Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Naked City (1960)

Naked City the television series attempted to recreate on the small screen the same semi-documentary feel of the ground-breaking Jules Dassin 1948 feature film The Naked City, which like the TV show, was shot on the streets of New York. As documented in James Rosin's book Naked City: The Television Series, the rights to the feature film were acquired by Columbia Pictures for television release in 1957. Producer Herbert B. Leonard, who had enjoyed success on TV with The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin as well as Circus Boy and Tales of the 77th Bengal Lancers, approached Columbia about adapting the film for television. Leonard hired scriptwriter Stirling Silliphant, who had written for several drama anthology shows and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Leonard's vision was to create in a police drama the feel of a drama anthology, much as he and Silliphant would do a couple of years later on Route 66. When the series debuted as The Naked City on ABC in the fall of 1958, it was a 30-minute show using the same characters from the feature film, with John McIntire as the elder, more experienced detective Lt. Dan Muldoon and James Franciscus as the young, green detective Jimmy Halloran. But Leonard's unique slant for the police drama was to focus not on the police detectives themselves, but on the characters the detectives encounter in the course of their jobs, often dealing with complex psychological issues rather than simplistic whodunits. Each episode would end with narrator Lawrence Dobkin intoning, "There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them." But after 25 episodes, McIntire left the cast, reportedly because he did not like the rigors of a weekly TV series (though a few years later he would replace the late Ward Bond on Wagon Train). He was replaced by veteran tough guy and hard-nosed cop Horace McMahon as the crusty, though tender-hearted Lt. Mike Parker. But ABC opted not to renew the show after its initial season.

However, one of the show's sponsors and the production staff tried to persuade ABC to renew the show as a 1-hour drama. After CBS picked up Route 66, ABC consented and brought back the show with the abbreviated title Naked City in the fall of 1960 with Silliphant writing the first two episodes, then serving as story consultant thereafter. Only 9 episodes were aired during the fall of 1960, though another 23 were shown in the spring of 1961, for a total of 32 Season 2 episodes. Franciscus was replaced by Paul Burke as the young, more compassionate Det. Adam Flint. Harry Bellaver was retained as his good-natured colleague Frank Arcaro. Nancy Malone also joined the cast as Flint's aspiring actress girlfriend Libby Kingston. True to Leonard's plan, not much time is devoted to the backstory of these recurring characters. Parker is predictably gruff, though often amenable to Flint's unorthodox approach to unraveling difficult crimes or dealing with problem characters. He is perhaps least sympathetic with Flint in "The Man Who Bit a Diamond in Half" (December 14, 1960) when the latter tries to tie what appear to be loose threads into an impending plot to steal the world's largest diamond. The next day's newspaper headline proves that Flint was on to something. Though they never play the good cop/bad cop hand, Parker's tough-knuckle approach rarely produces results, whereas Flint's more careful and sympathetic style often gets suspects and their conspirators to fess up. In "The Human Trap" (November 30, 1960), Flint and Parker agree that fashion designer Walda Price's story about the killing of Toby Tennant as an act of self-defense while protecting her daughter Jessica doesn't add up. But while Parker's threat and follow-through to lock up Price for murder fails to get her to change her story, Flint works on Jessica, laying out conflicting evidence that gets her to admit that she was the one who plunged the ice pick into Tennant's mid-section, though it was accidental.

Beyond this difference in styles, we never hear anything about Parker's or Flint's backgrounds. Even when Flint is asked by his partner Det. Bane in Season 2's opener "A Death of Princes" why he decided to become a cop, Flint's reply is that it's a job, whereas Bane, the guest character of the episode, provides a much meatier reply, saying that being a policeman is one of the few opportunities in this city, aside from being very wealthy, to feel like a god. Even the relationship between Flint and Libby is somewhat perfunctory, seeming to be ripped from the Peter Gunn playbook. Libby is an aspiring actress; Peter Gunn's girl Edie Hart is a nightclub singer. Both entertainers are constantly frustrated when their boyfriends are called away on business at odd hours of the night and engage in witty repartee with their men about this frustration. Parker and Arcaro are likewise not fleshed out.

