Sunday, March 17, 2013

Coronado 9 (1960)

In the annals of obscure early 60s crime dramas, Coronado 9 is certainly not the least known (anyone remember The Case of the Dangerous Robin or This Man Dawson?), thanks to its star Rod Cameron, who had previously starred in the 1950s series City Detective and State Trooper. But Coronado 9, a syndicated series produced by Revue Studios that ran for a single season of 39 episodes in 1960-61, has a number of unexplained oddities that over 50 years later make the show itself almost as much a mystery as the cases Cameron's character Dan Adams is required to solve.

First, there's the show's title. As the brief Wikipedia article on the show relates, the opening sequence for the show has the camera zero in on the number 9 emblazoned on a rock outside Adams' front door, suggesting that the show's title is his house address. And while this may be the case, this fact is never mentioned in any of the first 17 episodes of the show that aired in 1960. Furthermore, if this were his address, one would expect there to be a street designator, such as Drive or Avenue, in the title, and street addresses typically begin with the number followed by the street name and designator, whereas the show's title has the number at the end, making it sound more like the type of telephone number prefix used at the time. However, all of this is mere speculation, as there is no mention of or reference to the meaning of the show's title in the first half of the season.

Second is the connection of the show to the city of Coronado, the wealthy island suburb of San Diego. Though there are a few references to the city and some location shots at landmarks like the Hotel Del Coronado (featured prominently in Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot) in the episodes "The Day Chivalry Died" (October 11, 1960) and "I Want to Be Hated" (October 25, 1960), many other episodes take place outside Coronado. "The Spinster of Nob Hill" (September 27, 1960), takes place in San Francisco, as its title implies, and "I Came for the Funeral" (October 18, 1960) is set in San Juan, Mexico. The show's pilot, "The Widow of Kill Cove" (September 6, 1960) also winds up in Mexico after a boat ride down the California coast that could have begun anywhere, since the city of origin, Coronado or elsewhere, is never mentioned. So while Coronado may be Adams' home base of operations, there is little in the individual episodes that tie him specifically to this city.

And speaking of the pilot episode, which bears a copyright date of 1959, Adams' character is largely a mystery as well. Though we later learn, in "The Day Chivalry Died," that his past experience included a stint as an intelligence officer in the Navy during World War II, hence his suitability for civilian work as an investigator, even this rather important fact is never mentioned in the pilot, in which he is simply a guy with a boat whose young friend persuades him to take a trip down the coast to Mexico with a woman who claims her husband was supposedly killed in a plane accident years ago but whom she suspects of still being alive. Adams is not hired as an investigator in this case; he's simply a man with a means of transportation and nothing better to do with his time. And unlike most other crime dramas, even the syndicated ones, Adams has no supporting cast and no friendly police lieutenant to help him (as in Lock Up). It's just one man against a series of criminals.

As a syndicated show, Coronado 9 didn't enjoy the built-in promotion afforded most network-backed series. And though occasionally syndicated series, like Lloyd Bridges' Sea Hunt, enjoyed popular success, many more were used as filler by local channels seeking to flesh out holes in their lineup. Coronado 9 didn't even rank high enough to be mentioned in TV Guide's September 24 Fall Preview issue, though other syndicated shows like Sea Hunt, The Case of the Dangerous Robin, and The Brothers Brannagan are covered.

But despite this collective lack of support and perhaps even clear definition by those producing the show, Coronado 9 makes for a fairly entertaining period crime drama, largely due to Cameron's rugged but even-handed personality. The producers and writers seem to have recognized the hint of implausability in some of the plots because Adams frequently tells those who wish to hire him that they would be better off taking their case to the police, rather than a private investigator. But his clients always come up with an excuse for why they don't want to involve the cops, often in the interest of avoiding publicity, as in "Stroll in the Park" (September 13, 1960) in which married Seattle businessman Joseph Brand is bushwhacked in the park kissing a pretty young actress and has his briefcase containing company secrets stolen. In the world of Coronado 9 any such incident is sure to wind up in the newspapers, causing problems for Brand in both his marriage and his job. Likewise in "I Want to Be Hated," young Nancy Mosler, who Adams first meets on the ferry from the mainland to Coronado island, shows up at his beachfront back door claiming to have been attacked but not wanting to go to the police for fear of losing her job when the alleged attacker contradicts her story. And again in "Four and Twenty Buddhas" (November 1, 1960), produce seller W.G. Wong calls Adams when her niece goes missing after bringing rare Chinese art objects into the country in the hopes of selling them to rescue her father from financial ruin. Wong resists Adams' suggestion to take the case to the police because the family wants to avoid publicity.

