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I Spy Season 3: The TV Series That Would Never Be Accepted In White People’s Homes…Except That It Defied the Racists’ Declarations

 October 22, 2014

I’m not sure why Timeless Media Group’s I Spy – The Complete Series exists on DVD.

I’m glad it does, since it gives more people a chance to experience the show, and keeps an awareness factor of the series’s existence, but it’s a rare oddity.

As I wrote in the beginning of this mammoth examination of what the show did and when it did it, many of the historic television milestones had never been attempted before.

I Spy already existed from the early days of DVDs exploding into the entertainment arena, first as single disc sets with four episodes on each release by Image Entertainment.

Both I Spy and Naked City were released in this fashion, one disc at a time, four episodes on disc.

From the early days of VHS virtually no one had figured out how to release television series and be successful sales-wise. I suspect the first one to think of doing whole seasons in one box set, on VHS, was Rob Tapert for Xena, Warrior Princess. The company did the shows up with beautifully designed boxes of photos of Xena and Gabriel.

Someone eventually came up with the idea to approach selling TV series as whole seasons. Maybe the success of Xena helped provide the impetus. And it worked.

And then the path was set for most television releases after that.

When Image had finished releasing all of the I Spys, they saved the last two sets for the episodes Robert Culp wrote, and in one case, directed.

These two discs included extensive, in-depth commentaries from Bob.

Later, Image released Season Sets for all three years. The Culp commentaries were now mingled into the Broadcast order of the series. Broadcast order, especially in the second and third season, are erratically different from the production of the episodes, thus screwing up a lot of continuity that was planned by David Friedkin and Mort Fine.

It is not the norm to release a third set of a television series, though this is the first time every episode of this show is available in one boxed set.

In watching the Timeless episodes, and then watching the Image prints for Robert Culp’s commentaries, I could discern no improvement to the image. It wasn’t better. It wasn’t worse. They could have come from the same source.

The Culp Commentaries were lost, for whatever reasons, and this would make it a hard sell to I Spy fans, if they already had the existing volumes.

Timeless and Shout! Factory are two separate divisions of the same company. I’m not sure I understand the differences between the two, since both release TV sets. With Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law, they included many nicely done extras, from interviews to rarely seen unaired pilots for shows, etc.

Timeless only had a booklet to go along with this set.

Unlike many of the Shout! released series I Spy seemed to be released with little fanfare. With that written, it is nice to have every episode in one place. Hopefully there might come a time when the prints can be upgraded.

I know of many people who love I Spy and would be willing to try to make Extras possible.

For all I know, some of the original four-episode discs are now unavailable. Or the price has raised on some of the older Image Season release sets.

The good news is you can find the Timeless I Spy Complete sets reasonably priced, marked down significantly, on many sites, including their own, upon occasion.

I hope those of you reading this extensive love letter to a show that changed many people’s lives after they experienced it will give you incentive to seek the show out.

Now, let me segue into the third season.

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“Oedipus at Colonus” was not the premiere episode to air for the third season. NBC skipped most of the episodes in Marrakech, Morocco and premiered with “Let’s Kill Karlovassi” set in the Grecian isles.

I’m approaching the series as they were produced, because though it was not a common practice in those days, Mort Fine and David Friedkin were trying to establish a continuity of travel for Scotty and Kelly as secret agents travelling globally. There were also at times oblique, maybe one line references, to something the two had to do in the course of their work that had occurred earlier.

It is commonplace, now, but in the mid-’60s many of the “suits” in Hollywood weren’t too convinced the audience could follow such a thing, or wouldn’t give a rat’s ass one way or the other.

“Oedipus at Colonus” has Kelly and Scotty ordered to do wet work on a Muslim revolutionary who the American government suspect is in the planning stages of a Islamic jihad.

Wait a minute! This reads as if it could be in the works for an upcoming film today!

Where the Mission: Impossible people would go in and complete the assignment without question, our twosome are never quite comfortable with being given orders to dispatch with extreme prejudice.

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From the Marion Hargrove (No Time for Sergeants) screenplay to the vying factors in violent opposition to each other’s ways of life to its literary interpretations, it was not a story NBC wanted to start a new season with.

I had to include it here, because of its topicality, that showcases the difference between I Spy and many other shows of the time period, but also it is an occasion to view Fouad Said on screen with Bill and Bob. Here Fouad, who made filming globally for a TV series a reality and not just a desire, and helped change the way movies were filmed, is with a group of tea sellers, mingling in the market crowds, to surreptitiously take the duo to a place where they should be able to meet their contacts and target.

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Just about all the principal people involved with I Spy were film buffs, in front of and behind the cameras. It isn’t surprising then that there are many verbal and visual homages to cinema history.

Dorothy Lamour travels to Marrakech with Kelly and Scotty as a bright wink to the Road movies Dorothy did with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.

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Scotty rides a camel in the teaser, while Kelly and Bill Cosby’s real-life Mom watches in a hat to protect her from the sun.

