Sat 9 Apr 2016
by Michael Shonk
NOT FOR HIRE. Syndicated, California National Presentation (CNP); 1959-60. 39 30min episodes. Cast: Ralph Meeker as Army Sergeant Steve Dekker and Ken Drake as Army Colonel Bragan. Produced by Johnny Florea.
The fall of 1959 brought a flood of crime dramas to networks and syndicated television. Most such as Not for Hire are long forgotten. Information about the series is hard to find and reportedly only six episodes of the thirty-nine survive. All six are currently available on YouTube and the collectors market.
Ralph Meeker (Kiss Me Deadly) starred as Army Sergeant Steve Dekker, considered by the Army their top Investigator in its Criminal Investigation Division (MP). Dekker is a wisecracking womanizer typical of the era. Weekly he risks his life to help save soldiers in trouble. While Meeker does well as the character, his occasional happy grin can be a bit creepy. One of the gimmicks of the series has the person who Dekker saved being ungrateful for Dekker’s efforts – something that Dekker accepts, sometimes even with humor.
Not for Hire has much of the charm and all the flaws of early thirty minute syndicated dramas. The series lacked consistency in the tone of its stories and the character of Dekker. The small budget and thirty minute format limited the series. The lack of shooting time did not allow the actors to always give their best performance in every scene. The series did know its audience as every episode was sure to include beautiful bad girls and as many fights that could fit in thirty minutes minus commercials. The first episode “Soldier’s Story” set up the premise well:
SOLDIER’S STORY. Written by Johnny Florea and Tony Barrett. Directed by Johnny Florea. Guest Cast: Mari Blanchard, John Vivyan and Stanley Adams ***A soldier is framed for a robbery turned murder. Dekker goes undercover to find the villains, a gang of three – beauty (Blanchard), brawn (Vivyan) and brains (Adams).
The episode is well done with stylish dialog and use of camera, lively action, interesting if stereotyped characters, and clever use of the episode’s soundtrack (music supervision by Raoul Kraushaar). It is fun watching likable Meeker’s Dekker obsessively track down the bad guys.
THE SET UP. Written by Laurence Marks. Directed by Johnny Florea. Guest Cast:: Stanley Adams, Michael Miller, Henry Corden and Patrick Waltz *** A soldier with heavy gambling debts is asked to kill a fellow soldier. Dekker convinces the soldier to go undercover to find out who the intended victim is and who wants him dead.
This episode is fun from the heavy slang dialog of the blackmailed soldier to the target’s priorities. The mystery is drawn out at the right pace with the identity of the target at first unknown and the killer’s identity a nice twist at the end.
As “Soldier’s Story” and “The Set-Up” show, despite lasting only one season the series used several actors in more than one roll. Norman Alden went from guard in “Soldier’s Story” to recurring character MP Cpl. Lucius Grundy. Stanley Adams went from bad guy in “Soldier’s Story” to recurring character good guy Honolulu Police Lt. Morris. Others would play multiple parts such as Fortune Gordien who played the dealer in “The Set-Up” and according to IMDb two other roles during the series run.
SHARK BAIT. Teleplay by Richard Collins – Story by P.K. Palmer – Directed by Dennis Patrick. Guest Cast:: Jan Brooks, William Keene and Rory Harrity. *** Part of a stolen Army payroll is found with a murdered Navy diver. Much to the disgust of the Navy who has been unable to solve the seaman’s murder, the Army sends Dekker undercover to find the Army payroll.
For its time the mystery had some nice twists that today we would see coming from nearly the beginning. The now hilarious but then exciting fight between Dekker and a shark remains the episode’s highlight.
THE DESERTER. Written by Richard M. Powell. Directed by Johnny Florea. Guest Cast:: Dennis Patrick, Ziva Rodann and Peggy Stewart. *** While in Manila on the trail of a smuggling racket Dekker tries to help out a woman who is convinced she just saw her husband. Problem is her husband was declared dead by the Army fifteen years ago. No body was ever found but Dekker knows the man is dead because he was the one who killed him.
