Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Have Gun -- Will Travel (1961)

By 1961 Have Gun -- Will Travel had reached the apex of its popularity, ranking #3 in the Nielsen ratings for the third consecutive season. The only change in the show's presentation was moving the producing, writing, and directing credits to the beginning of the episode rather than at the end. But the show was about to experience a dramatic tumble, as it slipped to #29 in the ratings for the 1961-62 season while Bonanza moved into the top 3 alongside Wagon Train and Gunsmoke. The drop is perplexing, particularly since its lead-in show on CBS for Saturday night changed from the unranked Checkmate to the #26-ranked new legal drama The Defenders.

Perhaps part of the show's luster was tarnished by a 3-part TV Guide profile of star and sometime director Richard Boone in the first 3 January 1961 issues in which author Richard Gehman described Boone thusly: "Few other stars are so earnestly, piously, and vehemently hated." Gehman goes on to describe Boone's complete dominance over every aspect of the program, not only in the selection of scripts and casting of supporting actors but even down to wardrobe decisions. Author Gaylan Studlar, in his book about the series for the Wayne State University Press TV Milestones Series, also describes how Boone shredded producers who tried to provide any input contrary to his vision, and how he had many of his series' episodes shot at remote locations to prevent interference. While his own film crew was quite content with his treatment of them, everyone else from network executives to guest actors were not as pleased but were willing to endure him as long as the series was successful. It appears that Boone fostered an us vs. them dynamic between his regular crew and the rest of the world, but this would not have affected the loyalty of the show's fans. Gehman also documents the flip-side of Boone's personality in charitable appearances in which he was extremely generous and genuinely moved when, for example, he made an appearance at a children's hospital. And yet there were other times when he tried to avoid autograph seekers and others who wanted a piece of his time or a personal connection.

But what was more likely the cause of the show's declining popularity was Boone's insistence on addressing controversial topics in the show's plots, particularly America's deep-seated racism. Studlar describes the networks' and sponsors' aversion to anything controversial that might alienate any portion of the viewing public. Other westerns of the era would not directly portray white America's racism against blacks and would generally have few if any black actors or characters because any interaction with whites could be construed as some sort of racial commentary. Instead, they dealt with the topic of racism by showing certain white characters' mistreatment of Chinese, Mexicans, or Native Americans, all certainly founded in actual events in this nation's history, but none likely to raise the ire of an entire section of the country whose ancestors took up arms against their own government.

Boone had already had a prominent black character in the 1960 episode "Killing of Jessie May" in which actor Hari Rhodes plays a ranching partner to William Talman and ends up saving Paladin's life when they are attacked by wanted killer Jessie May Turnbow. But his two 1961 episodes centered around black characters pushed the envelope much farther. "Long Way Home" (February 4, 1961) also includes Talman, this time playing a sheriff who sends for Paladin to help bring in a wanted black man Isham Spruce, played by Ivan Dixon, who killed a white man while working at a logging camp. By the time Paladin arrives in the sheriff's locale, the latter tells him he has already deputized four other men who are a bit wild, and if they find out Paladin is trying to claim the same $5000 for bringing in Spruce they will likely kill him. He suggests that Paladin return home, but Paladin is undeterred and says he plans to bring Spruce back alive. Since Paladin has never seen Spruce, he then asks for a photograph so that he can identify him. The sheriff and his trigger-happy deputy just laugh, telling him he won't need a photograph, the implication being that he's black. The story then takes a nonsensical turn in having Spruce approach Paladin from behind at a water hole with no apparent motivation only to have Paladin wrestle his gun away and take him captive. As they are camping overnight Paladin asks Spruce about his background. He says he was a former slave but after he was freed the union troops just returned home, leaving all the freed slaves to starve. He eventually found a job at a logging camp but the other loggers just couldn't leave him alone and he finally had to "raise his hand" against one who afterward never got up. Paladin wants to trust Spruce now that he understands his story, but Spruce will make no promises not to try to escape. So when Paladin is bitten by a snake at their next watering hole and passes out, Spruce manages to help him get a tourniquet around his arm but then leaves him, though he does send a message to the sheriff through a small boy about Paladin's whereabouts. However, by the time they find and rescue Paladin, it is clear that the trigger-happy deputy, who earlier had made the sheriff nervous in wanting to try out his new rifle and was told to go shoot a rabbit to get it out of his system, has shot and killed Spruce, though he is not eligible for the reward since it was done as part of his job. Conflating a wanted black man with a hunted rabbit and shooting him without the possibility of earning a reward demonstrate the deputy's racism, while Paladin feels sympathy toward Spruce even after killing one of his own race and tells his dead body that he is sorry before heading back home in disgust. Spruce is clearly portrayed as being justified in killing his antagonist, while the deputy is shown as being racist for shooting a wanted killer, even though he has acted perfectly legally. Surely this contrast could not have sat well with a certain demographic of television viewers. And yet there has been no documented blowback that I have seen from this episode. It aired in the middle of the 1960-61 season, and Have Gun still ended the season in 3rd place in the ratings.

But Boone returned to deal with the treatment of blacks in the Season 5 episode "The Hanging of Aaron Gibbs" (November 4, 1961), an episode that Boone himself directed. Folk singer Odetta, often called "The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement," guest stars as Sarah Gibbs, wife of Aaron Gibbs, who is sentenced to die for his role in a payroll robbery that led to a mine collapse and the death of 13 miners. Paladin comes upon her on his way back to San Francisco when her old, reliable mule collapses and is about to die. Paladin is immediately sympathetic to her plight, even taking over the unpleasant task of putting the mule out of its misery by shooting it, and then harnesses his horse to her wagon to accompany her to the mining camp at Dunbar, Oregon. Sarah only wants to see her husband one last time before he is hanged, but the entire mining community is against it because they did not get one last visit with the 13 miners before they met their demise. There is never any overt racism displayed in the mining residents' argument against Sarah seeing her husband. His two other conspirators are white, but they have no relations trying to visit them. The marshal is afraid that if he grants her visit, the community will resort to mob mentality and tear the condemned men limb from limb, but after Paladin keeps working on him, he eventually relents and says that he once had a yellow retriever he had to put down and that he even allowed that dog to see its kin before he shot it. Once again, it is a deputy who is most vehemently against sympathetic treatment of a black human being, but the rest of the community witnesses the tender farewell between Sarah and Aaron, who explains that the mine collapse was an accident and that while trying to steal the payroll was wrong, it was their dire financial circumstances that drove him to it. After Aaron is hung, Sarah wants to take his body back to Georgia to be buried next to their deceased son, but again the deputy tries to step in and stop her, arguing that he was not afforded the same courtesy for his brother who was buried in the mine collapse. But none of the rest of the community will follow his lead, and one of the widows of the miners gives Sarah her shawl in which to wrap her dead husband's body. Rather than depicting the senseless tragedy wrought by racism in "Long Way Home," this episode shows blacks and whites treating each other with empathy, all except the raging deputy, that is.

