Friday, May 21, 2010

TV’s First Policewoman




More than 15 years before Angie Dickenson would become Police Woman, at a time when women were rarely given the lead in dramatic shows, Beverly Garland broke new ground playing a no-nonsense undercover cop in Decoy (1957).



This little thirty-minute drama only ran a year (plus syndication), but it was a trailblazer in its gritty portrayal of a female police officer.  Beverly Garland, playing Casey Jones, was often  a `decoy’, but was no sitting duck.


She could use a gun, and her wits. 


Each episode would find Casey going undercover in some new persona, alone in the seedy environs of New York.  The series was filmed on location, often to good effect, and was dedicated to Bureau of Policewomen of the New York Police Department.


While there were a few recurring characters (mostly Casey’s commanding officer and some other officers), Garland was the only continuing main character.  


With essentially a new troupe of actors every week,  Decoy is a great showcase of early performances of the likes of Larry Hagman, Peter Falk, Lois Nettleton, Suzanne Pleshette and Martin Balsam.


At the episode’s end, Garland would often `break the fourth wall’ and speak (as Casey Jones) directly to the audience.  


The show is apparently in the public domain now, but only a few episodes have shown up on the Internet Archive.   With luck, more will appear over time.


Still, we’ve got five examples here for you to enjoy.


Decoy: "The First Arrest"
Casey Jones (Beverly Garland) recalls her first arrest, while working undercover in a carnival.

Decoy: Saturday Was Lost
Casey (Beverly Garland) needs to help a teenage girl remember what happened while she was in a drug induced stupor.

Decoy: The Sound of Tears
Casey investigates a case where a woman emptied a pistol into a man, and has to push back painful memories as she searches for the killer.


Decoy: "High Swing"
Casey (Beverly Garland) suspects an elderly man of being behind a series of brutal muggings.

Decoy: To Trap A Thief
A businessman alleges that $10,000 was missing from money recovered from robbers. Suspicion falls on a patrolmen near retirement. Casey (Beverly Garland) goes undercover to find the truth.



The film credits of Beverly Garland prove her to have been one of the hardest working actresses in Hollywood.  Before 1950, she appeared in community theatre, on the radio, and scantily clad in a few risqué short films.


Her first Hollywood film appearance was in the Classic Film Noir, D.O.A. starring Edmond O’Brian.   Which if you’ve never seen, is far better than the 1988 remake.   It too is in the public domain, and on the Internet Archive.



D.O.A. - Leo C. Popkin
D.O.A. (1950) is a film noir drama film directed by Rudolph Maté, considered a classic of the stylistic genre. The frantically-paced plot revolves around a doomed man's quest to find out who has poisoned him – and why – before he dies.


Garland worked steadily in the early 50’s in both movies and on TV. She was nominated for a prime time Emmy for a guest appearance on Medic in 1954.


In 1955, she would appear in another `first’, fledgling director Roger Corman’s Cheesy women-escaping-from-prison classic `Swamp Women’.


Swamp Women - Bernard Woolner
Swamp Women, produced in 1955, was the first film ever directed by Roger Corman. 


The following year she would co-star with Peter Graves in  Corman’s It Conquered The World.


Most of her work, however, was on the small screen. And there – in addition to her own series - she worked steadily in guest shots on shows like Zane Grey Theatre, The Twilight Zone, Playhouse 90,  Four Star Theatre, Rawhide, and Hawaiian Eye.


In 1964 she played Bing Crosby’s wife in a short-lived sitcom, and for baby boomers, is probably remembered best as becoming Fred MacMurray’s wife in the last three seasons of the long running TV series, My Three Sons.

The 1970’s found Garland doing a lot of guest shots, and in the 1980’s she was a regular on the light hearted espionage series Scarecrow & Mrs. King and at the same time appeared frequently on Remington Steele.


The new century saw Garland entering her sixth decade in show business, with regular gigs on the TV soap opera Port Charles, and frequent appearances on the TV drama 7th Heaven.


Beverly Garland passed away on December 5th, 2008 at the age of 82.


Although her portrayal of a smart, capable, no-nonsense police officer is little remembered today, she helped pave the way for Pepper Anderson, Honey West, Christie Love, and Cagney & Lacy.


The shows listed above may seem a bit dated now, but for the 1950s, they were definitely ahead of their time.


Beyond that, she was one of the most familiar faces on Television over the past sixty years.  One that will be long remembered, and greatly missed.

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