Also hard to believe is the frequent beatings the towering, intimidating Cameron takes from much smaller criminal pugilists in each episode's obligatory fistfight. But being the hero, Cameron's Adams always prevails, even sending one assailant to his death in the bear pit of the San Diego Zoo ("Obituary of a Small Ape," December 27, 1960). It's obvious the producers and writers have Adams get the worst of it early on to heighten dramatic tension, but it does strain the show's believability at times. On the other side of the ledger, there are a few instances where the plot takes an unexpected twist--in "The Widow of Kill Cove" and in "Loser's Circle" (December 20, 1960)--that raise Coronado 9 above the average, formula-driven crime drama of the era. Overall, the series delivers satisfying entertainment more often than not.

The show's grand but derivative opening theme and individual episode scores were the work of Harold V. Johnson, who had previously worked on four episodes of Cameron's State Trooper series and had served as music supervisor on 14 episodes of the Mickey Spillane-based late 50s crime drama Mike Hammer. Johnson studied music at UCLA and was later an educator himself. He died October 21, 1995 at the age of 77.

The complete first and only season has been released on DVD by Timeless Media Group.

The Actors

Rod Cameron

Born Nathan Roderick Cox in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, the 6'4" Cameron originally aspired to be a Canadian Mountie, but when that career path did not work out, he moved to New York to take up acting and work in construction on the Holland Tunnel, then relocated to California, where he found work in bit parts, as a stand in for stars like Fred MacMurray, as a stunt double for cowboy stars such as Buck Jones, and as the leading man in screen tests for prospective starlets. He finally found success playing tough-nosed hero Rex Bennett in the war-time serial shorts G-Men vs. the Black Dragon and Secret Service in Darkest Africa. This serial success led to a contract with Universal, though most of his roles were in B-grade westerns. However, he did get to play opposite fellow Canadian and future Munster Yvonne DeCarlo in Salome, Where She Danced, Frontier Gal, and River Lady. In the 1950s he continued appearing in second-tier westerns like Dakota Lil, Wagons West, and San Antone but also made the move to television, first playing Police Detective Lieutenant Bart Grant on City Detective from 1953-55. Then he played Lt. Rod Blake for three seasons on the Highway Patrol  knockoff State Trooper, which aired from 1956-59. Cameron also continued the B-movie lead roles in such thrillers as Passport to Treason and The Electronic Monster

After Coronado 9, Cameron had a spattering of TV guest appearances, including 6 stints on Laramie, 3 turns on Adam-12, and a pair of roles on Alias Smith and Jones. His last TV guest roles were on The Rockford Files in 1976 and on Project U.F.O. in 1978. More titillating than the sensational movies he appeared in was this tidbit from his personal life: after being married for 10 years to Angela Alves-Lico, he divorced her and married her mother Dorothy. Cameron died from cancer in Gainesville, Georgia on December 21, 1983 at the age of 72.



Notable Guest Stars

Season 1, Episode 1, "The Widow of Kill Cove": Beverly Garland (shown on the left, played Casey Jones on Decoy, Ellis Collins on The Bing Crosby Show, Barbara Harper Douglas on My Three Sons, Dorothy "Dotty" West on Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Ellen Lane on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, and Ginger on 7th Heaven) plays presumed widow Doris Denny. Doug McClure (Frank Flippen on Overland Trail, Jed Sills on Checkmate, Trampas on The Virginian, C.R. Grover on Search, Cash Conover on Barbary Coast, and Kyle X. Applegate on Out of This World) plays Adams' young friend Jimmy Hoke. 

Season 1, Episode 2, "Stroll in the Park": Connie Hines (Carol Post on Mister Ed) plays aspiring actress Lorna Preston. Betty Lou Gerson (voice of Cruella de Vil in 101 Dalmations) plays her sister Carole. Robert Cornthwaite (Professor Windish on Get Smart) plays Seattle businessman Joseph Brand. 

