Sunday, August 26, 2012

Notable Guest-Stars: Simon Oakland

It’s strange to think about, but tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of this blog’s opening post. And it won’t be long before we hit the 100 posts mark. Since Simon Oakland is a wonderful guest-star on Perry, and rather directly responsible for this blog even existing, I decided it was high-time to give Simon his own tribute post.

Simon was born August 28th, 1915, the same year William Talman was born. Information about him is hard to come by; Crystal and I have collected pretty much all that we could gather on our website (which will be getting updated this week along with our Simon blog): I wrote the biography, piecing together bits that we’d found, and we both contributed the articles we discovered.

Simon appeared on stage before moving to movies and television, but we sadly have only very scant information on that point in his life. It’s also been said that he was a violinist. I wish some footage existed of that!

Concerning movies and television, he is often remembered for playing the villains. However, while he did take on many roles of that type, he also played many protagonists and misunderstood characters as well. Even many of the villains are so three-dimensional, they still have good in them. One of the articles we found outright mentions that Simon approached his characters wanting to make them three-dimensional and human. He certainly succeeded! He could play any part to perfection, making the viewers really believe in the character.

On Perry Simon appeared twice, once as a bad guy, once as a good guy, and both times ending up the murder victim. Poor characters.

His first appearance was in season 3’s The Frantic Flyer, which happened to be arguably the first time I ever saw Simon anywhere. His character Howard Walters was certainly a wretched sort; as if it wasn’t bad enough that he arranged for the robbery of the safe at the company where he worked as the trusted general manager, he was having an affair with his accomplice and killed the company president’s son so there would be a body discovered and hopefully identified as his when his burned plane was found.

It was such a tangled web all around. His accomplice was a wicked little thing too. She was carrying on with someone else, who planned with her to kill Howard and take the money for themselves. And the guy who ended up being the murderer was the man who had nursed Howard to health when he broke his leg parachuting from the plane. He wanted the money.

In spite of everything, I did feel sorry for Howard. He honestly loved that Janice witch and would have been crushed to learn that she had planned to betray him. But on the other hand, I suppose he really got what he deserved. He definitely was a horrid person, especially on the matter of murdering the president’s ne’er-do-well son. (Whose name, by the way, was Andy Taylor, something that amuses this Andy Griffith Show fan every time.)

I also felt really sorry for Howard’s poor wife in the mess. She honestly loved him and kept trying in vain to see that their marriage stayed alive. But she was brushed off for whatever reason. We weren’t told why the marriage went sour, and in the end, I imagine it’s not a critical detail. But I hope she found someone decent after the episode’s events.

Simon returned in season 4 for The Misguided Missile, which, of course, I’ve talked of several times. Simon played Captain Michael Caldwell, who really can’t be characterized as a bad guy just because he has a grudge against Perry’s friend Major Jerry Reynolds. We don’t even know if it wasn’t at least somewhat justified. He could have been telling the truth about never receiving Jerry’s order, just as Jerry could be telling the truth about sending it. If no one believed Caldwell, including Jerry (who may or may not have been a friend), that would have definitely been enough to make him bitter and wonder if Jerry was really the good man he was praised up as being. When other characters talk about their last encounters with him, they mention how he raved about having the proof that Jerry was not a great hero. I had the feeling that he honestly believed what he said, rather than just pretending to think Jerry was awful in order to cover his own irresponsibility.

By all appearances, Caldwell is a serious and efficient man just trying to do his job—namely, investigating the failed launch of the titular object. He even tells one of the parties involved that his job isn’t to hurt people but to get at the truth—no matter who gets hurt when the truth comes out. That sounds quite similar to what Perry tells his clients and their families and friends.

Caldwell is murdered because he’s too close to the truth. And because, according to the lunatic Dan Morgan, Caldwell “wouldn’t let the missile fly.” The launch for the next one would have been stopped once Caldwell’s investigatory findings about Morgan’s criminal activities became known. And so Morgan murders him and then does the very stupid thing of leaving the body right on the missile range, which nearly stops the launch in the morning anyway.

Caldwell is one of the very few characters murdered for trying to be honest and upright.

On the one hand I wish we’d been told more about Caldwell and Jerry’s past. On the other, perhaps I prefer it the way it was left, so extremely ambiguous and without proclaiming Caldwell a liar. That opens the door for fan story explorations, as I did with both The Case of the Captain’s Ghost and the unrelated The Case of the Spectral Stalker.

It was my desire to look up Simon’s guest-spots last year that led to a rekindling of my interest in Perry—this time a much stronger interest than even before, although the seeds were certainly planted those years earlier. And at least partially from my labor of love on the Simon website and blog, the idea for a Perry blog emerged.

We lost Simon on August 29th, 1983, another wonderful man and excellent actor gone far too soon. We salute you, Simon. You and your amazing characters are still remembered and loved.

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