Friday, January 30, 2015

Birthday post for William Hopper and news

I wanted to make sure to get in one more post in January. As an anonymous reader hastened to inform me, I neglected to put up a post for William Hopper’s birthday on Monday. This year, it wasn’t for lack of remembering, but lack of physical capability to make the post. I was feeling miserable all that day. Then Tuesday was rather busy, as has been the rest of the week, but I decided I must make sure to get William H. acknowledged before the month is out.

This is a real milestone birthday for our William H.; he would have been 100 this year! (William Talman and Simon Oakland celebrate the same milestone this year as well.) It’s really quite incredible to think that it’s been that many years. I wish I really had a decent tribute to give, but I haven’t seen any more of his movies yet, nor have I gleaned new insight into Paul-centric episodes or scenes since the last time I posted on that matter.

The best I can do is mention my geeky excitement when I was watching The Stars and Stripes Forever, the biopic for John Philip Sousa, and they mentioned the actor DeWolf Hopper was going to star in a musical play Sousa was writing the music for. I figured that must be William H.’s father, considering his full name is William DeWolf Hopper, Jr., and looking him up, I find that is true. So it was fun to find a little Perry-related connection in that film.

Also, looking up things further, it says that William H. first appeared in one of his father’s silent movies, Sunshine Dad, as a baby. That’s pretty adorable.

William H. had a very illustrious career in the motion picture business during the late 1930s and off and on through parts of the 1940s and 1950s, before he became Paul Drake on Perry Mason in 1957. And it wasn’t just B-grade movies, either; he has quite the impressive resumé—even though many of his early roles were bit parts. Among other well-known films, he appeared in Stagecoach, The Maltese Falcon, Knute Rockne, and Yankee Doodle Dandy! I knew about his later role in Rebel Without a Cause, but I was unaware of these earlier roles. I am excited. It’s been years since I’ve seen The Maltese Falcon; it looks like it’s time I saw it again. And on the B-movie circuit, he was in two of the Bonita Granville Nancy Drew movies. While I did not care for her version of the character, I would definitely be interested in seeing those films to see William H.

I still find it interesting that William H. originally auditioned for the role of Perry Mason himself when they started putting the show together. I really enjoyed his screen test when I saw it on the 50th Anniversary DVD set, but he just didn’t give off a Perry vibe to me. I guess the producers agreed, since they determined he would be the perfect Paul Drake instead. That was definitely a bit of casting genius!

While I’ll admit that I didn’t think Albert Stratton in The New Perry Mason did a poor job as Paul, it will always be William Hopper’s Paul who is the iconic version of the character. He’s ideal! Smooth, intelligent, always with an eye for a beautiful lady and bewilderment over some of Perry’s desires (“A couple of dozen flies?!”), William H.’s Paul delivers many classic lines and hilarious expressions. And of course, he often brings in the evidence Perry needs to cinch a case just in time.

I love whenever the show devotes a bit more time to showing Paul operating, instead of just having Paul tell Perry things about the investigation after the fact. Every now and then the show would allow some spotlighting of Paul’s work, something that became more prominent later on as Raymond Burr grew tired of always carrying the majority of the show. Mid-series episodes such as The Barefaced Witness, The Impatient Partner, and The Glamorous Ghost are excellent Paul investigation vehicles. Later ventures such as The Bullied Bowler, The Feather Cloak, and The Carefree Coronary also involve Paul as a particularly key figure.

When out-of-town investigating needs doing, Perry often sends Paul instead of going himself. Sometimes Paul’s adventures are off-screen; other times, we see him in assorted locales such as New Orleans, Boston, and Mexico. It would make a good post just to focus on Paul’s travels sometime. I’ll have to start collecting information for such a post.

Paul is such a ladies’ man that another good post subject would be all the times he’s mentioned having dates, shows interest in particular ladies, or is actually shown on dates. Then again, that could take volumes. Paul has an interesting social life, when given the chance to have it.

Paul always adds so much spice to the show. I always enjoy seeing more of his investigations and would have liked to have seen more. There could never be too many private-eye series! Lately I’ve been enjoying a lot of Darren McGavin’s private-eye vehicle Mike Hammer, and it occurs to me how much fun it would have been had there been a series focusing more on Paul’s investigations than on the legal elements. But I love Perry Mason for what it is, and I love Paul for being a part of what it is. There is certainly a big, lonely gap in the reunion movies where Paul should be. No actor could quite fill it.

Happy belated birthday to a wonderful actor and a wonderful man, William Hopper! 100 years of being aware of his existence in the world is a milestone indeed.

And now for a bit of news. I probably shouldn’t have this in the same post, but I’d like to get it out here before any more time goes by. I still wish that there was a Perry video or computer game with all the latest graphics. It would be so fun to see the cast rendered in 3D, possibly even controllable for levels. Imagine playing out investigation levels as Paul! Going to court as Perry and Hamilton! Playing mini puzzle games with Della or Tragg, Andy, and Steve sorting through information! There are so many possibilities.

