Thursday, January 27, 2022

Oh, Ell'ry Q, Baby I love You! (Well, Most of the Time Anyway): More Looking Back at the TV Series

I like the way you're not spruce

I like the way you deduce....

--from Ell'ry Q, written on the spur of the moment by The Passing Tramp (apologies to Dale Hawkins and Creedence Clearwater Revival)

Would you trust these people?
Ellery questions the "bereaved widow" (Diana Muldaur)
and her fetching boyfriend (George Maharis)
The Adventure of the Judas Tree

Well, last time I was wondering whether, with the very good episode The Adventure of the Wary Witness, there was going to be a permanent shift in tone with the Ellery Queen series, or what little remained of it anyway (just seven episodes).

One thing that does seem to have changed for good is that Ellery is less of a lovable, absent-minded goof and more of a sober investigator.  For example, in the first of this batch of three episodes (16-18), The Adventure of the Judas Tree--concerning the death of a wealthy businessman with Chinese connections who is found hanging outside his mansion--there's a comic sequence about Ellery trying to fix the sink, but otherwise "Junior" performs as a dogged and determined crime investigator in this one.  

In Judas Tree there's still a serious tone as well---indeed, it's something of a sour, curdled one, actually.  There's no one here really to like, or empathize with on any level; and the characters really are not that  memorable, by and large, even with a cast including the great film veteran Dana Andrews and accomplished actors Clu Gulager, George Maharis, Diana Muldaur and James Shigeta.  For me it made for rather a dull episode, one which would probably be more entertaining on paper.

Dana Andrews, 76 at the time, seems worn out and rather wasted in the part of the dead man's lawyer.  Diana Muldaur and James Maharis play an unlikable couple, the dead man's wife and doctor, who were fooling around before his demise, but claim he was just fine with that.  James Shigeta plays an enigmatic "Oriental," as they still said back in those days, but does so in a decidedly non-stereotypical manner, happily.

To me westerns actor Clu Gulager (how could he not be a star with that name) actually had the most interesting role, as a reserved Catholic priest heading a Chinese mission.  (Surely this episode owes something to a certain EQ detective novel from the 1930s?)

The plot gambit is a classic one, but since it was uninvolving to me I was mostly left stargazing, as it were. I was familiar with all these faces, though the most so with regal Diana Muldaur, who later in her career co-starred in LA Law and Star Trek: The Next Generation; but she went back on television all the way to 1963 with The Doctors and appeared twice on the original Star Trek, as any Trekkie will know.  

Getting their kicks (apologies to Nat King Cole)
George Maharis and Martin Milner

George Maharis made his name young, on the TV buddy road drama series Route 66, where he was paired with the late Martin Milner.  This series really seems to have made an impact on kids at the time, though it's all Greek to me, as it were, having never seen it.  Maharis left that series at the height of its popularity (his replacement was former physique model Glenn Corbett) and started a short-lived singing and film career.  Sadly both fizzled after he was arrested for "lewd conduct" with another man in 1967. 

This happened again in 1974, prompting the TV series Arrested Development cruelly to turn him (along with the late singer George Michael) into a punchline many years later.  He also made a place in sexual history when, like the late Burt Reynolds, he became one of the first male celebrities to pose in Playgirl.  More on him here (plus an episode of Route 66).  

A lot of young girls has crushes on Maharis back then, evidently, but as the line in the TV adaptation of Death on the Nile goes, they were "barking up the wrong tree."  He was one of those men who was "a little too handsome" as they say in Mignon Eberhart mysteries, hint, hint.

IMDB tells us that Maharis is a lifelong Republican who supported George W. Bush for president in 2004, even as the GOP actively opposed legalizing gay marriage that year.  Maharis, 93, apparently has never married.  I was surprised to find out that he played the wicked sorcerer in the 1982 fantasy cheese fest The Sword and the Sorcerer, which I recall seeing (and being hugely disappointed in) at the movie theater at the time.  I guess he let a little of his freak flag fly there.  There was lots of both cheesecake and beefcake in that film as I recollect.

By the way, Clu Gulager, also 93, is still with us too, as is Diana Muldaur, though she retired from acting long ago.  Gulager appeared as recently in 2019 in the Oscar-winning Once upon a Hollywood.


Ellery--whoops, Mallory--is about to get whacked!
Troy Donahue in The Adventure of the Sinister Scenario

The next episode, The Adventure of the Sinister Scenario, is more of a throwback to the lighter EQ style and I think it's a triumph; indeed, it's one of my favorites in the series.  

Here Ellery and his Dad are out in Hollywood, where a film--evidently a "Poverty Row" number--is being made from one of his detective novels.  

Former teen heartthrob Troy Donahue, a blond and blue-eyed vet of sudsers like Imitation of Life and A Summer Place, portrays Gilbert Mallory, the actor who plays Ellery in the film. (This is a very meta episode!) 

Mallory's, well, a total asshole, really, and in his five or so minutes in the episode he manages to alienate everyone around him, including not only the Queens, but also leading lady Pamela Courtney (Susan Damante), his estranged wife Claire Mallory (Barbara Rush, appearing in the series again, in a much more glamorous role), co-star Lionel Briggs (Noah Beery, Jr.), who plays Inspector Queen, director Michael Raynor (Vincent Price), publicist Dave Pierce (Don Defore) and stuntman Mike Hewitt (James Sikking).

Soon Mallory lies dead on the set, taken out by real gunshots from a prop gun fired by Pamela Courtney.  Of course this is a classic murder gambit in mysteries and it plays out beautifully here.  (Creepily it also recalls the recent real life fatal shooting by actor Alec Baldwin of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the film Rust.)  

The plot is tricky and very nicely clued, plus there's lot of knowing satire of Hollywood and filmmaking.  Noah Beery as the supporting actor worried about the continued cutting of his lines is especially appealing here.  Beery, whose career went back to old Hollywood days, became known in the Seventies as Jim Rockford's Dad Rocky on The Rockford Files, making his casting as Ellery's movie Dad especially apt.  (He and David Wayne both were short of stature.)  There's also a cameo as an LA police captain from old time Western actor Paul Fix, who co-starred with Beery in the great Western Red River, a nice touch.

Famous television Dad (Ozzie and Harriet, Hazel) Don Defore has something of the Jim Backus role from The Mad Tea Party, though he is given more to do.  Susan Damante is quite snootily amusing as the aspiring serious actress who hates slumming in a B mystery film.  Troy Donahue, who to me always came off like something of a sulky pretty boy, leans hard on that quality to come off as convincingly unlikable.  Carole Cook, a Texas-born protégé of Lucille Ball who is still around today at age 98, has a great small role as Louella Parsonish gossip columnist.  By comparison, Vincent Price's part is actually a bit dull, though he's fine in it.  James Sikking doesn't get a lot of lines, but if you liked him on the Eighties cop drama Hill Street Blues, you will get a kick out of seeing him here.  He was a very good actor.

