Lieutenant Tragg

Recently my bride and I have been watching season one, first aired in 1956, of the Perry Mason television series.  It has been decades since I last watched the show, although I watched it endlessly growing up in the Sixties, when it was a staple in re-runs.  When the show first aired, I didn’t get to see it until the last few seasons, the show coming on after my bedtime.  I do recall the haunting Perry Mason theme music as some of my earliest childhood memories.  As far as I am concerned the episodes are new now, as over the past half century since I was last watching them they have faded from my memory.

I will have other posts about the show, since it is fascinating for any number of reasons, but in this post I wanted to focus on the character of Lieutenant Arthur Tragg.  Portrayed by veteran actor Ray Collins, Tragg is the main nemesis of Mason in the episodes I have watched thus far, not District Attorney Hamilton Burger.  The courtroom sequences usually occurred in the last quarter of the show, and before that it would be Tragg and Mason engaging in verbal duels as the police conducted their homicide investigation and Mason scampered to get the evidence to establish the innocence of his client, they were always innocent, and uncover the real murderer, who would usually confess in court.  (Ah, if both only were typical of real criminal cases!)

Tragg is portrayed as tough, but fair.  In verbal prowess he is the equal of Mason.  The two men obviously respect each other, as a worthy adversary is always, at least in memory, someone to be appreciated.  Sadly largely forgotten today, Collins was an actor of preternatural ability and I look forward to his appearances in each of the episodes.  The video above is the screen test of actor William Hopper, who tried out for the role of Mason before being cast as Mason’s private investigator Paul Drake.  Hopper was one of the first of the Navy frog men, the precursors of the Seals of today, during World War II, and he will be the subject of another post.  The video clip gives a good taste of the electricity when Tragg was on screen.

Ray Collins gave a bravura performance as Tragg, even more bravura due to the fact that during the filming his health was giving way and his memory fading.  He had to be replaced in October 1963 after the filming of “The Case of the Capering Camera”.  In retirement he watched the show each week, and his name was kept in the opening credits.  He passed away at age 75 on July 11, 1965.

Published in: on November 5, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Lieutenant Tragg  
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The Swamp Fox

“[a]s for this damned old fox, the Devil himself could not catch him.”

British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton after fruitlessly pursuing Marion twenty-five miles through swamps.

Something for the weekend.  The Swamp Fox theme song from the Disney television series, 1959-1961. very loosely based on the exploits of Francis Marion in the American Revolution.  The most successful partisan in American history, Francis Marion and his colleagues Thomas Sumter and Andrew Pickens, led bands of irregulars in South Carolina after the British took Charleston in 1780.  The diminutive Marion kept his men under tight control, and launched constant raids on the British. When regular Continental forces re-appeared in South Carolina, Marion gave invaluable assistance in the liberation of his home state.   Marion and General Nathaniel Greene, commander of the Continental troops in South Carolina frequently clashed as two strong willed men have a tendency to do, but he paid Marion this handsome tribute in a letter on April 24, 1781:

 

When I consider how much you have done and suffered, and under what disadvantage you have maintained your ground, I am at a loss which to admire most, your courage and fortitude, or your address and management…History affords no instance wherein an officer has kept possession of a Country under so many disadvantages as you have; surrounded on every side with a superior force…To fight the enemy bravely with a prospect of victory is nothing; but to fight with intrepidty under the constant impression of a defeat, and inspire irregular troops to do it, is a talent peculiar to yourself.

 

Published in: on August 17, 2019 at 10:08 am  Comments Off on The Swamp Fox  
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Charles Van Doren Dies

Charles Van Doren of quiz show infamy has passed away at age 93.  It now seems almost quaint, but most Americans were genuinely shocked back in the Fifties to learn that many of the quiz shows they were watching on television were fixed, and that Charles Van Doren, scion of a family of intellectuals, who had achieved fame and fortune by his appearances on the show Twenty-One, had gone along with the cheating which had allowed him to win.  Van Doren initially vigorously denied cheating, but sang a different song when the evidence became overwhelming.  When he appeared before a Congressional committee he was contrite:

I was involved, deeply involved, in a deception. The fact that I, too, was very much deceived cannot keep me from being the principal victim of that deception, because I was its principal symbol. There may be a kind of justice in that. I don’t know. I do know, and I can say it proudly to this committee, that since Friday, October 16, when I finally came to a full understanding of what I had done and of what I must do, I have taken a number of steps toward trying to make up for it. I have a long way to go. I have deceived my friends, and I had millions of them. Whatever their feeling for me now, my affection for them is stronger today than ever before. I am making this statement because of them. I hope my being here will serve them well and lastingly.

