Thursday, October 23, 2014

Cue the swarming insects

Actor Theodore Bikel plays a devious dictator in the 1968 "Mission:
Impossible" episode "The Cardinal." He's standing on the proscenium
in front of "Zolnar Monastery," 
aka Mary Chapel. 
FANS OF 'MISSION IMPOSSIBLE' notice the Mount in reruns all the time. One of our personal favorites is "The Cardinal," which first aired November 18, 1968, and was filmed at the College. Along with the Circle, Mary Chapel and other Chalon backdrops are some other campus props -- straight from the Biology Lab.

As we've noted before, Sister Gerald Leahy, CSJ, of the Biology faculty was an internationally renowned entomologist whose work with malaria-spreading mosquitoes took her all over the world. Since much of her research was performed at Mount St. Mary's, there were plenty of aedes aegypti caged in the science building.

The plot of "The Cardinal" involves infecting a bad guy with a high fever while smuggling a  cardinal out of the monastery where he is being held prisoner. To infect the bad guy, who is preparing to pose as the cardinal, the IM Force sends disease-carrying mosquitoes through a thin tube into his room.

According to Patrick J. White's The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier prop manager Bill Bates had everything he needed to create "Zolnar Monastery" but couldn't come up with the insects. One of Sister Gerald's CSJ colleagues came to the rescue, as White tells it:
 "One of the nuns told me, 'Oh, the Biology Department has lots of mosquitoes; they're doing some experiments.' She gave me a jarful," [said Bates]. On the set and about to shoot the scene requiring the mosquitoes, Bates got a frantic call from the college, urging him not to use the mosquitoes. "They'd given us the wrong bunch," Bates says, "and we had a jarful of malarial mosquitoes! She caught us just before we released them."
 That would have infected the bad guy, all right, and heaven knows who else.

We'd like to give a hat-tip to Gaile Krause of Campus Ministry and her husband, Chris, for tracking down the background on "The Cardinal" episode.  Oh, and if you'd like to read one of Sister Gerald's many published articles on mosquito breeding, click here for a copy of "Barriers to Hybridization between aedes aegypti and aedes albopictus (diptera: culicidae)" published in 1965.

For Sister Gerald's mosquitoes, that was more than 15 minutes of fame as a film extra.

Sister Gerald Leahy, CSJ, and her pet malarial mosquitoes in 1981.
(Mount St. Mary's College Archives.)



Postscript: We wonder if Bates recycled the nun's habit from "The Fugitive" episode filmed at Doheny: see the pictures on Flickr.