I also loved how this episode made  a virtue of the show's cheap sets by turning those cheap sets into the film sets, as it were, in another meta moment.  When the camera pans back from the set of the EQ "film" and we realize we are seeing, in its entirety, the set of the Queens' brownstone interior on the actual TV series, it's quite neat.  I do love that brownstone set.  It may not be the glam brownstone from Tim Hutton's Nero Wolfe series a quarter century, which was filmed in real buildings, but it has nostalgic, gimcrack charm for me.

In this episode there's good humor too, not forced, with Ellery and his Dad, who hates the actor cast to play him and would rather prowl the streets of Hollywood looking for stars.  Of course in real life David Wayne got to act with many of the greats, like Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Cotten, Jennifer Jones, Ethel Barrymore, Susan Hayward, Thelma Ritter, Monty Wooley, Constance Bennett, Ann Sheridan, Victor Mature, Betty Grable, Charles Laughton, Frank Sinatra, Debbie Reynolds, Mitzi Gaynor, etc.  

Wayne was a terrific actor who never got his due on film.  He had a brilliant stage career, winning two Tonys, but he was never nominated for an Oscar and only ever received a single Emmy nomination, for an interesting sounding suspense anthology series, Suspicion.  To a lot of people around my age he's probably best remembered for his four appearances as the Mad Hatter in Batman or perhaps his four appearances as Digger Barnes in Dallas.  Or maybe as Col. Clydesdale in the live action Disney film The Apple Dumpling Gang.  

He was a terrific actor, to be sure, in light comedies like Adam's Rib with Hepburn and Tracy, but he was also a fine dramatic actor.  See, for example, the 1951 American remake of the film M, where he ably takes on Peter Lorre's original role as a serial murderer of children, based on the infamous real-life Vampire of Dusseldorf. He's a long way off from Inspector Queen here!


Lillian McGraw (Dr. Joyce Brothers) discusses
the art auction with her husband Clint (Forrest Tucker)
as Simon Brimmer snoops on
The Adventure of the Two-Faced Woman

The next episode, The Adventure of the Two-Faced Woman,  is pretty good, although I felt like it got a bit convoluted at times.  It's an art mystery, concerning the murder of a woman who just bought two paintings at an auction, one by a long dead Dutch master and the other by a modern artist named Vargo, who is very much alive.

The victim is played by the late Dr. Joyce Brothers, a woman who became this odd sort of Seventies celebrity.  Back in the Fifties, when she was "just" a housewife, she won $64,000 on the game show The $64,000 Dollar Question (the category was boxing--how cute!), then earned a degree in psychology, adding "Dr." to her name.  

Somehow Dr. Brothers started popping up all the time on television in the Seventies, sometimes as herself, sometimes, like here, in acting roles.  I suppose she was the Dr. Ruth of her day, if you remember 90s celebrity sex therapist Dr. Ruth.  

There's also Vera Miles, the late Theodore Bikel (very hammy) and Victor Buono (wasted in a cameo).  Plus the return of Simon Brimmer!  I enjoyed this episode and every mystery series needs at least one art mystery, to be sure, but this one's not in the top tier.  There is one very cute visual clue though!

Well, it's almost time to say goodbye to the EQ TV series, sniff!  Happily, as I recall it the last four episodes were pretty good, with at least one of them being a true TV mystery classic.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

I Want My QTV! Ellery Queen, the Television Series, Part III (Is It Third Period Already?)

Episodes 13-15 of Ellery Queen seem to suggest that the series, as it entered the new year of 1976, was already becoming somewhat enervated, with its writers in search of a new approach.  Did a change in style accompany its shift in the programming lineup?  Maybe--or maybe this is all a coincidence!  In 1976 I moved with my family to Mexico, where my Dad had a teaching job and I think started to lose touch with the series.  (Moving the time slot didn't help!)  For this piece I am just using pics from episode 15, which is by far the best of the trio.

Episodes 13 and 14 are disappointing, especially 14, which in my estimation is one of the worst in the series, probably THE worst.  13, The Adventure of the Sunday Punch, is okay, a boxing mystery with a good cast and an acceptable--though to vintage mystery fans perhaps overfamiliar--murder gambit.  

On hand are old industry pros Lloyd Nolan and Dane Clark, the latter of whom I have taken a special interest since I found out he married a relative (very distant) of my mother's.  Not to mention that the actor, often dubbed "the poor man's John Garfield" (apparently because they were both handsome Jewish leading men), contributed a lot in his own right to the crime film genre!  (See here and here.)  

Frank Flanigan (Ken Swofford)
is still nosing out news in 
The Adventure of the Wary Witness
one of the best episodes in the series

Punch also focuses a lot of the narrative on a black couple, played by Janet MacLachlan and Otis Young. (He was coming off a notable role in the film The Last Detail, with Jack Nicholson and Randy Quaid, both of whom received Oscar nominations for their performances.)  The two function as the ingenuous "love interest" in the story.  For the most part people of color had been literal walk-ons in this series (and on most television at that time), so these star turns were nice to see, although the couple classically are so nice they are a bit dull!

There's also a cute cameo by Robert Alda as a courtly mob boss, who lives in the Barkley mansion from The Big Valley (Hi, Barbara!), and Ken Swofford appears again as ace journalist Frank Flanigan, but all in all it's not close to the top tier of the series.

Bring me the head of Linville Hagen
former Dobie Gillis sitcom star Dwayne Hickman
plays a college pal of Ellery's charged with murder
in The Wary Witness

Still, it's a lot better than episode 14, The Adventure of the Eccentric Engineer, which is probably the sheerly dullest episode in the series.  Pointlessly talk show second banana Ed McMahon plays the murderee, the titular engineer, a dude with a thing for electric trains.  He's killed in the first two minutes, leaving behind an unaccountably dull group of suspects, the most notable of whom are: 

a past Oscar nominee, the late Dorothy Malone, playing yet another unbereaved widow

former teen idol Bobby Sherman, still with great hair and lovely dimples, you'll be happy to know

and Arthur Godfrey, who like Brad wrote in his post, was just a name to me (and largely still is)

None of them is given anything interesting to do here.  There's also a small part for the man who was perhaps the worst actor in television history, Dick Van Patten.  That man's rise to stardom always perplexed me.  (Nuts to you, Mel Brooks!)  He's just as bad here as he ever was. He went on the play the father in the family series Eight Is Enough, which should have been called Eight Performances by Dick Van Patten is Way More Than Enough.

