As America's interest in the Roaring '20's continued with the unbridled success of ABC's The Untouchables, NBC resurrected its own Prohibition-era crime drama The Lawless Years in the spring of 1961 as a sort of extended summer replacement program, with 20 new programs airing between May 12 and September 22. The March 25 edition of TV Guide noted that the show was returning as part of NBC's shakeup of its Friday evening lineup, replacing the first half of The Bell Telephone Hour. The program had initially launched in April 1959, the same month The Untouchables first aired as a two-part TV movie on Desilu Playhouse, and ran for 18 episodes until the end of August of that year. Its second season was then tried as a prime-time series in October 1959 but was canceled after only 9 episodes, the last airing in January 1960.
Like the man whose exploits inspired The Untouchables, New York detective Barney Ruditsky, whose unpublished memoirs were the source for The Lawless Years, had a checkered career after his glory years. He retired from the New York police force after 20 years in 1941, served in the U.S. Army in Africa during World War II, and then settled in Los Angeles, where he owned a nightclub called Sherry's, a liquor store, and a private detective agency. He also served as a technical advisor and occasionally had bit parts in feature films for 20th Century Fox: Margin for Error, Behind Green Lights, and Nocturne. However, his reputation as a scion of law and order came under attack by the Los Angeles Police Department, who suggested that his detective agency was also in the business of collecting bad gambling debts for mobsters like Bugsy Siegel and Mickey Cohen, though Ruditsky denied the accusations when called to testify before the Kefauver hearings on organized crime. However, even in his New York salad days Ruditsky was on a few occasions accused of taking bribes in underworld-backed labor disputes, though no charges were ever brought against him.
But his Hollywood detective agency was dealt a severe blow when he was at the center of the infamous Wrong Door Raid after being hired by Joe Dimaggio to spy on Marilyn Monroe, whom he suspected of having an affair. When one of Ruditsky's agents saw Monroe's car parked outside a friend's apartment which Dimaggio believed was being used for trysts with Monroe's voice coach, Ruditsky called Dimaggio, who brought along Frank Sinatra and a few other friends, and the group broke down the apartment door only to find a secretary who lived alone and had no connection to Monroe. The fallout from the incident seriously damaged Ruditsky's reputation, but not enough to keep NBC from hiring him as a technical advisor for the series based on his memoirs about his days in New York.
With Ruditsky directly involved in the series, it's no wonder that James Gregory's portrayal of him is bolt upright. Gregory's Ruditsky can't be bought, though in the episode "Ginny" (July 14, 1961) he goes undercover and pretends to take money from Dutch Schultz in order to shut down his operation of paying off dirty cops. He seems to have a somewhat cordial relationship with some of his adversaries, particularly Lepke Buchalter in "Ike, the Novelty King" (September 22, 1961), and seems to have grown up with many more, most notably Louis Kassoff in the five-part serial "Louy K" (May 26 - June 23, 1961). But he takes great pleasure in telling off the dangerous criminals he is trying to nab--calling them punks, scum, and telling them how much they stink. Remarkably, no one ever takes a shot at him or lands a punch.
While the depiction of Ruditsky might be one dimensional, many of the stories of noted New York gangsters stick fairly close to the actual facts of their lives. "The Kid Dropper Story" (July 7, 1961) is based on the death of Nathan Kaplan, though in the TV episode he is named Jacob Koster. Dropper has a running feud with gangster Little Augie Orgen, who vows to get even and has a young upstart shoot Dropper when he is seated in a police car after being released from prison, just as he was in real life. "Little Augie" (July 21, 1961) shows Jacob "Little Augie" Orgen being gunned down by Lepke Buchalter and Gurrah Shapiro (who in the TV series is named Charlie Gurrah). And at the end of the episode "Romeo and Rose" (September 15, 1961), Ruditsky mentions that Murder, Inc. enforcer Abe Reles was eventually arrested and sang his guts out to the authorities before either jumping or being pushed out of a 10th story window to his death, just as happened to the real Abe "Kid Twist" Reles.