But the guest characters are full-fledged psychological studies, perhaps none more so in early Season 2 than the ridiculously named Erwin Lovegod in "Killer With a Kiss" (November 16, 1960). Erwin works in a psychiatric hospital but should be a patient. His mother committed suicide, for which he blames his decorated military father, now deceased, but he cannot strike out at his father, so he collects toy soldiers and exacts his revenge indirectly on other men in uniform--policemen. Though the depiction of Erwin is disturbing, it also bears a trace of sympathy, particularly from his aunt with whom he lives, presaging the direction many crime dramas would take in the coming decade of showing criminals being the product of a troubled past rather than merely deranged and scary psychos. But Libby comments at the end of the episode what an awful responsibility it is to bring a child into the world today, a chilling remark completely original in an era that almost always depicted children lovingly. Parenting also comes in for some critical examination in "The Pedigree Sheet" (October 19, 1960), which begins with Flint and Parker trying to solve the death of a key witness in a murder trial and ends up a reconciliation between an estranged daughter and her alcoholic father after he admits that he has been a negligent parent.

However, occasionally the show can veer into Perry Mason territory with the unraveling of a complicated murder plot. "A Succession of Heartbeats" (October 19, 1960) chases down the killer of playboy Ben Harlow and his paramour Mrs. Marta Brent, finally revealing a down-to-the-minute city-to-city helicopter ride that nabs the perpetrator. Still, the show also has its psychological element in the person of June Walden, who confesses to the murder even though she didn't do it, out of sympathy for the real killer, whom she feels is a victim just as she was at the hands of Harlow.

Perhaps most telling in the role the police actually play is the episode "Down the Long Night" (November 2, 1960), the story of widower Max Evar, who hunts down and torments the man he believes is responsible for his wife's death, finally driving him to confess while Flint helplessly watches the entire proceedings locked inside a funhouse observation room. The killer finally dies by his own hand, setting the funhouse ablaze, then dying from smoke inhalation, a sentence more fitting than any the halls of justice could dispense since Evar's wife also died in a fire.

Not every episode is centered around a grisly death, though there is plenty of that, too. The aforementioned "The Pedigree Sheet" ends with a belated but heartfelt reunion between father and daughter, even if she is hospitalized after nearly being killed by an assassin's bullet. And "Debt of Honor" (November 23, 1960) traces the slow turnaround of hustler Nick Mori from callous player to love-stricken husband, softened by the spirit of his arranged bride he brought to America only to repay a debt he was bound to by his father. The juxtaposition of stark violence and heart-warming emotion is what makes Naked City stand out from many of the more formulaic crime dramas of its era, as do the location shots of New York, giving the series a gritty verisimilitude unobtainable on a studio set.

The theme music  and scores for individual episodes for Naked City were composed by long-time band-leader and Capitol Records arranger Billy May. May was born in Pittsburgh and played tuba in his high school band, a time he credits for his interest in arranging as the tuba player had lots of time observing how the other pieces of the orchestra interacted while he was not playing. After his professional debut playing trumpet with a Polish band in 1933, May approached big band leader Charlie Barnet in 1938 and offered to write arrangements for him. Barnet accepted the offer and May joined the band on trumpet and contributed the arrangement for the band's biggest hit, "Cherokee." In 1940 May was hired away by Glenn Miller. Later in the decade he worked as the staff arranger for the NBC radio network and then the newly formed Capitol Records. At Capitol, May arranged and conducted for some of the biggest vocalists in the business, including Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Peggy Lee. His arranging credits over the next several decades are seemingly endless. He scored a hit with his own band in 1952 for "Charmaine" and released several albums in the 1950s and 1960s. He also provided musical support for comedian Stan Freberg during this time and won a Grammy for Best Performance by an Orchestra in 1959. Besides Naked City, May provided the music for The Green Hornet and the Batgirl theme on Batman. He continued working into the 1980s, arranging for the Carpenters' Christmas album in 1983. He died as his home in San Capistrano, California on January 22, 2004 at the age of 87.

The complete series has been released on DVD by RLJ Entertainment.

The Actors

Paul Burke

Born in New Orleans, Burke was the son of boxer Marty Burke, a sparring partner of Jack Dempsey who later founded an eponymous New Orleans restaurant and nightclub that the younger Burke said provided the inspiration for some of the characters he later portrayed. After the younger Burke moved to California in the late 1940s and studied at the Pasadena Playhouse, a friend of his father's, director Lloyd Bacon, helped land him a bit part in Call Me Mister in 1951. From there he garnered more small roles that eventually grew to more featured parts, though in such B-grade material as the Francis the talking mule pictures Francis Goes to West Point and Francis in the Navy as well as the jungle horror feature The Disembodied. Simultaneously he began landing TV roles, both as a supporting player and as a lead in the Jack Webb-produced veterinarian drama Noah's Ark in 1956-57. He also had a recurring role as Jeff Kittridge on the Barry Sullivan-starring drama Harbormaster the following year, and he played opposite David Hedison in the spy thriller series Five Fingers in 1959-60 before landing the role of Adam Flint on Naked City.

After Naked City ended its run in 1963, Burke didn't have to wait long before finding another starring role as Captain Gallagher on 12 O'Clock High, which ran from 1964-67. In 1967 he also appeared in one of his more prominent film roles in The Valley of the Dolls, considered one of the worst movies ever made. But that role didn't damage his career, as he appeared the next year in the widely praised Steve McQueen/Faye Dunaway thriller The Thomas Crown Affair. His film roles thereafter tended back to the tawdry, such as Daddy's Gone A-Hunting, but his television work continued in regular fashion. Not only did he garner guest appearances on shows such as Medical Center, Ironside, and Police Story, but he also found recurring roles in the 1980s as Neal McVane on Dynasty, C.C. Capwell on Santa Barbara, and Nicholas Broderick on Hot Shots. All of that came to a screeching halt, however, when he was indicted in 1989, along with Harry Connick, Sr., for racketeering in returning gambling records to a convicted gambler and for lying to a grand jury. Burke said in a 1992 interview that after the trial, during which he and Connick were acquitted but three others were convicted, there was suddenly no work, so he retired to Palm Springs with his wife, actress Lyn Peters. He died there from leukemia and non-Hodgkins lymphoma on September 13, 2009 at the age of 83. Burke is the grandfather of actress Alia Shawkat of Arrested Development.

Horace McMahon

Born in South Norwalk, Connecticut, McMahon tried his hand at acting while attending law school at Fordham University. After school McMahon held a number of jobs, everything from a soda jerk to a shipping clerk to a news reporter for the South Norwalk Sentinel. In 1931 he began landing roles on Broadway and by 1935 he began appearing in films, usually playing some kind of heavy. He would appear in some 135 films in his career but his roles changed to police work beginning with Detective Story, in which he played Lt. Monaghan both on the stage in 1949 and in the 1951 film version with Kirk Douglas and Eleanor Parker. He had a semi-regular role as a newstand owner in the TV series Martin Kane during 1950-51, but his television work was sporadic throughout the 1950s, a time during which he found more steady work in features such as the first major studio 3D movie Man in the Dark as well as Blackboard Jungle, My Sister Eileen, and Jerry Lewis' The Delicate Delinquent. He joined Naked City during its first season at Lt. Mike Parker when John McIntire left the cast.

After Naked City, McMahon found regular work playing Agnes' father on Jackie Gleason: American Scene Magazine and as Hank McClure on the short-lived Mr. Broadway. His career tailed off dramatically thereafter with his last appearance being in an episode of Family Affair in 1969. He retired with his wife, former actress Louise Campbell, to his hometown, where he died August 17, 1971 at the age of 65.

Harry Bellaver

Bellaver was born to Italian immigrant coal mine workers in Hillsboro, Illinois. He dropped out of school in the 6th grade and worked as a coal miner, teamster, and farmhand before winning a scholarship to Brookwood Labor College in Katonah, New York. There he took up acting and was invited by the theatrical director Jasper Deeter to join the Hedgerow Repertory Theater near Philadelphia. From there he moved on to New York City in 1930 and appeared in a number of theatrical productions, including The House of Connelly, We, the People, and The Three-Penny Opera. He would continue to appear in theatrical productions, even after his film and television career took off. His most notable role was as Chief Sitting Bull in the original production of Annie Get Your Gun in 1946. He reprised the role for the 1966 revival of the play. His film career began in 1939 with an appearance in Another Thin Man. He also helped found the Actors' Equity Association, and during World War II served as stage manager and actor in the USO production of Over 21, which starred Vivian Vance and her husband Philip Ober. After the war his film career continued to grow throughout the 1950s with appearances in features such as No Way Out, From Here to Eternity, and The Old Man and the Sea. His TV work was sparse until the mid-1950s, when he began landing multiple appearances on Inner Sanctum, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Climax!  He was the lone main character to stay with Naked City from its inception in 1958 through the end of its run in 1963.

