Rex Randolph, Cal Calhoun & Kenny Madison (Bourbon Street Beat)

Created by Charles Hoffman (?)

Cal, Melody, Kenny and Rex.

Bourbon Street Beat (1959-60) was the first (but least commercially successful) of all the 77 Sunset Strip clones churned out by Warner Brothers TV factory back in the sixties, despite the intriguing setting of New Orleans.

It was, arguably, the best of the bunch, but it got little love at the time. Hell, it didn’t rank a tie-in novelization or even a board game, although it did score a soundtrack album.

In the debut, loosley based on Howard Browne’s novel A Taste of Ashes (Browne was one of the show’s writers), Big Easy private detective REX RANDOLPH, a well-dressed young man from one of New Orlean’s “best” families. It should be noted that the brooding detective hero of Browne’s novel, Paul Pine, bears little resemblance to the show’s more light-hearted Rex, who travels to the small town of Pelican Bay to investigate the murder of his partner, whom the corrupt local police have already written off as a suicide.

The only voice of dissent is homicide dick CAL CALHOUN, a lanky, easy-going bayou giant of a man who likes to dress in white and sports a white plantation hat. Together, they crack the case, and a frustrated Cal decides his days on the Pelican Bay force are numbered. So he follows Rex back to New Orleans, and becomes his new partner, moving into the recently vacated position in the agency offices next to The Old Absinthe House in the French Quarter.

Of course, no 77 clone worth its salt would be complete without an attractive but ditsy secretary holding down the fort, a good-looking trainee gumshoe, a buffoon or two for comic relief, and some sort of “hip” gimmick,” like Kookie’s comb. In Bourbon’s case, the secretary was the disappointedly ditzy Melody Lee Mercer, an aspiring, model obsessed with beauty contests, and the rookie was Texas rich kid KENNY MADISON, who was working his way through law school by allegedly doing part-time P.I. work, although mostly he seems to just hang around the office, wasting oxygen and snapping “glamour shots” of Melody.

A dollop of cool was offered  by local jazzman Billy, aka “The Baron,” a black pianist who seems to pop up almost everywhere to act as a sounding board or offer a tune. Also appearing occasionally was his singer Lusti Weather, as Cal’s sometime-date.

Yeah. “Lusti Weather.”

The other gimmick was in the way Melody and Kenny (and occasionally others) greeted each other. No mere handshake, or funky hi-five for these cats. Nope, the would-be woosome twosome would place their shoes “sole to sole”, in a supposedly hip, “New Orleans-style” greeting. It didn’t catch on, and it was gone after a few episodes.

Nonetheless, I found the show the most enjoyable of the clones. The writing was, if not always logical, at least a bit more ambitious than the others, and there was a genuine attempt to give both Rex and Cal a little more depth, and to really use the Louisiana setting as much as possible (assuming, of course, that New Orleans was mostly white, and all the bayous were lined with crumbling mansions and/or homicidal rednecks).

Upper class Rex was apparently a master chef; a bon vivant who maintained a full kitchen in the backroom of the agency, where he would prepare cocktails and various local delicacies such as gumbo, bouillabaisse, and lobster soufflé for the rest of the staff, while decidedly working class doofus Cal was an old movie buff, covering the walls of his office with framed photographs of Hollywood stars, mostly female. He also did impressions of various celebrities. Not always very well, but that actually added to the charm.

Evidently, Warner Bros. really thought this one would hit — they even bought an interest in a real New Orleans restaurant, The Absinthe House, and placed the agency, Randolph and Calhoun, Special Services above it, even though the actual show was shot on a Hollywood backlot (the one used for A Streetcar Named Desire, in fact).

Unfortunately, despite some decent scripts, an appealing cast (well, the leads weren’t bad), and a real attempt at rising above the formula, the show bombed, and was not renewed for a second season. Perhaps it was the lack consistency in the scripts. According to some, a healthy percentage of them were credited (at least internally) to W. Hermanos, a group pseudonym used by Warner to recycle scripts written for other series (Hermanos, is of course, Spanish for “brothers”).

Not that Warner let anything go to waste — Rex was eventually recycled as a member of the cast of 77 Sunset Strip and Kenny surfaced a year later in the same time slot as one of the Surfside Six gumshoes in Miami. And big, tall Cal later popped up, on a 1962 episode of 77 Sunset Strip, where it was revealed that he quit the shamus game and had rejoined the New Orleans police force.

Maybe they should have given him a comb.

But perhaps the most shameless bit of recycling the brothers did on Bourbon Street Beat was the audacious, out of nowhere rip-off of the classic 1948 gangster film White Heat in the January 11, 1960 episode, “Inside Man,” which has Rex visiting his previously unmentioned sister in Los Angeles and involved in the manhunt for a Cody Jarrett-like escaped prisoner. The show regurgitates not just the basic plot, but whole chunks of dialogue and even what appears to be footage from the actual film.

