TV mysteries


HOLLYWOOD OFF-BEAT
by Michael Shonk


HOLLWOOD OFF-BEAT. Syndicated, 1952; United Television Programs. Cast: Melvyn Douglas as Steve Randall. Executive Producer: Marion Parsonnet. Produced by Theodore Lewis.

   This series reminds me much of Cases of Eddie Drake as another example where DuMont gets credit when it deserves none. Eddie has been a personal crusade for me for awhile, and I have written about him here four times (here, here, here and here ) and finally at the website “Criminal Element.”

   Hollywood Off-Beat was always a syndicated series. United Television Programs (number two in TV syndication behind Ziv) had “already started a test run in some cities” before its “official opening” March 30, 1952 (Broadcasting 3/17/52). DuMont is credited with airing the series November 17, 1952 through January 30, 1953.

   Besides the episode that Steve just reviewed (“The Trial”) there is another episode available to watch on YouTube:

“The Unlucky Three.” Guest Cast: Berry Kroeger, John Griggs and Marion Brash. Original screenplay by Franz Spencer. Directed by M. Milton Schwarz. *** Did the famous actress kill herself or was she murdered?

   The script gives a nice peek at behind the scenes of Hollywood filmmaking, as well as a serviceable mystery. Fortunately Douglas doing narration in third person is limited to the opening, with the rest of the episode narration is the typical fourth wall breaking talk to the audience.

   The only place I found the series called Steve Randall was in one article in Broadcasting (12/8/52) reporting the series would air on DuMont as Steve Randall at Friday 8-8:30pm.

   The article in Broadcasting (3/17/52) named Rip Van Ronkle (Destination Moon) as writer and Marion Parsonnet (Gilda) as producer. It reported the series filmed its background shots in documentary style in Los Angeles and the rest of the series in Parsonnet Studios (according to screen credit Long Island NY).

   Both Broadcasting and Billboard always called Hollywood Offbeat a syndicated series. The ARP ratings printed in Billboard had it as a “Non-Network” TV Film Drama series. Hollywood Offbeat got honorable mention in poll for popular non-network film drama series (Billboard, 9/6/52). The press listed the series as Hollywood Offbeat but the on air screen title spelled it Hollywood Off-Beat.

   Now about the confusion over its time on CBS, the answer can be found in Billboard (9/13/52). The trade paper was reporting on the networks problems with “clearance” – number of local affiliates that would carry the network program.

   The makers of Serutan owned the CBS Saturday at 10:30 to 11 pm slot. The series CBS carried was Battle of the Ages that only 12 CBS stations aired. CBS could not find a series that Serutan wanted. Serutan decided it wanted Hollywood Offbeat. CBS TV Films, CBS syndicated side, negotiated with UTP for a temporary deal for the series to appear on the CBS network. The series had only 13 episodes and it gave CBS time to find another series that more affiliates would carry and would make advertiser Serutan happy.

   It is hard to actually know what a true DuMont series is as the network often used syndicated shows to fill its schedule. CBS TV Films’ Cases of Eddie Drake and UTP’s Hollywood Off-Beat are just two examples of series misremembered by history.

HOLLYWOOD OFFBEAT “The Trial.” Syndicated / Dumont Network / CBS. 11 September 1952 (WJZ). Dates: 30 January 1953 (Dumont). Not aired on CBS. Episode 13 of 13. Series also known as Steve Randall. Melvyn Douglas (as Steve Randall). Guest cast: Olive Deering, Neil Fitzgerald, Steve Gethers, Melville Ruick, Harry Sheppard, Ed Peck. Executive Producer:Marion Parsonnet. Produced by Theodore Lewis. Original story by Frederick Stephanie. Screenplay by James Cavanaugh. Directors: M. Milton Schwarz & Frederick Stephanie.

   All of the information above came from the Classic TV Archive website. The credits themselves I am sure are correct. The complicated history of when the series was on, where, and under what name is perhaps more iffy.

