Roger Smith, 77 Sunset Strip star, dies

Roger Smith, top center, in a TV Guide cover featuring the cast of 77 Sunset Strip

Roger Smith, who starred with Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in 77 Sunset Strip, has died at 84, according to Variety.

The 1958-64 series was an early hit for ABC. Warner Bros., which produced the TV series, quickly launched other private eye shows.

77 Sunset Strip was part of an “extended universe” decades before the term was coined.

Other shows part of that universe included Hawaiian Eye (with Anthony Eisley and Robert Conrad), Bourbon Street Beat (with Richard Long and Andrew Duggan) and Surfside 6 (with Troy Donahue and Van Williams).

All of the shows featured snappy theme songs by Mack David and Jerry Livingston.

Smith was fired with most of the 77 Sunset Strip cast following the show’s fifth season. Only Efrem Zimbalist Jr. remained as Jack Webb and William Conrad revamped the show, turning Zimbalist’s Stuart Bailey into a lone-wolf PI. The experiment didn’t last the 1963-64 season.

Smith married actress Victoria Shaw in 1956, but the couple divorced in 1965, according to a biography on IMDB.COM. In 1967, Smith married Ann-Margaret. He gave up acting and managed her career.

One of his final public appearances was with Ann-Margaret for the premiere of the 2017 movie Going In Style.

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In praise of the 2-part (or more) episode

In the 21st century, many television series are serialized, featuring a story line, or arc, that lasts an entire season. However, there was a time when a story that lasted two (or more) episodes was special, something to savored.

For viewers of the era, such multi-part episodes could be special. Because it wasn’t the norm, such story lines drew attention to themselves. What follows is a sampling.

Poster for One Spy Too Many, movie version of Alexander the Greater Affair

Poster for One Spy Too Many, movie version of Alexander the Greater Affair

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: In the first-season of the 1964-68 series, extra footage was shot so two episodes could be re-edited into feature films for the international market. Starting with the second season, the show produced two-part episodes that could be more easily be turned into movies.

Six such two-part episodes were made, two each for seasons two through four. One of the best was Alexander the Greater Affair at the start of Season Two. Industrialist Alexander (Rip Torn) was a fan of Alexander the Great and sought to control the world like his namesake. The movie version was titled One Spy Too Many. The television version, though, didn’t make the show’s syndication package and wasn’t seen again until 2000.

Mission: Impossible: The 1966-73 series included a number of two-part episodes. A second-season two parter was re-edited into a movie for international audiences called Mission: Impossible Versus the Mob.

M:I’s biggest multi-part adventure was a three-parter called The Falcon, which aired during the show’s fourth season. Arguably, The Falcon (written by Paul Playdon), was the series most intricately plotted story.

Hawaii Five-O: Another series with multiple two-part stories, some of which (FOB Honolulu, The Ninety-Second War) included Steve McGarrett opposing his arch enemy Wo Fat (Khigh Dhiegh). That includes the series’ pilot, which was re-edited into a two-part story at the end of the show’s first season.

What’s more, Wo Fat stories in the eighth and ninth season kicked off the season and were presented as two-hour episodes. The latter, Nine Dragons, featured extensive location shooting in Hong Kong.

Five-O’s fifth season also had a three-part episode where McGarrett took down the Vishons, a Hawaiian crime family. In the third part, McGarrett has been framed and doesn’t appear to have much chance to beat the rap. For one of its reruns on CBS, the story was re-edited into a two-and-a-half-hour presentation aired on a single night.

Also, a 1979 two-hour episode, The Year of the Horse, featured one-time 007 George Lazenby with “special guest star” billing, though he was a secondary villain. That installment included extensive on-location shooting in Singapore.

Poster for Cosa Nostra, an Arch Enemy of the FBI, movie version of a two-part episode of The FBI

Poster for Cosa Nostra, an Arch Enemy of the FBI, movie version of a two-part episode of The FBI

The FBI: The longest-running series from producer Quinn Martin had four two-part stories. The Defector, the show’s first-season two-parter, was an impressive espionage-themed effort.

The show’s two parter for the second season was The Executioners, which was edited into a movie for international audiences titled Cosa Nostra, an Arch Enemy of the FBI.

The series’ final two-parter, The Mastermind in the seventh season, featured three actors (Bradford Dillman, Steve Ihnat and Scott Marlowe), who were a kind of all-star collection of QM villains.

