Thursday, October 5, 2017

THE JUNE ALLYSON CENTENARY BLOGATHON: June on TV in Burke's Law and Murder, She Wrote

June Allyson
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.

Burke's Law 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."


  1. I'm starting to realize how many of the TV shows I watched as a kid had old movie stars in guest appearances. There's no way I would have known then, of course, but I'm thinking it might be worth a post to go back and look at them knowing what I know now. Maybe.

    I recently read a little bit about Allyson, so I have some sense of who she was: girl-next-door type from the WW2 era, not a Betty Grable bombshell but just right for somebody like Van Johnson, who himself was not a traditional-looking hunk. I knew they made several movies together, but I didn't know they reunited on TV too.

    1. Burke's Law is a genuine treat for star watching. Big stars showed up on Wagon Train as well, from Lou Costello to Sessue Hayakawa, Barbara Stanwyck and Bette Davis.

      Perry Mason is a go-to for character actors I didn't know when I watched it in my youth.

      Singing/dancing and comedy star June is her most well known persona. She did grand dramatic work as well in The Stratton Story and The Shrike, among others.

  2. What a lovely photo of June in polka dots. <3 And I agree, she was the queen of remakes!

    Thanks so much for writing about both episodes! That portrait of June in Burke's Law actually did hang on the wall in her and Dick Powell's home! I love her pigtails. And "Hit, Run, and Homicide" is one of my favorite Murder, She Wrote episodes, for the two guest stars.

    Thank you again for joining the blogathon.

    1. It is my pleasure writing and reading about June Allyson. Congratulations on your first blogathon!

      I didn't realize the background of that lovely painting. Thanks.

  3. I liked June Allyson a lot even she always basically played the same character (except in THE SHRIKE). I loved her in that high school (or college) musical whose name escapes me at the moment where she and Peter Lawford (I think) danced the Varsity Drag. Remember? I also loved her in THE THREE MUSKETEERS. Terrific post, Pat. I do kind of remember BURKE'S LAW because I always loved Gene Barry in WAR OF THE WORLDS. Sigh. So many memories.

    1. All our memories are bumping into each other and they pushed GOOD NEWS out of the way.

      June has some lovely screen moments. I love her in The Stratton Story when she has to make the decision to amputate her husband's leg. So much agony and worry crosses her face, and then determination.

    2. GOOD NEWS! That's it. :) I know I must have seen THE STRATTON STORY because once upon a time I saw almost all of June Allyson films because my mom loved her especially. Plus back then, we all liked those movie bios.

  4. How interesting! I vaguely remember watching the "Murder, She Wrote" episode. It never occurred to me at the time that it had three former M-G-M stars in it (Of course, I was only eight at the time, lol).

    1. That's precisely why we have to watch the stuff we saw way back when with all the "smarts" we've gotten in the intervening years. No time to watch "new" stuff. What a dilemma!

  5. Great choices! I haven't seen Burke's Law before, but it sounds mighty interesting. Murder, She Wrote, however, is what I've been binge-watching for months now. The episode you discuss is one of my favorites. My heart just melted at those scenes between Van and June, and it melted all over again reading your post.

    1. When my son was little and he would hear the theme to Murder, She Wrote from the TV, he'd grumble "Mommy's turn. Mommy's turn.". Binge time with Jessica is great!

      I think you'd get a kick out of Burke's Law. It has a great 1960s vibe, it's quirky and filled with flaky characters. The guest lineups are phenomenal.

  6. Oh man, that Burke's Law episode sounds good...I'll have to see that. And thank you for highlighting one of my all-time favorite Murder She Wrote episodes! I love the look of sheer terror on Mrs. Fletcher's face when she is trapped behind the wheel in the car. I'm glad that episode had a happy ending because I was expecting the killer to be Junie ( you never can tell on MSW! ).

    1. True! You never can tell on Murder, She Wrote. I can just imagine the disappointed look on Jessie's face if she brought down our gal June.

  7. I'm a little embarrassed to admit I've NEVER seen "Murder, She Wrote", despite all the "old" movie stars that appeared in it. Your thoughts on June Allyson's (and Van Johnson's!) appearance has convinced me to track down this series. Thanks! :)

    1. Murder, She Wrote is addictive, especially in the early seasons. Great atmosphere, guests, and Angela Lansbury. You'll love it!

  8. The BURKE'S LAW connection is awesome! It was an enjoyable show, too, despite the insistence on sticking to its formula. Too bad it was revamped as a spy show. I am not a big fan of MURDER, SHE WROTE, though Angela Lansbury is always delightful and there were some first-rate episodes.

    1. My favourite Burke's Law episode is one where they went crazy with dream sequences, Who Killed WHO IV? is truly unique, but we wouldn't appreciate it without the already laid down formula.

      Murder, She Wrote, I feel, appeals to fans of cozy mysteries and I am among their number. Pot of tea at the ready, cat beside me on the couch and "the old woman" as my dad used to call her.

  9. I love these shows just for the classic film stars that regularly appeared in them as guests.

    1. The roll of credits with "tonight's guests" was more exciting than many of the mysteries.

  10. Posts like this make me wish that there was a TV channel here only to broadcast classic TV - or at least I wish there were more DVD sets of these series. I bet it was nice seeing familiar faces, like June's, on TV from time to time.
    Thanks for the kind comment!

    1. I really love the familiar faces from Classic TV programs. It's my happy place.

      We don't get as much older shows on TV here in Toronto as we used to. I miss those days.

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