Thursday, January 15, 2009


Recent days have seen the deaths of a couple of men whose work meant something to me, Ricardo Montalban and Patrick McGoohan.

All of Montalban's obits focus on his roles in Fantasy Island and Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, the latter of which was just one of the reasons I was a fan. In fact, Mr. Montalban had a distinguished Hollywood career for decades before he made his big splashes as Mr. Roarke and Khan Noonian Singh. I wonder if he looked at Khan the way Alec Guinness regarded Obi Wan Kenobi: "I spent my whole life building a respected career in some really great films and I'm gonna be remembered for this?!" If so, he was gracious enough to never express it.

The best memorial to Mr. Montalban I've seen is a story writer Mark Evanier tells about working on a comedy program when Montalban made a cameo appearance. It's a great, revealing anecdote that hints at why he deserves to be remembered with esteem and respect beyond that earned by his performances. You should go read that.

Mr. McGoohan created and starred in a 1960s British series called The Prisoner, which is one of the best programs ever made. It tells the story of an unnamed spy who, at the start of the series, resigns from his job for reasons we never learn. He goes home to pack, knock-out gas pours through his keyhole, and he wakes up in a bizarre village run by people (maybe good guys, maybe bad guys) who want information from him. The series is a terrific meditation on freedom, individuality, conformity, and the little prisons people build for themselves every day. It's also strange and frustrating, both of which only add to its charm. Programs like Twin Peaks and Lost owe everything to The Prisoner. Truly great.

I have some sentimental attachment to The Prisoner because in the late '70s the 17-episode series was rerun on public broadcasting stations. That's when I discovered it and Mom and I got into it together. It was appointment television for just the two of us. We eagerly awaited each episode and dissected them for hours afterward, discussing the symbolism and teasing out clues. It built a special connection between Mom and me that I'll always treasure and for which I'm grateful to Mr. McGoohan.

Comics blogger Heidi MacDonald posted the best appreciation of McGoohan and his work I've seen in recent days. Worth the read if you're interested. If my description has tempted you, full episodes of The Prisoner are available online.

What's Up, Washington & Jefferson?
Over the past couple of days, I've gotten a noticeable boomlet of visitors from Washington & Jefferson College in Pennsylvania. Usually I see little clusters like that when a local book review or somesuch appears. This time I'm clueless. Who are you people and what do you want with me?


ronnie said...

Nice post, Brian. Unsurprisingly Husband is a huge fan of The Prisoner and McGoohan as well. (Secret Agent Man anyone?) He was pretty appalled to learn that AMC plans to remake the series with Jesus (James Caviezel) as Number Six and Gandalf as Number One (Sir Ian McKellan, who will in fact make a fine Number One). He was only slightly relieved to discover that the version they're doing seems to be so 'remade' that it looks like it's going to bear little resemblance to the original series from what we could see on a Christmas season preview. (The website for the new series is here.)

Thanks also for the link to Mark's post about Ricardo Montalban. What a wonderful story. A true gentleman. His wife is a very lucky woman who must miss him terribly.

Anonymous said...

Be seeing you.

Bibliophile said...

Enjoyed reading your post about two wonderful people. Thank you for sharing the link to Mark's post about Ricardo Montalban. As a child, I watched many old movies produced before I was born. I recall seeing him in many old movies.

Although I've heard of the Prisoner, I never had the privilege of seeing the series. Again, it was on TV before I was born. Wonder if it is on DVD now with subtitles? I saw Patrick McGoohan in a Disney movie called The Three Lives of Thomasina.

ronnie said...

Freckles: The Prisoner is indeed available on DVD. Here's a link to some listings. You can even get the complete series as a boxed set. We have several seasons on DVD and they're often fun to pull out and enjoy again. I'm sure they're also available on Ebay and through other sources. "Many Happy Returns" is an episode that is a fan favourite - consider either going through the series chronologically, or getting the set 3 that has that episode.

ronnie said...

P.S. I can't say for certain that it has subtitles, but I am deaf and everything that we watch regularly has subtitles (even when using my cochlear implant processor I can't understand TV without subtitles) so I'm assuming it does... ask the seller to be sure.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Fies,

My name is Emily and I am one of those Washington and Jefferson College visitors to your blog. I just wanted to alleviate your anxiety by offering you an explanation for the surge of people visiting your website from our school. We are all enrolled in a literature class entitled "Graphic Memoir", and recently, we were assigned to read Mom's Cancer as well as your blog. So rest assured we are not plotting to kidnap you.

On a side note, everyone enjoyed Mom's Cancer and reading your blog (how about that Captain Kirk chair!)



Brian Fies said...

Thanks, Emily! I'd describe my state of mind as less "anxious" than "mildly curious," but you have indeed put it to rest.

I'm honored that Mom's Cancer is part of your curriculum and horrified that this blog is. By way of making it up to you, I'll be happy to answer any questions anyone wants to ask, either here or privately. Extra credit!

Ronnie, Mr. Montalban's wife preceded him in death in 2007. They sound like one of those couples who belong together both in life and death.

inkdestroyedmybrush said...

I also posted a prisoner appreciation, as McGoohan's death certainly struck me much more that Ricardo's.

Seminal part of my television life.

Brian Fies said...

Charles (inkdestroyedmybrush), I'm very happy you dropped in and appreciate the comment. For the enlightenment of other readers, Charles is a professional comic book artist and inker I met through my Kid Sis, Elisabeth. He does great work, and his blog is full of insights into comics technique and criticism. Check it out.