A Gun Moll For Giggles.

Natalie Wood And Bob Hope 4

To say that I’m a Natalie Wood fan would be an understatement. This Property Condemned, Inside Daisy Clover, West Side Story, Love With A Proper Stranger…I love them all, the awful 1960’s comedies and the edgy dramas alike. In fact, my in-progress Stiletto Gumshoe (Sharon Gardner, real name Sasha Garodnowicz, a streetwise girl in the ethnic blue-collar bungalow belt of 1959 Chicago’s south side) describes herself as looking more or less like Natalie Wood, “minus some curves, and if a fellow’s had a few and the lights are low” as she likes to put it.

Natalie Wood And Bob Hope 3

Wood’s not the first person you’d picture doing slapstick with comedian Bob Hope, but she was a guest on The Bob Hope Show (variously titled the Chevy Show, The Buick Show and The Chrysler Show depending on the sponsor and dates), tap-dancing in top hat and tails, hamming it up as a 1920’s flapper, trading one-liners as a black leather jacketed juvenile delinquent opposite Hope’s motorcycle cop, or here as ‘scarface’s’ gun moll, a fetching femme fatale who, based on the brief bits available on YouTube, has trouble keeping a straight face or even keeping up with the notorious ad-libber Hope. Makes me wish she managed just one role as a real gun-toting moll, serious crook, or even a ‘stiletto gumshoe’ in her incredible career.

Natalie WoodNatalie Wood And Bob Hope 2Natalie Wood And Bob Hope

 

https://www.pinterest.com/stilettogumshoes/the-stiletto-gumshoe-mood-board/

 

 

And The Real Nancy Drew Is…?

Pamela Sue Martin - Nancy Drew

Bonita Granville, Emma Roberts and then only last month, Sophia Lillis as Nancy Drew in the Katt Shea-directed feature film (which kind of vanished in a blink). Now there’s Kennedy McMann, who’ll assume the role of the plucky ‘girl detective’ in the upcoming CW series due this Fall, which from all advance news sounds more like Veronica Mars meets Riverdale than a Carolyn Keene novel, which may not be an entirely bad thing, after all.

Pamela Sue Martin - Playboy

But there’s still one more Nancy Drew we shouldn’t forget: Pamela Sue Martin, who played the part in the late 1970’s The Hardy Boys-Nancy Drew Mysteries series on ABC, which alternated between Parker Stevens and puppy-love heartthrob Shaun Cassidy as the Hardy Boys one week, then Pamela Sue Martin as Nancy Drew the next. A largely forgotten bit of 70’s era TV, perhaps, but episodes are actually all over the place online, and I assume available as DVD’s…I mean, every  television series good or bad seems to be. Martin went on to do some films (the original The Poseidon Adventure, for instance) and more TV series, initially stirring up quite a to-do when she tried to rev up her clean-cut ingenue image by posing for several men’s magazines including France’s Lui and U.S. Playboy. Now Pamela Sue Martin will join the CW’s Nancy Drew series, playing Harriet Grosset, a psychic who assists the teen detective with her murder investigation, though the clues will lead to some seemingly otherworldy mysteries.

Playoby 1978

The CW network seems to enjoy inside-TV nostalgia casting. Supergirl, starring Melissa Benoist as Kara Danvers/Kara Zor-El/Supergirl has included Helen Slater (star of the one-shot 1984 film Supergirl) as Kara’s earth stepmother Eliza Danvers, while Dean Cain (Clark Kent/Superman in ABC’s Lois & Clark: The New Adventures 1993-1997) as her stepfather, and Terri Hatcher (Lois Lane on that same show) was a villainous alien mother of Supergirl’s season two love interest. Oh yeah, and Linda Carter, star of ABC’s kitschy 70’s Wonder Woman series, played the President (who turned out to be an alien).

The Rusty Heller Story

Elizabeth Montgomery The Rusty Heller Story

Everyone probably knows Elizabeth Montgomery (1933 – 1995), daughter of Hollywood golden age actor/director Robert Montgomery, as suburban mom and housewife – and witch – Samantha Stephens in the long-running sixties sitcom Bewitched (1964 – 1972). She got her start on Broadway about ten years earlier, and worked primarily in dramatic roles on many different television series, playing everything from pioneers to jewel thieves. One such early but memorable role is in the second season premier episode of The Untouchables (1959 – 1963), titled “The Rusty Heller Story”, for which she was nominated for an Emmy, the first of nine nominations. Forget the witch’s wiggling nose; Montgomery’s Rusty Heller is a sizzling performance, series star Robert Stack’s favorite episode, this being the only time his no-nonsense Elliot Ness became emotionally involved with a character. Watch The Rusty Heller Story if you can, and you’ll see why even hard as nails Ness fell for her.

