October 7, 1917 - July 8, 2006
Simoa of Champagne for Lunch
is hosting a blogathon celebrating the life and career of June Allyson, a first-rate musical entertainer, sly comic actress, and versatile dramatic star. Click HERE
to read all the contributions to the blogathon running from October 5th to 7th.
A back injury before the age of ten led this Bronx born baby to swimming and dance as therapy. Dance led to her show business career beginning with chorus work on Broadway. Her perky personality was shown to good advantage in a number of musical shorts throughout the 1930s. Her featured role in the Broadway hit Best Foot Forward led to a contract with MGM for the 1943 film version. The studio paired June with stars like Van Johnson and James Stewart to great success.
We might call June the unofficial queen of remakes with Little Women, My Man Godfrey, The Opposite Sex (The Women) and You Can't Run Away from It (It Happened One Night) in her filmography. June's appeal and skill is a pleasure to enjoy.
Today I am looking at two of June's television guest appearances, 20 years apart, on the popular mystery programs, Burke's Law and Murder, She Wrote.
was a Four Star TV production, the company founded by June's husband Dick Powell
. The series, produced by Aaron Spelling, began in the 1963 season. Spelling, originally an actor, was employed by Four Star and encouraged by his mentor Dick Powell to try writing and then producing. Good eye, Mr. Powell! Mr. Spelling turned out to be one of television's most successful producers. Dick Powell was TVs first Amos Burke in a episode of the anthology series The Dick Powell Show
called Who Killed Julie Greer?
written by Frank Gilroy, Pulitzer Prize winner for The Subject Was Roses
Regis Toomey, Gary Conway, Gene Barry, Leon Lontoc
Our sleuth in this delightful series is Captain Amos Burke of the LAPD played by Gene Barry. Independently wealthy, Burke lives a life of luxury surrounded by beautiful women, driven in his Silver Ghost Rolls Royce by chauffeur Henry played by Leon Lontoc. Every once in a while his unit's detectives played by Regis Toomey and Gary Conway interrupt Burke's casual lifestyle to involve him in a murder case.
Each episode opens with a murder. The list of suspects is played by familiar names from the world of movies and television. The series can be enjoyed for the guest cast alone, but its delights extend beyond the opening credits of special guest stars listed alphabetically. Burke's Law features screwy characters, witty lines and a devil-may-care attitude. The show ran for three seasons, two under its original premise and an aborted third in an ill-advised revamp into Amos Burke, Secret Agent. A syndicated update reverting to the earlier format ran for two seasons starting in 1994.
W H O K I L L E D B E A U S P A R R O W ?
Let's start with who is
Beau Sparrow in this episode written by John Meredyth Lucas (Star Trek
) and directed by David Orrick McDearmon (Peter Gunn
). Played oh-so-briefly by Jerry Catron, Beau is a playboy/artist, and the alleged fiance of a Countess played by Yvonne De Carlo. He is dispatched to the hereafter while attempting to use a catapult device to dive into a swimming pool. That's odd, you may be thinking, and you would be right.
Jack Haley as Victor Haggerty
The host of the party is the head of a corporation specializing in weird contraptions. He is Victor Haggerty played by Jack Haley. Victor has been estranged from his wife Liz played by Agnes Moorehead for the past five years. Perhaps that is why he is the king of the hypochondriacs. Victor's support group includes his physician played by Dan Tobin, his right-hand-man played by Ken Murray and his executive assistant Jean played by June Allyson.
Agnes Moorehead as Liz Haggerty
Countesses, working girls, health nuts and sickos - my what a strange group we have for this murder case, or is it a murder? Most of the episode is spent trying to determine a specific cause of death. As Amos opines, if no doctor will claim it then it must be a criminal matter.
Yvonne De Carlo as Countess Barbara Erozzi
Captain Burke's investigative technique generally involves intimate questioning of female guest stars. In this case, he and the Countess are not sympatico companions. It is a tangled relationship that is woven among our guest characters. The Countess has definite opinions about another of Beau's "friends", Jean Sampson. The Countess calls her a salmon. "The cold fish that swims with such termination up rivers."
June Allyson as Jean Sampson
Amos discovers that Jean has equally strong feelings about Beau and the Countess. "Isn't that just like a little boy to be impressed with a title? ... "You don't think her cheap, overblown looks could hold a man, do you?"
The steaks haven't hit the grill and we're already at dessert.
Amos wrangles a dinner date with Jean, who has steaks on the grill and cocktails at the ready. She is also wearing a very fetching hostess ensemble. Amos is impressed with her cute smile and authoritative martinis.
Amos: "I can't tell you how much I hate myself."
