We have a photo essay prepared today that examines the habit of television producers of pairing up gentlemen for a series in which one has light hair and one dark. One imagines that such a concept was initialized because it helped viewers to tell the characters apart in those early days when TV was in black and white and broadcast over a diminutive, blurry screen. Perhaps you'll be reunited with some old friends here, or meet new ones to discover, as we putter along. This is not an inclusive listing, but I feel like I nabbed a lot of the major ones.
Though it surely existed beforehand, we're starting off here in 1959 with the western series Laramie. Tall, strapping, blond John Smith costarred with the dark-haired, compact hunk Robert Fuller.
The series, in which the two men ran a ranch and stagecoach stop, premiered in color, but was filmed in black and white for two seasons before going color again for the third and fourth, ending in 1963.
They were often shown doing domestic chores together, sometimes with one in an apron! It was also one of the earliest westerns to show cowboys shirtless and in their long johns. No TV cowboy to my knowledge ever wore more eye-popping pants than Smith, though Fuller was no slouch either. Trust, children... we'll be revisiting this show because I've been watching season two, often goggle-eyed!
Next up is a series that began in 1960 and was in black and white throughout its run. Route 66 starred dark-haired George Maharis alongside strawberry-blond Martin Milner.
In this semi-anthology show, the two adventuresome gents were always headed along the title roadway in their convertible, stopping off to become embroiled in one bit of drama or another, usually helping someone out of some sort of fix.
The wheels began to come off, so to speak, near the end of the second season when Maharis came down with infectious hepatitis and missed a few episodes. The next season, he was back, but soon departed again. Rumors swirled that he was leaving in order to protect his tenuous health during the grueling series or that he was bailing out in order to pursue movie offers.
In any case, after a series of solo appearances by Milner, he suddenly got a new partner, brunette natch, played by Glenn Corbett. Corbett stayed on through the end of the fourth season in 1964 wherein the show was neatly tied up with a two-part finale, a rarity for the time. Milner returned home to his estranged family and Corbett was married (to Barbara Eden!)
The show was noted for its roster of guest stars including, as seen here, Miss Joan Crawford! Lucky devils...
In 1961, John Derek starred in Frontier Circus, a black and white western about a traveling troupe of performers who often found themselves in the midst of trouble of one sort or another. Veteran character actor Chill Wills was top-billed, though many of the action scenes were left to Derek and his sidekick Richard Jaeckel, a little white-blond dynamo.
You'll notice as we plug along here that the efforts to demonstrate camaraderie among these partners (along with cramming them together in order to facilitate space in publicity photos) sometimes leads to unintentional homoerotica. Look at how closely John and Richard are nestled here (not helped by Jaeckel's beguiling facial expression!) Frontier Circus was cancelled in 1962 after one season.
1964 brought the spy series The Man from U.N.C.L.E, staring raven-haired Robert Vaughn and his blond counterpart David McCallum. Weighing in just prior to the era of predominantly color television series, it was black and white for its first season and then color for the remaining three, ending in 1968.
It can also be perceived that by casting a blond and a brunette together, one might be covering many of the bases in tastes, for often people tend to lean towards a preference for one shade of hair versus the others.
Then, of course, it also just makes for a more visually varied color and contrast palette.
In The Underworld, we sometimes read homoerotica into places where it hasn't necessarily reared its head. And sometimes, we FORCE the issue! Ha ha!
These two re-teamed in 1983 for The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Fifteen Years Later Affair, a bit older, but still demonstrating their individual tress tones.
For contrast in dual leading men, pairing gentlemen of different races is a no brainer! The color series I Spy (1965 – 1968), starring Robert Culp and Bill Cosby, was a trailblazer in that it was the first non-comedic American TV series to feature a black actor as a lead.
Even more notable is the fact that the distinction was never noted in any way within the show. They were just two secret agents working together, with Culp as a slightly more experienced spy, but with Cosby as the “brainier” of the two.
It may seem hard to believe now, but in the mid-'60s, I Spy was banned on certain southern United States television stations simply because it prominently and regularly featured a black man in a competent, non-subservient way.
The two actors became close friends in real life and worked together in 1972's Hickey & Boggs, a downbeat crime thriller, and later came together again for I Spy Returns in 1994, this time looking after their characters' children who, by now, were also spies. Not sure whose decision it was to get them naked, though, at this late date!
Debuting in 1966 (and always broadcast in color as were all of the remaining series in this post) was Star Trek. William Shatner, with his light brown coiffure, was contrasted with Leonard Nimoy and his severe, dark-brown bowl cut.
Star Trek ran for three seasons, ending in 1969, though that was hardly the end of the road.
After having soared in popularity through syndicated reruns, there was an animated series (1973-1974) and then a series of movies, which began in 1979 with Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
By then, Shatner was sporting a darker 'do (and if there is a God, please don't let this be a pee-stained moose-knuckle on Mr. Spock below...), but for the recent re-boot/prequel series in 2009, the hair color contrast was back in full force between Christopher Pine and Zachary Quinto.
Here's a couple of clean cut young men, strawberry-blond Martin Milner (previously of Route 66) and brown-haired Kent McCord, of Adam-12 (1968-1975.)
In some photos, the contrast is more pronounced than others, but there was definitely a difference in their hair hues.
Though the majority of their time was spent in dark, buttoned-up police uniforms, occasionally they could be seen in civvies. (Considering the groovy era we're talking about, maybe it was best that they mostly stuck to their cop duds, though I think the inset on this picture is from a real life occasion and not the show itself!)
Incidentally, I dearly love (and miss!) the beautiful, staged (and, okay, corny) publicity shots like this one that used to herald the arrival or return of a given TV to the airwaves.
With the police procedural of Adam-12 working out so well, producer Jack Webb sought to duplicate its success, and did, with a similar approach set in the new realm of paramedics. Emergency! (1972-1977) featured another pair of uniformed workers, one with notably lighter hair than the other.
Keven Tighe was the blond while Randolph Mantooth had dark hair, though as the show progressed, they both wound up with lock very close to each other in color. (By the way, I always thought that Tighe had truly awful hair in almost every episode and in later years some of the worst, ugliest sideburns I have ever come upon!)
To back up for just a moment (I didn't want to interrupt the Adam-12/Emergency! connection), there was a western series in 1971 called Alias Smith and Jones, all about a pair of outlaws coerced into working as agents for the government in exchange for release from jail.
The sandy-haired one was played by delectably hunky Ben Murphy while Peter Duel played the darker-haired one.
Unfortunately, the series was dealt a critical blow when a depressed and inebriated Duel committed suicide. The network (ABC) demanded that Universal Television continue with the contracted series and so Roger Davis, who'd served as narrator for the program, was brought in as an immediate replacement.
The show limped along for a partial second season before finally being cancelled. Interestingly, the much-blonder Davis' coming on board meant that Murphy was now the darker-haired half of the duo. The chemistry, not to mention the enthusiasm, just wasn't there in this rendition. For those who are interested, Davis was married at the time to future Charlie's Angels star Jaclyn Smith (they were wed from 1968 -1978.)
Meanwhile, a surprisingly similar in concept crime-solving series was being filmed in Europe with two stars of differing hair color. Tony Curtis and Roger Moore were the stars of The Persuaders!, a show about two well-to-do adventurers who are arrested for fighting and faced with a jail sentence
Rather than serve ninety days apiece for their offense, which included property damage, they agree to work together to right various situations which are just outside the everyday parameters of the law.
Thus, blond, English Moore was placed against Brooklyn-born, brunette Curtis in a series of escapades. The extremely expensive series only lasted for one season before the off-screen animosity between the comparatively straitlaced Moore and the (then) drug-addled Curtis helped hasten its end, as did a lack of viewership on American TV. The chief reason for its demise, however, was the selection of Moore as the new James Bond in Live and Let Die (1973)
This offbeat publicity photo sort of sums up the discombobulated situation.
The immense success of Planet of the Apes (1968) and its sequels led to the attempt to mount a weekly series based on the idea in 1974. In it, astronauts Ron Harper (blond) and James Naughton (brown) experience a time warp that sends them to Earth one-thousand years in the future, where apes reign supreme and humans are little more than hunted and oppressed slave workers.
The unsuccessful show, lasting only fourteen episodes before ceasing production, might have stayed afloat longer had the gents been in loincloths like Chuck Heston instead of ratty, oversized get-ups, though occasionally there was a brief bit of shirtlessness.
I love this photo below of Harper and Naughton (the inspiration for this entire post if the truth be known.) Even though at first glance one might sense that this duo is a rip-off of another, far more successful TV teaming (the next one in our line-up), it turns out that the Apes pair came FIRST!
Yes, Starksky and Hutch, a very popular TV twosome with hirsute brunette Paul Michael Glaser and blond David Soul, came in 1975.
The contrasting crime-fighters often had dates and short-term girlfriends on the show, but most critics and audience members felt that the greatest amount of chemistry and affection occurred between the two men themselves.
Initially, Soul was quite blond, with jagged-cropped hair.
As the series continued, Soul's hair deepened and lengthened and he grew a mustache (which I must say I didn't like at all...)