   That this is the final show of the very short-lived series is definite. The premise is that Steve Randall (Melvyn Douglas) is a disbarred lawyer is is now working as a Hollywood PI, but in this episode he is promised by the D.A.’s office that he will be reinstated if he helps persuade a balky female witness to testify in an upcoming murder trial.

   Which indeed he does. The story is somewhat confusing at the beginning, with each of the several characters and the basic story line needing to be introduced all at once, in only a few minutes time. Compounding this are the flashbacks in time used to set the stage for the trial that takes up most of the less than 30 minutes running time.

   Although the names of the cast members were totally unknown to me (other than Melvyn Douglas, of course), I thought the acting was much better than most of similar relics of early low budget TV. The gimmick that cracks the trial wide open is one of the oldest in the books, but all in all, I’d watch another in this series, if there was one that’s available to watch.

   You can see this one at www.archives.org.

  I’M THE LAW “The Killer.” Syndicated; Cosman Productions / Television Corporation of America. 3 July 1953. (Season 1, Episode 21). George Raft (Police Lt. George Kirby). Guest Cast: Lawrence Dobkin, Nestor Paiva, June Vincent. Screenplay: Jackson Gillis. Director: Robert G. Walker.

   I’m the Law was a syndicated mystery series starring George Raft that ran for 29 episodes in different markets in 1953. Raft played a New York City police lieutenant who wore a hat and a a bulky overcoat no matter the weather, inside and out (if this one episode I recently happened upon typified the rest of the series).

   And let me say up front that this particular episode is not very good. It begins with a public stenographer being bumped off by a mobster because she was given too many secrets to type up. And whose fault is that? Her death is made to to look like an automobile accident (I think), but the marks on her neck indicate right away that she was strangled.

   The black and white photography is good, and it’s always fun to see familiar actors’ faces again, but you can turn your mind off while watching rest of this one, in case you ever do. George Raft is no better (or worse) than many similar roles he played over the years.

JESSICA JONES “AKA Ladies Night.” Marvel/Netflix. 10 October 2015 (Season 1, Episode 1). Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones), Mike Colter (Luke Cage), Rachael Taylor (Trish Walker), Erin Moriarty, Eka Darville, Carrie-Anne Moss, David Tennant (Kilgrave). Created and written by Melssa Rosenberg. Based on the Marvel comic book character created by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos. Director: SJ Clarkson.

   To tell you the truth, I’ve already watched the first three episodes of this series, mostly since it took me a while to be sure I had a solid grip on the story line. The goal of a first episode of a TV series is to get viewers interested enough to be sure come back for the next one, but not necessarily to reveal all of their secrete at once, especially if there is a long connected story line, and not just a bunch of one-off episodes.

   Maybe it’s me, and I haven’t adjusted to a new type of storytelling, but I think the producers of this series may have erred in not telling enough, or (perhaps) telling it too subtly. It could also be that they expected viewers to be more familiar with the characters from their background in comic books than I think they are. (It’s certainly not one of Marvel’s best known titles.)

   Jessica Jones, currently a private eye working on her own, is a flawed character, there’s no doubt about that. Something has happened in her past that makes it difficult for her to sleep at night, and worse, requires her to have a bottle or a flask of whiskey within arm’s reach whenever she’s awake. The first episode is designed to get us intrigued into learning more about what’s tormenting her, but it did take me all three episodes before I decided that, yes, I finally was sure was the overall story is about and the possible ways it could be going.

   I’ll get back to that. In this first episode she’s hired by a man and woman from Omaha, Nebraska, to find their daughter, who has dropped out of school and has gone missing. I don’t want to spoil anything to anyone who would like to see the show and hasn’t yet, but I will have to leave some hints, such as saying the same thing has happened to the missing girl that happened to Jessica, only in Jessica’s case, the consequences were so bad that that is the reason she is in the severe funk she is in.

   Another hint. The ending of this first episode makes it emphatically clear how bad the situation is for the missing girl — in a word, horrific — and if so, how bad was the experience for Jessica?