The old DOS text-based computer game remains the one time Perry ventured into such media. There may be some nice pictures of Paul in that; I’m unsure, as I’ve only seen the first 16 minutes of game play. All I recall is some nice renditions of Hamilton and Tragg. However, for anyone who understands how to work a text-based DOS game, it is now possible to find out the answers to this and any other questions revolving around said game! The Internet Archive has been adding old DOS games to be legally played online for free, and the 1985 Perry game The Mandarin Murder is among them! My friend Crystal Rose (who runs the Simon Oakland blog with me) discovered it here:

I’m looking forward to giving it a try, although I don’t know how handy I’ll be at playing a text-based game.

Also, I do have what appears to be news on the Perry movie front. There is a promo running for MeTV’s current Mystery Movie feature on weeknights, and Perry as he appears in the 1980s and 1990s movies is part of that promo. It looks like at some point, MeTV will indeed air some of the Perry movies as part of their line-up. They seem to rotate each week, so we should get a whole week of Perry movies sometime soon. That should be interesting: a late-night Perry episode followed by a Perry movie.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Extra! Extra! Read all about Mr. Mason! (Or Mr. Burger!)

So I’m writing a non-Perry story based on the adventure quest genre and decided to have some of the clichés, including a heavyset bad guy in white. I opted to base the character on Perry alumnus Dan Seymour. I’ve already written a story with a Victor Buono-inspired bad guy, and Dan Seymour seemed the next most logical choice.

The Ancient Romeo is not a favorite episode of mine and never has been. When I saw it was on MeTV tonight, I decided to see what was on the local station instead. I see that episode so seldom I didn’t recognize its opening scene at first, but I recognized Dan Seymour’s voice before he actually walked onscreen. I’m rather pleased about that.

The episode was The Silent Partner, which probably gave Dan Seymour his meatiest screentime on Perry. Even though I’ve come to prefer its remake, The Candy Queen, I like the earlier episode and decided to watch it instead of MeTV’s offering. I am, however, wondering why the local station was showing season 1 when they were in the middle of season 4! I hope they haven’t decided to only air episodes through most of season 4 now. It was bad enough when they cut out most of 7, all of 8, and half of 9!

It’s always a little odd to go back to season 1 episodes after watching later episodes. I will probably always prefer the later episodes, as sacrilegious as that likely sounds to some fans, but there’s no denying that the early episodes featured very twisty, noir-ish plots.

They also feature a Perry who doesn’t always put the interests of worried clients first. Okay, so even a bit later there are times when he really doesn’t want to take a case, but season 1 seems to bring us the majority of the times when he has a client and doesn’t always jump to their aid or even wholly believe them. He’s a much more cynical Perry. Here, he wants to work on a brief instead of immediately going to Mrs. Kimber’s aid, suggesting she come tomorrow as opposed to that night. It’s understandable that he would be worried about the brief, but it’s just interesting to note that he doesn’t drop everything to see about Mrs. Kimber that night. Della, however, thinks that he should do exactly that.

But this post isn’t going to be one that examines the differences between Perrys. The main thing I was thinking about this time around was how the press features into the episode and how often they’re around in the series at all. I was also thinking about Hamilton’s approach to the press and how that seems to change over time.

There really aren’t very many occasions when the main characters are shown being hounded by reporters. This episode gives us a glimpse into what has been happening on that front, with the reporters hanging on the friction between Perry and Hamilton and rushing off to make their stories when Perry says “No comment” in response to being asked if he really, deliberately told his client to fire a second bullet from the gun to make a paraffin test inconclusive.

Perry and Hamilton are on very bad terms here, with each calling the other by his last name and not even affording the courtesy of a “Mr.” for the sake of the press if nothing else. Hamilton is stressed and angry, believing that Perry has broken the law, and he treats the reporters in a very clipped manner. Perry is cold to Hamilton but gracious to the reporters; in spite of the “No comment” remark, he delivers it in a calm and collected tone.

Contrast this season 1 incident with a scene from season 9, where Hamilton is cornered by reporters in The Carefree Coronary. (Oddly enough, Dan Seymour is in this episode too.) Now Hamilton is calm, cool, and collected, handling the questions with grace and ease and telling the reporters that he isn’t going to make any case against Perry until he sees what the outcome of the inquest is.

Hamilton is definitely more of an ally by the final season. And he has also matured in other ways, including not losing his temper as often. (When he does, though, it’s a beaut, like in The Fatal Fortune.) Perhaps he would have handled the reporters smoother even in season 1 if he hadn’t been so stressed at the moment; we see him in the season 1 episode The Terrified Typist, rather pleased and triumphant as he talks to a reporter after court (albeit we don’t hear what he’s saying). But it’s an interesting contrast between season 1 and season 9 anyway.

