Martin Kane (Private Eye)

Created by J. Walter Thompson & Co., on behalf of The U.S. Tobacco Company

 

MARTIN KANE was television’s first private eye, so there!

And just to rub it in, his show was called Private Eye. No muss, no fuss–just the straight goods. Talk about putting your mark on something.

Featuring an easy-going but determined Big Apple eye, the show was immensely popular both on radio and television. He was followed soon after by Mike Barnett, the private eye hero of Man Against Crime, which made its debut a few weeks later. Together they became the first of what would become a long stream of video eyes.

Not that Kane was particularly hard-boiled. As initially portrayed by William Gargan on both radio and television, he was an affable kinda guy, sporting a spiffy bowtie and smoking a pipe, and looking for all the world like somebody’s uncle, but under the veneer, he was resolute and nobody’s patsy, working cases supposedly inspired by real life. Or at least that’s how it was spun.

And speaking of putting your mark on something, the show was also arguably the first-ever show-length infomercial, or at the very least, an early champion of blatant product placement.

That pipe-smoking came in handy–the show was sponsored on both radio and television by U.S. Tobacco, and they didn’t try to hide it.  Kane didn’t hang out in some hip bar, some friendly cafe or even his office–he found a reason in every episode (usually midway through) to drop by Happy McMann’s Tobacco Shop, all the better to recap the plot with Happy, ponder his next move and, more importantly, to plug the sponsor’s endless array of products.

“My, that’s some smooth tasting tobacco…”

Hokey? Yes, but then the show was created by U.S. Tobacco’s advertising agency, after all.

Which doesn’t necessarily make these shows any less watchable, although some of the entertainment value was definitely unintentional, particularly when viewed through modern eyes. The early days of live television were rife with stories of botched cues, missed marks, flubbed lines, falling scenery and hilarious fuck-ups, and Private Eye was no exception. Yet the show, like television itself, gradually improved, eventually shaking free of flat stereotypes, and by 1950, the show had reached 12th spot in the ratings, and in two subsequent seasons, reached the top ten. It even spawned a short-lived comic book series, thus becoming the first TV/comic tie-in.

The radio show had premiered a mere three weeks before the television show. Both were done live, and both proved popular, despite the fact that casting of Kane changed several times. In 1951, Lloyd Nolan (film’s Mike Shayne) took over and in 1952, Lee Tracy stepped in to fill Kane’s gumshoes. In 1953, Mark Stevens had a whack at it.

Each brought a different and slightly tougher spin to the character: Gargan was the world-weary but avuncular shamus, a smoothie who worked closely with the NYPD. As the series progressed, though, Kane started to show a little more grit, and his buddy-buddy relationship with the cops started to fade. Nolan was the wise-cracking private dick, and Tracy became the “hardboiled cynic with a thick streak of sentimentality.” Handsome Mark Stevens, who’d started in the classic 1946 B-noir The Dark Corner) brought a name change to the show (to Martin Kane, Detective) and, it should be added, a certain youthfulness and uh, rugged sex appeal to the show that his predecessors lacked.

According to Ric Meyer’s TV Detectives, the show had good writing and an authentic feel to it, and was, all in all, a quality production.

A later attempt to revive the show, the British-produced, syndicated The New Adventures of Martin Kane, brought Gargan, now getting a little long in the tooth, back as Kane, this time recast as a globe-trotting P.I. working out of London, but it never really caught on.

RADIO

  • PRIVATE EYE
    (later known as “Martin Kane, Private Detective”)
    (1949-51, Mutual; 1951-52, NBC)
    Approximately 175 episodes: 29 episodes are available
    First Broadcast: August 7, 1949 (Mutual); July 1, 1951 (NBC)
    Last Broadcast: June 24, 1951 (Mutual); December 21, 1952 (NBC)
    Writers: Ted Hediger
    Directors: Ted Hediger
    Sponsor: U.S. Tobacco
    Starring William Gargan as MARTIN KANE
    (Later Lloyd Nolan)
    and Walter Kinsella as Happy McMann
    with Nicholas Saunders as Sergeant Ross
    Frank M. Thomas as The Police Captain

