Spies on Television & Radio ~
A New Interview with
Mission: Impossible’s Peter Lupus
By Eddie Lucas
Editor’s Note ~
On October 22, 2007, BearManor Media issued Close-Ups:
Conversations with Our TV Favorites by Eddie Lucas. According
to the publisher ~
As indicated by the title, Close-Ups is more than a
collection of interviews. Lucas brings to the page exclusive, new
one-on-one conversations with some of the most beloved stars of
classic TV. Through these honest and entertaining conversations,
Close-Ups preserves for history the thoughts, feelings
and insights of some of the last surviving talents of the most beloved
shows in television history – like Barbara Billingsley, Tony
Dow, Kaye Ballard, Alice Ghostley, and Jon Provost.
With the gracious permission of BearManor, Spywise.net asked
Eddie if he would share an abridged version of the interview he
conducted with Mission: Impossible star Peter Lupus at
Of course, Eddie and his publisher hope you’ll see this
sample of what you can find in Close-Ups and order a
copy to read the entire discussion. We hope the same!
Order information is at the end of this interview.
Peter Lupus (Mission: Impossible
– Willy Armitage, 1966-1973)
If you take tall, dark, and handsome, then add muscular, you pretty
much have just described actor Peter Lupus. Lupus played character
strongman Willy Armitage on the popular CBS action/adventure series
The series followed the adventures of the IMF (Impossible Mission
Force) – an elite group of secret government agents, spies, and
specialists who were given a nearly “impossible” mission
to complete every week.
Along with Lupus, other cast members included team leader Stephen
Hill as Dan Briggs [season one], and Peter Graves, who subsequently
replaced Hill as team boss Jim Phelps for the remainder of the series.
Martin Landau (Master of Disguise Rollin Hand), femme-fatale
Barbara Bain (fashion model Cinnamon Carter), and Greg Morris
(electronics expert Barney Collier) rounded out the cast. Lupus and
Morris were the only two original characters to stay with the series from
its premiere in 1966 until the series ended its seven-year run in
The series was immensely popular during its initial prime-time run
and can still be seen in as many as 35 countries around the world.
EL – Tell me how Mission: Impossible
The IMF team, with (clockwise from top) Barbara Bain, Peter Graves,
Martin Landau, Greg Morris, and Peter Lupus.
I had just finished filming in Rome and we were going to Northern
Italy to film this pirate picture. About a week before we left Rome, my
agent called and told me that I needed to come back to California so
they could talk to me about a possible series at Desilu. I said,
“Jack, are you crazy? I have three years left on my contract.
Why would I want to come back there and do a series that may not go
anywhere?” He said, “Well, look at it as a free trip
So I agreed. I had some time before the next film started, so I went
back. I went into Desilu and Lucille Ball was there, and Bruce Geller,
who created the show, and four or five other people. So I walked in there
in a sport coat and a skin tight shirt and took my coat off and said hello
to everybody, and they were all looking at each other. And I’m
thinking, “They must like me. Oh my God. They’re
gonna offer me the part and I can’t take it.”
So after that meeting, Bruce ended up following me out and he told
me that he really wanted me to do this part. So to be polite, I told him to
talk with my agent and work it all out. But I called my agent and told him
that I was not going to leave my contract to try a series that may not go.
And he said, “Well, take my word for it. This could be a
blockbuster. I’ve read a lot of scripts and this really reads
So I said, “Okay, but ask for more money than they want to
pay.” So he did, and they agreed. Lucille Ball ended up okaying
the deal. So I went back to Rome and Jack worked it out where I would
finish the film and then I could get out of the agreement. So I came back,
and in November of ’65, we filmed the pilot. In fact at the time
they filmed it, it was the most expensive pilot they ever filmed in
Hollywood. It went three or four days over the budget. But we finished
it, and it went on the air in September of ’66.
The ratings were okay at first, not fantastic, and people didn’t
quite understand it. People thought they were dumb, but it was all written
that way. It was written so you were left at a suspenseful time right before
the commercials. So the sponsors loved it because nobody left. They
watched the commercials so they wouldn’t miss one frame of it.
It was all timed that way.
A lot of people don’t know this, but at the end of the first
year, we were actually not penciled in for the next season. By
chance, at the end of a board meeting, Mr. Paley, who ran CBS said,
“I just want to thank you fellows for coming up with my
wife’s and my all time favorite show, Mission:
Impossible.” So guess what? We were inked in for the
next year, and we ended up getting nominated for fourteen Emmys,
and the rest is history. We ended up being in 108 countries at one
time. We’re still in 30 or 35 countries today around the
EL – What was your impression of Lucille Ball?
