Saturday, January 13, 2024

The Late Great David J. Skal

If you are a Monster Kid, chances are good that you have heard of David J. Skal. Over the years he wrote a number of books on classic horror movies, including Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen, The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror, and, with Elias Savada, Dark Carnival: The Secret World of Tod Browning, Hollywood's Master of the Macabre, among others. He championed the Spanish version of Dracula, which Universal produced the same time that they were making Tod Browining's Dracula (1931). He also wrote and even directed documentaries on the history of horror movies  Sadly, David J. Skal was killed in an automobile accident on New Year's Day, January 1 2024, at the age of 71.

David J. Skal was born on June 21 1952 in Garfield Heights, Ohio. He studied journalism at Ohio University, where he was a film critic and editor on the school newspaper. While in college he attended the Clarion Writer's Workshop. His short story "Chains" was published in the 1971 Clarion anthology. After graduating from Ohio University, he was an intern with the National Endowment for the Arts. He was also the the publicity director for the Hartford Stage Company. He later worked at  the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, and the Theatre Communications Group of New York. David J. Skal wrote three science fiction novels, Scavengers (1980), When We Were Good (1981), and Antibodies (1988).

It as in 1990 that David J. Skal's first work of non-fiction, Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen, was published. Among other things, the book offered the first detailed analysis of the Spanish version of Dracula (1931). He followed it in 1993 with The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror, an in-depth history of horror movies examined through the lens of historical events at the time. With Elias Savada, he co-wrote Dark Carnival: The Secret World of Tod Browning, Hollywood's Master of the Macabre (1995), the first full-length biography of Tod Browning. He also wrote the books V Is for Vampire: The A to Z Guide to Everything Undead (1996), Screams of Reason: Mad Science and Modern Culture (1998), Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween (2002), and Claude Rains: An Actor's Voice (2008).

Over the years David J. Skal appeared in several documentaries and TV specials about horror movies, including It's Alive: The True Story of Frankenstein, Universal HorrorMonsters Madness and Magic, Boris Karloff: The Rest of the Story, and many others. He was also interviewed for various television shows, including 100 Years of Horror, A-Z of Horror, E! Mysteries and Scandals, Biography, 20/20, Ancient Aliens, The UnXplained, History of Horror, and Creature Features. David J. Skal appeared as an actor in The Vampire Hunters Club (2001) and an episode of Great Performances ("All Over").

Mr. Skal also directed several documentaries, including The Road to Dracula, Monster by Moonlight! The Immortal Saga of "The Wolf Man," Mummy Dearest: A Horror Tradition Unearthed, She's Alive! Creating the Bride of Frankenstein, The World of Gods and Monsters: A Journey with James Whale, Now You See Him: The Invisible Man Revealed!, The Opera Ghost: A Phantom Unmasked, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet the Monsters!, The Universe According Universal, Back to the Black Lagoon: A Creature Chronicle, The Frankenstein Files: How Hollywood Made a Monster, Jules Verne & Walt Disney: Explorers of the Imagination, and Carla Laemmle Remembers: An Interview with David J. Skal. He also wrote all of the documentaries he directed, as well episodes of Biography (on Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi, and Angela Lansbury).

I did not have the honour of knowing David J. Skal or even interacting with him online, but he was friends with many of my close friends. He was a guest three different times on my friend Karie Bible's YouTube series Hollywood Kitchen. Mr. Skal was congenial, knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and possessed considerable wit. I think I can speak for my fellow horror movie fans when I say that I could listen to David J. Skal all day.

Of course, David J. Skal left an impressive mark as a cultural historian who chronicled horror movies. His books were always well-researched and detailed. What is more they were always written with considerable wit and good humour. No one could write about the classic Universal horror movies the way David J. Skal did, and he remains one of the best historians of the horror genre ever. Fangoria magazine described him as "the Poet Laureate of Monster Kids," and I have no doubt that he was.

Friday, January 12, 2024

The Batman Effect: The Camp Craze on American Television in the 1960s

On January 12 1966 the television series Batman debuted on ABC. The show proved to be a smash hit from the beginning, a particular boon to perpetually low-rated ABC, especially given Batman aired twice a week (on Wednesday and Thursday night). It debuted on Wednesday to a phenomenal 27.3/49 rating, burying its competition on the other two networks (The Virginian on NBC and Lost in Space on CBS). It did even better on its second outing that Thursday night with a 29.6/59 rating. What is more, in the following weeks it continued to achieve extraordinary Nielsen ratings.

Ultimately, Batman proved to be what might well be the biggest fad in the history of American television. A wide variety of Batman merchandise soon filled store shelves. There was everything from toys to games to Halloween costumes to a lunch box. In 1966 alone $150 million worth of Batman merchandise would be sold.

