Hammered Again

June 20, 2013


Last year, I wrote about the 1958-1959 TV series Mike Hammer, and wondered who produced the show.  Though it would be unthinkable today, MCA at the time omitted producer credits from some of its television programs.

Recently, I took a minute to poke through Variety‘s digitized archives and solved the mystery (at least partially).  As Hammer expert Max Allan Collins suggested in a comment on the original article, MCA lifer Richard (Dick) Irving was the primary producer of the show.  Variety first announced the Darren McGavin/MCA package on June 12, 1957, in a piece that noted the earlier Brian Keith pilot based on the Spillane character, but confirmed that neither Keith nor Richard Lewis, the producer of that pilot, would have any involvement in the new series.  Rather, “the syndicated private eye skein will be producer by Karl Kramer and Dick Irving, with the latter directing most, if not all of the segments.”

Karl Kramer – whose name you’d probably never heard until now, even if you’re a TV aficionado  – was a senior MCA executive, one of the former band bookers who became, according to Dennis McDougal’s The Last Mogul, the agency’s treasurer and a member of its “ruling elite.”  A contender to succeed Jules Stein as the company’s president, Kramer instead became the company’s chief television executive around 1950.  Kicked upstairs shortly after the Mike Hammer launch (his title in 1958 was “honorary chairman” of Revue Productions), he retired in the early sixties and died in 1980.  (One of Kramer’s daughters was married to sitcom director Jay Sandrich).  It’s pretty safe to assume, then, that most or all of the creative decision-making fell to Irving, who incidentally ended up directing fewer than a dozen episodes – an early sign that television production, even in the days when a TV show could have but a single producer, would prove more complex than the executives or the press initially assumed.  (Irving also directed all the New York City location shooting, even in episodes credited to other directors.)

One of the very first directors associated with MCA’s production unit – he started on generic, threadbare anthologies like Stars Over Hollywood and The Gruen Guild Playhouse as early as 1951 – the one-time bit actor Irving stayed with the company as a sort of mid-tier creative for nearly two decades.  (He was initially assigned to The Virginian, but bumped when Universal hired a “name” – Rawhide creator Charles Marquis Warren – to oversee the prestigious 90-minute Western.)  As a producer and occasional director on the likes of State Trooper and Laredo, Irving may be best remembered as a mentor of young talent: he hired both Sydney Pollack (on Shotgun Slade) and Steven Spielberg (on The Name of the Game) early in their careers.

So that solves that, except that I couldn’t find any reference to who produced the second (1958-1959) season of Mike Hammer.  It’s likely that Irving stayed on, but perhaps not – and it’s also possible that he had an associate producer or story editor whose name still remains lost to history.

One other interesting tidbit I discovered is that – contrary to my assumption that one series followed the other – Mike Hammer and Darren McGavin’s subsequent starring vehicle for MCA, the Western Riverboat (1959-1961), actually overlapped in production.  According to Variety, McGavin shot the first two Riverboat episodes prior to May 23, 1959, at which point he went back to shoot another five Mike Hammer segments.  “After the five, he’ll continue to shuttle between the two shows, with 11 more Hammers to be made,” the trade paper added.  And James Garner thought he had it rough on Maverick!

Riverboat premiered on September 23, and a quick check of the TV listings suggests that, at least in the New York City market, new episodes of Mike Hammer were debuting as late as November 1959.  So, for a couple of months that fall, McGavin fans could see their favorite actor headlining two different first-run series at the same time.  How many other times in television history has that happened?


9 Responses to “Hammered Again”

  1. John D in NYC Says:

    Nice to learn that Irving directed the NYC shoots, as those are often my favorite part of the show. In one episode there are two great shots of Hammer/McGavin near the northeast corner of 42nd Street and 10th Ave. I live nearby, but as the entire block was leveled in the 1970s, I had never seen it in its previous incarnation.

  2. Mark Speck Says:

    The DVD release of this series is one of many I’m working my way through…I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled to note the Associate Producer and Story Editor credits.

    • Stephen Bowie Says:

      There aren’t any — hence this post! My best guess would be was that there was no staff position of story editor but that one or two of the more prolific credited writers were also on retainer to perform rewrites. Irving could’ve had an uncredited assistant on the production side, though, and possibly someone whose name later became familiar to TV watchers.

  3. Mark Murphy Says:

    Again, thanks for the information. I too own the complete Hammer set, and I enjoy the location shots.

    I mostly associate Richard Irving with Columbo. As you probably already know, he directed the pilot film, Prescription: Murder, and a second pilot, Ransom for a Dead Man. I once heard Peter Falk basically give Irving credit for believing in the show and getting it on the air.

    • Stephen Bowie Says:

      Right — I did forget that Irving directed the first two Columbo outings, which may be his lasting claim to fame.

    • Lawrence Fecthenberger Says:

      Perhaps the nittiest picking you will see for awhile, but: “Prescription Murder” was not the pilot for “Columbo,” if we define “pilot” (as I think we should) as something created to sell a series. It was intended as a one-shot, stand-alone movie, and only after it was finished did Universal see potential for further adventures of Columbo. “Ransom for a Dead Man” was then made for the purpose of selling the series.

      Similarly, “The Marcus-Nelson Murders” was not a pilot for “Kojak,” “The NIght Stalker” was not a pilot for “Kolchak,” and “Favorite Son” was not a pilot for “Mancuso FBI.”

  4. Brian Says:

    Nice detective work. Thanks.

    If Richard Irving hired Steven Spielberg for that fine “Name of the Game” episode, it’s doubly interesting that Spielberg later married Irving’s daughter Amy (a fact I learned from your prior Hammer thread).

    But I thought Dean Hargrove was producing the Gene Barry episodes of “Name of the Game” at that point. I don’t remember there being an executive producer credit on Hargrove’s episodes.

    Hargrove said in a Filmfax interview that he hired Spielberg because of Spielberg’s work on the “Par for the Course” episode of “The Psychiatrist” with Clu Gulager. Hargrove said he already knew who Spielberg was and he admired “Amblin”. But “Par for the Course” showed Spielberg was capable of woking at a whole different level.

    Richard Irving directed the first two “Columbo” pilots (the first one with Gene Barry). Spielberg directed the first regular episode of “Columbo” that aired. Falk didn’t want new directors for the first season of the show. But he agreed to Spielberg after seeing part of “Par for the Course”. Richard Irving might also have put in a good word for Spielberg. Falk presumably trusted Irving’s judgment after working with him on the two pilots.

    • Stephen Bowie Says:

      Irving does have an EP credit on “LA 2017.” Spielberg was a protege of Uni exec Taft Schreiber’s after Amblin’, so one imagines that Irving (as well as the producers of Marcus Welby, Night Gallery, and The Psychiatrist) would’ve had a much easier time hiring Spielberg than not hiring him. However, Sydney Pollack (for better or worse) seems to have unambiguously gotten a break from Irving; Pollack always claimed that Shotgun Slade had been cancelled and that the show’s producer felt he had nothing to lose by giving the last few slots to a director with literally no credits (apart from some work as an associate director for Frankenheimer).

      • Lee Says:

        It took a while in the first season for the Gene Barry episodes of The Name of the Game to settle on a producer, and Irving has producer credits on several of the Barry episodes that year. I am pretty sure that he had EP credit on all the other episodes of the series, even the other first season shows featuring Stack and Franciosa. (The first Barry episode of the series was written and produced by Levinson and Link, but after that Irving took over until Dean Hargrove got the job.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: