Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Blue Angels (1960)

The synopsis of this series is based on viewing only two episodes. 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.

The Blue Angels was an action-adventure series based on the real-life exploits of the U.S. Navy's flight demonstration squadron. These stunt pilots would often perform at air shows and other public events. Like Men Into Space, the series was made in collaboration with the U.S. military, in this case the Navy, who, it is reported, wanted the episodes to be as realistic as possible, even if they suffered dramatically as a result. It is interesting to note that the five actors who comprised the main cast that appeared in 33 of the show's 39 episodes, were all World War II veterans from various branches of the military. The show ran for a single season from September 26, 1960 until July 3, 1961. The show did not feature many well-known guest stars, but up-and-coming Burt Reynolds, who at the time had a regular role on Riverboat, appeared in two episodes and Ernest Borgnine appeared in one.

Also like Men Into Space, the show seemed more of a propaganda vehicle for the Navy than a serious dramatic effort. There seems to be more attention paid to the details of each mission than to character development, and the two episodes viewed are heavily interspersed with actual footage of Navy planes and aircraft carriers, the sort of footage that would appeal to military enthusiasts and pre-teen boys. However, both of the episodes viewed also dealt with actual historic events. In "The Lebanon Incident," the Blue Angels are sent on a hurried mission to make aerial photographs of Lebanon, with full cooperation from the Lebanese government. The photos will then be immediately flown to Washington. After the mission is completed, the crew learns that the Marines will land on the beach in Lebanon the day after the photos arrive in Washington. Although not explicitly stated, the episode seems tied to the Lebanon Crisis of 1958 in which pro-western Lebanese President Camille Chamoun, a Maronite Christian, requested help from the United States to fend off an anticipated civil war from the Muslim population in response to western intervention in Egypt. President Eisenhower did send 14,000 men, including over 5,000 Marines, to defuse the tensions. The last episode of 1960, "The Diamond Goes to War" (December 26, 1960) details a mission from the Korean War in which the Angels bomb a North Korean dam near the Chinese border. During the actual war, the United Nations Command bombed a series of 13 hydroelectric dams in June of 1952 in an attempt to weaken the North Korean economy and hasten the progress of stalled truce negotiations. Though the mission succeeded in destroying 90% of the facilities, it had little effect on the negotiations. As for the propaganda angle, the end of this episode has the flavor of a kitschy western: After the Angels return to their base and a wounded member is hauled off on a stretcher, an anonymous airman standing nearby asks the ground-based chief, "Who were those men?" as if he had just witnessed the Lone Ranger riding off into the sunset.

At this time, two episodes ("The Lebanon Incident" and "The Diamond Goes to War") from December 1960 are available on youtube.com, courtesy of the San Diego Air and Space Museum, though the video quality is substandard.

The Actors

Dennis Cross

Born in Helena, Montana, Cross served in the Marines during World War II and fought in the Battle of Guadalcanal. After the war, he studied at The Actors Lab in Hollywood before moving to New York in 1950 and appearing on live TV programs there. He began appearing in films and TV shows beginning in the mid 50s, but being cast as Commander Arthur Richards on The Blue Angels was his only regular role on television. He appeared 6 times on The Rifleman and Rawhide and 13 times on Gunsmoke as well as fewer times on many other shows throughout the 60s and into the 70s. After retiring from acting, Cross served as Vice President of the Doctors Insurance Company in Santa Monica, CA. He died in Los Angeles at age 66 on April 6, 1991.

His son Randy Cross was an NFL lineman for the San Francisco 49ers and later became a TV commentator on NFL games. 

Don Gordon

A native of Los Angeles, Gordon served in the Navy during World War II, including time on the aircraft carriers the USS Saratoga and the USS Yorktown. He began appearing in films in 1949 and in television shows two years later. He made occasional appearances on a number of shows throughout the 50s but probably most significant were his two turns on Wanted: Dead or Alive, which starred Steve McQueen, with whom he became good friends and would later appear in three McQueen movies--Bullitt, Papillon, and The Towering Inferno. His role as Lt. Hank Bertelli on The Blue Angels was his only regular role during a long and prolific career, but he did play the character of Richard Jensen in five episodes of Peyton Place in 1966. He continued mixing TV appearances and roles in feature films throughout his career, including films such as Cannon for Cordoba, Slaughter, Omen III: The Final Conflict, Lethal Weapon, and The Exorcist III. His last acting appearance was in an episode of Diagnosis Murder in 1993, though he was also interviewed for and appeared in the Steve McQueen documentary Steve McQueen - The Essence of Cool in 2005. At this writing, he is 85 years old and living with his fourth wife Denise Farr, to whom he has been married since 1979.