It was in 1965 that ABC expressed interest in a Batman television series and contacted 20th Century Fox about producing the series. 20th Century Fox turned to William Dozier and his company Greenway Productions to actually produce the show. ABC had conceived of Batman as a serious, but tongue in cheek show, not unlike The Man From U.N.C.L.E. on rival network NBC. William Dozier had never read comic books in his life. Because of this, as research he read seven or eight Batman comic books. It occurred to Mr. Dozier that there was little chance that adults would take a series about a man dressed up as a bat seriously. He then struck upon the idea that Batman would operate on two levels. For adults it would be a comedy, an outright parody of comic books and their conventions. For children it would be an adventure show. It was for that reason that Batman was executed in an intentionally camp, Pop Art style. The heroes--Batman (Adam West) and his sidekick (Robin)--were exaggeratedly strait-laced. The villains were over the top. The show reproduced the look of Silver Age comic books on films, down to animated "bams" and "pows" during fight scenes.

At the time William Dozier's choice to produce Batman in a camp, Pop Art style was a wise one. The art movement known as Pop Art was very much in fashion at the time, the movement being characterized by techniques drawn from commercial art, everyday objects, and, of course, comic books. The aesthetic style known as "camp" was also very much in vogue in the early to mid-Sixties. The concept of camp had existed for some time, but it was perhaps best defined by writer and critic Susan Sontag in her essay "Notes on Camp," published in The Partisan Review in 1964. According to Susan Sontag, the most important elements of camp were "...artifice, frivolity, naïve middle-class pretentiousness, and ‘shocking’ excess." Significantly, In the March 21 1965 issue of The New York Times, Ms. Sontag declared Batman comic books to be an example of "Low Camp."

Radio show star and comedian Fred Allen has often been credited with the quote, "Imitation is the sincerest form of television," This was quite certainly the case with Batman, whose success the American networks and television production companies rushed to emulate. Not only did the networks go forward with pilots that were very much in the mold of Batman, but even two existing shows were changed so they more resembled the smash hit of the 1965-1966 season. The fates of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Lost in Space were sealed the moment Batman proved to be a hit.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E was the first American television show to grow out of the spy craze of the Sixties. The show began development even before the James Bond movie Dr. No (1962) had been released. It debuted on NBC on Tuesday, September 22 1964. Initially The Man From U.N.C.L.E. struggled in the ratings, but following a move to Monday night at mid-season it not only became a hit, but a television fad not unlike Batman would be. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. merchandise from action figures to comic books to novels soon filled stores in 1964.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. centred on American Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Russian Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum), agents for the international intelligence agency U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement). They answered to Alexander Waverly (Leo G. Carroll), the head of U.N.C.L.E. The chief opponent of U.N.C.L.E. was the criminal organization known as Thrush, a group that presented such a threat that even nations diametrically opposed to each other (such as the US and the U.S.S.R.) would band together to stop them. Originally The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was a serious, albeit tongue in cheek television show, not unlike the British television show The Avengers or the James Bond movies. It was after Batman debuted in 1966 that The Man From U.N.C.L.E. took on a much more comedic tone.

Although the turn towards a camp style is associated with the show's third season, it had actually begun late in the second season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. It was in the 28th episode of the second, "The Bat Cave Affair," that Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin found themselves facing a Thrush agent called Count Zark (Martin Landau), who dressed and spoke like Dracula as played by Bela Lugosi. Count Zark's plot was to wreck air traffic control around the world using modified vampire bats. As if this wasn't enough, "The Bat Cave Affair" also features stereotypical hillbillies from the Ozarks. That "The Bat Cave Affair" was not an anomaly soon became apparent in the third season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. The fourth episode of the third season, "The Super-Colossal Affair," featured a notorious scene in which Illya Kuryakin rides a bomb filled with eau de skunk above the city of Las Vegas.

Today precisely who was to blame for the dramatic change in the tone of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is hard to say. Although it is often blamed for the shift towards a camp style, it certainly was not the show's spinoff, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. For one thing, the first episode to represent the change in tone for The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the above cited "Bat Cave Affair," aired late in the show's second season, well before the debut of The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. Second, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E actually started on a more serious note than The Man From U.N.C.L.E. did its third season. It was a few episodes into its first and only season that The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. began to take on the more comedic tone of its parent show. It is apparent that The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. was simply following the lead of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Many have placed the blame for the shift in the tone of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. on NBC. It has been alleged NBC wanted The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to have a lighter, more comedic tone, particularly in the wake of the success of Batman. It also seems possible that part of the blame may be borne by Boris Ingster, who took over as the producer of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. with the 20th episode of the second season ("The Bridge of Lions Affair Part 1"). Regardless of who was responsible for the shift towards camp, it seems clear that The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was trying to emulate Batman. Not only did the plots of episodes become sillier and the villains more outrageous, but the show even utilised personnel who had worked on Batman. Stanley Ralph Ross, a veteran writer on Batman, wrote episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., in its third season. Directors George waGGner and Tom Gries, both of who directed several episodes of Batman, directed episodes of the third season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. There is a good deal of substantial evidence to suggest that in its third season The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was trying to imitate Batman.