While it is pure speculation to suggest that Have Gun -- Will Travel declined in popularity because it dared to portray blacks sympathetically and hold whites accountable for their racism, it would be interesting to study whether there was any correlation between ratings and particular episodes. Studlar has observed that some southern television stations would refuse to air certain episodes of any program that they deemed too controversial for their market, so it is not even certain that these particular episodes aired in the south. There could have been any number of other reasons why the show's audience fell off in its last two seasons (it also ranked 29th for 1962-63). Other programs rose and fell over the course of their tenures for whatever reasons, but none of them depicted black characters the way Have Gun -- Will Travel did or addressed racism as bluntly. While Boone may have had other foibles, his refusal to be cowed by the threat of controversy or the loss of popularity shows that he was a man of courage.

The entire series has been released on DVD by CBS/Paramount.

The Actors

For the biographies of Richard Boone, Kam Tong, and Lisa Lu, see the 1960 post for Have Gun -- Will Travel.

Notable Guest Stars

Season 4, Episodes 17 & 18, "A Quiet Night in Town, Parts 1 & 2": Sydney Pollack (shown on the left, directed They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, The Way We Were, Absence of Malice, Tootsie, and Out of Africa) plays troublemaker Joe Culp. Fredd Wayne (Sgt. Bill Hollis on Code 3) plays his brother Ben. Kevin Hagen (John Colton on Yancy Derringer, Inspector Dobbs Kobick on Land of the Giants, and Dr. Hiram Baker on Little House on the Prairie) plays his friend Jory Selzer. James Best (Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazzard) plays their friend Ry Smith. Robert Carricart (Pepe Cordoza on T.H.E. Cat) plays sheepherder Joselito Kincaid. Robert Emhardt (Sgt. Vinton on The Kids From C.A.P.E.R.) plays restaurateur Ray Remy.

Season 4, Episode 19, "The Princess and the Gunfighter": Arlene Martel (shown on the right, played Tiger on Hogan's Heroes and Spock's Vulcan bride on Star Trek) plays runaway Princess Alisna Sarafina. Shirley O'Hara (Debbie Flett on The Bob Newhart Show) plays her chaperon Duchess de Bernal. Hal Needham (Hollywood's highest-paid stuntman who invented numerous stunt devices, was a double for Richard Boone and Burt Reynolds, and directed Smokey and the Bandit, Hooper, and Cannonball Run) plays one of the princess' two guides. 

Season 4, Episode 20, "Shadow of a Man": Kent Smith (shown on the left, starred in Cat People, This Land Is Mine, Hitler's Children, Curse of the Cat People, Nora Prentiss, The Spiral Staircase, and The Fountainhead and played Dr. Robert Morton on Peyton Place and Edgar Scoville on The Invaders) plays cotton grower John Sutton. Dianne Foster (starred in Night Passage, The Last Hurrah, and The Deep Six) plays his wife Marion. Walter Burke (starred in All the King's Men, Jack the Giant Killer, and Support Your Local Sheriff! and played Tim Potter on Black Saddle) plays instigator Andy Miggs. Mike Kellin (appeared in At War With the Army, The Wackiest Ship in the Army, The Boston Strangler, and Midnight Express and played C.P.O. Willie Miller on The Wackiest Ship in the Army) plays cattle rancher Logan Adcock. Robert Karnes (see the biography section for the 1961 post on The Lawless Years) plays store owner Farley Dyson. Hal Needham (see "The Princess and the Gunfighter" above) plays one of Adcock's henchmen.

Season 4, Episode 21, "Long Way Home": Ivan Dixon (shown on the right, starred in A Raisin in the Sun, Nothing But a Man, and A Patch of Blue and played Sgt. James Kinchloe on Hogan's Heroes) plays wanted fugitive Isham Spruce. William Talman (see the biography section for the 1961 post on Perry Mason) plays a sheriff offering a reward for his capture. Rayford Barnes (see the biography section for the 1960 post on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp) plays his trigger-happy deputy. John Milford (see the biography section for the 1960 post on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp) plays bounty hunter Hutton. 

Season 4, Episode 22, "Tax Gatherer": Roy Barcroft (Col. Logan on The Adventures of Spin and Marty and Roy on Gunsmoke) plays rancher Lewt Cutter. Harry Carey, Jr.  (shown on the near left, starred in Red River, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Mister Roberts, and The Searchers and played Bill Burnett on The Adventures of Spin and Marty) plays cattle rustler Jess Turner. Hal Needham (shown on the far left, see "The Princess and the Gunfighter" above) plays his son Ham. Raymond Hatton (starred in Oliver Twist (1916), The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Lord Jim, played Marshal Sandy Hopkins in 28 westerns and Rusty Joslin in 7 other westerns, and played The Mole on Dick Tracy) plays Mayor Trevor of Bad Dog. Olan Soule (Aristotle "Tut" Jones on Captain Midnight, Ray Pinker on Dragnet (1952-59), and Fred Springer on Arnie) plays the Hotel Carlton desk clerk.

Season 4, Episode 23, "The Fatal Flaw": Allyn Joslyn (shown on the right, appeared in Only Angels Have Wings, My Sister Eileen, Heaven Can Wait (1943), and Titanic (1953) and played George Howell on The Eve Arden Show and Colonel Harvey T. Blackwell on McKeever & the Colonel) plays famously upright Marshal Lyle McKendrick. Royal Dano (appeared in The Far Country, Moby Dick, and The Outlaw Josey Wales) plays elusive criminal Curley Ashburne. 

Season 4, Episode 24, "Fandango": Andrew Prine  (shown on the left, starred in The Miracle Worker, The Devil's Brigade, Bandolero!, and Chisum and played Andy Guthrie on The Wide Country, Dr. Roger Helvick on Dr. Kildare, Timothy Pride on The Road West, Dan Costello on W.E.B., and Wayne/Wyatt Donnelly on Weird Science) plays wanted killer Bobby Olson. Jerry Summers (appeared in Surf Party, Coogan's Bluff, and Hickey & Boggs and played Ira on The High Chaparral) plays his friend James Horton. Karl Swenson (Lars Hanson on Little House on the Prairie) plays their victim's brother Lloyd Petty. Robert Gist (directed multiple episodes of Peter Gunn, Naked City, and The Richard Boone Show and was Agnes Moorehead's second husband) plays Texas Sheriff Ernie Backwater. Rodolfo Acosta (Vaquero on The High Chapparal) plays his deputy Sanchez. Leonid Kinskey (appeared in Duck Soup, Les Miserables (1935), Ball of Fire, and Casablanca and played Pierre Quincy on The People's Choice) plays Hotel Carlton guest Yevgeny.

Season 4, Episode 25, "The Last Judgment": Harold J. Stone (shown on the right, played John Kennedy on The Grand Jury, Hamilton Greeley on My World and Welcome to It, and Sam Steinberg on Bridget Loves Bernie) plays self-appointed judge Elroy Greenleaf. Leo Gordon (Big Mike McComb on Maverick) plays his deputy Moley. Robert Stevenson (bartender Big Ed on Richard Drum and Marshal Hugh Strickland on Stagecoach West) plays juror Cutler. 

