The old Mission Impossible TV show was a master class in drama & intrigue

Vintage Mission Impossible TV show

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From 1966 to 1973, televisions worldwide were tuned to the thrilling exploits of the Impossible Missions Force, a covert group of government operatives in the groundbreaking Mission Impossible TV show.

Not only did this show bring high stakes and intrigue into our living rooms, but it also became synonymous with ingenious plot twists, complex narratives, and, of course, that iconic self-destructing tape message.

Mission Impossible TV series - Tape auto-destructing in 5 seconds

The series revolved around the Impossible Missions Force (IMF), a team of exceptionally skilled agents who took on, well, seemingly impossible missions. From overthrowing dictators to dismantling deadly plots, the IMF was the last line of defense against international threats. But don’t let the name fool you, even though the missions seemed impossible, for the IMF team, there was always a way.

At the center of it all was team leader Jim Phelps, played by Peter Graves. Cool, calm, and collected, Phelps was the mastermind behind each mission. However, it wasn’t a one-man show. He was backed by a team of experts, including master of disguise Rollin Hand (Martin Landau), the seductive Cinnamon Carter (Barbara Bain), strongman Willy Armitage (Peter Lupus), and tech wizard Barney Collier (Greg Morris). Each character brought a unique skill set to the table, making the team dynamic both effective and compelling to watch.

Vintage Mission Impossible TV show (1968)

What set the Mission: Impossible TV show apart was its distinctive storytelling style. Dialogue was often sparse, with the plot unfolding through the actions of the characters rather than lengthy explanations. In contrast to many of its contemporaries, the show rarely used gunfights or car chases. Instead, the IMF used deception, manipulation, and high-tech gadgets to achieve their goals.

The series wasn’t just about the missions. “Mission: Impossible” was celebrated for its distinctive style. It had a certain panache that was undeniably alluring. From its signature opening sequence with the fuse being lit to its unforgettable theme tune by Lalo Schifrin, every element of the show added to its charm.

Vintage Mission Impossible TV show cast photo

“Mission: Impossible” may have been a product of the Cold War era, but its appeal is timeless. It presented a world where the good guys always outsmarted the bad guys, where teamwork and intelligence were always victorious. It encapsulated an ideal of heroism that transcended borders and politics.

Long after its final episode aired, the impact of “Mission: Impossible” can still be felt today. It inspired a successful film franchise and a television revival, proving that a well-crafted mission, should you choose to accept it, is indeed timeless.

And so the legacy of the IMF lives on, forever a part of television history, proving time and again that nothing is truly impossible. Let’s take a look back at some of the profiles of the show that were featured back in the day!

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Mission: Impossible star Barbara Bain (1966)

From the Los Angeles Times (California) September 11, 1966

The major key for the success of espionage missions is frequently the staging of a diversionary activity to enable the agents to perform their tasks and escape undetected.

In Mission: Impossible, CBS-TV’s new hour-long Saturday night (9-10 p.m.) series, the diversionary role is most often assigned to Barbara Bain, who co-stars as Cinnamon with Steven Hill, Greg Morris and Peter Lupus.

Mission Impossible TV show on the cover of TV Guide magazine

Effective diversion

It would be difficult to imagine a more attractive and effective diversion. Miss Bain, a veteran of many off-Broadway shows and top-quality dramas during television’s Golden Age, is 5’7″, and weighs a svelte 120 pounds. She is blond and blue-eyed. She is beautiful, provocative and exciting. She projects that rare combination of sexiness and elegant sophistication.

Mission: Impossible creator and executive producer Bruce Geller describes the role of Cinnamon simply as “Woman.” From the outset, he and Miss Bain saw completely eye-to-eye on how the character should be played.

“Cinnamon,” explains Miss Bain, “appeals to men because she is sexy — not because she tries to be sexy. She doesn’t have to resort to tawdry tactics to attract attention.

“In fact, by maintaining a certain aloofness, she generates even more interest. She knows that a man’s fascination with a woman is often in direct proportion with her inaccessibility.”

Barbara Bain and Martin Landau of Mission Impossible TV show

The articulate actress, who holds a degree in sociology from the University of Illinois, points out that Cinnamon is not a karate expert, and relies on her wits rather than gimmicks and gadgets.

“That’s the basis of the whole series,” she stresses. “The Impossible Missions Force, headed by Dan Briggs (series star Steven Hill), is composed of specialists who use their ingenuity to accomplish seemingly impossible missions — usually of a counterespionage nature.

“Briggs, for example, is a human behavior analyst. He’s interested in what makes people tick — not what makes gadgets tick.”

The success of Mission: Impossible will be largely dependent on Geller’s being able to continue producing shows which have the taut, fast-paced, believable action of the pilot, which is the debut episode.

If the scripts are half as provocative and exciting as Miss Bain, the series is certain to be one of the most popular shows of the new season.

