Thursday, February 23, 2012

Diagnosis: Unknown (1960)


The synopsis of this series is based on viewing only a single episode. Given the show's obscurity and short lifespan, it is unlikely that additional episodes will be made available, but if they are, this synopsis will be updated with the additional information.

Diagnosis: Unknown was a summer replacement series for The Garry Moore Show, appearing first on July 5, 1960 in an episode entitled "The Case of the Radiant Wine." Because it was pre-empted for the political conventions, the second episode did not appear until August 2, and only 9 episodes in all were aired, the last showing on September 20. Despite its short run, Diagnosis: Unknown, like Checkmate, was ahead of its time, foreshadowing the plethora of CSI and other forensic-based shows that blanket programming schedules today. The series centered on pathologist Dr. Daniel Coffee (Patrick O'Neal), who runs a hospital lab with assistants Doris Hudson (Phyllis Newman) and teenager Link (Martin Huston), as well as visiting doctor Motital Mookerji (Cal Bellini) from India. Coffee and his assistants are often pulled in to help solve criminal cases by Captain Ritter (Chester Morris), though Dr. Coffee claims he is not interested in solving crimes, only using his scientific skills to explain what has happened.

Though the initial episode boasted guest stars including Larry Hagman and Tom Bosley well before they appeared in their career-defining roles, later episodes were a bit short on star power. Zachary Scott and songstress Gretchen Wyler appeared in the third episode, "A Sudden Stillness" (August 9, 1960), and Telly Savalas starred in episode 7, "Gina, Gina" (September 6, 1960), but the other episodes had casts that were largely forgettable. The show also wasn't helped by a less-than-favorable review by Frank DeBlois in the August 13 issue of TV Guide. DeBlois derisively refers to O'Neal's character as "Dr. Beatnik" because of his wispy beard, claims to be confused by what the producer had in mind for the show, and concludes that it is "tiresome." Still, based on the first episode, the show seems no more tiresome than any of the other crime dramas of the period, even fan favorites like Perry Mason. And it seems more plausible for a pathologist to be drawn into criminal cases than a defense attorney or a freelance photographer (as in Charles Bronson's Man With a Camera). This was a series that deserved a longer run, and one can only hope that somewhere in the future someone like Timeless Media Group will see fit to issue all 9 episodes on DVD.

The music for "The Case of the Radiant Wine" was provided by Irwin Kostal, who worked on the music for the Broadway productions of The Music Man and West Side Story. He also worked on the music for the film of West Side Story, for which he won his first Oscar. His second Oscar came from his work on The Sound of Music, and he was nominated three more times, for Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and Pete's Dragon. He was also nominated for two Emmys for The Julie Andrews Show and a TV production of Doctor Jekyl and Mr. Hyde.

At this time, the first episode is available in its entirety on youtube.com, though the video quality is substandard.

The Actors

Patrick O'Neal

Born in Ocala, FL, O'Neal graduated from the University of Florida and during World War II made training films while a member of the Air Force. After the war, he moved to New York and attended The Actor's Studio and Neighborhood Playhouse. His first breakthrough was as Tony Randall's replacement in the Broadway show Oh Men! Oh Women! and he later drew positive reviews playing opposite Bette Davis in Tennessee Williams' Night of the Iguana. However, when the play was adapted to film, Richard Burton was given O'Neal's part. He began appearing on TV in 1952 on shows like Kraft Theatre and made his first feature-film appearance in the Vincent Price vehicle The Mad Magician in 1954. His first starring TV role was playing Dick Starrett in the 1957-58 comedy Dick and the Duchess. His film work continued throughout the 60s and 70s in movies such as Alvarez Kelly, Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?,  and The Kremlin Letter. He returned to TV as Sam Bennett in Kaz (1978-79) and played Harlan Adams on Emerald Point N.A.S. in 1983. One of his last film roles before his death in 1994 was in Steven Seagal's Under Siege.

Aside from acting, he co-owned with his wife and brother several restaurants in New York, including The Ginger Man, O'Neal's Balloon, and the Landmark Tavern.

