, TV heartthrob Richard Chamberlain, Rat Packer Peter Lawford, a then relatively little-known Robert Redford, and Psycho leading man Anthony Perkins. There were even brief rumors that Beatles co-founder John Lennon might be in contention for the part-- rumors that Lennon, then fully concentrated on his musical career and who’d once told fellow Beatle Paul McCartney he found 007 "ridiculous", was quick to dispel.
The show’s producers finally decided to award the part to Roger Moore, a rising British star who had previously worked with Quinn Martin Productions on Felix Leiter’s second episode, ‘Interred With Their Bones’. Moore knew he had some rather sizable shoes to fill in succeeding Connery as James Bond, but he didn’t shy away from taking on that challenge; if anything, he welcomed it as an opportunity to expand his profile in America. Moore would officially join the 007 cast in late July when shooting began for the 1964-65 season premiere "Solace for the Executioner".
In the meantime, Sean Connery would make his final season on 007 a highly memorable one. 007’s storylines for the 1963-64 season sprinkled in a sizable dose of comedy to balance the high drama that had long been the show’s hallmark; one of the best-known examples of this trend was the episode "Roll of the Dice", which aired in late January of 1964 and had James Bond accidentally involved in a dispute between rival crime syndicates while on vacation in Las Vegas. There was also "Returned to Sender", in which an orders packet intended for 007 was instead delivered by mistake to a taxi driver with the same name(guest star Buddy Hackett) and the real Bond had to safeguard the unlucky cabbie from SPECTRE assassins.
There were also a number of poignant episodes during Connery’s last year on the show; one of these, "Go Home Again", would win the series its second Best Writing Emmy for its portrayal of Bond fighting to clear his dying father of a false murder accusation. "Home"’s final scene of Bond standing over his father’s grave would in fact later be voted as one of the 100 most memorable endings in TV history.
But traditional spy adventures weren’t by any means neglected; in November of 1963 Hugo Drax made his second appearance on 007 in the episode "Death By The Numbers", in which the mad scientist recruited a brilliant but embittered chemist(guest star Warren Stevens) to concoct a poison with which Drax planned to kill the President and his entire cabinet at a White House state banquet. It was one of the most nerve- racking episodes of the show’s entire run, and would gain a certain measure of notoriety by virtue of the fact it happened to have been broadcast the night before John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
Meanwhile, big changes were in store for Felix Leiter; Leiter’s ratings had started to slide during its sophomore season, and Quinn Martin’s production team felt a shakeup was needed in order to keep the series fresh. John McGiver’s character Victor Branch was written off the show, much to the displeasure of many Leiter fans(and that of McGiver himself), and much of the rest of the supporting cast was replaced by relative newcomers. Among the first to be let go after McGiver were William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, who were stunned by the decision to drop them from their recurring parts on the series. Their departures also sparked protests from Leiter fans, but as it turned out neither of the two would be off the screen very long-- just six months after they were let go from the cast of Felix Leiter, both men auditioned for and won parts in the pilot of a new NBC-TV science fiction adventure titled Star Trek.
The rest, as the cliché goes, is history.
Sean Conneryʼs final televised appearance on 007 came in early June of 1964 when ABC aired the 007 1963-64 season finale "The Spy Who Loved Me", a romantic story in which Bond got amorously involved with a Chinese agent(France Nuyen) who had reluctantly teamed up with him to investigate a SPECTRE nuclear weapons plot that threatened both Shanghai and Hong Kong. On the night that the show aired, Connery and his fellow castmates gathered at Quinn Martin’s home for an emotional wrap party. Connery had been associated with the Bond role so long it seemed very difficult, if not impossible, to imagine that in just a few short weeks a new man would be henceforth playing Ian Fleming’s celebrated MI6 agent.
Yet even as the 007 cast and crew were saying bon voyage to the man who’d played the title character since 1959 the new Bond, Roger Moore, was immersing himself in the James Bond mythos in preparation for his debut on the series. With filming for the sixth season of 007 just around the corner, Moore devoted considerable time to watching clips from the show’s previous five seasons and reading Ian Fleming’s original novels so that when the time came he would be able to walk in Bond’s boots, as it were, and have those boots fit...
To Be Continued
 Some would suggest that some of 007’s previous episodes had also been in questionable taste, but that’s a debate for another day.
 “Daylights” garnered 007 a Best Writing award at the 1964 Primetime Emmys.