Season 1, Episode 3, "Doomtown": Richard Arlen (starred in The Virginian, Dangerous Paradise, Gun Smoke, Island of Lost Souls, and Alice in Wonderland) plays small town business leader Blair Harper. Frank Ferguson (Gus Broeberg on My Friend Flicka, Eli Carson on Peyton Place, and Dr. Barton Stuart on Petticoat Junction) plays local constable Jim Usher. Kay Kuter (Newt Kiley on Petticoat Junction and Green Acres) plays cripple Ben Turner. Hal Needham (Hollywood's highest-paid stuntman who invented numerous stunt devices, was a double for Richard Boone and Burt Reynolds, and directed Smokey and the Bandit, Hooper, and Cannonball Run) plays local hood Joe.

Season 1, Episode 4, "The Spinster of Nob Hill": Jocelyn Brando (Marlon Brando's older sister) plays wealthy heiress Amy Loomis. Ed Nelson (Michael Rossi on Peyton Place and Ward Fuller on The Silent Force) plays her brother-in-law Doug. Lynette Bernay (the costumer on Miami Vice, Undeclared, and Burn Notice) plays Doug's girl-friend Madge Wyman. Robert Stevenson (bartender Big Ed on Richard Drum and Marshal Hugh Strickland on Stagecoach West) plays Police Lt. Kirk. 

Season 1, Episode 5, "The Groom Came D.O.A.": Connie Hines (shown on the right, see "Stroll in the Park" above) plays newlywed Penny. Sid Raymond (voice of Baby Huey in numerous cartoon shorts and on The Baby Huey Show) plays old fisherman Fishy Smith.
Season 1, Episode 6, "The Day Chivalry Died": Patricia Medina (Margarita Cortazar on Zorro) plays Adams' friend's wife Helen Cardoza. Robert Lowery (starred in Criminal Investigator, Revenge of the Zombies, The Navy Way, The Mummy's Ghost, and They Made Me a Killer and played Big Tim Champion on Circus Boy and Buss Courtney on Pistols 'n' Petticoats) plays Helen's former lover Carson Miller.

Season 1, Episode 7, "I Came for the Funeral": Jan Arvan (Nacho Torres on Zorro and Paw Kadiddlehopper on The Red Skelton Hour) plays Mexican police assistant Carlos. John Dennis (Dutch Schultz on The Lawless Years) plays thug Jack Goff. Ronnie Rondell, Jr. (stunt coordinator on Mod Squad, Charlie's Angels, Dynasty, and Hart to Hart) plays thug Juan Velez.

Season 1, Episode 8, "I Want to Be Hated": Doris Lloyd (starred in Waterloo Bridge, Tarzan the Ape Man, Oliver Twist, and The Time Machine) plays the grandmother of a young woman Adams is trying to save. Robert P. Lieb (Harry Thompson on Hazel) plays Police Capt. Bruce Allen. Bill Erwin (Joe Walters on My Three Sons and Glenn Diamond on Struck by Lightning) plays carjack victim Joe.

Season 1, Episode 9, "Four and Twenty Buddhas": Lisa Lu (Miss Mandarin on Yancy Derringer and Hey Girl on Have Gun Will Travel) plays beauty contestant Mei Ling. Raymond Bailey (shown on the left, played Milburn Drysdale on The Beverly Hillbillies, Dean Magruder on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, D.A. John Carvell on The Untouchables, and Mr. Beaumont on My Sister Eileen) plays art dealer Mr. Crater. Noel Toy (legendary Chinese-American exotic dancer, played Mama San on M*A*S*H) plays produce dealer W.G. Wong. Mark Allen (Matt Kissel on The Travels of Jamie McPheeters and Sam Evans on Dark Shadows) plays customs agent imposter Mark. Bernard Fein (Pvt Gomez on The Phil Silvers Show) plays nightclub manager Mason. King Calder (Lt. Gray on Martin Kane) plays the head of the customs agency.