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Mercurial Martin Landau of Mission: Impossible (1967)

By Marian Dern – (North Hollywood, California) April 14, 1967

All I can say is, writers are human, too. True, we’re supposed to regard all claims to fame with a dubious, jaded air.

During a 50-minute interview, we’re supposed to see through the outer facade to the inner psyche of an actor, with an intuition it takes a psychiatrist 20 years to develop. We’re supposed to be immune to charm, unaffected by errant emotions.

It ain’t so. And some of us are doubly vulnerable, being members of the weaker sex, and human!

And faced, recently, with the dynamic — in fact mercurial, exuberance, charm, brooding demeanor that is often interrupted by a flashing smile, the sense of humor, supreme self-confidence, hypnotic blue eyes, intelligence, intensity and energy of Martin Landau, well, why fight it? It’s “impossible.”

Martin Landau - Mission Impossible

If any defense is needed, the talent and skill of the man are solid; the charm is real; the ideas honestly stated. If his facts are a bit overstated, the charm a bit deliberate, it comes, not from phony intent, but rather from over-enthusiasm. And in the current mod “cool” mode, enthusiasm refreshes.

Landau, of course, is a recurring member of the impossible missions force, an undercover group operating Saturdays, 8:30 PM, on CBS, under the name Mission: Impossible.

Regular members of the force are Steve Hill, leader and the “brains”; Peter Lupas, the strong man; Greg Morris, technical expert; and Barbara Bain, distraction-expert par excellence. (The very attractive Miss Bain is also, incidentally, Mrs Landau.)

When the series, produced by Bruce Geller, aired last fall the premise itself sounded pretty impossible — a sort of serious I Spy, out of Man from UNCLE with a dash of The Avengers.

Each week, the foursome is given an “impossible” task by the government. If they fail, no monuments; but of course they always succeed in doing the “impossible.”

The fact that they often engage in dubious meddling in the internal affairs of other countries (the foreign nations are vaguely definable, but not specifically named) is glossed over by the cover-all that whatever they’re doing, it’s for the good of the free world, and good guys everywhere.

As it turned out, MI was a sleeper. Starting slow, it has gained a solid bevy of loyal viewers, despite the Saturday night time ‘slot. (Next fall it goes to Sunday night, 10 PM, following the Smothers Bros.)

MI deserves the loyalty, for the stories are well-written and fast-paced, suspenseful and engrossing. It is tightly directed. Production values are high, worthy of a well-made motion picture, a claim made by many series, but applying to few. The acting is very good. It has, to pick a convenient cliche, a great deal of class.

And interestingly, the most talked-about member of the cast has turned out to be Martin Landau who, as Rollin Hand, master of disguise, portrays everything from a Latin American dictator to an aging Nazi big-wig in various episodes. It’s a built-in actor’s showcase.

And the truth is that Landau was only scheduled as a one-time guest star for the pilot episode. But the producers, using whatever audience testing devices they employ, were very impressed. They signed him for nine out of thirteen segments; he has done 12 out of 13.

Mission Impossible stars Barbara Bain and Martin Landa

As the season progressed, Landau was often the dramatic center of the stories, while Hill had a steady but fairly colorless part. There were rumors of unrest on the set. A few weeks ago CBS announced that Hill would be out next season, to be replaced by Peter Graves. Landau’s blunt comment is:

“I think Steve will be much happier — somehow the group didn’t work the way it should have — there was a lack of harmony. I think Steve blew something that would have been very good for him, but that’s history now.”

Landau doesn’t waste time crying over split history. He hasn’t the time. He decides where he wants to go, and goes. It was like that in New York, where, schooled as an artist, he worked as a staff artist on The New York Daily News.

“One day I looked at those other artists sitting there drudging away,” he says. “Not for me, I thought. I can paint at home. So I told my boss I could quit right then, or give him two weeks’ notice!”

Landau joined a repertory company, later worked at the Actor’s Studio in New York, of which he is a lifetime member. He did off-Broadway plays; guest shots on numerous TV dramas (“I played 35 kinds of creeps and murderers.”); and had roles in movies, notably a drunken Indian in ‘Hallelujah Trail,” a priest in “Greatest Story Ever Told,” and a part in “Cleopatra” (“They cut out my best scenes.”).

He has taught acting for a number of years, came to Hollywood less than two years ago, and says he bypassed some 12 feature films and five TV series offers before Mission.

“I took the Mission part because it’s an actor’s dream — best possible series part on television. What other actor gets to do so many roles — played five different characters in one episode.

“Difficult? Hell, no — that’s acting — it’s stimulating. I couldn’t stand being tied down to the same character, month after month. I’m paid almost as much as the top-paid stars in the top series. And this way I have my freedom — a non-exclusive contract.

