Having been a huge fan of Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry, I was intrigued when I heard suggestions that the classic 1970 private eye show, Harry O, was originally explored as a potential Dirty Harry TV series. This always struck me as odd, given Magnum Force was in production as a sequel and the role was synonymous with Eastwood, who would not have considered a move into TV having established his superstar status on the big screen. I decided to try and seek out the truth by accessing Howard Rodman’s papers, stored at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research. I also researched several archival sources including newspapers, articles and books, which are cited at the foot of this piece. What follows is the story of the origins of Harry O as I can best piece it together.
Harry Orwell began life as Frank Train, a character outlined by Warner Brothers’ Program Development Department. The outline was forwarded by the department’s director, Mark Tuttle, to William Brademan and Phillip Mandelker at ABC Television on 7 September 1972. In their character outline Warners describe their detective as a ‘Nick Nasty’ – a hard guy who likes straight-talking. In the outline, Train is said to be the youngest guy to ever make detective in the Los Angeles Police Department. He has a bullet in his back, close enough to his spine for doctors to be reticent to operate. Despite the fact he had seemingly recovered after three weeks and was willing to return to work, regulations stated he could not, and he was retired at 80% disability with the bullet still in his back. So, he lives on his police pension in a beach house located between Venice and Hermosa, just south of Santa Monica. His house represents the simple life he leads, and he lives alone. He is a loner and has few friends. He is not in a relationship that has any sense of permanency – “When it comes to women, Train uses and enjoys them about like he does a can of beer on a cold day.” His car is a retired police car that he bought at an auction. Despite the cold exterior, there is a desire to see things put right and of the cases that he takes as a private detective, which he calls “piece work” (cases the police brass get approached about but can’t handle), he only takes 1 in 10 of those offered. When he does take one of the more interesting cases, he invests himself fully into helping a client with a genuine need or pain.
Tuttle’s outline finishes, “Needless to say, we think a hell of a series can be built around this guy, and I’m positive the male viewers will be walking a little taller for watching him. In addition, I personally know a number of ladies who will be throwing rocks at their husbands after the experience. This kind of essential, truly independent, male has to be irresistible… so when do we talk writers?”
The writer ABC and Warners decided to approach was Howard Rodman.
Howard Rodman was born in the Bronx in New York City on 18 February 1920. He knew he wanted to be a writer from the age of ten. Described as a man of low tolerance and great determination, he began his career writing short stories in the early 1940s. His first TV script was an episode of Columbia Workshop in 1946. He built his reputation as a creative and dependable writer with contributions to episodes of several TV series from the 1950s onward, cutting his teeth on scripts provided for Actor’s Studio, The Silver Theatre and The Ford Theatre Hour in 1950. He became a regular contributor to Little Women between 1953 and 1957. His first major break came when he took on the role of story consultant on the classic police series Naked City from 1960 to 1962, to which he also contributed stories and scripts on a regular basis. His growing reputation led to a similar and concurrent appointment on Route 66. The pressure became too much with Rodman collapsing from exhaustion and having to be carried from the studio on a stretcher. “I was not quite a vegetable, but almost.”
For close to four years, from 1963-7, Rodman was unable to write, but when he returned, he contributed some of his best writing, including for key movies Madigan (1968 – based on the novel The Commissioner by Richard Dougherty, Rodman billed as Henri Simoun), Coogan’s Bluff (1968 – from a story by Herman Miller), Winning (1969) and Charley Varrick (1973) – on three of which he worked on with director Don Siegel. Both Coogan’s Bluff and Madigan went on to be adapted into TV series. The former Clint Eastwood vehicle, with the star playing an Arizona deputy sheriff navigating the streets of New York in search of an escaped criminal, was reworked for the lighter and more homespun approach of Dennis Weaver as McCloud (1970-7), which ran for seven seasons – six as part of NBC’s rotating Mystery Movie series. The latter saw Richard Widmark resurrect his cop character from the dead for a short series of six TV movies, also as a segment of NBC’s Mystery Movie, in 1972.
Rodman’s stock grew further as he wrote (again as Henri Simoun) the TV movie, A Clear and Present Danger, which was then adapted into the award-winning TV series The Senator starring Hal Holbrook. He also co-wrote the critically acclaimed TV movie, The Neon Ceiling, and created the ABC/Universal Studios series The Man and the City, a vehicle for Anthony Quinn as the mayor of a southwestern city dealing with its everyday problems. He also wrote the teleplay, also using the pseudonym Henri Simoun, for the first pilot episode of ABC’s The Six Million Dollar Man, based on Martin Caidin’s novel, Cyborg.
So, by now, Rodman was a hot property in TV and his opinion carried some weight with studio and network executives. To both Warner Brothers and ABC he seemed the perfect writer to bring life to their concept.
Rodman worked with the outline Warner had supplied keeping the character very much in line with the studio’s idea of a cold and direct loner. Harvey Frand, who was the executive in charge of Warner Brothers’ TV programmes at the time, revealed initially the project was targeted at actor Telly Savalas, an actor whose big persona would seem a perfect fit for their view of the character. However, Savalas turned the role down as he was working in feature films in Europe at the time. Ultimately, the actor would take on a different TV project, starring in the outstanding 1973 crime drama TV movie The Marcus-Nelson Murders, which led to the TV series Kojak.
In looking for a producer and director, Warners found they had the man they felt would best do justice to the material already under contract. Jerry Thorpe, son of Hollywood director Richard Thorpe, was working on Kung Fu, another Warner Brothers production for ABC. He had a good stock with the network as he had earlier worked as executive producer on The Untouchables (1959-1962). He built his reputation as a director on several TV episodes through the 1960s and 70s. and also directed two movies in the mid-60s, The Venetian Affair (1966), a spy vehicle for Robert Vaughn, and the Glenn Ford Western Day of the Evil Gun (1968), for which his work attracted some attention. In 1970, he directed the TV movie Dial a Hot Line, which acted as the pilot for the Vince Edwards TV series Matt Lincoln, before moving on to Kung Fu starring David Carradine, the following year. He developed a pilot TV movie with Herman Miller, who had created McCloud via Coogan’s Bluff. The pair honed down Ed Spielman and Howard Friedlander’s 160-page script to a workable TV movie length to fill a 90-minute slot with commercials. Thorpe would continue to mix production and direction duties on Kung Fu, winning an Emmy for Best Director on the 1973 episode An Eye for An Eye and the series winning a clutch of awards throughout its three-season run.
As a director, Thorpe was also noted for his unconventional shooting style. He had been heavily influenced by Sidney Furie’s approach in the 1965 movie, The Ipcress File which starred Michael Caine as Len Deighton’s unnamed spy, for the movie named Harry Palmer. Furie would minimise the use of wide-angle shots and concentrate on camera angles using forced perspective by focusing on the foreground to emphasise the depth and action beyond. Thorpe incorporated these elements and others, including slow-motion and double exposure, into his own shooting style, notably in his two-hour pilot film for CBS, The Cable Car Murder (also known as Crosscurrent), which was shot on location in San Francisco. Initially intended for a two-hour movie slot, the film was cut to fill a 90-minute slot and aired on 19 November 1971.
Howard Rodman submitted his initial outline for the pilot on 30 October 1972. The title was Such Dust as Dreams are Made On. In the script, Rodman renamed the character Lou Chambers. Rodman took his character inspiration from a scene in Nathanial West’s novel The Day of the Locust. “There’s a page or two describing this guy [Harry Greener] walking up Sweetzer – that slope between Santa Monica and Sunset Boulevard – on a very hot day. He’s a door-to-door salesman going through bungalow courts, and he’s got his jacket off, his thumb through the hanger loop holding it over his back, and his shirt is all wet — that is the image I used to create Harry O. I mean that literally. That’s where I started.”
In his outline, Rodman added some more colour to the character he had renamed Lou Chambers, a former Los Angeles police detective who had to retire due to a bullet wound he received in attempting to foil a drug store robbery. He still carried the bullet in his back, it being too close to his spine for surgery. He had retired on a policeman’s disability pension to a beachfront home and occasionally took on jobs as a private eye to supplement his income. He had no car and would get around by bus. He was also building a boat, named The Answer, to fulfil a dream of sailing off on new adventures one day. Rodman let it be known that work on the boat would never be finished, the boat thus becoming a metaphorical expression of unfulfilled dreams, affirming that many of our questions about life would never be answered. “You don’t see too many allegories on network television,” observed Thorpe. “But that was the particular beauty, and the genius, of Howard Rodman. The man had DaVinci’s IQ – I’m sure it was over 200. I loved sitting down and talking with him.”