Like every other young girl in America, my sister had a huge crush in Bobby Sherman and sometime in the early Seventies, when we actually saw Bobby Sherman at an airport, I thought she was going to swoon on the spot.  Bobby Sherman and Brian Keith remain my sole acting celebrity sightings to this day.

Adding to the disaster of this episode, leggy and lovely stage and film star Ann Reinking, another person from this series who passed away not long ago, is unaccountably wasted as one of Ellery Queen's girlfriends (I guess that's what she was), though she does definitively establish that, yes, Ellery at this point is a total babe magnet.

Aside from the dullness of the characters, this one has a soporific plot.  I mean it will literally put you to sleep.  At first it appears we have a locked room, but, yes, they actually GO THERE to resolve that particular problem, if you know what I mean.  (Carolyn Wells would know!)  Ugh.  What a snoozefest.  I'd sooner watch the episode with the ersatz Russians again, rather than this one.  

Sal Mineo as mobster Jimmy Danello in The Wary Witness

But just in case one was ready to write off this series, it suddenly rebounded with episode 15, The Adventure of  the Wary Witness, a fine episode indeed, though with it there is what seemed to me a wrenching change of tone.

Here Ellery is trying to help an old college buddy. Linville Hagen (there's a good privileged WASP name), who is on trial, charged with the murder of gangster Nick Danello.  

Hagen says he's innocent, that someone else shot Nick though a window, and that there was another witness there, a woman, who fled from the scene of the crime.  This "way witness" remains at large.  Can she be found?  Yes, but unfortunately when she is found (by Ellery and Frank Flanigan), she has been shot too, through a window!  Now what?  Ellery has a hard nut to crack with this case!

This episode has a good plot, but what is most striking is the change in tone.  Things have gotten rather darker here and the story could almost be deemed hard-boiled.  But the writers and actors really manage to get this shift across convincingly.  Ken Swofford is still comical as Frank Flanigan, but here he provides welcome relief from a dark story.  

Unexpectedly, the defendant, Ellery's college bud, is played by the recently deceased Dwayne Hickman, of the 1959-63 high school comedy series The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.  I see that around the same time he played a cop in an episode of the horror crime series Kolchak: The Night Stalker, so maybe he was trying to establish himself as a serious actor.  To no avail: his next role was in Whatever Happened to Dobie Gillis?  Still, he's fine here.

The standouts, however, are Cesar Romero and Sal Mineo, as Nick's mobster father and brother, Tricia O'Neil as Nick's beautiful, embittered widow, Yvonne, and the late Michael Constantine as the attorney defending Hagen.  I could have watched a whole series about these characters.  

O'Neil, who used to a lot of television, has one great scene in a bar with Ellery, where Ellery comes across as a real man, even if he drinks old-fashioneds.  Romero, star of light film comedies of the Thirties and Forties and the Joker in the madcap Batman Sixties TV series, is quite credible as a mob boss, while Mineo looks like he's about the explode in rage at any minute and star mowing down people.  Wow.  

A former teen idol (Rebel without a Cause) and two-time Oscar nominee, Mineo unfortunately had a film career which pretty much ended after he appeared in the sleazy but ahead of its time neo-noir crime thriller Who Killed Teddy Bear? in 1965 (okay, there was that brief stint in a Planet of the Apes film); though he was still regularly working on television.  

Tragically, Mineo was stabbed to death on a street by a stranger in West Hollywood less than three weeks after this EQ episode aired, when he was only thirty-seven years old.  I think his open homosexuality obviously hurt his career, but I have a notion that great things would have been in store for him in a more tolerant era; he would be 83 today.

The defense attorney (Michael Constantine) reassures
the defendant's wife as the district attorney (Dick Sargent)
looks on, very Darren indeed

Constantine used to pop up on TV all the time, although until he played the father in the huge hit film My Big Fat Greek Wedding, he was best known as the principal in the TV high school drama series Room 222, which I have never seen to this day.  He was adept at both comedy and drama.

Francis Nevins, author of the critical study of Ellery Queen, divides the Queen novels into four periods, over which they transform from pure puzzles to novels with character interest.  

Going by that, I would say that The Wary Witness is Period Three Queen, in contrast with the rest of the series which preceded it, which is definitely Period One and Two in style.  It's really a dark episode for the series and, frankly, for Seventies series television.  (There's even a reference to a thirteen-year-old girl picked up for solicitation, recalling Jodie Foster's notorious child prostitute character in Martin Scorsese's 1976 film Taxi Driver, which premiered just two weeks after this episode.)

What did the last seven episodes of the series hold in store?  I honestly can't remember, but I will be back soon to report!

Monday, January 24, 2022

Why, Mr. Queen, You're Ever So Keen! More Remembrances of Queens Past

How much did I like the Ellery Queen television series, when I first watched it as a kid, back in 1975?  Well, for my birthday my parents got me a tape recorder, which for months I had been agitating for, and with said device I proceeded, with a friend, to do my own episode of Ellery Queen!  I remember my friend was Inspector Queen and I was Ellery, plus I did a seductive continental adventuress named, as I recollect, Madame Poochie.  He played Inspector Queen as a senile old coot who called Ellery "Sonny."  The Ellery Queen theme got prominent play, you may be sure.  Tragically, the cassette on which the brilliant teleplay was recorded has not survived.

So you can see I really loved this series.  However, my EQ nostalgia does not prevent me from pointing out the clunkers in the series, as I see some of them today.  And the sequence of episodes 7 through 12 of Ellery Queen begins with one of the clunkers, The Adventure of Col. Nivin's Memoirs.  

This one is based on the old chestnut about the guy who is publishing some scandalous war memoirs, unloading dirt on a lot of living people, who of course gets bumped off.  Said murderee is played by Lloyd Bochner (Hart Bochner's proud papa), another one of those great Seventies television snobs.  

I was sorry to see that his only listed acting award nomination was for a dreaded Razzie for the 1983 Harold Robbins sex melodrama The Lonely Lady, the infamous Pia Zadora bomb.  Pia, also nominated, won the Razzie for worst actress but Lloyd lost to blond bombshell Christopher Atkins for his lengthy turn as a male stripper in A Night in Heaven.  Happily Lloyd Bochner will be remembered forever for his delicious role in the Twilight Zone classic "To Serve Man."

Jenny (Gretchen Corbett) has an idea but it's
probably not a good one

Lloyd exits the picture after one scene. leaving the field to Ellery and his dad and his publicist, Jenny O'Brien, who is played by Seventies American television's greatest Gal Friday, cute, smart and spunky Gretchen Corbett, who for several years played cute, smart and spunky public defender Beth Davenport on The Rockford Files, Jim Rockford's kinda-sorta girlfriend. 

