The 1959-60 PHILIP MARLOWE TV Series
by Michael Shonk


PHILIP MARLOWE. ABC-TV. 1959-1960. Tuesday 9:30-10pm(E). Goodson-Todman Production with California National Productions. Created by Raymond Chandler.

“Murder Is a Grave Affair.” March 8, 1960. Written and produced by Gene Wang. Directed by Paul Stewart. Cast: Philip Carey as Philip Marlowe, William Schallert as Police Lieutenant Manny Harris, Gene Nelson as Larry, Jack Weston as Artie, Betsy Jones-Moreland as Marian, Maxine Cooper as Janet. Episode available on DVD: TV GUIDE Presents Master Crime Solvers.

   A young woman in love with Larry, a married movie director, confronts his wife. The wife, Marian tells the girl she won’t stop Larry if he wants a divorce, and then celebrates with her lover. Larry is not happy. The girl means nothing to him, just one of a “hundred.” She threatens to go to the papers. Larry also has to deal with the reaction from his secretary and lover, Janet. But he’s a guy and these things happen.

   The girl turns up dead due to an unvented gas heater. Her friend Artie, who loved her, finds the body. Both he and the girl’s father believe Larry killed her, and Dad hires Philip Marlowe. Marlowe uses the typical TV PI’s method for solving crimes. The suspects are cleared one by one until only one remains who, in a burst of illogic, no hard evidence, and the closing credits fast approaching, confesses.

   Philip Carey could have made a great Marlowe, but the way the character dressed and lived, the fake scar on his cheek, his attitude towards the cops, all of it left Carey playing a character unlike the one Raymond Chandler created.

   Among the few positives, Betsy Jones-Moreland as the wife played the part with an odd amused indifference that was a fresh choice for that type of role. The script featured a brilliant twist that would surprise viewers today.


   On the negative side, the theme music is a forgettable jazz tune with a slight Bossa nova beat, as you can hear from this YouTube clip of the opening credits. There were no noirish elements, even the Day for Night scenes at the graveyard lacked any style or visual substance.

   Take the Philip Marlowe name away and this was just a good TV mystery typical of the time.

   Now, a look at the creation of the series. It began July 1957 when a deal was signed between Raymond Chandler and Goodson-Todman Productions to produce a TV series based on the character Philip Marlowe.

   According to Billboard, July 22, 1957 issue, Chandler would be the series story editor. At this point the pilot was to be filmed in August 1957, Goodson-Todman producing with Screen Gems. Casting had not yet happened nor had the episode length been decided, though the hour-long format was favored. The plan was to sell it to a network for September 1957 (Billboard, July 29, 1957).

   Broadcasting (February 10, 1958) reported the pilot done but not yet sold.

   At one point, Screen Gems dropped out (if it had ever been involved). Broadcasting (December 15, 1958) reported a signed contract between Goodson-Todman and NBC to produce thirty nine episodes “for showing on NBC-TV starting either in April or the fall.”

   This is probably when California National Productions got involved. According to Broadcasting (February 2, 1959), “CNP operates under two sales units. NBC Television Films, which syndicates largely first-run properties, and Victory Program Sales, which handles re-run series.”


   March 26, 1959, Raymond Chandler dies. Was he still involved with the show? I doubt it.

   For some reason the series appeared on ABC not NBC and lasted only (reportedly) twenty six episodes before it was dropped.

   Broadcasting (September 28, 1959) had a review of the first episode. Scroll down and click on 9/28/59 issue and scroll to pages 48 and 50.

   No title for the episode is given and it lists a different producer (William Froug). It gives the air date as September 29, 1959 instead of the currently believed October 6.

   Based on the review, Marlowe is hired in that first episode by a reformed gangster to keep his daughter from running away with a young man. The young man and Marlowe fight. Marlowe wins. A gangster with a grudge against Marlowe’s client helps the kid to take on Marlowe again. Marlowe wins but during the fight the bad guy kidnaps the girl. Marlowe chases. Marlowe and bad guy fight. Marlowe wins and bad guy is killed.

   Time magazine did a cover story “These Gunns For Hire” (October 26, 1959) about the TV detectives of the 1959-60 season. I highly recommend you read the entire article, which you can easily find online.

   According to the article the 1959-60 season had sixty-two series (network and syndicated) featuring “some variation of Cops & Robbers.”

   Also from the article, “Carey has long been an admirer of Chandler’s books, is openly proud of the fact that Chandler told him he would make a great Marlowe. What Chandler (who died in March) would think of the rest of the TV show is not quite so certain.”

   Philip Marlowe is less for the Chandler fan and more for those who enjoy watching even the average TV PI of the late 1950s.

TIP OF THE HAT: To RJ of TV Obscurities for helping me find another online source, the Broadcasting magazine archives.