Season 4, Episode 26, "The Gold Bar": John Fiedler (shown on the left, appeared in 12 Angry Men, That Touch of Mink, The World of Henry Orient, Kiss Me, Stupid, Girl Happy, The Odd Couple, True Grit and played Emil Peterson on The Bob Newhart Show and Woody on Buffalo Bill) plays bank teller James Turner. Val Avery (appeared in The Magnificent Seven, Papillon, and Donnie Brasco and played Lt. Al Costello on East Side/West Side) plays bank owner B.J. Throckton. Robert Stevenson (see "The Last Judgment" above) plays a police patrolman.

Season 4, Episode 27, "Everyman": David White (Larry Tate on Bewitched) plays store owner Cus Mincus. Barry Kelley (shown on the right, starred in The Asphalt Jungle, The Manchurian Candidate, and The Love Bug and played Mr. Slocum on Pete and Gladys and Mr. Hergesheimer on Mister Ed) plays gunfighter killer Danceman. Vic Perrin (was the narrator on Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, was the control voice on The Outer Limits, and did voicework on Jonny Quest, Star Trek, Scooby Doo, Where Are You?, and Mission: Impossible!) plays drunkard Philpotts. Roy Engel (Doc Martin on Bonanza, the police chief on My Favorite Martian, and President Ulysses S. Grant on The Wild, Wild West) plays the Temple City sheriff.

Season 4, Episode 28, "The Siege": Robert Karnes (see "Shadow of a Man" above) plays Phoenix-area rancher Ezekial Tyler. Perry Lopez (starred in Mister Roberts, Taras Bulba, Kelly's Heroes, and Chinatown and played Joaquin Castaneda on Zorro) plays captured outlaw Bobby Joe Brent. Mike Kellin (see "Shadow of a Man" above) plays his brother Alvah. Hal Smith (shown on the left, see the biography section for the 1961 post on The Andy Griffith Show) plays mermaid manager Sol Werner. 

Season 4, Episode 29, "Long Weekend": Roy Barcroft (see "Tax Gatherer" above) plays mountain man Shep Montrose. Stephen Roberts (Stan Peeples on Mr. Novak) plays Sunshine Creek elder Otis Woodward. Ned Glass (MSgt. Andy Pendleton on The Phil Silvers Show, Sol Cooper on Julia, and Uncle Moe Plotnick on Bridget Loves Bernie) plays fellow elder Clyde Tatum. Dallas Mitchell (Detective Fisher on The Asphalt Jungle) plays a pool-playing cowhand. Clegg Hoyt (Mac on Dr. Kildare) plays a bartender. Ralph Moody (see the biography section for the 1961 post on The Rifleman) plays Montrose's father-in-law-to-be Valentine Collins.

Season 4, Episode 30, "El Paso Stage": Jeremy Slate (starred in The Sons of Katie Elder, The Devil's Brigade, and True Grit and played Larry Lahr on The Aquanauts) plays legal scholar Frank DeWitt. Karl Swenson (see "Fandango" above) plays his saloon owner father Sam. Buddy Ebsen (shown on the right, played Sgt. Hunk Marriner on Northwest Passage, Jed Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies, Barnaby Jones on Barnaby Jones, and Roy Houston on Matt Houston) plays Bracketville Marshal Elmo Crane. Hank Patterson (Fred Ziffel on Green Acres and Petticoat Junction and Hank on Gunsmoke) plays Frank's friend Judge Robbins.

Season 4, Episode 31, "Duke of Texas": Scott Marlowe (shown on the left, played Nick Koslo on Executive Suite, Eric Brady on Days of Our Lives, and Michael Burke on Valley of the Dolls) plays Austrian Price Franz von Pishin. Eduard Franz (starred in The Thing From Another World, Lady Godiva of Coventry, The Jazz Singer (1952), Sins of Jezebel, and The Indian Fighter and played Gregorio Verdugo on Zorro and Dr. Edward Raymer on Breaking Point) plays his advisor Ludwig Donner. Robert Carricart (see "A Quiet Night in Town" above) plays fake Mexican General Pablo Mendez. Roberto Contreras (Pedro on The High Chapparal) plays one of his supposed soldiers.

Season 4, Episode 32, "Broken Image": Kenneth Tobey (shown on the right, starred in The Thing From Another World, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, and It Came From Beneath the Sea and played Chuck Martin on Whirlybirds and Russ Conway on I Spy) plays Bog Oak town hero Tim Decker. Johnny Eimen (Monk on McKeever and the Colonel) plays his son Larry. Hal Needham (see "The Princess and the Gunfighter" above) plays the Bradley Gang lookout.

Season 4, Episode 33, "Brother's Keeper": Karl Swenson (see "Fandango" above) plays the Prairie Orchard sheriff. Wright King (see the biography section for the 1960 post on Wanted Dead or Alive) plays the town bartender Cull. Betsy Jones-Moreland (Judge Elinor Harrelson in 7 Perry Mason TV movies) plays his girlfriend Topaz. Ed Nelson (Michael Rossi on Peyton Place and Ward Fuller on The Silent Force) plays telegrapher Rack. 

Season 4, Episode 34, "Bearbait": Martin West (starred in Freckles, The Man From Galveston, and Lord Love a Duck and played Dr. Phil Brewer on General Hospital and Don Hughes on As the World Turns) plays wild ranch hand Bunk Commerson. Judi Meredith (shown on the left, played Bonnie Sue McAfee on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show and The George Burns Show, Monique Devereaux on Hotel de Paree, and Betty Cramer on Ben Casey) plays waitress Sally. Ralph Reed (see the biography section for the 1960 post on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp) plays Commerson's friend Burt. Richard Rust (Hank Tabor on Sam Benedict) plays Commerson's friend Sim. Frank Ferguson (Gus Broeberg on My Friend Flicka, Eli Carson on Peyton Place, and Dr. Barton Stuart on Petticoat Junction) plays their boss Kincaid. Stephen Roberts (see "Long Weekend" above) plays the Deerfield sheriff.

Season 4, Episode 35, "The Cure": Norma Crane (shown on the right, appeared in Tea and Sympathy, They Call Me Mr. Tibbs!, and Fiddler on the Roof and played Rayola Dean on Mister Peepers) plays renowned trick shooter Martha Jane Conroy, aka Calamity Jane. Olan Soule (see "Tax Gatherer" above) plays hotel manager McGinnis. Craig Duncan (Sgt. Stanfield/Banfield on Mackenzie's Raiders) plays a bartender.

Season 4, Episode 36, "The Road": George Kennedy (shown on the left, starred in Charade, The Sons of Katie Elder, The Dirty Dozen, Cool Hand Luke, and The Naked Gun and played MP Sgt. Kennedy on The Phil Silvers Show, Father Samuel Cavanaugh on Sarge, Bumper Morgan on The Blue Knight, and Carter McKay on Dallas) plays sleeping camp owner Preston. Trevor Bardette (see the biography section for the 1960 post on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp) plays prospector Fred Hensoe. Joel Crothers (Lt. Nathan Forbes on Dark Shadows, Julian Cannell on Somerset, Dr. Miles Cavanugh on The Edge of Night, and Jack Stanfield Lee on Santa Barbara) plays his son John. Perry Cook (Barney Udall on Hunter) plays his colleague Sibley. Gene Lyons (Commander Dennis Randall on Ironside) plays scavenger Merton. Hal Needham (see "The Princess and the Gunfighter" above) plays one of his accomplices.