Since Ruditsky's memoirs were never published, it is difficult to fact-check the other stories presented on The Lawless Years. The death of the title character in "The Jack 'Legs' Diamond Story" (May 12, 1961) is depicted as having been ordered by rival gangster Dutch Schultz, which was one of the prevailing theories at the time. But later testimony suggests that it was more likely the work of the Albany, New York police force. And the five-part "Louy K" serial is believed to have been loosely based on the life of underworld mastermind Meyer Lansky, who was still alive and doing business when The Lawless Years aired. Though he was a Russian immigrant and a key organizer and brain trust of New York gangster activities, eventually setting up gambling operations in Las Vegas and running a successful hotel in pre-revolutionary Havana, he was not driven to a life of crime by the rape of his sister and he was not gunned down by Buchalter's men after leaving the organization after his sister's death. The Louy K serial is one of the least successful of the stories on The Lawless Years because there isn't enough action to warrant devoting five full episodes to it, and it has the smell of melodrama with Kassoff's shouting denunciation of his rabbinical studies after he is powerless to stop his sister's rape. Though the shorter 30-minute treatment of other stories can at times seem procedural and formulaic, at least the pacing doesn't drag as it does in the Louy K series.
Since it had failed in its lone attempt as a fall prime-time series and was brought back as an extended summer stop-gap, it's no surprise that The Lawless Years was not given another shot at NBC's regular seasonal schedule. Ruditsky himself would die the next year from a heart attack shortly after being diagnosed with a colon tumor. The Roaring 20's fad in 1960s American television wouldn't last much longer--The Roaring 20's was canceled in 1962, and The Untouchables in 1963. But the genre has a certain timeless appeal, as shown with the more recent Boardwalk Empire series, which ran from 2010 until 2014. It's just unfortunate that Ruditsky didn't chronicle his days in Los Angeles.
Though no on-screen credit is given for the theme music or individual scores for The Lawless Years, musical supervision was handled by Raoul Kraushaar (he is credited with composing the theme on imdb.com), who was born in Paris, France the son of an orchestral musician. After his mother died, he went to live with an aunt and then stowed away on an ocean liner headed for New York. He studied musical arrangement at Columbia University before moving to Los Angeles in the 1930s. There he worked arranging for big bands and later secured a job with Republic Pictures, which resulted in working on Gene Autry feature films beginning with Rovin' Tumbleweeds in 1939. After the war he began hiring out to a number of other studios and worked on science fiction classics such as Preshistoric Women, Invaders From Mars, and The Unknown Terror as well as the noir classic The Blue Gardenia and a number of B-grade westerns. In 1952 his work on Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd led to his being hired to write the theme and material for individual episodes of The Abbott and Costello Show. While continuing prolific work on feature westerns, he also found work on more TV series such as Hopalong Cassidy and Lassie, for which he was at one time credited with writing the theme, but this was later proved to have been written by William Lava. The issue of uncertain attribution, common for the era, makes it hard to know exactly how much of the music Kraushaar composed on the series he supervised, he is credited with composing for 24 episodes of Mister Ed in 1961, as well as 2 episodes each of Assignment Underwater and Outlaws. His credited compositional work for the remainder of his career, which ran through the 1970s, consisted of more B grade features, most notably the 1966 camp classics Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter and Billy the Kid Versus Dracula. His last credit was for the 1980 TV movie Children of Divorce, after which he retired to Pompano Beach, Florida. He died there at the age of 93 on October 13, 2001.
The "complete series" has been released on DVD by Timeless Media Group. However, this 45-episode collection is missing the two-part "Mad Dog Coll Story," which aired on July 28 and August 4, 1961.
For the biography for James Gregory, see the post for The Lawless Years 1960.