TELEVISION

  • PRIVATE EYE
    (later known as “Martin Kane, Private Eye”)
    (1949-53, NBC)
    Black & white
    120 30-minute episodes
    First broadcast: September 1, 1949)
    Writers: Paul Dudley, Alvin Boretz, Joel Sayre, Ed Sutherland, Henry Kane, Donald S. Sanford, Lawrence Young
    Directors: Edgar C. Kahn
    Producers/Directors: Frank Burns, Ed Sutherland, Edward C. Kahan
    Sponsor: U.S. Tobacco
    Starring William Gargan as MARTIN KANE (1949-51)
    also Lloyd Nolan (1951-52)
    Lee Tracy (1952-53)
    Mark Stevens (1953-54)
    with Fred Hillebrand as Lieutenant Bender (1949-50)
    Horace McMahon as Captain Willis (1950-51)
    Nicholas Saunders as Sergeant Ross (1950-52)
    Frank M. Thomas as Captain Burke (1951-52)
    Walter Greaza as Captain Leonard (1951)
    King Calder as Lieutenant Gray (1952-54)
    and Walter Kinsella as Happy McMann
    Guest stars: Eva Marie Saint

    • SEASON ONE (1949-50, with William Gargan)
    • “Premiere” (September 1, 1949)
    • “Murder on Ice”
    • “The Gaiety Burlesque” (1950)
    • SEASON TWO (1950-51, with William Gargan)
    • “Altered Will” (January 1, 1951) Buy this episode on DVD
    • “Old Major’s Murder” (1951)
    • “The Reclusive Sisters”
      Possibly aka “The Three Sisters”
    • “Movie Theatre Murder” (February 15, 1951)
    • “The District Attorney Killer” (March 1, 1951) Buy this episode on DVD Watch it now!
      Possibly aka “The Harry Wright Case”
    • “The Face of the Inventor” (March 22, 1951)
    • “The Fortune Teller” (March 31, 1951)
    • “Murder in the Court” (1951)
    • “The John Bixby Murder” (1951)
    • “Hotel Con Game” (1951)
    • “The Boxer and Ma Benson” (1951)
    • “Costume Ball” (1951″
    • “Plainsclothesman” (1951)
    • “The Case of the Losing Picture” (1951)
    • “The Case of the Stray Bullet” (1951)
    • “The Fortune Teller” (1951)
    • SEASON THREE (1951-52, with Lloyd Nolan)
    • “A Jockey is Murdered” (1951)
    • “Rest Home Murder” (1951)
    • “Peanut Dopey” (December 20, 1951)
    • “A Crooner Is Murdered” (January 31, 1952)
    • “Black Pearls” (March 27, 1952)
    • “The Dope Pushers” (1952)
    • “The Fire Extinguisher Gimmick” (1952)
    • “Lovella” (1952)
    • “Sweepstakes Ticket” (1952)
    • “The Wire” (1952)
    • “Johnny Silver/Nightclub Murder” (January 31, 1952)
    • SEASON FOUR (1952-53, with Lee Tracy)
    • “Altered Will” (Spetember 29, 1952)
    • “Big Mistake” (October 5, 1952)
    • “Hit and Run” (October 10, 1952)
    • “Murder in the Court” (October 16, 1952)
    • “The Post Office Murders” (October 27, 1952)
    • “Trouble on Board” (1952)
    • “The Comic Strip Killer” (April 23, 1953)
    • “Eyewitness Resurfaces” (May 28, 1953)
    • “Subway Switch/Paperbag Robbery” (June 11, 1953)
      Possibly aka “The Stolen Money”
    • “Trip to Bermuda/The Beauty Queen Murder” (June 25, 1953)
    • “The Nevans Murder Case”
    • SEASON FIVE (1953-54, with Mark Stevens)
    • (September 1, 1953)
    • “Gambling Murder Witness” (January 1, 1954)
    • “Shoeshine Murder” (April 8, 1954)…Buy this episode on DVD .
    • “Witness to Murder” (April 18, 1954)
    • “The Milk Bottle Burglar” (May 20, 1954)…Buy this episode on DVD
  • THE NEW ADVENTURES OF MARTIN KANE, PRIVATE EYE
    (aka “Martin Kane, Private Investigator” and “The Adventures of Martin Kane”)
    (1957-58, syndicated)
    39 30-minute episodes, B&W
    A Towers of London Prouction for ABC TV
    Directors: Gerry Anderson (1 episode)
    Producer: Harry Alan Towers
    Starring William Gargan as MARTIN KANE
    with Brian Reece as Superintendant Page

