Friday, March 6, 2009

Martin Kane, Private Eye








Not surprisingly, when the television revolution began to sweep the United States in the late 1940's and early 1950's, producers borrowed heavily from existing radio shows to fill their program line ups.


I Love Lucy was basically a thin retread of Lucille Ball's My Favorite Husband radio series, with her real-life husband Desi Arnez taking over the role originally played by Richard Denning.


Gunsmoke was a very popular radio series, starring William Conrad,  long before it made it to the small screen.   Frankly, the list of transition shows is both long, and notable.   Burns & Allen, Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Dragnet, Suspense, Lux Theatre . . . .


Some of the shows are far less well remembered today, but at the time, they were very popular fare.   One such show, whose roots go back to radio, was Martin Kane, Private Eye.


William Gargan, who was a member of what was known affectionately in Hollywood during the 1940's as "the Irish Mafia", played the lead role on the radio, and for the first couple of years on television.


The Irish Mafia weren't gangsters, they were an established group of (mostly) character actors who all had a drop or two of Irish blood, and who often played roles of policemen, priests, reporters, and sometimes even detectives.


Other notables in this group included James Cagney, Spenser Tracy, Pat O'Brien, Ralph Bellamy, Frank Morgan, and Frank McHugh.





William Gargan



William Gargan took over playing the role of Ellery Queen in the movies in 1942 from Ralph Bellamy, and would appear in such varied movies as The Bells of St. Mary's (1945) and  Swing Fever (1943).


He took on the role of Martin Kane in 1949 on the Mutual Radio network.  U.S. Tobacco was the sponsor, and as was common during this period, they managed to work the sponsor into the show's format. 


William Gargan, Lloyd Nolan and Lee Tracy played Martin Kane on what would be one of television's earliest detective show.


Martin Kane's favorite hangout was a tobacco shop, run by Happy McMann, played by Walter Kinsella, the only cast member to appear in all five seasons.   That made it easy to segue into a commercial pitch for the sponsor's products.


Ironically, Gargan would lose his voice box, and his acting career, in 1958 due to throat cancer.  He became a strong anti-smoking advocate, a cause he championed until his death in 1979.


The show was shot live, and quite frankly, it shows. 


It also seemed to vary from year to year in how the lead character was portrayed.  Some years Kane was a hard boiled detective, other years he was more suave and sophisticated.



This isn't masterpiece theatre.  But it was entertaining enough, even with the flubbed lines, missed cues, and Spartan budget to run for 5 years on NBC.  



We've three episodes available, from the middle years of the series, when Lloyd Nolan had taken over for Gargan.





Nolan, was a better actor than most of his B-Movie credits would indicate.  He was the original Captain Queeg in the The Caine Mutiny Court Martial on Broadway, and his performance was hailed as brilliant.


One of the hardest working actors in both movies, and TV, Nolan appeared  as 'Bugs' Moran on the "The Untouchables" (1959), along with  appearing in five episodes of the extremely popular "77 Sunset Strip" (1958).


He would co-star for 3 seasons with Diahann Carroll in the ground breaking sitcom, Julia in 1968.


In the late 1960's and early 1970s,  Nolan appeared in such certifiable hits as Ice Station Zebra (1968), Airport (1970), and Earthquake (1974). 


Nolan passed away at the age of 83, of lung cancer in 1985.


Here then are 3 episodes of Martin Kane.




"Martin Kane Private Eye" - Rest home murder (1951)
Episode "Rest home murder" of series 'Martin Kane, Private Eye'. Lloyd Nolan as "Martin Kane".

"Martin Kane Private Eye" - Nightclub murder (1952)
Episode of the "Live" TV series "Martin Kane, Private Eye" in which a "Crooner is murdered". Originally aired 31 January 1952. With Lloyd Nolan in the role of "Martin Kane".

"Martin Kane, Private Eye" - Black Pearls
Episode "Black Pearls" of the "Live" 50's TV series "Martin Kane, Private Eye", which ran from 1949 to 1954. Original Air Date: 27 March 1952 and starring Lloyd Nolan. "Martin Kane" was also played by William Gargan 1949-51, Lee Tracy 1952-53 and Mark Stevens 1953-54.

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