MYSTERY SERIES CHARACTERS: FROM THE PRINTED PAGE TO TELEVISION
by Marvin Lachman
In the early days of The Armchair Detective, Charles Shibuk and I compiled lists of the actors who had portrayed various series characters in the media. Shibuk covered radio and movies, and I listed television and the stage. My television list appeared in Volume 1 Number 3 (April 1968) of TAD. I updated it in the 1980s for the 50th mailing of DAPA-EM, the fan organization that has produced almost 75% of the Fan Guests of Honor at Bouchercons. My updated list was then published in TAD in Volume 19 Number 4 (Fall 1986).
Since 1986, relatively few American detectives have been transferred from crime literature to television, while Great Britain has produced many distinguished series featuring not only current detectives such as Ian Rankin’s Rebus but many characters from what is generally agreed to be mystery fiction’s “Golden Age.”
As my list shows, television sometimes changes the names of series sleuths or eliminates them in adapting a story. It also has a habit of switching their bases of operations. Thus, Rabbi Small and Christy Opara moved to California, while Carolyn Weston’s team moved from Santa Monica to “The Streets of San Francisco.” The Continental Op got a name (Hamilton Nash, which resembles Dashiell Hammett) and was moved to Long Island. Father Brown in a 1979 TV film was paradoxically shifted to New York City.
I have ignored those detectives created only for television, even those who later became series characters in books, for example, Jessica Fletcher. Nor have I included characters who first appeared in the graphic arts, e.g., Batman, nor those, such as Nancy Drew, who were not created for an adult audience.
Those who watch television more often and more closely than I will note gaps in my information, and additions and corrections are very welcome.
Part One: A - C
Allingham, Margery: ALBERT CAMPION, played by Peter Davison in the 1988 British series Campion. Brian Glover was MAGERSFONTEIN LUGG, Campion’s manservant, an ex-convict with, according to his employer, “the courage of his previous convictions.” Andrew Burt was INSPECTOR STANISLAUS OATES.
Ashdown, Clifford (pseudonym of R. Austin Freeman): ROMNEY PRINGLE, played by Donald Sinden in “The Assyrian Rejuvenator” episode of the British series The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, 1973.
Aumonier, Stacy: MISS BRACEGIRDLE, played by Mildred Natwick in “Miss Bracegirdle Does Her Duty,” on Alfred Hitchcock Presents in 1958.
Ball, John: VIRGIL TIBBS, played by Howard Rollins in American series In the Heat of the Night (1988-1989).
Barr, Robert: EUGENE VALMONT, played by Charles Gray in “The Absent-Minded Coterie” episode of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, 1973.
Bayer, William: FRANK JANEK, played by Richard Crenna in American miniseries Doubletake (1985) and Internal Affairs (1988), as well as in the television movie Murder in Black and White (1990).
Beaton, M. C.: HAMISH MACBETH, played by Robert Carlyle in British series, c. 2000.
Biggers, Earl Derr: CHARLIE CHAN, played by J. Carrol Naish in a series filmed in England but syndicated in the U.S. beginning in 1957. Keye Luke, Chan’s “Number One Son” in many films of the 1930s, did the voice-over for Charlie Chan in The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan, a cartoon series that began in 1972. Ross Martin was Chan in The Return of Charlie Chan, a TV movie that was filmed in 1971 but not released until 1979.
Blochman, Lawrence G.: DR. DANIEL COFFEE, played by Patrick O’Neill in Diagnosis: Unknown, a 1960 American television series. Chester Morris was LT. MAX RITTER, and Cal Bellini was DR. MOTILAL MOOKERJI.
Boothby, Guy: SIMON CARNE, played by Roy Dotrice in “The Duchess of Wiltshire’s Diamonds” episode of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, 1971.
Boyle, Jack: BOSTON BLACKIE, played by Kent Taylor in television series Boston Blackie, 1951-1952.
Bramah, Ernest: MAX CARRADOS, played by Robert Stephens in “The Missing Witness Sensation” episode of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, 1971.
Carter, Nick: NICK CARTER, played by Robert Conrad in The Adventures of Nick Carter, pilot for series that was filmed in 1972 and shown as a TV movie in1976.
Chandler, Raymond: PHILIP MARLOWE, played by Dick Powell in a television version of the novel The Long Goodbye on Climax in 1954. Philip Carey was Marlowe in an American series The Adventures of Philip Marlowe beginning in 1959. Powers Boothe was Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, a series on American cable television (1983-1984).
Charteris, Leslie: SIMON TEMPLAR, THE SAINT, played by Roger Moore in a series, The Saint, that appeared on American television1967-1969; Moore had played the role in a British series a few years before. Ian Ogilvy was The Saint in a 1978 British series, The Return of the Saint. Andrew Clarke was The Saint in the 1987 pilot for a series, also called The Return of the Saint; it was shown as a TV movie in 1990.
Chesterton, G.K.: FATHER BROWN, played by Kenneth More in the 1973 British series Father Brown, shown in the U.S. in the 1980s. Barnard Hughes was Brown in the television movie Sanctuary of Fear (1979).
Christie, Agatha: Almost all of her series characters have appeared on television. JANE MARPLE was played by Gracie Fields in the TV version of the novel A Murder Is Announced on Goodyear Playhouse in1956. (This was the “Golden Age” of Television, and also in the cast were Jessica Tandy and Roger Moore.) Helen Hayes later played Marple in television movies A Caribbean Mystery (1983) and Murder with Mirrors (1985). Joan Hickson began as Marple in a three-part Mystery! series, Murder in the Library (1984). She continued as Marple in many additional adaptations of Christie stories. (Note: Hickson had appeared in one of the films in which Margaret Rutherford had been Miss Marple.) The latest Jane Marple, in a British series begun in 2005, is Geraldine McEwan.
Martin Gabel was HERCULE POIROT on G.E. Theatre in 1961. Later, Peter Ustinov, who had played Poirot in three films made for theatrical release, played him in three TV movies: Thirteen at Dinner (1985), with David Suchet as Inspector Japp; Dead Man’s Folly (1986), with Jean Stapleton as ARIADNE OLIVER, the mystery writer whom Christie based on herself; and Murder in Three Acts (1986), which had Jonathan Cecil as CAPTAIN HASTINGS. David Suchet was the memorable Poirot in the long British series that began in 1989; Hugh Fraser was Hastings, and Pauline Moran was Poirot’s secretary MISS FELICITY LEMON.
Francesca Annis and James Warwick were, respectively, TUPPENCE AND TOMMY BERESFORD in a British series. They first appeared in a two-part version of Christie’s The Secret Adversary and then in the series Partners in Crime, based on the Tuppence and Tommy short stories.
In 1982, Maurice Denham was PARKER PYNE on Britain’s The Agatha Christie Hour, with Angela Easterling as his secretary, also named Miss Lemon. In one episode, “The Case of the Discontented Soldier,” Lally Bowers was Ariadne Oliver.
Coxe, George Harmon: “FLASH” CASEY, played by Richard Carlyle and then Darren McGavin in the Crime Photographer series, 1951-1952. Coxe’s KENT MURDOCK was played by Simon Oakland in the adaptation of his novel Focus on Murder on Kraft Mystery Theatre in 1958.
Creasey, John: JOHN MANNERING (“THE BARON”), played by Steve Forrest in the 1966 American series The Baron, which, though filmed in England, made the hero a Texas “land-baron,” rather than a member of British royalty.
To be continued...
Part Two (D through E)
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