Ultimately, the character’s name would be changed from Lou Chambers to Harry O (O for Orwell). In his handwritten note accompanying copies of his and Warners’ original outlines, Rodman explained, “I changed the name of the man from Frank Train to Lou Chambers and then because Warners owned Dirty Harry, we changed it to Harry O.” This is likely where the stories that Warner Brothers were looking to create a series based on Dirty Harry came from. Whilst there were certainly similar traits in the studio’s initial character outline with those of maverick San Francisco cop Harry Callahan, there was seemingly no intention to base this series on that movie. The only element taken across was the character’s forename.
ABC requested the pilot script be worked into a format to fill a 60-minute time slot (circa 50 minutes run-time) and Rodman submitted a first draft on 3 November 1972. Revisions were made and a further draft was submitted on 21 November 1972.
Thorpe began planning for the pilot shoot based on Rodman’s drafts. He looked to shoot both interiors and exteriors on location, avoiding studio soundstages. This afforded him the luxury of a 360-degree scope of camera movement and the use of natural props. If successful, a full series would go into production to be broadcast in the fall of 1973 as part of ABC’s 1973/4 line-up. Thorpe and Rodman worked very well together establishing a strong dynamic. Rodman described Thorpe as “the best producer-director I ever worked with. Jerry is a Spanish grandee; I’m a truck driver. I get murderously angry at carelessness; Jerry is totally self-contained. He trusts me.”
On 16 December 1972, Rodman submitted a second, fleshed-out, working copy of the script to fill a 90-minute time slot (circa 75 minutes run-time). This provided the network with the material required to film and cut the pilot to fit both time slots pending a final decision being made on the format.
An ABC press announcement was made in January 1973 stating that a made-for-TV pilot, for a series titled Harry O starring David Janssen, had gone into production. This accompanied news of the network’s shows that were highlighted as being in danger of cancellation, and for which Harry O could potentially be a replacement. These shows were said to include The Streets of San Francisco, The Mod Squad, The Delphi Bureau, Assignment: Vienna and the rotating drama The Men.
Rodman later recalled how he and Thorpe came to cast David Janssen as Harry, “We were looking for someone to play Harry O and a lot of names came up and were put aside. One day Jerry said, ‘How would you like David Janssen in the part?’” Rodman had never met Janssen, but the actor had appeared in two of his scripted episodes of Naked City back in 1961 and 1962 and Rodman had remembered how impressed he had been with Janssen’s performance. “I said, ‘David would be fine.’”
Janssen had become free following the cancellation of his one-season series O’Hara: US Treasury. This had been the actor’s third series as a lead – following Richard Diamond, Private Detective (1957-60) and the hugely popular The Fugitive (1963-7) – and his first to fail to achieve second-season renewal. Janssen had become disillusioned with outside interference on the O’Hara series and producer Jack Webb’s focus on plot rather than character. The US treasury had also insisted on control over plot lines and pushed the focus on the story to retain its integrity. This jarred with Janssen, “We’d submit a script with an agent in a bar on a case and maybe make a play for a girl,” explained Janssen. “They’d say ‘Our agents aren’t like that.’ They wanted them to stay strictly to the case. Well, even Laurence Oliver can’t do much with a character that has to ask the same question, in the same way, every week.” Despite his negative experience with O’Hara, Janssen acknowledged, “I got something good out of all of them, particularly experience and know-how – and I got some damn good reviews now and then.”
David Janssen was born David Harold Meyer on 27 March 1931 in Naponee, Nebraska and into show business. Whilst his father, Harold Edward Meyer, was a banker, his mother, Beatrice (nee Graf) was a former Ziegfield Follies girl, and it was she who pushed him into acting. “Mother was of the old school,” Janssen remembered. “She believed stardom had nothing to do with talent. The reason you acted was that it was the most glamorous, sought-after thing in town.” He also had two half-sisters who won beauty contests. When he was eight, his mother re-married and he took her new husband’s, Eugene Janssen, surname. The intention was for Gene to adopt David, but his real father would not give permission. By the time David Janssen turned 21, and adoption would no longer require his father’s permission his mother and Gene had divorced.
Janssen had wanted to become a professional athlete, having excelled at basketball and athletics at Fairfax High School, setting a scoring record in the former that held for twenty years. He gained an athletic scholarship with USC, but that failed to come to fruition due to a knee injury, which continued to give him problems throughout his career. So, aged 17, he decided to concentrate on his acting. He moved to New York and joined a repertory company and took on temporary jobs as an elevator operator and drug store clerk.
