Sunday, October 26, 2014

Notable Guest-Stars: Walter Burke

While watching The Ominous Outcast the other day, I was surprised and delighted and amused to see Walter Burke playing the prosecutor! He’s a fine actor, but that wasn’t the type of role I expected to see him in. Usually he’s a sidekick or a small-time conman or other roles that don’t quite have the prestige a district attorney would. I decided it was high-time to give him a spotlight post.

As is the case with quite a few character actors, I can’t seem to learn a lot of biographical information. Born in Brooklyn on August 25th, 1908, Walter started acting as a teenager, appearing in several Broadway plays from 1925 to 1930. He then worked with the American Opera Company in several productions, starting with a non-singing role in Faust. It doesn’t say if he sang in the other productions; I am curious to know.

He went back to Broadway in 1936. He surfaced in Hollywood in The Naked City in 1948, and from there went on to appear in a few more plays and an assortment of movies, including All the King’s Men. I’ve seen that film, but I don’t recall his part in it. It was quite some time ago that I saw it.

Television is probably what he is most remembered for. One of the classic character actors who pops up just about everywhere, Walter appeared in everything from Westerns to detective shows and fantasy/sci-fi. I’ve definitely seen him on many detective series, including The Untouchables, and I remember a turn as a mayor on The Wild Wild West. Fun times.

On Perry, Walter made five guest appearances over the nine seasons, starting with Freddie in the much-hated season 2 venture The Jaded Joker. I did a spotlight post on that episode not too long ago, so I won’t discuss it again, except to say that I greatly enjoyed Walter’s interpretation of the character and how much he cared about the titular character played by Frankie Laine. A conman-turned-companion and friend, Freddie is extremely loyal and determined, albeit he doesn’t really like to talk about what he’s done for his friend.

The Ominous Outcast came in season 3, and here we see Walter with glasses as he plays prosecutor James Blackburn. He does well in the role, although of course I suppose the prosecutor’s lines were written with Hamilton in mind, so there isn’t a great deal different dialogue-wise. Instead, Walter uses the delivery of the dialogue to make the role unique.

He doesn’t appear again until season 5’s The Missing Melody, and here it’s a much smaller role, the smallest he played on the series, I believe. I only recall him being in one scene. He’s a gambler at odds with a politician who wants to change gambling laws. But he’s horrified when he realizes that a blackmailer decided to get to the politician through his daughter and then expects the gambler to pay for the blackmail evidence. He refuses.

Again Walter disappears, resurfacing in season 8’s The Wooden Nickels as panhandler Jerry Kelso. But since this episode isn’t one I see as much, I can’t quite bring his character to mind. I remember him there, but I don’t entirely remember what he was doing other than observing the odd cloak-and-dagger chase around town. And I think eventually he was caught and made to talk, but then again, that could have been a scene from his final Perry appearance. In season 9’s The Crafty Kidnapper, perhaps the darkest episode of the series, he plays a private investigator. I also can’t recall many of the details of this performance.

I always delight in seeing him turn up, whether on Perry or other shows. I’m surprised he was only in five Perry episodes; sometimes it seems like there were more than that. But five isn’t shabby, and he turns out some wonderful performances in all of them.

As I recall, like Milton Selzer, Walter didn’t often play unsympathetic characters. Usually they were good guys, or else if they were on the shady side, there was still something human and likable about them. That, I believe, is one reason why I particularly think fondly of him.

Walter continued to make many appearances on shows up until 1980, and according to IMDB, he also worked as an acting coach in the 1970s. Sadly, being a heavy smoker, he succumbed to emphysema on August 4th, 1984. Another great character actor departed from us.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Singing Skirt: Book vs. Episode

I have been seriously neglecting this blog this month. Part of it is because of my annual October Writing challenge, to write ten or eleven creepy stories in October, and they’re turning out longer than other years, so I’m devoting more time to them on this round.

Another part is that I haven’t been able to think hard enough to come up with a new topic I want to discuss. Unfortunately, I once again didn’t get up a special anniversary post back in September to celebrate the day our show premiered. But after seeing The Singing Skirt again and looking over the book summary, I am intrigued enough to want to muse on the similarities and differences between the two versions.