   Other characters in the story are brought in, including a sexual dalliance between Jessica and the black owner of a bar. I don’t believe his name comes up, but he will be important in episodes to come. The female lawyer who often hires Jessica to do jobs other PI’s can’t do is having a lesbian affair with one of her staff while she already has a full-time relationship with another. A talk show host named Trish seems to be (or have been) very close to Jessica, but if it was stated what the relationship is, I still didn’t catch it after three episodes.

   The other thing that is shown is that Jessica has superpowers. Super strength at least; perhaps super speed and/or agility. She doesn’t hide her powers, but she doesn’t go out of her way to show them off, either. Superpowers are, of course, only to be expected with a Marvel Comics heroine.

   The whole episode is filmed in what I call “comic book noir.” Brightly colored, with lots of off-kilter angles in what are some of the toughest areas of Manhattan, and they mean to show you exactly that every time they can.

   There is a lot of potential here. I have not gone into several other threads of the plot, many of which come to light only in the second and third episodes.. I’m sorry for rambling on the way I have, but if my objective to help you decide whether to watch this series or not, if you haven’t already, have I succeeded?

Reviewed by MICHAEL SHONK:          


THE TELLTALE CLUE. CBS. July 18, 1954 to September 23, 1954. CBS Television / Charles E. Martin Productions. Cast: Anthony Ross as Detective Captain Richard Hale, Chuck Webster as Sgt. Kohler, and Nat Frey as Sgt. Riley. Produced and directed by Charles Martin.

   As with many early television series, the roots of THE TELLTALE CLUE trace back to radio. In 1934 NBC radio aired a program entitled JOHNNY PRESENTS. Johnny was Johnny Roventini, a midget who played a hotel bellhop with a unique cry of “Call for Philip Morris” that would open and close various Philip Morris shows on radio and TV (you will see a sample in the first video below).

   Philip Morris was one of radio and early television biggest sponsors. In its beginning radio’s JOHNNY PRESENTS featured fifteen minutes of orchestra music followed by various fifteen-minute dramatic programs.

   JOHNNY PRESENTS would switch networks to CBS in 1937. In September 1938 JOHNNY PRESENTS added the fifteen-minute drama called THE PERFECT CRIME (Philip Morris & Co. through agency Biow Co. New York.) The program ran through March 1941. JOHNNY PRESENTS returned to NBC November 4, 1941. THE PERFECT CRIME returned May 26, 1942.

   “THE PERFECT CRIME, a series of detective episodes, with action taking place at the morning lineup at police headquarters…Listeners are given time to figure out the correct solution of the crime towards the end of the program before the case is explained.” (Broadcasting, May 25, 1942)

   A review by “Trau” of Weekly Variety (July 14, 1954) states that: “TELLTALE CLUE stemmed from the old radio series THE PERFECT CRIME.” It also supplies a good deal of information about the series.

   It was the summer of 1954, and Philip Morris needed to find a summer replacement to take over PUBLIC DEFENDER time slot, as CBS and Philip Morris moved PUBLIC DEFENDER to Monday to give I LOVE LUCY a summer break. Charles Martin had been involved in radio’s JOHNNY PRESENTS and PHILIP MORRIS PLAYHOUSE. Martin had produced the TV version of PHILIP MORRIS PLAYHOUSE for Biow agency, Philip Morris and CBS the summer before and was returning with TELLTALE CLUE.

   The Weekly Variety reviewer found the first episode “The Armitage Case” to possess “good production trappings and a know-how cast.” He described star Anthony Ross as “always reliable legit hand.” The episode itself he found routine, and described the audience invited to solve the case with the Detective “an OK though hardly unprecedented participation gimmick.”

   As criminologist detective Captain Richard Hale tells us, there is always a telltale clue that solves the mystery. Each episode opens as we watch the crime take place. Then we are at Hale’s office as the character breaks the fourth wall offering the viewer a chance to follow along to see if they can find the telltale clue and solve the case. This procedural crime series featured nearly all forms of detective work from legwork to forensics.

   “The Case of the Talking Garden.” (July 15, 1954) Written by Haskel Frankel. GUEST CAST: Darren McGavin, Phyllis Hill, Pat Breslin and Frank Campanella. *** A mugging that leaves a man’s wife dead may not be what it seems.

