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Jack Kirby’s unpublished adaptation of ‘The Prisoner’

Jack Kirby was the man who imagined our world of superheroes. In partnership with Stan Lee and Joe Simon, Kirby created the likes of Captain America, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four, Hulk, Thor, Doctor Doom, the Black Panther and many, many others.

Kirby’s input had a bigger and longer lasting effect than just the words or concept. His drawings helped shape our worldview—for he was the artist who created the look of these superheroes. When we think of Captain America or Iron Man—we’re seeing these characters through the prism of Kirby’s imagination.

Jack Kirby was born in New York to an Austrian-Jewish immigrant family in 1917. Though life was poor and tough, Kirby had an inkling he was going to be an artist. Hardly the sort of work for a working class kid from the Lower East Side—but Kirby had a compulsion that made him draw. He started doodling, then sketching, and then drawing full comic strips. He knew he would never be a Rembrandt or a Gauguin but he did know that he would become an artist. He took to drawing comics because the comic strip was the art of the working man. Kirby later recalled:

I thought comics was a common form of art and strictly American in my estimation because America was the home of the common man, and show me the common man that can’t do a comic. So comics is an American form of art that anyone can do with a pencil and paper.

His talent for drawing led to his early career as a graphic artist. He created single panel health advice cartoons such as Your Health Comes First!!! and various advisory comic strips. When Kirby switched jobs to Fox Feature Syndicate, he teamed up with Joe Simon—together they created Captain America.

After the Second World War Kirby worked for DC Comics and then Marvel—where his legendary partnership with Stan Lee was responsible for creating our world of superheroes—a world comparable to the myths of ancient Greece. However, disagreements with Lee over credit, led Kirby to quit Marvel and rejoin DC in the late 1960s, where he produced his superb Fourth World series.

In 1968, Kirby became obsessed with a new TV series called The Prisoner. The series depicted a spy relocated to a mysterious island where he is interrogated for information. As an anti-authoritarian libertarian, Kirby identified with the central character No. 6 played by Patrick McGoohan. Kirby said the series represented: individual’s stubborn attempts to wrest freedom from subtle but oppressive power.

This was analogous to his view of politics as well as his creative relationships with others—most notably Stan Lee.

In the early 1970s, Marvel decided to produce a comic book version of The Prisoner. Marvel’s then editor Marv Wolfman set Steve Englehart and Gil Kane to work on it. However, Stan Lee—knowing how much Kirby liked the series—intervened and asked him to work on the comic book.

Kirby produced a complete first issue lifted directly from the series’ first episode “Arrival.” Unlike his other work, Kirby’s The Prisoner is an almost faithful retelling of the TV show. The finished drawings were partially inked and lettered by Mike Royer–but the idea was dropped and the comic never saw light of day.
Read the rest of Jack Kirby’s ‘The Prisoner,’ after the jump…

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‘Six Into One’: Seldom seen doc on Patrick McGoohan’s cult TV classic ‘The Prisoner’

The actor Patrick McGoohan had been kicking around ideas for a new television series when writer George Markstein told him about Inverlair Lodge in Scotland. The Lodge had been used by Special Operations Executive during the Second World War as “a detention or internment camp” for those individuals who refused to take part in covert operations “once they became aware of the full details.”

Some were unable to kill when the occasion was reduced to a one-on-one scenario, as opposed the anonymity of a battlefield exchange. With information being released on a Need to Know basis, their training meant that they were in possession of highly classified and secret information relating to pending missions, and could not be allowed to return to public life, where a careless remark could have compromised their secrecy.

As Markstein later explained the residents were:

...largely people who had been compromised. They had reached the point in their career where they knew too much to be let loose, but they hadn’t actually done anything wrong. They weren’t in any way traitors, they hadn’t betrayed anything, but in their own interest it was better if they were kept safely.

Inverlair Lodge was also known as “No. 6 Special Workshop School.” McGoohan was intrigued by the idea and began developing a series idea set in a similar internment camp, The Prisoner.
Patrick McGoohan started his career as an actor in theater. He was spotted early on by Orson Welles who cast him his production of Moby Dick. Welles thought McGoohan had “unquestionable” acting ability and thought he would become one of cinema’s greatest actors.

McGoohan’s early success in theater led to a movie contract. Unfortunately, the film producers who snapped him up didn’t know what to do with this unique talent. McGoohan was cast in a few B-movies that offered limited scope for him to shine. At his earliest opportunity, McGoohan got out of his film contract and moved into television.

Learning from his ill-fated experience in movies, McGoohan stipulated that he had control over what he did on the small screen. McGoohan was a Roman Catholic and eschewed violence and refused to kiss on grounds that he considered it unnecessary and even possibly adulterous.

In 1960, he starred as John Drake in Danger Man. The series was moderately successful on its first run, but quickly took off after the release of the first James Bond feature Dr. No—a film that McGoohan had knocked back as he disliked its script’s promiscuous sex and violence.

