Thursday, August 30, 2012

In Memoriam: William Talman

This is memorial post one of two for today. If anyone happens to stumble in when this post is at the top, please check back to find the other one too. This one is going up first because William left us first.

I’ve been pondering on what to write about for both of these memorial posts. I chat a lot about the wonderful characters the actors have brought to life, both on Perry and elsewhere, but I like to discuss other aspects too, when possible. And for William Talman especially, I’ve talked at length about many of his movie and television characters aside from Hamilton.

One I haven’t mentioned is his very last role, in an episode of The Invaders. The series involves aliens who have come to Earth and assumed human identities. William plays one of the aliens. And he doesn’t have near enough screen time, to my way of thinking.

The character is a bad fellow; in the first minutes alone he and another alien kill a guy in a truck and take it over. He’s a mysterious figure until his final scene, where it’s revealed that he took on the name and occupation of a colonel.

One very unique thing about his role is that the audience does not hear him speak until that last scene. Until he was shown talking in a phone booth (his words not penetrating the glass), I wondered if he spoke at all or if the character could speak.

Alas, he ends up killed during a battle. It all comes full-circle; his earliest movie roles were bad guys, and they all seemed to get killed off. But it’s both sad and eerie that his final role also involves the character dying. The episode aired in 1967. William died August 30th, 1968.

Several of his good guy characters haven’t survived the movies or television series, either. As previously mentioned, his very honest and upright characters in both The Racket and One Minute to Zero were killed, as was an outlaw trying to turn his life around in an episode of Tales of Wells Fargo.

I don’t like seeing characters played by my favorite actors dying, particularly when they’re wonderful characters. Sometimes I rebel and try to “fix” it in fan stories so they don’t die. I have a short and completed story for The Racket where Officer Johnson lives and was only said to be dead to the murderer so he or someone else couldn’t come back and finish the job. And I have been working off and on with stories for One Minute to Zero and the Tales of Wells Fargo episode. The latter I never did get very far into, but I established the character as being badly wounded but alive.

The One Minute to Zero piece, by contrast, I got farther into but still have not finished. I had to do a couple of things I’d never done before in order to get Colonel John Parker to live as well as to have the other story elements I wanted. I brought things to the end of the Korean War with everyone still thinking him dead, and the main character, Colonel Steve Janowski, is still haunted by that death, which he witnessed in the film. In actuality Colonel Parker was barely alive but taken with the rest of the dead. Somehow along the way he ended up in a Korean hospital (something I still need to better explain), and although he physically recovered, he remained in a state of catatonic shock until the female lead, Linda Day, stumbled across him. Seeing her jerked him back to awareness. I still need to write about his wife and children learning he’s alive.

Sometimes I wonder what William and the other actors whose characters I do this with would think if they’re aware that I’ve been tinkering with some of their characters’ deaths like this. I wonder if they wouldn’t like it, feeling like the deaths were the way things were supposed to be, or if they’d be more entertained and amused than anything else.

As much as I don’t want to accept the Perry reunion movies as canon, I do appreciate that nothing was said in the films about the absent characters being dead. (I have even been told that Paul was never actually said to be dead.) It would make me even less likely to want to so much as see the films if Hamilton and Tragg and Andy and Paul were all declared as departed from this life. The beloved Perry characters, as far as I’m concerned, are immortal and will forever live in the fans’ imaginations solving cases together.

There’s a lovely poem circulating among the Sherlock Holmes fans, the gist of it being that for the fans, it’s always 1895 and Holmes and Watson are together, solving crimes, just as it should be. That’s quite how I feel about the Perry characters, minus the idea of a date in the past. To me they are not only immortal but adaptable, and can just as easily solve crimes in the present day.

Of course, for me the reason why the characters are so beloved is in a large part due to the actors who played them. William’s Hamilton is the perfect depiction of the character, so three-dimensional and balanced beyond what he was in the books. He definitely became identified with the character, so much so that even while the show was originally on, people started addressing him as “Burger.”

I imagine that happens a lot with actors who play very iconic and beloved characters. I watched a short interview a couple of weeks ago where Richard Anderson was addressed as “Mr. Goldman” and he responded without a thought.

I know that William obviously connected with his character Hamilton very deeply; he even made that comment once that he knew more about Hamilton than Gardner did. Which I can believe; Gardner never seemed too interested in exploring Hamilton’s character, since he left him so one-dimensional.

And William had a lovely sense of humor. In all the articles I’ve read about him, he took a very good attitude towards life and the oddities found therein. And he was a very good sport about Hamilton always losing. He pretty much had to be, once he realized Gardner’s formula would never be changed. In one article he made an amusing remark about considering the vast losing streak a thing of pride due to its immense length. It certainly was quite a record.

I hope that wherever William and the other departed Perry actors are, they are happy about the continuing popularity and remembrance of the show and their characters. I am convinced that such interest will continue to endure, just as interest in well-written novels from the 18th century and talented actors and actresses from the beginning of the film era has endured.

William certainly deserves a place among the talented actors. I have seen him play cold psychopaths, upright federal marshals, bitter and troubled Cavalry officers, determined district attorneys, and many other incredible characters each so varied and different from all the rest. It is always a delight to see him handle a part; he always knew just what it needed.

William Whitney Talman, Jr.: Passed away August 30th, 1968. Gone but never forgotten; always remembered and loved.


  1. Where is your fic for the Racket? I'd like to read it.

    1. It's here: Hope you enjoy! :)

  2. Loved it!! I've been wanting to watch that movie mainly because Ray Collins and William Talman are in it. And I agree, he is an amazng and highly underrated actor. Love your page and your stories on FanFic. Keep up the great work!!

    1. Thank you so much! :) I'm glad you enjoy it all!

      The Racket is definitely a fun movie for Perry fans. And One Minute to Zero is even more amazing (and heartbreaking).