She was a fantastic lady and a lot of people don’t know
what a business woman she was. You know, when she did
Mission, they wanted her to renew her contract for three
more years on The Lucy Show. They had already worked
out the money, but she wanted a bonus. So she basically said,
“Here’s the deal. I’ll renew, but I want you to
finance three pilots. You pay for them, and you get first choice. If you
want ‘em, you get ‘em, but if you don’t want
‘em, I can take ‘em anywhere I want and I own
them.” So CBS agreed, and do you know what the three series
EL – No. Tell me.
Mission: Impossible, Star Trek, and
EL – Three very successful shows!
How’s that for a blockbuster! Those are the three she
EL – Did Lucy have much interaction with
the show when it was being produced?
No, not really. Bruce Geller kind of held the reins the first three
years, and he was a real stickler about getting everything right. He
wanted to make sure that everything on the show was possible to do;
that everything on there could be done.
For instance, in the pilot we had to smuggle somebody into a vault
in the Caribbean that contained these atomic bomb heads that were
hidden in there, and our mission was to try to get them out. It was
impossible to break into the safe, but we found out you could break out
if you got locked in. So I had these two big cases of jewelry, and we
asked the hotel if we could leave them in the safe overnight. So we got
a safecracking expert, played by Wally Cox, who could break out of
there if we could get him in. So we put him in one of the cases to
smuggle him in.
Those cases weighed like sixty pounds empty, so they
wouldn’t fall apart. And on camera, he had to be able to break
out from the inside. So he was in one of the cases, and I tried to pick
him up, and it was like I was lop-sided. He was about 125 or 130
pounds. So I was carrying 200 pounds in one case and sixty in the
other. It’s not possible.
So I told them to put some lead weights in the other one so they
would balance out. So Bruce came down to the set and said,
“Peter, the shot is you have to carry both of these suitcases
into the vault without breaking away, so we can see what happens with
him getting out.” So I said that I’d try it and I did. I was
able to carry the two-hundred pounds, but I had to make it look like it
wasn’t that hard.
EL – So Wally Cox really was in one of
the cases you were carrying on camera?
He absolutely was. They didn’t want to do a cutaway. In
fact, it took two days to shoot it and the first day we shot it, when they
called lunch, I set the cases down, and everybody started running for
lunch, and I hear this tapping, and I said, “Oh my God,
Wally’s still in there.” So I had to go back and let him
EL – How would you describe the character
Willy was a secret agent, but what they needed from him were
certain feats of strength that you couldn’t get from anyone else.
It took strength to do certain things, and it helped make the mission
successful. The character turned out to be very popular with people,
and I didn’t know this at the time, but Willy was only originally
written in the first episode to make it work. But when they tested it, he
was so popular, and got such a positive reaction, they decided to write
him in as a regular character.
EL – You must have gotten a lot of fan mail.
EL – Did you have time to read any of it?
Oh yeah. I tried to read everything, I just couldn’t answer it
all. A lot of people were always asking me about vitamins, and nutrition
and exercise. In fact one letter I got, and I wish I could remember the
name of this fellow, but it’s so hard to save all those letters. But
at the time he was a freshman in high school, and he wanted to get
bigger because he wanted to play high school football. So I wrote him
back and put him on a muscle mass increasing workout with the diet
and the supplements.
Anyway, about nine or ten years later, I get a letter, and it said,
“You may not remember me, but I wrote to you years
ago”, and he sent me a copy of the letter with the program
that I had written out for him when he was in high school. And he
said, “I would like for you to be my guest in two weeks when
we play the Los Angeles Rams. I’m the second string
linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys.”
EL – Unbelievable!
Can you imagine? He wanted to send me a ticket, but unfortunately
I was going out of town and couldn’t go. But I really felt good to
think of this little kid trying to get big enough to play high school football,
and ends up playing professional.
EL – What a great story!
It was kind of a thrill to read that.
EL – Peter Graves was not in the first
season of Mission.
Right. He replaced Stephen Hill. Do you remember Stephen Hill
from Law & Order?
EL – Sure. That’s one of my
favorite shows. Why was he replaced?
Well, what happened was, Stephen had become an Orthodox
Jew, and he had to leave at four o’clock to be home before
sundown, and he didn’t do anything at all until sundown the
So here’s what happened. It was about the third or fourth
show, and we’ve got over 200 people on the set for this scene,
and at four o’clock on the dot, his agent walked in front of the
camera and said, “Mr. Hill has to leave now.” And they
left in the middle of the scene and walked off the set.
