Do I know that TV sleuth from somewhere?

One of the more overt examples of the movie community's fear of television and its effect on ticket sales was in banning studio contract stars from appearing in the new entertainment medium. Among them was RKO Radio's keeping William Bendix, star of the popular radio show THE LIFE OF RILEY, from taking the lead in NBC's first attempt to bring the situation comedy to the small screen in 1949; the part went to Jackie Gleason for less than a season. And some stars were more busy with and focused on movies than anything else: John Wayne, not only a screen icon but also a successful producer, declined an offer to star in GUNSMOKE in 1955, but recommended a frequent player in his films, James Arness, be cast as Marshal Matt Dillon. Arness, every bit an impressive action lead as his mentor, went on to lead the CBS series for the next 20 years.

The new celebrities of the post-World War II era, such as Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, embraced both film and TV equally, but a resistance by the old guard to being a regular presence on the box in the living room was manifested well into the mid-'50s, especially those still associated with the studio system. But the decline of that set-up and the rising number of movie actors joining the ranks of freelancers led to television becoming a viable career option. By 1953, Bendix was free to headline the RILEY series that lasted five seasons, and veterans like Stuart Erwin and Charles Ruggles found their careers revitalized playing bumbling family men on sitcoms. Roscoe Karns, whose movie credits extended as far back as Al Jolson's THE JAZZ SINGER in 1927, said his starring role on ROCKY KING, DETECTIVE on the Dumont Network from 1950 to 1954 saved him from an enforced retirement as screen parts began drying up.

Former leads and top supporting players found work plentiful in the more popular kinds of '50s TV shows, such as comedies, westerns and detective/mystery dramas. Police and private eye entries are the focus here and in future studies, and how the casting of an experienced film actor helped make the respective programs distinctive and memorable. Many of these shows were produced for the crowded syndication market, in which series were sold to local stations rather than the networks, among the more successful of these being the European-produced FOREIGN INTRIGUE (1951-1955) and Ziv's SEA HUNT (1958-1961). The cop-on-the-case and adventure series kept the lead actors in the public eye, years after the programs' original showings in frequent re-runs (and decades later, on home video and streaming), and by no means spelled an end to their acting endeavors.

Our first such look at early TV law enforcers arising from old Hollywood include:

THE ADVENTURES OF THE FALCON (Syndicated, 1954-1955). Charles McGraw's chiseled features and raspy voice helped him land his breakout role as one of THE KILLERS in that film noir classic of 1946, and he alternated between villains (T-MEN, 1947, BORDER INCIDENT, 1949) and heroes in ARMORED CAR ROBBERY (1950) and THE NARROW MARGIN (1952), the latter one of his best roles. He was working mostly in film, many in the noir mode, when he accepted the part of Mike Waring, a.k.a. The Falcon, in this series.

A private investigator with impressive street credentials, Waring is a government troubleshooter with assignments taking him around the world, from recruiting a deported gangster in a sleepy Italian town into the fight for good, to bringing to book racketeers preying on San Francisco longshoremen. Skilled with his wits as well as his fists, Waring is a typical but likeable '50s TV hero, brought reassuringly to life by McGraw (1914-1980), who, after the completion of this series' single 39-episode season, was hired by Warner Bros. to re-create the Humphrey Bogart role in the studio's first try at a TV series, CASABLANCA (1955-1956).

While storylines and production values were modest despite efforts to give THE FALCON an international flavor, the show is watchable and made more interesting by McGraw's commanding performance. Originally the creation of popular fiction writer Michael Arlen (1895-1956) in his 1940 short story "The Gay Falcon," the character was brought to the screen as an RKO series of 1941-1946, first with George Sanders and then Sanders' brother, Tom Conway, as a playboy sleuth not dissimilar from The Saint series Sanders had earlier enacted for the studio. The civilian monicker of McGraw's Falcon was taken from a brief series of Falcon adventures issued by Film Classics in 1948-1949 with noted magician and occasional movie actor John Calvert in the lead.

THE ADVENTURES OF THE FALCON was produced by Federal Telefilms, which earlier issued the popular MR. AND MRS. NORTH (1952-1954); in fact, THE FALCON's December 1954 episode "The Big Break," the script credited to J. Benton Cheney, is actually a re-do of "Breakout," one of the grimmer MR. AND MRS. NORTHs, written by Herbert Purdum and broadcast by CBS on April 12, 1953. Additionally, McGraw made one of his then-infrequent TV appearances on the MR. AND MRS. NORTH episode "Stranger Than Fiction" on Feb. 20, 1953.

DECOY (Syndicated, 1957-1958). Intended as a tribute to the policewomen of New York City, DECOY benefits from its location shooting and the forceful yet sensitive interpretation of Officer Patricia "Casey" Jones by Beverly Garland, who prior to starring in this series had notched a standout record in B movies, primarily for independent producer-director Roger Corman.

Garland's no-nonsense portrayal of Casey meshed perfectly with the show's gritty nature, in which she frequently went undercover to collar killers and other miscreants. The pilot episode, "Stranglehold," sets the tone of her character and of the series: Casey, posing as an entertainer, ingratiates herself with the disturbed suspect (Joanne Linville) in the slaying of a merchant seaman; tragically, Casey discovers the woman killed the man while fending off his rape attempt.

Although many of DECOY's single-season stories were crime-based, they drew upon strong characterization and interesting situations posed by life in the Big Apple during the '50s, a good example seen in "Night of Fire," in which Casey clears a young woman with past mental issues of an arson accusation at a garment factory. The episode ends with Casey speaking to the audience in a plea for understanding, a reflection of then-current concerns with the lot of the psychologically challenged. Her closing comments to viewers were a regular feature of each episode.

Violence for the most part was kept to a minimum, and while Casey must brandish her service revolver at times, she rarely fires the weapon (except in the climax of "My Brother's Killer" to stop a madman's murder spree). The program showcased New York-based actors in support, some who went on to more lasting fame both in film and TV as Edward Asner ("An Eye for an Eye"), Peter Falk ("The Comeback"), Larry Hagman ("Saturday Lost") and Suzanne Pleshette ("The Sound of Tears").


Forgotten for decades, DECOY resurfaced in the ever-expanding home video market and justly took its place as the precursor of Angie Dickinson's NBC series POLICE WOMAN (1974-1978), hailed in its day for presenting a woman as a strong lead in a police drama. "All of the female 'flat-foots' who have come in her wake owe her a debt," classic TV blogger Carey O'Dell (at tvparty.com) reflected in an insightful post shortly after Garland's death on Dec. 5, 2008, at 82.

Garland had made a splashy film debut (as Beverly Campbell) in 1949's D.O.A., but found herself struggling for recognition in small movie roles and TV anthologies when Roger Corman cast her in SWAMP WOMEN (1955). She followed up for Corman with gutsy performances in GUNSLINGER, IT CONQUERED THE WORLD, NAKED PARADISE (all 1956) and NOT OF THIS EARTH (1957) before landing the role of Casey Jones. She continued working in film after DECOY with such productions as THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE (1959), TWICE-TOLD TALES (1963) and PRETTY POISON (1968) to her credit, but television took up more of her time in the succeeding years, including a stint as the new wife of MY THREE SONS' Steve Douglas (Fred MacMurray) in that long-running CBS series.

DECOY was made by Pyramid Productions, which handled TREASURY MEN IN ACTION (better known by its syndication title, FEDERAL MEN) when it went from live to filmed episodes in its last season on ABC (1954-1955). Production chief Stuart Rosenberg and other talents associated with DECOY later joined with producer-director Burt Balaban for the successful true-crime drama MURDER INC. (1960).

FOLLOW THAT MAN (a.k.a. MAN AGAINST CRIME, CBS, 1949-1954). Looking more presidential than private eye, Ralph Bellamy nevertheless cut a dashing and authoritative figure as independent investigator Mike Barnett, whose exploits took him to all levels of society in this New York-based series. Although it was no more violent than most other shows of the time, it came in for criticism on that score, but that was fine with viewers and with Bellamy (1904-1991). The actor had left Hollywood in 1945 after a 14-year film career, playing guys who lost their gals to the likes of Cary Grant and even Edward G. Robinson, to seek new challenges on the stage.