Initially signed by Twentieth Century Fox, he was reportedly dropped by the studio because his likeness to Clark Gable would prevent him from achieving success in his own right. On his 21st birthday, Janssen was signed to a 5-year contract by Universal Studios in 1950. Among Janssen’s peers at Universal were Dennis Weaver, Richard Long, Jack Kelly and Clint Eastwood, all of whom would go on to achieve success in TV, and Eastwood would later become a major movie star. At the studio, he took courses in drama, fencing, dancing, and horseback riding along with several minor roles in their productions. “I spent six years playing the leading man’s best friend, or the best friend’s best friend,” quipped Janssen. For two of the years, he spent at Universal, he was drafted into the US Army. Stationed at Fort Ord, he made so-called army training films. It was there he met and began his long friendship with Eastwood.
When his contract wasn’t renewed, Janssen was picked up by Dick Powell having been the 25th actor to audition. Powell’s Four Star Productions was adapting his radio series Richard Diamond, Private Detective for television. Janssen was hired to play the lead role and the series ran for four seasons. Whilst working on the series, he was allowed time to take stage roles during the off-season period. “I was very flattered that Powell had chosen me to play his part. It was the first time the total responsibility for a project fell on my shoulders. It’s funny but, although the production techniques for Richard Diamond were rather primitive by today’s standards, the concept for that kind of private eye show is still with us. It’s the approach where the hero kills fifteen heavies with one shot, and he always has a great humorous reply for any question.”
Following the cancellation of Richard Diamond, Private Detective, Janssen took on many guest roles in other series as well as the occasional feature film. Then, in 1963, Quinn Martin productions hired Janssen to star as Dr, Richard Kimble, in their TV series The Fugitive (1963-7). Kimble had been wrongly convicted of killing his wife and when he escapes from custody, he looks to clear his name by finding the true culprit. He was pursued by Barry Morse’s Lt. Philip Gerard for four very popular seasons and 120 episodes. An estimated 30 million people watched the final segment of the two-part series closer, which was reportedly a record at the time. As a result, the show achieved a 45.9 average audience rating.
The series made Janssen a rich man (he had negotiated himself a 23% ownership of the property) and he moved to Sunset Boulevard and looked to re-ignite his career in movies. He remained busy both in movies and TV and came to the attention of ABC through a series of appearances in their Movie of the Week slot.
Janssen explained his approach to acting, “I put myself completely into the character to make him believable. The part I’m playing and the situation I’m in are real; everything else – the camera, the lights, the faces behind the camera – aren’t there. I forget everything but the scene I am playing.”
With ABC green lighting the pilot, Janssen worked with Thorpe and Rodman on Harry Orwell’s look. Rodman explained, “[Jerry Thorpe] thought David’s appearance was too elegant for the part. The Talked about haircuts; Jerry thought David’s hair should be cut shorter than the style of 1972. He thought David’s hair should suggest the way men has their hair cut at the time of World War II. David nodded, agreeing. They talked about clothes, the kind of clothes a Private detective named Harry Orwell would be likely to wear. And little by little I began to understand who Harry Orwell would be if David played him. I’m glad I was there that afternoon, because afterward I was never able to separate Orwell and Janssen – the actor from the role he played; and if I hadn’t been there at the very beginning, I wouldn’t have understood that the life of Harry O came out of David. It was David’s vitality, I guess, David’s soul that showed on screen every week.”
Rodman’s final draft of the script was completed on 17 January 1973, with further revisions made through 22 January as filming progressed. News of further casting was announced to the media, with Sal Mineo, Martin Sheen, Marianna Hill and Will Geer catching the eye of the dailies. Mineo, a TV regular from the mid-1950s, was cast as drug dealer Walter Scheerer. Mineo would sadly become the victim of a murder by a mugger in 1976. Sheen, cast as Harlan Garrison, the man who put the bullet in Harry’s back, also started his career in the 1950s and was a regular guest on episodic TV. He would achieve international stardom in Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War movie, Apocalypse Now in 1979. Marianna Hill (billed as Mariana) took the role of Harry’s policewoman girlfriend, Mildred. Hill, another TV regular, had recently appeared in the Clint Eastwood Western movie High Plains Drifter (1973). Veteran character actor Will Geer, who began his Hollywood career back in the 1930s, and would become best known for his role as Grandfather Zebulon Walton in the TV series The Waltons (1972-8), played chemist Len McNeil, who gives an interesting lesson in manufacturing heroin.
