"There is nothing wrong with your television set.
Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling the casting.
If we wish to use prettier actors, we will hire prettier actors.
If we wish to underestimate the radio producer,
we will hire one from the movies.
We can reduce the reality to a soft inoffensive blur.
We will control the horizontal and make Miss Kitty vertical.
Warren will create an idiotic Boot Hill intro.
Peckinpah will dumb down Meston's radio scripts.
For the next half-hour, sit quietly and we will control
all that you see and hear. You are about to experience the tv version of..."
Yes, the Outer Limits control voice as it was done by Vic Perrin
is a good way to imagine the tv-set minds of the CBS executive collective
who ruled out any possibility of the radio cast contending for the tv roles,
and gave Norman Macdonnell an underwhelming vote of confidence.
It was not, however, a complete massacre. The radio 'guest stars,'
who appeared almost as much as the radio regulars to the point
where they might as well have been called regulars also,
did make it to the tv show a respectable number of times.
At the same time, it allowed these most consummate of prairie shape-shifters
to keep their freedom and appear in other shows.
Among the male actors, John Dehner was in tv Gunsmoke 9 times,
Lawrence Dobkin 3, Harry Bartell 7, Sam Edwards 6;
Vic Perrin 5 times, in No Handcuffs, What the Whiskey Drummer Heard,
Bless Me Till I Die, The Promoter, and Now That April's Here.
Like a few others, Vic Perrin was as much a part
of Jack Webb's precinct as he was of Macdonnell's stable.
As a matter of fact, Dragnet is the show to watch
if you want to see as many of radio Gunsmoke's cast acting together.
The best office party takes place in the theatrical movie Dragnet (1954),
the cast of which could have been the usual suspects in either
a Gunsmoke or Dragnet episode, only more than usual.
Present for questioning are Perrin, Virginia Gregg, Harry Bartell,
Virginia Christine, Stacy Harris, Herb Ellis, and Herb Vigran.
Most precious of all, Georgia Ellis makes one of her all-too-few
appearances on film.
Even Dennis Weaver wanders in for a limp performance,
this time unintended. It should be noted that no one quite comes out alive
of any Dragnet episode. Jack Webb was relentlessly efficient in presenting
his unique vision of the world--a Los Angeles populated by deadly dweebs,
bongo drum-wielding nerds who think they're hip, man,
and wise, world-weary, sad sack-faced cops who are all too aware
that most citizens are all too ignorant to appreciate
the heroism and self-sacrificing nature of fascist cops.
Indeed, it was a testament to the excellence of any actor
if s/he could survive a Dragnet episode without looking eared & whiskered
and about to launch into a tuneful rendition of M-i-c-k-e-y-M-o-u-s-e.
(Poor Richard Boone looks like a Shakespearean actor whose agent
has cast him in a Pauly Shore movie, and quietly makes the best of it.)
In the Dragnet movie, Jack Webb casts Vic Perrin as a deputy DA,
and overloads him with lengthy lines uncharacteristic of a show
legendary for its monophraseologicalistic style.
In a rare moment in his career, Perrin stumbles over his lines,
like a horse dazed by the fluorescents of the municipal buildings of L.A.
Watch also as Jack Webb giveth Virginia Gregg a great acting moment,
then watch Jack taketh it away: as the grieving wife of a minor mobster
who has just been murdered, Gregg does a superb job
gaining our sympathy; but as though perfect were not enough,
Webb has to punctuate how pitiful she is
by having her get up and reveal that she is... also a cripple.
Alas, Jack Webb's idea of subtle drama was to flog a dead horse
after hitting it full force on the forehead with a mallet
and shelling it with cannon for three days.
August 20, 2005
Copyright © 2006-2013 E. A. Villafranca, Jr.
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