“You might say, I’m pretty much the whole show,” Landau says suddenly in a dazzling display of ego strength topped by a wide, disarming smile. His remark is partly put-on, partly a playing of the game of blowing your own horn, in a town where that is somehow a highly necessary art, and partly the intensity of involvement in what he is doing.

Landau has no ambitions as a matinee idol, but he does have ambitions as a kind of latter-day Orson Welles, or an American Fellini. He eventually wants to be a filmmaker — an original. He once described a Martin Landau type as “filled with passion, a great sense of humor and above all, a mercurial character.”

Bain and Landau for Mission Impossible (1960s)

He is, in fact, all of those things. A random sampling of Landauisms culled from a quick luncheon conversation gives some idea:

About directors: “I tell them how I want to do it. Usually they end up agreeing. A good director will accept the fact that the actor has understanding. Weak directors? I try not to offend them!”

About movie-making: “Most of the stuff Hollywood makes is garbage! In the last five years, 650 films, maybe five were good. Hollywood hasn’t done anything new since ‘Citizen Kane.’ In foreign countries, if they have a good script, they get the best actor for it. Here they get the biggest star.”

About his own film-making: “I’ve written a screenplay–America in the ’30s and ’40s and ’50s — about men who ave successes and failures. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever read! Best since ‘Citizen Kane.’ I’ll do it one of these days. Direct, maybe act.”

About Mission: Impossible: “It’s one of the few good series on TV. Guys in the industry, guys who don’t have to watch come up to me — Sammy Davis Jr. one time, Jackie Cooper the other day — they tell me they can’t go out on Saturday night until they’ve watched the show.”

About acting with his wife: “It’s groovy — we’ve been married ten years (they have two small daughters) and have worked together before. No problems at all — think that’s strange? Don’t ask me why, but it works. She’s an excellent critic, has rare understanding. When she offers a suggestion, it’s never designed to hurt, but to help.”

About the art of acting: “It’s not, as some actors say, an interpretive art, but a creative art. I study, formulate, evolve the character myself. On Mission I have great freedom — the rest is up to me.”

And the rest is up to Martin Landau. Mercurial master of many characterizations, he has yet to carry the full lead in a difficult dramatic role in a movie.

He has yet to produce a film. But there isn’t the least doubt in his mind that he is going to. And, if ability, enthusiasm, involvement and determination count for anything, there isn’t the least doubt in my mind that he’s going to succeed, in spades.

No mission is impossible! (1968)

Honolulu Star-Bulletin (Hawaii) September 8, 1968

Hollywood (UPI) — Greg Morris, Negro star of television’s “Mission Impossible,’ plays an electronics expert on the action-adventure show, and is something of a whiz with electrical gadgets at home.

A onetime jazz disc jockey in Iowa City, Iowa, Morris put together his own stereo set at home. Still a jazz buff, he plays Miles Davis and Oscar Peterson almost every evening.

Mission Impossible cast

Morris and his wife, Leona, have been married 10 years and are the parents of Iona, 9; Philip, 7; and Linda, 4.

Their home’s a rambling Spanish abode in the Larchmont area of Los Angeles, an upper-middle-class neighborhood. It is an integrated, older section of large, well-tended homes.

Because he is a Negro, Morris finds himself answering questions about his race in regard to show business. He has no pat answers.

“Things are much better for Negroes in Hollywood,” he says, “but I would like to see them improve even more. I’d like to see more situation comedies in which the next-door neighbors are Negroes.”

Morris is on friendly terms with his own neighbors. Leona has decorated their home in an Oriental motif. The predominant colors are orange and black. Greg’s daily regimen begins at 6 a.m. when he arises, has breakfast and drives to Desilu Studios, a scant 10 minutes from home.

The shooting schedule usually requires him to be on camera until after 7 in the evening. But he manages to have dinner with Leona and the youngsters by 8 p.m.

Leona’s specialty is chicken, which suits the head of the house very well. On weekends Morris sleeps as much as possible. During baseball season he usually makes it to the Dodger-Giants games. He’s a Willie Mays and San Francisco fan. He doesn’t dig the Dodgers.

Mission Impossible TV show cast promotional

In the fall, he takes little Philip to see football games and occasional basketball games. Morris keeps the family television set tuned to sports events, too.

“I’m not a sports participator,” he says, “but I watch everything on television. I’m even buying a transistor TV set so I can take it on camping trips with the family.”

In addition to sports, Morris also is occupied with the typewriter. He has written a couple of plays and hopes someday to see them produced. The Morris family entertains sparingly during the week. But they enjoy having a couple or two stop by for dinner and animated games of double-deck pinochle. Two or three times a year, they will throw a party for 30 or 40 friends, which Greg says are informal.

The guests sit around the floor and hold songfests with Leona playing the guitar and leading the music. Frequently they will just sit and talk and listen to Greg’s large collection of jazz records.