Robert Anthony Karnes was born in Paducah, Kentucky, though he was living in Arizona by the time he received his Social Security card. Little is known about his early years, but he broke into film roles in the mid-1940s, beginning with an uncredited appearance in The Leopard Man in 1943. Though most of his early work was similarly without credits, he appeared in some major motion pictures during this era--The Best Years of Our Lives, Miracle on 34th Street, Gentlemen's Agreement, All the King's Men, Call Northside 777, and From Here to Eternity. His television debut came in 1951, appearing on three different programs but all in likewise unnamed character parts. His career throughout the 1950s was prolific but consisted largely of minor roles or supporting roles in B-movie material, such as Project Moon Base and Half Human. His role as Barney Ruditsky's sidekick Max Fields was his first recurring TV role, appearing 21 times on the series between 1959-61. This role seemingly led to more regular TV work: he appeared four times as Deputy D.A. Victor Chamberlin on Perry Mason in 1960-61, as well as multiple appearances on The Real McCoys, Have Gun -- Will Travel, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents during the same period. He remained very busy throughout the rest of his career, making 11 appearances on Gunsmoke, 6 on Ironside, and 5 on Bonanza in addition to dozens of other programs, though his only other recurring role was playing Sheriff King in 4 episodes of The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries in 1977. Married to actress Doris Karnes for 38 years, he died from heart failure on December 4, 1979 at the age of 62.
Notable Guest Stars
Season 3, Episode 1, "The Jack 'Legs' Diamond Story": Robert Ellenstein (shown on the left, appeared in 3:10 to Yuma, Too Much Too Soon, and North by Northwest) plays mobster Jack "Legs" Diamond. Joseph Mell (appeared in When World Collide, The Lost Planet, Magnificent Obsession, and I Was a Teenage Werewolf and played Bill Pence on Gunsmoke) plays Hotsy Totsy Club co-owner Charlie Entra. Dick Wilson (Dino Barone on McHale's Navy and George Whipple in Charmin toilet paper commercials) plays club manager Hymie Cee. Peggy Maley (starred in The Lady Says No, The Wild One, Human Desire, and The Guns of Fort Petticoat) plays Diamond's wife Alice. Norman Alden (Johnny Ringo on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Captain Horton on Rango, Grundy on Not for Hire, Tom Williams on My Three Sons, and Coach Leroy Fedders on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman) plays Dutch Schultz hitman Lulu.
Season 3, Episode 2, "The Sonny Rosen Story II": John Gabriel (shown on the right, played Andy Rivers on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mr. Van Huyten on A Kind of Loving, Dr. Seneca Beaulac on Ryan's Hope, and Pete LeGrand on Days of Our Lives) plays spoiled rich kid Sonny Rosen. Peter Brocco (Peter the waiter on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show) plays his father Meyer. Dorothy Adams (appeared in Laura, The Best Years of Our Lives, The Winning Team, and The Killing) plays his mother Sarah. Bernard Fein (Pvt Gomez on The Phil Silvers Show) plays thug Bo Scalsi. Charles Wagenheim (Halligan on Gunsmoke) plays informant Louie the Gimp.
Season 3, Episode 3, "Louy K: Part 1": Paul Richards (appeared in Playgirl and Beneath the Planet of the Apes) plays gangster kingpin Louis Kassoff. Naomi Stevens (Juanita on The Doris Day Show, Mama Rossini on My Three Sons, Rose Montefusco on The Montefuscos, and Sgt. Bella Archer on Vega$) plays his Aunt Rose. Baruch Lumet (renowned Yiddish theater actor who appeared in The Killer Shrews, The Interns, and The Pawnbroker) plays a street vendor.
Season 3, Episode 4, "Louy K: Part 2--Sing Sing": Paul Richards (shown on the left, see "Louy K: Part 1" above) returns as Louis Kassoff. Naomi Stevens (see "Louy K: Part 1" above) returns as his Aunt Rose. John Vivyan (see the biography section for the 1960 post on Mr. Lucky) plays gangster Lepke Buchalter. Robert Ellenstein (see "The Jack 'Legs' Diamond Story" above) returns as Legs Diamond. Henry Corden (Carlo on The Count of Monte Cristo, and Babbitt on The Monkees and did voicework on The Flintstones, Jonny Quest, The Atom Ant Show, The Banana Splits Adventure Hour and Return to the Planet of the Apes) plays gangster Waxey Gordon. Stanley Adams (Lt. Morse on Not for Hire) plays gangster Charlie Gurrah. Ken Mayer (Major Robbie Robertson on Space Patrol) plays prison guard Stagg. Joseph Mell (see "The Jack 'Legs' Diamond Story" above) plays a fish peddler.
