Sunday, June 12, 2005


I picked out a few of the TV credits for Dana Elcar in order to comment further on them and their meaning for Toobworld....

'MacGyver' (1985) TV Series .... Pete Thornton (1986-1992)

When I got to meet James Doohan at the FX "apartment" after his participation in an on-air sci-fi auction, I was momentarily startled when I shook his hand. Doohan's hand is missing its middle finger and it threw off the dynamics of my own grip.

I'm fairly certain I didn't hide my surprise well at all.

Doohan lost the finger during the D-Day invasion and he would often quip later that he gave the finger to Hitler.

But if you only knew him from his role as Scotty on the TV series 'Star Trek', you would never have known that he was missing a digit. In fact, in one particular scene in which he had to lay his hand on a sensor device while pledging his oath in court, a "stunt hand" was called in to be used; one with all five piddies.

In later years, writers would have jumped at the chance to work the loss of that middle finger into the script for an episode. I bet there could have been a great Trekkian back-story to it.

Since then, other actors have had their injuries worked into the plotlines of various TV shows. James Stacy's loss of an arm and a leg in an accident years earlier were used as a plot point in a story arc on 'Wiseguy'. From the same show, Jim Byrnes also lost both legs after an accident, and his character of Dan "Lifeguard" Burroughs had to deal with the ramifications of the same situation.

And to make it a trifecta, Dr. Al Robbins of the Las Vegas 'CSI' unit is also missing a leg. Quite rightly, it hasn't played a major role in defining his character, but references to it come up regularly within the span of the series.

But so far as I can remember - and here I'm hoping there'll be others out there who can jog my poor memory, - Dana Elcar's character of Peter Thornton might be the first time a developing disability was written into a show's backstory to enable the actor to keep working in the role.

Let me know if I'm wrong, folks. I think it might make for an interesting follow-up......

"Baa Baa Black Sheep" (1976) TV Series .... Col. Thomas Lard (1976-1978)

I've always believed names have power and this is as good an example as any. You'd think the Colonel would have legally changed his name before the war; SOMEBODY in the family should have done so! The teasing he must have received as a child is the probable root for his personality as an adult. (And it must have rankled him no end to learn that just because he held rank over Pappy Boyington and the Black Sheep Squadron, nothing had changed from those schoolyard days.

"Baretta" (1975) TV Series .... Lt. Shiller (1975)

After one season, Inspector Schiller was replaced by Lt. Hal Brubaker. No reason was given ('Harry O' serves as a great example for the follow-ups to such cast changes.), but it's possible that Shiller's classic slow burn over Baretta's methods eventually led to either an ulcer or a heart attack.

"Dark Shadows" (1966) TV Series .... Sheriff George Patterson #1 (1966-1967)

From two different sources on the web:

"Sheriff George Patterson
Height: 6' 1"
Age: 37
Coloring: Brown eye, blonde hair, what's left of it
Long time Sheriff of Collinsport. Currently on a weight loss program instituted by Cyrus Longworth and the Collinsport City Council. George has plans on courting Mrs. Sarah Johnson when and if the time permits. His main concern now has been trying to solve the unsolved mysteries of the past."

"Competent and pragmatic, Sheriff George Patterson is the head lawman in Collinsport and inevitably his path crosses with the residents of the Collinwood estate and the increasingly bizarre occurrences that beset them. As the world of the supernatural intrudes into Collinwood, Sheriff Patterson finds himself increasingly at a loss to provide rational explanations and solutions for events around him..."

But eventually, Sheriff Patterson's appearance changed several times over. One of my favorite conceits for splainin cast changes has been to use quantum leapers as the culprits - that is, when we see a new actor in the role, it's because that new person is a visitor from the future occupying the space of the original. And the people in that character's life still see the original.

That's why there would have been no hue and cry after Sheriff Patterson "morphed" from Elcar to Vince O'Brien and Michael Cavanaugh and Dennis Patrick. The people of Collinsport only saw him as a pudgy bald guy.

Or it could have been the work of witches as was the case of an advertising executive who was 'Bewitched' in Westport. Hey, if the place has vampires......

Forget it, Jake. It's Collinsport.

"MacGyver" playing "Andy Colson" in episode: "MacGyver" (episode # 1.0) 29 September 1985

Maybe it happened during a commerical, but how come MacGyver never mentioned to Pete that he once dealt with a guy named Andy Colson who was the chief of operations at a secret lab... and who looked exactly like Pete!!!

"The Paper Chase" playing "James Hart's Father" (archive footage) in episode: "Hart Goes Home" (episode # 2.13) 6 May 1984

I found this entry interesting in that Elcar agreed to just do this as "archive footage", which I imagine means in this case, "home movies".

Was it because he loved the show? Was it as a favor to James Stephens? Perhaps they worked together in that playhouse Elcar was running until the early 1990s.

At any rate, it seems to have been prophetic casting, since Stephens has proven to be follicly challenged as the years march on.....