   This second episode of the series is not very good. The mystery is weak, focusing not on whodunit but what clue would catch the killer. Written by Haskel Frankel this would be his only credit listed at IMDb. According to his obit in the New York Times (November 10, 1999), he would become a successful author (as Frank Haskel), ghostwriter, and theatre critic in New York.

   Pat (Patricia) Breslin (PEOPLE’S CHOICE) portrayal of the tramp’s daughter was noticeably flawed from a common problem of this era of live New York TV drama. TV was new and the actors were just learning the difference between acting on stage and reaching the back row and acting on television with its close-ups and camera angles.

   Experienced actor of film and TV Darren McGavin (KOLCHAK THE NIGHT STALKER) hammed up his part, especially the early scenes. Three months after this role he was performing on Broadway in the original run of RAINMAKER (he played Bill Starbuck).

   Charles Martin’s direction was fine for the time, but the camera occasionally stayed too long in the Master shot (the angle including all in the scene) and contributed to the stagy feel of the TV mystery.

   The production for the series was fine, considering the limitations of the time. Today the production shows its age and is too studio bound.

   The Weekly Variety review favorably examined Charles Martin role as long-time Biow agency and Philip Morris producer, and noted the writers for the series would include Harry W. Junkin (THE SAINT), Alvin Sapinsley (HAWAII FIVE-O), Sid Edelstein (no credit at IMDb), and Gore Vidal (JANET DEAN, REGISTERED NURSE). Wait, Gore Vidal wrote for this forgotten TV series?

   A site examining Gore Vidal early TV and radio work has a detailed look at Vidal’s teleplays. It also was where I found the Weekly Variety review.

   While it is believed that Vidal wrote two episodes, the site found proof at the Guide to Harvard Library holdings of Gore Vidal’s papers of only one, “Case of the Dying Accusation” (July 29. 1954). No copy of that episode is known to have survived.

   The Gore Vidal Teleplays page quotes Vidal in “The Art of Fiction, No. 50″ in THE PARIS REVIEW, 1974-07. “Absence of money is a bad thing because you end up writing THE TELLTALE CLUE for television – which I did.” Vidal claimed he used a pseudonym he could not remember, but I doubt it as the Weekly Variety review named him. And the link above has Vidal’s contract dated June 30, 1954 with Charles E. Martin Productions, Inc, producer and copyright owner of THE TELLTALE CLUE saying, “You agree that in the event we use the said script, which we are not required to do, we have the option of making use of your name, if we so desire.”

   Episode five offers a much better mystery, a good fair-play whodunit with enough twists to keep even the modern audience interested. Writer James P. Cavanagh would win an Emmy for his teleplay “Fog Closing In” (ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS October 7, 1956). He also was the writer for the 1963 film MURDER AT THE GALLOP (Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple).

The Case of the Hit and Run.” (August 5, 1954) Written by James P. Cavanagh. Produced and Directed by Charles Martin. GUEST CAST: Peg Hillias, Patricia Smith, Joseph Sweeney and House Jameson. *** A man is run down in the street by a hit and run driver but it was no accident, it was murder.


   THE TELLTALE CLUE starred Anthony Ross, best remembered for his work on the stage (Tennessee Williams’ GLASS MENAGRIE and ARSENIC AND OLD LACE) and in films (KISS OF DEATH and ON DANGEROUS GROUND). His work in television was mainly in anthologies such as SUSPENSE and THE FORD THEATRE HOUR.

   After the series ended in September 1954 Ross returned to Broadway in the role of The Professor in BUS STOP. After the October 26, 1955 evening performance Ross returned home and died of a heart attack in his sleep. He was 46 years old.

   THE TELLTALE CLUE aired on Thursday night at 10pm. The thirty-minute mystery aired opposite the last half-hour of ABC’s KRAFT TELEVISION THEATRE and the first half-hour of NBC’s LUX VIDEO THEATRE. The still alive Dumont network did not schedule any network programming for that time slot.

   Today these are the only two of THE TELLTALE CLUE’s thirteen episodes that are known to survive.