“The series is time-consuming,” Greg concludes,” but it’s worthwhile, and I enjoy every minute of it.”

Leonard Nimoy can act — and without ears (1969)

by Dan Lewis – San Antonio Express (Texas) October 5, 1969

Change of scene — You have to work steadily to be happy in TV, says Leonard Nimoy. The Mr Spock of the Star Trek is now Paris in Mission Impossible.

Hollywood — “You’ve got to stay current and have interesting things going for you in this business,” said Leonard Nimoy. “Otherwise, you’re dead.”

The man who played Mr. Spock on television’s ‘Star Trek” until its cancellation after last season has no intention of letting his career wither away.

Leonard Nimoy on Mission Impossible (1969)

He’s doffed the big ears and switched channels from NBC to CBS to become Paris, the new man on the scene in Mission: Impossible.

The vacancy would not have been on Mission Impossible had it not been for a quarrel between the show’s producer and Martin Landau, one of its original stars. Landau left in a huff at the end of last season, and his wife, Barbara Bain, also co-starred in the Sunday night slot, followed him.

Landau was not tied to a longterm contract, but Barbara was, and lawsuits and countersuits between her and Paramount Pictures, which produces Mission Impossible, have been

Landau’s departure from the successful series was a stroke of luck for Nimoy. Nimoy had been considering a feature. There also was an exclusive contract offer from NBC, an offer from ABC and a pilot role from MGM. None of the offers was appealing.

But don’t get Leonard wrong. He wasn’t sticking up his nose at television, as so many TV-made stars have done once their series ran out.

“It’s easy to say that television isn’t good enough for you,” Nimoy said. “But I’ve put in 20 hard years in this business. I want to be happy in it, and the only way you can accomplish that is to work steadily.”

“I thought about doing many other things,” he continued, as we lunched in the commissary at Paramount. His wife and daughter were there, too, and Nimoy explained that this was their annual visit to him on the set.

“I had second thoughts about going into another series,” he confided. ‘”‘Spock was a phenomenal success, but no one knew who Leonard Nimoy was. So I went on TV talk shows, game Shows, panels, made tours around the country.”

In the final analysis, it may have been the desire to completely erase the Spock image that motivated Nimoy when he agreed to do Mission Impossible.

At first, he signed only for a limited number of segments. “I was offered 10 shows, but decided to accept eight of them under a non-exclusive contract,” Nimoy said. “But during the third show, they (Paramount) asked me to take the whole series.

“It put me right back on television, but in a different kind of role,” Nimoy said, explaining his acceptance. “It was a chance to show that I can act — without ears.”

Mark Lenard and Leonard Nimoy in Mission Impossible - Star Trek crossover

One of the problems Nimoy may encounter this season is audience identification — or confusion. Star Trek already is in syndication and doing exceptionally well. It means that Nimoy will be seen regularly as Mr. Spock in reruns, while playing, minus the pointed ears and greased-down hairdo, Paris in Mission Impossible.

And given Star Trek’s success in syndication, it’s difficult to share Nimoy’s belief that his Spock image is already beginning to fade. Although he enjoyed working on Star Trek, Nimoy’s allegiance has quite naturally shifted to his new series.

“The style of acting is entirely different,” he explained. “In Star Trek, every confrontation was a life-or-death one. The shows are visually different. Star Trek was much more verbal. You could listen to the soundtrack and not watch the tube, and not miss anything.”

Mission Impossible, a sharp contrast, is anything but wordy. “It’s much cooler, and more sophisticated.’ Nimoy said. “The scripts are very well-written. I’m pleasantly surprised. It takes better advantage of visual effects than any other show on.

Peter Graves and Leonard Nimoy on the old Mission Impossible TV series

His wife had one complaint about Mission Impossible, however. “They should get caught once in a while,” she protested. “Everybody gets caught once in a while.”

Nimoy smiled and countered: “I don’t think the audience wants realism. It wants entertainment, and professionalism.” Nimoy feels the appeal of the two shows is very similar. “Both had the type of scientific action that appeals to a great many viewers.”

“If I had taken a movie, or another pilot instead of the new series,” Nimoy said, “it would have taken at least a year before either would have been out. In terms of public awareness, I didn’t think this would be good. Also, if they’d flopped, my career would have been in real trouble: there’d be no way of knowing I’d done more than just used up a year.”

The period between series was nothing more than a normal between-seasons hiatus for Nimoy. He took advantage of it to tour briefly in “A Thousand Clowns,” to turn out his fifth album, “The New World of Leonard Nimoy” (“It’s very contemporary lazy folk-rock”), and to set himself up a pet shop near his home.

“I used to work in one 10 years ago during the odd-jobs period,” Nimoy revealed. “I loved it, so I decided to open my own. We have a lot of exotic pets.”

He has a friend as a partner, and his own two teenage children work part-time in the shop.

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