Created by Jason James
Pseudonym of Joe Eisinger
Dr. Gayle: “You’re priceless, Mr. Drake. I’m so glad to have run across you.”
Eddie: “Run me over anytime, doctor, I don’t mind your heelprints.”
Poor EDDIE DRAKE just couldn’t catch a break.
He coulda/shoulda gone down in the history books as the first regularly scheduled private eye series on television ever, but it didn’t quite work out that way.
He started out under another name, Eddie Ace, in the short-lived radio series The Cases of Mr. Ace from the Paragon Radio Productions Syndicate, starring the vocal talents of B-flick tough guy George Raft, another story of bad choices and bad luck.
But I digress…
Each week on the radio show Eddie would drop by the office of beautiful “lady psychoanalyst” Dr. Karen Gayle, who was writing a book on criminal behavior — as she would remind us every episode — and ask Eddie all about his latest exploits. Eddie would be all too happy to oblige, doing his best to give her the scoop on his latest case, while hitting on her a few times.
The show didn’t exactly set the world on fire (it only lasted a summer), but it did well enough that CBS decided it would make a swell TV drama. But for this new visual medium the aging Raft was definitely out, and studly newcomer Don Haggerty was in, while actress and singer (and mezzo-soprano) Patricia Morison would play the lovely Dr. Gayle.
Oh, and New York City became Los Angeles (perhaps understandable, given that’s where the show was shot), but for some inexplicable reason Eddie Ace became Eddie Drake.
The radio show’s writer/creator/directior/producer Jason James, who’d recently won an Edgar for Best Radio Drama for his work on The Adventures of Sam Spade, was brought along to shepherd the new television show, cleverly titled The Cases of Eddie Drake. And as a sign of its commitment to the new project, CBS was going to aim high and use actual film, not the much less expensive videotape, for the new project.
By November 1948, nine episodes were already in the bag, with four more to go. But then Patricia Morison got the offer of a lifetime: the lead in the original Broadway production of Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate. Porter himself had heard her sing while in Hollywood and decided that she would be just swellegant in the role. It was the start of a long and successful career for Morison, who went on to star in The King and I, and a lengthy string of appearances in television and film, as well as on stage.
It might have been Morison’s big break — but it wasn’t so good for the show, which was still four episodes shy of the thirteen CBS had pinned its hopes on, thirteen episodes being the standard length for a TV season at the time. Had all the episodes been ready, the show could easily have made its debut months before September 1, 1949, when Martin Kane, Private Eye premiered, and made the record books as the first private eye TV show.
As it was, the show sat in the can for three or four years, unaired. Somewhere along the way, with Morison no longer available, four more episodes were produced, with Morison’s “lady psychoanalyst” replaced by Lynne Roberts as Dr. Joan Wright, a “lady criminalogist.” By 1951, CBS was offering it for syndication, and the show aired in Chicago and possibly a few other local markets. Then, in 1952, it was picked up by the Dumont Network, which ran all thirteen episodes, four years after the first nine episodes had been filmed.
It’s too bad — from the one episode I’ve seen (“Shoot the Works“), the show was far more entertaining and full of life than the stilted and often wooden Martin Kane, Private Eye. Being shot on film helped — the Drake show didn’t look cheap or half as amateurish, and there wasn’t the annoying stop-everything-for-product-placement that made Kane so unintentionally laughable (Happy’s Tobacco Shop, my ass!).
But more than anything, the Drake show had personality and style. The scenes with Eddie and the good doctor were a hoot, a low-level playfulness that rarely verged into cringiness, suggesting an actual sustained adult friendship — and even possible romance, something that for the most part always eluded Martin Kane. Being filmed also allowed some good location shooting, and the sunny streets of Los Angeles were well utilized, with Eddie tooling around town in possibly the oddest P.I. car of all time, a three-wheeled 1948 Davis D-2 Divan car (he called it “Dave”). Whereas, the Martin Kane show often looked like it was filmed in a broom closet. A dark one.
But it was all too little, too late. Dumont ran the show in its entirety in 1952, and that was that. By then, Haggerty was starring in another P.I. show, The Files of Jeffrey Jones, and Morison’s name was in lights on Broadway.
Except that, between February 1954 and February 1956, Butchers Film Service and Jack Phillips Film Distribution in England cobbled together four feature films from the TV episodes, and released them as feature films in smaller cinemas throughout the UK.
- THE CASES OF MR. ACE
(1947, Paragon Radio Productions Syndicate)
First broadcast: June 25, 1947
Created by Jason James
Writers: Jason James, Robert C. Dennis
Produced and directed by Jason James (pseudonym of Joe Eisinger)
Starring George Raft as EDDIE ACE
- THE CASES OF EDDIE DRAKE
13 30-minute episodes
Dumont Network Run: March 6-May 29, 1952
Created by Jason James
Directed: Paul Garrison
Produced by Harlan Thompson and Herbert L. Strock.
Starring Don Haggerty as EDDIE DRAKE
Patricia Morison as Dr. Karen Gayle (first nine episodes)
and Lynne Roberts as Dr. Joan Wright (four episodes)
- “The Brass Key”
- “Shoot the Works”
- “Murder by Proxy”
- “A Hole in the Head”
- “The Judas Coin”
- “Murder in 3/4 Time”
- “Orpheus and His Loot”
- “Hush, Hush”
- “Suggestion: Drop Dead”
- “The Man with the Stomach Ache”
- With Lynne Roberts
- “Murder Ad-lib”
- “The Man Who Was Nobody”
- “Sleep Well, Angel”
Between February 1954 and February 1956, Butchers Film Service and Jack Phillips Film Distribution cobbled together four feature films from various television episodes, and played them in smaller cinemas throughout the UK.
- THE BRASS KEY
- EDDIE DRAKE INVESTIGATES
- PATTERN FOR MURDER
- MURDER AD LIB
- How the Old Song and Dance Iced TV’s First Private Eye
Criminal Element’s Michael Shonk tells how Eddie Drake almost became television’s first private dick.
- Get Yer Motor Runnin’…
Some Hot (and not-so-hot) Wheels