Sunday, February 10, 2013

Notable Guest-Stars: H.M. Wynant

I decided that since H.M.’s 86th birthday is this Tuesday, this week would be an excellent time to do a guest-star post highlighting him and his Perry roles.

The best biographical information I’ve found on him is on, and unless there’s someone else editing his page with coincidentally the same name, it looks like the bio was written by his present wife! That is awesome if it’s her. I don’t want to take anything away from that by trying to summarize it, so I’ll just provide the link instead:

My first encounter with H.M. must have been fourteen or fifteen years ago, in an episode of the 1970s Nancy Drew series entitled The Mystery of the Ghostwriter’s Cruise. He played a reporter, and was a suspect in the crimes for a while, but he turned out not to be guilty. I remember that even way back then, not knowing who the heck he was, I liked him and I liked his character. I also liked that he danced with Nancy!

It was probably on Perry a couple of years later when I encountered him next, although I doubt I recognized him at the time, since the Perry episodes came so much earlier in time and I was very terrible at recognizing people until about seven years ago.

I’m also wondering if there’s any old footage of him in an episode of Diagnosis Murder that crossed over with Mannix, in which Dr. Sloan and Mannix solve the murder of H.M.’s character from the Little Girl Lost episode of Mannix. I read that there are flashbacks to the Mannix episode, so I thought there might be some footage of H.M.’s character. I actually have the Diagnosis Murder episode (Hard-Boiled Murder), albeit edited from PAX TV, but I haven’t been in the mood to watch it knowing that H.M.’s poor character was killed. (Also, I think Mannix himself is dying, which is depressing as heck. Or maybe it’s just a risk of death if he does anything too strenuous; I’m unclear on that angle from what I read and I just don’t remember enough about the episode.) I do intend to watch it at some point. I’d be more likely to do it sooner if I knew for sure if there’s footage of H.M.’s character.

In any case, even if there’s not any footage, I find it a little eerie that there’s one more very old connection between H.M. and me! I was recording those Diagnosis Murder episodes around the time I was first discovering Perry.

H.M., like William Boyett, appeared in every Perry season except the second one. I wonder why that season was the exception?

He started off his ten appearances as defendant Daniel Conway in The Daring Decoy. That is an excellent starting point; Daniel is one of my favorites of his Perry characters. Kind and good-natured, he’s dragged into a cruel mess and framed for murder by the wife of his nemesis. Or one of them, anyway—he has quite a collection of nemeses, poor man.

He isn’t seen again until late in season 3, for The Singing Skirt, where he played gambler, sometimes adulterer, and murderer Slim Marcus. What a character.

I find it amusing that he goes from that to playing staunchly upright assistant D.A. Sampson in season 4. While each one of H.M.’s Perry characters is vastly different, Sampson and Slim seem to be polar opposites of the most intense variety. Sampson would never dream of committing a crime, it would seem, and he can be very zealous in his pursuit of the truth and convicting the accused murderers.

H.M. did three turns as Sampson, with the only break being an out-of-town episode after The Loquacious Liar and The Red Riding Boots and before The Envious Editor. I would really like to know if they were considering him as a semi or permanent replacement for poor William Talman, since H.M. and Robert Karnes were the only two assistants they had on multiple times in season 4. And I still wish he had joined the cast, not as a replacement but in a role similar to Bill Vincent’s in season 9. Sampson would have made a less impulsive and more mature assistant for Hamilton to have around on a regular basis, and in any case, it would have made possible a lot of fun interaction.

Season 5 brought us Max, a diver smuggling gold in The Travelling Treasure. He, like the guy who ties up the boat everyone uses, seems to quite like the sight of Karl McGovern’s wife. (But they just look, nothing more.) And he holds the gate open for her in court, when she’s exiting the stand and he’s going to it.

Max seems to constantly chew something, except while diving. I’m not sure if it’s gum or tobacco, but I gravitate to the idea of gum.

He’s a crook, yes, but he doesn’t seem terribly bad, especially since he refuses to implicate Charlie in the smuggling mess. He’s adamant that Charlie had nothing to do with it and didn’t even know about it.

Gene Torg appears in season 6’s The Bogus Books—another crook, but definitely a smalltime operator. Even when Pearl Chute tempts him into the book racket, his part in that would have been little more than collecting the money Pearl would arrange for her and him to have. He doesn’t seem to want any part in anything really big, since he’s alarmed when Pearl tells him the real cost of the book he swiped for her and says he wouldn’t have taken it if he’d known. He must have a legitimate job that pays pretty well, since he lives in an apartment house with a desk clerk. I thought only the really fancy apartment houses had those.

I’m torn between whether Slim Marcus or Tobin Wade is the nastiest of H.M.’s Perry characters. But since Tobin seems to have really been friends with the Stuarts in season 7’s The Decadent Dean, he just might have the edge. Imagine a friend wanting to collect money from your property so bad that he tries to discredit you by stealing important books for the school, spreading anonymous rumors about you, and scaring the students’ mothers with said rumors. Then, after deciding he has to get out of sight after being seen following a robbery, he tricks your sick wife into drinking again, lies to her about you, and tries to frame you for his death. Yeaaah, Tobin Wade is a real case. It’s no surprise he ends up dead for real.

Shady private detective Glen Holman in season 8’s The Tell-Tale Tap isn’t a very nice fellow, either. Not only does he arrange for people to eavesdrop on other people, he listens in too (even if he tells the clients they’re the only ones who will hear). Then he tries to blackmail the one being eavesdropped on, if there’s something juicy for him to use. But he’s smooth and charming and likes the ladies. He also tries to figure out what kinds of drinks they like just by their voices. He’s eventually killed in a car crash, which the murderer of the main victim insists was an accident.

Tony Earle, in season 9’s The Candy Queen, is involved with gambling. He runs an illegal casino in a secret room of the Royal Beach nightclub. He must get out on bail after the place is raided, as he’s free to roam about town and talk to Paul at Clay’s. Despite his association in the criminal underworld, he seems fairly nice and provides Paul with information on the episode’s main slimeball, Mark Chester (although of course he wants some help in return for that information).

I’m intrigued by that scene where he talks to Paul, particularly since they seem to know each other. I suppose the implication is that Perry and Paul spoke with him before, maybe shortly after his arrest, but since no such scene is shown or mentioned I wonder if it really existed and was simply edited from the final product.

I don’t think there were too many Perry actors who were asked back for so many guest-spots, but it doesn’t surprise me in the least that H.M. would be one of them. He’s an excellent and amazing actor who never fails to make his characters believable, no matter whether they’re good guys or bad (or if they have shades of gray; some are too complex to simply label “good” or “bad”).

I doubt he’ll see this, but I hope that the 12th will be a very happy birthday for him!

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