Blake Edwards’ Private Eyes

And Other Miscreants…

Like his contemporary Roy Huggins, Blake Edwards must have had a real jones for the Shamus Game. Along with his genuine successes (everything from Richard Diamond and Peter Gunn to 10, S.O.B. and the Pink Panther movies), Edwards wrote, directed and/or produced several radio shows, films (both for television and the big screen), TV series and pilots, both successful and otherwise, all featuring P.I.s—or P.I.-adjacent heroes.

Here’s a list of them:

    Radio series
    Edwards’ first big success, he was the creator, writer, director of this long-running show, which starred ex-crooner Dick Powell in his new tough guy persona, as the wise-cracking but dutiful private eye who serenaded his girlfriend Helen at the end of most shows.
    Radio show
    Edwards didn’t create it, but he had a hand in writing several episodes of what would be the last private eye show of the Golden Age of Radio. As the long-running show drew to a close, Edwards wrote, directed and exec-produced a pilot for television, hoping to revive the character.
  • DANTE’S INFERNO (aka “The Adventures of Dante”) (1952-56, CBS)
    TV series
    A recurring segment on the anthology series, Four Star Playhouse. There were eight episodes of Dante’s Inferno, all starring Dick Powell as Willie Dante, a slightly shady restauranteur (he had an illegal casino in the back of his place) and man-about-town who acted like an older version of Peter Gunn. Powell and Edwards liked the concept so much, they tried it again several years later, this time starring Howard Duff as Willie, allegedly a reformed gambler. 
    William Gargan starred as the popular radio eye in this unsuccessful 1952 TV pilot, written by Fenton Earnshaw and directed by Edwards, which aired as Death, the Hard Way, an episode of ABC’s Pepsi-Cola Playhouse.
    Written and directed by Edwards and starring Brian Keith as Hammer, this 26-minute pilot was the first attempt to bring Spillane’s vengeance-seeking dick to the small screen. By most accounts, it was pretty good, but nobody bought it. 
  • PETER GUNN ((1958-60, NBC; 1960-61, ABC)
    TV series
    A classic, one of the all-time great private eye TV shows of all time, starring Craig Stevens as the suave, sophisticated, jazz-loving dick in the Brooks Brothers suits who hung around Mother’s, a waterfront dive where his girlfriend Edie sang—and where trouble always seemed to come a-calling. The theme, also a classic, was by Henry Mancini.
  • MR. LUCKY (1959-60, CBS)
    TV series
    No, it wasn’t a private eye show, though it bore more than a passing resemblance to Peter Gunn, right down to the same creative team, a snappy Henry Mancini theme and a good-looking, suave kinda guy (John Vivyan) in the lead, playing a professional gambler who couldn’t help but get in trouble on a weekly basis.
  • DANTE (1960-61, NBC)
    TV series
    Edwards and Powell’s attempt to revive the Willie Dante character, this time played by Howard Duff as a”legit” San Francisco nightclub owner determined to go straight. Problem is neither the cops nor the crooks think Willie has gone straight. 
    Airing as a 60-minute episode of The Dick Powell Show and intended as a pilot, it starred a pre-Man from U.N.C.L.E. Robert Vaughan as a Harvard-educated Boston private eye.
    Pilot (unaired)
    Robert Vaughan again! This 30-minute pilot was a second attempt to interest the networks, but it never even aired, as far as I can tell. 
  • JOHNNY DOLLAR (1962)
    Pilot (unaired)
    Edwards’ attempt to revive radio’s insurance investigator Johnny Dollar (he of the action-packed expense account) failed to be picked up, even as the long-running radio show was just ending. 
  • GUNN (1967)
    Feature Film
    The first attempt to dust off Peter Gunn was this ill-conceived 1967 theatrical release, Gunn, which missed the whole point, trying to turn Gunn (still plated by Craig Stevens) into a cold-blooded Mike Hammer-style avenger. Stylish enough, but somehow, the charm of the series was missing.
  • THE MONK (1969)
    A promising pilot aired as the part of the ABC Movie of the Week in October 1969 about unlicensed San Francisco gumshoe Gus Monk (played by hunky George Maharis), but nobody picked it up.
  • CITY HEAT (1984)
    Feature Film
    Burt Reynolds (as a 1930s Kansas City P.I.) and Clint Eastwood (as a 1930s Kansas City cop) smirk their way through a buddy flick that leans so far back on their already well-established personas that they might as well have been standing on their heads. Edwards wrote the story and co-wrote the screenplay, but I suspect it was filtered through the stars respective handlers, so as not to tarnish the brand. Edwards wisely kept his his name off the finished product, and is credited as “Sam O. Brown.”
  • FERRET (1984)
    Pilot (unaired)
    Robert Loggia plays a legendary UN Special Agent who goes missing, and it’s up to his bumbling, inept son (played by Steve Guttenberg), a jazz musician and part-time P.I.,to find his dad and save the world. As one does… There’s a heavy scent of Pink Panther coming off this one.
  • JUSTIN CASE (1988)
    Made-for-Television Movie
    A co-write with daughter Jennifer, this made-for-Disney flick cast comedian George Carlin as the ghost of murdered private eye, the unfortunately and eponymously named JUSTIN CASE, who teams up with Jennifer (played by Jennifer Edwards), a young unemployed actress/singer/dancer, to figure out who killed him.
  • PETER GUNN (1989)
    A new version, with Peter Strauss as an updated Gunn. Strauss was a good choice as Gunn, but other changes weren’t quite as spot-on. This new Gunn was scrubbed clean–he didn’t smoke, or even drink much, the scarf he sported seemed more like a dandyish affectation than any sort of stylistic cool, and he had an office complete with a ditzy secretary (a role seemingly written in to accommodate Jennifer Edwards, daughter of I wonder who?). What happened to Mother’s? Or Edie???
Respectfully compiled by Kevin Burton Smith.

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