Season 1, Episode 10, "Run Scared": Larry J. Blake (the unnamed jailer on Yancy Derringer and Tom Parnell on Saints and Sinners) plays ex-con Harry Matthews. Phil Tully (Charlie the bartender on The Deputy) plays Police Sgt. O'Donnell. Nora Marlowe (Martha Commager on Law of the Plainsman, Sara Andrews on The Governor and J.J., and Mrs. Flossie Brimmer on The Waltons) plays Matthews' aunt Nora Morgan. James Beck (Sgt. Highton on Hondo) plays fitness center employee Jim. John Harmon (Eddie Halstead on The Rifleman) plays tattoo artist Doc Little.

Season 1, Episode 11, "Alibi Bye": Clark Howat (Dr. John Petrie on The Adventures of Dr. Fu Manchu) plays Police Sgt. Warren. Katherine Warren (starred in The Lady Pays Off, The Glenn Miller Story, and The Caine Mutiny) plays wealthy widow Clara Tyson. Roy Engel (Doc Martin on Bonanza, the police chief on My Favorite Martian, and President Ulysses S. Grant on The Wild, Wild West) plays narcotics dealer Dave Squires. James Lanphier (starred in Flight of the Lost Balloon and The Pink Panther and played Leslie on Peter Gunn) plays his partner Topeka.

Season 1, Episode 12, "A Bookie Is Not a Bibliophile": John Bryant (Dr. Carl Spaulding on The Virginian) plays bookshop manager Frank Banner. Alfred Shelly (Carney on The D.A.'s Man) plays casino operator Johnny Broaca.  

Season 1, Episode 13, "Careless Joe": Sue Ane Langdon (shown on the right, played Kitty Marsh on Bachelor Father, Lillian Nuvo on Arnie, Rosie on Grandpa Goes to Washington, and Darlene on When the Whistle Blows) plays cigarette girl Connie. Bernard Fein (see "Four and Twenty Buddhas" above) plays bookie Frank Fishman. Kathie Browne (Angie Dow on Hondo) plays potential heiress Dinah.

Season 1, Episode 14, "Remember the Alamo": David White (shown on the left, played Larry Tate on Bewitched) plays Adams' old Navy friend Jeff Hollister. Beverly Garland (see "The Widow of Kill Cove" above) plays Hollister's secretary Ann Chapman. Hugh Lawrence (Lt. Mike O'Malley on Miami Undercover) plays FBI agent Sprague.

Season 1, Episode 15, "Blow, Gabriella": Ray Stricklyn (Dr. James Parris on The Colbys and Senator Pickering on Wiseguy) plays young aspiring scientist Benton Partley. Ed Kemmer (Commander Buzz Corry on Space Patrol, Paul Britton on The Secret Storm, and Dick Martin on As the World Turns) plays his brother Bradley. William Forrest (Major Swanson on The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin) plays their father Air Force Cmdr. Partley. Edna Holland (appeared in Criss Cross, Roar of the Crowd, and Inside Daisy Clover) plays their housekeeper Miss Elizabeth. 

Season 1, Episode 16, "Loser's Circle": Hardie Albright (starred in The Song of Songs, The Scarlet Letter, and Angel on My Shoulder) plays acquitted murder suspect Charlie McGill. DeForest Kelly (shown on the right, played Dr. McCoy on Star Trek) plays McGill's former neighbor Frank Briggs. 

Season 1, Episode 17, "Obituary of a Small Ape": J. Pat O'Malley (Judge Caleb Marsh on Black Saddle, Duffy on Frontier Circus, Harry Burns on My Favorite Martian, Mr. Bundy on Wendy and Me, Herbert Morrison on A Touch of Grace, and Bert Beasley on Maude) plays veterinarian Dr. S.J. Tracy. Marc Cavell (Gray Hawk on Pistols 'n' Petticoats) plays young animal lover Cleto Dominguez. Ronnie Rondell, Jr. (see "I Came for the Funeral" above) plays his father Joe. Virginia Christine (the Folgers Coffee woman in commercials, starred in The Mummy's Curse, The Killers, and Night Wind and played Ovie Swenson on Tales of Wells Fargo) plays his Aunt Sarita. Robert Bice (Police Capt. Jim Johnson on The Untouchables) plays an unnamed police lieutenant.