Friday, May 4, 2012

The Cars on CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU?

Since the Car 54, Where Are You? television series is now out on DVD commercially, it seems only fitting to revisit the series through the popular hobby of automobile collecting. At a recent car show (my wife is into cars), we saw a replica of one of the cars from the television series on display. But the owner was trying to pass it off as an original. Little did he know that the biggest tip-off was the color on the outside of the car. Yes, within seconds it was clear that he had a replica.

By way of an explanation, the “Car 54” Toody and Muldoon drove on the series was painted dark red and white to destroy any resemblance to New York’s official dark green and white squad cars. “Cab drivers are always passing by and pointing out the car to their passengers. They tell them it’s a Police Department experiment in color schemes,” recalled Joe E. Ross. “The people in the Bronx are the last of the rugged individualists. They’re interested in what we’re doing, but they are now over-awed.”
The use of automobiles in each episode, naturally, had to be cleared with the manufacturer for trademark legalities. After a number of phone calls and letters exchanged between Arthur Hershkowitz, the Vice President Eupolis Productions, and Byron Avery, Manager of the West Coast promotion office of Chrysler Corporation during the month of May, the Chrysler Corporation drew up a contract (dated June 5, 1961) in agreement with Eupolis Productions, Inc. The contract stated quite clearly that Chrysler would furnish, for approximately one year from the date of delivery, four automobiles for the use of the series. In return, Chrysler received substantial promotion during the closing credits. Hershkowitz also agreed to periodically furnish the automotive corporation with publicity stills showing Chrysler’s cars in use so the corporation could use them for promotional purposes. 

Eupolis Productions registered the cars in their name, paying for the costs, and agreed to hold Chrysler harmless from any Federal, State or local excise, sales or use of other taxes which could be levied as a result of the transfer or use of the vehicles. Chrysler was also held harmless for any damage to property or injury to people (including death), arising out of the possession or use of the vehicles. Eupolis also provided, at their expense, insurance coverage. A policy was taken for $50,000/$250,000 bodily injury, $100,000 property damage, and $50 deductible collision insurance. A copy of that insurance policy was forwarded to Chrysler so the corporation could feel assured that they were held free of any liability as a result of the television production.

On June 29, 1961, Arthur Hershkowitz signed the contract and during the first week of July, the following four automobiles were delivered to Eupolis Productions:

1. 1961 Plymouth Belvedere, 4-door sedan Serial # 3211-180010
2. 1961 Plymouth Belvedere, 4-door sedan Serial # 3211-177546
3. 1961 Dodge Dart, 4-door sedan Serial # 5112-176283
4. 1961 Plymouth, 4-door sedan Serial # 3711-180088

Regarding number four above, this was a 9-passenger Sport Suburban used not for on-camera filming, but for the transportation of cast and crew to various locations in New York.

After filming of the first season episodes was completed, the vehicles were returned to Chrysler at a certain dealership in New York City. Since the television program was, by January 1962, renewed for a second season, an amendment for the purpose of deleting the four 1961 Chrysler Corporation vehicles covered in the Letter of Agreement dated June 5, 1961, was drawn up. The amendment, dated Jan. 25, 1962, was approved and accepted by Eupolis Productions, with the same terms as above, with the exception of the vehicles - seven 1962 vehicles were now replacing the four 1961 vehicles. The new replacements were as follows:
1. 1962 Plymouth Belvedere, 4-door sedan Serial # 3226-145398
2. 1962 Plymouth Belvedere, 4-door sedan Serial # 3226-145410
3. 1962 Plymouth Fury, 2-door hardtop Serial # 3326-155476
4. 1962 Plymouth Fury, 4-door station wagon Serial # 3726-154178
5. 1962 Plymouth Fury, 4-door station wagon Serial # 3726-155980
6. 1962 Dart 330, 4-door sedan Serial # 5226-156056
7. 1962 Chrysler New Yorker, 4-door station wagon Serial # 8723-152507

