There's a point to this. Not a significant point, mind you, but a point, nonetheless. So, bear with me.
I've always liked the TV series Mission: Impossible. Since a kid and even now, when reruns are shown on cable. (I’m selective – there are some episodes I didn’t care for, so I pass those by. The ones I like the most are when they do a "simulation" to trick their target. My favorite is an episode where they make a guy think he’s on a submarine in order to get him to give up key information, when in fact they’ve just recreated it all in a warehouse.)
That said, I hate the movies. In fairness, I’ve only seen the first one, but I hated it so much, ripping the guts out of the point and core of the TV series, out of pure hubris, that I was so offended I haven’t had wanted to watch the others. But the TV series was and remains a joy.
My love for the show even helped on a PR job I had. I was the unit publicist on an awful, violent movie, The Hitcher, in which Jennifer Jason Leigh was the female lead. We got along well, but she was very shy and quiet. When I was interviewing her for her bio in the presskit, she mentioned her step-father being Reza Badiyi. “Oh,” I said, “Didn’t he direct a lot of episodes of Mission: Impossible?” Jennifer stopped and just stared at me – “How did you know that????” she almost sputtered. Well, I’d watched the show all the time as a kid, I explained, and he directed a lot of episodes (18, it turned out) and he had a name that caught the attention of a kid and was hard to forget. I think she may have said that I was the first person she’d met on a movie who actually knew of him. (Their loss, by the way -- Reza Badiyi had a long, 40-year career directing, up to 2006 when he directed the feature film, The Way Back Home with Julie Harris and Ruby Dee.) Anyway, it was a nice, added movie-set connection to make, which is particularly important for a unit publicist, since they’re usually very low on a movie’s totem pole of stature. All thanks to loving the Mission: Impossible series.
(Side Note: I tell some other tales about working on The Hitcher, including a couple of nice, amusing ones about Jennifer in this article here. But I digress…
All of this aside, the point here is about one thing that has always struck me as weird and totally unbelievable about Mission: Impossible. And that’s saying a ton, given the premise of the show and that each week they pull off a mission that is…impossible. However, viewers always accepted those weekly, monumentally-convoluted tricks that often stretched credibility (to the point, every once in a while, that brought about eye-rolling), but because they were pulled off with clever writing and great Impossible Mission Force skill, they landed on the good side of acceptable.
But not this one thing.
At the beginning of every show – at least in the earlier years – the team leader (first Dan Briggs, played by Steven Hill who later was the first D.A. on Law & Order, and then Jim Phelps, played by Peter Graves) would go through his IMF portfolio, decided which agents he wanted to join him on that week’s specific mission. And the ones he wanted, he’d toss their photo in a pile.
There was character actor Rollin Hand (“Man of a Million Faces,” his 8x10 actor’s glossy photo said, “World’s Greatest Impersonator”), electronics whiz Barney Collier and strong man Willy Armitage. (I’m guessing not many people know Barney and Willy’s last name. But them up there alongside Reza Badiyi.) And then also, there was Cinnamon Carter, played by Barbara Bain. Her photo was a magazine cover for a glamour magazine that said “Model of the Year.”
And that’s where I always got stumped.
Here was this attractive woman – who not only was a cover model, and not only a famous cover model, but one so famous that she was the Model of the Year!!! And…and…and No One in the Entire World Ever Recognized Her!!! (The team often had missions in Europe and South America.) Forget that no one ever knew her name, the Model of the Year – forget even that on that “Model of the Year” cover it had her name -- but no one in the series ever stopped her and said, “Hey, you look familiar. How do I know you?? Are you famous?” No one – and I don’t even mean the targets that she was thrown into close confines to trick each week, but I mean even people on the street or in restaurants or store who would regularly pass by her and say, “Wait, I know you!! You’re that lady on the magazines!” No one even ever did a double-take when seeing the Model of the Year right in front of them.
It's like, for that era, being the target of a spy mission, and the woman trying to con you is Twiggy or Cheryl Tiegs or Lauren Hutton or Jean Shrimpton or Grace Jones. Or today, Christie Brinkley, Cindy Crawford, Heidi Klum, Tyra Banks, Gigi Hadid or Gisele Bündchen -- and no one in the entire world for four years even recognizes that she might look familiar...!!!
I’m sorry, that was just a bridge too far for me. I never have been able to believe it that Cinnamon Carter, Model of the Year was never recognized. On occasion, sure, I could accept it like when on a mission in a small far-Eastern European country or a South American country that generally had a name like San Cristobal, or when she was made up to look like an old woman, but not recognized over the 78 episodes she was in – not once.
I almost, sort of have the same issue with Martin Landau as Rollin Hand, who was an actor and apparently a successful one. But because he was a character actor who could sublimate himself into secondary roles – and of course because often he’d create a perfect mask so that he could look like someone else, generally played by someone else -- that, at least, had an aspect of the "willing suspension of disbelief,” where you could accept, “Okay, his career is looking like other people, he’s the Man of a Million Faces, after all. The World’s Greatest Impersonator.” But not the Model of the Year the point of whose career was the exact opposite – making herself as attractive as possible and ensuring that you see her, stare at her, are enthralled by her jammed in your face on magazine covers.
Okay, yes, it’s a small thing in the great scheme of things. But in the world of famous TV series that one loves and has watched for decades, it’s worthy of being bugged by. And for all the absolutely unbelievable things on a show about “the impossible,” it’s the one thing I just don’t and have never bought.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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