Morgan Jones

Another Navy veteran, Jones was born in Wooster, OH and stationed at the Naval Base Coronado during his military service. He went into acting after leaving the service and had his first appearance as an audience member in Singin' in the Rain in 1952. He also had supporting roles in Forbidden Planet, Not of This Earth, and The Giant Claw. His TV career began in 1953, and he made eight appearances as Sgt. Corey on Highway Patrol in 1955-56. He had occasional appearances in a variety of other television programs before being cast as Commander Donovan on The Blue Angels. Thereafter, he appeared four times as Sgt. Charlie Phillips on Arrest and Trial in 1963, three appearances as Keller on Daniel Boone in 1967, six appearances as Howard Pender on Mannix in 1967-68, three appearances as Capt. Boggs on Rat Patrol in 1967-68, and four appearances as Sgt. Boggs on The Young Rebels in 1970. He continued landing occasional TV roles into the mid-80s, the last being on Murder She Wrote in 1986. He died January 13, 2012 in Tarzana, CA at the age of 84.

Michael Galloway

Hailing from Boise, Idaho, Galloway served in the Air Force in World War II, then spent time at both the University of Idaho and USC on basketball scholarships until an auto accident ended his athletic career and forced him to pursue acting. Most of his appearances in film and television were in the 1950s, and his role as Lt. Russ MacDonald on The Blue Angels was his only regular TV role. After the show ended, he appeared in only two more films and one TV program, the last being the show Tales of the Unexpected in 1984. He died October 12, 2010 at the age of 85.

Warner Jones

Not much is known about Warner Jones, ironic in that in his obituary published January 5, 2011 in the Eureka Times-Standard, the author twice mentions that rather than regale others about his Hollywood past, Jones would tell them to Google him. His role playing Capt. Wilbur Scott on The Blue Angels was the most significant of his career. He also had five appearances as Harry McGill on the TV series Window on Main Street in 1961 and one appearance each on The Rifleman, Mr. Lucky, and The Andy Griffith Show. According to the Times-Standard obituary, he moved around a lot after his acting career ended, trying his hand at selling insurance and teaching before settling in Houston, TX and working for the VA for 16 years. But then a vacation trip to Eureka convinced him to retire there, where he spent the last 20 years of his life.

Other Actors

According to imdb.com, the above listed actors appeared in 33 of the 39 episodes for the show. Other than two appearances each by William Bryant and Burt Reynolds, no other actors are listed as regular characters. However, in the episode "The Diamond Goes to War," an entirely different cast plays the four Blue Angel pilots--Robert Knapp as Commander Zeke Martin, Eddie Foy III as Lt. Lefty Doyle, Jimmy Murphy as Lt. Nello Bruzzi, and Edward Kemmer as Capt. Doc Hathaway. Because of imdb's incomplete information and the unavailability of additional episodes for viewing, it is unknown whether this cast appeared in the other five episodes that do not contain the five actors listed above.

Notable Guest Stars

Season 1, Episode 11, "The Lebanon Incident": Francis de Sales (Lt. Bill Weigand on Mr. & Mrs. North, Ralph Dobson on The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, Sheriff Maddox on Two Faces West, and Rusty Lincoln on Days of Our Lives) plays an unnamed aircraft carrier captain. Nelson Leigh (Pastor Martin on This Is the Life and the judge 9 times on Perry Mason) plays an unnamed admiral. Karl Held (David Gideon on Perry Mason, Philip Mervish on The Lotus Eaters, Travis on The Aphrodite Inheritance, and Garth on Falcon Crest) plays the unnamed L.S.O. 

Season 1, Episode 14, "The Diamond Goes to War": Carleton Young (starred in Dick Tracy (1937), The Brigand, Thunderhead - Son of Flicka, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and played Harry Steeger on The Court of Last Resort) plays an unnamed aircraft carrier captain. Douglas Henderson (appeared in From Here to Eternity, Invasion of the Saucer Men, and The Manchurian Candidate and played Col. James Richmond on The Wild, Wild West) plays C.I.C. Commander Bill Stein. Richard Wessell (Carney Kohler on Riverboat) plays ground-based Chief Wessell.

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