I asked (co-producer Albert Freedman) to let me go on (Twenty-One) honestly, without receiving help. He said that was impossible. He told me that I would not have a chance to defeat Stempel because he was too knowledgeable. He also told me that the show was merely entertainment and that giving help to quiz contests was a common practice and merely a part of show business. This of course was not true, but perhaps I wanted to believe him. He also stressed the fact that by appearing on a nationally televised program I would be doing a great service to the intellectual life, to teachers and to education in general, by increasing public respect for the work of the mind through my performances. In fact, I think I have done a disservice to all of them. I deeply regret this, since I believe nothing is of more vital importance to our civilization than education.

Van Doren received accolades from some for finally coming clean.  However, Congressman Steven Derounian (R.NY) was having none of it:

“Mr. Van Doren, I am happy that you made the statement, but I cannot agree with most of my colleagues who commended you for telling the truth, because I don’t think an adult of your intelligence ought to be commended for telling the truth.”

Being fast on one’s feet intellectually, and the glibness that usually accompanies that ability, tend to be vastly overrated in our society.  Simple honesty, that base foundation for all the virtues, vastly underrated.

Published in: on April 16, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Charles Van Doren Dies  
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Salvador Dali on What’s My Line

From January 27, 1957.  A truly surreal episode from the Golden Age of Television.  Painter Salvador Dali on What’s My Line.  Immensely funny, and a tribute to how a popular game show in the Fifties expected the audience to know who a famous painter was.  I can’t imagine any television show today being able to make such an assumption.

Published in: on January 2, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Salvador Dali on What’s My Line  
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Captain Z-RO and Christopher Columbus

 

The things you find on the internet!  From 1955 the first episode of the Captain Z-RO show featuring the time traveling explorer going back to 1492 and the discovery of the New World by Columbus.  Obvious low production values, but it holds up well compared to the appalling drek that mostly makes up TV fare today.

Published in: on October 11, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Captain Z-RO and Christopher Columbus  
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First Episode of Playhouse 90

The things you find on You tube!  The first episode of Playhouse 90, the hour and half long weekly series that aired on CBS from 1956-1960.  This episode, Forbidden Area, was written by Rod Serling and directed by John Frankenheimer.  Introduced by Jack Palance, this live Cold War espionage drama starred Charlton Heston and Vincent Price.  That television used to present such quality fare makes one weep for the current waste of airtime programming, usually filled with sniggering obscenity, mindless violence, and almost no thought, that makes up most television schedules.

Published in: on April 26, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on First Episode of Playhouse 90  
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Resquiescat in Pace: Mary Tyler Moore

 

 

Mary Tyler Moore dead at 80?  Impossible! One of the favorite actresses of my youth, she was a master of comedy, perhaps not greatly appreciated for it because she made it look so easy.  To me she will always be associated with the years of my childhood in the sixties and seventies.  A reluctant icon of feminism, she was clear that she did not agree with radical feminists and that the most important role for any woman was that of mother.  A moderate liberal in her youth, she became politically conservative as she grew older.  Unlike many in her industry she did not seek to inflict her political opinions on her fans.  One of the treasured memories of her life was when she and her mother had a private audience with Pope John Paul II.  Like many comediennes and comedians, she had much sorrow in her life.  May she know the Joy Eternal in the world to come.

Published in: on January 30, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Resquiescat in Pace: Mary Tyler Moore  
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The Rifleman and Job

 

From the second episode of The Rifleman television series entitled Home Ranch, first broadcast on October 7, 1958.  Lucas McCain and his son are taking possession of their ranch outside of North Fork that McCain purchased in the first episode.  Agents of a local cattle baron, who has been using the range of the abandoned ranch, burn down the house on the property in order to force McCain to sell the land to the cattle baron.  His ten year old son Mark, in despair, says it looks to him as if the Lord is dead set against them ever owning a ranch.  McCain responds by telling his son the story of Job.  Director Sam Peckinpah loved the Book of Job, and would often recite verses from it when he encountered bumps in the road during his life.

Published in: on February 28, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Rifleman and Job  
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Riverboat

Riverboat was a television series that ran from 1959-1961 for two seasons on NBC.  Unlike almost all the other Westerns that dominated television at that time and were set post Civil War, Riverboat was set in the 1830’s and 1840’s.  Starring a young Darren McGavin and a very young Burt Reynolds, the series depicted the travels of the riverboat Enterprise.  Among the historical figures encountered by the crew were Zachary Taylor, Winfield Scott and Abraham Lincoln.  The series is now out on DVD and might be a good addition to a home school curriculum on 19th century American history.  A throw back to a time when television consisted of something more than off color humor, blatant sex and grotesque violence. (more…)

Published in: on March 20, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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