THE DELPHI BUREAU: THE MERCHANT OF DEATH ASSIGNMENT. TV-Movie Pilot for the ABC-TV series The Delphi Bureau. March 6, 1972. Warner Brothers. Two hours. CAST: Laurence Luckinbill as Glenn Garth Gregory, Celeste Holm as Sybil, Cameron Mitchell as Stokely, Joanna Pettet as April, Bob Crane as Charlie, Dean Jagger as Keller, Bradford Dillman as Jamison. Written and Produced by Sam Rolfe. Directed by Paul Wendkos.

    When surplus fighter planes begin to disappear, the President asks the top secret Delphi Bureau to find them. The Bureau is so secret it has no office, no record of existing, and, as far as its agent Glenn Garth Gregory knows, it has only two employees, him and his boss, Sybil, a Washington DC society hostess.


   Gregory is a researcher with a photographic memory and a dislike for danger. So he is quite upset when, after he discovers how the planes were taken, a fake cop tries to kill him. Sybil is less than sympathetic, and once they figure out where the planes may be hidden, she sends Gregory there, a large experimental farm outside a small town in Kansas.

   But first, Sybil tosses a party so Gregory, posing as an agricultural expert from the Department of Agriculture, can meet the prime suspect, Matthew Keller. Keller is a former arms merchant now an invalid and obsessed with farming and feeding the hungry, and surrounded by a mixed group of people. There is beautiful April who tries to warn Gregory away, the friendly therapist, terrified Jamison, and Stokely, a killer so cool he winks at Gregory when Gregory recognizes him.

    “That chauffeur is the fake cop that tried to kill me!” a panicked Gregory tells Sybil.

    “He didn’t do a very good job, did he?” she replies.

    “He’ll know I’m not an agricultural expert.”

    “Well, that’s only fair. You know he’s not a cop.”

   Writer-producer Sam Rolfe (Have Gun Will Travel, Man from U.N.C.L.E.) deserves to be better remembered for his work in television. Rolfe’s Glenn Garth Gregory did to the spy genre what James Rockford did to the PI genre. Both series enjoyed twisting almost mocking the tropes of the genre.

   Gregory was no dashing James Bond nor satirical Flint nor comedic Maxwell Smart. Glenn Garth Gregory was just a researcher. Granted a researcher with a photographic memory that gave him an encyclopedia in his head and the ability to escape traps that would rival MacGyver.


   The plot was played basically straight but with Rolfe’s usual touches of humor in the dialog and characters. There was a better than average TV mystery solved by Gregory advancing through twist after twist, discovering clues along the way, and falling into and escaping trap after trap.

   Luckinbill was convincing as the researcher forced to play spy to keep his job and its many rich benefits. Celeste Holm makes you believe her flighty society hostess character was also a tough spymaster as heartless as Bond’s M. Even the bad guys were fun, especially Cameron Mitchell’s remorseless killer Stokely and Brad Dillman’s neurotic Jamison.

   Perhaps the most unusual part of the show was a running limerick that bridged commercial breaks, one line at a time until the end when the limerick would be completed.

From the capital came a young man…

To uncover some worms in a can…

So they con him – they frame him…

For murder they blame him…

In turn – he eludes them…

Pursues – then eschews them…

’Till he holds all the strings to the plan…

The end – more or less, Delphian!


   The Merchant of Death Assignment would lead to the series The Delphi Bureau which premiered in October 1972 and shared a time slot with Assignment: Vienna and Jigsaw under the umbrella title of The Men.

   The Delphi Bureau lasted only eight one-hour TV episodes. It was then, and remains today, one of my favorite TV series.

   Neither the pilot nor the series is currently available on DVD or online. A very poor quality video of the opening sequence of the series can be found here on YouTube, while a two-minute segment from the pilot was posted there by Laurence Luckinbill a couple of years ago.

   One can only hope Warner Archives, that has blessed us with Made On Demand DVDs of the TV-Movie pilots Probe (Search) and Smile Jenny, You’re Dead (Harry O) will do the same for The Merchant of Death Assignment (The Delphi Bureau).