What makes the shift in tone of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. sadder still is that the show had been very successful in its second season. For its second season the series ranked no. 13 in the Nielsen ratings for the year. With the change towards camp in its third season, not only was The Man From U.N.C.L.E. no longer in the top thirty shows for the year, but its ratings plummeted. An attempt to save The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was made for its fourth season, with the show once more becoming more serious. Unfortunately, it was too late to save the show. Its ratings did not recover and it was cancelled at mid-season.

Like The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Lost in Space did not begin as an intentionally campy show. In its first season Lost in Space was a serious adventure show, in which the characters faced such natural disasters as heat waves and earthquakes. Lost in Space debuted on CBS on September 15 1965. It centred on the Robinson family, who find themselves lost in space when their spaceship, the Jupiter 2, is thrown off course. Accompanying the Robinson are Dr. Zachary Smith (Jonatha Harris), a saboteur for an enemy nation, and their robot. The first season of Lost in Space was shot in black and white. With its second season, not only was Lost in Space shot in colour, but it took a definite turn towards camp.

In the second season of Lost in Space, the characters of Will (Bill Mumy), Penny (Angela Cartwright), the robot, and Dr. Smith took centre stage on the show.  The show took on a more comedic tone, with plots involving interstellar circuses, space cowboys, magicians, and so on. Villains on the show became more extravagant, not unlike the ones faced by the Caped Crusader. Episodes would even end on cliffhangers, complete with the caption, "To be continued next week! Same time—same channel!" The cliffhangers would disappear for the third season of Lost in Space, although the show would not become any more serious. In fact, what might be the most bizarre episode of Lost in Space (not to mention one of the most bizarre episodes of any show ever) aired in the third season as the show's penultimate episode. "The Great Vegetable Rebellion" saw Dr. Smith transformed into a giant stalk of celery and Penny into a flower bed by a giant, talking carrot.

Like The Man From U.N.C.L.E., it is hard to say why Lost in Space shifted more towards a camp aesthetic, although it seems likely that it was an intentional attempt to compete with Batman. It is perhaps significant that Lost in Space aired directly opposite the Wednesday night episode of Batman. Regardless, the camp approach did not seem to hurt Lost in Space the way it did The Man From U.N.C.L..E. The show came in at no. 35 for the year in its first season, no. 44 in its second season, and no. 53 in its third season. While its ratings were not spectacular, they were not particularly poor either. When Lost in Space was cancelled with its third season, it was not because of the show's camp approach, but likely a combination of the show's rising costs and its ratings, particularly given a large percentage of the show's audience was children.

The success of Batman also resulted in the debut of two superheroes shows, although both of them should be perhaps best be considered spoofs closer to Get Smart or F Troop than intentionally camp shows such as Batman or Lost in Space. Both shows debuted on the same night, January 9 1967. The first of the two to debut, at 8:00 PM Eastern on CBS, was Mr. Terrific. Mr. Terrific centred on gas station attendant Stanley Beamish (Stephen Strimpell), who is hired by the Bureau of Secret Projects to fight crime as Mr. Terrific. Mr. Terrific derived his super powers from a power pill that would only work on him. Mr. Terrific did not receive particularly good reviews, nor did it receive good ratings. It was ultimately cancelled at the end of the season.

Immediately following Mr. Terrific on rival network NBC was Captain Nice. Captain Nice was created by Get Smart co-creator Buck Henry and starred William Daniels as police chemist Carter Nash, who developed a special formula that would give him superpowers. Despite its creator and its star (who would later become known for St. Elsewhere and Boy Meets World), Captain Nice did not receive particularly good reviews either. Just as both Mr. Terrific and Captain Nice debuted on the same night, both shows ended their runs on the same night as well, August 28 1967.

In addition to changes to existing shows and the debut of new shows, the success of Batman would result in pilots that would use the camp aesthetic. The most significant of these came from William Dozier, the executive producer of Batman himself. Dick Tracy struck a middle ground between the campiness of Batman and the seriousness of Mr. Dozier's TV show The Green Hornet. Reportedly, the creator of Dick Tracy, Chester Gould, had been in talks with NBC about a Dick Tracy series in 1965, but nothing apparently came of it.

It was in 1966 that William Dozier met with Chester Gould to discuss the possibility of a Dick Tracy show. By July 1 script writer Hal Fimberg joined Dozier to meet with Gould. It was on July 4th that Broadcasting magazine announced that 20th Century Fox and Greenway Productions (Dozier's company) had obtained the rights to Dick Tracy. It would be a half hour show airing at 7:30 PM Eastern/6:30 PM-Central on NBC. It would debut either midseason during the 1966/1967 season or the fall of 1967. By October 1966 actor Ray MacDonnell was cast as Dick Tracy.. The pilot was set to begin shooting on October 16, 1966.

The pilot for the potential Dick Tracy series, "The Plot to Destroy Nato," pitted Dick Tracy against the villain Mr. Memory (Victor Buono), who believes that he can communicate directly with computers through his mind. Both Davey Davison as Dick Tracy's wife Tess Trueheart and Eve Plumb as his daughter Bonnie Braids appear in the opening credits of "The Plot to Destroy Nato," but not in the episode itself. In the pilot they are said to be visiting Tess's sister. The overall tone of the Dick Tracy pilot is different from either Batman or The Green Hornet. Unlike Batman the heroes and most other characters are played straight. Unlike The Green Hornet there are some elements of camp, namely in the form of the villain Mr. Memory as played by Victor Buono. One can only assume that Dick Tracy would have occupied a middle ground between Batman and The Green Hornet, where Dick Tracy, his family, and his fellow cops would have been played seriously and the villains would have been outrageous.

Regardless, Dick Tracy as produced by William Dozier would never become a television series. Ultimately, NBC passed on Dick Tracy as a mid-season replacement during the 1966-1967 season. In February 1967, when NBC announced its schedule for that fall, Dick Tracy was conspicuously missing. It seems likely that the failure of Dick Tracy to be picked up as a series was due to the fact that by the middle of the 1966-1967 season Batman had dropped considerably in the Nielsen ratings from the phenomenal numbers it had in its first season. As far as NBC was concerned, the camp craze may have been over and so they passed on Dick Tracy.

In 1966 Dick Tracy was not the only television show based on an existing property that William Dozier had planned. In fact, he had in mind a series based on another DC Comics character besides Batman, namely Wonder Woman. William Dozier never made a pilot for a Wonder Woman series, but he did make  five minute presentation film entitled "Who's Afraid of Diana Prince?." Going by the presentation film, it seems likely that the tone of the Wonder Woman series Mr. Dozier had in mind would have been outright comedy rather than camp. Wonder Woman is played strictly for laughs. Diana Prince (Ellie Wood Walker) is portrayed as a shy plain Jane whose mother (who is not Hippolyta of the Amazons) nags her about not having a boyfriend. When she dons the Wonder Woman costume, she sees herself in the mirror as being more attractive than she really is (the Wonder Woman in the mirror is played by Linda Harrison, later of Planet of the Apes fame). It seems likely that the reason William Dozier's Wonder Woman series never made it beyond the presentation film was not due to ratings for Batman falling, but instead because "Who's Afraid of Diana Prince?" was just plain bad.

William Dozier was not the only producer reviving old properties for television. What is more, not every television project based on an old property was from the Thirties and Forties like Batman and Dick Tracy. One property selected for revival in the Sixties dated back to 1914. The Perils of Pauline was a 1914 serial starring Pearl White as an heiress who constantly finds herself in danger. What is more, the first attempt to revive The Perils of Pauline as  a television series pre-dated Batman by three years. In 1962 Warner Bros. sought to produce a pilot for a situation comedy based on The Perils of Pauline starring Dorothy Provine and John Dehner. It seems possible that the pilot never came to be, as Dorothy Provine was focused on a career in movies and refused to star in the prospective television series.

The second attempt to adapt The Perils of Pauline as a television series came about before Batman even debuted. In the October 23 1965 issue of The Salem News, in the column "Between Channels" by Richard Doan, among producer Herbert B. Leonard's planned pilots for television series was The Perils of Pauline, which was described as "...'a wild and contemporary' updating of the early movie cliffhanger serial of the same name." If the name Herbert B. Leonard sounds familiar, it is because he produced the classic TV series Naked City and produced and co-created the classic show Route 66 with writer Stirling Sillipant. Herbert B. Leonard had apparently had the idea for a television show based on The Perils of Pauline for some time. In a  June 27 1967 article in The Edwards Intelligencer, it was stated that he had been searching for "the right Pauline" for five years.