      ADDITIONAL SOURCE:

(ON THE AIR: THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF OLD-TIME RADIO by John Dunning (Oxford University Press, 1998)

77 SUNSET STRIP “Legend of Crystal Dart.” ABC, 15 April 1960 (Season 2, Episode 28.) Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Roger Smith, Marilyn Maxwell, William Schallert, Kurt Kreuger, Jacqueline Beer, Patricia Michon. Teleplay: Gloria Elmore. Director: Montgomery Pittman.

   While the series has not yet officially released on DVD — and why not, I don’t know — scattered episodes of 77 Sunset Strip are being shown on a cable channel called MeTV, which is how I managed to see this one, the first episode I’ve seen since it was first on the air. (Complete seasons are available on the collectors’ market, but in absymal picture quality, even as advertised.)

   Unfortunately, I had no choice as to which one came up first, and this one was it. It’s not representative, I don’t believe. Roger Smith, as Jeff Spencer, co-partner in the firm, shows up in the office only at the beginning and at the end. Kookie (Edd Byrnes) isn’t in this one at all. It’s up to Stu Bailey (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) to work this case completely on his own.

   He’s hired by a former famous French entertainer named Crystal Dart (a very buxom Marilyn Maxwell) to serve an eviction notice to her soon-to-be ex-husband in their isolated mountain lodge up in the mountains. Trapped in a snowstorm with them (as it turns out) are the ghostwriter for her memoirs, his wife, and the nurse/girl friend of Miss Dart’s wheelchair-bound husband.

   Sizzling resentments and vicious arguments quickly break out, some dealing with secrets from the past. Miss Dart has not a friend among them, or so it seems. Bailey is mostly content to sit back with his pipe and casual sweater wear, watching as he does in bemused fashion. It takes a while for a murder to occur, but surprisingly enough, it is not Miss Dart who is the victim.

   Some mild detective work takes place, that plus Stu Bailey’s obvious growing attraction to Miss Dart. In spite of the classic setting, that of an isolated snowbound haven from the elements, the slow pace manages to eliminate all but the smallest hint of suspense. Not the best example to begin with, I suspect.

HARMFUL INTENT. CBS, made-for-TV; 14 December 1993. Full title: Robin Cook’s Harmful Intent. Tim Matheson, Emma Samms, Robert Pastorelli, Kurt Fuller, Alex Rocco, John Walcutt. Based on the book by Robin Cook. Director: John Patterson.

   Based on the movie longer, more complete title, I’m sure that Robin Cook’s only intent was to make a few bucks from it. All seriousness aside, it’s a pretty innocuous movie, when it comes down to it. An anesthesiologist makes a mistake in OR, is sued for malpractice, eventually gets convicted for second degree murder, then tries to clear his name while trying to avoid a persistent bounty hunter.

   Emma Samms, as the widow of a former colleague, cheers him on, but she really doesn’t have much else to do. As the fugitive doctor, Tim Matheson quotes most of his dialogue as though it were formed from wood. Robert Pastorelli, as the no-holds-barred bounty hunter, complete with a wild, bushy hairdo and one long earring, was obviously having more fun than anybody.

— Reprinted from Nothing Accompliced #4, November 1993 (slightly revised).

FUGITIVE NIGHTS: DANGER IN THE DESERT. Made for-TV movie. NBC-TV, 19 November 1993. Sam Elliott, Teri Garr, Thomas Haden Church, Raymond J. Barry, Barbara Babcock, Geno Silva. Screenplay by Joseph Wambaugh based on his novel Fugitive Nights. Director: Gary Nelson.

   Teri Garr is good-looking enough, and about the right age to portray any one of the many female PI’s that have cropped up in recent years, and Sam Elliott has become scruffy enough to become her assistant while he’s waiting for his disability retirement to come through.

   If this is a pilot for a TV series, though, I think they’d better start hunting up some stories, since in this whole two-hour introductory affair, there’s only about 15 minutes worth of plot. Lots of byplay between the characters can fill up big chunks of time, that’s for sure, but it left me hungry for some meatier fair in nothing flat.