Season 4, Episode 37, "The Uneasy Grave": Pippa Scott (shown on the near right, see the biography section for the 1960 post on Mr. Lucky) plays recent widow Kathy Rousseau. Werner Klemperer (shown on the far right, starred in Five Steps to Danger, Operation Eichmann, and Judgment at Nuremberg and played Col. Klink on Hogan's Heroes) plays her husband's killer Leander Johnson. Shirley O'Hara (see "The Princess and the Gunfighter" above) plays one of Johnson's defenders. William Bryant (McCall on Combat!, President Ulysses S. Grant on Branded, Col. Crook on Hondo, Lt. Shilton on Switch, and the Director on The Fall Guy) plays a man standing on the street who gives Paladin directions.

Season 4, Episode 38, "Soledad Crossing": Ken Curtis (shown on the left, see the biography section for the 1961 post on Ripcord) plays farmer Tom Strickland. Walker Edmiston (Enik on Land of the Lost and voiced Dr. Blinkey and Orson Vulture on H.R. Pufnstuf, Admiral Scuttlebutt, Bela, and Big Chief Sitting Duck on Lidsville, Sebastian on Dumbo's Circus, and Sir Thornberry on Adventures of the Gummi Bears) plays hangman Phineas Gaunt. 

Season 5, Episode 1, "The Vigil": Mary Fickett (Sally Smith and Dr. Karen Lovell on The Edge of Night, Liz Thorpe on The Nurses, and Ruth Martin on All My Children) plays nurse Adella Ligget. George Kennedy (see "The Road" above) plays murder suspect Deke. 

Season 5, Episode 2, "The Education of Sarah Jane": Duane Eddy (shown on the right, popular guitar instrumentalist with hits like "Rebel Rouser," "Shazam," and "Ramrod") plays family feuder Carter Whitney. Peggy Rhea (Rose Burton on The Waltons, Lulu Hogg on The Dukes of Hazzard, Ivy Baker on Step by Step, and Jean Kelly on Grace Under Fire) plays the Hotel Carlton charlady. 

Season 5, Episode 3, "The Revenger": Tom Conway (see the biography section for the 1960 post on The Betty Hutton Show) plays safari hunter Commodore Newcombe. Shug Fisher (see the biography section for the 1961 post on Ripcord) plays insurance salesman Altman. Rayford Barnes (see the biography section for the 1960 post on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp) plays convicted killer Jelly. Harry Carey, Jr. (see "Tax Gatherer" above) plays his escort Sheriff Conlon. Russell Arms (vocalist who regularly appeared on Your Hit Parade) plays former army major Ralph Turner. Bud Osborne (played stagecoach drivers in dozens of westerns and in episodes of The Cisco Kid, Annie Oakley, The Range Rider, Hopalong Cassidy, The Lone Ranger, The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, Rescue 8, Zorro, Bronco, Law of the Plainsman, Johnny Ringo, Cheyenne, The Texan, Maverick, and Rawhide) plays their stagecoach driver.

Season 5, Episode 4, "Odds for Big Red": Hope Holliday (sister of Judy Holliday, appeared in The Apartment, The Ladies Man, Irma la Douce, and The Rounders) plays saloon owner Big Red. Virginia Capers (shown on the left, Tony Award winner, appeared in Lady Sings the Blues, Trouble Man, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off and played Delia Bonner on Downtown, Bertha Griffin-Lamour on Frank's Place, and Hattie Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) plays saloon girl Ada. Richard Ney (appeared in Mrs. Miniver, Joan of Arc, Ivy, and Midnight Lace) plays gambler Guy Fremont. Robert Karnes (see "Shadow of a Man" above) plays card player Vern Potter. Perry Cook (see "The Road" above) plays card player Ernie.

Season 5, Episode 5, "A Proof of Love": Charles Bronson (shown on the right, starred in The Magnificent Seven, The Dirty Dozen, Once Upon a Time in the West, The Valachi Papers, and four Death Wish movies and played Mike Kovac on Man With a Camera, Paul Moreno on Empire, and Linc Murdock on The Travels of Jamie McPheeters) plays lovesick Henry Gray. Shirley O'Hara (see "The Princess and the Gunfighter" above) plays his mother. George Kennedy (see "The Road" above) plays his rival Rud Saxon. Jack Marshall (see the soundtrack paragraph in the 1960 post on The Deputy) plays a banjo player. 

Season 5, Episode 6, "The Gospel Singer": John McLiam (appeared in Cool Hand Luke, In Cold Blood, Sleeper, The Missouri Breaks, and First Blood) plays Bugbear Mayor Harper. Roy Engel (see "Everyman" above) plays leading citizen Barber. Noah Keen (Det. Lt. Carl Bone on Arrest and Trial) plays gang leader Harry Durbin. Ed Peck (Officer Clark on The Super and Officer Kirk on Happy Days) plays Durbin henchman Sims.

Season 5, Episode 7, "The Race": Ben Johnson (shown on the left, starred in Shane, The Wild Bunch, Chisum, and The Getaway and played Sleeve on The Monroes) plays ranch owner Sam Crabbe. Michael Pate (starred in Face to Face, Julius Caesar, Hondo, and Tower of London and played Chief Vittoro on Hondo and Det. Sgt. Vic Maddern on Matlock) plays Indian Chief Tamasun. 

Season 5, Episode 8, "The Hanging of Aaron Gibbs": Odetta (shown on the right, folk singer and civil rights activist known as "The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement") plays wife of convicted man Sarah Gibbs. Rupert Crosse (appeared in Shadows, Too Late Blues, and The Reivers and played Det. George Robinson on The Partners) plays her husband Aaron Jedidiah Gibbs. Roy Barcroft (see "Tax Gatherer" above) plays the Dunbar marshal. Barry Cahill (Capt. Curt Douglas on 12 O'Clock High and Buck Vernon on The Waltons) plays Gibbs accomplice Perrell. Hal Needham (see "The Princess and the Gunfighter" above) plays Gibbs accomplice Turner. Peggy Rea (see "The Education of Sarah Jane" above) plays a sympathetic widow. 

Season 5, Episode 9, "The Piano": Keith Andes (shown on the left, starred in Project X, Clash by Night, and The Girl Most Likely and played Col. Frank Dawson on This Man Dawson, Keith Granville on Glynis, and voiced Birdman on Birdman) plays world renowned pianist Franz Lister. Antoinette Bower (Fox Devlin on Neon Rider) plays his girlfriend Sybil Lansing. Arny Freeman (brother of saxophonist Bud Freeman, played Lucius Minnow on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman) plays his manager Freddie. Richard Reeves (Mr. Murphy on Date With the Angels) plays barfly Jerris. Roy Engel (see "Everyman" above) plays the piano thief.

Season 5, Episode 10, "Ben Jalisco": Charles Bronson (see "A Proof of Love" above) plays ex-con bounty hunter Ben Jalisco. Coleen Gray (shown on the right, starred in Kiss of Death, Nightmare Alley, The Killing, The Vampire, The Leech Woman, and The Phantom Planet and played Muriel Clifford on McCloud) plays his wife Lucy. John Litel (starred in Back in Circulation, On Trial, Murder in the Blue Room, four Nancy Drew films, and eight Henry Aldrich films and played the Governor on Zorro and Dan Murchison on Stagecoach West) plays her protector Sheriff John Armstedder.