After Naked City he had a regular role as Ernie Downs from 1964 to 1969 on the soap opera Another World. After that his work tapered off, with occasional TV guest spots on Kojak and Knots Landing and film roles in Madigan, Hero at Large, and his last appearance in 1985 in The Stuff. He retired to Tappan, New York, where he died from pneumonia at the age of 88 on August 8, 1993.

Nancy Malone

Nancy Josefa Maloney was born in Queens, New York and began her acting career in commercials at age 7. At age 11 she was chosen by Life magazine for the cover of its 10th-anniversary issue as the typical American girl. She studied under Stella Adler at the Actors Studio and began acting on the stage at age 15, landing a starring role at age 17 in the production Time Out for Ginger. She began appearing on television in 1950, mostly in theatrical anthology shows, before being cast as Libby Kingston during the second season of Naked City. At the same time, she was playing Robin Fletcher on the daytime soap opera Guiding Light

After Naked City she played Clara Varner on the 1965-66 series The Long, Hot Summer in addition to many guest appearances on The Twilight Zone, Ironside, and as Goober's girlfriend in the very last episode of The Andy Griffith Show. Her acting appearances continued into the mid-1980s, but by the 1970s she had grown tired of the limitations of female roles and at the invitation of ABC President Tom Moore moved over into producing, first for his newly formed Tomorrow Entertainment and then forming her own Lilac Productions. In 1975 she moved to Twentieth Century Fox and a year later became the company's first female vice president. She also helped found the support group Women in Film and received the entity's Crystal Award for her contributions in 1977. In the 1980s she completed the American Film Institute's Directing Workshop for Women, eventually being named to the board of The Alliance of Women Directors and winning Emmy awards for her work on Sisters and The Trials of Rosie O'Neill. She also shared an Emmy for co-producing the special Bob Hope: The First 90 Years in 1993. She continued directing throughout the 1990s on show such as Melrose Place and Diagnosis Murder with her last credit coming in a 2004 episode of The Guardian. She died a decade later from pneumonia on May 8, 2014 at the age of 79.

Notable Guest Stars

Season 2, Episode 1, "A Death of Princes": Eli Wallach (shown on the right, starred in The Magnificent Seven, The Misfits, How the West Was Won, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and played Vincent Danzig on Our Family Honor) plays trigger-happy cop Det. Bane. Peter Falk (starred in Robin and the 7 Hoods, Murder by Death, and The Cheap Detective and played Daniel O'Brien on The Trials of O'Brien and Columbo on Columbo) plays small-time gunman Gimpy. George Maharis (Buz Murdock on Route 66 and Jonathan Croft on The Most Deadly Game) plays boxer Tony Bacalas. Godfrey Cambridge (starred in Watermelon Man, Cotton Comes to Harlem, and The President's Analyst) plays his trainer George. Anne Helm (Molly Pierce on Run for Your Life) plays Libby's roommate Diane. Richard Ward (played Dewey on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman) plays shoe-shiner Lee.

Season 2, Episode 2, "The Pedigree Sheet": Suzanne Pleshette (shown on the left, starred in The Geisha Boy, The Birds, A Rage to Live, The Ugly Dachshund, Nevada Smith, and Support Your Local Gunfighter and played Emily Hartley on The Bob Newhart Show, Maggie Briggs on Suzanne Pleshette Is Maggie Briggs¸ Christine Broderick on Nightingales, Jackie Hansen on The Boys Are Back, and Claire Arnold on Good Morning Miami) plays runaway daughter Nora Condon. Al Lewis (Officer Leo Schnauser on Car 54, Where Are You? and Grandpa Munster on The Munsters) plays ambulance driver Gus. Roger C. Carmel (Roger Buell on The Mothers-in-Law) plays seedy private investigator Harry Staples. 

Season 2, Episode 3, "A Succession of Heartbeats": Frank Overton (starred in Desire Under the Elms, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Fail-Safe and played Major Harvey Stovall on 12 O'Clock High) plays Andy Brent, husband of a murder victim. Fay Spain (starred in Dragstrip Girl, Al Capone, and The Gentle Rain) plays showgirl Felice Reynolds. Felicia Farr (starred in 3:10 to Yuma, Onionhead, Hell Bent for Leather, Kiss Me, Stupid, and Charley Varrick) plays murder witness June Walden. William Post, Jr. (Harry Henderson on Beulah) plays Wealthy businessman Meredith Linus. Duke Farley (Sgt. Reilly on Car 54, Where Are You?) plays Brent's business colleague George Silver. 

Season 2, Episode 4, "Down the Long Night": Leslie Nielsen (shown on the right, starred in Forbidden Planet, The Opposite Sex, The Poseidon Adventure, Airplane!, and the Naked Gun trilogy and played Lt. Price Adams on The New Breed, Victor & Kenneth Markham on Peyton Place, Harry Kleber on Dr. Kildare, Sam Danforth on The Bold Ones: The Protectors, John Bracken on Bracken's World, and Det. Frank Drebin on Police Squad!) plays ad executive Norman Garry. Nehemiah Persoff (starred in The Wrong Man, Some Like It Hot, and Al Capone) plays funhouse operator Max Evar. Geraldine Brooks (Angela Dumpling on The Dumplings) plays Garry's fiancé Vicky.
Season 2, Episode 5, "To Walk in Silence": Claude Rains (starred in The Invisible Man, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Casablanca, Phantom of the Opera, Notorious, and Lawrence of Arabia) plays estate lawyer John Weston. Deborah Walley (starred in Gidget Goes Hawaiian, Ski Party, and Beach Blanket Bingo and played Suzie Hubbard Buell on The Mothers-in-Law) plays his daughter Heather. Telly Savalas (shown on the left, starred in Cape Fear, The Birdman of Alcatraz, The Dirty Dozen, and Kelly's Heroes and played Mr. Carver on Acapulco and Lt. Theo Kojak on Kojak) plays bookmaking mobster Gabe Hody. Sorrell Booke (Boss Hogg on The Dukes of Hazzard) plays a bettor. Alan Bunce (Albert Arbuckle on The Kate Smith Evening Hour and Ethel and Albert) plays Weston's physician Dr. Seaton. 
Season 2, Episode 6, "Killer With a Kiss": Burt Brinckerhoff (Charles Shannon on Dr. Kildare and directed multiple episodes of Lou Grant, Nine to Five, Remington Steele, ALF, and 7th Heaven) plays disturbed young man Erwin Lovegod. Norma Connolly (Ruby Anderson on General Hospital) plays street mission leader Ruth Peters. Norman Rose (the voice of Mr. Mad on Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales) plays police officer Abe Ornitz. Bill Lazarus (Jack Woods on Calucci's Department and Frosty on The Bad News Bears) plays police consultant Dr. Arvid. Clifton James (appeared in Experiment in Terror, Cool Hand Luke, Live and Let Die, The Man With the Golden Gun, and Eight Men Out and played Silas Jones on Lewis & Clark and Duke Carlisle on Dallas) plays police officer Fenelli. 

Season 2, Episode 7, "Debt of Honor": Steve Cochran (starred in The Best Years of Our Lives, White Heat, and Private Hell 36) plays hustler Nick Mori. Lois Nettleton (Sue Kramer on Accidental Family and Joanne St. John on In the Heat of the Night) plays his wife Marisa. 

Season 2, Episode 8, "The Human Trap": Ruth Roman (shown on the right, starred in Jungle Queen, Always Leave Them Laughing, Strangers on a Train, The Far Country, and Maru Maru and played Minnie Littlejohn on The Long, Hot Summer and Sylvia Lean on Knots Landing) plays fashion designer Walda Price. Zina Bethune (Gail Lucas on The Doctors and the Nurses) plays her daughter Jessica Glennon. Jack Lord (Stoney Burke on Stoney Burke and Det. Steve McGarrett on Hawaii Five-O) plays her ex-husband Cary Glennon. Nicholas Saunders (Sgt. Ross on Martin Kane) plays her lawyer Holman. Elizabeth McRae (Lou-Ann Poovie on Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.) plays Libby's acting colleague Lorri.

Season 2, Episode 9, "The Man Who Bit a Diamond in Half": Walter Matthau (shown on the left, starred in A Face in the Crowd, Charade, The Fortune Cookie, The Odd Couple, Hello, Dolly!, The Front Page, The Sunshine Boys, The Bad News Bears, and Grumpy Old Men and played Lex Rogers on Tallahassee 7000) plays wealthy businessman Peter Kanopolis. Elizabeth Allen (Katherine West on Dr. Kildare, Laura Deane on Bracken's World, Martha Sims on The Paul Lynde Show, Capt. Quinlan on CPO Sharkey, and Victoria Bellman on Texas) plays his wife Emily. Michael Conrad (Lt. Macavan on Delvecchio and Sgt. Phil Esterhaus on Hill Street Blues) plays break-in specialist Pierce. James Tolkan (Lester Mintz on Mary, Norman Keyes on Remington Steele, Mike Ragland on The Hat Squad, and Dallas Cassel on Cobra) plays a mail clerk.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Mr. Magoo Show (1960)

Mr. Magoo and its one-joke premise was already fairly long in the tooth when it made the transition to television for the 1960-61 season. Magoo had first appeared as a secondary character in a 1949 theatrical cartoon titled The Ragtime Bear produced by the United Productions of America (UPA) animation studio. But the myopic Magoo, based in part on animation director John Hubley's uncle, proved so popular that Columbia Pictures, the distributor for UPA, called for more Magoo, and the studio churned out over 50 theatrical shorts over the next decade, winning two Oscars in the process for When Magoo Flew (1955) and Magoo's Puddle Jumper (1956). But the studios over-reached when they expanded Magoo to a feature-length film with 1001 Arabian Nights in 1959, which was a commercial flop that, combined with other poor management decisions at UPA, nearly ruined the studio. 

In stepped Hank Saperstein, who first set up a licensing deal to feature the Magoo character in commercials and ads for G.E. light bulbs and then bought UPA outright. As documented by Darrell Van Citters in his liner notes for the Shout! Factory box set of TV Magoo, Saperstein felt that television was the future and Magoo his best asset; thus, the creation of The Mr. Magoo Show. Originally the show was going to be sold to a network and sponsored by Kellogg's cereals, but that deal fell through and instead it was released as a syndicated series sold to some 150 stations across the nation. As such, each station could choose when to air the program and exactly when it did air is today something of a mystery. Neither nor the Shout! Factory box set ascribe air dates to any of the episodes. The web site lists the first episode as airing on November 7, 1960 with subsequent episodes airing weekly thereafter, but an examination of TV Guide magazines from the era does not support this schedule. Other than being mentioned in the Fall Preview issue dated September 24 as a possible hit (alongside Deputy Dawg and The Dick Tracy Show), it shows up every day at 6:30 in the Southern California edition of TV Guide but only on Mondays at 6:00 in the Cleveland edition. Since the listings do not indicate which episode is being aired, it is unclear whether the daily showings were repeats of the same episode or five different episodes. In any case, for the purposes of this blog, we will assume that the first 14 episodes aired in 1960 and the last 12 in 1961.

Like Rocky and His Friends, each episode contained multiple short pieces interspersed with even briefer and repeated introductory bumpers. For Magoo these bumpers were all different until the fifth episode when they began to be repeated. At least two of the bumpers contain a mailman character who never appears in any of the full-length cartoons. As to the repetitiveness of the Magoo premise in which his nearsightedness gets him into numerous predicaments that never cause him any harm but result in disaster for just about everyone else, Van Citters concedes that "The premise had become something of a clichĂ© by this time..." and that "the studio recognized the limitations and added peripheral characters to flesh out some of the stories". These other characters included Magoo's dim-witted nephew Waldo, who had appeared along with him in the theatrical shorts but now featured him with his slick-talking friend Presley. 

Also featured in their own shorts were Magoo's pets Hamlet the hamster, Caesar the dog, and Cicero the cat. In a couple of the early episodes Magoo mistakenly calls his cat Bowser. In "Day at the Beach" from the first episode he takes Bowser the cat to the beach, thinking he is taking his dog. In "Shotgun Magoo" from the fifth episode, we actually see Bowser the bulldog, but Magoo puts the dog leash on his cat, calling him Bowser, and takes him duck hunting. This is the only time we see the dog Bowser. In all the other episodes in which a dog is featured, it is the hound-like Caesar, who has a distinctive southern drawl and is constantly at war with Hamlet the hamster, as is Cicero the cat. All of these pet-themed shorts are basically pale imitations of the Looney Tunes Sylvester and Tweety narratives. In this case the plot involves Magoo going out somewhere and Hamlet being determined to raid the icebox while Cicero either tries to catch and eat him or Caesar tries to stop him because he knows that Magoo will blame him for the missing food.

