March 15, 2010


Mission Impossible made its debut in 1966 and established iconic spy conventions that have not only endured, but have forever been linked to the show's leading character, James Phelps. Mr. Phelps, played by actor Peter Graves (1926-2010), took over from Mr. Briggs in the second season in 1967 through the program's run until 1973. Every episode began like a ritual, as viewers accompanied Phelps into some isolated location to find a drop box with orders from above. Maybe an abandoned factory or an instant photo booth? Each week was a variation on the theme and set us up to learn the plot- and the impossible mission- of the episode. Mr. Phelps received his orders via tape recording (I seem to recall an LP record as well), which began with the memorable, "Good morning, Mr. Phelps." After the briefing, and the self-destructing message, Phelps was filmed in his loft-like pad scanning through a portfolio of Impossible Mission Force operatives. Even for Spy Vibers who have not seen many episodes of the original Mission Impossible, I imagine that these conventions ring with familiarity. It was great storytelling, great spy TV, and its success was also a product of the choice to bring Peter Graves in as team leader. Graves brought a sense of fatherly authority to the chemistry of the cast. And with his light hair and tall stature, he added a needed visual contrast that worked for the screen. He will always be remembered for these qualities and for leading us on so many fantastic spy adventures. Goodnight, Mr. Phelps.

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