Also of interest to note is that while in The Silent Partner and other early episodes, Perry goes to the police for help (i.e., Lieutenant Tragg), in later episodes such as The Carefree Coronary he’s more likely to appeal to Hamilton (despite Steve being the most genuinely friendly of the three policemen). Ah, how times change through the seasons. I just love their always-developing friendship.

(And yet another interesting contrast, as others have noted, is Hamilton’s reaction to getting an onscreen win. While in The Terrified Typist he’s clearly pleased with himself for getting a conviction, in season 7’s The Deadly Verdict he is very sobered. Even though in both cases he believes the defendant is guilty, he has always recognized that it’s still a somber thing for someone to be sentenced to death, and in The Deadly Verdict, this feeling is more visibly prominent than in the earlier episode.)

EDIT: I just remembered that Perry is cornered by reporters in The Grinning Gorilla, when they mob him to ask about him taking on the case. At that point, he had not agreed to take the case and it was very awkward for him. It's been so long since I saw the episode that I no longer recall how he handled the situation. I vaguely remember that he was so taken by surprise that he didn't know what to say at first. I think in frustration he then tried to say he had not taken the case, but never finished that statement.

I actually can’t think of any other times where we both see and hear Hamilton or the other main characters talking to reporters about themselves. Perry has to fend off reporters bothering his clients sometimes, such as in The Wrathful Wraith, and there’s a couple of times when Perry or Hamilton appears in newspaper stories, including Hamilton’s win in The Deadly Verdict, but as far as actual interaction between the main characters and reporters where reporters want to write about them, it’s quite rare. (So are those other news-related incidents, actually.)

Still, even though we are only allowed glimpses into what happens when the press pounces on our main characters, they are fascinating little glimpses. In early seasons I imagine reporters in L.A. make it big describing all the latest clashes between Perry and Hamilton, while reporters of the later seasons are stunned and amazed by all the times the two actually work in harmony together. And judging by the tongue-in-cheek example of the “District Attorney Victorious” headline in The Deadly Verdict, I wonder if the reporters make a big deal out of any time Hamilton actually wins a case.

I subscribe to the idea that he won more than we saw onscreen, and that there were actually more times that he won onscreen than what is generally noted by viewers (such as all the times a case went to jury trial instead of remaining a preliminary hearing), so I’ll admit I do hope that the reporters don’t make like a win by Hamilton is a rare event.

That said, the headline in The Deadly Verdict is amusing. A nice smidgen of humor in one of the darkest (and best) episodes of the series.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

MeTV 2015 schedule changes

So reader Susan Clark alerted me to the fact that come next month, MeTV’s schedule will alter in a way that will affect Raymond Burr fans. Yes, Ironside will be off the schedule once again. Sigh. I managed to get one of the Joseph Campanella episodes I wanted, but there were still the other three. And in any case, it’s such an enjoyable, suspenseful show and there were still some episodes I hadn’t seen. They just put it back in September; it really shouldn’t be gone again already.

Both Perry episodes, luckily, will remain. They’re insistent on trying The Love Boat on weekdays again, but it won’t interfere with the morning Perry. And at night, they’re running something called the MeTV Mystery Movie right after the nighttime showing of Perry. Apparently, among other things, they’ll be borrowing some of the shows from Cozi TV that run ninety minutes.

I am excited about them bringing Quincy, M.E. to the schedule. There are quite a few episodes that I am very interested in catching, including four with Perry guest-star Simon Oakland and two with H.M. Wynant (although they might not show one of them, since it was one of the pre-series movies). And Ironside guest-star Joseph Campanella appears six times, I think!

I am sad that Dragnet and Adam-12 are leaving the schedule, but since MeTV has been so sloppy about which episodes they air lately (sometimes airing certain ones again after only a couple of weeks), perhaps it's time for them to take a break from showing these fun crime shows. I wonder if Antenna TV will pick them up again? (Oh! Correction: Cozi will get them. I'm glad they'll still be on somewhere, but Cozi is notorious for being sloppy about showing episodes in order. Sigh.)

This is probably the only check-in before Christmas, so Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays to all readers! Hopefully the new year will bring an end to such sporadic posts and we can get back to a regular schedule.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Richard interview, and an attempt to use Sergeant Brice more

I’ve just finished listening to this awesome interview Richard did last week: It’s definitely a treasure. I loved listening to him all the way along, and it was fun to hear what some of the fans had to say. Perry is only briefly touched on, but it was great to hear it mentioned.

