STARLETS TAKE A THIEF
One of my favorite late 1960s TV series was It Takes a Thief (1968-70) starring a very sexy Robert Wagner as an urbane super thief who is sprung him from prison and indoctrinated into spying as a member of an elite force called SIA. His mission was usually to steal something from the bad guys to give to the good guys. Practically every starlet in town, coiffured to the nines in Sixties mod fashions, made an appearance including Carol Lynley, Julie Newmar, Tina Louise, Joey Heatherton, Senta Berger, Tisha Sterling, Jill Donohue, Lynda Day George, Nancy Kovack, Suzanne Pleshette, Yvonne Craig, Jocelyn Lane, Pamela Austin, Lee Meredith, Martine Beswicke, etc..
In honor of the entire series being rleased on DVD in an elaborate box set, below are excerpts from my book Film Fatales: Women in Espionage Film & Television, 1962-1973 co-written with Louis Paul.
In “Guess Who’s Coming to Rio?” (1/7/69) on It Takes a Thief, Arlene Martell played a beautiful Russian named Katrina Malenski (“I wore a slinky black lace slip in this role and had a lot of running scenes in the rain. In fact, in most of the spy TV shows that I did I had a lot of running scenes.”). Katrina ruins agent’s Al Mundy’s Rio vacation with Contessa del Mundo (Dana Wynter) when she asks Mundy to help her defect. “Robert Wagner was a darling man to work with,” remarks Martel. “He was very generous and kind. Alejandro Rey was also very pleasant. I remember that he had an intriguing accent and I would listen intently to him speak, in case I was cast in another Hispanic role.”
Celeste Yarnall played Ilsa Malenska in the episode titled “Locked in the Cradle of the Keep” (4/15/68). The SIA pulls off a charade to convince a Communist named Boris (Joe Bernard) that Robert Wagner’s Al Mundy is a defector and traitor. Boris believes the ruse and connects Mundy to the “underground” enabling him to infiltrate an Eastern block country to meet his contact. The beautiful Ilsa (a double agent posing as Mundy’s girlfriend) then informs him that his contact (a professor) was murdered. Nobody knows what Mundy is supposed to steal. They only know where it is located (StateMuseum) and that it could cause great turmoil for most Iron Curtain countries if it falls into the wrong hands. Ilsa leads Mundy to the museum and tells him the only clue to the object. As the professor lay dying he whispered to her, “The keep, the crib in the keep…”
Recalling her appearance, Celeste Yarnall comments, “Robert Wagner was very friendly and professional. But he had a nasty habit of changing the dialog right before we were to begin shooting our scenes. Learning new lines that quickly is hard enough, but it is extremely difficult when you have to do it with an accent. I thought this was a bit inconsiderate of Wagner.”
Francine York briefly played Al Munday’s Girl Friday in a few early episodes. It was a role reminiscent of Lovey Kraveszit in the Matt Helm films and the Flintgirls in Our Man Flint. York recalls, “I played Miss Amanda Agnew. I would come in at the beginning of each episode and just as our characters would get romantic, Wagner would be called away by his boss [played by] Malachi Throne. It was sort of like the parts I played on Burke’s Law with Gene Barry. I stupidly left It Takes a Thief when my agent convinced me to take a part in a pilot Irwin Allen was producing. I could have done both, especially since working with Robert Wagner was so wonderful. He was very kind to me and he has a great sense of humor.”