If production for the first season was made possible with four vehicles, then it begs the question: “Why three additional vehicles?” The answer was simple. Nat Hiken wanted the 1962 Chrysler New Yorker (No. 7 above) for personal use as a fringe benefit for the hard work that went into the day-to-day production of Car 54. The automobile was under Eupolis Productions’ insurance policy, and had to be returned within a year of the vehicle’s initial delivery. This fringe benefit was carried over for both Joe E. Ross (No. 3) and Fred Gwynne (No. 5), so the actors could commute to work. Car number 6 was issued to Duke Farley, who played Patrolman Reilly on the series - also a fringe benefit.
The first two vehicles (Nos. 1 and 2), the red and white Plymouth Belvederes, were used as background props for all garage scenes, and whenever it was called upon for location shots. These are the very automobiles used as police cars in all of the requisite scenes filmed for the second season episodes. Car number 4 substituted the Sport Suburban used during the first season, so equipment, cast and crew could be transported to locations in New York. A similar agreement between Eupolis Productions and General Motors granted the permission (and furnishings) of a 1962 Chevrolet Sedan to be used as a prowl car for a number of episodes. This fact was disclosed to the West Coast Promotion Manager of Chrysler, who had no objection to the use of a competitor’s product in the episodes. General Motors also supplied a 1962 Greenbriar Convar for J.C. Delaney, set decorator for the series, to be used for productions (though this car never appeared on screen in any of the 60 episodes produced).

In July of 1962, the automobiles were revised again. The two police cars remained on the premises, and Nat Hiken and Duke Farley kept the vehicle used as a fringe benefit. All other cars were turned over to a Plymouth Corporation representative. Joe E. Ross and Fred Gwynne had to relinquish their vehicles, but those were replaced with the following convertibles for the summer months:

Plymouth Fury - white convertible Serial # 3326-216794 (Joe E. Ross)
Plymouth Fury - red convertible Serial # 3326-216940 (Fred Gwynne)

A Plymouth Fury, 4-door station wagon was added to the production, listed among production paperwork as “pick-up car” used to transport cast, crew and equipment to locations in New York City. A Valiant V-200, 4-door station wagon was added to the production, listed among production paperwork as “props car,” also used for transportation of cast, crew and equipment for location shooting. For the first time since the series began production, a third police car was made available (instead of the usual two): a Dart 300, glade green 4-door sedan. Serial numbers for these additional vehicles are listed below:

Plymouth Fury, 4-door station wagon (Pick-Up Car) Serial # 3726-215639
Valiant V-200, 4-door station wagon (Props Car) Serial # 1726-199103
Dart 300, 4-door sedan (Police Car) Serial # 4226-159803

The latest 1963 models from Plymouth were offered to the production crew and delivered on Dec. 27, 1962. According to an amendment dated Jan. 9, 1963, (signed on Jan. 17, 1963, by Howard Epstein, President of Eupolis Productions), the following were the last of the vehicles used for filming the final episodes of the series:

1. Plymouth, 4-door sedan (red & beige) Serial # 3236-111732
2. Plymouth, 4-door sedan (red & white) Serial # 3236-103276
3. Plymouth convertible (light blue) Serial # 3336-129745
4. Plymouth station wagon (light blue) Serial # 3736-130434
5. Plymouth station wagon (medium blue) Serial # 3736-132884
6. Dodge, 4-door sedan (vermillion) Serial # 4132-126551
7. Dodge, 4-door sedan (turquoise) Serial # 4132-127997
8. Dodge station wagon (medium blue) Serial # 4536-129416
9. Chrysler station wagon (oyster white) Serial # 8733-156329

Cars numbered one, two and seven were police cars used for onscreen filming. The convertible was a fringe benefit for actor Joe E. Ross. Car number five was a fringe benefit for Fred Gwynne. Car number nine was a fringe benefit for Nat Hiken, replacing the 1962 New Yorker he had “borrowed” for the past year. Car number four was labeled as the “pick-up car” and number eight was labeled as the “props car.” Car number six was featured on the final few episodes of the second season, as well as the detective’s car.
The License Plate Numbers 
For legal purposes, license plate numbers of real vehicles caught on camera were not allowed to be captured on screen, for fear of liability from a non-member of the production. However, Eupolis Productions did arrange with the state of New York to acquire a number of license plates that were authentic, and could be featured on camera. These plates were often reused on multiple cars lent to the production from Plymouth.

The license plate numbers for the two detective cars featured on the series were 3N 1219 and 1C 5907. As for the numerous police cars (1961, 1962 and 1963 models) that appeared on screen for the series, the following license plates were used: 1N 3514, 1C 5908, 4N 9847, 6N 8572, and 1C 5905. (The license plate number 1C 5905 was featured on a Plymouth Belvedere and a Dodge 4-door Sedan, both of which were used as a police car in separate episodes!)

This blog post features excerpts from Car 54, Where Are You? by Martin Grams, available from Bear Manor Media. For more information, visit