In addition, busy TV actor Mel Stewart was cast as Harry’s police contact Arvin Granger. Stewart would later return to the series as Roy Bardello, one of Harry’s three car mechanics throughout the run. Kathleen Lloyd (then Gackle), a TV regular since 1970, played the part of the drug-dependant Marilyn Bedestrum. There was also an early role for Canadian actress Margot Kidder, who had just come off a regular appearance on the James Garner Western series Nichols (1971-2). Kidder plays Helen, a woman Harry picks up in a bar and who lends him her car to meet with Scheerer. Kidder, of course, would hit the big time as Lois Lane in 1978’s movie blockbuster Superman.
Also of note was the casting in two small roles of Les Lannom and Cheryl Ladd (then billed as Cheryl Jean Stoppelmoor). Lannom was originally considered for the role of Garrison, but it was felt he was too young, so he played a library assistant. He must have impressed Thorpe enough to cast him as a missing sailor in the series debut, Gertrude, and then as the over-zealous criminologist Lester Hodges in four further episodes, but more on that later. Ladd, who is seen very briefly as a teenage girl in the diner where Harry meets Scheerer, was at this stage of her career beat-known for her ARCO gas TV commercials and went on to achieve stardom in her own right as Farrah Fawcett’s replacement on the TV series Charlie’s Angels.
As production continued into February, ABC confirmed Harry O’s status amongst its proposed pilot material. Amongst the others included was Cyborg, later to be re-titled The Six Million Dollar Man, another project on which Howard Rodman was writing the teleplay under the pseudonym Henri Simoun. An air date of Sunday 11 March 1973 was announced for the Harry O pilot in late February, it was also confirmed that it would form half of a two-hour slot pilot double-bill with the Stuart Whitman (a close friend of Janssen) vehicle, Intertect, in which Whitman played the head of an international investigative agency). Under the umbrella banner of The ABC Sunday Night Movie, the Harry O pilot Such Dust as Dreams Are Made On would take the 9 p.m. slot with Whitman’s pilot following at 10 p.m. The pair were to be preceded the previous Monday by a similar tryout for The Fuzz Brothers, a comedy-drama about a pair of black detective brothers, starring Lou Gossett and Felton Perry, and Doc Elliott, with James Franciscus as a southwestern physician.
Even before the Harry O pilot was broadcast, Janssen was speaking positively about the direction a potential series would take, with a focus on character. “We might not even deal with investigations in every episode. We can strike out every which way.” He took on a heavy schedule to promote the pilot movie in the week leading up to its broadcast – visiting Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Cleveland, San Francisco and Las Vegas.
Following the pilot’s airing the TV critics had their say. Variety’s reviewer was not impressed with the characterisation of Harry Orwell stating “The pilot’s intent seemed to be an approximation of the mood and motivations of the Dashiell Hammett-Raymond Chandler school of private eyes…Janssen’s semi-sullen interpretation of the lead did not look too much like a character that viewers could grow fond of.” Similarly unimpressed, Percy Shain of The Boston Globe observed, “Outside of fairly detailed lessons on how to make heroin (by Will Geer) and how to engineer a bar pick up with savoir-faire (involving sexy Margot Kidder), it was almost a total waste of time.” Dwight Newton of The San Francisco Examiner noted both Harry O and Intertect were “lemons (sourly trite) but Harry O enjoyed an edge. It had a gimmick.” Newton pointed to the plot device of the bullet in Harry’s back and the fact he travelled by bus instead of car. The review in the Detroit Free Press was slightly more positive noting, “Producer-director Jerry Thorpe used his camera in a sort of visual shorthand. Dialog overlapped the sharp cuts between scenes. The effect was considerably more stylish than most TV efforts. Otherwise, it was just another cops-and-robbers show.” In Canada, L. Ian MacDonald in Montreal’s Gazette was also one of the pilot’s supporters, pointing out the character played to Janssen’s laconic strengths, “he’s got character, which you don’t find every day on detective shows.”
Such Dust as Dreams Are Made On went into syndication as a standalone TV movie and was sold oversees as such. In the UK, the 60-minute pilot was never broadcast. Instead, the second pilot Smile Jenny, You’re Dead was used to introduce the series on 6 September 1974 with Such Dust as Dreams Are Made On not being broadcast until 14 March 1980. Jerry Thorpe maintained, “It was a numbers decision, pure and simple. And while ABC didn’t buy the extra half-hour, Warners certainly did recoup.”
