Charles Larson, prolific writer-producer

Charles Larson title card for The FBI episode “Slow March Up a Steep Hill.”

Another in a series about unsung figures of television

In the 21st century, top producers of TV shows are celebrated as “showrunners.” In the 20th century, such figures were anonymous to the general public.

Thus was the case with Charles Larson. He was the founding producer (i.e. the day-to-day producer) of The FBI, who probably should have credited as the series creator but the show never had a creator credit. He guided other series as well.

As a writer only, Larson worked on everything from the Clayton Moore-Jay Silverheels version of The Lone Ranger to the mini-series Centennial.

One of his fans was director Ralph Senensky, whose many credits included episodes of 12 O’Clock High and The FBI where Larson worked as associate producer and producer respectively.

Larson “was a fine writer who did an amazing amount of rewriting on scripts before and even during filming,” Senensky wrote about Larson.

Concerning an episode of 12 O’Clock High titled “The Trap,” Senensky wrote: ” The script I was given was a blatant melodrama of five people stranded in a cellar during a London air raid. Charles fleshed out the people and created a complex study of the conflict of class differences as five people faced the ugly horror of war.”

Senensky wrote that his favorite episode of The FBI was a second-season installment called “The Assassin.” The teleplay was credited to John McGreevy and the plot to Anthony Spinner. “I detected Charles’ fine handprints all over THE ASSASSIN, the best script I had yet been handed on THE FBI and eventually the best one of the series I would ever direct.”

On The FBI, Larson wrote and produced the fourth episode, “Slow March Up a Steel Hill.” It looks like it may have been the pilot.

There’s a lot of explanatory dialogue concerning how the wife of Inspector Erskine (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) was killed in an ambush meant for the FBI man. Erskine’s sidekick is determined to marry Erskine’s college-age daughter (!). And it’s established that Erskine was so stubborn, he sometimes got in trouble with his boss, assistant director Arthur Ward (Philip Abbott). The latter theme wouldn’t be used much after the first half of the first season.

Also, on The FBI, Larson had to deal with the real-life bureau, which had veto power over guest stars and scripts. “Charlie had a really difficult job,” production manager Howard Alston told author Jonathan Etter for the book Quinn Martin, Producer. “The first year he had to listen to all the FBI’s input, to all of the people who felt they knew more about how to do the show than he did.”

After departing The FBI after the fourth season, Larson produced other series, none of which was a big hit. He continued as a writer beyond that. One of his most memorable scripts was for the 1977 Hawaii Five-O episode The Bells Toll at Noon. There were three separate writing credits but Larson was listed as doing the final teleplay.

The story concerns a disturbed man (Rich Little) who kills people while re-enacting scenes from classic movies. Little, the famed impressionist, mimicked James Cagney and other movie stars. It was one of the highlights of the show’s ninth season.

Larson died in 2006 at the age of 83.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: