Wednesday, June 29, 2011

My Three Sons (1960)

My Three Sons debuted in the fall of 1960 starring Fred MacMurray in the role of Steve Douglas, a widowed aerospace engineer raising his three sons Mike (Tim Considine), Robbie (Don Grady), and Chip (Stanley Livingston) with the help of his father-in-law Bub O'Casey (William Frawley). The show changed personnel several times over its 12-year run, and eventually had Steve remarrying and adopting his new wife's daughter. But for most of its existence, the show depicted the ups and downs of an all-male household, a sharp contrast to prior family comedies like Leave It to Beaver, Father Knows Best, and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.

However, My Three Sons wasn't the first TV program to feature a single parent --John Forsythe's Bachelor Father debuted in 1957 with Forsythe's character Bentley Gregg playing adoptive father to his orphaned niece (in fact, the November 12, 1960 issue of TV Guide described My Three Sons as "a sort of Bachelor Father with boys"); Chuck Connors played widower Lucas McCain raising his son Mark on The Rifleman, which debuted in 1958; and Lorne Green played widower Ben Cartwright with three adult sons on Bonanza starting in 1959. But My Three Sons was the first to show a house full of men fending for themselves. Much of the show's humor derived from the male housekeeper attempting and often succeeding in fulfilling the roles traditionally performed by the woman of the house. In fact, author Nina Leibman in an article on goes so far as to say, " the bulk of the program's first five years did not focus on the stereotypical male ineptitude for all household chores, but instead continually reinforced the notion that males were, in fact, far domestically superior to the 'hysterical' female guest stars." This theme shows up as early as the second episode, "The Little Ragpicker" (Oct 6, 1960), in which spinster Miss Pitts (Marjorie Eaton) observes what appears to be drunken  behavior on the part of Bub and feels that she must protect Chip from him and spread the awful news to other women in the neighborhood. Of course, her assumptions all turn out to be wrong, and once she faints outside the Douglas house and is revived inside, she has a chance to actually talk to them and see that all is perfectly fine. And in the very first episode, "Chip Off the Old Block" (Sep 29, 1960), both Chip and Steve are being pursued by females but prefer not to be caught. Leibman goes on to say that My Three Sons set the formula for many other situation comedies in years to come that featured single-parent (particularly male) households as a kind of new normal, such as Family Affair and The Courtship of Eddie's Father, whereas those that later showed a single female parent, like The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and Julia, required that the woman have a male advisor, either supernatural or fleshly. Sexual stereotypes also play a role in the episode "Lady Engineer" (Nov 10, 1960) in which Steve is assigned to work with brilliant engineer J.M. Johnson, who he assume is a man. When he sees a woman in the room containing a model of the satellite and telescope he will be working on with Dr. Johnson, he tries explaining it to her in simplistic terms, until he finds out who she really is. From that point forward, he pursues her romantically, and when she has to return to Washington once the assignment is finished, she considers what she has given up romantically in pursuing a professional career.

Other episodes focus on disagreements between the boys, particularly the two oldest, Mike and Robbie; Robbie's maturation; Chip being left out as the youngest son; and Bub's past in show business. And, of course, many episodes feature Steve's sage advice to the boys, although sometimes the adults are portrayed as being foolish, as in "The Elopement" (Dec 22, 1960), in which Bub and Steve assume that Mike and his girlfriend Jean Pearson have gone down to city hall to get married when they are actually just working on a school sociology project.

But perhaps because it was a new series just finding its footing, a couple of the early episodes seem, to use a favorite word of Chip's, "clunky." The show's fourth episode, "Countdown" (Oct 20, 1960) draw a contrived parallel between the precision preparations required to launch a missile and the chaotic activities of the Douglas household as they get ready for work and school on a Monday morning. And the episode "Adjust or Bust" (Nov 3, 1960) contains an overly long slapstick scene in which Steve is driving General Heffler and his aide to their hotel in Mike's cramped jalopy, complete with sped-up film and silent-movie-era piano music. Again, TV Guide described the show as "not the most sparkling idea ever invented for TV," and in episodes like this one, not even the sparkling acting of Fred MacMurray can save it.

The memorable, spritely theme music for the show was composed by Frank De Vol, best known as an arranger, first at Capitol Records, where he worked with Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Tony Bennett, Dinah Shore, Doris Day, and Nat King Cole, for whom he arranged the hit "Nature Boy." He was then given an executive position with Columbia Records, for whom he also recorded a number of instrumental albums released under his last name only. Besides My Three Sons, he also wrote the theme music for Family Affair, Gidget, and The Brady Bunch. He also wrote scores for feature-length films and received four Oscar nominations. And, to top it off, he also was an actor, usually in comic roles on shows such as Get Smart, I Dream of Jeannie, and Petticoat Junction. He also played bandleader Happy Kyne on the Martin Mull talk show parodies Fernwood 2Nite and American 2-Night.

The Actors

Fred MacMurray

By 1960 MacMurray had already enjoyed a long and prolific career in feature-length films, starting out as a romantic lead in the 1930s opposite such stars as Marlene Dietrich, Carole Lombard, Claudette Colbert, and even Katherine Hepburn. But his career had started to tail off in the 1950s, as he was continually cast in second-rate westerns like Good Day for a Hanging and Gun for a Coward. Things began looking up again in 1959 when he began appearing in a string of successful Disney comedies, beginning with The Shaggy Dog, in which he played a wholesome family man, in stark contrast to earlier film roles such as duped insurance salesman Walter Neff in Billy Wilder's noir classic Double Indemnity or cowardly instigator Lt. Tom Keefer in The Caine Mutiny. This new image was perfect for My Three Sons because the idea for the show originally came from sponsor Chevrolet for a series "representative of America" (Leibman,, and MacMurray was half owner of the show. According to the aforementioned TV Guide article, MacMurray was at first reluctant to try his hand at television but was convinced when executive producer Don Fedderson proposed a shooting schedule in which all of his scenes would be shot in 65 days over the course of three months (Leibman says that MacMurray came up with the work arrangement after conferring with Father Knows Best star Robert Young). A shrewd investor in California real estate, MacMurray ran a Sonoma County family ranch which also included a winery still run today, with his daughter Kate as its spokesperson. He was also reputedly very frugal and a staunch conservative, campaigning for Richard Nixon in 1968. He suffered from leukemia late in life and died November 5, 1991.

William Frawley

Frawley became a star playing Lucy and Desi's neighbor Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy from 1951 to 1957, though he had appeared in about 100 films prior to that, after a successful career in vaudeville and on Broadway. He had to lobby mightily for the role on Lucy because he was a known alcoholic and misanthrope. But he became a good friend of Desi Arnaz and never came to the set under the influence. When Lucy ended, he and Vivian Vance were offered a spin-off show, which he was willing to do, but she refused. He played Bub for the first five seasons of My Three Sons, but then became ill and died of a heart attack on March 3, 1966. According to Leibman, Fedderson canceled his $300,000 life insurance policy when he became terminally ill. His character was replaced by William Demarest as Uncle Charlie for the remainder of the series.

Tim Considine

Son of a movie producer, Considine played the oldest of the three sons, Mike, until 1965 when he had a dispute with executive producer Fedderson because he wanted to direct some of the episodes, at which point his character was written out of the series and he was replaced by Barry Livingston as adopted youngest son Ernie. Prior to My Three Sons, he had appeared in a pair of Mickey Mouse Club serials and the 1959 Disney movie The Shaggy Dog with MacMurray. After My Three Sons, he made occasional appearances on TV shows such as Bonanza, Ironside, and Gunsmoke and he appeared in the film Patton as a soldier who is slapped by Patton for being a coward. These days he is a writer and automotive historian and has written for Road and Track magazine.

Don Grady

Born Don Luis Agrati, Grady played the middle son Robbie, until the departure of Tim Considine vaulted him to the eldest son spot. In the later years of the series, his character fell in love with and married Tina, played by Tina Cole, with whom he had a real-life affair. Like Considine, Grady came up through the Disney factory as a Mouseketeer, but had a longer list of TV appearances prior to My Three Sons, including The Rifleman, The Restless Gun, and The Ann Sothern Show. He also made occasional appearances on other shows during his run on My Three Sons, including Wagon Train, Have Gun, Will Travel, The Lucy Show, and Love American Style. He has not had many appearances, however, since My Three Sons went off the air in 1971, but has devoted more time to his music career. He was the drummer and a vocalist in the sunshine pop group Yellow Balloon, and later released solo albums under his given name.

Stanley Livingston

Before My Three Sons, Livingston had appeared in a few films (including the Doris Day vehicle Please Don't Eat the Daisies) and had an occasionally recurring role on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. His real-life brother Barry Livingston was cast as his friend Ernie, who after Tim Considine was written out of the show, is adopted by the Douglases as the new third son. After My Three Sons, his acting appearances were sparse, except for a few B movies in the 90s like Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfolds and Bikini Drive-In. However, he has been active producing children's shows for PBS and producing an 8-DVD package titled The Actor's Journey, which features interviews with over 100 actors on their careers and craft. He has also produced stained-glass works for celebrities such as Tom Hanks and Hugh Hefner.

