Mark Ellis (JAxler2@aol.com)
Hi My name is Mark Ellis, I live in Newport, RI and I'm a professional writer. I've been visiting this great site for about six months now.
I guess it's my turn to launch into a testimonial about how much I Spy has meant to me since I was 10 years old. I still have vivid memories of watching "So Long Patrick Henry" and being entranced even though I didn't quite understand all the socio-political subtleties of it.
The following year I had a lengthy hospital stay due to a life-threatening illness...it was there that I saw "The Warlord" for the first time, which to me became the quintessential I Spy episode. It may have been a little light on the Kelly/Scotty interplay but the drama and heartache in that episode (not to mention the exotic settings) and the wonderfully elegant final scene and elegiac last line burned itself into my brain forever.
It was shortly after that, while recuperating at home I began writing, initially pastiches of Kelly and Scotty types in a Man From UNCLE kind of setting. I often wrote listening to the first I Spy soundtrack LP. Years later, I couldn't remember those days without hearing "Hi-Yo, Scotty" in my head.
I was extremely impressed by all of the episodes Robert Culp wrote for the series. I was already familiar with him as am actor before I Spy because of the Outer Limits episodes, particularly Harlan Ellison's "Demon With A Glass Hand." When I wrote, I found myself emulating what I could remember of his pacing and dialogue. One of the very first things I ever completed was an unabashed steal of "Home To Judgment"...except in my version it wasn't hit men surrounding the house but vampires (I had recently read Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, see, so I--aw, you get the idea).
Over a period of time I realized that Robert Culp was a hell of writer. His two-part Rifleman episode was not only a very memorable segment of that series, it had disturbed me deeply as a child (I don't think I realized he scripted it until watching the reruns one night in the late 60s).
At one time or another in my life, I owned every piece of I Spy merchandise that was produced...not that there was a lot of it. But I had all the books, the comics and all the TV Guides and any articles I could find. Unfortunately, my two prized soundtrack LPS were ruined in a waterbed leak in the mid-70s.
Well of course I eventually grew up. Even so, I always watched I Spy reruns and eventually my daughter became a fan, too. I also became a professional writer...first for newspapers, then copy-writing, then comics and finally novels. Over the years, Kelly and Scotty had become character archetypes in my head. They had lived there for so long I had forgotten where they came from.
About seven and a half years ago, I was contracted to create a science-fiction adventure series for a publisher of "men's adventure" novels.* Because of the perceived nature of the audience (truck drivers with third grade educations) and the setting (post nuclear war), I wasn't too crazy about taking the project on. But I was told by the editor that more than likely the series wouldn't last more than 4 books (as had the previous dozen series they had launched in the preceding five years), so I could move on to other things within a year.
Well, okay. For the lead characters I drew on my archetypes--by now quite unconsciously--of Kelly and Scotty, warped them around a little and they became Kane and Grant. That was in 1996.
Jump ahead now to November of 2002. I've been writing Outlanders, the series that wasn't supposed to last more than 4 books for over six years, 26 novels at that point. I'm on the verge of burning out. I dread writing the next installment. I wonder why I've stayed with the thing for so long--it sure ain't the money or the glamour.
My mind drifts and I think back to the days when I hammered out my I Spy/Man From UNCLE pastiches in my bedroom. The brass of "Hi-Yo, Scotty" echoes in my head and I think, "Hey, why haven't those I Spy soundtracks ever been reissued on CD like the original Hugo Montenegro UNCLE soundtracks?"
I check on the Internet and to my astonishment, find that the original ORIGINAL I Spy soundtrack is about to be released by Silver Age Classics (bless 'em!). I order it immediately. When it arrives and I start listening to it, I become 11-12 years old again. All of sudden, I'm itching to write the next installment of the Outlanders series.
My output and enthusiasm increases. It's very weird. I start ordering the I Spy DVDs...of course the first ones are the Robert Culp collection. As I listen to the first Robert Culp commentary, he makes a statement that puts everything in perspective for me: " One of my first fantasies in childhood, seven or eight years old, when I wanted to become a cartoonist, was the comic strip Terry and the Pirates, by the immortal Milton Caniff. I collected everything I could get my hands on, and it seemed to me that I SPY was the closest thing I had ever seen to that tone, that spirit of a kind of noir-heightened realism that I so loved in Terry and the Pirates."
I suddenly realized one of the main reasons I'd stayed with Outlanders for so long was that it was the closest thing to I Spy I had ever been involved in or was likely to be. That was the epiphany for me and it took Robert Culp to trigger it. So many little things in the Outlanders series (I even titled one of the novels Tigers of Heaven!) had been directly inspired by I Spy, particularly the episodes he scripted.
Well, now to wrap up this tale...I developed the urge to contact Mr. Culp if for nothing else but to say thank you for the inspiration and influence his work had provided me. But, at my age ...edging closer to 50 than to 40, I felt a little funny about it. I mean, I knew people who knew him, various writers and such and I suppose I could have gone through them. But I had never used them to do the fan thing before. Besides I understood Mr. Culp valued his privacy highly and I didn't want to put him on the spot: "Hi, Mr. Culp...David Gerrold gave me your phone number--"
Finally, I decided what the hell. I got the address of his management agency and sent him a copy of "The Warlord" script and a couple of my novels, as well as a letter. I asked him if would mind signing the script for me.
In a relatively short period of time, I received the script, with a nice personalized message, thanking me for the books and also pointing out that he did NOT write the teaser in the script (which has been transcribed on the site here) and noted, "Thank God it was never used!"
By the way, this was all within the last month or so.
He also included an 8X10 glossy of him as a disheveled Kelly from " The Warlord", also autographed with a personalized message.Mr. Culp only cemented my 35 year long impression of him as a gracious gentleman and class act. Needless to say, both items have become treasures, right up there with my original art from Will Eisner, Jim Mooney, Don Heck and other comics greats. And before anybody asks, there is no way will either the photograph or the script ever show up on Ebay.
So anyhow, there's my I Spy testimonial. I'll keep alert for the 40th anniversary bash and I certainly hope I can attend...and I hope Mr. Culp can as well.
PS: If anybody is interested in the Outlanders series, it's written under the "house name" of James Axler. Check out Jamesaxler.com for more information.