Gunn’s Hart

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Lola Albright played Edie Hart, jazz club chanteuse and girlfriend to Craig Stevens’ private eye Peter Gunn in the 1958 – 1961 ABC TV series of the same name. Actually, her real name — Lola Albright — almost sounds better for a quirky little jazz club singer than her made-up character name. And it was the actress and singer’s real name.

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Lola Jean Albright was born in Akron, Ohio in 1924, juggling small-time singing gigs while modeling in Chicago until a talent scout lured her to Hollywood in 1947. Two years in she got her first break alongside Kirk Douglas in 1949’s Champion, but continued to toil in small parts, B-movies, Westerns and television roles, still working as a model on the side, which included posing for well-known pin-up and ‘good girl art’ painter Gil Elvgren. In 1958 she was cast as Edie Hart in the new Blake Edwards produced ABC series Peter Gunn, doing her own singing in nearly forty episodes, nominated for an Emmy in 1959, while recording several successful record albums. During Peter Gunn’s third and final season she fell for the actor/musician portraying the piano player at Mother’s, the little bohemian jazz club private eye Peter Gunn used as his unofficial headquarters, and the two were married from 1961 to 1975. Albright passed away at age 92 in 2017.

A Cold Wind In August

If you get a chance to catch some Peter Gunn episodes, check them out. Hopefully they’ll be the dark, suspenseful and gritty ones, which are a real treat. As is Lola Albright’s breezy performances…and her singing, if you’re fortunate enough to view one in which she performs.

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TV Noir With A Mancini Soundtrack

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I can’t keep track of all the oddball cable channels I can access. FETV? Never heard of it, but apparently it’s one of far too many syndicated rerun channels cluttering the cable landscape, and definitely wasn’t marked as a favorite. That is, until I discovered that FETV was running three back-to-back episodes of Peter Gunn, the 1958 – 1961 ABC detective series created by Blake Edwards and starring Craig Stevens as the titular private eye with Lola Albright as his jazz chanteuse girlfriend, Edie Hart.

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Set in an unnamed waterfront city that could hug either coast (but is actually far-too-familiar Universal and later MGM backlot streets), suave and perpetually cool Peter Gunn uses quirky jazz club Mother’s as his unofficial office, drives a car-phone equipped big-finned two-tone ’58 DeSoto and typically gets a cool grand for his jobs. Always nattily attired, Gunn’s not afraid to get his hands dirty, and is good with his fists in a tussle with thugs and, in keeping with his name, ready with his gun when needed. Creator Blake Edwards aimed for a cool, hip tone with this series. The look is visibly ‘noir-ish’, most scenes set at night, the redundantly re-used sets kept dark and shadowy, often filmed in jarring camera angles, and all enhanced by Henry Mancini’s jazzy score. In fact, the “Peter Gunn Theme”, which you’d recognize right away if you heard it, was nominated for an Emmy and two Grammys.

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Not to overpraise. This is still crank-em-out late ‘50’s-early 60’s era TV, and there are some genuinely silly episodes, either formulaic whodunits or misguided attempts at lighthearted humor. The urbane P.I. in a wild west ghost town? Peter Gunn babysitting a seal? Well, skip those and focus on the good ones, and there are a bunch, at least from those I’ve seen so far. Dark, moody and then suddenly erupting with unexpected violence, the best episodes of Peter Gunn are as good as many film noirs and neo-noirs, just compressed into a half hour time slot.

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Blake Edwards also wrote and directed a number of the episodes, and several years later took another whack at his Peter Gunn creation, directing a feature film (co-written with William Peter Blatty of The Exorcist fame) released by paramount and starring TV’s Craig Stevens. There’ve been further attempts to revive the character in 1989, 2001 and as recently as 2013 by TNT, but nothing’s come of them. A DVD boxed set exists, and if I stumble across it at a reasonable price, I’d go for it.

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