The key differences between the two are that in the shorter ABC broadcast version, the ending has Harry shoot down Scheerer (Mineo) who falls into a vat of paint at the paint factory, and then has Harlan (Sheen) arrested. In the longer version, after putting the cuffs on Harlan, Harry gets involved in a shootout with Scheerer, later discovering that he had not died in the fall into the vat of paint, that being a package of pulp. Harlan is killed in the crossfire and Scheerer escapes. Harry tracks Scheerer down to Marilyn’s home address and gives chase on a motorcycle and then by foot before finally capturing him. Other additions in the longer form version include additional separate scenes with the two ladies vying for Harry’s attention, Helen (Kidder) and Mildred, the girl next door (Hill).
Such Dust as Dreams Are Made On is interesting in that you can see, in hindsight, where the corrections were needed to make Harry Orwell a character that the audience would want to follow week in and week out. In this pilot, Harry is seen to be a dark, self-centred, abrasive, and potentially slightly bitter man having seen his police career cut short. This was true to the outline Warner Brothers had given Rodman and Thorpe to work with and the pair had remained true to studio’s vision. When the story opens, we see him sleeping on his stomach, presumably due to the back issues he now encounters through carrying a bullet close to his spine. Despite, Harlan Garrison’s desire to put right his wrong pay giving Harry the money for corrective surgery in exchange for his help in tracking down Scheerer and his former girlfriend, Harry initially refuses to touch the money. It is left scattered on the floor where it ended up following the pair’s initial struggle in Harry’s beachfront home. It is left to Harry’s neighbour and girlfriend, Mildred, to gather up the notes. When Harry leaves for the bus he asks Mildred to lend him twenty dollars, she replies, “Do you have any friends? I was just wondering if they like you.”
At the end of the story, we do get to see some of what Rodman would eventually capture in Harry’s character, when following Garrison’s death, Harry leaves the money for Garrison’s former girlfriend Marilyn Bedestrum, who is now hooked on heroin, to help in her treatment and rehabilitation. This act comes too late to redeem Harry’s character, the audience has seen his colder attitude throughout. There is little of the twinkle in the eye Janssen would later bring to the part. Harry also has a somewhat more questionable approach to women, suggested in his picking up and casual usage of Margot Kidder’s Helen in the bar where he gets a lead on Walter Scheerer. Helen’s primary function seems to be for Rodman to create a way for Harry to obtain a car for his night-time meeting with Scheerer. The casualness of their brief relationship, a one-night stand between two lonely people looking for companionship, otherwise feels superfluous and is a waste of Kidder’s talent. Helen is shown to be a woman of independent means and by implication some experience, which contrasts with the nineteen-year-old blonde university clerk (alluringly played by Karen Lamm) who flirts with Harry earlier in the story, only for Harry to reject her advances.
HARRY: How old are you?
HARRY (after a beat): You ever go fishing?
GIRL: I’d love to.
HARRY: Sometimes when you go fishing you catch a little fish.
HARRY: You can’t keep those. You’ve got to throw them back… if they’re too young.
GIRL: Do you have to?
HARRY (nods resignedly): It’s a pity.
We get to meet Harry’s former police colleague Sgt. Arvin Granger, played by Mel Stewart, and his former place of work through a phone conversation the pair have in which their implied friendship means Harry is extended access to information and facilities. There is little added to this relationship in the pilot other than a means to progress the story. This is something that would be addressed, twice, once the series got underway. Harry also uses the police lab to have Will Geer’s technician show him how heroin is made, which Harry links back to the studies Garrison and Marilyn had undertaken at university before they dropped out, where they were majoring in chemistry and met Scheerer who was working in business administration. Garrison had written a paper on chemical interactions.
Having tracked down Garrison’s address Harry arrives to see the place has been bombed, killing the 63-year-old neighbour next door. Garrison was not in the building. Harry laments the cost of innocent life, which increases his resolve in locating Scheerer. Janssen plays these scenes with an understated, yet naturalistic sorrow, again hinting at the compassion lying deep underneath Harry’s cold exterior.
Once Harry has tracked down Scheerer via a steward in the bar where he picks up Helen, leaving her number as the one where he can be contacted, the pair meet at a diner. This is one of the best scenes and briefly, the tension is picked up as Scheerer chomps on his ribs whilst weighing up Harry before setting him up in a hail of machine gun bullets, which injures a waitress whilst Scheerer makes his escape. This second innocent victim is now directly linked to Harry’s tracking down of Scheerer. The personal stake is now fully established, and we know Harry will be relentless in his pursuit.
