Hollywood’s spy guy

first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! WASHINGTON – Danny Biederman was hooked the first moment he heard agent Napoleon Solo speak into a cigarette-case communicator on TV’s “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” For Biederman as a 10-year-old boy growing up in Tarzana, nothing quite matched the allure of the show and others like it – from “I Spy” and “Secret Agent” to “The Wild Wild West” and “Mission: Impossible.” Those TV series – plus the James Bond movies of the time – had everything: hot babes, seemingly ordinary men in business suits leading secret, dangerous lives, and treacherous villains bent on world domination. And, oh, the gadgets. There were pen transmitters and toy chickens that turned objects into gold. Coat hooks that opened secret passageways and tapes that would self-destruct in five seconds. And over the next four decades, Biederman collected all of them – and more. “I didn’t know my interest in it would last beyond a year,” Biederman said. “The one word that described it was ‘cool.’ It was just so cool.” Now living in Sherman Oaks, Biederman, 51, is considered the country’s foremost authority on the popular culture of spy fiction. His collection has appeared at the CIA, and he has written a new book, “The Incredible World of Spy-Fi.” On Friday, about 50 of the most iconic pieces in his 4,500-strong collection went on exhibit at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. There’s the famous shoe phone that Maxwell Smart used on “Get Smart.” There’s Emma Peel’s sexy black leather pants from “The Avengers.” There’s the tarantula used to try to kill James Bond in the first 007 film, “Dr. No.” And there’s also a pair of Austin Powers’ eyeglasses and even a never-filmed Austin Powers jet itinerary that calls for tea and crumpets at 4 p.m., followed by an evening orgy. Biederman – dressed spy-like for the exhibit’s opening in a black turtleneck, blazer and pants – said he’d put a lot of thought into why he collects spy-show artifacts. “It’s not for the memories, because I never really lose the memories,” Biederman said. “It sounds funny to say, but it’s almost like they don’t belong in this dimension. “It’s this sense that the object crossed over from the fictional world to the real world, even though it’s made of wood or paint.” Indeed, the featured exhibit in a museum that tells the story of real espionage, coups and assassinations is most definitely the place where art and life intersect. “In 30 years at the CIA – more than 20 of them in covert operations – not a week went by that I didn’t deal with the ‘gadget people,”’ recalled Peter Earnest, a former agent and now executive director of the museum. He and other agents, he said, would harass the technical staff after each episode of “U.N.C.L.E.” or “Mission: Impossible,” asking, “Why don’t we have this stuff?” Other times, Biederman said, agents would monitor spy shows and wonder how Hollywood producers had learned about certain devices. “Those programs so pervaded our culture and, in some cases, led it,” Earnest said. After collecting action figures and records – most of which he still has, preserved in mint condition – Biederman bought his first actual spy-show prop at an MGM auction in 1970. Still in high school, he had less than $30 and had to ask his mom for permission to go. But he spotted uniforms from THRUSH – the enemy of U.N.C.L.E. – for $5 apiece, and they were his. He made more connections as a teen, getting onto the set of “Diamonds Are Forever” to film a behind-the-scenes documentary he called “A Spy for All Seasons.” While attending the University of California, Los Angeles, and later as a consultant and screenplay writer working his way into the world of Hollywood, he built his reputation as a collector. These days, he maintains connections with production assistants and prop houses in his continuing quest for spy stuff. Often as not, people call and offer items – such as the guy in Canada who heard about Biederman’s collection and sent him a costume from the 1977 Bond flick “The Spy Who Loved Me.” Some acquisitions have been pure providence. After searching high and low for his childhood favorite – the U.N.C.L.E. cigarette-case transmitter – Biederman said he finally found the show’s prop master, only to be told the item had been recently thrown away. Crushed, Biederman nevertheless accepted a tour of the area, during which he spotted a gold item poking out of a Dumpster. On a hunch, he pulled it out – and found his Holy Grail of spy-show memorabilia. Biederman said he makes it a policy never to discuss how much he pays for items. And, with so many pieces still in boxes, he isn’t even entirely sure how much the entire collection is worth. Nor does he know precisely what he plans to do with the trove. He hasn’t ruled out donating it to the Smithsonian, which has asked for it, but he also would like to leave it to his children, or maybe someday open his own spy-artifact museum. In the meantime, Biederman said, he has great fun with his gadgets, allowing them to transport him back to a time of great spy TV. “They were thrillers, but mostly they were about friendship,” he said. “There was loyalty. There was humor. They were very positive stories.” Lisa Friedman, (202) 662-8731 lisa.friedman@langnews.comlast_img

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