EL – I’m sure that didn’t go
Here’s the thing though, Eddie. It was in his contract that
he had to leave at four o’clock and everybody knew it. It just
so happened that day it was in the middle of a shot, and it was just
chaos. So they kept trying to shoot around him to honor his contract,
but they finally decided that they just couldn’t live with it. On
Fridays, we used to shoot until twelve or one o’clock in the
morning and catch up for the week and he couldn’t be there.
So by the end of the first year, he kind of wanted to leave, and they
kind of wanted him to leave, so they let him out of his contract, so he
He was a wonderful actor. I enjoyed working with him and I learned
a lot from him. He was from the Actors Studio. He was from the time of
Marlon Brando, James Dean, George C. Scott, Paul Newman, Joanne
Woodward, Martin Landau. You name ‘em. They were all in
that era. He loved his craft, and he was wonderful at it. He’s
a good man. Very solid in his convictions.
EL – So that’s how Peter Graves
ended up coming on the show.
Yes. Peter came in the second year and stayed till the seventh.
Greg Morris and I were the only two cast members that did the whole
seven years. Marty and Barbara left at the end of the third year.
EL – Why did they leave?
It was money. They had promised Marty more money and they
had a change of who was running the television department at
Paramount, and they had a new regime that came in and they said,
“We can’t afford to give you that kind of money, and
we’re not going to.” And it became sort of a moral
thing with Marty. He said, “You know, you made a promise,
and that’s it.” And they did the same thing with Barbara.
It wasn’t Marty and Barbara’s fault. They weren’t
given what they were supposed to get, so they both left.
EL – Well, you can’t blame them
No, not at all. Marty had a very original deal that I’ve never
heard of before or since in television. He signed a year to year contract
because he didn’t know if he wanted to keep doing the show.
EL – That’s unheard of.
Yes. He could leave. Barbara got out of hers because she just
didn’t come to work. She said, “Hey, you promised me
this. You’re not going to do this. From now on, count me
out.” And I want to tell you, when they left, it really hurt the
show. It came back, but it took a while. They were very important to
Marty and I became very close. Marty comes to our house every
year for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I see Barbara at the Actors
Studio on Fridays when I go over there. And Greg passed away about
a few years ago [Morris succumbed to brain and lung cancer in
EL – What were your hours like?
Normally you’d go in about seven o’clock for
wardrobe and make up to be on the set by eight or eight-thirty ready
to film. If you were going out on location, you usually had to be at
the studio by four or five a.m.
Speaking of being on location, here’s a funny story. One
day I was shooting up in Hollywood Hills about four blocks from my
house, and because of the restrictions of insurance and the unions,
I had to go clear back to Paramount to get into a limo so they could
bring me back home and I was only four blocks from my house.
EL – That’s kind of crazy.
It was a union thing. You had to be driven from the studio by a
union member. But when you were on location, you wouldn’t
get back to the studio until probably seven or eight o’clock
at night. Sometimes later. Our normal day was from seven in the
morning until seven or eight o’clock at night. It was a tough
show to shoot. We always went over budget. You put a lot of hours
in there whether you’re actually filming or not. You have to
EL – How many days did it take to complete
Seven working days.
EL – Some people I’ve spoken
with said that their shows had a lot of rewrites and some didn’t
have any at all. What about Mission?
We had rewrites up until the time you got in front of the camera.
They never really finished writing a scene until you were actually
ready to shoot it. One time Bruce was watching a scene, and we had
been to make up, wardrobe, and rehearsed, and he changed it. He
didn’t do that a lot, but I’m telling you, he was a
stickler. It had to be right.
That’s one reason why it was such a success. To tell you
how popular it was, I went over to Japan in ’74 for the
Department of Defense to see the service men that were coming back
from the front. The first day I was there, I asked the driver to take me
to a department store, and I got out at one to look at something in the
window, and three or four people started gathering around me looking
up at me, and pretty soon the sidewalk was full, then the whole street
came to a stop, and finally the police arrived. When they saw who it
was, they asked me not to go out during the day anymore because it
caused riots. (Laughs.)
They just loved Willy. They had a press conference and as a
surprise they brought in the guy who dubbed my voice on the show
in Japanese. What a great voice. He was about five foot eight and
really husky. He told the interpreter to tell me that he appreciated my
supporting his family for the last seven years.