Season 5, Episode 11, "The Brothers": Peggy Stewart (starred in Oregon Trail, Son of Zorro, and Desert Vigilante and played Cherien's mother on The Riches) plays vengeful widow Edna Raleigh. Buddy Ebsen (see "El Paso Stage" above) plays her husband's killer Bram Holden. Paul Hartman (shown on the left, played Albie Morrison on The Pride of the Family, Charlie on Our Man Higgins, Emmett Clark on The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry R.F.D., and Bert Smedley on Petticoat Junction) plays prospector Possum Corbin. Hal Needham (see "The Princess and the Gunfighter" above) plays a Holden henchman. 

Season 5, Episode 12, "A Drop of Blood": Martin Gabel (starred in The Thief, Marnie, and Lady in Cement) plays Jewish rancher Nathan Shotness. Mike Kellin (see "Shadow of a Man" above) plays his future son-in-law Faivel Melamed. Milton Selzer (shown on the right, played Parker on Get Smart, Jake Winkelman on The Harvey Korman Show, Abe Werkfinder on The Famous Teddy Z, and Manny Henry on Valley of the Dolls) plays their rabbi Reb Elya. Noah Keen (see "The Gospel Singer" above) plays Shotness antagonist Billy Buckstone. Snub Pollard (prolific silent-movie comic actor who appeared in Keystone Cops comedies, dozens of Harold Lloyd shorts, Laurel and Hardy and Andy Clyde shorts, a series of his own shorts, and as Tex Ritter's sidekick Pee Wee in several 1930s westerns) plays a messenger.

Season 5, Episode 13, "A Knight to Remember": Hans Conried (shown on the left, see the biography section for the 1960 post on Rocky and His Friends) plays quixotic estate owner Don Esteban Gutierrez Caloca. Wright King (see "Brother's Keeper" above) plays his son Alejandro. Lane Chandler (see "Ben Jalisco" above) plays landlord Bender. Robert Carricart (see "A Quiet Night in Town" above) plays his Indian worker Dirty Dog. Susan Brown (Nancy Pollock Karr on The Edge of Night, Martha Ferguson on Bright Promise, Constance MacKenzie Carson on Return to Peyton Place, Maggie Malone on Mariah, Adelaide Fitzgibbon on As the World Turns, Dorothy Lane on Santa Barbara, and Gail Baldwin on General Hospital) plays Paladin's love interest.

Season 5, Episode 14, "Blind Circle": Hank Patterson (shown on the right, see "El Paso Stage" above) plays hit man Jess Larker. Gerald Gordon (Dr. Nick Bellini on The Doctors, Felix Morger on Highcliffe Manor, and Skip Franklin on Valerie) plays Cattlemen's Association president Hughes. Woody Chambliss (Captain Tom on Yancy Derringer and Lathrop on Gunsmoke) plays his associate McCormack. Ellen Atterbury (wife of Malcolm Atterbury, played Mrs. Bixby on Wagon Train) plays boarding house owner Mrs. Madison. Bob Jellison (Waldo Binney on The Life of Riley and Bobby the Bellboy on I Love Lucy) plays one of her clients Mr. Parsons.

Season 5, Episode 15, "The Kid": Jacques Aubuchon (starred in The Silver Chalice, The Big Boodle, and The Love God? and played Chief Urulu on McHale's Navy) plays slacker Moriarity. Flip Mark (shown on the left, played Flip Rogers on Lassie, Brook Hooten on Guestward Ho!, and Larry Walker on Fair Exchange) plays his son Silver Strike. Roy Engel (see "Everyman" above) plays bartender Rudy. Eleanor Audley (Mother Eunice Douglas on Green Acres and Mrs. Vincent on My Three Sons) plays a school teacher.

Season 5, Episode 16, "Squatters Rights": Warren Stevens (shown on the right, starred in The Frogmen, The Barefoot Contessa, Deadline U.S.A., and Forbidden Planet, played Lt. William Storm on Tales of the 77th Bengal Lancers, and was the voice of John Bracken on Bracken's World) plays cattle rancher Costigan. Carlos Romero (Rico Rodriguez on Wichita Town, Romero Serrano on Zorro, and Carlo Agretti on Falcon Crest) plays his scout Juan Quintos. Robert Stevenson (see "The Last Judgment" above) plays squatter Clemenceau. Hal Needham (see "The Princess and the Gunfighter" above) plays Costigan henchman Sim. Sandy Kenyon (Des Smith on Crunch and Des, Shep Baggott on The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, and Reverend Kathrun on Knots Landing) plays cattle rustler Jeb Turner.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Top Cat (1961)

After their success launching their first prime-time animated series The Flintstones in the fall of 1960, Joseph Barbera and Bill Hanna came up with a second series for the fall of 1961 using the same formula--basing it on a beloved live-action TV sitcom of the 1950s, in this case You'll Never Get Rich, later known as The Phil Silvers Show. Such was the popularity of The Flintstones that Barbera years later recalled that he was able to sell the series using only a sketch of the main character, rather than any developed stories or supporting characters. But once the series began development, they cemented the connection to Silvers' show by having veteran comedian Arnold Stang do his best Phil Silvers impression in voicing the title role. They also hired actor Maurice Gosfield, who played Pvt. Duane Doberman to Silvers' Sgt. Bilko, as the voice of Top Cat's sidekick Benny the Ball, and they hired writers like Barry Blitzer, who had written 17 scripts for The Phil Silvers Show. Like Bilko, Top Cat is a financial schemer always looking for an opportunity to make a quick buck, though he always plans for the rest of his gang to also benefit if he is successful. He is always running afoul of beat cop Charlie Dibble, who is constantly threatening to bust him for not keeping his alley clean, using his call box phone, or being somehow involved in whatever crime Dibble has been assigned to solve. But despite their seemingly antagonistic relationship, Dibble is actually fond of Top Cat and his antics. In the very first episode "Hawaii Here We Come" (September 27, 1961), Dibble becomes depressed at the prospect of Top Cat and his crew having drowned when they jump off a cruise ship after Dibble accuses them of passing counterfeit currency. Likewise, in "Top Cat Falls in Love" (November 8, 1961), Dibble is saddened thinking that Top Cat is near death, when in actuality Top Cat has only faked a rare illness to spend more time with nurse Miss LaRue with whom he is infatuated.