The Waldo and Presley shorts typically involve Presley talking Waldo into doing something stupid that will benefit Presley, such as in "Rassle Hassle" from the eleventh episode in which Presley talks Waldo into going into the ring with a wrestler named Moose in order to win $100. In "Saddle Battle" from episode 9, Presley makes a side deal with a rodeo promoter after his star James Harness walks off the job, leaving Waldo to ride a bucking bronco and an angry bull. In "Skinned Divers" from the first episode, Presley has Waldo go diving for Davy Jones' locker after they find what they believe is Jones' diary buried on the beach. In his diving attempts Waldo runs into a hammerhead shark and an octopus but eventually does find and retrieve the locker, only to have Magoo pop out from it exclaiming about the outlandishness of these secret society initiations. Normally, however, Magoo only appears at the beginning of the Waldo shorts, talking to him on the phone about his latest adventures.

Another character introduced as a foil for Magoo is his houseboy Charlie, who is a walking Chinese stereotype with bucked teeth, slanted eyes, and extreme mispronunciation, calling his employer "Magloo" and "bloss" instead of "boss." When the program was re-run in the 1980s, Charlie's dialogue was overdubbed to remove the culturally offensive pronunciations. Charlie eventually gets to star in his own short "Magoo's Houseboy" from episode 13 in which he comes to the aid of his nephew, whose cat refuses to come down from the top of a utility pole. Predictably the cat outwits Charlie and gets him electrocuted. Magoo appears only tangentially at the beginning and conclusion of the short.

A few episodes also feature Mother Magoo, whom Magoo treats in a patronizing manner though she is far more competent than he is. In "Mother's Little Helper" from the first episode, he goes over to her house to take her out for a ride in his Stutz Bearcat, not realizing that she is a racing champion who is putting the finishing touches on a super-powered hot rod. Magoo mistakes the hot rod for a washing machine in need of repairs and winds up driving it recklessly through town causes all sorts of catastrophes. In "Mother's Cooking" from episode 11 he thinks that he is just humoring her by eating her inferior cooking, not realizing that he has been consuming the tablecloth rather than what she prepared for him.

He has a more antagonistic relationship with his uncle Tycoon Magoo, who is always angered when Magoo wanders onto one of his properties and sends his British butler Worcestershire to run him off, though Magoo always manages to elude Worcestershire, who predictably suffers a fate similar to Wile E. Coyote in the Roadrunner cartoons. 

Besides borrowing heavily from the Looney Tunes plot archive, the show even recycles its own narratives fairly often. Magoo wanders onto military bases and winds up launching missiles or rockets in "Mis-Guided Missile" from episode 3, "Magoo's Jackpot" from episode 6, "High & Flighty" from episode 7, and "High Spy Magoo" from episode 13. Waldo and Presley tangle with a Cinderella-styled witch with a talking mirror in "Lady in Black" in episode 5, while Magoo foils a similarly outfitted tugboat matron in "Prince Charming Magoo" from episode 13. And he goes car shopping and winds up in a junkyard next door in "Magoo's Buggy" from episode 5 and then repeats the excursion but this time ends up in a TV studio in "People Are a Scream" from episode 11. There's more than one way to interpret his closing line for each episode, "Oh, Magoo, you've done it again!" Others have also noted this lack of originality: Don Markstein of the web site observes, " Unfortunately, UPA's creative drive seems to have petered out with the transition to the small screen." Markstein attributes the degradation to the sheer volume UPA had to turn out for a weekly TV series at the same time they were producing The Dick Tracy Show. But equally plausible is that there are only so many ways to show a visually impaired old man bumbling about.

It's unclear whether Rocky and His Friends had any influence on the writers at UPA, but beginning with "Marco Magoo" in episode 9 and "Choo Choo Magoo" in episode 10, the show began featuring Magoo in historical contexts, much like Peabody's Improbable History segments,  and skewering classic fairy tales, much like Fractured Fairy Tales, with "Goldilocks Magoo" in episode 14. This direction would lead to Magoo's most successful television endeavor a few years later with Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol, which in turn spawned his next television series The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo in 1964-65, wherein Magoo takes on everything from Robin Hood to King Arthur to Sherlock Holmes. But like The Mr. Magoo Show, Famous Adventures lasted only a single season, perhaps proving what is painfully evident from the earlier series--Magoo is best taken in small doses spaced very far apart.