That he did with such productions as DETECTIVE STORY. Television beckoned with MAN AGAINST CRIME (the program's original title), created by Lawrence J. Klee, which was done live for its first three seasons. In 1952, production switched to film under the supervision of producer-director Edward J. Montagne (later known for McHALE'S NAVY in the '60s) and it's these episodes that have survived and enjoyed a new life on home video. Film allowed for the show to utilize NYC locations to play out Barnett's investigations, and sometimes those sites became the show's real star, including an abandoned tenement building ("High Ambush"), the Bronx Botanical Gardens ("The Cococnut's Eye") and the Staten Island Ferry ("Ferry Boat"). In "Washington Story," in which Barnett travels to testify before a Congressional committee, FOLLOW THAT MAN shot scenes on the Capitol steps and other points of interest in the District of Columbia.

Despite carping about the mayhem, Barnett uses his brains to solve the mysteries that confront him, making him indispensable to businesses, insurance companies and even suburban communities coping with clever criminals. Among the supporting actors seen on FOLLOW THAT MAN who achieved later prominence were Nita Talbot (as Barnett's sometimes girlfriend Gloria), Jack Warden and Martin Balsam, while Oz's Wicked Witch of the West, Margaret Hamilton, guested in two episodes.

Bellamy went back west after FOLLOW THAT MAN's expiration to play Gary Cooper's defense attorney in THE COURT MARTIAL OF BILLY MITCHELL (1955) and three years later scored a theatrical triumph as Franklin D. Roosevelt in Dore Schary's SUNRISE AT CAMPOBELLO, reprising the role for the 1960 screen version. Playing the 32nd president of the United States helped define Bellamy's later career in the epic video miniseries WINDS OF WAR (1983) and its 1989 sequel, WAR AND REMEMBRANCE.

As MAN AGAINST CRIME, the series was renewed by CBS for the summer of 1956 with Frank Lovejoy as Barnett.

THE LONE WOLF (a.k.a. STREETS OF DANGER, Syndicated, 1954-1955). For a time, Louis Hayward occupied a unique position in screen history as the first portrayer of Leslie Charteris' reformed thief-turned-sleuth Simon Templar, also known as the Saint, in THE SAINT IN NEW YORK (1938) and the last, in the THE SAINT'S GIRL FRIDAY (1953). Val Kilmer broke the distinction with a less-than-successful version of THE SAINT in 1997. Not widely known was Hayward's turn as a Templar predecessor, Michael Lanyard, in a single-season series he co-produced with Jack J. Gross and Philip N. Krasne that still plays well today.

Hayward (1909-1985) was better known at the time for swashbuckling roles in such extravaganzas as THE SON OF MONTE CRISTO (1940) and THE FORTUNES OF CAPTAIN BLOOD (1950), despite a genuine talent for playing sinister types (LADIES IN RETIREMENT, 1941) or weaklings (THE STRANGE WOMAN, 1946). It was a hushed delivery and vaguely menacing manner that made his interpretation of Lanyard, known as the Lone Wolf, so interesting in this well-produced series, in which Lanyard tackled various crimes and sought wrongdoers both in the U.S. and overseas.

The creation of prolific novelist Louis Joseph Vance (1879-1933), the Lone Wolf had been adapted to the screen several times during the silent era but flourished in a series of B movies produced at Columbia from 1935 until 1949. Several actors, including Melvyn Douglas and Francis Lederer, had essayed Lanyard but the role came to be identified with former Warner Bros. leading man Warren William, who led the series from 1939 until 1943. The TV show, like the movies, was contemporized, making Lanyard a wealthy war veteran with mysterious connections to the underworld that aid him in his investigations.

Storylines, often supplied by producer Donald Hyde and regular director Bernard Girard, were sufficiently different to merit notice, as in "The Murder Story," in which Lanyard struggles to convince a mental patient (DeForest Kelley) he did not kill a woman during a psychotic break. In "The Werewolf Story," Lanyard breaks the spell of terror in which a sinister noble family has held a Central European region in its thrall for generations with a lycanthropic legend.

Supporting casts were populated with familiar faces from the period, although the series did attract such future notables as Ernest Borgnine ("The Avalanche Story") and Harry Morgan ("The Minister Story"). Heavy use of location shooting (e.g., Hoover Dam in "The Las Vegas Story") and Lanyard's intense narration gave THE LONE WOLF a fresh approach to an old literary property. Hayward later produced and starred in a British-made series of 1961, THE PURSUERS, and one of his more memorable appearances on the tube was in the NIGHT GALLERY segment "Certain Shadows on the Wall" in 1970.

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