Notable Guest Stars

Season 1, Episode 1, "Chip Off the Old Block": Patricia Berry (Kate Harris on Harris Against the World) plays Pamela Maclish, a single woman pursuing Steve; Harlan Warde ( banker John Hamilton on The Rifleman and Sheriff John Brannan on The Virginian) appears as Hal Mosby, a friend of Steve's who, with his wife, sets up Steve with Maclish.

Season 1, Episode 2, "The Little Ragpicker": Marjorie Eaton (That Forsyte Woman, Witness for the Prosecution) plays nosy neighbor Cynthia Pitts.

Season 1, Episode 5, "Brotherly Love": Beau Bridges (Seaman Howard Spicer on Ensign O'Toole and Major General Hank Landry on Stargate: Atlantis and Stargate SG-1) plays Mike's friend Russ; Cheryl Holdridge (Julie Foster on Leave It to Beaver) plays Judy Doucette, a pretty girl Robbie likes but who is interested in Mike.

Season 1, Episode 6, "Adjust or Bust": Richard Deacon (Mel Cooley on The Dick Van Dyke Show) plays an old man on a city bus who bores Steve to sleep; Kate Murtagh (Iona Dobson on It's a Man's World) plays the unattractive daughter of a Scandinavian man who is trying to get Steve interested in her.

Season 1, Episode 7, "Lady Engineer": Dorothy Green (Lavinia Tate on Tammy) plays the Lady Engineer, Joan Johnson.

Season 1, Episode 8, "Chip's Harvest": Cynthia Pepper (Margie Clayton on Margie) plays Mike's girlfriend, Jean Pearson.

Season 1, Episode 10, "Lonesome George": George Gobel (The George Gobel Show, Mayor Otis Harper, Jr. on Harper Valley) plays himself; Michael Quinn (Nick Craig on Ghost Squad) plays overzealous hotel PR man Ken Monroe.

Season 1, Episode 11, "Spring Will Be a Little Late": Marta Kristen (Judy Robinson on Lost in Space) plays Peggy "Pig" Meredith, Robbie's mechanic friend who is maturing into a young woman.

Season 1, Episode 13, "The Elopement": Cynthia Pepper returns as Jean Pearson (see "Chip's Harvest" above); Florence MacMichael (Winnie Kirkwood on Mister Ed) plays her mother; Robert P. Lieb (Harry Thompson on Hazel) plays her father.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Rifleman (1960)

In an interview that appeared in the March 12th issue of TV Guide, Chuck Connors, star of The Rifleman, took great pains to point out that his show was not exceptionally violent, that there are killings in only about half the episodes (from what I've seen, the number is somewhat higher than that): "You got to have them, I guess or it wouldn't be a Western." Connors' defense of his show was likely in response to increasing criticism of too much violence on TV, and those involved with the show probably had much to lose from such a backlash given how heavily the brand had been licensed for items like board games, lunch boxes, action figures, and a series of story books, all marketed to children. And the show certainly had a violent beginning, based as it was on a rejected Gunsmoke script called "The Sharpshooter" written by Sam Peckinpah, who would later in his career be known as "Bloody Sam" for directing films such as The Wild Bunch and Straw Dogs. The rejected script became the first episode of The Rifleman starring a young Dennis Hopper in the title role. But Peckinpah was  not involved in the show after that initial season of 1958-59, and by 1960 the focus of the show had shifted from showing off the shooting exploits of Connors' character Lucas McCain and more on his role as a widower raising his son Mark (played by Johnny Crawford). For example, in "Day of the Hunter" (Jan 5, 1960) Lucas refuses to take part in a shooting contest with legendary frontiersman Cass Callicott, even when the latter calls him chicken, and even though Lucas decides to participate in North Fork's annual sharp-shooter contest in "The Promoter" (Dec 6, 1960), he only does so because Mark wants the new shotgun that is offered as first prize. However, there were still plenty of shoot-outs involving Lucas or others, but occasionally there were also violent-free episodes, whereas all of the episodes seemed to feature at least one conversation or two between Lucas and Mark of an educational nature. In fact, Mark even makes a comment about this element in "The Martinet" (Nov 8, 1960) when he says that sometimes it's the child who teaches the parent but that he knows who does most of the teaching in the McCain family. He also offers Lucas some of his own advice in "Trail of Hate" (Sep 27, 1960) when Lucas regrets that his obsession for revenge causes an outlaw to be shot and killed. Several episodes, such as "Sins of the Father" (Apr 19, 1960) and "The Prodigal" (Apr 26, 1960) offer a contrasting parent-child relationship that shows the pitfalls of not having honest, open communication in a family.

However, Connors felt that the stories had grown a bit too sentimental. In the same TV Guide interview he notes that his character says to Mark in one episode "I love you" (actually he has it backwards--in "Case of Identity" Mark says "I love you"  to Lucas , who replies, "I know you do, son"): "Brother, that's corn. That's as pure as they grow it, but that's what people want." One senses that Connors has grown cynical in being trapped between his artistic impulses and the success of a popular show that must cater to its audience's wishes. Part of his cynicism could also have been due to the show's declining ratings--it fell to 27th place for the 1960-61 season. But he would continue in the role for another three years before moving on to starring roles in three other series during the decade (Arrest & Trial, Branded, and Cowboy in Africa), but none of them would be as successful or run as long at The Rifleman.

The show was set in the town of North Folk, New Mexico, in the 1880s, though Lucas and Mark lived on their own ranch (which they purchase in the second episode of the first season) just outside of town. Lucas sports a customized Winchester rifle that can fire a round in 3/10 of a second, and by the 1960 season, many outsiders who visit North Fork, whether they are law-abiding or criminals, have heard of his exploits. The show also featured Paul Fix as Marshal Micah Torrance in all but 18 of its 168 episodes during the life of the series. He first appears in the 4th episode of the first season as a drunk who has lost his nerve after killing a man. Lucas must nurse him back to health and restore his confidence. From then on, Lucas often helps in running down or killing criminals who threaten North Fork, with Torrance occasionally deputizing him temporarily. The 1960 season also saw the introduction of semi-regular Milly Scott (played by Joan Taylor) in the November 15th episode, "Miss Milly." She takes over the general store formerly run by semi-regular Hattie Denton (Hope Summers, who played Clara Edwards on The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry R.F.D.), and though she initially clashes with Lucas (and everyone else in town), there is an obvious attraction between them, though nothing concrete seems to develop.

The show was nominated for an Emmy for Best Western Series in 1959 and Crawford was nominated for best supporting actor that same year, but neither won.

The theme music for the show was composed by Herschel Burke Gilbert, who also composed the theme music for The Detectives, Starring Robert Taylor (1959-61) and Burke's Law (1963-66). He also served as music supervisor on many other TV shows of the era, including Perry Mason, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Johnny Ringo, Gunsmoke, The Lawless Years, and Gilligan's Island.

The complete series of 168 episodes of The Rifleman has not been issued on DVD. MPI issued a pair of 4-disc box sets that have since gone out of print. There are a few other single-disc issues with various episodes, but nothing with complete seasons. There are also bootleg releases of the entire series, though they are reported to be of dubious quality. However, has 50 episodes available for free online viewing (I'm guessing they are from the MPI releases, as they are spread out across the various seasons). And as of this writing, the cable channel AMC has been airing 4-hour blocks of consecutively sequenced episodes on Saturday mornings. Many of the episodes from 1960 not available on can also be found on, sometimes split into 2 or 3 parts, with less than stellar video quality.


The Actors

Chuck Connors

Connors began acting roles in 1952 after an athletic career in which he played briefly for the Boston Celtics basketball team in 1946-47, and the Brooklyn Dodgers and Chicago Cubs baseball teams and their minor league affiliates from 1947-1952. In 1952 while playing for the Cubs Triple-A team, the Los Angeles Angels, he was spotted by an MGM casting director who recommended him for a part in the Spencer Tracy-Katherine Hepburn film Pat and Mike. From there, he appeared in several more films and began appearing in single episodes of many TV series throughout the 50s before landing the lead role on The Rifleman in 1958.
Besides his other 1960s TV series mentioned above, Connors continued acting in movies throughout his career, appearing in such popular titles as Old Yeller, Flipper, and Soylent Green. He died November 10, 1992.