Phyllis Newman

From Jersey City, NJ, Newman broke into musical theatre on Broadway in 1952 in Wish You Were Here. She beat out Barbara Streisand for the Tony in 1962 for her performance in Subways Are for Sleeping and was nominated for another Tony in 1987 for her role in Broadway Bound. Her TV and film career began in 1955, including an uncredited appearance in Picnic and a major role in the teen exploitation B movie Let's Rock in 1958. After Diagnosis: Unknown she made occasional appearances on shows like Burke's Law, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and The Wild, Wild West, but she was a regular panelist on game shows like To Tell the Truth and What's My Line and she was the first female to fill in for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show in 1962. In 1988, she had a regular role as Ginny Hale in Coming of Age and played Sarah Rifkind on the drama 100 Centre Street in 2001-2002. In 1995, she founded The Phyllis Newman Women's Health Initiative as part of the Actor's Fund of America and in 2009 received a special Tony Award for her humanitarian work.

Cal Bellini

Cal Bellini is the stage name of Khalid Ibrahim, born in Singapore of Malaysian descent. His role on Diagnosis: Unknown was his first professional role as an actor, and he continued making supporting appearances in TV shows, usually as a Native American or other non-white ethnic type, in shows such as The Mod Squad, The Streets of San Francisco, and Hawaii Five-O. His last appearance was on the show Riptide in 1986.

Martin Huston

By the time he played Link on Diagnosis: Unknown at age 19, Huston was a veteran TV performer. In 1953, he played the title role of Jeep Allison in My Son Jeep, and two years later he was cast as Skipper in the series Jungle Jim, which ran from 1955-56. After Diagnosis: Unknown, Huston's television appearances were few: he appeared in single episodes of Way Out (1961), Coronet Blue (1967), and Lancer (1970). He also appeared in the film Calliope in 1971, his last appearance on either the large or small screen. Huston also performed on Broadway, beginning in 1959. His most notable role was the title character in the play Norman, Is That You?, which opened in 1970, considered the first comedy to deal with homosexuality. Huston died from cancer August 1, 2001 at the age of 60.

Chester Morris

John Chester Brooks Morris, the son of a stage actor and a comedienne, appeared in his first film at age 17 and his first Broadway role at age 18. It was Broadway that first made him a star in the 1920s, allowing Morris to claim that he was "the youngest leading man in the country." He did not truly become a regular film actor until the advent of talking pictures and was nominated for Best Actor for his role in Alibi in 1930, the second year the yet-to-be-named Oscars were awarded. That year also saw him appear in his most famous movie role in The Big House. His career waned at the end of the decade but was revived in the 1940s when he was cast in the lead role in a series of low-budget Columbia films featuring detective Boston Blackie. Morris also played the role on an NBC radio series that aired around the same time. He was also an avid and successful magician and would often perform a complete act when he toured the country to promote his movies. During World War II, he regularly performed at USOs and army camps and was recognized by having a bomber named after him and his wife. He moved into television in the 1950s, making guest appearances on a variety of programs, including Suspense, Danger, and The Red Skelton Hour. His role as Captain Ritter on Diagnosis: Unknown  was his only recurring role in TV. He continued guest appearances throughout the 60s and appeared in the film The Great White Hope in 1970. That same year, diagnosed with cancer, he took his life by overdosing on barbituates on September 11, 1970 at the age of 69.

Notable Guest Stars

Season 1, Episode 1, "The Case of the Radiant Wine": Larry Hagman (starred in Fail-Safe, The Eagle Has Landed, and Primary Colors and played Tony Nelson on I Dream of Jeannie, Albert Miller on The Good Life, Richard Evans on Here We Go Again, J.R. Ewing on Dallas and Knots Landing, Judge Luther Charbonnet on Orleans, and Burt Landau on Nip/Tuck) plays the murder victim's boyfriend Don Harding. Tom Bosley (shown on the left, played Bob Landers on The Debbie Reynolds Show, Bert Quinn on The Sandy Duncan Show, Howard Cunningham on Happy Days and Joanie Loves Chachi, Sheriff Amos Tupper on Murder, She Wrote, and Father Frank Dowling on Father Dowling Mysteries) plays deli owner Freddie Ziegler. Patricia Barry (Kate Harris on Harris Against the World) plays wealthy socialite Aurora Farnum. Murray Matheson (Felix Mulholland on Banacek) plays her husband Lester.

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