Jean: "Well, you'll have to stand in line!"
Impressed or not, Amos is always on call and rushes out on the date to pursue a theory and a lead. Beware girls with cute smile, they get angrier than most. They also devise plans to ensure date number two continues as advertised. Said plans involve handcuffs and passing the next case on to the captain's underlings.
As to the solution to this mystery, let's say that fans of a certain well known 1947 British film will have figured out the how, but spend the rest of the time figuring out the why.
A pretty portrait of June to indicate Beau Sparrow was an artist.
Who Killed Beau Sparrow?
aired on December 27, 1963. Four Star Executive Producer, and June's husband since 1945, Dick Powell, had passed from cancer in January of that year. All of June's television appearances during the period of 1960 to 1963 were in Four Star productions, including her own anthology series. It takes a long time to recover from such a loss. Perhaps familiar work among friends helped with the healing.
Richard Levinson and William Link, as writers and producers, gave us the best of TV mysteries including Columbo, Ellery Queen and Murder, She Wrote co-created with Peter S. Fischer. Beginning in the 1984 season Murder, She Wrote would spawn four made-for-TV films, a book series authored by Donald Bain, and a never-ending syndication run.
Angela Lansbury stars as Jessica Beatrice Fletcher, a widowed teacher living in Cabot Cove, Maine. She takes up writing to occupy her time and finds success. Jessica not only finds success in the publishing world, but success as an amateur sleuth. Noted for a keen eye at crime scenes and precise judgment of people, law enforcement alternately loves and hates her presence. Fortunately, success also leads to travel, so that the entire population of Cabot Cove is not wiped out. After all, the show ran for 12 seasons.
H I T , R U N A N D H O M I C I D E
This season 1 episode, written by Gerald K. Siegel and directed by Alan Cooke, takes place in Jessica's home base of Cabot Cove. Eccentric inventor Daniel O'Brien played by Van Johnson is mixed up in the murder of his former employer. Luckily, Daniel has strong support in his friend Jessica, his nephew Tony played by Edward Albert and Tony's fiancee Leslie played by Patti D'Arbanville. Daniel is most fortunate in the steadfast affection of his former co-worker Katie Simmons played by June Allyson.
June Allyson as Katie and Van Johnson as Daniel
June Allyson and Van Johnson made a very appealing team in comedies and dramas for their home studio, MGM. It is an impressive list of entertainment including Two Girls and a Sailor
, High Barbaree
, The Bride Goes Wild
, Too Young to Kiss
and Remains to Be Seen
. On episodic television, they co-starred in a 1968 episode of The Name of the Game
titled High on a Rainbow
. In 1978 they were featured as a married couple in a segment of The Love Boat
called On Her Own Two Feet
. June and Van's last film appearance together is on this episode of Murder, She Wrote
Mrs. Fletcher and Sheriff Tupper discuss the case.
The plot of the episode can be summed up in this exchange between Jessica and Sheriff Amos Tupper played by Tom Bosley.
"Sheriff, think. Two partners arrive from Boston to a tiny town they've never seen before. One of them is almost run down by a car. The next day the other is run down. Now don't you think that's more than just coincidence?"
So nice to have June Allyson back on our screens.
The injured partner played by Stuart Whitman insists that Daniel invited him to Cabot Cove, for some reason. The murdered partner was there at the behest of his business cohort. Katie is there to convince Daniel to join her at a firm in Memphis. The spooky thing about this whole business is that the car involved appears to be riderless. Don't talk to me about the technology being around for ages, and all of the riderless trucks and cars that are soon to hit our roads! It's spooky.
Technology gone wrong.
Jessica is frightened by being placed in peril in the remote control operated vehicle, with the villain taking her to the edge of a cliff before stopping. Jessica: "And you wonder why I don't drive a car!"
The mystery portion of the episode moves along at a logical and humourously presented script. For fans of June Allyson and Van Johnson the most charming sequences involve the old pros doing their acting thing with Miss Lansbury.
The Cabot Cove lock-up.
Frightened after being arrested, Daniel and Jessica have a charming exchange concerning Katie.
Jessica: "Is he
[the lawyer] good enough to get you bailed out of here?"
Daniel: "He and Katie have promised I'll be home for supper."
Jessica: "There's someone who believes you."
Daniel: "She always has."
We all feel like Jessica at the happy sight of Van and June together again.
The wrapping up of the case is celebrated at a dinner at Jessica's with local handyman Ethan played by Claude Akins, June Allyson and Van Johnson who, as Daniel, makes a toast.
"May I offer a toast to the two ladies in my life. To the one who just saved my life and to the other who's been saving it for years, only I was too pre-occupied to notice."