Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Guest Who: I'm on "Patrol" Today!

I was yesterday years old when I caught my first glimpse of any episode of Highway Patrol, the 1955-59 syndicated series which starred Oscar-winning actor Broderick Crawford. One of the all-time most popular syndicated shows ever made, particularly in its day, it nonetheless never held so much as an ounce of appeal to me as a potential viewer. Still, when a cable station recently acquired the show and began airing it on April 1st, I finally decided to at least look at a synopsis or two and see if any of the installments might be intriguing. I feel like I hit the jackpot on my very first go 'round (and also feel like there is precious little left in the till afterwards. I'm not in a huge hurry to watch any more!) 

Crawford was the child of Vaudevillians Helen Broderick and Lester Crawford (get it?) He was actually born William Broderick Crawford. His first film came in 1937 and by 1939 he was beginning to land some notable parts in movies like Beau Geste and The Real Glory, among others. After many bad guys and toughies, he won the Oscar for All the King's Men (1949) as a bullying political candidate.

Seen here (number 56), in his second picture Start Cheering (1938), he was one of those people who never looked young even when he was. Though the Oscar made him famous and led to other projects, he lacked the sort of leading man looks and vibe that leads to lasting stardom in movies.

He also had a very hearty appetite as well as a fondness for the bottle, both of which led to some weight gain. Thus, when the offer came to play the head honcho on Patrol, he leapt at the chance. The show was done on a very low budget and he had to film two episodes per week (!), but he also was granted 10% of the gross intake for the show.

This is old-school TV, with trim plots, old cars, lots of fast filming with few takes, but at least offers the occasional handsome cop.

Apart from the rotating guests, Crawford is Highway Patrol and most of the other participants are lucky if they land anything like a closeup and are generally relegated to a position behind him in the remnants of the light!

This performer looked familiar to me, though he often has to jockey for an unobstructed spot near the camera...

...and was often seen in profile...

...or even with most of his back to the camera!

The actor was John Hart, in the first of two Patrol appearances. He was a nice-looking, though perhaps not particularly dynamic, actor.

Hart is likely best-known for having portrayed The Lone Ranger in over 50 episodes when the producers temporarily off-loaded Clayton Moore. (They later brought him back when the public made it clear they weren't being fooled by an unfamiliar actor under that familiar mask!) Nonetheless, he enjoyed a long, busy career, including the series Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans, which I've posted a bit about here

Anyway, back to the episode ("Harbor Story" - season one, episode nineteen, if you're interested.) These three men are bank robbers who have a fairly effective escape method from their crimes. They dump their rental car, change into fisherman drag and are picked up by a boat on a secluded stretch of beach.

None of these three actors enjoyed any substantial career, but the one on the right had a sort of "bring daddy a beer" appeal! Ha ha!

Just as the boat is due, though, they spot something startling out in the ocean!



::Insert Jim Carrey reaction shot from The Mask:: Ha ha!!

I was NOT expecting an entrance like this from anyone on Highway Patrol... Turns out the white thing swinging around was merely a belt, but still.

Do we recognize this young man?

I'll give you a closer look.

It's chesty leading man Stuart Whitman.

Whitman had been kicking around in movies, generally small roles, since 1951. He'd been floundering to make a living, actually working part-time in a slaughterhouse (!) to make ends meet, when he took this guest role.

It was fortuitous, however, because he and Crawford hit it off and Whitman proceeded to return to the show more than a dozen times, those instances as a fellow police officer. (It's alleged that Crawford agreed to bring Whitman on to handle the bulk of the dialogue so that he could drink a little more than usual without having to memorize all those pesky lines!)

Whitman finally landed his first leading part in 1957's Johnny Trouble. Here he gives fellow performer Jack Larson one of his more thrilling days on a film set! LOL Wherever Larson's other leg went, we can hardly tell. Whitman proceeded to a decent film career, including an Oscar nomination for 1961's The Mark. You can read all about Whitman here and here.

Though I had noticeable difficulty following the plot line once Stu showed up, I gather that the robbers wanted him out of the way so that he wouldn't see them escape to their getaway boat.

One of them maneuvers his way behind the young man and proceeds to conk him on the head!

Next, they pick up his lifeless body...

...and plan to dump him back into the ocean.

I was disappointed to later see a patrolman covering up Whitman's prone body with a blanket. I thought he must be dead!

Turns out they were just helping to warm him up after he was fished out of the drink.

Thus ended the beefcake portion of this episode, with Whitman now looking more like a leading character out of one of his later films, Francis of Assisi (1961), though it was Bradford Dillman who essayed the title part.

At least we still got to glimpse him for a little while longer.

Whitman was able to repay the career kindness shown by Crawford by helping the older actor land a substantial part in The Decks Ran Red (1958.)

You may think we've run out of notable guest stars from this thin, 30-minute show, but I assure you there is yet one more! Seen here in silhouette as Crawford takes part in his soon-to-be iconic car radio banter, we have our last name brand guest.

Recognize this handsome hunk?

How 'bout now?

As Broderick's right-hand man for most of the episode, we find Guy Williams! This was the first of four appearances he made on the show.

Not long after, in 1957, he became a household name with Zorro, which ran until 1961.

Not long after I made the prior collage, I found this un-cropped rendition of the main photo, which makes a bigger impression, I think. I've written about Williams (who still later headed the cast of Lost in Space) several times, including here and here.

