J.F. Kelly (“Last of the Private Eyes”)

Created by Richard Carr and Robert L. Jacks

“It’s a dirty business.”
— Kelly takes the case.

“Last of the Private Eyes,” which aired on April 30, 1963, was the final episode of The Dick Powell Show, and made no bones about it—it’s a tongue-in-cheek parody of the genre.

Here’s guest host Ronald Reagan in his introduction:

“One of the most popular characters on television has always been the private detective, that mysterious, tough flip man in a trenchcoat who solves every case with a blonde on each arm. Well, in our show this week, you’ll meet a private detective who doesn’t meet any of the usual descriptions. In fact, he doesn’t fit anything. Our comedy is entitled “Last of the Private Eyes.”

He also tosses in a list of one of the “most exciting  casts I’ve ever known to appear on television, and I have to admit that it’s an okay cast for 1963, although today only trivia buffs and professional couch potatoes may may impressed with the smattering of film, old time radio and television names, and not all of whom were A-listers even then.

In fact, Bob Cummings (who?) played the last of the private eyes, J.F. KELLY. He worked out of an office on the second floor of the Detectives Building in an unnamed city of “ten million stories.”

“But we’ll just tell you one…,” the narrator solemnly informs us. “And boy, I hope we have time to finish that,” he adds.

Yeah, the Detectives Building. The directory right off the elevator lists the floor’s tenants: The Shadow, Richard Diamond, Sam Spade, Mike Shayne, Nero Wolfe, Sherlock Holmes III and right at the bottom, J.F. Kelly in Suite 207, which is where we meet our sleuth, feet up on the desk, not a care in the world, chatting on the phone to someone he calls “Baby.”

And that’s all I know. It looked promising, with something of a MAD Magazine vibe to it, something about a millionaire (William Bendix) hiring the decidedly small-time Kelly who’s living the P.I. dream to stop a blackmailer targeting his wife (Linda Christian). Along the way, the inept but good-natured gumshoe confronts the usual thugs, temptresses and a butler who may—or may not—have done it, and people who have purportedly seen the episode describe it as “zippy” and “free-wheeling.” Unfortunately, the YouTube clip ends right there, mid-sentence, and as I write this, the rest seems to be lost to the ages. There’s a script for the show out there, residing in the special collections library at Brigham Young University, if anyone wants to do some more investigating, but that’s about it.

Then again, according to TV Guide, the episode may have always had a little bad luck. According to the April 27, 1963 issue:

“This week’s episode, a parody of hard-boiled detective stories called “Last of the Private Eyes,” is seen on NBC Tuesday night, hosted by Ronald Reagan and featuring an all-star cast.  Bob Cummings stars as the private eye, with Jeanne Crain (the movie State Fair), Macdonald Carey (Days of Our Lives), Arnold Stang (Top Cat), Janis Page (the Broadway version of The Pajama Game), William Bendix (The Life of Riley) and William Lundigan (Men Into Space), and featuring cameos from Keenan Wynn, Sebastian Cabot, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson and Jay C. Flippen.”

To which Mitchell Hadley of the It’s About TV! web site churlishly adds:

“You’d think that with a cast like that, it would have been pretty good – I wonder if it was? It was up against The Jack Benny Program, with Jack’s guest Ann-Margaret, so we may never know if anyone saw (it)’”

There have been suggestions this was intended as a pilot for a proposed series, but if everyone was tuning in to Ann Margaret…


    (1961-63, NBC)

    • “Last of the Private Eyes” (April 30, 1963)
      Written by Richard Carr and Robert L. Jacks
      Directed by Marc Daniels
      Produced by Aaron Spelling
      Guest host: Ronald Reagan
      Starring Bob Cummings as J.F. KELLY
      Also starring William Bendix, Macdonald Carey, Linda Christian, Jeanne Crain, William Lundigan, Lawrence Dobkin, Janis Paige, Arnold Stang, Keenan Wynn, Jay C. Flippen, Eddie Rochester Anderson, Sebastian Cabot, Victor Buono
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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