Herbert B. Leonard found his Pauline in the form of actress Pamela Austin. Pamela Austin had made several guest appearances on television, most notably in the Twilight Zone episode "Number 12 Looks Just Like You." She had also appeared opposite Elvis Presley in the movies Blue Hawaii (1961) and Kissin' Cousins (1964). It was not until 1966 that Pamela Austin really began to be noticed, starring in a series of commercials for the car company Dodge as part of their "Dodge Rebellion" campaign. The commercials would place Miss Austin in various dangerous situations, such as nearly falling off a cliff, almost being crushed by a chandelier, being menaced by sharks, and so on. It was one night that Herbert B. Leonard saw one of Pamela Austin's "Dodge Rebellion" commercials on television that he decided he had found the Pauline for his prospective TV show based on The Perils of Pauline. Pat Boone was cast as Pauline's love interest (and the person who is constantly trying to rescue her) George Stedman.  As to the concept for the series, it was relatively simple. Pauline was an orphan who constantly finds herself in dangerous situations.

Sources seem to be unclear as to whether a single pilot was made for The Perils of Pauline with two additional sample episodes also shot, or whether the pilot was reworked three times. Either way, in the end there were three completed episodes of The Perils of Pauline. It as written by Albert Beich, who had created the short-lived television series Kentucky Jones and co-wrote the screenplay for the Bette Davis movie Dead Ringer (1964). The original director was Ken Annakin, who had directed such films as Miranda (1948), The Sword and the Rose (1953), and Swiss Family Robinson (1960). He left the pilot after only 18 days. The Perils of Pauline was then directed by producer Herbert B. Leonard himself and Joshua Shelley, an actor who had made guest appearances on television shows from Philco Television Playhouse to The Defenders.

Ultimately, CBS decided not to pick up The Perils of Pauline as a series. While it seems clear that many projects done with a camp aesthetic were not picked up due to the declining fortunes of Batman, this was probably not the case with The Perils of Pauline. At the time CBS decided not to pick up The Perils of Pauline, Batman was still riding high in the ratings. It was then that Universal decided to release The Perils of Pauline as a feature film. The three completed episodes of The Perils of Pauline were stitched together, with additional footage shot in December 1966. The film was released in 1967. It was not well-received by critics, nor did it do particularly well at the box office. This could well point to the reason that CBS did not go forward with the television series The Perils of Pauline. It simply was not very good.

While The Perils of Pauline was conceived only a few months before the debut of Batman on ABC, it seems likely The Perils of Pauline was influenced by both Batman and  the hit movie The Great Race (1965). The direction of The Perils of Pauline was apparently meant to simulate silent movies or, more accurately, what people in 1966 thought silent movies were like. There is colourful title cards, undercranking the camera, and old-style organ music. At the same time it would appear to owe a bit to Batman. It is shot in vivid Technicolor. There are florid villains and over-the-top situations. Everything is exaggerated and done in a camp style.

While The Perils of Pauline drew upon a silent movie serial for inspiration, Old Time Radio would provide inspiration for another prospective show with a camp aesthetic. I Love a Mystery was a popular radio show that aired on NBC from 1939 to 1944. It was created by Carlton E. Morse, who had also created the popular radio soap opera One Man's Family. I Love a Mystery centred on private detectives Jack Packard, Doc Long, and Reggie York. Jack was more or less their leader, who was the best at solving mysteries. Doc Long was the comedian of the group, a large, high-spirited Texan. Reggie York was an Englishman who was exceptionally strong and skilled at combat. The three men comprised the A-1 Detective Agency, whose cases involved everything from the jungles of Indochina to ancient mansions. I Love a Mystery blended the genres of adventure, mystery, and horror. The radio show was popular enough to inspire three movies produced by Columbia Pictures (I Love a Mystery in 1945 and The Devil's Mask and The Unknown in 1946). It would also be revived twice on radio, as I Love Adventure on ABC in 1948 and I Love a Mystery on the Mutual Broadcasting System in 1949.

It was in a November 25 1966 article by Associated Press movie and television writer Bob Thomas that Jennings Lang of Universal discussed television movies that were being produced for NBC under the network's "World Premiere Movie" banner. Some of these television movies would serve as pilots for television series, including I Love a Mystery with Les Crane, Ironside with Raymond Burr, and Outsider with Darren McGavin or Harry Guardino. Both Ironside with Raymond Burr and The Outsider with Darren McGavin would go onto become television series on NBC. In a December 11 1966 article in The Register, it was reported that Don Knotts would have a cameo in the I Love a Mystery TV movie, and that Les Crane and David Hartman starred on the show. A January 28 1967 article in The Kingston Daily Freeman discussed Ida Lupino playing her role as a mad scientist in the NBC World Premiere movie I Love a Mystery.

The TV movie I Love a Mystery was directed and written by Leslie Stevens, best known as the creator of the classic television series The Outer Limits. Leslie Stevens's teleplay was based on two episodes of the radio show I Love a Mystery. "The Fear That Creeps Like a Cat" dealt with the disappearance of Alexander Archer. In "The Thing That Cries in the Night" Jack, Doc, and Reggie find themselves dealing with three beautiful women and a mysterious mansion. Les Crane played Jack Packard. Les Crane may be best known as the first talk show host to challenge Johnny Carson's supremacy with his talk show on ABC from 1964 to 1965. David Hartman played Doc Long. Although not well-known at the time, he would go on to have a regular role on The Virginian and become a long time host on Good Morning America. Hagan Beggs played Reggie York. Hagan Beggs made frequent guest apperances, on American television, and was later a regular on the Canadian television series Danger Bay. Legendary actress Ida Lupino played the antagonist of the pilot, Randolph "Randy" Cheyne, while Don Knotts had a cameo in the pilot.

In Bob McKenzie's May 18 1967 column in The Oakland Tribune, it is mentioned that Les Crane co-stars in I Love a Mystery, a two hour television movie that may be released in theatres instead. As it turned out, I Love a Mystery would not be picked up as a TV series, nor would the TV movie ever be released to theatres. In fact, the TV movie I Love a Mystery would not see the light of day until it aired on NBC on February 27 1973, six years after it had been filmed. While it is hard to say why NBC waited so long to air the TV movie, it seems likely that it was not picked up as a TV series simply because the camp craze was obvioulsy over by the time the TV movie was completed. Indeed, by the time the TV movie/pilot was announced in the fall of 1966, Batman was no longer the ratings behemoth it had been.

As it was, I Love a Mystery was very much in the mold of Batman. The situaitons in I Love a Mystery were not nearly as exaggerated as those on Batman, but they were exaggerated nonetheless. As the villain Randolph Cheyne, Ida Lupino is only a little more restrained than the villains on BatmanI Love a Mystery even features a narrator early in the film. Ultimately, it plays less like a faithful adaptation of a radio show from the days of Old Time Radio than a parody of such.

In the end, the camp craze on American television in the mid Sixties abated without ever becoming a full-fledged cycle of camp television shows.  Much of this was due to the fact that the camp craze was very much tied to the fortunes of Batman. While Batman would prove sucessful in syndicaiton as a rerun and today is regarded as a classic, in the winter and spring of 1966 it was very much a fad. And like all fads, it ended almost as quickly as it began. Once Batman was no longer a ratings giant, the networks lost interest in pursuing similar shows. This was probably part of the reason that Dick Tracy, The Perils of Pauline, and I Love a Mystery were not picked up.

Of course, the other reason why some of the campy pilots made in the wake of Batman were not picked up as TV series was simply a matter of quality. The camp aesthetic depends largely on a precarious balance of going over the top without going too far. Paricularly in its first season, Batman was able to maintain that balance. The pilot for Perils of Pauline was not. In other words, in some cases campy pilots did not become TV shows simply because they were not very good (or "so bad they're good," as the case may be).

After the mid-Sixties, American television would never be nearly overtaken by camp, although it would not disappear completely. The first season of the Seventies series Wonder Woman was much like the 1966 pilot for Dick Tracy in that the primary characters were treated seriously while episodes of the show had some camp aspects (it is to be noted that veteran Batman writer Stanley Ralph Ross developed Wonder Woman for television). Still later Twin Peaks, Xena: Warrior Princess, Riverdale, and a few assorted other shows would make use of camp to one degree or another. The camp craze on American telvision in the Sixties was brief, but its effects are still felt to this day.

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

The 65th Anniversary of Rawhide

Today Rawhide may be best known as the television show that launched Clint Eastwood on his path towards stardom, although it deserves to be remembered for much more than that. Rawhide was highly successful in its early years and ultimately ran for eight seasons, making it the fifth longest running Western television show on broadcast network television after Gunsmoke, Bonanza, The Virginian, and Wagon Train. It proved popular as a rerun in syndication. It has run on such cable channels as the Family Channel, the Hallmark Channel, Encore Western, and AMC, as well as such broadcast outlets as MeTV. Even its theme song, "Rawhide," has held up over time, having been covered by various artists multiple times.