Like a lot of boys at the time, I loved Corbett on Rockford and felt like the series never quite recovered after she left. Why did she not have her own series, or even a movie career?  

Corbett only appeared once on EQ, where again she seems to be the male lead's kinda-sorta girlfriend.  She's cute and spunky as ever here (though not so smart), but somehow in this case--I gotta agree with Brad--she's also rather tiresome.  I think the problem is that she takes too much attention away from the Queens' father-son relationship, which is central to the series.  

Of course the writers were faced with the perennial problem of why doesn't Ellery have a girlfriend?  Sure he's kind of an absent-minded, gangling doofus, but he's presumably rather well-off, smart, equanimous, and hella attractive.  (I mean, he's Jim Hutton!  Look at him!)  What's the deal here?  Thankfully, however, the writers didn't saddle Ellery with Jenny, who disappears after this episode. 

Otherwise, the episode is pretty damn bad, with future Oscar nominee Robert Loggia and very blonde, Danish born actress Nina Van Pallandt as fake Russians (I mean, they play real Russians, fakely) and Pernell Roberts in an utterly hopeless role as a fake Indian, made up in black, or really ochre, face. 

Oh, there's also one of those obvious tricked-up alibis that pinpoints the murderer as soon as it's trotted out.  The only thing I found watchable here was a furry-looking Rene Auberjonois, who puts way more into his performance than the episode deserves.  I have to admit I basically know him as the guy who played that twit on Benson, so it was nice to see him in another capacity here.

Happily this dud was followed by The Adventure of the Mad Tea Party, surely one of the best episodes in the series.  It's based on an actual EQ short story, which leads me to echo everyone else and ask, why on earth didn't they adapt more actual EQ short stories for this series?  EQ wrote some of the finest short mystery fiction every written, perfect for the one hour (with commercials) format.

Here the set-bound settings are just right, for what is a classic country house weekend mystery.  Ellery has been invited to theatrical producer Spencer Lockridge's Long Island mansion to go over Lockridge's plan to adapt one of his mystery novels for the stage; and when he arrives, on a dark and stormy night, he finds Lockridge and several of his guests reenacting the mad hatter's tea party from from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.  

Things get weirder from there, beginning with Lockridge's disappearance overnight....

They're mad I tell you!
Edward Andrew and Larry Hagman

What a nifty episode this one is.  First of all, Spencer Lockridge is one of the series' best murderees, being played by that great character actor Edward Andrews, whose full-length feature film career extended from Adam's Rib (1949) to Sixteen Candles and Gremlins (both 1984).  He was only 70 when he died but was another one of those character actors who seemed like he was born at age 50.  Somehow he often manages to be droll and sinister at the same time, as here.  

And there's a great supporting case including: Rhonda Fleming as Lockridge's unbereaved younger wife (she was actually only nine years younger than Andrews but looked fantastic); Larry Hagman, in those lean years between I Dream of Jeanie and Dallas, looking rather preppy indeed as bow-tied architect Paul Gardner; imposing Julius Harris as the black butler Doyle; noted character actress Carmen Mathews, a staple of television mystery, as Lockridge's acidulous mother-in-law Letitia Allingham; and scene-stealing Julia Sommars (still around) as Emmy Reinhart, a vivacious, flirtatious actress, Alice at the tea party naturally, who wants desperately to be in the play.

You may have noticed these people have the surnames of famous mystery writers (though "Reinhart" is misspelled in that case).  There's also a Lt. Carr and a Howard Biggers (Jim Backus, aka Gilligan's Island's Mr. Howell, not given that much to do).  Surprisingly there's no "Stout."  Rex Stout, by the way, died just three days before this episode aired.  

George Janek and Carmen Mathews

This is a plot heavy episode, as befits a classic EQ story, and if you are an EQ fan you should love it.  I certainly did! 

Incidentally, the kid playing Lockridge's obnoxious nephew Johnny, George Janek, died just last year, at the age of 58.  He must have been about 12 when the episode was filmed and had a very brief television career around this time.  Did anyone ever interview him?  So far he's the only child who played a real role in this series.

Next up are two additional high points of the series, The Adventure of Veronica's Veils and The Adventure of the Pharaoh's Curse.  

Veils gets Ellery involved with a murder in the world of burlesque, so engagingly explored by Gypsy Rose Lee in an actual Forties mystery, The G-String Murders. The episode opens with the late producer Sam Packer appearing on film at his own funeral announcing that he has has been murdered.  (People really hate producers, apparently, since two in a row have been slain in this series.)  

J'Accuse! George Burns as Sam Packer stirs the pot from beyond the grave

Well, that does make a great opening!  And when it's George Burns in the role, it's even better.  This episode aired a week after the theatrical premier of Burns' film The Sunshine Boys, for which the octogenarian actor and comedian would win the supporting actor Oscar in 1976.  In the film he and Walter Matthau play an old vaudeville comedy team reuniting on television to do their classic naughty "doctor sketch."  Surely it can't be a coincidence that, along with George Burns, there's a prominent doctor sketch in the burlesque show portrayed on Veils?  

A distraught Veronica implores Ellery to find her birdie.
Barbara Rhoades with Jim Hutton

Aside from the inimitable George Burns, this episode has a really fine cast generally, including Julie Adams, the monster's object of desire in Creature of the Black Lagoon, as Sam Packer's not so distraught widow; octogenarian acting veteran William Demarest (My Three Sons' Uncle Charlie to my generation and lots of fun stuff in film before that) as Pop Denny, the elderly stage doorman who likes his nip; the late Borscht Belt comedian Jack Carter as comedian Risky Ross; and adorable, scene-stealing Barbara Rhoades as Veronica Vale, the show's star stripper. 

Veronica's act involves veils and a parrot named Galahad, you see, and Galahad disappeared from the very room in which Sam Packer was found dead.  

Why, you ask?  Well, see if you can figure it out--match wits with Ellery Queen!  There's actually similarity here to a certain John Rhode detective novel, which pleased me enormously.

Not that Veronica!

Oh, yes, Simon Brimmer is in this one too, which is all to the good.  I think one reason the Brimmer episodes stand out, besides John Hillerman's general greatness in the role, is that Simon has to be provided with a plausible alternative murder theory to Ellery's, lending some added complexity to the plot, which is a neat one.

I might add that the episode tile alludes to the Christian legend of the Veil of Veronica, a cloth with which Saint Veronica is said to have wiped the face of Jesus on the Via Dolorosa (and which afterward bore an imprint of his face, recalling the Shroud of Turin).  Since here the title refers to a striptease act, this was a bit cheeky to say the least!