"Newhart" playing "Sam Ebersol" in episode: "The Visitors" (episode # 1.13) 17 January 1983

Since 'Newhart' later proved to be nothing more than one long extended dream by Dr. Bob Hartley of 'The Bob Newhart Show', what could be the significance of Sam Ebersol in that dream?

Was he actually a patient of Dr. Hartley's in the waking world? Maybe there's an anagram in the name? Damn, I wish I still had use of that anagram feature in my old Magnavox video-writer!

"Longstreet" in episode: "The Shape of Nightmares" (episode # 1.7) 28 October 1971

I just wonder if Dana Elcar's work on this episode came back to his memory as his own blindness developed?

"Mannix" playing "Tom Coleman/Al Beckworth/Darrell Andrews/Charles Vincent Addison" in episode: "The Search for Darrell Andrews" (episode # 3.22) 28 February 1970

Just looking at the character's "names" makes me think Elcar must have had a blast working on this episode. It seems like it made for a marvelous showcase for him as an actor.

"Get Smart" playing "Kruger" in episode: "And Baby Makes Four: Part 2" (episode # 5.8) 14 November 1969 and "And Baby Makes Four: Part 1" (episode # 5.7) 7 November 1969

For those of you out there who (like me) are probably anal enough to point this out, I don't think there's any problem with the idea of Elcar playing this role and yet not be recognized as "The Chief" once Maxwell Smart began working for PITT in the movie "The Nude Bomb". That's because the movie is not a continuation of the TV series nor a leak into the TV Universe as is the case with movies like 'Batman - 1966', or the 'Star Trek' franchise.

There are two distinct versions of Maxwell Smart - the main one from Toobworld and the one from the Cineverse. (There are others once you cross the creational vortex into the dimensions celebrating comic books and literature.) And as such the TV Maxwell Smart never even met The Chief of PITT, and so he would have had no reason to point out how much he looked like Kruger.

"The Trials of O'Brien" playing "Sam Styles" in episode: "How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?" (episode # 1.9) 13 November 1965

I just wondered if Mr. Elcar reminded Peter Falk of this collaboration between the two actors once they started filming "Any Old Port In The Storm" episode of 'Columbo'?

"The Nurses" playing "Dr. Fellowes" in episode: "An Unweeded Garden" (episode # 3.30) 11 May 1965
"The Nurses" playing "Dr. Zack Fuller" in episodes:
"The Prisoner: Part 1" (episode # 3.2) 29 September 1964
"The Intern Syndrome" (episode # 2.18) 23 January 1964
"To Spend, to Give, to Want" (episode # 2.12) 12 December 1963
"Two Black Candles" (episode # 1.9) 22 November 1962
"The Nurses" playing "Dr. Lovett" in episode: "Fly, Shadow" (episode # 1.3) 11 October 1962

Okay, so I can see how the producers might have brought back Elcar to play a recurring role on 'The Nurses' after liking his work in the episode "Fly, Shadow". And as for the change in character, there might have been extenuating circumstances that dictated such a decision.

But after working on another four episodes of the show as Dr. Zack Fuller, why bring him back by the end of the third season (only 28 episodes after last appearing as Dr. Fuller) as a new character, Dr. Fellowes?

I suspect the witness protection program. Or cloning.....

The Missiles of October (1974) (TV) .... Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara

It's hard to believe that there could be a role out there that might be shared by both Dana Elcar and Alec Baldwin.

Columbo: Any Old Port in a Storm (1973) (TV) .... Falcon

To me, getting the chance to be a guest star in any episode of 'Columbo' during the NBC years, even if you weren't slated to play the murderer or the victim, had to be considered a great honor and a treat for many actors.

And Mr. Elcar got the chance to perform not only in a scene with Peter Falk, but also with special guest star Donald Pleasance, in what many believe might be one of the best episodes ever for this sterling show.

The Nude Bomb (1980) .... Chief

As I stated earlier, "The Nude Bomb" is not connected in any way to 'Get Smart' the TV series so far as I'm concerned. So Dana Elcar's performance as the Chief has no ramifications on the TV Universe at all. He is not Kruger from 'Get Smart', nor is he Inspector Shiller from 'Baretta'.

But I give him credit for taking on the role despite whatever rejection he might have faced from fans who must have preferred their memories of Ed Platt in the role. (Not that Platt could have been approached to assay the role again - he had passed away about six years earlier.)

So the heading for this salute to the TV work of Dana Elcar is entitled "Elcar The Magnificent". It has that nice showmanship quality to it. And I don't think it's over-touting his contributions to the medium. As a character actor who was much in demand, Dana Elcar was magnificent.

And he will be missed. They just aren't making character actors like him anymore.....


1 comment:

WordsSayNothing said...

A few weeks ago, I got to watch the MacGyver pilot when SpikeTV's airing schedule wrapped around back to the beginning of the series, and I was shocked to see Pete there, but it wasn't Pete. That was really funny, since I never got to see the show's pilot. As a child, I enjoyed most of the series but must have missed the beginning of the show, during the Peteless first season. Man, that was weird. But watching those first few episodes gave me the chance to finally watch the episodes from where all those clips in the opening come!