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This was one of four detective shows from Warner Brothers, four of a couple
dozen series they did for ABC, (that MADE that network), from the mid 50's
to the early 60's under the stewardship of William Orr and with the
genius of Roy Huggins, (who later came up with the best show of all time,
"The Fugitive"). Huggins had fancied himself a detective writer in the 40's
and came up with Stuart Bailey, an Ivy Leaguer with a background in World
War II intelligence who set up his own detective agency in Los Angeles.
Huggins became a story editor for Warners, it was decided to create a show
around the Bailey character, 77 Sunset Strip, which debut in 1958. They
Bailey a partner, Jeff Spencer and created the character of Kookie, the
parking lot attendant, for comic relief. It set the stage for the other
three, similar shows, each with a pair, (or three) handsome detectives
operating in glamorous or exotic locations. Warner's learned you needed a
pretty girl involved and the comic relief. they also learned from "Peter
Gunn" that a musical interlude would occasionally be welcome.
"Bourbon Street Beat", set in New Orleans, debuted in 1959. So did "Hawaiian Eye", from Honolulu and in 1960 came "Surfside Six" from Miami Beach. Each had a catchy theme tune from Mack David and Jerry Livingstone. The plots were not very inspired but serviceable, (they serviced many episodes, being frequently reused). Sometimes, Warner's would do versions of novels they owned the rights to or TV remakes of some of their classic movies of the past, such as "Strangers on a Train" or "Dial M for Murder", in the guise of episodes of these shows. Characters from one show would show up on another, either in crossover episodes or full scale transfers of characters to be new members of the casts. This was easy because the shows were not shot on location: it was all done in LA.
The real difference in the shows were the cast members themselves. "77 Sunset Strip" had the charming and talented Ephram Zimbalist Jr. and Roger Smith. It also had the "Fonzie" of the 50's, Edd Byrnes. But it lacked a significant female regular or the musical interludes. "Bourbon Street Beat" had the charming and talented Richard Long, who took his charm and talent to Sunset Strip after BSB folded in 1960. It also had craggy character actor Andrew Duggan, young pretty boy Van Williams and Arlene Howell, a slightly ditzy southern belle. No one here was musically inclined but a jazz combo did a turn from time to time. "Hawaiian Eye" had it all. Anthony Eisley was a competent but slightly boring lead. Young Robert Konrad had the most charisma of any of them. Connie Stevens was a cute songbird who belted out the classic tin pan alley and show tunes. Poncie Ponce was a ukulele strumming cab driver who knew every place and every one or had a cousin who did. "Surfside Six" was maybe the weakest entry. Lee Patterson had some presence and acting ability but Van Williams, (over from BSB) and Troy Donahue were attractive but talent challenged. Marguerite Sierra was a cliched Latin Spitfire songstress, (who unfortunately died young of a heart ailment). Diane McBain was attractive window dressing.
The other main difference was the setting. "77 Sunset Strip" was about glamorous people up to no good or international intrigue, (and Stu Bailey traveled a lot more than these other guys did). "Hawaiian Eye" was exotic- perhaps a little too much so with an occasional embarrassing story about witch doctors and voodoo type curses and such. Natives were played by guys from Jersey and Chicago in the grand tradition. Surfside Six had a beachboy look to it. Bourbon Street beat was darker and more mysterious. New Orleans at that time was not a tourist trap but a relic of the old south in which Miss Havisham's cake might have seemed at home.
But they were all pretty solid entertainment. If you liked one, I'm sure you'd like them all- if you could find them. They are all in black and white, so cable stations are loathe to show them It seems that the moment a younger audience sees those monotones, they turn the stations. It's too bad. They don't know what they're missing.
I got to see this series on 7 February 2005 on GoodLife TV, and it is a
series that wears well. Of all the Warner Brothers TV Detective series,
I think this may be the crown jewel, because it is supposed to be set
in New Orleans, away from the glamor and glitter of Hollywood.
The two main characters are played by Andrew Duggan and Richard Long, who do a great job. Van Williams was one year away from his starring role on Surfside 6, and seven away from The Green Hornet, but is still fun to watch. Definitely a 1959 series that did well, as did Johnny Staccato, and it should be released on DVD. Hopefully, GoodLife TV will continue to show this series.
Bourbon Street Beat only lasted for one season but it had thirty-nine episodes to its credit. The location for the show was Bourbon Street in Louisana. It starred Richard Long as private investigator Rex Randolph. Rex was the senior partner in a firm. His first partner was murdered prompting him to look for another one. Andrew Duggan was Isaac "Cal" Calhoun, a former police officer who wanted to change careers and after meeting Rex and knowing that his partner was now dead came to offer his services. The two made a wonderful team. Rex was the cook and Cal loved old movies. Rounding out the cast was Arlene Howell as their secretary Melody. She left about half way through the show and the final member Kenny played by Van Williams spent time trying to find the perfect secretary to replace Melody. The show had some really good guest stars and most of the writing was execellent. I hope that the show is issued out on DVD. It would be a good collection to own.
"Randolph and Calhoun" were private investigators working out of New
Thirty-one year old Richard Long played senior partner Rex Randolph. The firm's offices were in Rex's elegant home. I loved the set of that home. There was a striking spiral staircase in Rex's office that led up to his bedroom. At the bottom of the staircase was a kitchenette where Rex liked to cook gourmet meals for his lovely guests. (Reportedly, this was the same set Warner Brothers had used for "A Streetcar Named Desire".)
Thirty-five year old Andrew Duggan was Cal Calhoun, a former small town police detective. Rex met Cal in the first episode when Rex was investigating the murder of his previous partner. Cal was less educated and more rustic than Rex. Cal had pictures of silent screen stars like Theda Bara on his office wall.
Twenty-four year old Arlene Howell played Melody Lee Mercer, their secretary. Melody's blond hair and lovely figure had won her many beauty contests, but she was still very prim and proper. Arlene (then Eurlyne) Howell had been Miss USA (representing Louisiana) in 1958, the year before she started this series.
Twenty-five year old Van Williams played Ken Madison, a young law student who works part time for the firm. Ken also invests a lot of time trying to melt Melody's reserve.
These were four nicely written roles and they were beautifully played by four very appealing actors. All four actors had star potential. Warner Brothers must have had a great talent program (although they didn't pay the talent much money.)
In one episode three men planning to assassinate a man running for governor take over Rex Randolph's home. The three killers were superbly played by Richard Chamberlain, James Coburn and John Marley. The writer of the episode was Richard Matheson ("Duel", "The Night Stalker", "I Am Legend").
Other impressive guest stars included Joanna Moore, Kathleen Crowley, Shirley Knight, Mary Tyler Moore, Madlyn Rhue, Diane McBain, Margaret Hayes, Nita Talbot, Rex Reason, Rhodes Reason, Ray Danton, James Drury, Robert Vaughn and Wayne Morris.
When "Bourbon Street Beat" was canceled, Ken Madison opened his own firm in Miami Beach. Ken now had his law degree. His partner Dave Thorne (Lee Patterson) was a former NYC assistant district attorney. Their combination home and office was a luxurious houseboat moored at "Surfside Six."
Rex also left New Orleans, moving to Los Angeles. He became a non-name partner in Bailey and Spencer, a firm whose address was "77 Sunset Strip". (Richard Long went from top billing to fourth billing.) Rex left Bailey and Spencer after one year. My guess is Rex opened his own firm in Beverly Hills, which would have been more his style than the garish Sunset Boulevard. Maybe Ken Madison eventually came out from Miami to be his partner. When Rex left Bailey and Spencer, Kookie moved up from being a lowly carhop to taking over Rex's office and becoming a full partner (with his own crime lab no less.)
Stuart Bailey (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.) was in New Orleans on a case a couple of years later. Who does he run into but Cal Calhoun. Calhoun is now a detective lieutenant in the New Orleans Police Department. Calhoun recognizes Bailey's name. He says, "I think you inherited an old partner of mine for a while". Bailey realizes this must be the great Cal Calhoun that Rex talked about. But no one mentioned Rex by name. Calhoun says he prefers being on the force to private practice since there is a case waiting for him each morning, instead of having to worry about drumming up business. Apparently Cal couldn't keep the firm going without the charming Rex's ability to find clients.
Andrew Duggan had played a crooked New Orleans private eye in a 1956 episode of "Conflict" called "The Money". "Conflict" was a Warner Brothers anthology series produced by the great Roy Huggins, the creator of "77 Sunset Strip". This episode, which predated "77 Sunset Strip", must have partially inspired "Bourbon Street Beat". Other future series stars in addition to Duggan who had roles in "The Money" were David Janssen ("Richard Diamond"), Kathy Nolan ("The Real McCoys"), John Smith ("Laramie") and Peggie Castle ("Lawman"). Howard Browne was the writer of "The Money" and also wrote the story for the pilot of "Bourbon Street Beat".
