Created by Ed Adamson
“The private eye of the thirties returns.”
— tag on the paperback novelization
MILES C. BANYON (played Robert Forster) was an ex-cop turned lone-wolf private eye, working in 1930s Los Angeles, in Banyon, a short-lived NBC television show back in the seventies. (The very similar City of Angels and Manhunter, both period pieces, also quickly achieved room temperature a few years later).
But Banyon certainly hit all the required marks.
Banyon had no secretary — instead he relied on temps supplied by friend Peggy Revere (Joan Blondell), who ran a secretarial school down the hall. He had a deal with her: he would get a new “secretary in training” every week, and in exchange the trainees would get a little “real life” experience.
Banyon also had the usual friends and foes on the force: Lieutenant Pete McNeil (Richard Jaeckel) was his buddy, while a plainclothes bull named Andrews (James B. Sikking), with whom he came to blows on at least one occasion, definitely was not.
He also had a lady friend, nightclub singer Abby Graham (Julie Gregg), with whom he could relax.
But just in case you still doubted Banyon’s hard-boiled bona fides, he did his own voice-over narration, and his office was in the downtown Bradbury Building.
Banyon would accept any case for $20/day, but given that the setting was 1930s Hollywood, it’s no surprise that Banyon’s clients often came from show biz–big band leaders, radio stars, film tycoons, pulp writers, prizefighters and the like–but the random well-heeled citizen would also come knocking at his door now and then (and, on occasion, died at the doorstop). Banyon was usually beaten up, knocked around, threatened by crooked cops, and framed for murder in the course of his investigations, but quick thinking, dumb luck and a smart mouth usually saw him through.
Banyon was the creation of Ed Adamson, a veteran radio and television writer whose credits included the television version of Richard Diamond, Wanted Dead or Alive, The Untouchables, and Mannix. The 1971 pilot movie for Banyon was produced by Richard Alan Simmons, a talented producer and writer best known for his collaborations with Peter Falk on The Dick Powell Show, The Trials of O’Brien and, later, Columbo, but when NBC gave the go-ahead for a series in the fall of 1972, Quinn Martin, who obviously had some experience with the era, thanks to The Untouchables, stepped in. The result was an enjoyable, high-spirited series that had fun with — but didn’t make fun of — the conventions of the genre. Lt. Pete McNeil might roll his eyes when Banyon was framed for murder for the umpteenth time, but neither he nor Banyon ever winked at the audience.
Take this snippet of dialogue from the episode “Time Lapse”:
Banyon: I don’t know nothin’ about that (murdered) chauffeur, Pete, and you gotta believe me!
McNeil: Uh-uh, Miles. It’s not for me to believe!
Medical Examiner: Believe him, Lieutenant. It wasn’t Banyon’s car.
In this respect, Banyon followed in the tradition of a number of radio detective series (Richard Diamond, Sam Spade and the early Johnny Dollar among them) and prefigured The Rockford Files, which also approached the genre’s stock situations with a mixture of mischief and respect. This was reflected in the show’s stylish, if corny, opening credits which began with the screen filling with a series of worn shoeprints over a melange of vintage newsreel photos, which then dissolved into shots of Banyon being punched through a door, thrown down stairs, driven off the road, etc.
All in all, a handsomely produced and a quite enjoyable series. Good photography, great art direction and a cookin’ big-band score by Johnny Mandel. Being a Quinn Martin production, a lot of familiar TV faces popped up in guest parts, and there were some nice casting touches on occasion (Pat O’Brien reuniting with his old Warner Brothers co-star, Joan Blondell; then relative newcomer Ed Flanders chillingly cast against type as a killer cop).
Although the show featured a lot of night scenes and had some effective serious moments, it wasn’t noirish, though. If anything, with its verve and sense of fun, it more closely resembled the more light-hearted Warner Brothers movies of the 30s and 40s. And star Robert Forster played it with a wry pugnaciousness that emphasized his passing resemblance to one-time Warner Brothers icon John Garfield.
In fact, for a while back in the seventies, it looked like Forster was on his way, but after a strong start with short-lived series Nakia on ABC and Banyon on NBC, his career fizzled. Trying to make a comeback, he starred in 1985’s Hollywood Harry, which he also directed and produced. It was an affectionate return to the P.I. genre, but it wasn’t until Quentin Tarantino cast Forst as bailbondsman Max Cherry in 1997’s Jackie Brown that people actually started talking about him again. Earning an Oscar nom for Best Supporting Actor sure didn’t hurt, either.
But I digress…
Banyon’s plots, as I recall, weren’t bad, but you watched the show more for the fun and the ambiance than for any breakthrough in plotting. I always had the feeling the people making this show were having a good time doing it, and wanted the audience to share in that enjoyment. The only problem was, not enough people did and the series folded after only fifteen episodes, although the death of creator and writer Ed Adamson while they were shooting the first batch of episodes didn’t help.
Unfortunately, the show has never been syndicated in the U.S., as far as I know, or even turned up on DVD or streaming. One suspects the prints are sitting in a vault, somewhere, possibly at Warner Brothers, decomposing. Too bad. This one would be fun to see again.
- BANYON: WAKE UP AND DIE
(aka “Walk Up and Die”)
Original airdate: March 15, 1971
Written by Ed Adamson
Directed by Robert Day
Producer: Ed Adamson
Executive Producer: Richard Alan Simmons
Starring Robert Forster as MILES BANYON
Also starring Darren McGavin, Jose Ferrer , Anjanette Comer, Hermoine Gingold, Herb Edelman , Leslie Parrish, Ray Danton, Ned Glass, Carla Borelli, Stan Adams, Joe Ruskin, Jeff Morris, Jason Wingreen
15 60-minute episodes
Executive Producer: Quinn Martin
Writers: Ed Adamson, William P. McGivern, Milton S. Gelman, Carey Wilber, James D. Buchanan, Ronald Austin, George F. Slavin, Mann Rubin, Mort Fine, N. Gidding, Robert C. Dennis
Directors: Ralph Senensky, Daniel Petrie, Lawrence Dobkin, Charles S. Dubin, Marvin Chomsky
Producer: Ed Adamson
Story Editor: Norman Katkov
Music: Johnny Mandel
Starring Robert Forster as MILES BANYON
with Richard Jaeckel as Lt. Pete McNeil
Joan Blondell as Peggy Revere
and Julie Gregg as Abby Graham
Guest stars: Donna Mills, Diana Hyland, Tom Bosley, Pat O’Brien, Gregory Sierra, Fritz Weaver, Bo Svenson, Jack Cassidy, JoAnn Pflug, Dick Van Patten, Barbara Babcock, Dabney Coleman, Ed Flanders, James B. Sikking
- “The Decent Thing to Do” (September 15, 1972)
- “The Old College Try” (September 22, 1972)
- “The Graveyard Vote” (September 29, 1972)
- “Completely Out of Print” (October 6, 1972)
- “Meal Ticket” (October 13, 1972)
- “The Clay Clarinet” (October 27, 1972)
- “Dead End” (November 3, 1972)
- “Time to Kill” (November 10, 1972)
- “Think of Me Kindly” (November 17, 1972)
- “A Date with Death” (November 24, 1972)
- “Sally Overman is Missing” (December 1, 1972)
- “The Lady Killer” (December 8, 1972)
- “The Murder Game” (December 15, 1972)
- “Just Once” (December 22, 1972)
- “Time Lapse” (January 12, 1973)
- Banyon (1971, by William Johnston; based on a screenplay by Ed Adamson) | Buy this book