    • “The Kidnap Story”
    • “The Passport Ring Story”

COMIC BOOKS

 

  • MARTIN KANE, PRIVATE EYE
    (1950, Hero Publications/Fox Features)
    2 issues
    Artists: Wally Wood, Joe Orlando, Wally Wood, Lou Ferstadt, George Tuska, A.C. Hollingsworth
    Just a sloppy, irresponsible publisher–were they all drunk? There were only two issues released, numbered #2 and #4 (no #1 or #3), and “#4” was dated two months earlier than “#2.” The covers certainly plugged William Gargan and the TV show, but some of the stories weren’t even Martin Kane stories–despite the lame attempt by the publisher to pass them off as such by inserting new first pages.

    • AUGUST 1950, #2
    • “The Man of Many Faces!” (August 1950, #2)
    • “Zack Bodego, the Crusher!” (August 1950, #2)
    • “John Hamilton – Hard Luck Killer!” (August 1950, #2)
    • JUNE 1950, #4
    • “Legs” Diamond” (June 1950, #1)
    • “The Whyos” (June 1950, #1)
    • “The Killing Punch” (June 1950, #1)
  • BLUE CIRCLE COMICS
    (1944-45, Rural Home Publications)
    6 issues.
    The cover for Blue Circle Comics #4 (originally published by Rural Home Publications in 1945) was slapped onto several different remaindered comics, dating from the late 1940’s to early 1950’s (several variations exist), including an otherwise unreleased issue of Martin Kane, Private Eye. The cover illustration–except for “Martin Kane–Private Eye” being stamped across it–has absolutely nothing to do with the contents. This was probably intended to be the third issue of the Martin Kane (1950 Fox) series, but it was never published. It includes the following Martin Kane stories:

    • “Case of the Royal Rubies” (#4)
    • “Ballad of Death” (#4)
    • “The King of Blackmail” (#4)

Ridiculous, right? But that long-lost third issue was actually published in 1950 by Streamline American Comics by The United Anglo-American Book Co., Ltd. in the U.K., along with the other two issues. Same crappy stories, but at least they were numbered correctly.

DVDs

  • MARTIN KANE, PRIVATE EYE: VOLUME ONE Buy this DVD
    (2002, Critics Choice)
    This “Critic’s Choice” collection includes “Altered Will” (1951), “The District Attorney Killer” (March 1, 1951), “Shoeshine Murder” (April 8, 1954) and “The Milk Bottle Burglar” (May 20, 1954) .
  • MARTIN KANE, PRIVATE EYE: VOLUME TWO Buy this DVD
    (2006, Critic’s Choice)
    This second “Critic’s Choice” collection boasts another four episodes, with William Gargan, Lloyd Nolan and Lee Tracy each taking a stab playing Kane. Eva Marie Saint shows up in one episode as well.
  • MARTIN KANE, PRIVATE EYE: VOLUME ONE Buy this DVD
    (2006, Classic TV Series)
    This 2006 release promises “four gritty episodes,” featuring William Gargan.
  • MARTIN KANE, PRIVATE EYE: VOLUME TWO Buy this DVD
    (2006, Classic TV Series)
    This 2006 release promises “four exciting episodes” from later in the series, with Lloyd Nolan taking over the lead.
  • MARTIN KANE, PRIVATE EYE: VOLUME THREE Buy this DVD
    (2007, Classic TV Series)
    This 2007 release promises “four exciting episodes” from later in the series, with Lee Tracy.
  • MARTIN KANE, PRIVATE EYE: VOLUME FOUR Buy this DVD
    (2008, Classic TV Series)
    This 2008 release promises “four exciting episodes” from later in the series, with Mark Stevens and William Gargan.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

Leave a Reply