Back to EQ, what's a mystery series without an episode where people are getting knocked off, seemingly, by an ancient Egyptian curse?  That's what we get, sure enough, in The Adventure of the Pharoah's Curse

The murderee in this one is abrasive millionaire Norris Wentworth, played by another great character actor, Simon Oakland, who specialized in meanies but also played the wise psychiatrist in Psycho who in the last few minutes of the film explained to an early Sixties audience just WTF?! had happened in the basement.  

Oakland, whose character funded the Egyptian expedition that brought back the mummy to an American museum, has a fine time being nasty to everyone around him for five minutes or so before he deservedly bites the dust, supposedly a victim of the curse. 

The rest of the cast has lots of familiar names (or faces): saintly TV mom June Lockhart, yet another widow who is not overly grief-stricken by her husband's death; Ross Martin as the belittled museum director (Artemus Gordon from the TV series The Wild, Wild West, who solved all the cases while his partner, Jim West, played by uber buff fitness nut Robert Conrad, seduced lovely ladies and engaged in fisticuffs in the tightest pants on television); and Nehemiah Persoff as the obligatory hysterical Egyptian hurling imprecations down upon the murderee for violating the sacred tombs, yadda, yadda, yadda.  (As Brad pointed out this great film and TV vet is still around at 103, bless him.)  

Yet the scene stealer is Wallace Rooney as the security guard, an actor I honestly didn't recognize at all. He looks rather like a stockier version of the late John Mahoney, aka Frasier's father.

Ellery and secretary on the case!
Jim Hutton with Nancy Belle Fuller 

I thought this one had some of the series' cleverest plotting.  (I liked that bit about the keys!)  I also enjoyed the comic bits with Nancy Belle Fuller as Ellery's temporary secretary.  She had a very brief TV and film career in the Seventies.  

I actually thought this part was played by Pamela Sue Martin, Seventies television's Nancy Drew.

Oh, yes, Simon Brimmer is in this one too.  Hooray!

The remaining two in this sequence, The Blunt Instrument and The Black Falcon, are enjoyable but they drop off a bit from the previous three, I would say.  

In The Blunt Instrument the murderee is snooty mystery writer Edgar Manning, who is found dead at his desk with a fatal head wound--apparently inflicted, appropriately enough, with the "blunt instrument" award he just won at the Crime Writers of America banquet.  Some meta bits here! 

Manning is played by Keene Curtis, best known to me and a lot of other people I imagine as John Allen Hill, the snooty guy who owned the restaurant above the bar in several seasons of the television sitcom Cheers.  

Did Cliff Wadell (Dean Stockwell)
have a compulsion to kill his employer?

Curtis makes another fine murderee in the EQ murderee gallery.  The supporting cast includes John Dehner and Joanna Barnes as ex-spouses and rival publishers, Eva Gabor as an actress and Manning's mistress (could she have been the origin of Madame Poochie?), and Richard Jaeckel, then a recent supporting actor Oscar nominee, as tough guy crime writer Nick McVey.  

However, for me the standout is the late Dean Stockwell as Manning's embittered research assistant, only forty years old at that time and still rather boyish looking, over a dozen years after the films Compulsion and Long Day's Journey into Night.

I enjoyed the plot in this one.  I think it devolves into more of a howdunit and howcatchem, which is just as well, since the motive is as old as the books and stands out a mile.

In a missed opportunity,
Tab Hunter and Roddy MacDowell
are not a couple in The Black Falcon

Finally in The Black Falcon, we are confronted with the question of who poisoned the nightclub owner in his wine cellar.  There are some clever bits in this one, including another dying clue (or is it) and there's Simon Brimmer too. 

We also get Swedish film actress Signe Hasso, who goes at it like she's trying to win an Oscar, Howard Duff, the late Tab Hunter, Roddy MacDowell (you knew he was bound to show up in this series) and, as the wine steward with a key clue, the late William Schallert, aka Patty Duke's long-suffering father on The Patty Duke Show.  

No wonder he was long-suffering!  How would you cope if you had a teenage daughter, an identical cousin no less, who loves to rocknroll and loses control of herself at the mere sight of a hot dog?  Go have children!

This is a pretty good episode, but I must say I found the past actions of one of the characters remarkably stupid!  Oh, well, at least Simon Brimmer gets his comeuppance, yet again.  You have to admire that man's resilience in the face of constant Elleryversity.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Why, Ellery, I think You're Swellery! Remembering the Ellery Queen Television Series, Part One

First, this post was inspired by Brad Freidman's ongoing series on the 1975-76 Ellery Queen television series over at his Ah Sweet Mystery! blog. Brad started my nostalgia train going and over the last few days I rewatched the first six episodes, which originally aired between September 11 and October 16, 1975.  I was only nine years old when the EQ series premiered, but I well remember watching it back in the day.  

I don't know whether the idea to watch it was my idea or my parents; we subscribed to TV Guide back then so maybe I stumbled across it in the fall season premieres issue.  Back in 1974 I had started reading my Mom's Agatha Christie paperbacks and we had all gone to see Murder on the Orient Express at the movie theater in November, so my mystery antennae were attuned by that point.  In fact I would say that the Ellery Queen television series played a pivotal role in my development as a mystery fan, along with dear Agatha and Arthur Conan Doyle, whose Sherlock Holmes stories I read in their entirety in 1977.  I thus reached my teenage years as a confirmed mystery fanatic.  (Oddly I never actually read Ellery Queen until I was an adult.)

We had watched Peter Falk's Columbo TV series and James Garner's The Rockford Files (my Dad really loved Rockford Files), both of which I enjoyed, but it was the classic puzzle aspect of Ellery Queen that really struck me at the time.  The Columbo tales of course were inverted mysteries and to this day inverted mysteries have never appealed to me as much as classic whodunits.  In Ellery Queen, there was the man himself, appealingly played by the inevitably "boyish" Jim Hutton (forty-one at the time), turning to the camera near the end of each episode and asking us whether we had solved the mystery like he just had.  Who could resist that?  

Well, since the series was canceled after just one year, apparently a lot of people could.  But I sure couldn't!

You can't beat a pair of Queens--at least not in this series!
(Jim Hutton and David Wayne as Ellery Queen and his Dad)

I got the DVD set in 2014 and watched the episodes again--with my parents appropriately enough.  The only thing I really remembered about the series was that ingratiating ear worm theme song by Elmer Bernstein (Duh-duh!  Duh, duh, duh, duuuuh!), which then had been lodged firmly in my head for nearly four decades.  Oh, and of course the great relationship between Ellery and his Dad, Inspector Queen, played wonderfully by diminutive, snappish David Wayne.  

Some people have debated whether Jim Hutton quite caught the true Ellery, but I don't believe there can be any such doubt about David Wayne's performance in this series.  

Looking at the series once again, I have to admit it's cheaper looking than I remembered as a kid.  Back then I never noticed how threadbare the sets look and how many of the "office" and "mansion" locations seem basically the same and look like if you shook them they might fall over.  (Of course this was true about a lot of Seventies television.)  The late killjoy critic Richard Schickel panned the first episode of the series as a "garage-sale period piece," adding deridingly: 

[T]he presence of Guy Lombardo, some ancient autos and the oldest of detective story conventions (all suspects are assembled in one room to await the results of the detective's ratiocinations) are supposed to evoke nostalgia.  They do not--all the format's stasis is numbing.

Well, speak for yourself, Schickel!  I enjoyed the nostalgia then and I enjoy it now, when the nostalgia has weirdly doubled.  Back then there was the nostalgia of the classic mystery format, plus the nostalgia of some of the guest star murder victims and suspects, once big American stars back in the day. Look, there's Barbara Rush!  Farley Granger!  Ida Lupino!  Don Ameche!  Donald O'Connor!  Dina Merrill!  Eve Arden!  And, yes, Guy Lombardo, who would die two years after he appeared in this series.

"Taxi!" Herb Edelman dispenses advice to his 
passenger Ellery Queen

But now those of us of a certain age and temperament are also nostalgic about people who back then were simply supporting cast staples on American television. 

For example, in the first episode, The Adventure of Auld Lang Syne, about a murder at a New Year's Eve ball, when Ellery has to take a taxi to get to the murder scene, who is the cab driver?  Why, it's Herb Edelman, a TV fixture for three decades, until his premature death at age 62 in 1996.  

Edelman co-starred as well in Neil Simon plays and films like Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple, but he is probably best known today as Dorothy's ex-husband in The Golden Girls.

When Inspector Queen checks who the dying man was calling in the phone booth it turns out to be a humble mortician played by George Wyner.  Who is that, you ask?  Believe me, you know him.  (He's still around today, acting, at age 77.)

So if you are into nostalgia, this series certainly is loaded with it.  But then so is The Love Boat, which for me, if I go to Hell, is what I will have to watch on TV or tablet every day.  (Probably you get tiny, old black and white TV sets in Hell.)  Fortunately the Ellery Queen series had murder mysteries.  (There should been a film called Death on the Love Boat, or Who Killed Captain Stubing?  Certainly someone should have.)

I loved the classic approach of the Auld Lang Syne episode.  A hateful millionaire (Thayer David) has gathered his son and various dependents together at a New Year's Party to announce that he's going to disinherit them all.  But of course he has!  And naturally he tells them he's going to call his lawyer Right Now about it.  And naturally he's stabbed to death with a steak knife in the public phone booth.  To whom did he place his final phone call?  Pay attention, it's a dying clue!

Don't trust the queen on the right!
(David Wayne and Farley Granger)

Inspector Queen flounders around with his loyal Sergeant Velie (the late Tom Reese, looking made for hard-boiled and noir with his imposing stature and big schnoz), until absent-minded mystery writer Ellery finally gets there to solve the case.  (New Year's traffic, don't you know.) 

In the meantime we get to enjoy watching the suspects nastily bicker among themselves.  Surely the highlights here are Thayer David slagging lovely Joan Collins, playing the sexy gold-digger after his son, and Joan Collins and Farley Granger, playing the drunken and presumably gay nephew, slagging each other liked the snarkiest of rival queens.  Great stuff.  

Gotta give kudos to Thayer David, who, like a good murder victim should, makes the most of his scene.  He was only 48 when he filmed this episode and he looks twenty years older.  His "son" in the episode, actor Charles Robinson, was 43!  Actors weren't afraid to look old in those days (or the men anyway)--they were character actors, with lots of character.  A few years later David would play Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe in what was intended to be series, but he died, at age 51, after filming the pilot.

The second episode, The Adventure of Lover's Leap, has a better mystery plot, all told, but just seemed dramatically inert in comparison.  All the actors seemed wasted, including Ida Lupino, knocked off after one scene in the first five minutes that is supposed to be creepy but is just flat, and Don Ameche, playing Ida's psychiatrist.  Although we do get Ellery's supreme rival, radio detective Simon Brimmer (the great John Hillerman, with John Houseman one of the best condescending stuffed shirts in the business), who tries to solve the case for himself but totally Hamilton Burgers it.

In the baths: Simon Brimmer investigates
(Paul Shenar and John Hillerman)
Shenar went on to play Al Pacino's antagonist in the 
crime film Scarface, while Hillerman would go on to
play Tom Selleck's antagonist in the popular
television crime series Magnum, P.I.

Of the remaining four of the first half-dozen episodes the stand-outs are The Adventure of the Chinese Dog and The Adventure of Aunt Aggie's Final Performance, eps. 3 and 6. 

On the other hand, eps. 4 and 5, The Adventure of the Comic Book Crusader and The Adventure of the Twelfth-Floor Express, both of them with Ellery's other foil, newspaper columnist Frank Flanigan (the late Ken Swofford), seemed forgettable to me.  This is despite the latter having a murder in an elevator, always a fun slaying gambit.  

TV veteran Ken Swofford is good as brashly obnoxious print newsman Frank Flanigan, but he's just no Simon Brimmer, and even Simon himself could not have saved these two dull episodes.

Fortunately The Chinese Dog and Aunt Aggie are two of the highlights of the series.  In Dog Ellery and his Dad have gone fishing in rural Wrightsville, beloved setting of a lot of the actual EQ tales.  Naturally they stumble on a mystery!  The richest man in town is murdered, bopped on the lead with a bejeweled Chinese temple dog that looks like it was actually purchased at the local five and dime. 

I agree with Brad that Wrightsville just comes off as your standard hick town (there's just one establishing shot of what the village actually looks like that I recall, the rest of the scenes taking place inside except for the comic bits at the old fishin' hole); yet it still lends some amusing color to the series.  And among the local inhabitants are a county coroner played by Hal Smith, aka The Andy Griffith Show's town drunk Otis, and an oily local pol played by Murray Hamilton, who the same year played the oily local pol who won't close the beach in Jaws, so that's all to the good.

Also to the good is the clever little murder plot, which would have made a nice short story indeed.