Johnny Crawford

Crawford was only 12 years old when he began playing Mark McCain on The Rifleman, but he had begun appearing in other TV shows, like The Lone Ranger, two years before that. He apparently peaked early in his career because the show was his only regular role in television. He appeared in single episodes of Mr. Ed, Rawhide, Hawaii 5-0, and Little House on the Prairie, amongst others. But perhaps the die was cast and he will forever be thought of as Mark McCain, just as Adam West was never able to escape the shadow of Batman.




Paul Fix

Born in 1901, Fix began appearing in films as early as 1925, and was quite active as a minor character throughout the 30s and 40s, frequently uncredited. His first television appearance was in a 1950 episode of The Lone Ranger, and later in the 50s he also appeared in episodes of Adventures of Superman, The Adventures of Falcon, and The Adventures of McGraw. After The Rifleman, he made numerous single episode appearances on TV shows up until 1981, including four appearances as Prosecutor/D.A. Hale on Perry Mason. He died October 14, 1983.


Notable Guest Stars

Season 2, Episode 15, "Day of the Hunter": John Anderson (Harry Jackson on MacGyver, Dr. Herbert Styles on Dallas) plays legendary frontiersman Cass Calicott, who challenges Lucas to a shooting match. Dick Elliott (Mayor Pike on The Andy Griffith Show) plays Mr. Hardiman, a local apple farmer.

Season 2, Episode 16, "Mail Order Groom": Peter Whitney (Sergeant Buck Sinclair on The Rough Riders and Lafe Crick on The Beverly Hillbillies) plays John Jupiter, the mail order groom.

Season 2, Episode 17, "Case of Identity": Herbert Rudley (Sam Brennan on The Californians, Will Gentry on Michael Shayne, General Crone on Mona McCluskey, Herb Hubbard on The Mothers-in-Law) plays Captain James Gordon, an unscrupulous "detective."

Season 2, Episode 18, "The Visitor": Christine White (Abigail Adams on Ichabod and Me) plays Ann Dodd, a widow and friend of Lucas McCain's late wife.

Season 2, Episode 19, "Hero": Robert Culp (Kelly Robinson on I Spy) plays Colly Vane, a mild-mannered stable hand who kills a wanted outlaw.

Season 2, Episode 21, "The Spoiler": Ellen Corby (Esther Walton on The Waltons) plays Mrs. Avery, whose son is a ruthless killer.

Season 2, Episode 22, "Heller": Don Grady (Robbie on My Three Sons) and Gigi Perreau (Pat Strickland on The Betty Hutton Show, Kathy Richards on Follow the Sun) play a brother and sister bent on killing their abusive step-father (played by Peter Whitney--see "Mail Order Groom" above). K.T. Stevens (Vanessa Prentiss on The Young and the Restless 1976-80) plays his wife. Hope Summers also appears as Hattie Denton in this episode.

Season 2, Episode 25, "The Deserter": Robert Cornthwaite (Professor Windish on Get Smart) plays Major Damler, a discipline-crazed Army commander.

Season 2, Episode 26, "The Vision": Karl Swenson (Lars Hanson on Little House on the Prairie) plays Nils Swenson, a friend of Lucas' who recommends a doctor in Roswell when Mark gets dangerously ill.

Season 2, Episode 27, "The Lariat": Richard Anderson (D.A. Glenn Wagner on Bus Stop; Lt. Steve Drumm on Perry Mason; Chief George Untermeyer on Dan August; Oscar Goldman on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman; and Buck Fallmont on Dynasty) plays Lariat Jones, an old buddy of Lucas' who comes to North Fork to open a gaming house. Dayton Lummis (Marshal Andy Morrison on Law of the Plainsman) plays Colonel Craig, a cheating card player.

Season 2, Episode 28, "Smoke Screen": Douglas Kennedy (Sheriff Fred Madden on The Big Valley) plays Pete Crandell, father of a headstrong young woman who is murdered.

Season 2, Episode 30, "Sins of the Father": Richard Evans (Paul Hanley on Peyton Place) plays Shep Coleman, a drunk who makes the mistake of challenging former convict and killer Andy Moon.

Season 2, Episode 31, "The Prodigal": Kevin Hagen (John Colton on Yancy Derringer, Inspector Dobbs Kobick on Land of the Giants, Dr. Hiram Baker on Little House on the Prairie) plays Billy St. John, a notorious gunslinger hiding a secret from his mother and trying to outrun two of his former bank-robbing partners, Stinger (played by Lee Van Cleef, For a Few Dollars More, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) and Santos (played by Warren Oates, In the Heat of the Night, The Wild Bunch).