By this time, according to Marc Cushman and Linda J. LaRosa’s I Spy nonfiction book, had an audience of somewhere in the vicinity of 25 million people.

Not bad for a show that only a couple years back had states that threatened never to air it. Not bad for a show that many people declared would never be accepted into white American viewers’ homes, especially in the South. Now, Scotty and Kelly were 25 million of so viewers’ pals and guides around the world.

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They could trade quips even while on camelback.

They could look askance at each other even while protecting Dorothy’s elderly father from assassination. Even when they weren’t sure who the bad guy was who emptied poisonous snakes into their bedroom.

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As far as I’m concerned, you empty poisonous snakes into a person’s bedroom you are badness at a very elemental level. Scotty and Kelly aren’t thrilled as they ponder how the hell to get out of the room without getting bitten.

Yet, the two still resort to some some repartee:

SCOTTY: What did you drink last night?

KELLY: Hey, remember that record that guy made about being in a crib and snakes under the crib?

SCOTTY: That’s not too funny now.

The reference is to one of Bill Cosby’s comedy record albums that were best-sellers at the time.

As for me, I’d still be on the bed.

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Nehemiah Persoff was one of my favorite character actors in the 1960s. He is one of the two principal players in the Route 66 Stirling Silliphant episode, “Incident On A Bridge.” I have written about that other game-changing series here, and how it, as with I Spy, the series and the writing influenced me in ways I’m sure I would have an inability to totally appraise.

If Persoff’s performance as the Mad Monkey Man of Russian Hill doesn’t move you at the end of “Incident On A Bridge” , then your heart and mind must be made of cold stone, never heated, never beating.

You can find the piece to Route 66 in that earlier Riding Shotgun column here.

Here, in “The Honorable Assasins”, Nehemiah just shows he can play about anything, as Rupe, the tagalong who could put snakes on your floor while smiling at you like he is your best buddy.

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Scotty, during their road trip with Dorothy, makes a leap onto Rupe’s truck from some sight-seer’s expensive touring car.

I Spy not only opened doors up for performers in front of the camera, but it is also the first TV series to have a black stunt man, Calvin Brown, on the payroll, doubling Scotty.

This doesn’t even hint at all the people given work in different countries through which the tennis bum and his pal journeyed.

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“Laya” is in a sense Scotty’s “Tatia.”

This time it is Kelly who is suspicious of the woman Scotty has become enthralled by amidst the scenic splendor of Athens.

Both Laya and Scotty have been ordered to more or less seduce the other to learn their secrets, of espionage matters and of love and passion.

They are of opposing views; raised in radically different circumstances; but the attraction to each other overrides any reserves, as it often does with human beings.

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In keeping with establishing some continuity for I Spy, Keith Andes (who set Kelly up to be tortured into divulging information in “A Room with a Rack”) is back, but with a new code name, because it would have cost more to keep his old name. Hollywood rules and espionage rules. Learn how to play the game.

This time, he becomes Troy Duncan rather than Anderson. Maybe he changes cover names from country to country to keep his activities as secretive as possible.

The assignment he gives the guys is as unpleasant as usual, betraying other human beings, but he tells it to them in the midst of Athens at the Acropolis.

My friend Tatia Loring, who has visited many of the sites where I Spy filmed, wrote to inform me that they must have filmed early in the morning because there are a “gazillion” people there later in the day.

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Scotty doesn’t want anything to do with it, but the job is what it is, and he starts out doing it reluctantly, and it doesn’t take long for human chemistry to have its way to both Laya and him beginning to care about each other, even as they are in the process of using each other for their government superiors.

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It isn’t long before the two are dancing among the impressive Greek columns.

Admit it, would you think this was a TV episode you were watching if you just saw these clips? I don’t think so.

The music the two dance to, with lyrics, won Earle Hagen an Emmy that year.

Much later, Janet MacLachlan herself would become a major player at the Television Academy of Arts & Sciences.

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The courtship continues in the vast arena, man and woman as combatants who become lovers against a backdrop of incredible spectacle and events.

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Well, you can certainly see why Scotty would fall head over heels in love with Laya.

Earle’s music gives them their own lover’s theme.

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Kelly becomes the voice of reason here.

Hold on! Kelly? Kelly Robinson?

A nice departure from the “Tatia” episode, though, is that Kelly doesn’t fight with Scotty over Laya. Once Kelly meets and talks with her, he knows she really does care for Scotty and is not just using him.

Of course, that does not mean things do not go seriously bad.

It is when things go seriously bad that friends need to be there for each other, in a steam room as in “Magic Mirror” or in this lushly filmed drama of hidden agendas and unhidden love.

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Someone writing a review on I Spy suggested women were superficially treated, or treated badly. While there may be occasional female characters who don’t have fully realized potential, it is my thought that this criticism is dismissive of the talents of so many actresses, and of the complex roles some of them play, from young to those that are elderly.

