To this day, fifty years later, I can never go by one of those still-standing Gamewells (the old police call boxes which used to stand on seemingly every other street corner in town) without expecting to find Lt. Ben Guthrie or Inspector Matt Greb leaning into it. Perhaps it's the fact that so much of this series was shot on location -- rather than on soundstages -- and perhaps it has to do with the fact that the producers used a great deal of "local talent" (sportscaster Sandy Spillman seemed to spend as much time in uniform here as he did doing the nightly sports roundup); whatever the reason, "The Lineup" managed to weave itself into the fabric of daily San Francisco life in that era. If you lived here, you grew used to seeing their production van -- with its distinctive silhouetted "Lineup" on the sides -- pulling up to ready another shot. You never knew but that you might end up in a scene. It happened to me once, waiting in line for a 'kiddie matinee' outside the Paramount theatre, only they edited the scene just before the camera panned over me. Ah well, fame is fleeting, or so they say . . .
"The Lineup" owed its inspiration to the success of "Dragnet," of course, even to the characterizations of Guthrie and Greb (while Warner Anderson's stern asceticism could make Jack Webb's Joe Friday look like Chuckles the Clown, it's not hard to imagine Tom Tully's Matt Greb and Ben Alexander's Frank Smith knocking back a few rounds and swapping lies at a cop bar together); this is where the similarities ended. "The Lineup" was tighter, its pace more in keeping with that of daily SF life, and the dialogue was refreshingly free of the "natural speech" um's and ah's in "Dragnet." Fictional as it was, it nonetheless became a fairly faithful chronicle of its time and place
That time has long since passed, and so much of the sights and the sounds of the place have changed. Yet interestingly enough, a large number of those old Gamewells still stand . . . almost as though they're waiting for Guthrie and Greb to return.
Neither of those guys, after all, would ever carry a cell phone!
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