Today is the birthday of John Cassavetes (1929-1989). NOW, some of us know him as one of the most important and influential American film-makers of all time. And some of us know him as an effective actor in movies like Rosemary’s Baby and The Dirty Dozen. Much less well known is that for one season (1959-1960) he starred on one of the coolest (maybe THE coolest) series in the history of television.
When I say “cool” I am using the adjective with great specificity. In Johnny Staccato (sometimes just called Staccato) Cassavetes plays a cat who is BOTH a be bop jazz piano player AND a private detective. Every single scene is shot in some smoke-filled beatnik, Bohemian Greenwich Village bar with brick walls and checkered table cloths and candles, to a soundtrack of saxophone and brushed drums and stand-up bass and vibes and bongos, and he’s always making it with chicks in turtlenecks and berets.
And I’ve always loved Cassavetes, he has the perfect look for this role. He was so lean and dark and dangerous looking (I always thought he was the perfect person to play Shakespeare’s Cassius). The only other guy I can think of who has a similar quality is the young Martin Landau, but of course Cassavates has the edge in hipness. He might giggle while he opens his switchblade, but ultimately he won’t cut you if you’re a square because “you’re not worth it.”
Anyway, Johnny Staccato doesn’t go around cutting people. He solves crime — in the hippest way possible. In a way, this show kind of paves the way for both The Mod Squad and Charlie’s Angels. It’s not enough for someone to be a detective. They also have to look good.
The show ran just 27 episodes from 1959 to 1960. Do yourself a favor and check it out!
To find out more about show biz past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc