Sunday, February 6, 2011

Happy Birthday Patrick (Macnee)!

"A Christmas Carol" 1951

Honer Blackman as Dr. Cathy Gale

Diana Rigg as Mrs. Emma Peel

The Avengers

Linda Thosen as Tara King

In "The Lobster Man from Mars"


It's my pleasure this morning to give happy birthday wishes to one of my favorite actors, John Steed himself, Patrick Macnee!
Daniel Patrick Macnee was born in Paddington, London at a very young age. Paddington is considered an area of the city of Westminster, which is in central London, which is a big city in itself. All of them are in England.
Patrick and his younger brother James were born into what has been called an "eccentric" family. I don't know what's so eccentric about a wealthy family whose father, Daniel "Shrimp" Macnee, a race horse trainer, who drank and gambled away all of the family's money forcing his sons to live with his lesbian mother, Dorothea Mary, who lived with her lover. It all sounds fairly happenstance to me.
Mr Macnee claims to be a distant relative of Robin Hood, who is a character of folklore. Go figure. He attended Eton College, as did Robin Hood. He was almost expelled for running a gambling ring, the scamp.
Patrick decided to become an actor, as many do. He first appeared on stage and made his film debut as an extra in "Pygmalion," with Leslie Howard in 1938. He appeared in a production of "When We Are Married," in 1940. A year later, he made his London debut as Laurie, the young male lead, in "Little Women". He toured with "Little Women" until called to military service in the Royal Navy from 1942-44, where he was commissioned as a Lieutenant.
At this time he married Barbara Douglas (no relation to Kirk), with whom he had his two only children, Rupert and Jenny. Patrick and Barbara would divorce in 1956, when I was one year old.
After military service he attended the Webber Douglas School of Dramatic Art in London on a scholarship. He also resumed his work on the stage and films, appearing as an extra in Sir Lawrence Olivier's "Hamlet," in 1948 (Patrick and Christopher Lee are the only surviving cast members of that production), and in the 1951 version of Dicken's "A Christmas Carol" (picture above) as young Jacob Marley.
He became disappointed with the roles he was being offered and took off for Canada and the United States, doing work as a television producer. He is considered to be one of the pioneers of Canadian television.
He appeared with Anthony Quayle in the WWII navel thriller "Pursuit of the Graf Spee," in 1957, and in 1959 became a United States citizen, after which he returned to England, and got the role that would change his life forever.
After producing the British television series "Winston Churchill: The Valiant Years," in 1960, he was cast in the 1961 television series, "The Avengers," as John Steed, an assistant to Ian Hendry's character, Dr. David Keel. Hendry left the show after the first season, at which point Steed became the lead.
John Steed, debonair, suave, slightly mysterious, light, with a flirty sense of humor, deadly,exquisitely dressed with trademark bowler hat and umbrella (in which a sword was embedded, his only physical weapon. Patrick was seen very rarely using a gun on the show, at his insistence, stating he'd already seen too much of the carnage that guns created while in WWII. Oh yes, why did he need a weapon? He was a spy, working for the Ministry of Defense. That's what the show was about).
After Hendry left Patrick would partner up with a series of beautiful ladies, four of them to be exact, whose job it was to go avenge things with John Steed. First there was Julie Stevens as Venus Smith, a night club singer, who appeared in only six episodes. Next came Honor Blackman as Dr. Cathy Gale, "a self-assured, quick-witted anthropologist who was skilled in judo and had a passion for wearing leather clothes." -TV Times September 1962. "Widowed during the Mau Mau years in Kenya, she was the "talented amateur" who saw her aid to Steed's cases as a service to her nation." Honor appeared in "The Avengers" for two seasons, from 1962 to 1964, when the production utilized multiple cameras in black and white. In 1964 Blackman was cast as Pussy Galore in the James Bond film, "Goldfinger," which required her to leave "The Avengers."
Until a few years ago I had never seen, or had been aware of Ms. Blackman's role in "The Avengers." She was a bit before my time. At least the show did not hit American shores until she had left, so I did not see her as Dr. Gale until a few years ago when I checked out various VCR tapes of "The Avengers," from the Los Angeles Central Library where I discovered her. She was fine, though at that time the shows looked rather like live studio productions with rather low production standards. I've never seen Ms. Stevens.
Then in 1965 the show was sold to ABC, one of the first British series to be aired on prime time American television. I would become one of those viewers, all of eleven years old, and I became an instant fan. One of the reasons I became an instant fan was the new partner for John Steed, although at the time I did not know she was new.
The fourth season of the Avengers ran from March to December of 1966. ABC injected a good deal of money into the series, paying 2 million for the first 26 episodes, a high price at the time, money that was used to change the production format to that of a single camera, much like that of a theatrical film, giving the footage a superior visual quality.
More than 60 actresses had auditioned to be the new partner for Steed. The first choice was an actress by the name of Elizabeth Shepherd, but she was fired after filming one and a half episodes as the producers came to the conclusion she just wasn't right for the role. They auditioned another 20 actresses, before a casting director pointed out to the producers a televised drama featuring the relatively unknown actress, the Shakespearian trained Diana Rigg.
She tried out for the role of Emma Peel on a whim having never seen the show. The screen test with Patrick showed that the two shared a certain chemistry, and a new era of "The Avengers," had begun.
Here's the show's intro, featuring the iconic theme music of composer Laurie Johnson, perhaps one of the best television theme songs ever written, certainly up there with Henry Mancini's "Peter Gunn." Warning: It will most likely stay in your head for the rest of your life:
The fourth season, the first for Diana, was still shot in black and white. Although the first few episodes displayed hard espionage themes, this lessened with time into an easier, more comedic air, the relationship between the two protagonists left rather ambiguous, with no sexual tension displayed at all. Still one had the feeling the characters were genuinely fond of each other, to what degree was left unknown. And oh yes, Emma Peel was married. Steed most often referred to his partner as Mrs. Peel. This is what Wikipedia says about her: "The character was notable for a number of characteristics. She is a feminist heroine, eschewing traditional "damsel-in-distress" portrayals of women (she is rarely bested in any fight and rescues Steed as often as he rescues her). She is a master of martial arts and a formidable fencer. A certified genius, she specializes in chemistry and other sciences. She is often seen in episodes engaging in artistic hobbies and had success in industry at the helm of the company of her late father, Sir John Knight. Her husband, Peter Peel, was a pilot whose plane disappeared over the Amazonian forest. He was presumed dead for many years, and Peel went on to work with Steed." She also wore amazing clothes, her trademark being her "catsuit" (picture above). Here's a tribute:
The show created it's own world, like "Get Smart," "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.," "Star Trek," and "Green Acres." The great television shows do that. The world of the Avengers was a little tilted, a little stranger than the one we are familiar with. For example, there are never any real crowd scenes in "The Avengers." The show displays a tone of succinct isolation in which the characters interact without hindrance from reality. For example, when one of the producers was asked about the lack of actors used on the scenes:
"'Can't you afford extras?' they'd ask. Well it wasn't like that; it's just that Steed had to be alone to be accepted-put him in a crowd and he sticks out like a sore thumb! Let's face it, with normal people he's weird. The trick to making him acceptable is never to show him in a normal world, just fighting villains who are odder than he is!"
Up until this time the show had been televised in black and white. It was at the beginning of the fifth season that The Avengers finally appeared in color, and that is when I first became aware of the show, became an avid fan, and Diana Rigg will always be my favorite lady avenger (as well as Al Bundy's).
"Mrs. Peel we're needed," a message delivered by Steed in increasingly silly ways to get her attention was how most episodes began (at least for 16 shows it was).
The producers of "The Avengers," being asshat producers, were stingy regarding compensation to the female half of the program. Diana learned that she was being paid less than the cameraman and demanded a raise. Due to the show's popularity in the States, they gave in. However, she left the show in 1967 at the end of the fifth season, after completing 51 episodes. She wanted to pursue other projects, and like Honor Blackman before, she appeared in a James Bond film, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service." She would go on to star in one of my favorite productions of "A Mid-Summer Night's Dream," Paddy Chayefsky's "The Hospital," with George C. Scott, and from 1989 to 2003 she hosted the PBS program, "Mystery," which she took over from Vincent Price.
She is a Dame of the British empire, making her full title Dame Enid Diana Elizabeth Rigg, after being awarded the title Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1988, and in 1994, Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, which is one step up from the 1988 honor, making her a female "Knight."
Patrick and Diana remain life long friends. She's "just like an angel coming down from heaven," he said of her in 2006.
The network suits decided that the show should get back to a more realistic format after Diana left, and the producers were replaced. The new producer, a John Bryce, hired his 20 year old girlfriend, Linda Thorsen, a Canadian actress, to be Diana's replacement. After filming a few episodes with Linda the suits fired Bryce, and brought back the original producers who had been fired earlier, after which they carried on.
Linda brought a great deal of sex appeal to the role and her character, as she was very beautiful, playful, and sexy... for a girl (still is). She remains my second favorite female avenger. Here's a promo for the new star:
The pairing of John Steed and Tara King proved to be very popular in the UK and Europe, but the suits at ABC put the show up opposite Rowan and Martin's Laugh In, which "The Avengers could not compete against, and it all came to an end in 1969. The final scene of the final episode ("Bizarre") had Steed and King, champagne glasses in hand, accidentally launching themselves into orbit aboard a rocket, where they remain to this day.
After "The Avengers," Patrick continued a successful career in both film and television, some of my favorites being, "Alias Smith and Jones," "Night Gallery," "Columbo," "The New Avengers," "Battlestar Galactica," Garry Marshall's "Young Doctors in Love," "The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Fifteen Years Later Affair," "This is Spinal Tap," Magnum P.I.," "Hart to Hart," "The Love Boat," his own appearance in a Bond film, "A View to a Kill." He appeared with Katey Sagal on "Mary," "Waxwork," "Murder She Wrote," "Kung Fu, The Legend Continues," a cameo in the film version of "The Avengers," starring Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman, and Sean Connery. And of course, one of my favorite films of all time, the classic, "The Lobsterman from Mars." Here's the trailer:
In 2003 Patrick was forced to retire from acting due to problems with arthritis, but can still do voice over work. As far as I know he lives somewhere around here, in Los Angeles.
This from his web-site: "In his spare time Patrick enjoys bird-watching, desert reclamation, and preventing terrorism! (He received an award from the Bureau of Federal Aviation for preventing terrorism on aircraft). Also, The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror has honored Patrick with their prestigious Golden Scroll award. A born raconteur, Patrick delights in entertaining audiences large and small."
I'm told he's also an avid nudest, and once invited his former co-star Honor Blackman to watch him play tennis sans clothes, an offer she declined.
I would probably have made the same decision.
In any case all of us here at Joyce's Take wish Patrick continued good health and fortune, and a very happy birthday!
Happy birthday Patrick!

1 comment:

  1. What a show never missed it. Top class TV of the day and like most things missed. I see some of them being repeated now on one of the TV channels and they are still class.