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Ben Casey and Dr. Kildare were exact contemporaries, both doctor shows that began and ended in the same season and were the most talked about shows on TV when they debuted in 1961. People were always making comparisons between them and here is mine.
One difference is that Casey was a resident, a full fledged doctor on staff at a hospital and a very prominent neurosurgeon. Kildare was an intern, a beginning doctor still learning the profession. If Kildare had been at the same hospital as Casey, Ben would have been bossing him around and making his life miserable.
A bigger difference was what they represented. Kildare was a symbol of the early 1960's. We were a very proud and optimistic country at that time. We'd survived the depression, won the war, had the communists on the defensive and were beginning to explore space. Social changes were taking place as well. if we were going to be the Greatest Country in the World, how could we have poverty and injustice? We tended to look at our government and institutions as benevolent servants of the people. There were several shows from this period, (Naked City, The Defenders, Mr. Novak were others), where handsome young idealistic novices entered a profession to be guided by their wise, patient but firm elders in becoming instruments of the system. The big challenge was getting people to trust the system by not committing crimes, studying hard and taking their pills. And of course, it's hard to look at the young men in these shows, (Richard Chamberlain, James Franciscus, Paul Burke, Robert Reed), and not see our youthful, idealistic president of the time, John Kennedy.
Casey was a precursor of the late 1960's. To him, the system was a monolith that existed for its own purposes and on its own momentum. You had to wrestle with it and with the mediocrity around you to get things done. Casey had a mentor as well, but Dr. Zorba often appeared to be more of a matador than a mentor, trying to tame Ben Casey, as he always called him, with a red cape and a sharp needle to puncture his ego from time to time.
I'd rather wake up from surgery and see Dr. Kildare's smiling face. But I'd be more likely to survive if it was Ben Casey who had done the surgery.
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