But while Barbera and others considered Top Cat to be one of the most sophisticated animated series they ever produced, it basically used only a handful of story lines recycled over and over, and the characters always wind up back where they started at the end of each episode, no better or worse off for all their frantic activity. Just in the 14 episodes that aired in 1961 alone, there are two stories about Top Cat failing to realize he has a fortune in his hands and throwing it away. In "The Maharajah of Pookajee" (October 4, 1961) Top Cat reads about a famed maharajah coming to town who gives out valuable rubies to people he likes. So in order to get into the hotel where the maharajah will be staying, Top Cat and the gang impersonate him and his entourage, even dispensing fake glass rubies, but after being found out by Dibble, they flee the hotel and Top Cat runs into the real maharajah and is given a ruby when he helps him up. But naturally Top Cat thinks this is just another imposter handing out fake glass, so he tosses it into the bay until he finds out from Dibble that the ruby was real. By then it is too late, and Top Cat has squandered an opportunity to achieve the wealth he seeks. Likewise in "The Tycoon" (December 27, 1961) Benny the Ball is given a check made out to Top Cat for a million dollars by a billionaire who wants to imitate a generous TV character (based on the real-life TV show The Millionaire), but Top Cat refuses to believe the check is real and tears it up into many pieces that then wind up in the city dump, once again thwarting his dreams of wealth.

We also get two romance-driven plots that go nowhere. In "Top Cat Falls in Love" (November 8, 1961) Top Cat becomes infatuated with a nurse he encounters while visiting Benny in the hospital. As mentioned above, he fakes a rare disease to get admitted to the hospital, figuring that he can wear her down and marry her, only to find that she is engaged to a doctor in another town, leaving Top Cat with a burly replacement nurse that he then has to trick in order to escape from. In "Choo-Choo's Romance" (December 6, 1961), Choo-Choo falls for Parisian kitten Goldie living in a nearby apartment, and Top Cat goes to great lengths to help him romance her, convinced that once he really gets to know her he won't be so enamored. This scheme requires Top Cat to fake his own death in a duel with Goldie's boyfriend Pierre, but when Choo-Choo considers a life without Top Cat and the rest of the gang, he abandons Goldie and she returns to Pierre. In other words, the bottom line in Top Cat is that where you are is the best place you can be--striving for wealth or romance will not bring happiness.

The same theme is hammered home in "The Missing Heir" (October 28, 1961) when Top Cat sees an ad in the paper notifying the heir of a million-dollar estate that he must come forward within 24 hours or lose the inheritance. Since Benny has a few of the physical characteristics mentioned in the ad, Top Cat has him pose as the missing heir, but then the real heir shows up just as the cats expose attempts by the butler and family dog to do away with Benny and get the inheritance for themselves, meaning that Top Cat and his gang walk away with nothing because the real heir inherits the esetate. Even worse, the real heir gives away his fortune and shows up in Hoagy's Alley wanting to join Top Cat's gang, as if belonging to his gang is more desirable than being what Top Cat is constantly seeking--to become rich.

One of the characteristics of The Flintstones that made it such a big hit was its clever skewering of contemporary pop culture and modern conveniences reimagined in Stone Age form, thereby confirming the old adage that there's nothing new under the sun. Top Cat did not take the same approach in recasting human foibles in cat-centric terms--instead the cats wear human clothes, can drive a car, and converse with humans as if they speak the same language. But the series does take a poke at several popular TV shows in episodes such as "The Unscratchables" (December 13, 1961), a painfully obvious jab at the very popular series The Untouchables replete with mobsters and the cats decked out in zoot suits. " The Maharajah of Pookajee" has more mobsters, whom Top Cat first takes for actors from the popular shows Peter Pistol (i.e., Peter Gunn) or Have Gun -- Will Shoot (i.e., Have Gun -- Will Travel), but these are merely winks to the viewing audience rather than a developed satire. However, "Naked Town" (November 18, 1961) offers a more pointed critique of the TV-obsessed public when Officer Dibble is assigned to keep a block of streets cleared for the filming of an episode for the show Naked Town (i.e., Naked City) and actually ends up aiding a pair of warehouse thieves who show up early and pretend to be TV producers. The ever gullible Dibble is thrown off his guard after Top Cat butters him up when hearing of his choice assignment, suggesting that it could be the first step to an acting career and an Academy Award so that when the imposter producers appear, Dibble bends over backwards to please them, as do Top Cat and the gang, and sees nothing suspicious when they tell Dibble to wait around the corner while the crooks empty a warehouse full of new merchandise with Top Cat's help.

However, TV viewing audiences were not star-struck when Top Cat was originally broadcast. It failed to crack the top 30 and was canceled after one season, though it did return in syndication shown during morning children's programming. As documented below, Hanna-Barbera considered resurrecting the series a few years later, but after Maurice Gosfield's death, those plans were canceled. The Top Cat characters would resurface on later Hanna-Barbera ensemble shows such as Yogi's Treasure Hunt and Yogi's Gang. And in 1988 they released a TV movie called Top Cat and the Beverly Hills Cats with many of the original voice actors reprising their roles. Though remembered fondly by many today, Top Cat falls somewhere in the middle of the pack for cartoons of the era--certainly head and shoulders above what was coming out of UPI but below Hanna-Barbera's better offerings The Flintstones and The Jetsons as well as Jay Ward's Bullwinkle Show. One last legacy note--the trademark wheezing laugh from Dick Dastardly's dog sidekick Muttley was first voiced by Hanna-Barbera regular Don Messick while playing the dog Griswold in the episode "The Missing Heir."

The theme song and scores for individual episodes of Top Cat were composed by Hanna-Barbera musical director Hoyt Curtin. Born Hoyt Stoddard Curtin in Los Angeles in 1922, he grew up in San Bernadino where his father sold insurance. Curtin started playing piano at age 5 and won a talent contest with his singing at age 12. In junior high school he led his own combo, and after serving in the Navy during World War II he enrolled at USC  to study music. His original plan was to write scores for feature films but after only being offered work on such B-film fare as Mesa of Lost Women, Jail Bait, and Plan 9 From Outer Space, he instead concentrated on radio and TV commercials. In 1957 he worked with Hanna-Barbera on a Schlitz beer commercial, which they remembered after leaving MGM to set up their own studio. When producing their first cartoon series The Ruff and Ready Show, they called Curtin with a lyric and asked him to write a score for it, which he was able to do in about 5 minutes. Thereafter he became their sole musical composer and director, writing themes to their iconic cartoon series Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, and Jonny Quest, to name but a few. He continued working for Hanna-Barbera until 1989, his last credit being for The Smurfs, and finally retired from composing in 1992. He passed away December 3, 2000 at age 78. Since Curtin tended to use the same musicians from one series to the next, the vocal group singing the theme to Top Cat is very likely the Randy Van Horne Singers, the group Curtin used when lyrics were added to The Flintstones theme in Season 3.

The complete series has been released on DVD by Warner Home Video.

The Actors

For the biography of John Stephenson, see the 1961 post for The Flintstones.