Aunt Aggie and her loyal agent, who has just given her a 
pot of violets in her room at the hospital, which
rather failed to impress (Eve Arden and Betty White)

Finally, Aunt Aggie is a great deal of fun too.  The send-up of Forties radio serials was well-done and the cast in this one quite strong.  Aside from the great Eve Arden, in a role, as popular radio star aunt Aggie, that is a send-up of none other than herself, there is the late Betty White as her agent (notice how I'm writing "the late" a lot); John McGiver as the show sponsor (a great character actor who always looked like he was smelling something bad; this was his last performance apparently);  darkly handsome Paul Shenar of the seductive velvet voice as the show announcer, who gets a shirtless steam bath scene with Simon Brimmer (yes, he's in this one too, to good effect); and Beatrice Colen as the lovelorn organist.  (I immediately remembered her as the roller skating drive-in waitress from Happy Days around this time; she was made for period television.)

Aunt Aggie dramatically gets poisoned during a performance of her radio show.  She survives but is knocked off a  few days later at the hospital, though not before she has a great scene with Betty White where she looks a bit like the drag queen played by Gene Hackman in The Birdcage.  The main plot gambit here is nice, but there's another dying clue, this one pretty risible.  

Worse yet Ellery's exposure of it actually manages somehow to extract a confession from the murderer.  Someone needs to tell the killers on this series that dying messages are not necessarily legal proof--especially when they are as, um, imaginative as this one.

By episode 6 dying messages had gotten to be a real prop of this series.  I don't recall all the later episodes being so dependent on them--at least I hope not!  I do recall there were some very good episodes among the later ones.  Brad, in fact, has already discussed some of them over at his blog.  I'll be tagging along behind, with some more reminiscences about watching this series back in the Seventies too.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

The Ten Faces of Cornell Woolrich: A Photo Album from the Twenties to the Sixties

The Ten Faces of Cornell Woolrich was a 1965 collection of short stories, one of two Cornell Woolrich short story collections published that year (the other being The Dark Side of Love).  It was distinguished with an introduction by Fred Dannay of Ellery Queen, who wrote rather arbitrarily that Woolrich's

ninth really a mask.  For what do we know of the man inside?....Woolrich is retiring almost to the point of being a recluse.  When we add up all we know, we know very little, and Woolrich is reluctant to reveal his inner self....

The Ten Faces title was really metaphorical (and the conceit rather forced), causing Dannay to struggle in his introduction, although his observation above was perceptive.  Here I take the opportunity to show you ten actual faces of Cornell Woolrich, arranged as chronologically as I can get them from fresh youth in the Twenties to worn age in the Sixties.  As Barry Malzberg has written, in the last year of his life Woolrich was sixty-four but looked eighty-four.

1925 photo of Woolrich, when he was
21 years old and still in college at
Columbia University.
Contemporaries continually
described him as boyish, pale,
hollow-cheeked, shy and sickly.

Cornell in college?
The blurry image is
symbolic of an elusive man

Cornell Woolrich at the time he went 
Hollywood, 1927-30, when he was 
employed as a screenwriter

Photo of Woolrich and his wife of
three weeks, Gloria "Bill" Blackton
which ran in newspapers in 1930
after the couple's elopement. 
According to Bill's 1933 annulment 
suit, the marriage failed because
Cornell would not have sex with her.
Papers mockingly referred to her as
Cornell's unkissed or kissless bride.
The only photo of Cornell
I have seen where he smiles and
shows his teeth, which appear 
to be in poor condition.  Could he 
have suffered from anemia?

This banner story ran in newspapers across the country in 1933
after Bill filed her annulment suit in Manhattan in 1933.
See my recent Crimereads article.
The picture of Woolrich used appears to have been a rendering
of his earlier 1925 photo, making him look younger
than he did in 1933.

Woolrich with his other best girl, his mother,
Claire Attalie Tarler Woolrich, with whom
he lived from 1933 to her death in 1957.
He actually used this as his author's picture on 
the back cover of a short story collection,
published in 1958, the year after Claire's death. 
Does it date from the Thirties?

Woolrich in the late 1950s, another book jacket photo,
I believe, an iconic mid-century image

1958 book jacket photo
Woolrich made the effort to spruce himself 
up here, but compare to the 1925 photo
and you see a huge change, although the
paleness and sunken cheeks are the same.

you can see
his decline

near the end
False Face
This artist rendering of Face 10
for the back of the jacket
of The Ten Faces of Cornell
is like The Picture of 
Dorian Gray
in reverse.
Woolrich's biographer
Francis Nevins generously calls this
"an excellent if idealized sketch of Woolrich."
Perhaps it's Woolrich as he would
have liked him to look: a heroic he-man.
It certainly is nowhere close to 
what the real Woolrich looked like.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Cornell Woolrich, George Tarler and the Ballad of Blink Kelly

Cornell Woolrich appears to have lived a retiring and isolated existence on the whole, being more an observer of life than an experiencer of it.  "I have lived in hotels most of my life," he recalled at the age of forty, explaining why he knew so little about the real world.  "Fortunately," he added, "I am a writer of imagination."  

Blink and you'll miss him
one-eyed Victorian-era
professional safecracker
Thomas "Blink" Kelly in 1886,
when he was 33 years old

Of course Cornell Woolrich's Edgar-award winning biographer has been telling us for for decades now that when he briefly lived out in Hollywood in the late Twenties and early Thirties, Woolrich led a "homosexual life of the most furtive and sordid variety."  Despite the fact that his contemporaries over and over again described him as pale, fragile, nervous and timid, the proverbial 98-pound weakling at the beach (except that he weighed about 122), we are to believe that at midnight Woolrich, like some sort of Sin-derella, donned a "sailor suit" he kept in a locked suitcase and tripped down to the docks in LA, where he went " search of partners.

If this is actually true I would expect that Woolrich would have gotten beaten up more than a few times, if not arrested at some point. Still, I remain dubious of the veracity of this claim.  (See my forthcoming article on the subject; I'll keep you posted.)

Even if this story is bunkum, however, Woolrich did at least know people who lived life, as it were.  There was his Mexican father Genaro Woolrich, a handsome ladies man who apparently had sole custody of Cornell for several years around the time of World War I and took the boy with him on engineering jobs in several countries--although "Con" seems mostly to have gotten dumped in hotel rooms.  

Eventually young Woolrich after about a decade in Mexico returned to the United States for good in 1917 to live with his mother Claire at her father George Tarler's opulent turn-of-the-century house in Manhattan.  In 1920 the other denizens of the house besides Woolrich were, besides his mother and grandfather

his distinguished uncle George Cornell Tarler, a lawyer and diplomat

his aunts Estelle, Lillian and Olga

Estelle's Cuban husband Emilio Manuel Garcia, an electrical engineer

the widowed Lillian's young son Archie Cornell MacBain.  

There was also a live-in Irish maid.  Another uncle, Irving Cornell Tarler, a salesman with The Texas Company, aka Texaco, had just married and moved out of the house, settling with his wife at the affluent Westchester County city of Scarsdale.  