By 1966, Danger Man was a hit across most of the world and McGoohan was TV’s highest paid actor. But McGoohan felt he had achieved all he could with the character and wanted to move on. Determined to keep him working for his TV company, legendary producer Lew Grade asked McGoohan if there was anything he wanted to make. McGoohan pitched him The Prisoner. Grade liked it and agreed to a produce it. The deal was sealed on a handshake.

A secret agent (McGoohan) resigns his commission to his handler—a cameo from the show’s co-creator George Markstein who is seen in the opening titles. Returning to his apartment, McGoohan is gassed. When he awakes he is a prisoner in the “Village” a kind of Psy-Ops theme park on a strange island. He no longer has a name but is identified only as “No. 6.” He is interrogated by No. 2 who demands “information.” In each episode No. 6 attempts to escape the Village while trying to unravel the mystery of who is No. 1.

The Prisoner became one of the most famous TV series of the 1960s. It was hailed as “television’s first masterpiece”—one of the most talked about and controversial shows ever made. Almost fifty years after it was first aired, its appeal continues—and The Prisoner was even remade in 2009 with Jim Caviezel as No. 6 and Ian McKellen as No. 2.

There are numerous theories as to the “meaning” of The Prisoner, but it difficult not to view the series without some small reference to McGoohan’s own religious beliefs. Here is an island where everyone is watched, recorded, and examined by an omnipotent and omniscient overlord; where No. 6 is repeatedly asked to give up information—or to confess his guilt; and where No. 1 is finally revealed to be No. 6—“The greatest enemy that we have” as McGoohan described No. 1 in an interview with Wayne Troyer:

No. 1 was depicted as an evil, governing force in this Village. So, who is this No. 1? We just see the No. 2’s, the sidekicks. Now this overriding, evil force is at its most powerful within ourselves and we have constantly to fight it, I think, and that is why I made No. 1 an image of No. 6. His other half, his alter ego.

McGoohan suggests that “The greatest evil that one has to fight constantly, every minute of the day until one dies, is the worst part of oneself”—which is something he could have lifted directly from the Catholic belief in “original sin.”

Like another Catholic, writer Anthony Burgess—who wrote about the freedom of an individual to do right or wrong in his cult novel A Clockwork OrangeMcGoohan stated that No. 6:

...shouldn’t have to answer to anyone. It’s entirely his prerogative, his God-given right as an individual, to proceed in any way he sees fit. That’s the whole point of it all.

The Prisoner was not just a Cold War series about individual freedom in the face of totalitarianism but the freedom of each individual to choose one’s own path and take responsibility for their own actions in a materialist society. McGoohan was against the materialist/capitalist world of the Village and when The Prisoner ended in 1968, he aligned himself with the rioting students in Paris. He hoped his series might inspire a revolution, a point he discussed in an interview as to why the French were so obsessed with his series:

...there comes a time when revolt is necessary: In the last episode…there was no room for niceness anymore. There were machine guns, and people died. It was time for the Revolution. The French know that: Allons z’ enfants…

Watch ‘One Into Six’ plus McGoohan’s lost ‘LA Tapes,’ after the jump…

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‘We are all prisoners’: Patrick McGoohan explains his cult series ‘The Prisoner’
08:09 pm

Pop Culture

The Prisoner
Patrick McGoohan

A rare interview with Patrick McGoohan, in which he discusses, with Warner Troyer, the ideas, themes and meaning behind his cult series, The Prisoner.

“How free are we?” asks Patrick McGoohan, the creator and star of the series, “I think we’re being imprisoned and engulfed by…” here it almost seems unfair to continue in words, which cannot express his concerns as fully as the series does, but…“we’re being imprisoned and engulfed by a scientific and materialistic world. The Prisoner not only shows you why McGoohan is concerned, but offers alternative ways of looking at those concerns. For The Prisoner is an allegory that sets a man in unexplained captivity, depriving him of his liberty, privacy, and name. The series then tells of his successful efforts against all imaginable odds to regain his freedom. But he is struggling to gain his freedom from a world that strongly resembles our own world; only he sees it as a prison while we do not.

McGoohan’s series hooked a mass TV audience with its intelligent, clever, thrilling and entertaining scripts. Each episode was an event that left the audience either bewildered and angered, or enthralled and inspired. This was part of McGoohan’s intention, to create debate, have the viewers question their own reality. As McGoohan put it in this interview:

“Your village may be different from other people’s villages but we are all prisoners.”

The Prisoner was not some indulgent flight of fancy, McGoohan had written and planned the whole concept for the show long before a single frame was shot:

“There were these pages, don’t forget, at the very beginning, which laid out the whole concept; these forty-odd pages laid out the whole concept. That was no accident….

“...I was fortunate to have two or three creative people working with me, like my friend that I said saw the meteorological balloon. And wherever one could find these little touched, one put them in. But the design of the “Prisoner” thing, that was all clearly laid out from the outset…

“...And the style was also clearly laid out and the designs of the sets, those were all clearly laid out from the inception of it. There was no accident in that area, you know, the blazers, and the numbers and all that stuff, and the stupid little bicycles and all that….