   Locale: Palm Springs. Villain: a bald Mexican fugitive, loose in the desert. Opinion: forget it.

— Reprinted from Nothing Accompliced #4, November 1993 (very slightly revised)


FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
by Francis M. Nevins


   I can hardly believe it but we are less than six months away from the 60th anniversary of the debut of Perry Mason the TV series. It was a Saturday evening, September 21, 1957, and among the millions of viewers whose sets were tuned to CBS at 7:30 P.M. Eastern time was a bookish 14-year-old, just beginning his second year of high school, who had discovered and gotten hooked on Erle Stanley Gardner’s Mason novels several months earlier.

      For the next few years I watched the program religiously, catching most of the finest episodes and almost all of those that were at least nominally based on Gardner’s novels. By the time I began dating on Saturday nights the series had become humdrum and routine, at least to my taste, but it remained in prime time for an amazing nine seasons, and countless viewers still identify Gardner’s characters with their TV incarnations: Raymond Burr (Mason), Barbara Hale (his secretary Della Street), William Hopper (private detective Paul Drake), William Talman (DA Hamilton Burger), and Ray Collins (Lt. Tragg).

   To mark the occasion, if a bit prematurely, I’m going to devote most of this column to the first episode aired and the book it was taken from.

***

   First, the book. The Case of the Restless Redhead (1954) opens with Mason happening upon a trial for larceny in suburban Riverside. Evelyn Bagby, a near-broke waitress with Hollywood dreams, is accused of having stolen $40,000 in jewelry from the trunk of Irene Keith, a wealthy businesswoman on her way to Las Vegas to be bridesmaid at the wedding of movie star Helene Chaney and boat manufacturer Mervyn Aldrich.

   Seeing that assigned defense counsel Frank Neely is out of his depth cross-examining the witness who claims to have seen Bagby open the trunk, Mason over lunch offers the young man a few pointers. That afternoon Neely demolishes the prosecution witness and wins a verdict of acquittal. Bagby comes to Los Angeles to thank Mason and they discuss whether she’s entitled to compensation from Keith, who signed the complaint against her.

   Bagby suggests that she might have been framed for the jewel theft because she’d recognized a newspaper photo of Chaney’s former husband as the phony drama coach who had swindled her out of her inheritance several years before and whom she had called, demanding restitution. Mason gets her a job as waitress at the Crowncrest Inn, which is on a mountaintop connected with the metro area by a narrow and desolate road.

   That evening Bagby calls Mason and claims to have found a .38 Colt Cobra with a 2-inch barrel planted in her room at the Inn. Mason tells her to meet him at a certain restaurant, bringing the gun. When they get together she says she was attacked on the mountain road by a man wearing a pillowcase mask, at whom she fired two shots with the .38. Mason reports to the authorities. When he, Della, Bagby and an officer visit the scene of the incident, they find a wrecked car and inside it a dead man, shot in the head and wearing a pillowcase mask.

   When it’s discovered that the mask came from the Crowncrest Inn, and that the dead man was in fact the fake drama coach who had cheated her, Bagby like all Mason’s clients gets charged with murder. Much of the rest of the novel takes place at the preliminary hearing where Mason defends her.

   Looking at the plot through a microscope reveals flaws here and there. As the hearing begins, the decedent’s body is identified not by the police or a medical examiner but by one of the characters, who isn’t needed as a witness but whom Gardner needs in the courtroom later.

   At the end of the book Mason “deduces” a good bit of the plot without a shred of evidence to go on. There are other holes too but they didn’t faze Anthony Boucher and I didn’t let them bother me much either. Boucher in the Times Book Review (7 November 1954) said: “Some intricate defensive maneuvers to confuse the ballistic evidence may baffle not only the judge and the prosecution but also the reader; you’ll have to keep your mind as sharp and devious as Mason’s own to follow this one, but it’s a wonderful roller-coaster ride.”

   For the sake of those who don’t want to have the novel spoiled by my saying too much about the plot, I’ll let the cat out of the bag in a paragraph which will remain hidden unless you click on it. Here, kitty!