Having tracked down Scheerer to the paint factory he inherited from his father, which he is now using as a heroin factory and hiding away Marilyn, Harry has been followed there by Garrison. There follows a three-way face-off, which results in Garrison being shot dead by Scheerer and Harry seemingly dispatching Scheerer into a vat of paint. When it is revealed Scheerer in fact escaped, Harry tracks him down to Marilyn’s home address. A motorcycle chase ensues before the pair crash off into the LA River tunnel. Harry then pursues on foot, seemingly unbothered by the bullet in his back and finally catches and cuffs Scheerer who simply runs out of steam. This is the type of action-filled generic finale that Rodman would try to avoid with the second pilot as he looked to establish the character-driven approach he was looking for. The sequence is well shot by Thorpe and underscored by Richard Hazard’s moody and jazzy Lalo Schifrin-esque score.
Technically, the pilot was well assembled and shot with good use of Los Angeles locations reducing the need for studio use and giving the production the naturalistic feel Rodman and Thorpe had wanted. Janssen is excellent as Harry, he has an innate ability to live the characters he plays. He would go on to inject more of his own personality into the role as the series progressed, but some of the core elements are laid down here, with brief hints at the softer side of his character. Sheen and Mineo give excellent support, adding experience and class. More could have been made from Lloyd’s Marilyn Bedestrum, to draw out her drug dependency and how Scheerer had ultimately corrupted her. Given more time Scheerer himself could have been explored further, but the approach taken was to write and film as if the story had been written in the first person. Janssen is in every scene as we follow Harry’s investigation and only learn about the supporting characters through him. Rodman would add a voiceover element for the second pilot, which would be taken into the series, to allow us inside Harry’s mind – to gauge his thoughts and philosophy. This would prove to be a better device for serving this purpose, whilst leaving scriptwriters free to further explore some of the other characters.
The result was a competent pilot that demonstrated the show had potential but also highlighted where adjustments in approach to character and presentation needed to be made.
Each of Janssen, Thorpe and Rodman thought they could do better given another chance. Thorpe thought the pilot was “just a little too close to the conventional private eye drama.” The pilot had also been viewed by an audience for the ASI, a research organisation based in Los Angeles. That audience responded positively to Janssen’s portrayal of Harry Orwell and this was taken into consideration by the network when assessing the pilot’s performance. TV Guide reported that the audience had liked Janssen and wanted to see the character “firm and capable, with a good amount of toughness, but, underneath sensitive, understanding and a ‘bleeder’ for the problems of others – qualities that make him vulnerable on several levels.”
ABC remained in two minds about the pilot, whilst admiring Rodman and Thorpe’s work they were apprehensive about the lack of genre trademarks, such as car chases and shootouts (with the motorcycle chase edited not scripted for the shortened pilot). Rodman was asked to provide a memo outlining the rationale behind his approach. Rodman took the opportunity to put across his philosophy and the elements he felt would make a series that would stand out from the crowd and, as much as possible, avoid genre conventions in a 30-page response. It read more like a tutorial on building a character with whom audiences could sympathise and the mechanics of the story that would enable the series to approach crime solutions in a different way than more action-based shows, thus generating a unique appeal. The piece demonstrated Rodman’s perceptiveness and skills as a writer. He finished his long memo noting that if the network took the concept to series “there would be a growing and, finally, I think, a remarkable fusion between story and character.”
Rodman’s presentation, along with his genuine enthusiasm for the project, was sufficient to win over the executives at ABC and the network ordered a second pilot, this time of movie length, which would better allow Rodman to put his theory into practice. That pilot would establish a formula ABC was happy to take into a series and Rodman, Thorpe and Janssen would shape Harry’s character to become the one with which we became familiar.
– Rumours and stories that the character was initially named Nick Orwell likely stemmed from the ‘Nick Nasty’ nickname Warner Brothers gave the character Frank Train in their outline submitted to ABC.
Howard Rodman Papers, 1942-1977. Wisconsin Historical Society Archives / Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research.
Doussard, James. ‘David Janssen plays Harry O Again.’ The Courier Journal (Louisville, Kentucky). 2 February 1974.Manners, Dorothy. ‘Hollywood’. The Morning Press (Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania). 23 February 1973.
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