Rawhide centred on a cattle drive from San Antonio, Texas to Sedalia, Missouri in the late 1860s. The trail boss was Gil Favor (Eric Fleming), a tough, but fair man who had worked with cattle for most of his life. Rowdy Yates (Clint Eastwood) was the ramrod on the cattle drive, essentially Mr. Favor's right-hand man who acted as the foreman on the drive. Pete Nolan (Sheb Wooley) was the original scout on the cattle drive, who looked for water for the cattle and places where they could camp for the night. Wishbone (Paul Brinegar) was the drive's cook, and Mushy (James Murdock) was his assistant. Hey Soos Patines (Robert Cabal) was the drive's wrangler, who was responsible for taking care of the horses on the drive.

Rawhide followed Gil Favor's cattle drive as it made its way from San Antonio to Sedalia. Plots on the show ranged from natural disasters (such as drought, wolves, or anthrax outbreaks) to bandits to dishonest townsfolk. Rawhide was known for its realism, with a good deal of cowboy jargon making its way on the show. The man who drove the cattle were "drovers." The cattle were "beeves (the plural of "beef"). The remuda was the herd of horses used by the drovers. Particularly in its early seasons, Rawhide was grounded in reality in a way the majority of television Westerns were not.

Rawhide was created by Charles Marquis Warren. who was well-established as a writer, director, and producer of Westerns. Indeed, it was Charles Marquis Warren who developed the radio show Gunsmoke for television and served as its producer in its first seasons and part of its second. Charles Marquis Warren directed the 1958 movie Cattle Empire, starring Joel McCrea as the trail boss of a cattle drive. For Cattle Empire Charles Marquis Warren relied heavily on the 1946 novel The Chisholm Trail by Borden Chase, which served as the basis for the 1948 Western movie Red River and the 1866 diary of cattle drive trail boss George C. Duffield. It occurred to Charles Marquis Warren that a cattle drive in the 1860s could provide the basis for a television series.

Ultimately, Rawhide owed a good deal to the movie Cattle Empire. Endre Bohem, who co-wrote the screenplay for Cattle Empire, was hired as the story editor on Rawhide and wrote episodes of the show. Paul Brinegar, who played one of the cattle drive's cooks in Cattle Drive, played the cook Wishbone on Rawhide. Both Steve Raines and Rocky Shahan, who played drovers Jim Quince and Joe Scarlet on Rawhide, had roles in Cattle Empire. Another veteran of Cattle Empire, Charles H. Gray, would guest star in two episodes of Rawhide in its first and second seasons would play the regular role of drover Clay Forrester on Rawhide in its fourth and fifth seasons.

The first season of Rawhide was budgeted at $4 million, with much of that money going towards guest stars on the show. The outdoors scenes with cattle were filmed near Tucumcari, New Mexico, which also happened to be the hometown of Paul Brinegar. Other filming locations for the show ranged from Big Sky Ranch in Simi Valley to Conejo Valley. Scenes were also filmed at Universal Studios in Universal City and CBS Studio Centre in Los Angeles. Making Rawhide could be gruelling for both the cast and crew. Roughly one episode was produced each week with breaks of three to four months between seasons.

One of the best remembered aspects of Rawhide is its theme song. "Rawhide" was written by lyricist Ned Washington and composer Dmitri Tiomkin. It was sung by popular vocalist Frankie Laine. The song proved popular, reaching no. 6 on the UK singles chart and no. 34 on the Australian singles chart. While it did not reach the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States, it proved successful nonetheless. It would be covered by such diverse artists as Johnny Western, The Dead Kennedys, and The Blues Brothers.

Rawhide would see a good deal of turnover in its producers over the years. Charles Marquis Warren did not remain with television shows very long, but he remained with Rawhide for three seasons, which was longer than his stints on Gunsmoke or The Virginian. Story editor Endre Bohem became the show's producer in its fourth season. Vincent M. Fennelly, who had produced movies at Monogram and Allied Artists as well s the TV show Trackdown, served as the producer on Rawhide for its fifth and sixth seasons. Bruce Geller, now best known as the creator of Mission: Impossible, and Bernard L. Kowalski, would produce 21 episodes of the show's seventh season. Messrs. Geller and Kowalski's stint on Rawhide was unlike anything on the show before, or any other Western television series for that matter. Indeed, in many of their episodes no cattle were in sight. One person who did not approve of the direction Rawhide was taking was William S. Paley, the head of CBS. Mr. Paley fired Bruce Geller, Bernard L. Kowalski, and story editor Del Reisman in December 1964 and gave an order " put the cows back in." Endre Bohem returned as producer following Bruce Geller and Bernard L. Kowalski. For the eighth and final season Ben Brady, who had worked on Perry Mason,  was brought in as an executive producer and Robert E. Thompson as its line producer.

