Friday, June 30, 2023

MIAMI VICE: Gone But Not Forgotten

One of my favorite detective programs is Miami Vice, which ran five seasons and remains one of the most influential television series ever produced. stubble-faced detective James Crockett lives on a sailboat, guarded by his pet alligator Elvis, along the docks of Miami. His partner, Rico Tubbs, was a New York cop who came south looking to smash the drug cartel responsible for the death of his brother. Together, they cut through the red tape and ran cowboy through the streets to arrest drug dealers, pimps and prostitutes. The series was hip and stylish, influencing men's fashions toward Italian-casual and that 1980s interior decor toward the Miami look, which is evident even today if you visit Miami. The series made use of trendy music to create what could be musical sequences and music videos.

Among some of the best of the series was the pilot movie, which remains in my opinion the best made-for-TV movie ever made. "Out Where the Buses Don't Run" involved Crockett and Tubbs following a series of leads from a former Vice cop who was recently released from a sanitarium. Surprisingly, the former Vice leads them to successful drug busts, working their way up the chain of command... only to discover the reason for his crazy antics have a strong connection to the drug kingpin. In "Bushido," Dean Stockwell guest stars as a drug kingpin who discovers his transgressions are catching up to him, and asks Martin Castillo (Crockett and Tubbs' boss) for a favor. As old friends, Castillo agrees to get Stockwell's wife and child out of the country while gunmen pour into Miami to ensure a hit. 

In "Walk Alone," Tubbs goes undercover in a penitentiary to try to smoke out a couple of crooked prison guards. In "No Exit," Bruce Willis plays a dangerous arms dealer who believes he is above the law, only to discover he cannot escape his transgressions. "Death and the Lady" deals with an art dealer who produces and directs snuff films, leading to the big question of whether he truly killed a woman in the making of the film, or did art truly imitate life?

From crooked politics to social ills, the series covered subjects both taboo and sacred, in the sake of presenting a public service message. Some episodes are a little tough for viewers to handle, especially "Too Much, Too Late," with guest star Pam Grier. The episode featured a brutal scene of an addict so desperate to purchase drugs that she agrees to pimp out her young daughter to make payment. NBC would not air the episode because of the suggestive content, but fans regard this as one of the top ten in the series.

The first two seasons are fantastic (the second being my personal favorite), followed by a decent third season with a mid-season death that was unexpected. Afterwards, the format changed as the fourth season attempted to pull off a number of dark and depressing scenarios, then morphed into a prime time soap opera with Crockett's romantic entanglement and marriage to singer Sheena Easton, then to a cliffhanging season finale where Crockett suffers from amnesia and operates on the wrong side of the law. The villains in the fifth season became a tad colorful, remnant to the comic book villains that would never have been featured in the early seasons of the series.

Regardless of the downward trend through the last two seasons, the series is regarded as a highlight of NBC prime time, spawning a major motion-picture (that was also above average and recommended) and will no doubt be revived in years to come. 

If you are looking for something to enjoy watching, I recommend the first two seasons... and especially that pilot movie that launched the series.

Friday, June 23, 2023


From 1955 to 1957, ZIV-TV presented a fascinating weekly anthology, Science Fiction Theatre, a semi-documentary television series that explored the what if’s of modern science. Placing an emphasis on science before fiction, television viewers were treated to a variety of complex challenges from mental telepathy, robots, man-eating ants, killer trees, man's first flight into space and time travel. 

Hosted by Truman Bradley, a radio/TV announcer and 1940s film actor, each episode featured stories which had an extrapolated scientific or pseudo-scientific emphasis based on actual scientific data available at the time. Typically, the stories related to the life or work of scientists, engineers, inventors, and explorers, also featured the intervention of extraterrestrials in human affairs. With but few exceptions, most of the stories were original concepts based on articles from recent issues of Scientific American. (Issues of that magazine can also be seen on Truman Bradley's desk in a number of episodes.)

A few years ago I had access to the studio's production files and wrote a book documenting the history of the program, with such detail as the dates of production for each episode, salary cost for all of the actors, trivia to spot in the episodes, and more. Enclosed are a number of behind-the-scenes photographs for your amusement. 

Beverly Garland preparing for her scene.

Bonita Granville taking a break between scenes.

