Today is the birthday of Jim Hutton (1934-1979), a fitting time to talk about a favorite show of mine from the 1975-76 television season Ellery Queen.
It’s astounding to me that this show was only on for a year. As I’ve indicated elsewhere this period must have been my apex of television watching…it sometimes feels like I watched every episode of everything that was on during that period. And yet I played outdoors all the time! I’m not sure how both of those things happened at the same time. (Yes, I am — all my tv watching was during prime time. There wasn’t much good on tv during daylight hours in those days: mostly game shows and soap operas). ANYWAY: I feel like I saw every episode of this show, which was based of course on the famous fictional mystery author and detective. As a kid, I also used to read the Ellery Queen mystery magazine. Ellery Queen had also been a radio show, and a golden age tv show in the early 1950s.
The ’70s tv version was set in the 1940s, one of its alluring aspects. Hutton played Ellery, a bumbling mystery author and amateur sleuth. Broadway and Hollywood veteran David Wayne played his father, a retired police officer. And it was formatted like the classic stage and B movie mystery, with Ellery assembling all the suspects at the climax, making a big show of revealing the guilty party. (These were all played by well-known stars, another appealing element of the series). Just before the reveal though, Ellery would break the fourth wall and ask us if we had figured it out, laying all the pieces out.
This show was my first exposure to Hutton, who of course been a gifted light comedian and dramatic actor in movies in the 1960s. And it was also my first exposure to David Wayne, who I’ve since seen in a zillion movies as well (most recently caught him in the amazing Portrait of Jennie…a haunting film I’ll inevitably write about.) Anyway, Hutton sadly passed away just three years after this show went off the air. And amazingly, a matter of months later his son Timothy won the Best Actor Oscar for Ordinary People, a movie that struck the 15 year old me like a thunderbolt. That too is another blogpost.
To find out more about the history of show business, 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