In these early days, though, Williams had to settle for being mostly in the background.

And being in the background behind Crawford meant that sometimes you were all but wiped out of the shot!

Still, you can see hints of the rakish charm that would later come to light on Zorro. But even this was not what really caught my eye.

It was this pendulous moment by the beach!

Sorry, Brod, but this time the background performer is the one who's getting the attention.

This brings us almost to the end.

Now. The End! Till next time.


SkippyDevereaux said...

I get to watch "Highway Patrol" every weekday morning at 5am, but you should get a gander at William Boyett!! He is such a good looking man, who always seemed to be in law enforcement in everything I have seen him in. Also, some of the male guest stars, who mostly are unfamiliar with me, are good looking.

Dan said...

Pendulous moment - tee hee!
“Highway Patrol” was one of those shows that really wasn’t that good, but succeeded by force of personality. With just about anyone else starring, I doubt it would be remembered today.
Whitman has a gorgeous, granite profile. His eyebrows remind me of some current actor, but I’m so behind the times I just can’t think of the name. It will come to me in a month or so.
There seem to be quite a few stories of successful actors repaying the kindness of those who helped them early on. I read that Tony Curtis did so for his Navy buddy Larry Storch, and Raymond Burr was noted for finding work for old friends on “Perry Mason”. Any other cases we can think of?

Dan said...

The eyebrows - Colin Farrell

Chellis610 said...

William Boyett was the eye candy on the show! Pity we never saw him shirtless there on in his later roles on “Dragnet” or his regular role as Sgt McDonald on “Adam-12”! The man could really fill out a uniform! However he DID appear shirtless on “Sea Hunt”- and it was a sight to behold! Beefy and muscular.

Gingerguy said...

Guy Wiliams had an annoying voice on "Lost In Space" but was handsome. I can't imagine watching "Highway Patrol" as it looks grim and grainy but it can't be worse than "Love After Lockup" which I have to sit through when I visit my Mom. At least here the guys are hot, Mr Crawford excluded, bless him

Poseidon3 said...

SkippyDevereaux, you and others have mentioned William Boyett (who only appeared every so often at this stage of the show, so wasn't in this ep.) I will have to check out some more of the series - I believe towards the end he was practically a regular. Thanks!

Dan I try... LOL Now that you mention it, there is a bit of similarity between young Stu and Colin Farrell. The eye(brow)s have it! Your point about the repaying of kindnesses is a neat one to ponder. As I type, I can think of Burt Lancaster making sure that his old acrobatic partner Nick Cravat got roles in the movies (though he was mute in the swashbucklers because of his heavy NY accent), but it's not exactly the same thing as paying a debt to an established actor or actress who was helpful. The flip-side would be Bette Davis helping Glenn Ford become established (though his just in-the-can "Gilda" would truly do it) as her costar in "A Stolen Life." Then when they did "Pocketful of Miracles," he booted her out of her star dressing room and gave it to his then-girlfriend Hope Lange (who got her part when he bounced Shirley Jones from the role!) After Frank Sinatra departed the production, Glenn came on, but also as co-producer, which allowed him to pull off some of these things.

Gingerguy, what they do to vintage TV shows, especially on over-the-air stations and also some satellite ones, is criminal. They stretch them horizontally to fit today's TVs, they speed them up to fit in more commercials - as well as hack them to death for time. I'm sure the show looked better to some degree initially than it does in some of the reruns out there. I LOVE getting an old show on DVD, remastered, and just admiring how great it looks. (I speak of "Daniel Boone," "Medical Center," "Bonanza," "The Fugitive" and others.) It's a world apart from what's seen during most current broadcasts.

hsc said...

A little late catching up to this post, but thanks for another fun one!

I am only vaguely aware of HIGHWAY PATROL. I can barely recall when it was actually airing-- either a commercial for it or just a bit of the opening credits-- but that's it. I don't think it was something my parents ever actually watched.

About the only thing I knew about the show before this post was that it was a vehicle for Broderick Crawford, and that he had a drinking problem at the time that created difficulties; but that was just from things I'd read through the years.

I'm surprised you didn't include one of the photos floating around the internet from that infamous drag appearance Crawford made in a comedy routine in some charity event ("Friar's Club" or somesuch) back in his heyday. He looked like the drag queen "Glory Holeden" from those early '60s "posing strap" loops!

The framegrabs of Stuart Whitman and Guy Williams were great-- nice job capturing the chest and basket shots I would've *never* expected to see on this show! John Hart was also attractive as well, even if he wasn't as much on display.

HIGHWAY PATROL is one of those vintage TV shows that I just associate with a sort of "gray, monotone" quality in my memory-- and I'm always surprised when somebody reviews them and they actually contained more interesting plots or actors than I would've expected.

And like I always say, you've got a *real* gift for digging through a barrel of old clams and finding pearls! That's why this blog is such a treasure!

Thanks for yet another eye-opening look at an old show, Poseidon, and for all you do! Love to all, and be safe and well, everyone!

Poseidon3 said...

hsc, no one was more surprised than I was myself when I DVRed my first ever "HP" ep and this is what was in it...! :-O I was really amazed. But I think it was an unusual one. LOL about digging through the clams and finding pearls. It can be that way! Thanks much.