Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Impossible Mission of Laurence Heath

I've written several posts about MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, but one of the most fascinating stories related to that television series comes from writer Stephen Bowie on his essential Classic TV History Blog. Patrick J. White, whose THE COMPLETE MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE DOSSIER is one of the best and most thorough books ever written about the production of a television series, neglected to tell this story, though it's possible he either didn't know about it or was afraid to bring it up in his interviews.

The story concerns Laurence Heath, a terrific writer responsible for some of MISSION's best teleplays, including the two-part "The Controllers" and "The Mercenaries," which ranks high among my favorite episodes. He was also MISSION's story consultant and, later, producer. He also fulfilled those functions on series like 21 BEACON STREET, BONANZA, THE MAGICIAN, DYNASTY, and MURDER, SHE WROTE.

 In 1963, a year in which he managed a single teleplay for SAM BENEDICT, Heath murdered his wife. And, as Bowie notes, seven years later, Heath was producing MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE.

You can read Bowie's engrossing true-crime account here.

3 comments:

AndyDecker said...

Thank you for the link. That was an incredible tale. I often wonder about the tv-writers of yesterday and their lives, when they were much more invisible then today.

Stephen Bowie said...

Hi, Johnny --

Just noticed this; thanks for the plug, and I'm glad you enjoyed it.

I tried to track down Patrick White when I researched this, but couldn't; I wanted to ask him the same question you had. I know of at least one other historian who interviewed Heath without ever knowing his backstory as Leonard Heideman. I did have sources who wouldn't have brought up Heath's past if I hadn't let on that I already knew about it. But since White interviewed almost everybody connected with M:I, it's hard to imagine that no one pulled him aside and told him Heath's secret.

Heath, incidentally, in the M:I book and in Ed Robertson's article on THE MAGICIAN, doesn't seem to have been a very good interview. His quotes in both are pretty vague.

Patrick White said...

This is an excellent article. I'm the guy who wrote the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE book and I had been informed of Heath's past by some nervous crew members who warned me to "watch out" for him. Eventually we sat for two lengthy interviews and he couldn't have been nicer, although he was not nearly as eloquent as the show's other premier writers Woodfield and Playdon, who are an interviewer's dream. We didn't discuss his pre-MISSION past (except for 21 BEACON STREET) and in the end I opted not to mention his past in the book because I was afraid it would overshadow the overall story of the series.