Arnold Stang

Although he claimed to be from Chelsea, Massachusetts, Stang was born in New York City on September 28, 1918. But by age 9 he was living in Chelsea when he sent a postcard to a New York radio station requesting an audition. When the audition was granted, Stang secretly took a bus without his parents' knowledge to Manhattan and wound up being offered a job, which he then had to reveal to his parents after returning home. It was the beginning of a long and prolific career in radio, film, and television in which Stang would play a host of Brooklyn-accented wiseguys, except for his role on Top Cat for which he was required to mimic Phil Silvers of Sgt. Bilko fame. But long before that as a child voice actor he appeared on children's radio programs such as Let's Pretend, The Horn and Hardhart Children's Show, and American Pageant of Youth before moving on to all-age comedies like The Goldbergs and crime dramas like Gangbusters. In the 1940s he decide to try his hand in Hollywood, where he had bit parts in films such as My Sister Eileen, Seven Days' Leave, and Let's Go Steady. He eventually decided to return to New York and to radio, landing regular work first on The Al Jolson Show and by 1947 on The Milton Berle Show. Stang also found voicework for Paramount cartoons, providing the voice for the mouse Herman in a series of Herman and Katnip shorts, and also ventured into early New York-based television on shows such as Laughter in Paris and The Henry Morgan Show, but he would not join Berle's TV show  until 1953. His exposure on Berle's show led to a flood of offers, including joining the TV version of The Goldbergs and landing a prime dramatic role in the feature The Man With the Golden Arm. He also had a few TV guest spots on shows such as December Bride and The Red Skelton Hour before returning to Hollywood in the early 1960s, which led to spots on Wagon Train and Bonanza as well as being recruited for the title voice role on Top Cat.

Top Cat would not be his last regular TV role. After appearing in large ensemble features The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm and It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, Stang was cast as Stanley Stubbs in the short-lived female Navy comedy Broadside in 1965, the same year he appeared in the country exploitation feature Second Fiddle to a Steel Guitar and provided the voice of Nurtle the Turtle in the animated Pinocchio in Outer Space. In the late 1960s he was a regular performer on The Jonathan Winters Show and appeared in the campy LSD feature Skidoo as well as the underwater adventure Hello Down There. In 1970 he starred opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in the bodybuilder's first feature film Hercules in New York and spent the rest of the decade doing occasional voicework and TV guest spots on Emergency!, Chico and the Man, and Flying High. He reprised the voice of Top Cat for the 1980s animated series Yogi's Treasure Hunt and had his final credits doing a variety of voices for the 1999-2002 animated series Courage the Cowardly Dog. In his later years he and his wife moved to Greenwich, Connecticut and then Needham, Massachusetts. He died from pneumonia in Newton, MA on December 20, 2009 at the age of 91. For a more detailed biography, see WFMU's Beware of the Blog.

Maurice Gosfield

Born in New York City, Maurice Lionel Gosfield grew up in Philadelphia and Evanston, Illinois where he attended high school and first got involved in community theater. In 1934 he was acting in the Ralph Bellamy and Melvyn Douglas Players in Chicago doing Shakespeare before moving to New York and making his Broadway debut in Siege in 1937. During World War II he served in the army as a Technical Sergeant, then returned to the theater after the war ended. He made his TV debut in a 1949 episode of The Clock and had an uncredited part in the feature Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town the following year. But his big break came when he was cast in the Sgt. Bilko pilot The New Recruits in 1955. Writer Nat Hiken recalled in his autobiography that Gosfield showed up at an open casting call with a lengthy list of credits that included not only his handful of theatrical roles but a claim of over 2000 radio appearances and hundreds of TV roles, which Hiken said were impossible to verify. Some of those radio appearances were on a show with Phil Silvers that lasted only a couple of months. Nevertheless, Hiken felt that Gosfield's short portly appearance was perfect for the role of dimwitted Pvt. Duane Doberman (though he was named Pvt. Mulrooney in the pilot) on The Phil Silvers Show. Gosfield's role as Doberman made him a household name, earning him TV's Bachelor of the Year Award in 1957 and an Emmy nomination in 1959. DC Comics even created a series of comic books titled Sgt. Bilko's Pvt. Doberman. But after the show's demise, Gosfield only managed a few TV guest spots on programs such as The Detectives, The Jim Backus Show, One Happy Family, and The Red Skelton Hour before being tabbed to voice Benny the Ball in the Sgt. Bilko-inspired Top Cat in 1961.

Gosfield said that he enjoyed voicing Benny the Ball as much or more than playing Pvt. Doberman because he felt it was more prestigious playing a cat as opposed to someone named after a dog. But after Top Cat's cancellation, he had only one more film role, a cameo as a garbage collector in the Doris Day & James Garner comedy The Thrill of It All in 1963. In 1964 he auditioned for the part of Uncle Fester on The Addams Family but lost out to Jackie Coogan. On October 14, 1964 he became ill while performing at New York Theatre and after being sent to a couple of different hospitals and being prescribed a host of medicines, he suffered a heart attack three days later. He was again rushed to the hospital and survived two more days, during which time he was visited by Arnold Stang, who told him that Hanna-Barbera was planning to revive Top Cat. But two hours after Stang left, Gosfield suffered another heart attack and died at age 51 on October 19, 1964.

Leo de Lyon

Born Irving Levin in Paterson, New Jersey on April 27, 1926, de Lyon got his first big break when he won a competition as a piano-playing comedian on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts in 1947, which led to him getting booked into small theaters around New York. Eventually he worked his way up to larger venues, such as Harold Minsky's Carnival in Manhattan, where he became friends with singer Ralph Young, later of the musical duo Sandler & Young. De Lyon wrote the duo's first ten arrangements and would be recruited decades later to be their music director in the 1970s. After a stint at the Olympia in Miami, he returned to New York to play the Strand Theater. When Josephine Baker returned to America for a triumphant engagement in 1951, de Lyon performed between her sets for 8 months. In 1952 he scored his first regular television role on the sitcom It's a Business, but the show was short-lived and afterward he returned to the nightclub circuit, including traveling to London to play the Palladium with the Platters and Lonnie Donegan in 1956. He returned to TV when he was cast as Spook and Brain on Top Cat in 1961.

After Top Cat was canceled, de Lyon continued his comedy routine but started finding occasional TV guest spots in 1964. After appearing on The New Phil Silvers Show that year, he and Silvers worked up a musical comedy act that opened at the Cork Club in Houston and then moved on to the Sahara in Las Vegas. The duo continued the act for roughly four years. Meanwhile de Lyon logged guest appearances on The Jack Benny Program, My Mother the Car, and Bewitched. In 1967 he voiced Flunkey in the Disney animated feature The Jungle Book. He released a novelty 45 rpm record sometime in the 1960s billed as Leo de Lyon and the Musclemen, who included a young Al Kooper. He had a memorable guest appearance accompanying Dean Martin on a 1970 episode of The Dean Martin Show. He returned to cartoon voicework in the 1980s for Hanna-Barbera on Paw Paws in 1985-86 and Foofur in 1987. And he reprised the voices of Spook and Brain for the 1988 TV movie Top Cat and the Beverly Hills Cats. He retired from performing in 2011 but is still living.