Season 2, Episode 32, "The Fourflusher": Whit Bissell (Lt. Gen. Heywood Kirk on The Time Tunnel; Calvin Hanley on Peyton Place) plays Gabe Fenway, a share-cropper hoping to win a horse race in order to be able to buy the property he is currently living on. James Westerfield (Son of Flubber, True Grit, The Love God?) plays the duplicitous landlord Jake Preston, and K.T. Stevens (see "Heller" above) plays Molly Fenway, Gabe's wife. Hope Summers also appears as Hattie Denton in this episode.

Season 2, Episode 33, "The Jailbird": Dabbs Greer (Mr. Jonas on Gunsmoke) plays Farley Weaver, an ex-convict hired by Lucas as a ranch hand who is accused of murdering Charlie Manse (Karl Swenson, see "The Vision" above).

Season 2, Episode 34, "Meeting at Midnight": Claude Akins (Elroy P. Lobo on B.J. and the Bear, and Lobo, Sonny Pruett on Movin' On) plays Tom Benton, an undercover federal agent trying to find where some stolen government money has been hidden by Carl Miller (played by Frank De Kova, Chief Wild Eagle on F Troop).

Season 2, Episode 35, "Nora": Julie Adams (Creature From the Black Lagoon; Martha Howard on The Jimmy Stewart Show) plays Nora Sanford, a former love interest of Lucas who shows up in North Fork with a scheme to get her boyfriend out of a gambling debt.

Season 2, Episode 36, "The Hangman": Whit Bissell (see "The Fourflusher" above) plays Volney Adams, an ex-con assumed to be the murderer of his employer. Michael Fox (Coroner George McLeod on Burke's Law,  Amos Fedders on Falcon Crest)plays a nosy North Fork resident who stirs up accusations against Adams, as does elixir salesman Col. Jebediah Sims (played by Richard Deacon, who played Mel Cooley on The Dick Van Dyke Show). The Hangman, Harold Tenner, is played by Denver Pyle (Uncle Jessie on The Dukes of Hazzard, Briscoe Darling on The Andy Griffith Show, Grandpa Tarleton on Tammy, Buck Webb on The Doris Day Show).

Season 3, Episode 1, "Trail of Hate": Harold J. Stone (John Kennedy on The Grand Jury, Hamilton Greeley on My World and Welcome to It, Sam Steinberg on Bridget Loves Bernie) plays Benjamin Stark, the leader of a trio of outlaws who hold Mark hostage to force Lucas to help them rob a bank. 

Season 3, Episode 3, "Seven": Don Megaowan (Captain Huckabee on The Beachcomber) plays Dorf, the ring-leader of a group of seven convicts who break out of their jail wagon and hold the town hostage. Bing Russell (Deputy Clem Foster on Bonanza)plays another convict named Sanchez. Bill Quinn (Mr. Van Ranseleer on All in the Family and Archie Bunker's Place) plays Sweeney the bartender who is captured by the convicts.

Season 3, Episode 4, "The Pitchman": Bob Sweeney (Fibber McGee on Fibber McGee and Molly and producer of many shows, including 80 episodes of The Andy Griffith Show) plays Speed Sullivan, a traveling salesman who tries to scam Lucas out of the mineral rights to his property.

Season 3, Episode 5, "Strange Town": Claude Akins (see "Meeting at Midnight" above) returns as Bletch Droshek, accused of shooting a man in the back, as does Peter Whitney (see "Mail Order Groom" above) as Ott Droshek, Bletch's brother and the man who runs the Strange Town. Willam Schallert (Mr. Leander Pomfritt on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Martin Lane on The Patty Duke Show, Admiral Hargrade on Get Smart) plays Marshal Truce in the Strange Town.

Season 3, Episode 6, "Baranca": John Milford (Lt. Paul Hewitt on The Bold Ones and Captain Dempsey on Enos) plays Bro Hadley, who murders Pedro Sanchez and sets his house on fire. Linda Dangcil (Sister Ana on The Flying Nun) plays Sanchez's wife.

Season 3, Episode 8, "Miss Milly": Joan Taylor (Earth vs. The Flying Saucers) debuts as Milly Scott, who buys out and takes over Hattie Denton's general store.

Season 3, Episode 9, "Dead Cold Cash": John Hamilton (Sherriff John Brannan on The Virginian) plays Harlan Warde, the banker of North Fork;  Ed Nelson (Michael Rossi on Peyton Place) plays Stacey Beldon, a hit man sent to assassinate Lucas; and Steve Darrell (Sherriff Hal Humphrey on Tales of Wells Fargo) plays Eli Benson, a cousin of Beldon's.

Season 3, Episode 11, "The Promoter": Dabbs Greer (see "The Jailbird" above) plays Jack Scully, a ruthless con man who makes bets that his protege Reuben Miles (Denny Miller, who played Duke Shannon on Wagon Train) can outgun anyone else.

Season 3, Episode 12, "The Illustrator": Richard Whorf (better known as a director of 18 episodes of Gunsmoke, 37 episode of My Three Sons, and 68 episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies) plays Jeremiah Crowley, a drunken New York painter accused of murder. Midge Ware (Amby McAllister on Gunslinger) plays Hannah Shaw, his portrait subject, while Dayton Lummis (see "The Lariat" above) plays her father Jake Shaw. Ed Nelson (see "Dead Cold Cash" above) plays Ben Travis, a hired hand of Jake Shaw.

Season 3, Episode 14, "Miss Bertie": Agnes Moorehead (Endora on Bewitched) plays the title role, an elderly lady from Philadelphia trying to cash in on the reward for wanted outlaw Duke Jennings (Richard Anderson--see "The Lariat" above).

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Checkmate (1960)

Over three decades before shows like Profiler and Law & Order: Criminal Intent showed law enforcement agents trying to prevent crimes through criminal profiling, there was Checkmate. A new crime drama for the fall 1960 season that ran for two seasons, a total of 70 episodes from 1960-1962, Checkmate followed the exploits of Don Corey (Anthony George) and Jed Sills (Doug McClure) along with their consultant, British criminologist and professor Dr. Carl Hyatt (Sebastian Cabot) who together run the company Checkmate, Inc., located in San Francisco. Rather than a detective agency that solves crimes after they happen, Checkmate's purpose is to prevent crimes before they happen. Dr. Hyatt explains more specifically in episode 12, "The Murder Game," their belief that premeditated crimes (as opposed to crimes of passion) can be detected and stopped because the criminal will reveal his or her intention through behavior or speech. Some clients come to Checkmate because they cannot be helped by the police if no crime has yet been committed. In many cases, there is a precipitating crime that suggests a second, related crime will be committed--sometimes the first crime is a petty crime to set up something more serious; other times the first crime is the reason for the expected second crime, as in a case of revenge.

The methods used by the Checkmate team often seem crude by today's standards--after all, they don't have computers to search databases of criminal records, DNA testing hasn't been invented yet, and forensic science in general is much less developed. So instead we see them occasionally drag in pseudo-scientific tools like faux Freudian psycho-analysis or handwriting analysis. And more often, their success seems based on pure luck--clues just seem to fall into place and they are mentally able to put the pieces of the puzzle together before catastrophe strikes. But this is no more unrealistic than some of today's crime shows, where magic computer programs can pull things together without much effort by the protagonists. All in all, though, it's a better than average crime drama for the era and was relatively popular in its first season, placing 21st in the ratings, ahead of such shows as The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, The Rifleman, Peter Gunn, and Route 66.

Checkmate also marks the first television show with a soundtrack composed and orchestrated by Johnny Williams, better known today as multiple Oscar-winning composer John Williams. Williams had previously cut his teeth in the crime jazz style working with Henry Mancini on the soundtrack for Peter Gunn and with Benny Carter for some of the episodes of M Squad, but Checkmate was the first series that he led. The soundtrack album has been reissued on CD, along with another Williams album of orchestral jazz titled Rhythm in Motion, by Film Score Monthly.

All 70 episodes of Checkmate have been issued on DVD in a 14-disc boxed set by Timeless Media Group. For those who want a smaller sampling, Timeless Media has also issued a pair of 3-DVD sets featuring the best of season 1 and the best of season 2.

The Actors

Anthony George

The son of Italian immigrants, George came to Hollywood at age 23 with no prior acting experience or training. He was selling men's furnishings at a department store and taking acting classes when a woman who was staging a play at the Laguna Playhouse saw him and cast him in the production. From there he moved on to film work but had a nervous breakdown brought on by flu and fear of failure while filming the Dick Powell picture You Never Can Tell. He figured his career was finished and retreated to New York, but there found work on the stage and television. He returned to Hollywood in 1956 and was picked for an episode of the TV show G.E. Theater by none other than Rosalind Russell. From there, he landed a one-time appearance on the show Hawaiian Eye, which caught the eye of talent agent Monique James. James signed him and had him cast as Cam Allison in The Untouchables. However, he asked out of his contract after only 13 episodes because the offers were flying in so fast and furious, and producers agreed to let him go, killing off his character in the process. Checkmate was his next stop.