“...You see, one of the things that is frustrating about making a piece of entertainment is trying to make it appeal to everybody. I think this is fatal. I don’t think you can do that. It’s done a great deal, you know. We have our horror movies and we have our science-fiction things. The best works are those that say…somebody says, ‘We want to do something this way,’ and do it, not because they’re aiming at a particular audience. They’re doing it because it’s a story they think is important, and is a statement that they want to make. And they do it and then whoever want to watch it, that’s their privilege. I mean, the painting in an art gallery, you know, you have a choice whether you go and look at this one or that one or the other one. You have a choice not even to go in.”

Recorded in Toronto in front of an invited audience in 1977, The Prisoner Puzzle is a wonderful treat for fans of Mr. McGoohan and his superb cult series.

Transcript for this interview is available here. Download the accompanying book The Prisoner Puzzle here.

Previously on Dangerous Minds

Patrick McGoohan: Behind-the-scenes photographs of ‘The Prisoner’ from 1967

With thanks to Joe Kilmartin!

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Patrick McGoohan: Behind-the-scenes photographs of ‘The Prisoner’ in 1967

As Number 6 awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transported to the Village, where everything was not as it seemed, and a man called Number 2 wanted information.

Behind the scenes photographs of Patrick McGoohan filming The Prisoner in 1967.
More pix of No. 6, after the jump…

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Ron Grainer’s classic film and TV themes from the Sixties

For my tenth birthday I received a copy of the MFP record Geoff Love and His Orchestra Play Your Top TV Themes. MFP was the acronym for “Music for Pleasure” a low budget English record label formed between EMI records and book publishers, Paul Hamlyn. MFP released session musicians performing hits of the day, or artists from the EMI back catalog. The local supermarket had a carousel of MFP discs, ranging from Frank Sinatra, Semprini, Edith Piaf, Dean Martin, Benny Hill, Liberace, to The Beach Boys, The Monkees, The Move, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and T.Rex.

There was an unspoken consensus amongst my peers, that If it was MFP then it was suspect; as MFP was either ersatz, or some original recording that had bombed. I knew what they meant, but didn’t agree. I thought of it more like a book club edition, if you couldn’t afford the top dollar for the first print run edition, then there was always MFP.

Music for Pleasure, in many ways, gave me a good musical education. The first record I bought, at a rummage sale, when I was 5, was Russ Conway’s “Snow Coach”. From this jaunty instrumental, I progressed on to the magic of Herb Alpert via The Tijuana Sound of Brass, Edith Piaf, Johnny Cash and Beethoven. While my older brother fed me The Stones, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Move, and later T.Rex, and Bowie.

Music was key, along with books, films and TV, and whenever any of these fused, it was something special. Remember this was the sixties, the early seventies, there were no pop promos - only The Monkees on TV, and later Ken Russell’s Tommy in the cinema.

This was why I liked MFP, which released records that were often compiled of tracks unavailable elsewhere, like Geoff Love and His Orchestra Play Your Top TV Themes. Where else would you find the sophistication of John Barry’s “Theme to The Persuaders” next to “Sleepy Shores”, the theme for Owen M.D.? Or, Mort Stevens’ “Hawaii Five-O” on the same side as Geoff Love’s jolly sit-com theme “Bless This House”

Geoff Love was a hero. A black trombone player from Yorkshire, who when not writing theme tunes, worked with Shirley Bassey and entertainer Max Bygraves. Geoff Love arranged and recorded a whole library of theme tunes for MFP, including Big War Movie Themes and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Other Disco Galactic Themes. Each album was a wonderful aural adventure, where part of the enjoyment was working out what Love had done to replicate or improve upon the original theme. For that reason Your Top TV Themes, was and still is a class album. 

This liking for signature tunes brought me to Ron Grainer, who in many respects wrote some of the themes that best defined British TV in the 1960s.

Grainer was born in Queensland, Australia, and studied under Sir Eugene Goosens at the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music. His studies were cut short by the Second World War, which saw the young composer seriously wounded - nearly losing his leg. After the war, Grainer moved to England where he began his career in earnest as a composer and musician.

In the 1950s, Grainer collaborated with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop on variety of projects, most famously on his theme for Doctor Who. The success of this track was in part due to Delia Derbyshire, whose hard work re-interpreting Grainer’s composition, note-by-note, made it unforgettable. When Grainer heard what Derbyshire had done, he could hardly contain his delight. Grainer said “Did I really write this?” to which Derbyshire replied, got the answer “Most of it.”

Together they had produced a work of brilliance. Grainer wanted to give a co-credit to Derbyshire, but the dear olde fuddy-duddies at the bureaucratic BBC preferred to keep their talents under a bushel. Damn shame, as Derbyshire deserved much recognition for her pioneering work.

Original ‘Doctor Who’ Theme (1963)
In 1967, Grainer wrote “The Age of Elegance”, which became a perfect synthesis of image and sound in Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner.

More classic Grainer themes from the sixties, after the jump…

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