I blushed a little when the topic of Oscar Goldman and Jaime Sommers as a romantic pairing came up, but whatever Richard may have thought of the idea, he was very gracious and kind about it (as he was throughout the whole interview) and mentioned that people were asking him about that even back when The Bionic Woman was first on.

I have to admit, I can never fully get away from being rather fascinated by the idea of the pairing. I feel a bit guilty for that because of Steve Austin and Jaime’s epically soap opera romance, but I remain intrigued anyway. I pretty much love looking at Oscar and Jaime’s relationship in every way possible: friendship, familial, or romantic. And I think it’s time I saw the Deadly Ringer episodes they were discussing at one point. Due to me not liking when main characters end up in prison, I still haven’t seen those yet, but I’ve planned to since I’ve been sure there are some awesome Oscar scenes in them.

It’s so very exciting that Richard’s book is coming out! It’s a treat for all Perry fans, Richard fans, and classic movie and television fans. I know Richard will have many exciting things to tell.

And as season 4 of Perry wound to a close and season 5 begins to unfold, I observe first Sergeant Brice’s expanding role and second, the apparent search for someone else to help take some of the acting strain off of Ray Collins, whose health was starting to fail.

It’s obvious that they first tried the idea of Sergeant Brice becoming more talkative and involved. In late season 4 episodes such as The Grumbling Grandfather and The Guilty Clients, Brice has a lot more to do or say than in most episodes, even taking over completely for Tragg in some scenes and episodes.

I definitely like the idea and wonder why it didn’t work out. Was Lee Miller uncomfortable having more to say? Did they determine that the quiet, understated Sergeant Brice just wouldn’t be able to carry things by himself very often and a more forceful character would be needed?

On that, I probably agree at least somewhat. Brice is so calm and gentle and not bothered by Perry and company hanging around and investigating. The show would have certainly taken on a different dynamic with the more permissive Sergeant Brice being more in charge of things. He probably would have become much more of an ally to Perry and company, freely allowing them their investigations and perhaps letting Perry or Paul be right with him to look into questioning suspects and the like. In later episodes, on one occasion he shows definite amusement over his superior blowing his stack at Perry’s interference, and on another, indicates to Paul that if it were up to him, he would let Paul stay and look around a crime scene.

I can’t say I would have minded at least seeing what the show would have been like with that changed dynamic. But I’m not sure it would have worked out for long, since it seems Gardner and the crew wanted it to stay with the police sometimes assuming great opposition to Perry’s investigations, and since amusingly frustrated exchanges are often a big and important part of Perry’s interaction with the police. Brice just isn’t the type to engage in such exchanges. Hence, they definitely needed someone aside from Brice to be there.

Thus began what seems to be a bit of a search. Although they try Wesley Lau very early in season 5, playing Lieutenant Anderson in a great couple of scenes in The Malicious Mariner, he doesn’t immediately become part of the main cast. They also try Med Flory, another actor from late season 4, who in The Crying Comedian plays Lieutenant McVey, twin brother to Captain McVey of the United States Air Force. . . . (Just kidding, but I still find it bewildering that both of his Perry characters are named McVey! I am definitely going to make them twin brothers in my stories.)

Then we have a couple of episodes in a row that do not feature the regular city police cast. The next time we get back to them, Tragg is there again (with faithful Sergeant Brice silent in the background). The next episode after that, Andy is back and this time stays.

I would be curious to know in what order the early season 5 episodes were filmed and whether Andy’s first episode was filmed after Lieutenant McVey’s. Perhaps they had already decided on Wesley Lau before any of his police episodes aired, although I would then wonder why they showed the McVey episode after Andy’s first one.

I am very glad they ended up choosing Wesley, but I love Med Flory as Captain McVey in The Misguided Missile and I know he could have made Lieutenant McVey a great character too.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Short post

Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow, fellow American readers! To everyone else, Happy Thursday!

I caught part of The Difficult Detour on MeTV last week. I had watched the uncut version not that long ago, so I wasn’t sure I’d watch it on television, but I ended up pulled into the plot again anyway.

Is it just me or does anyone else find Neil Hamilton’s character to be a bit . . . confusing? I feel like that every time I see the episode. To elaborate, he claims he always liked Pete Mallory. If that’s true, then why in the world didn’t he try talking to Pete about the road on his land before just slapping a court order on him? Surely he would have realized that Pete wasn’t trying to do anything against him.

I suppose it’s possible that he used the court order because he still wasn’t down from San Francisco and he wanted work on the road stopped immediately instead of letting it go on even a few more hours. And if that was the case, I guess that it was a kindness in a certain way, not wanting the crew to do even more work on the project when it was just going to be stopped.

I’m not sure whether he was down from San Francisco yet or not; I don’t think the script specified. But maybe I’ll choose to think of it like that. It’s the only way that makes sense, when he does seem to be a fairly nice person when he appears.

