Dennis Chase (21 Beacon Street)

Created by Leonard Heideman
(1928-2007)

Dennis and Lola share a moment.

Quiet, humble DENNIS CHASE (good name, that, if maybe a trifle too on-the-nose, for a P.I.) was the mild-mannered hero of 21 Beacon Street, a short-lived television show on NBC that sounded like a 77 Sunset Strip clone, but wasn’t.

The bow tie might have been a clue.

Instead, it followed the high-tech (for 1959) Chase Detective Agency that specialized in on cases the cops hadn’t been able to solve–often with their blessing. Possibly because after cracking the case Chase and his team always called the police in to make the arrest. Despite his last name, he rarely chased down any of the bad guys himself.

Chase utilized all the latest gadgets, and worked out of his office at–you guessed it–21 Beacon Street, in an unnamed city, although presumably it’s Boston.

He was assisted by Brian (a young, ambitious law student), Jim (a jack-of-all-trades with a particular facility for electronics and disguises) and, of course, the obligatory attractive secretary/girlfriend Lola.  But Lola was there for more than comic relief–she  just happened to have a Ph.D and also served as Dennis’ lab assistant.

Meticulous to a fault, Dennis would devise elaborate schemes to solve the case, which he and his team would then carry out, before dropping a dime on the miscreants.

It was those elaborate schemes, in fact, and the use of all those high tech gizmos and gimmicks (Truth serum! Computers! Electronic bugs! Hidden cameras! Wiretapping! Radio-transmitting eyeglasses! Disguises!) that led to 21 Beacon Street often being considered a forerunner of Mission Impossible, which came along seven years later. So much so that eventually the creators of 21 Beacon Street sued Bruce Geller of Mission Impossible for plagiarism. The suit was settled out of court.

The show was the 1959 summer replacement for The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show on NBC, and although it fared relatively well with critics and was supposedly the highest rated replacement series that year, it failed to find much of network support, and wasn’t renewed, although it was later rerun on rival network ABC (along with three final unaired episodes) in the second half of the 1959-60 season.

And that was that. The show seems to have slipped through the cracks, never to be seen again. Literally. Not only is it forgotten, but it seems it may be lost as well. No copies, as far as I can tell, have ever surfaced. Too bad–this might have been an interesting one to see.

Hopefully, the scripts were a little more imaginative than the naming of the characters–or it was the most extraordinary example of coincidental casting in the history of television. Really! Dennis Morgan played a character named Dennis, Brian Kelly played a character named Brian and James Maloney played a character named Jim?

What are the odds?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (TALES OUTTA SCHOOL)

21 Beacon Street‘s creator, Leonard Heideman, also served as the story editor, a position he’d previously held for Flight, an American television anthology series that aired in syndication from 1958 to 1959, and one he would assume for the top ten western, Bonanza. But ever ambitious, he walked away from the job  after less than a year, and began to write for Checkmate, a big-budget detective series created by Eric Ambler, confident his career was on the rise.  It wasn’t, and the mounting stress of professional, financial and domestic difficulties were piling up. Eventually they would lead to a psychotic episode, and in February 1963 he stabbed his wife to death. Declared unfit for trial, he was committed to a mental hospital and stayed there for fourteen months, before being released. He was found not guilty of his wife’s murder, by reason of insanity, and changed his name to Laurence Heath, and went back to writing for television, where he ended up writing a couple of dozen episodes of… Mission Impossible. He went on to write episodes for Hawaii Five-OMannixThe InvadersLancer and Murder, She Wrote. He committed suicide in 2007.

TELEVISION

  • 21 BEACON STREET
    (1959, NBC)
    30 minute episodes
    Black & white
    Writers:  Leonard Heideman, Robert C. Dennis, David Chandler, Fenton Earnshaw, Tom Gries, Jack Kelsey, Jack Laird, John Meredyth Lucas
    Story Editor: Leonard Heideman
    Directors: Maurice Geraghty, Jean Yarbrough, Harold D. Schuster
    Produced by Al Simon
    A Fairways Production
    Starring Dennis Morgan as DENNIS CHASE
    With Joanna Barnes as Lola
    Brian Kelly as Brian
    and James Maloney as Jim

    • SEASON ONE
    • “The Rub Out” (July 2, 1959)
    • “Safety Deposit” (July 9, 1959)
    • “The Payoff” (July 16, 1959)
    • “Double Vision” (July 23, 1959)
    • “The Swindle” (July 30, 1959)
    • “The Execution” (August 6, 1959)
    • “The Break-In” (August 13, 1959)
    • “The Trojan Horse” (August 20, 1959)
    • “The Hostage” (August 27, 1959)
    • “The Trap” (September 3, 1959)
    • “Dilemma” (March 6, 1960, on ABC)
    • “Close Call” (March 13, 1960, on ABC)
    • “Nothing is Impossible” (March 13, 1960, on ABC)

THE DICK OF THE DAY

  • August 10, 2021
    THE BOTTOM LINE: This late 50s PI show is now almost totally forgotten, but it begat MISSION IMPOSSIBLE. Plus, it had… bow ties! Anyone remember this?
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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