Even more embarrassing (and surprising) is that the story is credited to Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts, and the teleplay to Howard Browne, all respected writers.

UNDER OATH

  • “I am so happy that someone put up a description of this show. I am a die-hard Richard Long fan and I can never find much of his stuff, let alone a description of it. (well, except The Big Valley) anyway. You said that you didn’t mind people who liked to talk, and since I like to talk I figured you would like my opinion.
    P.S. I’m only 14 yrs. old. :-)”
    — Olivia

TRIVIA

  • Supposedly, the hero of the Paul Pine novels by Howard Browne (who worked on the show) were the inspiration for lead character Rex Randolph, and the very first episode, “The Taste of Ashes,” was based on the fourth novel in that series.

TELEVISION

  • BOURBON STREET BEAT
    (1959-60, ABC)
    Working title: Angels Corner
    A Spartan Production
    39 60-minute episodes
    Writers: Charles Hoffman*, Ivan Goff, Howard Browne, William Bruckner, Marie Baumer, William Spier, Stephen Lord, W. Hermanos, Ivan Goff, Ben Roberts
    Directors: William Hole Jr., Leslie H. Martinson, James V. Kern, Charles Rondeau, Reginald LeBorg
    Produced by William Orr, Charles Hoffman
    Starring Andrew Duggan as CAL CALHOUN
    Richard Long as REX RANDOLPH
    with Van Williams as KENNY MADISON
    and Arlene Howell as Melody Lee Mercer
    Also starring Eddie Cole as Billy the Baron
    and Nita Talbot as Lusti Weather
    Guest stars: Denver Pyle, Mary Tyler Moore, Richard Chamberlain, James Coburn, Nancy Kulp, Rita Moreno, Marie Windsor, Lurene Tuttle, Adam West, Denver Pyle
    * Thirty-two writers were given credit on the 39 shows. According to Dick Martin, producer Charles Hoffman got most of the credits since he rewrote a number of scripts and earned an “and” team credit through abritration.

    • SEASON ONE
    • “The Taste of Ashes” ( October 5, 1959)
    • “Mourning Cloak” (October 12, 1959)
    • “Torch Song for Trumpet” (October 19, 1959)
    • “Woman in the River” (October 26, 1959)
    • “Girl in Trouble” (November 2, 1959)
    • “Tiger Moth” (November 9, 1959)
    • “Secret of Hyacinth Bayou” (November 16, 1959)
    • “Invitation to a Murder” (November 23, 1959)
    • “Mrs Viner Vanishes” (November 30, 1959)
    • “Light Touch of Terror” (December 7, 1959)
    • “The Golden Beetle” (December 14, 1959)
    • “The Black Magnolia” (December 21, 1959)
    • “Portrait of Lenore” (December 28, 1959)
    • “Kill With Kindness” (January 4, 1960)
    • “Inside Man” (January 11, 1960)
    • “Find My Face” (January 18, 1960)
    • “Knock on Any Tombstone” (January 25, 1960)
    • “Key to the City” (February 1, 1960)
    • “The 10% Blues ” (February 8, 1960)
    • “Melody in Diamonds” ( February 15, 1960)
    • “The House of Ledezan” (February 22, 1960)
    • “Target for Hate” (March 7, 1960)
    • “The Missing Queen” (March 14, 1960)
    • “Neon Nightmare” (March 21, 1960)
    • “Wall of Silence” (March 28, 1960)
    • “Twice Betrayed” (April 4, 1960)
    • “Swampfire” (April 11, 1960)
    • “If a Body” (April 18, 1960)
    • “Six Hours to Midnight” (April 25, 1960)
    • “Last Exit” (May 2, 1960)
    • “Deadly Persuasion” (May 9, 1960)
    • “Suitable for Framing” (May 16, 1960)
    • “False Identity” (May 23, 1960)
    • “Green Hell” (May 30, 1960)
    • “Ferry to Algiers” (June 6, 1960)
    • “Wagon Show” (June 13, 1960)
    • “Interupted Wedding” (June 20, 1960)
    • “Reunion” (June 27, 1960)
    • “Teresa” (July 4, 1960)

FURTHER INVESTIGATION

  • BOURBON STREET BEAT: THE SOUND THAT’S ROCKING TV
    (1959, Warner Bros. Records)
    Orchestra conducted by Don Ralke
    The themes for Bourbon Street Beat and the other Warner Bros cookie-cutter shows (77 Sunset Strip, Hawaiian Eye and Surfside Six, were utterly generic — but catchy — clones of each other. BSB’s was no exception, but building a whole album on it? Especially since much of the music playred during the actual show was astoundingly inappropriate to whatever scene it was accompanying. Still, the cheesy. full-colour cover alone, with the entire cast, including The Baron and his littlepiano rolled out onto the sidewalk might be worth the price of admission.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Dick Martin for filling in some of the blanks.

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