While Rawhide saw a good deal of turnover in producers, its cast was fairly stable. Sheb Wooley left after the show's fourth season, only to return for a few episodes in its seventh season. Don C. Harvey, as drover Collins, also left after the show's fourth season. Others would only stay for a few seasons. John Erwin as Teddy appeared from the second to fourth seasons, and then again from the sixth to seventh seasons. As mentioned above, Charles H. Gray played Clay Forrester in the show's fourth and fifth seasons, and had a single appearance in the show's sixth season. The biggest cast change would come when Eric Fleming departed the show at the end of the seventh season. Today it is unclear why he left. At the time Eric Fleming joked to TV Guide, "They fired me because they were paying me a million dollars a year (here it must be pointed out he was actually paid $220,000 a year)."

Of course, Eric Fleming was not the only cast member to leave Rawhide after its seventh season, as several cast members were let go. Robert Cabal, James Murdock, Rocky Shahan, and others were no longer part of the cast. The eighth season of Rawhide appears to be set a few years later than the sixth season, with Rowdy Yates promoted to trail boss and Jim Quince promoted to ramrod. Paul Brinegar remained on the show as Wishbone. The departing cast were replaced by new drovers, including Raymond St. Jacques as Simon Blake (the show's first regular Black drover),  John Ireland as Jed Colby, and David Watson as Ian Cabot.

For the first three seasons of Rawhide, while Charles Marquis Warren was producer, the titles of episodes followed a format of "Incident at....," "Incident of...," and so on. This was dropped at the start of the fourth season. Episodes of Rawhide sometimes addressed serious issues, such as drug addiction, alcoholism, racism, and superstition. In "Incident at the Top of the World" Robert Culp played a Civil War veteran who had become addicted to morphine. Hey Soos faced racism in multiple episodes. Episodes such as "Incident of the Golden Calf" and 'Incident of the Prophecy" touched upon religion. Rawhide also featured a wide range of big name guest stars. The seventh season episode "Canliss" featured a rare television guest appearance by Dean Martin as the titledcharacter. In the fourth season episode "The Captain's Wife,"screen legend Barbara Stanwyck played the wife of a cavalry captain left in charge of an abandoned fort facing Comanchero raids. Troy Donahue played a man about to be married in "Incident at Alabaster Plain." A short list of big name guest stars on Rawhide includes Claude Akins, Eddie Albert, Mary Astor, Ed Begley, Lon Chaney Jr., Ann Doran, Barbara Eden, Nina Foch, Martin Landau, June Lockhart, Burgess Meredith, Woody Strode, and Audrey Totter.

During its run Rawhide would see some merchandising. In 1961 a novel based on the TV show, Rawhide, by Frank C. Robertson, was published by Signet Books.Two issues of Dell Comics' anthology comic book Four Color adapted the TV series. There was also a board game, puzzle, and various other goods.

Rawhide proved to be a hit in its very first season, coming in at no. 28 for the year in the Nielsen ratings. It rose in the ratings in its second season to no. 18 for the year and peaked no. 6 in its third season. Rawhide dropped to no. 13 for the season in its fourth season and then to no. 22 in its fifth. Unfortunately, its fifth season would be the last time Rawhide ranked in the top thirty shows for the year. For the show's sixth season CBS moved Rawhide from Friday night to Thursday night, and its ratings dropped. Rawhide was moved back to Friday night for its seventh season, but its ratings continued to decline. With its eighth season Rawhide moved from Friday night to Tuesday night. Between the new time slot and the massive changes in the show's cast, ratings for Rawhide plummeted. The show was cancelled only thirteen episodes into its eighth season.

While Rawhide ended its original broadcast network run in 1965, it was hardly gone. It entered syndication and would be seen on local television stations for years. It would later be seen on a wide variety of cable channels. The entire series has been released on DVD by CBS DVD.

Rawhide would have a lasting impact. The fourth season episode "The Black Sheep" was the one that led director Sergio Leone to cast Clint Eastwood in his Western A Fistful of Dollars (1964), thus launching Eastwood on his film career. Its theme song has become a standard, recorded by multiple artists. While he was fired from the job, Rawhide was among the first shows produced by Bruce Geller, who would go onto create Mission: Impossible and produce the TV series Mannix. Rawhide also brought a higher degree of realism to television Westerns and, for the brief time that Bruce Geller and Bernard L. Kowalski produced it, even pioneered the revisionist Western. Rawhide may not have seen the success of Gunsmoke and Bonanza, but in some way it was just as influential.