***

   The telefilm with which the Mason series debuted keeps the ballistic maneuvers pretty much intact but simplifies the novel in almost every other way imaginable. Irene Keith is dropped, as are fledgling lawyer Frank Neely and his fiancée and the whole larceny trial with which the book opens. The rationale for the titular adjective, that Bagby likes to keep moving from one place to another, winds up on the cutting-room floor, leaving us with nothing but alliteration for its own sake.

   Bagby’s bullets, which in the novel complicate the plot by striking certain objects, on the small screen hit nothing. The ballistic testimony which dominates several chapters of the novel is cut to the bone. But with something like 52 minutes of air time to do justice to a full-length book, what option other than cutting was available?

   All in all, adapter Russell S. Hughes did a creditable job. It was the only teleplay he wrote for the series. Before the first season’s end, he had died. Age 48. Cause unknown.

   Raymond Burr as Mason is spectacularly slender, having reportedly lost between 60 and 100 pounds while preparing for the part, and smokes up a storm, as do several other characters including his client, who is seen finding the planted .38 in her cigarette box. The client was played by lovely Whitney Blake (1926-2002), who will also pop up later in this column.

   Prominent in the cast were Ralph Clanton (Mervyn Aldrich), Gloria Henry (Helene Chaney) and Vaughn Taylor (Louis Boles). The first several minutes could be mistaken in dim light for film noir, thanks especially to ominous background music by the never-credited Ren Garriguenc (1908-1998), whose talent (when he wanted to exercise it) for sounding like his CBS colleague Bernard Herrmann has fooled experts. Bits and pieces of Herrmann music are heard here and there but they are few and far between.

   About the director, William D. Russell (1908-1968), not a great deal is known. He began making movies after World War II at Paramount, where he helmed several “heartwarming” comedies. During a pit stop at RKO he made Best of the Badmen (1951), a Western starring Robert Ryan, Claire Trevor, Robert Preston and Walter Brennan, which can be seen complete on YouTube.

   Like so many directors of his generation who saw their careers crumbling thanks to TV, he embraced the new medium and began specializing in situation comedies, directing 61 episodes of Father Knows Best before moving to CBS. There he took up more serious fare, notably a few early episodes of Gunsmoke and 28 of Perry Mason.

Afterwards he went back to the sitcom, directing 48 segments of Dennis the Menace and 128 of the 154 episodes of Hazel (1961-66), starring Shirley Booth as live-in housekeeper for an affluent family, the female head of which was played by — I told you she’d pop up again! — Whitney Blake. (Whether she arranged for Russell to come aboard, or vice versa, or whether it’s just a coincidence, remains what Russell concentrated on for a few years and then dropped: a mystery.) Less than two years after the series was cancelled — which happened the same year Mason was cancelled— Russell died. Age 59. Cause unknown.

***

   On top of all his novels and stories and travel books and Court of Last Resort pro bono work on behalf of the wrongfully convicted, Erle Stanley Gardner kept up a gargantuan correspondence. One of his correspondents was Harry Stephen Keeler (1890-1967), the wackiest wackadoodle who ever sat down to a typewriter. Several of Harry’s multi-colored “Walter Keyhole” newsletters, assembled and arranged by me in The Keeler Keyhold Collection (2005), include quotations from ESG’s letters to him.

   In one of them, probably dating from the late Fifties or early Sixties, Gardner alluded to the fact that both his mother and Keeler’s happened to have the same first name; an odd one to say the least. “Now ‘Adelma’ [Keeler wrote] is not a recognized name….Name experts say that it is undoubtedly an artificial synthesis, or fusion, of the names ‘Adeline’ and ‘Thelma’.”

   Why not Adelaide, or Selma? After comparing notes, the two discovered “that a grandfather of each had been in the Civil War” (presumably on the same side) and concluded that “over some camp fire their grandfathers must have met, and talking of possible ‘odd’ names for girl-children, agreed…to name their first daughters ‘Adelma’.” Well, maybe. Anyway it’s a good story.

SELECTED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


Music from Mike Hammer, the 1957-59 TV series, starring Darren McGavin:

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