1. When developing Mission: Impossible, creator Bruce Geller was inspired the 1964 Jules Dassin film Topkapi, innovative for its coolly existential depiction of an elaborate heist. Geller's original draft script was entitled Briggs’ Squad, and featured team members who were semi-reformed criminals that had served together in a special forces unit, and proven themselves unable to re-adjust to civilian life. Among them were Barney Collier, a compulsive gambler and card cheat, Cinnamon Carter, a drug addict. Rollin Hand, a thief, and Willy Armitage who beat women while working as a strip club bouncer.
Unable to get interest in his concept, Geller cleaned up their backgrounds to make the show more appealing and struck a deal with Desilu Productions.
Geller stuck firm on several aspects though, including his insistence on minimising character development. This was done intentionally both because Geller felt that with the audience knowing little about the characters it would make them more convincing in undercover work, and because he wanted to keep the focus on the caper and off the characters themselves. As the series progressed Geller would even veto the writers' attempts to develop the characters in any of the episodes.
Clockwise from top: Greg Morris as Barnard "Barney" Collier, Barbara Bain as Cinnamon Carter, Steven Hill as Dan Briggs, and Martin Landau as Rollin Hand.
2. When Mission: Impossible debuted in 1966 the leader of the IMF was initially Dan Briggs, played by Steven Hill. As an Orthodox Jew, Hill had to leave on Fridays at 4 p.m. to be home before sundown and was not available until after dark the next day. Although he'd negotiated a contract which allowed for filming interruptions due to religious observances, the clause proved difficult to work around due to the production schedule and as the season progressed an increasing number of episodes featured little of Briggs.
Hill had other problems as well. After cooperatively crawling through dirt tunnels and repeatedly climbing a rope ladder in the episode "Snowball in Hell," in the following episode ("Action!") he balked at climbing a stairway with railings and locked himself in his dressing room. Unable to come to terms with Hill, the producers re-shot the episode without him (Cinnamon Carter listened to the taped message, the selected operatives' photos were displayed in "limbo", and the team meeting was held in Rollin Hand's apartment), and reduced Briggs' presence in the five episodes left to be filmed to a minimum.
Hill was replaced without explanation to the audience after the first season by Peter Graves playing the role of Jim Phelps, who remained the leader for the remainder of the original series and in the 1988–1990 revival.
3. Martin Landau played the IMF agent Rollin Hand, a noted actor, makeup artist, escape artist, magician and "man of a million faces."
Landau was billed as a "special guest star" during the first season; he had originally been cast as a guest star for the pilot with the understanding that he would be one of four or five rotating guest star agents. His contract gave producers an option to have him "render services for (three or four) additional episodes". To fill the void left by Hill's Sabbath absences, producers wound up using Landau for more episodes, always as a "guest star". He eventually struck a deal to appear in all the first season's remaining episodes, but always billed as a "guest star" so that he could have the option to give notice to work on a feature film. Landau contractually became a series regular in season two.
4. In theory, Dan Briggs and Jim Phelps are the only full-time members of the IMF. As the series was originally conceived, they would form teams made up of part-time agents who came from a variety of professions, choosing their operatives based on the particular skills necessary for the mission. In practice, however (especially after the first season), Briggs and especially Phelps would choose the same core group of three or four agents for every single mission, leading these regulars to be considered de facto full-time IMF agents. Still, many episodes also feature guest stars playing one-time additional agents who have special skills.
5. Every episode of Mission: Impossible began with the classic title sequence featuring a fuse being lit. As the fuse burned across the screen, clips from scenes in the current episode were shown. The clip were chosen to showcase dramatic moments in the upcoming mission, such as moments of surprise, moments of violence, or equipment in use, and often began with somebody getting punched and/or knocked out. This use of footage from the upcoming episode was, and remains, a very rare practice for a television series to include in the titles.
However, it was already being done as of the previous season on the series I Spy, which like Mission also had the lighting of a fuse leading to it!
By the way, the hand with the match was, until sometime in the sixth season, that of creator Bruce Geller.
6. The main theme was composed by Argentine composer, pianist and conductor Lalo Schifrin and is noted for being in 5/4 time. About the unusual timing, Schifrin declared that,
"things are in 2/4 or 4/4 because people dance with two legs. I did it for people from outer space who have five legs."Schifrin was nominated for two Emmys (for the first and third seasons) for his work on Mission: Impossible. He was also awarded two Grammys at the 10th Grammy Awards in 1968, for Best Instrumental Theme and Best Original Score for a Motion Picture or TV Show.
7. Although Mission: Impossible is famously known for the phrase that the tape will "self-destruct" in five seconds, not every episode included this warning. One hundred and twenty of them did, five others say that the tape will "decompose", one says that it will "destroy itself", twelve instruct Briggs or Phelps to "dispose of" the recording, seven tell them to "destroy" it, and three contain no instructions, but Phelps destroys the recording anyway. The remaining fifteen missions contain no recorded briefing at all.
The self-destructing tape scenes themselves were usually all shot at once, once a year for each season. Peter Graves went on to say that he never had a clue which clip would end up in which show as they were often filmed without any dialogue.
The tapes didn't actually disintegrate, of course (this was the late-1960's after all), instead the effect was created by a technician blowing smoke through a tube into the recorder.
8. As actors left the series over time, others became regulars. Replacements often possessed the same skills as their predecessors. For example, The Great Paris, Rollin Hand's replacement in the fourth and fifth seasons, is also an actor, makeup artist, magician and master of disguise.
Paris was played by Leonard Nimoy, who went straight from playing Spock on the cancelled Star Trek to Mission: Impossible - both of which were Desilu Productions. You might not know but the actor he replaced, Martin Landau, had originally been considered by Gene Roddenberry to play Spock on Star Trek before taking on the part of Rollin Hand on Mission: Impossible.
9. Greg Morris and Peter Lupus (William "Willy" Armitage) were the only original cast members to remain on the show throughout the entire run, although Lupus was replaced by Sam Elliott (Dr. Doug Robert) for approximately half of the episodes in season five.
10. At 171 episodes, the original version of Mission: Impossible held the record for having the most episodes of any English-language espionage television series for almost 40 years (about 10 more episodes than its nearest rival, the UK-produced The Avengers). Its record was broken during the eighth season of 24 in 2010.
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