EL – Are there any episodes of the show
that really stick out in your mind?
A lot of them I don’t remember, but there was one where
I had to rescue Lee Meriwether. There was a scene where I had to
slip into this place and get her out through this big chimney. I was
on some kind of rope platform thing that had an automatic button
where I could go up and down. She had to go up it, and then I had
to go up it so we could climb out of the chimney and escape.
So I worked this thing to take us clear up to the top. So they had
tested it up to 2500 pounds to make sure it was safe. Well, we did
one rehearsal, came down, and then got ready to shoot. The camera
was at the bottom shooting up at an angle. And it was about thirty feet
up to the top.
So we start shooting, and about halfway up, I felt this plastic cable
stretch, and I thought, “Crap. What’s going on?”
And just then I fell and barely missed the camera. Then Lee fell on
top of me. I thought I had broken my neck, and she thought she had
broken her back. And you talk about 9-11? They sealed this set and
wouldn’t let anyone on or off.
Then they brought in the medics and took us to the hospital. Within
an hour, I felt fine, but the doctor told me that if I hadn’t been
working out, she would have absolutely broken my neck. I
wouldn’t be here.” And if she hadn’t fallen on
me, she absolutely would have broken her back.
EL – Was she okay?
Yes. I never went totally unconscious, but she was out. I went back
to work that day, because I had to go back and do some other shots
but of course she didn’t. So they had to rebuild the whole thing
on another set, but this time they only built it up about a third of the way.
But she had to come back because we had to film the scene again. So
just approaching it, she got tears in her eyes, she was so afraid. It was
just a horrible experience. We got through it though.
EL – Those are the kinds of things that happen
and nobody ever knows about. That’s part of why I wanted to do
this book. These kinds of things are interesting to fans.
Right, because we only show what really works. There was this one
time when I was driving a motorcycle up in the hills doing a getaway shot,
and all I had to do was go past the camera. I didn’t want to wear
a helmet because it was just a run by shot, but I’ll never forget
Wes Eckerd. He was our wardrobe guy, and he came over in front of the
motorcycle and said, “Peter, I’ve been in this business
for thirty years and I’ve seen so a lot of accidents. We’re
up here in the hills, and anything could happen. So put this helmet on, or
you’re gonna have to run over me.”
So I balked a little, but I put it on, got on the motorcycle, drove past
the camera, and wouldn’t you know, I lost control of the thing! I
went over a cliff and down a sixty foot embankment and ended up hitting
my head on a rock that caved in the helmet. I’m rolling down,
and I got my foot caught in a bush. Then the motorcycle came down and
landed about a foot away from me, went over the top of me, and then
burst into flames when it hit the bottom.
EL – Talk about a close call.
You’re not kiddin’. There was also another time
when we were filming out in the ocean at San Pedro. We went pretty
far out, and in the scene, I had to dive off the boat and into the ocean
to get away because a couple of guys were trying to kill me on the
boat. It was absolutely freezing and the water was like ice, and I
didn’t really realize that. The stunt men, who were going to
do the far away shots, where you couldn’t see their faces on
camera, were dumping cold water on themselves to get used to the
I had been below deck because I had gotten seasick and
wasn’t feeling good. It was on one of those great big PT boats,
the one like John Wayne turned into his yacht. I had gotten so sick
that I just wanted to get the shot done. I didn’t want anyone
dumping cold water on me, I just wanted to jump in and get it over with.
So I dove in, and went too deep and it immediately felt like somebody
had a chain around my chest and was pulling it tight. So when I finally
came up, I couldn’t even breathe.
And then I hear this bing, bing, bing. And they had this sharpshooter
on top of the boat, and he was trying to kill a shark that was about
fifty yards away and was coming right after me. My stunt double had
his wetsuit on, and he sensed that something was wrong, so he dove
in and swam to me. I rested my arms on his shoulders, and I started
getting my breath back again. So he and I both got back to the boat
alright, and believe it or not, they did get the scene.
EL – Did you do a lot of your own stunts or
were there restrictions against that?
There were, but I would try, and if I could do them, I did them. But
after about the first year, I started getting to know the stunt men and I
realized that I was taking jobs away from them. So I said, “You
guys do ‘em, and I’ll do the close ups.”
EL – Tell me about Barbara Bain.
She’s a dream. There’s so many things about her.
She was such a great mom. She called her kids every hour of the day
to make sure they were okay, and they had two maids, one for each
of the kids. And she had to talk to each of them each day. She was
another one that was very professional.