Thirty minutes rarely is enough time to create a decent mystery. There is not enough time to develop characters and have truly surprising twists. This episode is a perfect example of that as it reveals the bad guy too soon and has a backstory that needed more attention.
THE FALL GUY. Teleplay by Jack Jacobs and Marty Goldsmith. Story by Jack Jacobs. Directed by Johnny Florea. Guest Cast:: Lisabeth Hush, James Seay and Barbara Stuart *** A beautiful 21-year old woman is found dead and Dekker arrests a soldier for the murder. Dekker is convinced the soldier is guilty but a female secretary in his office is even more convinced the soldier is innocent. She nags Dekker to keep investigating until they find the real killer.
This is the worse episode of the six surviving as it comes off more as a pilot for the CID secretary Cpl Madge Turner (Lisabeth Hush) than an episode about hero Sgt Dekker who the episode turned into a smug jerk. Gone is Dekker’s dedication to helping his fellow soldier out of trouble, replaced by a dedication to helping a female soldier out of her uniform.
According to IMDb, Hush as Cpl. Turner returned in episode “Lover’s Leap.” In an odd note of reality, Lisabeth Hush acting career suffered due to her hard work fighting sexual harassment of women in Hollywood.
SMUGGLED WIFE. Written by Don Brinkley. Directed by William Bennington. Guest Cast:: James Parnell, Nora Hayden and John Marshall. *** An angry and out of control Private Ober has taken on the governments of America, England and Hong Kong. His pregnant British born wife is due to give birth soon. Ober wants the baby born on American soil. But a bureaucratic mix-up has his wife stuck in Hong Kong. Dekker tries to keep Ober out of trouble as the red tape unwinds at its own speed versus the fast approaching birth of the baby.
They don’t write them like this one anymore as everyone takes the screwy plot and run with it. There is no shortage of fights and comedy, and even a femme fatale and a crime are tacked on to the story.
Reading the credits always adds to the entertainment value of watching TV series from the past. From the credits we can guess the “showrunner” for the series was Johnny Florea. Florea was a war correspondent during WWII and had a successful career as a TV director (Honey West, Ironside) and producer (Sea Hunt, CHiPs).
Bonus gossip! According to a newspaper article from Los Angeles Times (June 17,1975) his ex-wife Shirley Florea stabbed him in the back at the County Courthouse. UPI added they were there for an alimony hearing. Both sources mentioned she had once sued him for $1 million for mailing her 20 year-old prostitution arrest record to friends. While his other two wives are mentioned in Florea’s IMDb biography Shirley is not.
The writers featured a variety of talent. Richard M. Powell wrote the Mike Hammer film My Gun Is Quick as well as several TV series including Hogan’s Heroes. Tony Barrett would become a successful writer/ producer in the 60s with Peter Gunn, Mod Squad and Burke’s Law. Don Brinkley wrote for many TV series including The Fugitive and Felony Squad and created Trapper John M.D. Laurence Marks had started as a comedy writer in radio (Jack Paar) and continued with TV for such series as Hogan’s Heroes and M*A*S*H. Marty Goldsmith credits include the film Detour and the TV series Twilight Zone.
Johnny Florea directed most of the Not for Hire episodes but there were others. Dennis Patrick would turn to acting full time (including an episode for Not for Hire). William Bennington would become known for live TV and won an Emmy with seven others for directing the 19th Summer Olympic Games in 1968.
Of course the actors are the easiest to spot. Popular character actors such as Norman Alden, Stanley Adams and Barbara Stuart are remembered for the amount of roles they would play instead of any single one. Henry Corden might have joined that group if not for his role as the voice of Fred Flintstone. Those of us who remember John Vivyan as stylish and sophisticated Mr. Lucky were surprised by his portrayal of a dumb goon.
Not for Hire remains a better than expected syndicated light drama cop show that still can be a pleasant entertaining way to kill a half hour.