“Now You See Her, Now You Don’t” gives Barbara Mullen a feisty role in Kate Stanford. She may be a missing scientist; she may have some rigid codes of behavior; but she also has a mischievous manner and glint of spirit in her eyes.

In awaiting a local informant with a gregarious personality on the Greek island of Mykonos, Culp and Cosby made more nods to iconic figures in film history. Mimicking Jimmy Cagney in his early gangster films days from the 30s, “Shot on 14th Street…Dies on 23rd“, they have a good time playing around until things turn lethal.

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Then people die suddenly, abruptly, with no lingering stares and stuttered speeches. No clever last lines in life before the grave.

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On a high spot overlooking the city, spread out in panorama below them, Jimmy displays his gaudy clothes and personality, and the two enjoy him. Kate Stanford is missing; Scotty and Kelly have to find her and who has taken her and why.

Kelly and Scotty find Kate, and they flee with her past the Terrace of the Lions on the island of Delos. Kate keeps up with them as the villains give chase past the monumental avenue of guardian lions.

Truly, where other TV series can have a chase sequence filmed against a backdrop as spectacular as this.

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The Sacred Way is filled with hostile intent.

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I have been careful not to reveal too many endings of these stories. I hope to give you a feel of what the stories were, and of that time period, and of how Bill and Bob related to each other to make cinema history, and change many Hollywood minds as to what could be done with talent of all different races.

If I’ve managed to do that and entertain you, I’ll settle for that.

I bring this up because the conclusion of “Now You See Her, Now You Don’t” adds to the continuity planned for the series. Unfortunately, the episodes when aired in syndication often run them out of order, and completely make no sense, given what occurs in the shoot-out in this place of beauty and ancient artistry.

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Robert Culp once told me that it was after this episode he decided to pull back on the amount of stunts he did. You will see why later.

Scotty and Kelly attend award ceremonies in Bulgaria where the pleadings of a child prodigy, Stefan Petkov, convince them, against their better judgment, and voicing the reasons they should not do it, to smuggle him into Greece and political asylum.

John Megna, from To Kill a Mockingbird, plays the young violinist who reacts to Cosby and Culp’s shenanigans.

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Adding to the desire to bring more continuity into the series, Harold J. Stone returns as a Greek police detective who explains the title “Philotimo” to the guys with some drunken mirth and poetic eloquence.

There is a rescue attempt made aboard a sailing ship. I’m not sure when Bob and I were speaking if I recalled which episode it occurred in, but I would never forget how graceful, and seemingly effortlessly, he swirled and lashed out and vaulted and kicked at the overwhelming amount of adversaries.

It was an incredible display.

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Thanks to Tatia Loring I was able to showcase this with sequential stills. She knew how to group the photos together, so that you can track Bob moving about the sails and riggings. I’m willing to wager that Bob’s stunt guy was impressed. And maybe glad he didn’t have to do all the acrobatics and leaps.

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In a sheer display of physical grace and action hero without any wire work or special effects, Bob sweeps wide and quick, lithe and effective, caught on film for all time, now even in stills with this piece.

And on this complete DVD from Shout! if you get this set, or the earlier third seasons I Spys from Image.

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I’m impressed. Hell, I can hardly keep my balance standing on the floor.

When my daughter, Lauren, worked at a Hooters, she delivered trays of food and drinks while on roller skates. I was equally impressed. “How do you do that, Honey?”

“It’s not a problem, Dad. Unless someone has thrown a French fry on the floor. Hit that with a skate wheel, and come to a sudden stop, then…you’re in trouble,” she told me.

Ahhh…. I wouldn’t last long at Hooters. Or on skates.

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Here is Bob balance-walking on a beam from one area of battle to another, light like a cat, as if he is defying gravity.

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The timing better be just right on a swing like this, or you’ll get walloped upside your head with a board so hard, you’ll think you’re trapped in a Warner Brother’s Bugs Bunny cartoon.

You know, in that era, before someone tried sanitizing all the cartoons. Except this is for real.

Good stuff, you don’t often see. And he ain’t done yet, Folks!

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Now he catapults downward, as if he hasn’t just tried out for the Olympics of taking out bad guys.

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He leaps onto one villain’s shoulders, a wooden weapon now at hand.

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Kelly rides one opponent’s shoulders while trying his own walloping method on a second foe. It’s outrageous. But he is doing it for real.

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I don’t remember if I ever included this in one of the initial interviews we did, or if this was some time later when we were together, but I asked Bob about doing all those fluid moves, and he talked about this fight, doing all the “kips” and swings and vaults.

And that the next morning he could scarcely get up to shoot the next day’s sequences he was so stiff and sore. He told me he decided then that he’d pull back on doing so much of his own stunts.

At least the real elaborate ones. As you will see, he still did a lot of his own.

Robert Culp was not the kind of person to not want it done right, or as best as it was possible to do given whatever circumstances you were given.

And so, we leave Greece and travel to San Francisco.

Copyright © 2014 by Don McGregor

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 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! 

I Spy: The Complete Series

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