1977 brought the hit show CHiPs to the airwaves, with dark Latino actor Erik Estrada matched with blond Larry Wilcox. The show ran until 1983.
Though things were sunny on the outside, tension reigned behind the scenes of the California Highway Patrol-oriented series. Eventually, Wilcox left the show altogether, though he did return for the 1999 reunion/proposed revival, which didn't come to pass (bottom right of the montage below.)
After his departure, Estrada got a new, even blonder partner in Tom Reilly, but that didn't last when those two also didn't see eye-to-eye and Reilly, while playing a policeman on TV, was arrested for possession of an illegal substance. After that, Estrada worked more with recent Underworld profile subject Bruce Penhall, who you can see and read more about here!
Incidentally, for a brief while as Estrada convalesced from a motorcycle accident, Olympic Decathelete Bruce Jenner filled in as the brunette half of the patrol team, departing soon after Estrada's eventual return. (God forbid two blonds costar on a show!)
The late-'70s were a fertile time for sci-fi in the wake of Star Wars' success, though most TV programs had trouble finding a significant foothold. Even though Battlestar Galactica offered then state-of-the-art effects, it just couldn't quite stay afloat, even with these two hunks, brunette Richard Hatch and dark-blond Dirk Benedict.
I know I never missed it, but it had little chance to succeed up against the powerful sitcom All in the Family. The highly-expensive series was dropped after one season, prompting heavy viewer outcry and even one suicide! (An obsessed fifteen year-old boy jumped off a Minneapolis-St. Paul bridge upon learning of the cancellation.)
After much hue and cry from fans, including a massive letter-writing campaign, ABC decided to retool and bring back the show in a less expensive format. However, Benedict was no longer available and Hatch decided not to re-sign due to concerns over the concept. So, Light-haired Barry Van Dyke and dark-haired Kent McCord (of Adam-12 fame) were trucked in to star in the show, re-titled Galactica 1980. It lasted less than four months.
A hugely popular light 'n dark duo came along in 1979 with The Dukes of Hazzard, an action-comedy series that reveled in and wallowed in as much rural corn pone tackiness as it could handle. Blond John Schneider and brown-haired Tom Wopat played cousins Bo and Luke Duke (of Hazzard, Kentucky, of course!)
The series, which aired just before Dallas on Friday nights and had spawned an avalanche of tie-in merchandise, was about to head into its fifth season when the two leads decided not to report for work. This was due to the lack of salary increases and royalties they felt due them from having their likenesses on everything from action figures to board games to gum cards to “you name it!”
The producers responded by swiftly hiring two vague look-alikes, blond Byron Cherry and raven-haired Christopher Mayer, as Coy and Vance Duke, two more heretofore unheard of cousins!
Literally pencilled-in to the show, with scripts meant for Schneider and Wopat having their characters' names scratched out and replaced by those of Cherry and Mayer, it was a crass, thoughtless act that drove home the point that where money-hungry executives are concerned, actors are interchangeable and dispensable.
Trouble was, the ratings took a huge nosedive. So terms were agreed upon and the newbies were dumped almost as unceremoniously as their predecessors had been beforehand. Schneider and Wopat were back for two more undistinguished seasons (with irreparably damaged ratings and popularity) until the show ended in 1985.
1983 put forth another light 'n dark hued adventure series, this one set in and around water, called Riptide. Slim, sandy-haired Perry King costarred with dark and hairy Joe Penny as old army buddies who set up their own detective agency. Their headquarters is based on King's boat, the Riptide, which is also the name of the agency.
During the early episodes, Anne Francis appeared as the female skipper of a nearby boat. (She's shown below being straddled by our stars.)
I still like my version of this publicity shot better!
Riptide ran for three seasons, ending in 1986.
A far more slick, sophisticated and stylish buddy show had already come along by that time, one that really caught the attention of TV viewers and spawned imitators and influenced the clothing choices of many American men. Miami Vice (1984-1989) starred Philip Michael Thomas and Don Johnson.
The pair of detectives, always dressed to the nines in (mostly) pastel ensembles, investigated all sorts of seedy activity from prostitution to drug trafficking. As you can see in this collection, Johnson's hair went through a variety of permutations over the years.
After two seasons, this show nearly underwent a contract upheaval when Johnson felt that renegotiations were in order. Mark Harmon was in the dugout, ready to take over Johnson's spot on the show, but things were resolved in time for there to be no interruption in production.
So what have we learned from all of these blond 'n brunette buddy shows? Well, one thing I've learned is that on Jack Webb series, the darker-haired stars have trouble keeping their eyes open for publicity photos...
But, seriously, this one is less about learning and more about enjoying the view! I hope you did. The End!