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The TV That Time Forgot: Boston Blackie (1951-53)

Boston Blackie began life as a jewel thief and safecracker in a series f pulp stories written by Jack Boyle. He reached his greatest fame in a series of mystery movies produced in the 1940s by Columbia Pictures. In the movies, Blackie was now a reformed jewel thief, who nonetheless is always suspected by police inspector Farraday of being the guilty party in the mystery of the moment.

Portrayed on the screen by Chester Morris, Blackie was the engaging, witty rascal, always one step ahead of the police. He was drawn into solving these crimes in order to clear his name and get the cops off his back. A strong undercurrent of comedy ran through the popular series.

The film series (14 in all) led to a concurrent radio series beginning in 1944, initially also starring Morris.

It was inevitable, then, that Boston Blackie would get the call in the early days of TV. However, several changes were made that probably doomed the character to a short run. Blackie’s criminal past was hardly ever mentioned. Exactly what he did for a living was never explained, but he definitely was not a private eye. So, why he spent all his time solving other people’s mysteries was the biggest mystery of all. He wasn’t a cop. He wasn’t getting paid. And he wasn’t suspected by the police. He was just a buttinsky.

Blackie was portrayed by Kent Taylor on the TV series. Lois Collier was cast as Blackie’s ever-present girlfriend, Mary with Frank Orth playing Inspector Farraday as an even bigger blockhead than he was the movies.

Produced by Ziv Television (who also gave us Bat Matterson, Sea Hunt & Highway Patrol among others), the series was only in production for 2 seasons (1951-1952) and was sold directly to local stations through syndication. Despite the low umber of episodes, many stations continued to rerun the series until color really took hold and series with far more episodes made Blackie a thing of the past.

The series is remembered to day only because its lead gave Jimmy Buffet the inspiration for his song “Pencil-Thin Mustache” – an ode to several long-gone shows from TV’s earliest days.
As the series has passed into the public domain, there are several video collections of various episodes available for the home video market.

The Abbott & Costello Show

Many of the classic movie comedy teams from Laurel & Hardy to The Three Stooges scampered across the TV screens of our youth, but only one actually appeared in a brand-new, made-for-TV series. That was Abbott and Costello.

Actually, to say the series featured brand new material is a bit misleading. What The Abbott and Costello Show accomplished is something far more significant. It preserved for future generations a portion of American theatrical history that might have been lost to the ages without them.

Read more: The Abbott & Costello Show

Friday Night at the Drive-In: "Ocean's 11" (1960)

The Rat Pack (started by Humphrey Bogart and inherited by Frank Sinatra after Bogey’s death) made two movies in the sixties. Neither were great shakes as movies go, but the first one, Ocean’s 11, is a wonderful time machine back to a place and time that no longer exist.

 

Released in 1960, Ocean’s 11 can be seen as the 1950’s last hurrah. In just a few short years, the British invasion in music and fashion would change everything. Film historians think the film was conceived as way to give Frank, Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop, and the rest something to do with their days while they were headlining at the Sands resort at night.

Read more: Friday Night at the Drive-In: "Ocean's 11" (1960)

Good Morning World (1967)

On paper, this TV series couldn’t miss. It was created by the two guys (Bill Persky & Sam Denoff) who had been head writers on The Dick Van Dyke Show and had launched Marlo Thomas to stardom by creating That Girl for her just a year earlier. It had TV series geniuses, Sheldon Leonard and Carl Reiner, calling the shots behind the scenes.

Unfortunately, Good Morning, World crashed and burned after only a single season.

The show’s premise was original. It starred Ronnie Schell and Joby Baker as a pair of zany morning DJs named Lewis & Clarke at a struggling L.A. radio station owned by Billy DeWolfe. Baker was married to a cute, sexy wife (Julie Parrish) while Schell was dating a ditzy blonde, played by a newcomer named Goldie Hawn.

What went wrong? It seems the show’s writers chose to focus the show on the wrong characters. The series began as a starring vehicle for Schell, who had become a breakout character as Jim Nabors’ best buddy on Gomer Pyle. But the writers treated the show like another Dick Van Dyke, revolving most of the plots around Baker and Parrish as the young married couple.

The problem was that Baker was no Dick Van Dyke and Parrish was no Mary Tyler Moore. Apparently, Baker had real trouble memorizing his lines while Parrish was battling some real-life medical issues. So, the characters with the real comedic chops, Schell, DeWolfe and of course, Hawn, were relegated to supporting character status. In fact, Hawn only appeared in a handful of the series’ 26 episodes.

According to Schell, there was talk of a second season, recasting the Baker & Parrish roles, but CBS decided instead to simply throw in the towel.

There was a silver lining. Schell was welcomed back onto Gomer Pyle while a producer named George Schlatter had caught the show and thought the ditzy blonde actress might have potential. He called Goldie and asked her if she might want to continue playing basically the same character on a new variety show he was putting together. That show was called Laugh-In.

Hawn said yes and the rest is show biz history.

The TV That Time Forgot: Video Village

 Video Village was one of the first game shows to debut after the infamous quiz show scandals.  Up until its debut, most quiz shows fell into one of two categories. 1.) A contestant tried to stump a panel of D-list celebrities (I mean, did anyone ever know what Arlene Francis was “famous” for?) 2.) Two contestants answered questions or solved puzzles while in isolation booths or standing right next to the game show host.

Video Village’s concept was as simple as it was different. It was a board game transferred to TV. The contestants were the living game pieces. They had friends or family members (almost always a spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend) who spun the dice.

Read more: The TV That Time Forgot: Video Village

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