Good morning, Neatoramanauts. From 1966 to 1973, the innovative television show Mission: Impossible presented the adventures of the Impossible Missions Force. This top secret American agency found stolen nuclear bombs, exposed counterfeiters, rescued captured spies and foiled criminal plots at home and abroad. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to learn things that you might not know about the show.
1. The show was inspired by the criminal heist movie Topkapi and was originally entitled Briggs’ Squad. In the early drafts, the team members were semi-reformed criminals who had served together in a special forces unit and proven unable to re-adjust to civilian life. Barney was a compulsive gambler and card cheat. Cinnamon was a drug addict. Rollin Hand was a thief. Willy Armitage beat women while working as a strip club bouncer. The series creator, Bruce Geller, cleaned up their backgrounds to make the show more appealing.
2. The self-destructing tape scenes were usually shot all at once, once a year for each season. The tapes didn't actually disintegrate. A special effects technician created that impression by blowing smoke through a tube into the recorder.
3. The voice on the tape belonged to Robert Johnson, an accountant turned voice over artist. For the pilot episode, he was paid $125. Since the pilot sold, he kept coming back and, for several years, would record his part every few weeks. His character was never identified during the series.
4. After learning about the mission, Dan Briggs or Jim Phelps would return to his apartment to select agents from a portfolio. The rejected photos in these agent selection scenes were usually pictures of crew members or their wives. In the screenshot above, Dan Briggs is looking at a photo of Bruce Geller. Even though he created Mission: Impossible, Geller doesn't get to go on this mission.
5. Steven Hill played Dan Briggs, the IMF's leader at the beginning of the series. Hill had an abrasive personality at that time. He repeatedly clashed with directors and producers, and they ultimately fired him at the end of the first season. Hill was eventually able to overcome these issues and become a successful actor, most famously playing the role of District Attorney Adam Schiff on Law & Order.
6. In the meantime, directors settled on Peter Graves to replace Hill as Jim Phelps, the new leader of the IMF. Graves came from an acting family: his brother, James Arness, played Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke.
7. Peter Graves was a serious actor, but he didn't take himself too seriously. He was quite willing to parody his Mission work, as you can see in this Oldsmobile commercial from the 1980s.
8. Graves wasn't the only person to parody Mission: Impossible. The exploding assignment message was a recurring gag on Inspector Gadget.
9. The spy comedy series Get Smart went to even greater lengths in the episode "The Impossible Mission." Agent Maxwell Smart learns about his mission on a tape recording hidden in a bus station. He has some technical difficulties with it. Smart returns to his apartment to select agents for the mission, just like Dan Briggs and Jim Phelps did. But Smart's options include Alfred E. Neuman and the Mona Lisa.
10. Gene Roddenberry recruited Martin Landau to play Spock on Star Trek. Landau turned down the role to play Rollin Hand, the master of disguise on Mission: Impossible. Later, during the fourth and fifth seasons, Leonard Nimoy, who did play Spock, starred in Mission: Impossible as Paris. Nimoy's character was designed to replace Rollin Hand after Martin Landau left the show at the end of the third season.
11. Barbara Bain played Cinnamon Carter, the glamorous model/agent on the Impossible Missions Force. She was married to Martin Landau during the show's run. Landau and Bain went on to star together in the British sci-fi series Space: 1999.
12. The show took place during the Cold War, and the team often went on missions behind the Iron Curtain. But all foreign nations were referred to pseudonymously, such "Eurasian Union" instead of the Soviet Union. The writers created a fake language that they called Gellerese, after the producer, Bruce Geller. It served as the generic language for signs when the IMF was in Europe. Producer Peter Sloman explained, "Bruce’s idea was that it should be intelligible to anyone who speaks only English, but it should look like German, Hungarian, whatever." (16-17) Examples include "machina werke" -- machine repair and "gäz" -- gas. Can you read the sign above?
13. For years after the show ended in 1973, producers considered reviving it. After several failed efforts, Mission: Impossible returned to the air in 1988. It ran for two years and starred Peter Graves as Jim Phelps, who returned to the Impossible Missions Force after the assassination of his protégé.
14. The new Mission: Impossible also starred Phil Morris, the son of actor Greg Morris. Greg Morris played Barney Collier during all seven seasons of the original show's run. Phil Morris played Grant Collier, the son of Barney Collier. They were a father and son team on the screen and in real life.
Source: White, Patrick J. The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier. New York: Avon, 1991. Print. Images: CBS