Friday, April 17, 2009


I went to the Paley Center for Media Thursday in midtown NYC and watched nearly half a dozen oldies.

1] First up was a special request - Woody Allen's "Men Of Crisis". I've been trying to see this for months there, but it kept coming up as being in use. Glitch in the system, I guess, because they were able to manually load it for me.

"Men Of Crisis" is a 1971 mockumentary about Harvey Wallinger, one of Richard Nixon's close advisors, with Woody as Harvey. His co-stars are Diane Keaton, Louise Lasser, Conrad Bain, Dan Frazer (of 'Kojak'), and Richard M. Dixon. (I'm pretty sure I saw Vincent Gardenia sitting to Harvey Wallinger's right on a McCarthyesque panel.)

2] 'Sam Benedict'
I've always wanted to check out at least one episode of this series - hey, I'd like to see at least one episode of all the old shows! But 'Sam Benedict' stars Edmond O'Brien, and ya gotta support family - no matter how distantly related. (O'Briens - the Smiths of Ireland!)
This was standard courtroom drama, apparently based on the career of a real-life lawyer, J.W. Ehrlich. It took place in San Francisco and the guest cast in this episode included Eddie Albert, Brock Peters, and Roger Perry.

'Martin Kane, Private Eye' This private detective drama had to be one of the earliest examples of quantum leaping in Toobworld: four different actors played the role of Martin Kane over the course of its NBC run. William Gargan, Lee Tracy, Lloyd Nolan, and Mark Stephens were the four Kanes, but it was an episode with Nolan which I saw today.

Man, was this creaky! It's a kinescope of a live production, with clumsy camerawork and some flubbed lines. But the most intriguing part - and which seemed to be the main focus of the reviews I read at the - was the supporting role played by Old Briar pipe tobacco and the other products by the US Tobacco company: Dill's Best, Sano cigarettes, and Encore cigarettes. A lot of the scenes took place at Happy McMann/McMahon's tobacco shop - where only US Tobacco products were on display of course - and several of those scenes should have taken place down at the police station. At the very end, a key piece of evidence, and a very fragile one at that, was brought in to the tobacco shop when it should have been under lock and key in the station-house!

At least these scenes served as the actual commercials, with the characters extolling the pleasures of the various tobacco products. But it was weird to see the camera cut away from Kane and the police lieutenant to focus on Happy selling cigarettes to a woman for a couple of minutes.

4] 'Rocky King, Detective'
Another creaker, and even worse than 'Martin Kane'! Roscoe Karns was a New York police inspector in this kinescope from the early fifties. (The city was never identified, only that it was a big metropolitan city, but you could see the Chrysler Building out his office window.) This was taped live and it really showed in the way that Karns flubbed lines left and right, even if they had to be somewhere in the scene where he could check them. But at least he was able to cover up well so that it seemed almost like the real conversational slip-ups we have every day.
The weirdest part of this show seems to be that Rocky King carried on conversations with his wife Mabel, who never appeared on camera. You'd hear her and see him looking at her, but she may as well have been invisible. (Mabel King was the Vera Peterson of her day.)

5] 'Ford Theatre' - "The Ming Lama"
This was pretty decent so far as it goes. It served as an unsold pilot for a series that I imagine would have been called "Johnny Nighthawk". Howard Duff was John Stevens, who owned a struggling airline of one plane and he'd do the odd job to keep the company solvent. The co-stars were Francis L. Sullivan (great literal heavy), Freberg sidekick Dave Willock, Horace McMahon playing a San Francisco version of his 'Naked City' police lieutenant, Willis Bouchey (better known as a judge on 'Perry Mason'), Leo Gordon in his traditional role as Sullivan's muscle (He was always put to much better use on 'Maverick'.), and Angela Lansbury as a very hot femme fatale. (So weird to see her in this just a few weeks after seeing her, now 83, in "Blithe Spirit" on Broadway.)

While in San Francisco, Johnny stayed at the Carlton Plaza Hotel. I think there is an actual Carlton Plaza in Frisco, but I'd like to think this one was somehow connected to the Carlton Hotel of 'Have Gun, Will Travel' fame.....

So that was my Thursday in the Paley Center library, when it was such a beautiful day I should have been outdoors!

Toby O'B


Anonymous said...

Martin Kane had a "sequel" series, Return of Martin Kane with William Gargan reprising the role, but with the action moved to Europe. So far as I know, this is the earliest example of a crossover or spinoff crossing countries (and one of the few--I know there was an Australian spin-off/retread of Are You Being Served? with Mr. Humphries).


Toby O'B said...

'Martin Kane' certainly did no favors for Gargan, what with all the pipe smoking the character did. He ended up contracting lung cancer and became a vocal opponent to smoking.

Thanks for writing, Hugh!