They would bring the girls in an hour earlier to do the hair and all,
and if she had a six o’clock call, she’d get there at
five to make sure she’d be on the set by seven. Nobody ever
waited for her. She was always prepared, and a lot of people
don’t remember, but for the three years she was on the show,
she won the Best Actress Emmy every year. Three years in a row! If
she’d been on five years, she might have won five! She was
just a doll to be with. As a matter of fact, she and I did an autograph
show at the Hilton last year, and she and I got to sit by each other,
and we had a ball.
EL – What was Peter Graves like to work
He’s a terrific guy. He was always on time, always knew
his lines, and easy to be around. I remember the most angry I saw him
in six years was this time when we were brought in at five
o’clock in the morning to go on location, and at
seven o’clock that night, they had still not used him in a
scene. So he finally went up to the second assistant director and
said, “Look. I haven’t done one scene all day. I
would appreciate it very much if you guys would get your schedule
a little more organized.” And that was about as mad as he
EL – You and Greg Morris had a lot of
Yes. We were super buddies. Once we were on The
Mike Douglas Show, and we were talking about all the tight
spots we’d been in together like holes and tunnels and
the backs of trucks. And I said, “Well, Mike, it looks like if
Morris and I are in one more tight spot together, we’re
going to have to get engaged.” We both started laughing
and the audience was just laughing and laughing. We were always
so serious on the show that they had never really seen us out of
character and they were enjoying finally seeing us smiling.
For the first couple of seasons, Bruce Geller asked us not to
do any talk shows. He said that he wanted people to believe that
these characters were real. So I didn’t do any shows for
the first couple of years.
EL – Did you save anything from the
Unfortunately, no. I wish I had. I don’t even have a script.
I remember one time when we were shooting down in Hollywood
and they had our portable trailers out there, and I went out to do a
shot and when I came back, my script was gone. So about two
hours later, some lady comes up and says, “Peter, will you
sign this for me?” And she handed me my script! She snuck
it out of the doggone trailer and she got so excited she wanted me
to sign it!
EL – Did you sign it?
Yes. I said, “Okay, sure.” (Laughs.) I had a lot
of missing things, missing ties, missing everything. Everything was
a memento to someone, so I didn’t save a lot. (Laughing.)
EL – What did you think about the
Mission: Impossible movies?
All of the original cast was supposed to be in the first one, and
what was supposed to happen was, they get a hold of Peter Graves,
and they want him to get the group together for this special mission.
So he’s got to round up the group. He finds Barbara owning
a modeling agency, and he finds Marty Landau doing some kind of
a mind reading act in the circus or someplace, and Greg owned an
electronics store, and I owned a chain of Golden Arch Health Clubs.
So it worked in all of our backgrounds. So we’re in the
apartment with Peter Graves, and he says, “By the way,
I’m bringing in one more guest expert.” And of
course that’s Tom Cruise.
EL – What a storyline!
Yes! So we go out on the mission and get in trouble and get
caught. I remember telling the writers to make sure that I
didn’t get killed because I want to do the sequel. (Laughs.)
So Cruise has to bring in some of his other people to rescue
us and make the mission work.
I thought it was fabulous, but what it turned into was a sort of
James Bond, one man Mission Impossible. I heard that Barbara
was taller than Cruise in heels, so he nixed that, and I’m
6’4, and Peter’s 6’3, and Greg’s
6’3, so he probably would have gotten lost in the middle
of us. They were going to give us all two-hundred fifty thousand
dollars for four weeks work. We were all to get the same thing.
It was a Favored Nations contract. But it didn’t work out
and that’s the way it went.
EL – That would have made such a great
movie, seeing the old gang together again, working on a mission.
Yes. Everybody was very upset about the original cast members
not being in it.
EL – Did you end up seeing it?
Yes. TV Guide asked me to review it for them, so
I went to the screening and I saw it. And I said that I thought it was
going to be a hit.
People loved that show. It was one of the all-time hit shows in
the world of television. In fact in Japan, in the past forty years, it
was shown three different times in prime time as a new show. By
the way, this is our fortieth anniversary of when we started the
show in ‘66. It’s amazing.
Eddie Lucas is a baby boomer who fell in love with classic
television during his infancy. A writer, educator, and vintage TV
historian, he lives in central Florida.
Close-Ups: Conversations with Our TV Favorites
is available for purchase through these on-line merchants ~
Excerpt and book cover copyright © 2007