Marvin Kaplan

Marvin Wilbur Kaplan was born in Brooklyn in 1927, the son of a doctor. After graduating from Brooklyn College with an English degree in 1947, he enrolled at USC in the Master's program for radio playwriting. The head of the department was Cecil B. DeMille's older brother William C. DeMille, who, after reading one of Kaplan's one-act plays, advised the aspiring writer to take a job as a stage manager to see firsthand what actors do to writers' lines. Because he did not own a car, Kaplan's options were limited and he wound up at the Circle Theater in Los Angeles, getting the job when they mistook him for somebody else. Several of the plays at the theater were directed by Charlie Chaplin, who refused to be credited because his sons performed there and he didn't want his involvement to negatively reflect on them. Kaplan eventually worked his way into acting in the theater's productions and one night during a performance of a Moliere comedy Katherine Hepburn was in the audience and came backstage afterward to compliment Kaplan on his work. He credits her feedback in making the decision to pursue an acting career. The next day there was a note on the theater bulletin board for him to call MGM, where he was given an appointment with director George Cukor. Cukor told him that Hepburn was acting as his agent and recommended that he be cast in her latest picture Adam's Rib in which Kaplan wound up playing the court stenographer who famously asks the correct spelling of "Pinky," Hepburn's character's nickname. From there he would appear in a string of features such as Francis, The Reformer and the Redhead, and Angels in the Outfield. He moved into radio when he was cast as Alfred Prinzmetal in the sitcom Meet Millie and was retained in the same role when the series moved to television in 1952. In the late 1950s he appeared on Make Room for Daddy and The Red Skelton Hour, then began the 1960s appearing in the Ernie Kovacs comedy feature Wake Me When It's Over and guest starring on M Squad, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, and The Detectives before being cast as the voice of Choo-Choo on Top Cat.

After Top Cat his work in feature films outshone his television appearances. Though he appeared in Jerry Lewis' The Nutty Professor, he later said in an interview that Lewis cut out many of his scenes and was mean to him. But he had a memorable scene with Top Cat alumnus Arnold Stang in It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. He also appeared in Blake Edwards' comedy The Great Race. Meanwhile he was logging more TV guest spots on shows such as McHale's Navy, Honey West, Gomer Pyle USMC, and My Three Sons. He also returned to his original vocation as a script writer, penning episodes of The Addams Family, The Bill Cosby Show, Mod Squad, and Maude. In 1971 he had a recurring role on the comedy The Chicago Teddy Bears, which starred Dean Jones and John Banner. His credits in the 1970s were sparse until he was cast as telephone repairman and regular diner customer Henry on Alice, appearing 82 times between 1978 and 1985. In 1984 he joined the California Artists Radio Theatre and served on its board for 32 years. He also served as President of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists for 8 years. More occasional work followed in the 1980s, including reprising the voice of Choo-Choo in Top Cat and the Beverly Hills Cats. In 1990 he appeared in the David Lynch film Wild at Heart and then was cast as Dwight McGonigle in the TV series On the Air which Lynch had started but left after becoming bored, leading to the show's cancellation after 7 episodes. He appeared as Mr. Gordon in 4 episodes of the Ted Danson series Becker and provided various voices for The Garfield Show between 2008 and 2013. He died of natural causes at age 89 on August 25, 2016. 

Allen Jenkins

Born Alfred McGonegal on Staten Island in 1900, Jenkins was the son of two musical theater performers, Robert and Leona Jenkins. During World War I he helped build ships at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and later found work in the theater as a stage mechanic. He then attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and made his theatrical debut in a production of Checkers. Soon thereafter he would dance in a chorus with up-and-comer James Cagney in Pitter Patter. He would go on to appear in productions of Rain, What Price Glory?, The Front Page, Five Star Final, and Blessed Event. After taking over the role vacated by Spencer Tracy in a Broadway production of The Last Mile, he was summoned to Hollywood by Darryl F. Zanuck and originally signed to Paramount Pictures before moving over to Warner Brothers. His first film appearance came in the 1931 short Straight and Narrow, the first of some 175 film credits in which he often played comic heavies, from gangsters to policemen, including the film version of Blessed Event in 1932, I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang, 42nd Street, A Night at the Ritz, Destry Rides Again, Tin Pan Alley, Dive Bomber, Ball of Fire, and The Inside Story. He broke into television in 1952, appearing on shows such as Racket Squad, The Life of Riley, and I Love Lucy. His first recurring role was playing Johnny on The Duke in 1954, followed by 5 appearances as Alfie Malone on Damon Runyan Theater in 1955-56. Over the years he appeared as the character Muggsy on 11 episodes of The Red Skelton Hour  between 1954-62. He played cab driver Al Murray on 26 episodes of the Jeannie Carson sitcom Hey, Jeannie! in 1956-57 and had a supporting role as an elevator operator in the Doris Day-Rock Hudson feature Pillow Talk in 1959 before being cast as Officer Dibble on Top Cat 2 years later.

Following Top Cat he found steady work doing guest spots on TV show such as The Real McCoys, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Batman, and Bewitched. He also had supporting roles in feature films such as It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, Robin and the 7 Hoods, and For Those Who Think Young. Later in life he publicly admitted to being an alcoholic and reportedly was the first actor to testify about his condition before the U.S. Congress. After contracting lung cancer, he died from complications due to surgery on July 20, 1974 at the age of 74. His last screen credit was in Billy Wilder's feature film version of the play he had appeared in decades before--The Front Page--which was released after his death.

Notable Guest Stars

Because it was an animated series, Top Cat did not have many guest stars known from other shows, except those listed below.

Season 1, Episode 1, "Hawaii Here We Come": Don Messick (see the biography section for the 1961 post on The Flintstones) plays a thief disguised as an old lady.

Season 1, Episode 3, "All That Jazz": Daws Butler (shown on the left, see the biography section for the 1960 post on Rocky and His Friends) plays new cat in town Jazz. Don Messick (see "Hawaii Here We Come" above) plays his sidekick Beau.

Season 1, Episode 4, "The $1,000,000 Derby": Hal Smith (see the biography section for the 1961 post on The Andy Griffith Show) plays a racetrack announcer.

Season 1, Episode 6, "The Missing Heir": Don Messick (see "Hawaii Here We Come" above) plays the dog Griswold.

Season 1, Episode 7, "Top Cat Falls in Love": GeGe Pearson (shown on the right, voiced Crusader Rabbit on Crusader Rabbit) plays nurse Miss LaRue. Don Messick (see "Hawaii Here We Come" above) plays physician Dr. Dawson. Jean Vander Pyl (see the biography section for the 1960 post on The Flintstones) plays a beefy nurse.

Season 1, Episode 8, "A Visit From Mother": Bea Benaderet (see the biography section for the 1960 post on The Flintstones) plays Benny the Ball's mother.

Season 1, Episode 11, "Choo-Choo's Romance": Jean Vander Pyl (see "Top Cat Falls in Love" above) plays Parisian cat Goldie.

Season 1, Episode 12, "The Unscratchables": Herschel Bernardi (shown on the left, see the biography section for the 1960 post on Peter Gunn) plays gangster Muggsy. Bea Benaderet (see "A Visit From Mother" above) plays gangster moll Fifi.

Season 1, Episode 13, "Rafeefleas": Bea Benaderet (see "A Visit From Mother" above) plays Fancy-Fancy's girlfriend Shirley. Jean Vander Pyl (see "Top Cat Falls in Love" above) plays another unnamed Fancy-Fancy girlfriend.

Season 1, Episode 14, "The Tycoon": Don Messick (see "Hawaii Here We Come" above) plays billionaire T.L. Vanderfeller. Bea Benaderet (see "A Visit From Mother" above) plays haberdasher's wife Mildred.