Truman Bradley sans jacket and tie.

Preparing to make the baby elephant (same
elephant used for an episode of The Cisco Kid)
into a woolly mammoth.

Joan Sinclair in "Living Lights."

Gene Barry made a guest appearance, also
under contract to ZIV-TV for the title role
of the weekly western, Bat Masterson.

Edmund Gwenn

A great behind-the-scenes photo.

Basil Rathbone

Maxwell Smith, special effects supervisor for the series.

"The Strange People of Pecos"

Warren Stevens in the wheelchair.

Victor Jory

"Target: Hurricane"

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Robert Matzen and the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention

Every year at the annual Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention, a film festival that draws in thousands of people from all over the country, attendees are given a free full-color printed program guide. Besides the usual celebrity biographies and schedule of events, the program guide contains magazine articles worthy of reading. The program guide has been given away at the event for more than a decade and has since become the face of the convention. Those who cannot attend the event write in to ask for a copy, even paying for the shipping costs. Summed up, the program guides are treated like an annual magazine that people are willing to pay for, even if they do not attend the event.

Robert Matzen, an author of numerous books about vintage Hollywood celebrities, contributed three articles for the recent program guide. From James Stewart's World War II career to Carole Lombard's plane crash, Matzen was able to dig into he archives and document the details that were often overlooked by other authors and biographers. His articles are top-notch and for that reason I am including a link for people to download a PDF for free. Enjoy the program guide, assuming you were not able to get to the show this past September, and do yourself a favor by booking a hotel room and pre-registering your admission today for this year's event, September 7 to 9, 2023.

Thursday, June 8, 2023

The Proposed PHILIP MARLOWE Radio Program

Following the almost immediate success of The Adventures of Sam Spade in 1946, producer-director William Spier took a Sam Spade radio script and tweaked it to fit the mold for The Adventures of Philip Marlowe. The latter did become a weekly radio program in 1947, but Spier had no involvement beyond this initial proposal. That radio script was found and a link is provided below for anyone who is curious to want to read the proposal, titled "The Persian." 

Thursday, June 1, 2023

The Legacy of John Dunning's TUNE IN YESTERDAY

John Dunning, a key figure in preserving classic radio programs, promoting the classic radio hobby, and capturing its history through writing, research, and interviews, has passed away. His book, Tune in Yesterday, was the most significant and influential volume written about old-time radio and I know of no person in the hobby who does not have a copy. Decades later he would revise and expand his book to a new volume, On the Air, but I dare say no book left such an impact on fans of old-time radio than his initial volume. Joe Webb wrote a nice piece on Facebook about John Dunning and for that reason I am reprinting below what Joe published. 


Tune in Yesterday transformed our hobby for younger collectors like yours truly who never heard any programs until we found the hobby. We had to rely on dealer catalogs, mainly, to get an idea what to listen to. It was Dunning's book, this very one, that got many of us past the "ol' standards" of The Shadow, Jack Benny, Lone Ranger, and others that were commonly popular. It was Dunning who had us expand into so many other series and gave us background and intrigue that captured our interest and made us dedicated enthusiasts and not casual fans. He made us ready to try the really good and sometimes overlooked or underappreciated programs.


I was told back then that TiY had another 2/3 of material that had to be cut from the book. Much of that ended up in "The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio," a more detailed endeavor, also held in high regard. By that time, however, there was an established hobby. There were clubs. There were conventions. There were newsletters. It did not have the seminal effect that TiY had. TiY turned the hobby from hearsay and rumors into a more substantive endeavor. It became the reference for everyone. Young collectors shared a knowledgeable mentor in John Dunning.


And it was Dunning who encouraged the Denver area's legendary RHAC (Radio Historical Association of Colorado) efforts with some serious collecting activity with his broadcasts, especially all of his interviews of radio stars, supporting actors, and production pros. A key interview he did was with Roberta Bailey Goodwin, Bob Bailey's daughter, who discussed his acting career but also how his family broke up because of his ups and downs at the end of the radio era. It was easy to forget that performers had families and sometimes had very difficult times.


Thank you, John. TiY shaped the listening preferences and collecting aspirations of multiple generations of collectors. The hobby would not have been as enjoyable and inspiring if he had not made his important contributions to it. RIP