After Checkmate, he made a only a few guest appearances on other TV shows in 1962-63 until being cast as Jeremiah Collins on the vampire-themed soap opera Dark Shadows in 1967. He continued his work on soaps with a 5-year stint as Dr. Tony Vincente on Search for Tomorrow from 1970-75 and a 7-year run as the third Dr. Will Vernon on One Life to Live from 1977-84. He died March 16, 2005 at the age of 84.

Doug McClure

Blonde, toothy, and eternally young, Doug McClure appeared on scores of TV shows, starting in 1957 until his death in 1995. He is best remembered for playing the character Trampas for 9 years on The Virginian (1962-71), but he also had regular roles as Frank "Flip" Flippen on Overland Trail (1960), C.R. Grover in Search (1972-73), as Cash Conover on Barbary Coast (1975-76), and as Kyle X. Applegate on Out of This World (1987-91), in addition to playing Jed Sills on Checkmate.

Sebastian Cabot

British born Sebastian Cabot began appearing in films as early as 1935 and added TV work to his resume starting in 1951. He will, of course, always be remembered as Mr. French on Family Affair (1966-71), but he also had a regular role as Commissioner Andrew Crippen on The Beachcomber in 1962 and as Winston Essex on Circle of Fear (1972), in addition to his role on Checkmate. He also did voice work as the voice of Bagheera the Panther in Disney's The Jungle Book and narrated a few Winnie the Pooh movies in the 60s and 70s. He dropped out of school at age 14, and before he took up acting he worked as a chef, professional wrestler, chauffeur, and garage mechanic. And last, but probably least, at the height of his Family Affair fame, he released an album titled Sebastian Cabot, actor/Bob Dylan, poet in which he spoke the words of Dylan's songs while accompanied by innocuous classical-sounding music that did not match Dylan's melodies. He died August 22, 1977.

Notable Guest Stars

Episode 1: Anne Baxter (All About Eve; Olga, Queen of the Cossacks and Zelda the Great on Batman) plays Beatrice Martin Kipp, who believes someone is trying to kill her.

Episode 2: Robert Vaughn (Napoleon Solo on Man From U.N.C.L.E.) plays Abner Benson, an escaped convict.

Episode 3: Dean Stockwell (Admiral Al Calavicci on Quantum Leap) plays Roddy Stevenson, who appears bent on revenge for the killing of his fraternity brother.

Episode 4: Jane Wyman (the first Mrs. Ronald Reagan) plays Joan Talmadge, who believes she will be murdered for testifying against a murderer. Mary Tyler Moore also appears as a secretary.

Episode 5: Joseph Cotten (Citizen Kane, The Third Man) plays Dr. Joseph Mallinson, who appears intent on killing former Nazi Louis Roche.

Episode 6: Anna Maria Alberghetti (Ten Thousand Bedrooms, Cinderfella) plays Trudy Lombard, an heiress trying to escape her family.

Episode 7: Charles Bickford (John Grainger on The Virginian) plays Whitney P. Thorne, an oil tycoon who believes his former partner is trying to kill him.

Episode 8: Margaret O'Brien (Jane Eyre, Meet Me in St. Louis, Little Women) plays Angela Kendricks, a military widow who believes that someone connected to her dead husband is trying to kill her.

Episode 9: Barbara Rush (Marsha Russell on Peyton Place) plays Margaret Russell, whose life appears to be in danger from someone named Nikki Garnett.

Episode 10: Martin Landau (Rollin Hand on Mission: Impossible) plays Lt. Diaz, who believes Jed Sills has murdered Rita Alvarez. Also Victor Buono (King Tut on Batman) plays Carlos Rodriguez, a man who stages bull fights.

Episode 11: Cloris Leachman (Phyllis Lindstrom on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, and Phyllis) plays Marilyn Parker, roommate of Elena Nardos, who appears to be hunted for accidentally killing a Chinese student.

Episode 12: John Williams (Dial 'M' for Murder; Nigel 'Niles' French on A Family Affair) plays Emory Olivant, a fatally ill former defense attorney who says he plans to kill a former client whom he acquitted but who was actually guilty.

Epsiode 13: Terry Moore (Come Back Little Sheba; Connie Garrett on Empire; Venus on Batman) plays Claudia Warren, an heiress whom someone is trying to kill, probably for her inheritance.