Mannix: The private eye drama featured a first-season story where Lew Wickersham (Joseph Campanella), the boss of Mannix’s detective agency, appears to freak out for no reason. Part I included a massive fight between Wickersham and Mannix (Mike Connors).

The series wouldn’t do another two-part episode until its seventh and eight seasons, when Mannix (Mike Connors) ran his own private eye agency. Both stories took Mannix out of the United States. The final two parter also included composer Lalo Schifrin’s final original score for the series.

The Wild Wild West: The 1965-69 series combined spies and cowboys. It only had one two-part story, The Night of the Winged Terror, but it was a doozy. It features Raven, a group trying to take over the world, which has demonstrated its power by programming officials into performing various destructive acts.

When the story (written by Ken Pettus) was filmed, co-star Ross Martin was recovering from a heart attack. So character actor William Schallert (1922-2016) played a substitute agent to work with Robert Conrad’s James West.

77 Sunset Strip: The show’s final season (1963-64) began with a *five*-part episode, simply titled “5.” Jack Webb, who had taken command of Warner Bros. television unit, ordered up a major revamp of the private eye series.

Only Efrem Zimbalist Jr. was retained, and his Stuart Bailey character was transformed into a lone wolf detective. “5” plunged Bailey into international intrigue, with an all-star cast of guest stars.

 

77 Sunset Strip’s experiment with film noir for TV

A cast shot of 77 Sunset Strip. All except Efrem Zimbalist Jr., would be gone for the sixth season.

77 Sunset Strip is one of those shows that, despite being popular in its time, doesn’t strike a chord with a lot of people today. It was one of Warner Bros.’s first hits on television and spawned three similar detective shows (Bourbon Street Beat, Hawaiian Eye and Surfside 6). Even more obscure is 77’s final season, which did a drastic makeover and began with an experiment of producing film noir for television.

William Conrad, producer-director of “5.”

A new producing team of Jack Webb (yes, that Jack Webb) and William Conrad (yes, that William Conrad) fired the entire cast except for star Efrem Zimbalist Jr. The actor’s Stuart Bailey character was now a hard-boiled, lone wolf private eye worried about paying his rent. The catchy Mack David-Jerry Livingston song was gone as well, replaced by an instrumental by Bob Thompson.

To kick off the new format, Webb and Conrad began with a five-part episode simply titled “5,” written by Harry Essex and directed by Conrad. The producer-director also made a cameo toward the end of the conclusion.

The show enlisted a large roster of guest stars. Some were key characters in the story, others eccentric cameo roles. The group included two actors who either had or would play James Bond villains (Peter Lorre and Telly Savalas) and others who’d play villains on the ABC Batman show (Burgess Meredith, Cesar Romero, Walter Slezak and Victor Buono). And being a 1960s event, of a sort, it wouldn’t be complete without William Shatner in the mix.

Anyway, “5” recent showed up online (but unofficially). It comes across as very ambitious for its time with some attempts at innovation but with some flaws as well.

Positives: At the end of part I, Bailey is caught off guard by an attack by a thug and rolls down a stairway. Conrad and his crew came up with some kind of rig so the camera in a point-of-view shot seems spin, matching the PI’s fall. Also, there’s some pretty good tough-guy PI dialogue. (“Did I hit a nerve?” asks New York City detective played by Richard Conte. “You couldn’t find one in a dental college,” Bailey replies.)

Negatives: At the start of the final part, the story runs out of a gas a bit and there’s a long recap of the first four installments. Also, it seems improbable that Bailey would lug a big 1963 tape recorder around. The tape recorder is merely a device to justify first-person narration by Zimbalist. It might have been better to just go with the narration and not worry about the recorder.

In any case, “5” nor the new format was a commercial success. Only 20 episodes were made at a time 30 or more episodes made up a full season. ABC showed reruns from previous seasons to fill out the 1963-64 season according to the show’s entry in Wikipedia.

Still, “5” was an interesting experiment and fans of film noir ought to check it out as Stuart Bailey travels from Los Angeles to New York to Europe to Israel and back to New York on the marathon case. We’ve embedded part one below. If interested, you can also go to PART TWO, PART THREE, PART FOUR and THE CONCLUSION. Warning: you never know who long these things will stay on YouTube.