Andrew Duggan worked again with Richard Long as a guest star on "The Big Valley." Van Williams also guest starred on "The Big Valley" in a pilot for a series where Williams would have played a sheriff with a young son. Van Williams also worked with Richard Long on a "Nanny and the Professor".
Sadly, we never saw much more of delightful Arlene Howell. My guess is she married well.
My favorite shows of the 1959-60 season were "Tightrope", "Mr. Lucky" and "Bourbon Street Beat".
The Warner Brothers detective clone factory came out with a model that
didn't sell. Perhaps had Jack Warner actually shot the thing in New
Orleans, taking advantage of the many sights and wonders the Big Easy
has to offer Bourbon Street Beat would have had a longer run.
This show featured three detectives Richard Long, Andrew Duggan, and Van Williams with a curvaceous secretary named Melody played by beauty queen Arlene Howell. As with the other shows 77 Sunset Strip, Hawaiian Eye, and Surfside Six detectives in a hands across the studio policy helped each other out on cases. Certainly did save Jack Warner on spending money for pricey guest stars.
Bourbon Street Beat only lasted one year, the shortest of any of the clones. But the resourceful folks at Warner Brothers had Van Williams move to Miami Beach and open a detective agency on a houseboat there, long before Frank Sinatra and Don Johnson would operate from same. Williams took his Ken Madison character and over to Surfside 6 and co-starred with Lee Patterson and Troy Donahue. In the meantime Richard Long as Rex Randolph moved to the other coast and joined the guys at 77 Sunset Strip..
As for Andrew Duggan, a few years after Bourbon Street Beat was canceled he popped up on a 77 Sunset Strip episode assisting Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. when a case took him to New Orleans. Duggan's Cal Calhoun character had gone back to the New Orleans PD from whence he came.
It was like they cannibalized parts from one model fix up their other cars. It maybe what makes Bourbon Street Beat unique among forgotten television series.
A New Orleans PI's adventures in the late fifties Big Easy. Excellent representation of New Orleans street life, this was ahead of its time which probably contributed to its relitively short run. Great actors, great writing, I hope its syndicated someday. Its being transferred to video tape by some diehard fans, you can pick it up on EBAY and its well worth the trouble.
TV actors, at least in the old days when they were placed in a separate
class from movie actors, often seemed to be clones of their movie brethren.
Some were singular in their associations. Nehemiah Persoff seemed to be the
Edward G. Robinson of television, getting similar roles and acting them in a
very similar manner. Carolyn Jones was the Bette Davis of TV, even to the
point of playing a set of sisters one of whom is a murderer on Burke's Law.
Other's had company in their pursuits. The western stars were all either
John Wayne or Gary Cooper, with an occasional Jimmy Stewart or Henry Fonda
thrown in, (including the real thing on "The Deputy"). There were a whole
selection of Clark Gables, including John Russell, Rory Calhoun, Richard
Egan , Robert Lowery and others. There were plenty of Brandos, including
Burt Reynolds, George Maharis and John Saxon. There were enough Rock Hudsons
to fill a theater, with John Gavin, Tom Tryon and Gardner McKay coming
immediately to mind. The blonde versions I call the "Redfords", a group of
thoughtful , well educated types of which Robert Redford was one along with
James Franciscus, Richard Chamberlain and William Shatner. They had varying
degrees of success with Redford emerging as the head of the class.
Perhaps the most successful strain, however were the Cary Grants. Grant made an ideal model for the suave detective hero, able to be charming or tough as the occasion demanded. Craig Stevens was hired to play Peter Gunn specifically because of a strong resemblance to Grant. His tightlipped performance was not really very charming but it's surely how Cary would have played that character. Latern-jawed John Vivyan played a role that Grant had actually essayed in the movies, Mr. Lucky. He was competent at best. The heroes of the Warner Brother's detective shows were largely based on Cary Grant. Ephram Zimbelist Jr.'s Stu Bailey was a grant-style role with a lot more charm than Peter Gunn. Richard Long's Rex Randolph on Bourbon Street Beat was much the same. Anthony Eisley's Tracy Steele was a less convincing version of the same character on Hawaiian Eye.
But the best of the Grant clones was Gene Barry. He was male-model handsome, had good breeding and seductive whiskey voice. He was also TV's greatest reactors. He had a series of comic takes that was perfect for Amos Burke, who had to confront an unending series of eccentric subjects. Yet he could turn around and romance the ladies or get tough with the tough guys. And he was a good enough actor to hold up his end when the heavy dramatics intervened.
One wonders what the originals of these clones must have thought as they watched the boob tube in it's infancy.
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