The opening and closing theme for The Mr. Magoo Show was composed by Carl E. Brandt. Brandt was born in Sacramento, California and played clarinet, violin, and saxophone in the Dick Jurgens Orchestra before World War II, during which he served in the Air Force. After the war he moved to Los Angeles and found work composing and arranging for films and television. He provided music for a trio of feature films in 1955, including Seven Angry Men, and then worked on a Mr. Magoo short, Gumshoe Magoo, in 1958, which lead to more work from UPA. Besides The Mr. Magoo Show, he worked on The Dick Tracy Show and The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo, both for UPA. In 1965 he joined Earle Hagen's studio and contributed music for series such as The Andy Griffith Show, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., I Spy, That Girl, The Mod Squad, and Eight Is Enough. He retired in 1981 and died of a heart attack 10 years later on April 25, 1991.

The entire series has been released on DVD by Shout! Factory as part of the box set Mr. Magoo: The Television Collection 1960-1977.






The Actors

Jim Backus

James Gilmore Backus was born in Cleveland and grew up in a wealthy nearby suburb, the son of a mechanical engineer. He was reportedly expelled from a Kentucky military institute for riding a horse through the mess hall. After finishing prep school he attended the American Academy of Dramatic Art and started landing roles on radio, such as The Jack Benny Program, The Alan Young Show, and The Mel Blanc Show. He would also host his own show on the ABC radio network in 1957-58. He began doing voicework for animated films in the late 1940s as well as acting roles in live-action features, beginning with One Last Fling in 1949. He did his first Mr. Magoo short that same year with Ragtime Bear. From then on he worked steadily in radio, film, and television into the 1980s. Highlights in film included Pat and Mike, Rebel Without a Cause, and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. He landed his first recurring television role as the husband of Joan Davis on I Married Joan, which ran from 1952-55. He played news reporter Mike O'Toole on The Jim Backus Show in 1960-61 (sometimes called Hot Off the Wire). He played his iconic character Thurston Howell III on Gilligan's Island from 1964-67 and in many reunions and films thereafter. He also played Dagwood's boss J.C. Dithers on the short-lived TV adaptation of the comic strip Blondie in 1968-69, as well as countless guest appearances on everything from The Untouchables to The Brady Bunch. He and his wife Henny co-authored four humorous books, including his memoir Backus Strikes Back. Late in life he suffered from Parkinson's disease and died from complications of pneumonia on July 3, 1989 at the age of 76.

Jerry Hausner

Also born in Cleveland, James Bernard Hausner broke into radio while in the Army during World War II and was a co-founder of the Armed Services Radio Network. He would also later serve as Deputy Program Director for Radio Free Europe for three years. He performed various roles on hundreds of radio programs, and after a couple of uncredited film appearances during the war began to get regular work in film and later television starting in the late 1940s. He provided the voice of Mr. Magoo's favorite nephew Waldo in the first Magoo short Ragtime Bear in 1949. He is perhaps best known for playing Jerry, Ricky Ricardo's agent, on I Love Lucy, starting with the unaired pilot from 1951. He also provided the baby's cry for the Ricardo's baby, Ricky, Jr. One source says that during the filming of the "Fan Magazine" episode in 1954 (his 14th and final appearance on the show) that Hausner had a disagreement with Desi Arnaz and walked off, feeling bitter toward Arnaz and Lucille Ball for the rest of his life. However, he had single guest spots on Ball's two later programs, The Lucy Show and Here's Lucy. He continued voicing Waldo in the Magoo shorts throughout the 1950s and carried over into the Magoo television programs. He also voiced several characters on the animated Dick Tracy Show in 1961.

His film appearances were few and brief, in features such as Private Hell 36, Paths of Glory, The Naked Street, and Who's Minding the Store? But he was prolific in his TV appearances, including multiple turns on The Dick Van Dyke Show, Green Acres, and Julia. He died of heart failure at age 83 on April 1, 1993.

Mel Blanc

Blanc provided the voice for Magoo's uncle Tycoon Magoo and his butler Worcestershire. See the biography section of the 1960 post for The Flintstones.

Bea Benaderet

Benaderet provided the voice for Mother Magoo in at least five episodes. See the biography section of the 1960 post for The Flintstones.

June Foray

Foray provided the voice for Mother Magoo in at least two episodes. See the biography section of the 1960 post for Rocky and His Friends.

Paul Frees

Frees provided the voice for a variety of characters. See the biography section of the 1960 post for Rocky and His Friends.

Frank Nelson

Nelson provided the voice for a variety of characters. See the biography section of the 1960 post for The Jack Benny Program.