QM’s The FBI vs. J. Edgar’s FBI

One of the more talked about (if not financially successful) movies this fall was the Clint Eastwood-directed J. Edgar, a “biopic” about J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio), who was director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for 48 years until his death in 1972. We were particularly interested because we enjoy the Hoover-sanctioned 1965-74 television series produced by Quinn Martin.

The QM FBI is an idealized version of the real life agency, which by various reports spied on civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and performed other less-than-heroic acts. interestingly, producer Martin was initially hesitant to do a series based on the FBI because he and Hoover were different politically.

But the show, produced in association with Warner Bros. (which released Eastwood’s J. Edgar plus the heavily pro-Hoover movie The FBI Story in 1959) proceeded anyway. It would end up being Martin’s longest-running television series, running nine years. In real life, the FBI might be accused of going easy on the Mafia, at least prior to John F. Kennedy becoming president. But on QM’s The FBI, the bureau was vigilant against organized crime, even in episodes LIKE THIS ONE or LIKE THIS ONE, where the mob bosses had names like Mark Vincent or Arnold Toby and avoided the word “Mafia.” And, of course, the QM FBI never failed to catch spies working against U.S. interests.

However, if you catch certain episodes of QM’s FBI, the Hoover influence is unmistakeable. In many episodes, you can spot a photo of Hoover in an FBI office. In EPISODES LIKE THIS ONE, a character comes out of Hoover’s office (we never see the Director, of course) obviously moved to put their scruples aside to aid the cause of law and order. The real-life Hoover’s influence extended to having approval of the casting of Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as Inspector Lewis Erskine, the lead character of the television series.

Enough of this heavy thinking. Here’s a complete second-season episode of The FBI, along with its original commercials (the Ford Motor Co. logo appears in the main titles). Towards the end, you’ll see a promo for the next episode, the first of a two-part episode called “The Executioners,” in which future James Bond villain Telly Savalas appears as, what else, an organized crime figure. That two-part episode would be released outside of the U.S. AS A MOVIE.

UPDATE: Oops moment in the epilogue. The suspect shoves a guy into the water. But agents Erskine and Rhodes (Stephen Brooks) are so intent on arresting the suspect (J.D. Cannon), they never check back on the innocent guy who got shoved into the water. What if he drowned?

UPDATE II: One connection between this episode of The FBI and Clint Eastwood. The assistant director of the television episode was Robert Daley, who’d serve as producer on a number of films for Eastwood’s Malpaso Productions, including being executive producer of Dirty Harry and producer of Magnum Force.

Happy 92nd birthday, Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

Efrem Zimbalist Jr. celebrates his 92nd birthday on Nov. 30. A lot of today’s television viewers either don’t remember EZ Jr. at all or, maybe, notice he supplied the voice of Alfred the Butler in some well-made Batman cartoons. But he held two starring roles on prime-time television in the U.S. almost continuously from 1958 to 1974.

Sample one is from his first television series, 77 Sunset Strip, where he played former OSS agent turned private investigator Stuart Bailey. For much of the series, Bailey was the rock of an agency that employed (either directly or indirectly) a number of colorful characters. Here, in a clip from the second episode, Bailey banters with Kookie (Edd Byrnes), the parking lot attendant next door who’d eventually become a full-time member of the firm:

From 1965 until 1974, EZ Jr. was Inspector Lewis Erskine on The FBI, the Quinn Martin-produced show where Zimbalist sometimes hunted Soviet and Soviet bloc spies. That long-running show also enjoyed a special relationship with Ford Motor Co., which sponsored the series and supplied the many vehicles used for filming. Here’s an original titles sequence from the second season where the Ford logo is incorporated in the main titles. Not only that, but you can view a 1967 Ford commercial. Warning: the sound and video is a bit distorted but it’s a great time capsule.

One reason we like EZ Jr. is, well, he comes across as an adult. We’re now in an age where people act immature well into middle age (see any recent movie with 44-year-old Adam Sandler). EZ Jr. came to age in an era when people were expected to grow up fast. Most Zimbalist performances are subtle but it’s wrong to say he’s sleepwalking through roles. Subtle is something we wouldn’t mind seeing more of these days.