I also wonder what happened to the episode’s murderer. He definitely didn’t seem to quite have all of his marbles, so it wouldn’t seem exactly fair if he were executed for the crime. He seemed like he needed psychiatric help.

Also, this is the time of year that I think about Dan Tobin, who was born in late October (the 19th) and died in late November (the 26th). I’ve been noticing him guest-starring in more shows than I had thought I’d seen with him. It’s always fun to spot him, especially if it’s something I’ve seen before and liked. I think my most favorite non-Perry roles of his, however, will always be his Maverick characters. Staring in horror as a camel looks in a hotel window, challenging Bret Maverick to a duel, and swindling Beau Maverick by tricking him into taking a real diamond necklace are among his memorable Maverick moments. He had a real comedic genius, especially in the first two episodes. That comes out a bit on Perry, as Clay says strange things, but it’s certainly more understated there (and should be). I wish I had some more biographical information to go on for him, but I’m happy that so many of his performances are still available for viewing.

Friday, November 21, 2014

More book news, and the uncut Barefaced Witness

I bring more exciting news on the book front, as Richard is interviewed about it: The interview is awesome in general, and now we have confirmation that Perry Mason will be discussed within the book’s pages! I hope there will be a nice, meaty section on it.

And The Barefaced Witness was on MeTV this past night. The television version has never made a great deal of sense to me and I’ve had the feeling that it’s one of the most cut-up episodes, so I decided it would be the perfect time to watch the uncut version.

I was definitely right about it being chopped up. So many scenes were missing, specifically almost everything that specifically showed or mentioned that ridiculous festival the town was having. And since that was kind of pivotal to the whole plot, even being brought up in the episode’s title, it’s absolutely preposterous that those scenes were removed!

I think that concerning that subject, the cut version of The Barefaced Witness only keeps the scene in the café where Paul looks at the list of the nine clean-shaven people arrested during the festival week. But it’s so weird for that to be the only mention of the festival. That makes it seem such a throwaway thing when it’s actually important to the solution of things. I don’t recall the opening sequence at all, which showed the silly signs about clean-shaven people being arrested and guys walking around with beards. And the scene with Paul arriving and ending up being forced to take part in the mock arrest for being clean-shaven was certainly missing.

Paul sure was a good sport about that. The police were pretty nice, contrary to the visions that have been dancing through my mind for years, and it all seemed to be in good fun. I wonder, though, what would have happened had someone not wanted to participate in the silliness. Someone could have arrived not knowing about the festival and have needed to meet someone in a hurry, and I doubt they would have liked being sidetracked into being arrested and fined for such a nonsensical reason! And it wouldn’t have seemed very fair, either. It didn’t seem fair as it was to fine people who didn’t even know anything about it.

One thing that seriously amuses me is that the local reporter played by Adam West apparently refused to be part of things. I suppose he was fined, but he must have been okay with that and preferred it to wearing a fake beard all week or growing a real one.

Adam West’s Perry characters seem to follow a pattern of being very protective of the girls they like. Both this guy and the character Adam plays in The Bogus Books are like that.

One intriguing thing about this episode, which isn’t as clear in the cut version, is that it’s really a Paul vehicle. Perry appears in the scene where Paul’s client wants the folder found, and then he goes to look for it when Paul isn’t available, but other than that, he doesn’t even appear again until they’re actually in court! There’s not even a scene of him talking to the defendant before court convenes. The whole mystery starts because of a past case of Paul’s, as the client is coming to him about some new twists, and Paul is the main player until the case goes to court. That’s neat; I like episodes that cast more of the spotlight on the other characters.

Another thing I was specifically looking for in this episode was the district attorney, Mr. Hale. I found it interesting that the first witness says his name straight-out while being questioned. It certainly shows how laid-back and familiar they are in that town. But I wonder if it was also there because the writer wanted everyone to know that yes, the D.A. was indeed Mr. Hale from earlier episodes and not just another character played by the same actor.

I like Paul Fix and his character is interesting in how he definitely brings a rural, laid-back manner to the courtroom. I wonder if that was why they used him multiple times, to make quite the contrast with Perry the “big city” lawyer.

The episode has never been a particular favorite of mine, but that’s always been partially due to being so puzzled by the cut version. Knowing it’s a Paul episode makes it more intriguing to me. And I like Adam West, both from The Bogus Books and from Batman, so I enjoy seeing him guest-starring. It will probably never rank among my most favorite episodes ever, but in its uncut form I will probably enjoy seeing it now and then, especially in order to see a lot of Paul in action.

And today is Joseph Campanella’s 90th birthday! Awesome! I wish he was a Perry alumnus, but unfortunately he never appeared on our show. He does have a Raymond Burr connection, having appeared on four Ironside episodes. I saw The Happy Dreams of Hollow Men last month when MeTV aired it and I was thoroughly impressed anew by his acting abilities. He and Raymond Burr are the main players and carry most of the episode alone. It’s highly intense, as Joseph’s character descends into drug withdrawal and desperation and Ironside tries to keep him grounded in reality.

I’m still repulsed by the character flipping out and pitching Ironside to the floor, and later threatening him with a rifle, and it shows what a wonderful and loyal friend Ironside is, to keep believing in his friend amid all of that. The way the episode ends, with Ironside going to him as he sobs on the floor in despair and telling him to lean on him as they leave, is very powerful and poignant.

I will always wish Joseph had been on Perry, but I’m glad to have the four Ironside episodes to showcase his interaction with Raymond Burr and the other excellent cast members.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Exciting News!

I learned two pieces of exciting Perry-related information in the last few days!

First, that memoir I heard Richard Anderson was writing a couple of years ago is definitely coming! It’s finally on pre-order here: I wish we didn’t have to wait until March to read it, but I’m thrilled to finally have a release date! The co-author of the book contacted me to let me know last week.

I have to say, I love that part of the title is “At Last”, after anxiously waiting for a couple of years or so!

Then, Fedora, one of the readers here, made an exciting discovery. All the Perry books are available to read online here: I think this is an Indian site? But the books are in English. They are PDF, which isn’t my favorite format, but I am totally willing to brave that to check some of these out, especially The Shoplifter’s Shoe! Finally, I can see how the book version of Deputy Sampson is written!

Hopefully I will get back to regular blog posts soon. October was really hectic and November is starting out likewise. I unfortunately failed to get a Perry Halloween story written, but that was not entirely because of the hectic goings-on. I have never quite figured out enough of the plot of the masquerade story to actually get it written without getting stuck. I am definitely thinking about it and maybe I will write it anyway, even after Halloween, if I suddenly figure out the missing links.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Notable Guest-Stars: Walter Burke

While watching The Ominous Outcast the other day, I was surprised and delighted and amused to see Walter Burke playing the prosecutor! He’s a fine actor, but that wasn’t the type of role I expected to see him in. Usually he’s a sidekick or a small-time conman or other roles that don’t quite have the prestige a district attorney would. I decided it was high-time to give him a spotlight post.

As is the case with quite a few character actors, I can’t seem to learn a lot of biographical information. Born in Brooklyn on August 25th, 1908, Walter started acting as a teenager, appearing in several Broadway plays from 1925 to 1930. He then worked with the American Opera Company in several productions, starting with a non-singing role in Faust. It doesn’t say if he sang in the other productions; I am curious to know.

He went back to Broadway in 1936. He surfaced in Hollywood in The Naked City in 1948, and from there went on to appear in a few more plays and an assortment of movies, including All the King’s Men. I’ve seen that film, but I don’t recall his part in it. It was quite some time ago that I saw it.

Television is probably what he is most remembered for. One of the classic character actors who pops up just about everywhere, Walter appeared in everything from Westerns to detective shows and fantasy/sci-fi. I’ve definitely seen him on many detective series, including The Untouchables, and I remember a turn as a mayor on The Wild Wild West. Fun times.

On Perry, Walter made five guest appearances over the nine seasons, starting with Freddie in the much-hated season 2 venture The Jaded Joker. I did a spotlight post on that episode not too long ago, so I won’t discuss it again, except to say that I greatly enjoyed Walter’s interpretation of the character and how much he cared about the titular character played by Frankie Laine. A conman-turned-companion and friend, Freddie is extremely loyal and determined, albeit he doesn’t really like to talk about what he’s done for his friend.

The Ominous Outcast came in season 3, and here we see Walter with glasses as he plays prosecutor James Blackburn. He does well in the role, although of course I suppose the prosecutor’s lines were written with Hamilton in mind, so there isn’t a great deal different dialogue-wise. Instead, Walter uses the delivery of the dialogue to make the role unique.

He doesn’t appear again until season 5’s The Missing Melody, and here it’s a much smaller role, the smallest he played on the series, I believe. I only recall him being in one scene. He’s a gambler at odds with a politician who wants to change gambling laws. But he’s horrified when he realizes that a blackmailer decided to get to the politician through his daughter and then expects the gambler to pay for the blackmail evidence. He refuses.

Again Walter disappears, resurfacing in season 8’s The Wooden Nickels as panhandler Jerry Kelso. But since this episode isn’t one I see as much, I can’t quite bring his character to mind. I remember him there, but I don’t entirely remember what he was doing other than observing the odd cloak-and-dagger chase around town. And I think eventually he was caught and made to talk, but then again, that could have been a scene from his final Perry appearance. In season 9’s The Crafty Kidnapper, perhaps the darkest episode of the series, he plays a private investigator. I also can’t recall many of the details of this performance.

I always delight in seeing him turn up, whether on Perry or other shows. I’m surprised he was only in five Perry episodes; sometimes it seems like there were more than that. But five isn’t shabby, and he turns out some wonderful performances in all of them.

As I recall, like Milton Selzer, Walter didn’t often play unsympathetic characters. Usually they were good guys, or else if they were on the shady side, there was still something human and likable about them. That, I believe, is one reason why I particularly think fondly of him.

Walter continued to make many appearances on shows up until 1980, and according to IMDB, he also worked as an acting coach in the 1970s. Sadly, being a heavy smoker, he succumbed to emphysema on August 4th, 1984. Another great character actor departed from us.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Singing Skirt: Book vs. Episode

I have been seriously neglecting this blog this month. Part of it is because of my annual October Writing challenge, to write ten or eleven creepy stories in October, and they’re turning out longer than other years, so I’m devoting more time to them on this round.

Another part is that I haven’t been able to think hard enough to come up with a new topic I want to discuss. Unfortunately, I once again didn’t get up a special anniversary post back in September to celebrate the day our show premiered. But after seeing The Singing Skirt again and looking over the book summary, I am intrigued enough to want to muse on the similarities and differences between the two versions.

Most names are different in the book version, as usual. George Anclitas and Slim Marcus retain theirs. Some characters’ names are oddly similar, such as Ellis instead of Ennis. Other characters’ names are completely changed, including the defendant’s.

It’s interesting that Slim Marcus and George Anclitas are working together in the book to cheat Mr. Ellis, instead of Slim doing it behind Anclitas’s back. And the amount of money is much less—$6,000 instead of $60,000.

The basic plot is more or less the same as the episode, including the thing of Anclitas framing people with marijuana cigarettes when he wants them out of the picture and Perry switching guns and causing even more of a problem because of it. But of course, since a little 50-minute episode can’t hold everything, the book is much more fleshed-out than the episode.

Also the same is the defendant not being so squeaky clean, which isn’t as big a deal in the books but is in the episodes. She’s having an affair with Mr. Ellis, which seems to be more pronounced in the book than it was in the episode. In the episode, they still seemed to be trying to tone it down somewhat by it being said that they only went out two or three times (albeit that may have been a lie).

The biggest difference between the two versions, and the one I find most pleasing, is that Slim Marcus is not the murderer in the book. However, it’s kind of sad that in the book it’s actually Mr. Ellis. After the defendant was so crazy about him, he just kills his wife and lets the defendant take the rap. And in addition to dating her, he was also dating her friend Sadie! I guess that’s what she gets for getting involved with a married man.

According to Storrer’s site, the books tried to build up on the tension between Perry and Hamilton by having Hamilton get closer each book to either getting Perry in (probably deserved) trouble or getting the defendant convicted. I suppose that means that was kind of the gimmick of the books, as opposed to the episodes’ gimmick of the wrong person always being arrested. In The Singing Skirt, to make the tension even more pronounced, even Della disbelieves the client is telling the truth.

That is unusual for the episodes too, isn’t it? There’s been quite a few times when Paul has disbelieved, but it seems like Della usually sticks with whatever Perry thinks. Or even times when Perry doesn’t want to take a case because he’s skeptical, Della encourages him to do so. I think about the only time television Della was absolutely not thrilled with Perry’s involvement was in The Velvet Claws, when Della could see how dangerous the client was but Perry kept trying to help her anyway.

That element of Della encouraging Perry to take cases he isn’t that interested in seemed to be a theme running through several mystery series. The same thing happened several times on Mannix, with Peggy encouraging her boss to take certain cases. It seemed very strange and even out-of-character when later on, in season 7, there were two or three occasions where Peggy was convinced that Joe’s theories were baloney and that he should drop the cases because the clients were not worth helping.

Since both Della and Peggy serve as the consciences for their bosses during those rare but human times when they would rather do something other than take on a particular case, it’s odd to see either of the girls being cynical and trying to discourage their bosses instead. Of course, in the case of The Velvet Claws, Della’s objections are understandable, while Peggy’s objections in the season 7 episodes are puzzling. Why those cases any more than any others? They’re not any stranger, nor the clients any more suspicious, than many of the others. Our Velvet-Clawed lady, on the other hand, is extremely unique in her manipulations of and flirting with Perry. I can’t think of another client quite like her in any way, and that is negatively speaking.

But I digress. The Singing Skirt is actually not one of my favorite episodes; were it not for H.M. Wynant taking part, it would probably have been destined to remain as one of my least favorites, due to all the shenanigans with the guns that Perry causes and the resulting problems in court because of them. Also, it is the last episode to feature Hamilton until the last two episodes of the season. And I find myself quite unprepared for the long stretches of Hamilton-less episodes in the remainder of season 3 and much of season 4! Maybe, since now I own most of them on DVD, I’ll watch the uncut versions instead of just seeing the cut versions over once again. I’ve hardly seen any of those episodes uncut, so that will at least be a fun adventure.

And I do look forward to The Crying Cherub in any case, as I think Sergeant Brice and Lieutenant Tragg have some nice interaction in it. I also particularly like The Nimble Nephew. And of course, I always enjoy seeing the Sampson episodes, cut or uncut.

Meanwhile, since The Singing Skirt is one of the books available to read online on that site I found (, I shall probably read through at least some of it sometime.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Startled Stallion

It’s been so long since I’ve seen the uncut version of The Startled Stallion, as I’m pretty sure I did once, that I can’t fully remember what’s missing from the television version. But one thing present in both versions that I always love seeing is the awesomeness of Lieutenant Tragg.

Even before he realizes that the case is murder and not death by frightened horse, he doesn’t like the idea of putting down a beautiful animal like this horse. Probably some of that is recognizing how valuable the horse is, but he just comes across as someone who appreciates animals in general and doesn’t like to see them killed unless absolutely necessary.

Also present in this episode is another element that occurred several times around season 3, that of Tragg teaching Sergeant Brice some of the clues he looks for in an investigation. The bit with determining it had to be murder because the wheelchair-bound man could not have locked himself in the barn is great. I love any scenes showing that the police are not idiots. Of course, the wrong person gets arrested, as always, but there is definite evidence against her.

I also like how Hamilton seems to be acknowledging the problem of the wrong people getting arrested when he tells Perry, “You know what we go through before we indict someone.” It doesn’t just happen at random; they are making an effort to get the right person arrested. The only reason it doesn’t work is because of the formula. And I do have to give points to the books for apparently not falling back on said formula all the time. I just don’t like that the reason they don’t is because Perry’s clients sometimes (or often) are guilty. As I said, I rather romanticize the character due to his television counterpart!

Another fun thing about The Startled Stallion episode is Elliott Reid playing the defendant’s brother. I’ve liked him for years because of his roles in Disney movies, so I was happy to see him pop up on Perry.

Of the episodes about horses, I think I like this one a lot more than the season 6 episode The Fickle Filly. I find it so sad in the latter episode when the horse goes lame. It’s sad for the horse and also for the people, since they thought they had a great racehorse. Of course, there is the bit in the epilogue where they plan to breed the horse, so it’s nice that all of their plans don’t have to just go down the drain.

What’s strange about the syndication copy of The Startled Stallion, however, is that I honestly can’t remember if I’ve ever seen the first scene on television before, the part that shows the actual mock wedding and reveals in their car that the secretary didn’t really marry the old man. It seems like all the other times I’ve seen the episode on television, it’s opened with the racing horses. That is very weird if there really is a syndication episode floating around without that key opening scene, although I definitely wouldn’t put it past networks to clip it out for commercial time.

Back to Sergeant Brice, it’s fun seeing him becoming an important fixture on Perry. By season 3, he’s there almost all the time when it’s an in-town episode. According to IMDB, Lee Miller was playing Sergeant Brice, uncredited as the character, in several season 1 episodes. I don’t recall seeing him, but the broadcast prints of season 1 episodes are bad, so I should check my DVDs to see if I see him anywhere.

What I do know is that once or twice in season 2, they had a character called Sergeant Brice who was not played by Lee Miller. Even if Lee’s character in season 1 is thought to be Brice, I am quite sure he is never actually addressed as such until late in season 2, when they decided Tragg should have a steady partner instead of different ones most of the time. And instead of keeping the actor who was originally playing a Sergeant Brice character, they brought in Lee, which was a stroke of genius.

Lee is perfect as the quiet Sergeant Brice, silently observing everything and speaking when necessary. He interacts with Tragg, Perry, Hamilton, suspects and witnesses, Andy, Steve, and even Della. Those who have only seen syndication versions of the episodes won’t have seen it, but one of the good things about The 12th Wildcat is the bit where Brice wanders in and greets Della, jokingly asking if Perry and Paul are giving her a bad time. She responds by touching his arm and saying if they do, he’s her policeman. Aww. Brice has been shown to be friendly to Perry and company on several occasions, and indicates in The Careless Kitten and The Impetuous Imp that he has a lot less problems with them poking around investigating than his superiors do, but that brief and telling interaction with Della says that he must interact with them (and her) a lot more than we ever see onscreen. I still want to write a story with him and Della sometime.

Perhaps they can have some interaction if I write a Halloween story this year. I was thinking that if I did, it would be a great time to write that masquerade-themed adventure I always wanted the show to have. It will kind of be The Dodging Domino as the title made me think that episode should have been. I was thinking of setting it around season six or seven, but I might just set it after season 9 instead, as per most of my stories.