“Scotch, Smokes, Pills And Women”: Lawrence Block Remembers Henry Kane.

Martinis And Murder

Prolific pulp and paperback original mystery/crime fiction writer Henry Kane was much more than a couple of ‘stiletto gumshoe’ novels like 1959’s Private Eyeful and its sorta-not-quite sequel Kisses Of Death from 1962.

Best known for his Peter Chambers NYC private eye novels (about 30 of those, I think), he also penned more than two dozen other books, including the Inspector McGregor series and numerous standalone novels published between 1950 and 1982. He wrote a short-lived radio series in 1954, and many assume that Blake Edwards’ Peter Gunn TV series was based on Kane’s Peter Chambers. In fact, Kane wrote the TV show’s one tie-in paperback novel.  Like Erle Stanley Gardner, John Grisham, Scott Turow (and others, I bet), Henry Kane was a lawyer, but much preferred writing to trials, contracts and briefs.

Mystery Scene - Block Kane

The fact is, however popular Henry Kane may have been in the postwar era pulp fiction (e.g. Manhunt magazine) and paperback crime fiction marketplace, he’s not very well known any longer, his books rarely appearing on shelf even at used booksellers that specialize in vintage paperbacks. It’s pointless for me to try to assemble a bio when an excellent anecdotal homage already exists: MWA Grandmaster Lawrence Block’s “Remembering Henry Kane” from the Summer 2010 Mystery Scene magazine is still at the mag’s site. Like anecdotes? Count on Block, whose own publishing history goes back a bit and is always good for a few (and always reliably well told). Follow the link below for a much better and even chuckle-worthy remembrance of the private eye and crime fiction wordsmith with a uniquely smart-assed style and rhythm, Henry Kane.

Death Is The Last LoverMy Darlin Evangeline

https://www.mysteryscenemag.com/article/65-articles/murders-in-memory-lane/2537-the-murders-in-memory-lane-remembering-henry-kane?showall=1

Vintage Small Screen Noir

TV Noir

I spotted film and television historian Allen Glover’s 2019 TV Noir – Dark Drama On The Small Screen on shelf during my last in-person visit to the local bookstore, right before everything went bonkers. But I already had a stack of books in hand and figured I’d get it on a subsequent trip. Lesson learned: You see it, you want it: Just get it. You never know what might happen. Like a pandemic.

But the indie store close to the day job (still dutifully going in most days) takes phone orders and does curbside pickup, bless them, and TV Noir was still in stock. (Okay, so I phone ordered three other books at the same time. What can I say. It’s a sickness.)

martin kane 1950

I knew from my in-store browse that portions of Glover’s lushly illustrated 250+ page hardcover weren’t going to be of particular interest to me. The author’s definition of ‘noir’ is wide-ranged and focuses less on the ‘look’ of a show and more on its themes. Considerable space (over a third of the book) is allotted to the UK’s Danger Man (1961 – 1966) and The Prisoner (1968), David Janssen in The Fugitive and again in Harry O, Lloyd Bridges’ 1965-66 dark western The Loner, and even SF/Horror with The Invaders and The Night Stalker/Kolchak. Not exactly what you think of when think ‘noir’? Well, me either. But no matter. It’s the first half or more of Glover’s book that I was really interested in.

Ralph Bellamy

The early chapters cover standalone shows and series I’d never even heard of, some dating back to television’s very earliest days, including ‘live noir’ from various playhouse series featuring stars (or soon to be stars) like James Dean, Paul Newman, Dick Powell, Farley Granger in productions adapted from stories by Raymond Chandler, Cornell Woolrich, David Goodis, Dorothy B. Hughes and others. Most of these are long gone, never saved except for their scripts, production notes and a handful of photo stills which the author uncovered.

M Squad - Staccato

No question: 1950’s/1960’s television was strictly a boys club, and TV Noir doesn’t even give a nod to Beverly Garland in 1957’s groundbreaking Decoy, much less Anne Francis in Honey West. But then, Glover isn’t cataloging cop, detective and private eye shows, but digging deep into dark, desolate and gritty projects like Cornell Woolrich’s The Black Angel (a 1940’s live production) or John Cassavettes cult-fave Staccato. Ample time is spent looking at more familiar shows like Dragnet, M Squad, Richard Diamond, Peter Gunn and 77 Sunset Strip.

Peter Gunn

With a few exceptions, the oddball cable rerun channels, YouTube and bargain bin DVD’s are the likely places to locate some of these 1950’s/1960’s programs like Martin Kane – Private Eye or Man Against Crime, and I’m up for rooting through used bookstore movie sections to see what I can come up with once the sheltering-in winds down.

Rare TV Detectives DVD

Gunn’s Hart

Lola Albright 1

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.

Loal Albright 2

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.

Lola Albright 3

TV Noir With A Mancini Soundtrack

Peter Gunn 1

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.

Peter Gunn 2

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.

Peter Gunn 4

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.

Peter Gunn 5

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.

Peter Gunn 3

Listening To: Take It Off

Take it Off

No one’s practicing strip tease moves here or planning on a career in burlesque. But compilation CD’s often make for the best background music when you’re writing period noir (which I am…y’know: ‘The Stiletto Gumshoe’) and Take It Off – 50 Essential Striptease Classics is ideal listening for that kind of work. Sure, there are a few cliched stripper tunes, but there’s also film and retro TV theme songs and soundtrack music from Peter Gunn, 77 Sunset Strip and Dragnet as well as some utterly perfect smoky jazz that can easily make you imagine yourself perched at the bar in a 1950’s cocktail lounge or roadhouse, or engaging in something naughty or nefarious (or both) in a run down hot sheet hotel or roadside motor court…just close your eyes for a moment and listen. Billy Vaughn, Buddy Johnson, Nelson Riddle, Henry Mancini, Elmer Bernstein’s Studio Orchestra…man, this one’s perfect.

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