For some reason--wishful thinking, perhaps--Woolrich in his fragmentary memoir Blues of a Lifetime portrayed himself as living at his grandfather's house with just his grandfather, his mother and one unmarried aunt; and this story has been accepted for decades, no one until now ever having checked the census records, evidently.  In truth there were a bunch of people, mostly family members, milling around that house when he lived there.  Indeed, it's rather like the cast of characters in an S. S. Van Dine mystery.

The Park Avenue apartment building where 
George Cornell Woolrich moved in the late 1920s
looks like the setting for S. S. Van Dine's
The Garden Murder Case (1935)

After patriarch George Tarler's death in 1925, however, the family began finally to scatter.  Woolrich himself, having precociously published two novels, in 1927 moved out to LA, like many another writer before and after him, to try his luck at screenwriting. 

 His uncle George married a well-off widow and moved into a ritzy Park Avenue apartment valued at $100,000 in 1930, or about 1.7 million dollars today (see left). Estelle and Emilio moved out, perhaps to exotic New Jersey, while Lillian and her son Archie stayed on, along with Claire.  

Around 1932 the Tarler house was sold and Claire with Cornell, who had returned to New York in 1931 after the quick collapse of his LA marriage, moved into an apartment at the Hotel Marseilles, where the pair lived for a quarter-century until Claire's death in 1957.  Here Woolrich wrote the vast bulk of his crime fiction.  

Hotel Marseilles, where Cornell and Claire lived for a 
quarter century.  Here Cornell made the
magical mystery tour happen--on paper

During the Thirties Woolrich maintained enough contact with his family members that he served as one of the two witnesses at the 1938 marriage of his cousin Archie, who was twelve years younger than he, to a waitress named Dorothy Lynch.  Archie, who was rather heftier than Cornell (5'10" and 175 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes to 5'9" and 122 pounds with blue eyes and brown hair), married a second time in 1943 and then served in the navy for the duration of World War Two.  

During this time Archie's mother Lillian and her sister Olga shared a rather more modest apartment than their rich brother's at Morningside Heights.  Archie, who unlike Cornell did not go to college, managed a movie theater, leading me to wonder whether the frugal (aka miserly) Cornell ever cadged tickets from him.  In 1940 Archie and Dorothy lived at an apartment on Cathedral Parkway in Morningside Heights.

apartment building where Woolrich's 
aunts Lillian and Olga lived

The photos give you some idea of Cornell's New York, at least as lived in by himself and his Tarler relations, looked like.  I like to think Archie and Dorothy might have inspired some of the young couples in Cornell's crime fiction as well, but who knows?  Presumably neither was compelled by capricious fortune to turn to crime, as so many of the characters in his fiction are.

However, Woolrich's grandfather George Tarler did encounter a well-known New York crook in earlier, Victorian days, way back in 1883.  Said crook's name was Thomas "Tommy" Kelly, who also went by the alias Thomas Jordan and was nicknamed "Blink" and "Blinky" Kelley, on account of, as you will have guessed, his having lost his right eye.  

A member of Patsey Carroll's gang, Blink Kelly was a burglar and safecracker by occupation; and when in 1883 he was accused, at the age of twenty-eight, of participating in a burglary of George Tarler's import/export business at 7 Burling Slip in Manhattan, which did a great deal of trade in gold and silver jewelry, watches, etc., he already had a criminal record, having been convicted of grand larceny and sentenced to prison terms most recently  in 1879 and 1880.

apartment building where Archie
Cornell MacBain lived with his
waitress wife Dorothy in 1942

When he was processed at Sing Sing Prison on the day before Christmas in 1880, Blink was recorded as being age 25 and employed as a waiter, with a dark complexion, hazel eye and brown hair.  He was Catholic, of moderate habits and a user of tobacco.  On his slim but "regular-featured" head he had scars and a prominent dimpled chin.  He had a dot inked on his left hand near the thumb as well as yet more scars.

Blink was arrested for the Tarler job when he was socializing Martin Reeve's saloon at 38 Forsyth Street, a notorious thieves den, in the company of gang leader Patsey Carroll, John Talbot, alias the Hatter, Clarkey Carpenter and William Landendorf (Dutch Harmon's brother).  Quite a crew!

While Carroll and Talbot were convicted of the theft of about $35,000 worth of goods (in modern value) and sentenced to prison terms of four years apiece, however, Blink went free. 

Was he innocent or just cleverer at evading justice?  The night watchman at Burling Slip reported having noticed, on the night of the burglary, a man under a lamppost reading a newspaper, whom he later identified to the police as Blink.  Sounds like he was scouting the joint for accomplices!

When he wasn't cracking safes, Blink busied himself intimidating voters and committing election fraud on behalf of various political factions in the city; for this work, he was dubbed by the press the "Terror of the Fourteenth Ward."  Pretty impressive for someone who stood 5'8" and 130 pounds!  I'm guessing he got those scars for good reasons.

152 Rivington street where Blink Kelly
resided when he was arrested

So did Blink reform after his escape from the law in 1883?  

Well, apparently so, at least for a while, for he started cracking safes on stage.  When the hit melodrama The Stowaway premiered on Broadway in 1888, the play's canny producer decided to hire two real criminals to perform the safecracking scene, one of whom was our boy Blink, who was born to have been played on screen at some point by Daniel Day Lewis.

The professional cracksmen entered the stage in masks and quickly got down to business, boring holes in the safe and drawing powder down about the door with the blower,  And then:

[A] big carpet was rolled in front of the safe, the fuse was lighted and puff, bang, the door of the safe was blown clean out on the carpet.

Cornell Woolrich's
Russian Jewish grandfather,
George Tarler a couple of years
before his death in 1925. 
He migrated to the US in 1869
at the age of 20.
"Good, that's good!" exclaimed the New York police detectives invited to watch the play.  One of them explained: 

"They are professionals and no mistake.  The best thing of all, though, is the neat businesslike way in which they get off the stage when discovery comes.  That is a point the audience overlooks, but the crooks make tracks as natural as life, leaving their tools and their inexperienced pals behind them."

It's like The Asphalt Jungle, only six decades earlier!  I hope Cornell Woolrich got to hear the tale of the theft many years afterward from his grandfather, who was only seven years older than Blink, whose own final fate remains unknown.  George Tarler died in 1925 at the age of 76, just as his grandson Cornell was on the cusp of a very unusual career, albeit one where, I believe, all the crime was imaginary.

For more on Blink Kelly, see this page at the fascinating Professional Criminals of America--Revised blog.

Burling Slip in lower Manhattan, where George Tarler's import/export business was located
in the nineteenth century