Thursday, October 18, 2012

Birthday Tribute: Dan Tobin

Tomorrow is Dan Tobin’s birthday! He was born October 19th, 1910. And … that’s unfortunately just about all I know of him, other than his death date (November 26th, 1982) and his wife’s name (screenwriter Jean Holloway). Gah, why do these sad and unfortunate things happen, with people fading into obscurity like this? Such a pity.

He’s a fun character actor with a very distinctive acting style. And looking over his credits, I have known about him for years without really knowing him. I saw him as both a lawyer in Herbie Rides Again (I think I remember which lawyer, too, now that I know he was in it) and as a gentleman crook on The Andy Griffith Show.

More recently, I stumbled across him quite by accident on The Wild Wild West. And that’s how I found my Halloween season angle for this post, as the episode, a first season venture called The Night of the Burning Diamond, is rather creepy. Dan plays a special agent sent from Washington to oversee Jim and Arte’s attempts to recover some very important stolen diamonds. The problem is, they’ve been stolen by a mad scientist who has developed a formula for traveling so fast that everyone else stands still.

Dan’s character is stuffy as he demands results. His best scene is definitely where he scoffs at the possibility of diamonds or other inert objects exploding, and picks up a pool ball as emphasis. Arte yells at him not to shake it and to throw it out the window, whereupon it explodes. It was one of Arte’s trick devices. But he just smiles and says, “You never can tell about those inert objects.” Dan’s character’s expression is priceless.

Also, I see that he guest-starred several times on two supernatural series, Bewitched and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. I far prefer the latter, which Dan’s wife Jean Holloway seems to have been heavily involved with from start to finish, and I’ll have to see if I can locate the episodes he was in.

(Incidentally, I hope that series gets an official DVD release someday soon. It’s sweet and funny and cute and sometimes sad, often all in the same episode.)

I imagine one of his most well-known roles is in the first Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn venture, Woman of the Year. While I’ve seen some of their films together, I’m not sure I’ve seen that one.

I have seen The Big Clock, an intense and exciting film noir piece. But I don’t recall his character in that, unfortunately. I should see it again; it’s great.

Of course, for us Perry fans, he will always be remembered as Terrance Clay in season 9.

Clay is an interesting and unique character. His establishment, Clay’s Restaurant and Grill, is mentioned more than once in season 1. (Does that mean it was a book location?) And it’s seen at least one of those times, I think, but in a vastly different style. It’s bright and light and seems more spacious, rather than the dimmer, more crowded set in season 9.

I suppose we’re to assume that the cast has been hanging out there often all throughout the series. But Clay himself doesn’t make an appearance until the last season. I wonder what prompted the crew to bring him in? All I can think of is both that they wanted the show to return more to its roots (implying that the locale is indeed in the books) and that maybe they thought there should be a character uninvolved with both the defense and the state who comments on stuff.

And boy, does Clay comment. He seems to have vocal opinions on everything, from the cases to women to extolling the virtues of his Irish heritage. He is especially proud of the latter. And when he remarks that he can understand all of the bizarre goings-on in the Wrathful Wraith case, but he just can’t comprehend women, Della proclaims him a misogynist.

In The Bogus Buccaneers he ends up one of the defendant’s son’s three godfathers. I would like to know what got cut from the episode that may have made that plot thread make sense. As it was, he just wasn’t shown interacting enough with either the defendant or his wife for it to really seem logical. But it’s a cute angle in any case. And he and the other two godfathers (Perry and the defendant’s parole officer) decide to take care of the bill for Perry’s services, so the little family won’t have any debts hanging over their heads.

Clay is in perfect health, he tells Perry in The Carefree Coronary, and he expects to live a good, long life. A relative of his lived to 108 and died only because he was trying to get his animal out of the mire.

He has very, very low opinions of crooks and other slimy people, and when they’re killed off, he doesn’t always think it’s a bad thing. Sometimes he apparently thinks they’re worse than the supposed murderers. He goes so far as to say that the accused in The Candy Queen should be given a medal for killing the victim, instead of being prosecuted.

Quite a colorful fellow, to be sure.

I haven’t had occasion to use him much in my stories, but he is mentioned in The Broken Ties and several others. And in The Malevolent Mugging he at last appears and takes on a role of semi-importance, as a friend of Amory and Edith Fallon. Considering Amory’s surname is of Irish origin, and considering Clay’s love of everything Irish, it seemed just the perfect way to finally bring Clay into things.

No one else could have brought Terrance Clay to life as uniquely as Dan Tobin. Happy birthday, Dan!

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