Friday, June 24, 2011

Warner Bros. Classic TV Detectives Were the "Ginchiest" - Part 2

Inspired by the success of 77 Sunset Strip, Warner Bros. launched three other TV detective series over the next two years. They all featured the same formula: attractive performers, exotic locales, straightforward mysteries, and a healthy dose of humor. Characters often crossed over from one series to another, a nifty way to promote the less successful shows on the more popular ones.

The biggest hit of the new series was Hawaiian Eye (1959-63), which starred Anthony Eisely and Robert Conrad (whose character was supposed to be half-Hawaiian) as private investigators in Honolulu. They worked out of the posh Hawaiian Village Hotel. They were often aided--even when they didn't want it--by Cricket (Connie Stevens), a nightclub singer/photographer, and ukulele-playing cabbie Kim (Poncie Ponce). One of the running gags of the show was that Kim had relatives all over the island. That often proved handy when looking for a missing person or gathering evidence to solve a murder.

Later in the first season, the agency hired another investgator played by Grant Williams (The Incredible Shrinking Man). When Eiseley left after three years, Troy Donahue joined the cast as the social director of the hotel for the fourth and final season.

Although it never captured the public fancy to the extent of 77 Sunset Strip, Hawaiian Eye was a solid hit and laid the groundwork for future private eye shows set in the islands (e.g., Hawaii Five-O, Magnum, P.I.).

Duggan, Howell, Williams, and Long.
Bourbon Street Beat (1959-60) starred Andrew Duggan and Richard Long as private detectives in New Orleans. They operated the agency Randolph and Calhoun Special Services on the second floor of The Old Absinthe House restaurant in the French Quarter. Kenny Madison (Van Williams), a young law student, assisted them on some cases and Melody Lee Mercer (Arlene Howell) keep the office running. When the series was cancelled after one season, Richard Long's character, Rex Randolph, joined 77 Sunset Strip. Van Williams returned as Kenny Madison the following year in a new series called Surfside 6. Ironically, his new show even stayed in the same slot of Monday, 0830-9:30.

Sierra, Donahue, Patterson, McBain,
and Williams.
Set in Miami, Surfside 6 (the title is a telephone exchange) cast Van Williams with Lee Patterson and Troy Donahue as a trio of young private detectives who worked out of a houseboat that doubled as their digs. They also received their share of unwanted help from ditzy socialite Daphne Dutton (Diane McBain), whose yacht was anchored next door, and Cha Cha O'Brien (Margarite Sierra), who sang in the Boom Boom Room in the ritzy Fountainebleau Hotel. Surfside 6  lasted for two seasons.
While these TV series were still on the air, Warner Bros. capitalized on the popularity of its young stable of stars by casting them in theatrical films--even at the risk of overexpose. Troy Donahue, Connie Stevens, and Diane McBain all appeared in Parrish (1961). Stevens and Donahue paired up again for Susan Slade (1961), with Grant Williams making a brief appearance as well. Donahue and Conrad played adversaries in Palm Springs Weekend. And Diane McBaine got a starring role (and was very good) as Claudelle Inglish (1961), an  Erskine Caldwell Southern tale about a girl with a bad reputation.

Diane McBain.
While none of the Warner Bros. detective series could be described as great television, they were all diverting and provided great experience for a number of likable young actors who continued to appear on the big screen and small screen. Richard Long surfaced opposite Barbara Stanwyck in the TV series The Big Valley. Robert Conrad landed his most famous role in Wild, Wild West. Connie Stevens had a #3 hit song with "Sixteen Reasons" and parlayed that into a long-lasting career as an entertainer. Troy Donahue's film career gradually declined, though he later appeared in a supporting role in The Godfather Part II. Finally, Van Williams starred in The Green Hornet TV with Bruce Lee. The show only lasted a season and Williams retired from acting shortly afterwards. However, he used his business savvy to amass a tidy fortune.


  1. I love these posts, Rick, and yours are always done very well. I don't remember Surfside 6 or Hawaiian Eye very well -- my folks must have been watching something else! Of course, I knew all of the young stars -- they were a pretty bunch, wrern't they? As far as Robert Conrad, I never missed an episode of Wild, Wild West, but I liked Artemus Gordon best! My little sister adored Conrad until she found out he was like 4'10". LOL! Well, she was only 10, not looking for depth of character!

    Bourbon Street Beat is another story. I LOVED that show. I didn't realize it was only on for 1 season, but then I was 8 years old. Even at that age, I thought the setting of New Orleans, the name Absinthe House (I had to ask my Dad about that one) all seemed so exotic. And Richard Long was so handsome. He is in one of my favorite Twilight Zones, I think it's called "No. 14 Looks Just Like You." I may have the numer wrong, but man it's a great episode.

    I'm getting off track, aren't I? That's what happens with these posts -- they bring up all kinds of fun memories. Thanks, Rick -- good stuff!

  2. This was a fun post, Rick! I only saw a couple Hawaiin Eye episodes. But, like Becky, I loved The Wild, Wild West and especially Artemus Gordon!

  3. Loved this post, Rick! While I miss seeing 77 SUNSET STRIP, HAWAIIAN EYE, BOURBON STREET BEAT, and SURFSIDE 6 on ALN (who do we petition to get them back?), I'm delighted that you covered them here! I loved them all, but I must admit I always had a soft spot for BOURBON STREET BEAT; somehow it seemed a little more exotic, plus I always got a kick out of senior partner Cal Calhoun and his sassy stripper girlfriend Lusti Weather (played by one of my favorite comedic character actresses, Nita Talbot). I recently came across an Internet ad touting the entire run of BOURBON STREET BEAT; I'd be tempted if it didn't cost $84! See if y'all think it's worthwhile:

  4. Rick, an engrossing post of three TV shows that I have not seen. I'd love to check out any one of these, particularly since I know so much of the cast. Just recently watched THUNDER ALLEY which featured Diane McBain, and watched a few episodes of THE KATO SHOW with Van Williams in the supporting role. It'd be nice if I could rent these somewhere, or if a network would run them. In the meantime, this was a solid read!

  5. Hi! I never heard of either of them, but they look like interesting shows!

  6. What a terrific post! Boy did it bring back memories. I used to watch all these shows all the time when I was an impressionable teen. :)

    Never did cotton to Troy Donahue much, though. I liked Anthony Eisely and Grant Williams and Richard Long. Obviously I liked the more mature type. Ha!

    I do remember seeing the Warner Brothers films with the interchangeable cast of youngsters all the time. If Troy Donahue wasn't the most wooden 'actor' ever in the history of film, I don't know who was.

    I too was a fan of Nita Talbot. She was wonderful.

  7. Troy was wooden alright, but I think Robert Stack (as cute as he was) could give Troy a run for his money! At least when he was on The Untouchables! LOL!

  8. About seven years ago, TV Land showed a bunch of these shows over a weekend. Wish someone would do that again...or release them via on-demand DVDs (even some sample episodes). By the way, my sister and one of my nieces are Troy fans--not sure if that's related to his acting ability.