Sunday, August 29, 2010

TV Writer Jackson Gillis Passes On

Jackson Gillis, a television writer who wrote for shows ranging from The Adventures of Superman to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to Columbo to Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman in a career that spanned four decades, passed on August 19, 2010 at the age of 93.

Jackson Gillis on August 21, 1916 in Kalama, Washington. When he was a teenager, Mr. Gillis's family moved to California. He attended Fresno University and Stanford University, from which he graduated. Following graduation he went into acting. He worked in Britain as well as the Barter Theatre in Virginia. During World War II he served as a U.S. Army Intelligence officer in the Pacific Theatre. After he was demobilised, he and his wife moved to Los Angeles where he took up writing for radio shows. He wrote on such programmes as The Whistler, Let George Do It, Jeff Regan Investigator, and others.

It was in 1952 that he began his long career in television, writing an episode of Racket Squad. He would write several episodes of I'm the Law and The Adventures of Superman. He also wrote several episodes of  The Mickey Mouse Club serials "Spin and Marty" and "The Hardy  Boys" From 1954 to 1960 he also wrote many episodes of Lassie. During the Fifties Mr. Gillis also wrote episodes of Passport to Danger, The Millionaire, Zorro, Sugarfoot, and Bronco.

In 1959 Jackson Gillis would begin writing for Perry Mason. He served as the show's script consultant from 1959 to 1960 and as a producer from 1961 to 1965. In all Mr. Gillis would write twenty four episodes of the show, making him one of its most significant contributors. In the Sixties he would write for such shows as The Fugitive, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West, Tarzan, I Spy, Lost in Space, Mannix, Bonanza, Ironside, and Land of the Giants.

In 1971 Mr. Gillis began writing for Columbo. Beginning in 1972 he served as the show's executive story consultant. In all he would write eleven episodes of the show. He also served as a story consultant on the show Petrocelli, although curiously he wrote no episodes. He was executive consultant on the show The Chisholms in 1980, for which he also wrote no episodes. Throughout the Seventies he wrote for such shows as Hawaii Five-O, Cade's County, O'Hara Treasury, Mission: Impossible. Longstreet, The F. B. I., Barnaby Jones, The Snoop Sisters, Cannon, Wonder Woman, and Paris.

In the Eighties and Nineties Jackson Gillis wrote on such series as Code Red, Knight Rider, Murder She Wrote, Columbo, and Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.

Jackson Gillis's career reads like a history of the first four decades of television. Indeed, one of the first shows he for which he wrote was The Adventures of Superman and the last was Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. He was there at the beginning when many action-adventure series and dramas were only a half hour in length. He was there in the early days when juvenile shows such as Lassie and The Adventures of Superman aired in prime time. He worked in the Sixties when spy shows were the craze, and in the Seventies when detectives reigned supreme. He wrote in nearly every dramatic genre that existed in television, from detective shows to spy shows to science fiction shows. Much of the reason Mr. Gillis had such a long career was that he was extremely versatile and adaptable. While his most common plots fit episodic television perfectly--plots which began with danger that only grows as the episodes progressed, resolved in the end when the hero finally took out the villain--he was able to adapt those plots to the times. For the juvenile shows of the Fifties, from Lassie to the serials on The Mickey Mouse Club, he wrote dialogue that was not so different from that he wrote for radio, somewhat cliche but never simplistic. For the spy shows of the Sixties he wrote the sophisticated patter typical of the genre.

Unlike many television writers, Jackson Gillis never created his own show. He was a producer on only one and a story consultant on a few others. This was perhaps natural, as he was not part of the television establishment, but a freelance writer selling his wares. Yet he had an enormous impact in shaping the last few seasons of Perry Mason, as well in shaping the character of Columbo from the earliest days of Columbo. He only won one Emmy and was nominated for only one other, both for episodes of Columbo. Still, there can be no doubt he was a very good writer. He wrote some of the best episodes of Perry Mason, Columbo, The Wild Wild West, and several other shows. Indeed, Jackson Gillis was both prolific and a man who did quality work. That explains how he had a career which lasted much longer than the average television writer.

No comments: