Friday, January 22, 2010

JDM on Television, Part 2

My "definitive" list of JDM on television, continued...

6. "In a Small Motel"

Broadcast on May 4, 1956 as an episode of the anthology series Chevron Hall of Stars. Based on the short story of the same name, published in the July 1955 issue of Justice. Adapted by ?

Starring Marilyn Erskine as Ginny Mallory, Adam Kennedy as Johnny Benton, Jerry Paris as Don Ferris and Gordon Mills as J. L. Brown.

Chevron Halls of Stars was an obscure anthology series that ran a half a season in 1956. The show was syndicated to 14 West Coast stations, which makes it nearly impossible to learn any production details, outside of its notoriety for producing Gene Roddenberry's first science fiction script, "The Secret Weapon of 117" on March 6 of that year. According to the New York Times, Chevron Halls of Stars was produced for Screen Gems, was shot on film and the episodes ran 60-minutes. The episodes were later repackaged and aired on the East Coast as Stage 7, and then in the Midwest as Don Ameche Presents the Drewry’s Play of the Week. Confused yet? Some interesting research on the series was done by the Television Obscurities website, but it is unclear if the MacDonald episode ran as part of either of the other repackaged series. It seems safe to assume that it did. It does not seem that any episodes of the show have survived, which is a shame, for "In a Small Motel" is one of MacDonald's best short stories.

7. "First Prize for Murder"

Broadcast on September 16, 1957 as an episode of the anthology series Studio One. Based on an idea by MacDonald, adapted by Phil Reisman, Jr.

Starring Darren McGavin, Philip Coolidge, Barbara O'Neil, Ross Martin, Colleen Dewhurst, Jonathan Harris, Larry Hagman and Peter Falk. Featuring (as themselves) mystery writers Rex Stout, Brett Halliday, Frances & Richard Lockridge, George Simon and George Harmon Coxe.

One of the most famous of the Golden Age of Television anthology series, Studio One was the creation of Fletcher Markle and it ran from 1947 to 1958. The live show spawned some of the most famous broadcasts in TV history, including the original version of "Twelve Angry Men," and the famous actors who appeared on the show before they became "names" are too numerous to go into. Take a look at the cast above to get an idea. "First Prize for Murder" was, according to Walter Shine, "produced with the cooperation and assistance of the Mystery Writers of America," which was probably responsible for getting all the big-name authors to appear. MacDonald was asked to write the teleplay but admitted he had no talent or experience to do so and provided the basic idea for Phil Reisman, Jr to flesh out. The plot was described in a newspaper listing of the time: "A prize-winning mystery novelist fails to appear at an award dinner and police become interested in the book and an unsolved murder." This was actress Colleen Dewhurst's first television appearance, and Larry Hagman, Ross Martin and Peter Falk (as a drunk in jail) all appeared in minor roles.

An excellent collection of Studio One episodes was released on DVD last year, but this episode was not on it. It is likely "First Prize for Murder" exists somewhere, but I am unable to find a copy.

8. "Getaway Car"

Broadcast on March 29, 1958 as an episode of the anthology series Studio 57. Based on the short story "The Homesick Buick," published the September 1950 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Adapted by Frederick Brady.

Starring Mike Connors, Wallace Ford, John McIntire, Olan Soule and Ken Christy.

Studio 57 began life in 1954 as Heinz 57 Playhouse and changed its name in 1955. The show lasted until 1958 and "Getaway Car" was one of the very last episodes broadcast. The shows were 30-minutes long and done on film. Based on one of JDM's very best "howdunnits," the brand name in the original title virtually guaranteed a change for the teleplay. It is uncertain if a copy of this episode has survived.

9. "The Fatal Impulse"

Broadcast on November 29, 1960 as an episode of the anthology series Thriller. Based on the short story "The Impulse," published in the June 1955 issue of Cosmopolitan. Adapted by Phillip MacDonald.

Starring Robert Lansing, Elisha Cook, Jr., Conrad Nagel, Whitney Blake, Steve Brodie, Ed Nelson and Mary Tyler Moore.

Writer (and JDM pal) Stephen King, in his authoritative work on the horror genre Danse Macabre, called Thriller "the best horror series ever put on TV". The show ran from 1960 to 1962 and featured icon Boris Karloff as the host. Early in the run the show featured several straight mystery and suspense stories, which is why a JDM work could appear. Here's the plot synopsis from the IMDb: "A man fleeing from an attempt to assassinate a political candidate puts a small bomb in the bag of a woman in an elevator. The police spend the evening looking for the mystery girl and the bomb." I've never read the story or seen the episode (or if I did it was long, long ago), but I've read that Karloff, in his introduction to the episode, refers to it by its original title, "The Impulse," which probably means it was changed at the last minute. Elisha Cook, Jr., who played Wilmer in The Maltese Falcon, is the mad bomber, and a pre-Dick Van Dyke Show Mary Tyler Moore has a bit as an elevator operator.

Episodes of the show have been released sporadically over the years, on VHS and Laserdisc, but a full official release has yet to occur. According to some chatter I've read on the Internet, the release is forthcoming sometime this year. As for unauthorized copies, just turn over a rock...

10. "Hangover"

Broadcast on December 6, 1962 as an episode of the anthology series The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Based on both the JDM story of the same name, published in the July 1956 issue of Cosmopolitan, and the short story "Hangover" by Charles Runyon, published in a 1960 issue of Manhunt. Adapted by Lou Rambeau.

Starring Tony Randall as Hadley Purvis, Dody Heath as Sandra Purvis, and Jayne Mansfield as Marion.

Infamous among JDM fans, this botched attempt at adaptation combined MacDonald's story with an identically-titled, and nearly-identically plotted story by another writer. The Alfred Hitchcock Hour was the longer version of the long-running Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and "Hangover" was one of the early episodes of the first hour-long season. I've written an extensive blog posting on it here, and the episode can be purchased on DVD or be seen for free here.

To be continued...

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