The Avuncular Private Eye
The first long-running detective series on American television was Martin Kane, Private Eye (1949-1954), whose private eye’s name was borrowed from that of an executive of the advertising firm of the show’s sponsor, the American Tobacco Company, which owned the show. The show’s star, William Gargan, was a soft, almost unassuming actor who was typical of the actors being hired for television at the time. They were mainly character actors who may have had leading parts in a few B-motion pictures and were not under contract to major studios. Martin Kane was a much different kind of detective from those who would later follow him on television. He worked closely with the police, assisting them on cases, and was often seen conferring with police officers in a tobacconist’s shop, where he smoked the sponsor’s pipe-tobacco products—an early attempt to integrate commercials within a program. Although Kane carried a gun and occasionally used it, he seemed more like a favorite uncle than a hard-boiled private eye. He was later played on the show by Lloyd Nolan, Lee Tracy, and Mark Stevens. Gargan later returned for a brief stint in The New Adventures of Martin Kane in 1957. As befits a show in a fledgling medium, the original Martin Kane series was replete with technical gaffes—missing sound effects, studio cameras visible in scenes, and backdrops that were obviously painted flats.
Another successful early television private...
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