Elizabeth Montgomery - The Rusty Heller Story 4

Montgomery plays a wily southern gal transplanted to Prohibition era Chicago, frustrated by her demeaning job as a costumed performer in a nightclub/brothel, very well aware of her sexual allure and eager to put it to work to trade up. With Al Capone in the clink and mobsters jockeying to take over the Chicago mob, Rusty sees an opportunity to use her charms to manipulate first a big time racketeer, then his lawyer and then a mob accountant, while concurrently feeding info to the Feds. And that’s how she meets – and promptly falls hard for the stoic Elliot Ness, who surprisingly falls for her too, ‘bad girl’ or not.

Elizabeth Montgomery - The Rusty Heller Story 3

But the relationship’s doomed, as is Rusty herself, and a climactic gun fight between the mobsters and the Untouchables squad ends with Montgomery’s Rusty Heller catching a slug in the back, then dying in Ness’ arms. It’s pretty powerful stuff for period television, showcasing what a terrific dramatic actor Montgomery really was, though we know her best as an equally good comedienne. Anecdotally, the mob lawyer Montgomery’s Rusty Heller neatly wraps ‘round her little finger is played by actor David White, who’d soon work with her throughout Bewitched’s run, playing advertising agency McMann & Tate’s managing partner and husband Darren Stephens boss, Larry Tate.

Elizabeth Montgomery - The Rusty Heller Story 2

The Untouchables’ “The Rusty Heller Story” is ranked in the top 100 of TV Guide’s Best Series Episodes list. Pretty sure this one’s on YouTube and elsewhere, and well worth watching.

The Untouchables

Decoy: Retro TV’s First Woman With A Badge?

Decoy

Before Charlie’s Angels in 1976 – 1981, before Angie Dickinson played Sergeant Pepper Anderson in Police Woman from 1974 to 1978, even before Anne Francis reinvented Honey West in one 1965-1966 season that became a bit of a cult favorite, there was New York Police Officer Casey Jones, memorably played by Beverly Garland in the 1957-1958 season’s Decoy.

Now only a retro TV and pop culture forgotten footnote, Decoy was actually a groundbreaking series. Inspired in part by the successful Jack Webb series Dragnet, Decoy was the first TV show to film on location in New York City, the first show to feature a police woman as its main character and, in fact, the first full-season dramatic series to feature a female protagonist at all.

Decoy 1

As with Dragnet, Garland provides voice-over narration to introduce the episodes, bridge scenes, and sometime break the ‘fourth wall’ to offer a summation at the episode’s end. Little is revealed about Officer Casey Jones’ personal life. She has no regular partner, and normally works out of different precincts, assigned to handle a wide variety of cases and crimes, sometimes in uniform, more often undercover. There’s a wonderfully gritty urban edge in almost every episode, making the most of the locations, with only selected scenes shot on interior sets built in New York’s 26th Street Armory. Tight budgets and fast-paced six-day per week schedules demanded on-the-fly filming with few amenities: No plush stars’ trailers, the actors changing in apparel store dressing rooms, using restaurant restrooms and wearing thermals under their costumes during winter time shoots (though Garland usually had to forego even a sweater because it made her uniform look too bulky). Beverly Garland often did her own stunts and fight scenes. Known primarily as a B-Movie actress at this point, though actually one of Hollywood’s more reliable TV actors, Garland does a magnificent job in diverse roles and situations, sometimes playing a no-nonsense uniformed cop or more often going undercover as everything from a thief to a junkie, a nightclub singer to an asylum inmate. Officer Casey Jones is consistently capable, smart, aggressive but compassionate, a good shot and handy in tussle, and best of all, seems to command the full respect of her fellow officers and superiors. Garland gets down and dirty for some undercover roles, and glams it up in others, in what must have been one hell of a part for an actor to play.

DECOY 1

I know there are some episodes on YouTube, and I’ve seen public domain DVD sets with a few episodes each in used bookstore bargain bins, but I can’t vouch for the picture or audio quality on those. Once I read about this series, I bit the bullet and bought the Film Chest Media Group Complete Series DVD Set, and the quality is really top notch, the visuals darn near as striking as a period film noir, just as the scripts pulled no punches on some pretty edgy stuff for the time.

Decoy 3 DVDs

Sadly, the series only lasted one season. Right from the start, the networks and potential sponsors were uneasy about a dramatic series with a female lead, and a cop show at that. Westinghouse was the primary sponsor, but when the series failed to deliver the hoped for viewership, it was cancelled, though it continued in syndication for the next seven years.

If you get a chance to see some episodes of Decoy, I think you’ll agree that it’s a surprisingly mature and well-made show for its time, and Beverly Garland did some memorable work when roles like this simply didn’t exist. Do look for it.

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