Most names are different in the book version, as usual. George Anclitas and Slim Marcus retain theirs. Some characters’ names are oddly similar, such as Ellis instead of Ennis. Other characters’ names are completely changed, including the defendant’s.

It’s interesting that Slim Marcus and George Anclitas are working together in the book to cheat Mr. Ellis, instead of Slim doing it behind Anclitas’s back. And the amount of money is much less—$6,000 instead of $60,000.

The basic plot is more or less the same as the episode, including the thing of Anclitas framing people with marijuana cigarettes when he wants them out of the picture and Perry switching guns and causing even more of a problem because of it. But of course, since a little 50-minute episode can’t hold everything, the book is much more fleshed-out than the episode.

Also the same is the defendant not being so squeaky clean, which isn’t as big a deal in the books but is in the episodes. She’s having an affair with Mr. Ellis, which seems to be more pronounced in the book than it was in the episode. In the episode, they still seemed to be trying to tone it down somewhat by it being said that they only went out two or three times (albeit that may have been a lie).

The biggest difference between the two versions, and the one I find most pleasing, is that Slim Marcus is not the murderer in the book. However, it’s kind of sad that in the book it’s actually Mr. Ellis. After the defendant was so crazy about him, he just kills his wife and lets the defendant take the rap. And in addition to dating her, he was also dating her friend Sadie! I guess that’s what she gets for getting involved with a married man.

According to Storrer’s site, the books tried to build up on the tension between Perry and Hamilton by having Hamilton get closer each book to either getting Perry in (probably deserved) trouble or getting the defendant convicted. I suppose that means that was kind of the gimmick of the books, as opposed to the episodes’ gimmick of the wrong person always being arrested. In The Singing Skirt, to make the tension even more pronounced, even Della disbelieves the client is telling the truth.

That is unusual for the episodes too, isn’t it? There’s been quite a few times when Paul has disbelieved, but it seems like Della usually sticks with whatever Perry thinks. Or even times when Perry doesn’t want to take a case because he’s skeptical, Della encourages him to do so. I think about the only time television Della was absolutely not thrilled with Perry’s involvement was in The Velvet Claws, when Della could see how dangerous the client was but Perry kept trying to help her anyway.

That element of Della encouraging Perry to take cases he isn’t that interested in seemed to be a theme running through several mystery series. The same thing happened several times on Mannix, with Peggy encouraging her boss to take certain cases. It seemed very strange and even out-of-character when later on, in season 7, there were two or three occasions where Peggy was convinced that Joe’s theories were baloney and that he should drop the cases because the clients were not worth helping.

Since both Della and Peggy serve as the consciences for their bosses during those rare but human times when they would rather do something other than take on a particular case, it’s odd to see either of the girls being cynical and trying to discourage their bosses instead. Of course, in the case of The Velvet Claws, Della’s objections are understandable, while Peggy’s objections in the season 7 episodes are puzzling. Why those cases any more than any others? They’re not any stranger, nor the clients any more suspicious, than many of the others. Our Velvet-Clawed lady, on the other hand, is extremely unique in her manipulations of and flirting with Perry. I can’t think of another client quite like her in any way, and that is negatively speaking.

But I digress. The Singing Skirt is actually not one of my favorite episodes; were it not for H.M. Wynant taking part, it would probably have been destined to remain as one of my least favorites, due to all the shenanigans with the guns that Perry causes and the resulting problems in court because of them. Also, it is the last episode to feature Hamilton until the last two episodes of the season. And I find myself quite unprepared for the long stretches of Hamilton-less episodes in the remainder of season 3 and much of season 4! Maybe, since now I own most of them on DVD, I’ll watch the uncut versions instead of just seeing the cut versions over once again. I’ve hardly seen any of those episodes uncut, so that will at least be a fun adventure.

And I do look forward to The Crying Cherub in any case, as I think Sergeant Brice and Lieutenant Tragg have some nice interaction in it. I also particularly like The Nimble Nephew. And of course, I always enjoy seeing the Sampson episodes, cut or uncut.

Meanwhile, since The Singing Skirt is one of the books available to read online on that site I found (, I shall probably read through at least some of it sometime.