Thu 14 Feb 2013
THE ADVENTURES OF HIRAM HOLLIDAY. California National Presentations, filmed for NBC, 1956-57. Based on the stories by Paul Gallico. Cast: Wally Cox as Hiram Holliday and Ainslie Pryor as Joel Smith. Produced by Philip Rapp.
The Adventures of Hiram Holliday is an amusing action spoof. The plots leaned to the absurd such as when Hiram stopped some foreign spies from turning Pearl Harbor to ice (“Hawaiian Humzah”). The humor was gentle and often based on misunderstanding or the odd image of Wally Cox as an action hero to rival Errol Flynn.
The screen credit and announcer tells us the series was “based on stories by Paul Gallico.” Which is odd since The Adventures of Hiram Holliday was published as a book in 1939. More confusing is Billboard (May 12, 1956), reported the TV series was based on stories from the Saturday Evening Post. Paul Gallico was writing stories for that magazine during the fifties, so perhaps Hiram appeared as a serial in the Saturday Evening Post.
Hiram Holliday was the copy editor for the newspaper New York Chronicle. Hiram catches an error that could have bankrupted the paper in libel charges. The grateful publisher Harrison Prentice sends Hiram on a trip around the world accompanied by reporter Joel Smith. On the way Hiram and Joel share one strange adventure after another with Hiram always the hero in the end and Joel failing for one reason or another to get the story published.
Wally Cox carried the show with his ability to make the absurd character of Hiram believable. It is Cox that makes the series funny and worth watching. He underplays the character, reacting to danger with a confident calmness. In one episode Hiram enters his room to find the femme fatale waiting for him. The room had been trashed and thoroughly searched. She tells Hiram she had been waiting for him. Hiram looked around and calmly replied he was glad she found something to do while waiting.
The rest of the cast were limited by one-note characters of dubious logic and were played by actors of various talents, from Sebastian Cabot to Thor Johnson (aka Tor Johnson). Publisher Prentice (Thurston Hall) existed to scream at Joel. The mastermind would make mistake after mistake while blaming it all on his henchman or femme fatale. The femme fatales existed to seduce Hiram.
Each episode would begin with Hiram and Joel entering a new country. Hiram’s interest was always in scientific and academic challenges. In Hawaii, he wanted to visit a Professor to study a lost consonant of the language. In Hong Kong, Hiram’s quest was for the rare sea cucumber.
Quickly, Hiram would stumble into an adventure while Joel was usually off somewhere eating. For reasons unexplained the misused laugh track thought Joel eating was hilarious, making it a bad running gag.
Villains arrive, usually made up of a mastermind, femme fatale, and a henchman. Through comedic misunderstanding the bad guys believe they have to get rid of Hiram. Hiram innocence and complete honesty is disbelieved and he has to turn into an action hero, from fighting atop a speeding train to performing some feat such as a carnival high dive act that he had never done before but had read about.
Ainslie Pryor failed to rise over the thankless role of Hiram’s traveling companion and best friend, Joel Smith who at times broke the fourth wall to talk to us. It was a difficult role. His character spent much of the time clueless and existed for Hiram to rescue or to take the brunt of the blame from the authorities for many of the misunderstanding that revolved around Hiram. In “Wrong Rembrandt.” Hiram had painted such a perfect copy of a Rembrandt the French police arrested Joel for art theft.
Production values were fine considering the era. Philip Rapp produced the series and wrote and directed many of the episodes. The show was funny but after a few episodes the situations became repetitive and the humor grew tired. How often can you laugh at Hiram winning swordfights with his umbrella?
The series followed Wally Cox’s successful turn as Mr.Peepers. But that success didn’t carry over to Hiram Holliday. General Foods was the sponsor of The Adventures of Hiram Holliday and quickly regretted it.
Hiram Holliday premiered October 3, 1956 on Wednesday at 8-8:30pm (Eastern). In Billboard (October 13,1956), according to rating service Trendex, NBC’s Hiram received a 11.4 compared to ABC’s Disneyland with 19.2 and CBS’s >Arthur Godfrey Show with 14.2.
Billboard (January 1, 1956) discussed some of the TV series in trouble. Shows the sponsors were unhappy with but had given a 26 episodes or 52 episodes commitment. This included General Food and Adventures of Hiram Holliday.
January 28, 1957 issue of Broadcasting reported, “General Foods, N.Y. will drop its sponsorship of Hiram Holiday (sic) on NBC-TV, Wed. 8-8:30pm, and will become instead the alternate week sponsor of Wells Fargo (Monday, 8:30-9pm) effective March 18th.”
On February 27, 1957, the twentieth episode of the series to air was the last on NBC. Reportedly, three more episodes were showed in England during syndication, leaving 23 episodes apparently filmed.
Various episodes of the Adventures of Hiram Holliday are available on low budget DVD.
And on You Tube, at the moment, is the episode, “Moroccan Hawk Moth.”