Season 3, Episode 5, "Louy K: Part 3--Birth of the Organization": Paul Richards (see "Louy K: Part 1" above) returns as Louis Kassoff. Jack Weston (Wilbur "Wormsey" Wormser on Red Brown of the Rocket Rangers, Chick Adams on My Sister Eileen, Walter Hathaway on The Hathaways, and Danny Zimmer on The Four Seasons) plays mob financier A.J. Naomi Stevens (see "Louy K: Part 1" above) returns as his Aunt Rose. John Vivyan (see "Louy K: Part 2" above) returns as Lepke Buchalter. Robert Ellenstein (see "The Jack 'Legs' Diamond Story" above) returns as Legs Diamond. Henry Corden (see "Louy K: Part 2" above) returns as Waxey Gordon. Stanley Adams (see "Louy K: Part 2" above) returns as Charlie Gurrah. Norman Alden (see "The Jack 'Legs' Diamond Story" above) plays gangster Lucky Luciano. Dick Wilson (see "The Jack 'Legs' Diamond Story" above) plays gangster Little Augie Orgen.
Season 3, Episode 6, "Louy K: Part 4--Heydays of the Organization": Paul Richards (see "Louy K: Part 1" above) returns as Louis Kassoff. Naomi Stevens (see "Louy K: Part 1" above) returns as his Aunt Rose. John Vivyan (shown on the right, see "Louy K: Part 2" above) returns as Lepke Buchalter. Robert Ellenstein (see "The Jack 'Legs' Diamond Story" above) returns as Legs Diamond. Joan Staley (Playboy Playmate who appeared in Cape Fear, Roustabout, Valley of the Dragons, Johnny Cool, and The Ghost and Mr. Chicken and played Hannah on 77 Sunset Strip and Roberta Love on Broadside) plays Diamond's mistress Kiki Roberts. Henry Corden (see "Louy K: Part 2" above) returns as Waxey Gordon. Stanley Adams (see "Louy K: Part 2" above) returns as Charlie Gurrah. Norman Alden (see "The Jack 'Legs' Diamond Story" above) plays gangster Lucky Luciano. Milton Frome (starred in Pardners, The Delicate Delinquent, and The Swinger and played Lawrence Chapman on The Beverly Hillbillies) plays Ruditsky's superior Capt. McCloskey.
Season 3, Episode 7, "Louy K: Part 5--The Disintegration": Paul Richards (see "Louy K: Part 1" above) returns as Louis Kassoff. Naomi Stevens (see "Louy K: Part 1" above) returns as his Aunt Rose. John Vivyan (see "Louy K: Part 2" above) returns as Lepke Buchalter. Henry Corden (see "Louy K: Part 2" above) returns as Waxey Gordon. Stanley Adams (see "Louy K: Part 2" above) returns as Charlie Gurrah. Joseph Mell (see "The Jack 'Legs' Diamond Story" above) returns as a fish peddler.
Season 3, Episode 8, "The Miles Miller Story": Walter Burke (shown on the left, starred in All the King's Men, Jack the Giant Killer, and Support Your Local Sheriff! and played Tim Potter on Black Saddle) plays underworld attorney and mastermind Miles Miller. Richard Reeves (Mr. Murphy on Date With the Angels) plays one of his thugs Red Morin. Joan Staley (see "Louy K: Part 4--Heydays of the Organization" above) plays Miller's girlfriend Daphne Marco. Meg Wyllie (Mrs. Kissell on The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters and Aunt Lolly Stemple on Mad About You) plays an insurance company agent's wife Mrs. Banks.
Season 3, Episode 9, "The Kid Dropper Story": Jack Weston (see " Louy K: Part 3--Birth of the Organization" above) plays gangster Jacob "Kid Dropper" Koster. Al Ruscio (Paul Locatelli on Shannon, Sal Giordano on Life Goes On, and Frank Ruscio on Joe's Life) plays his brother Benjamin. Bartlett Robinson (Frank Caldwell on Mona McCluskey) plays the New York District Attorney. Milton Frome (see "Louy K: Part 4--Heydays of the Organization" above) plays Ruditsky's superior Capt. Coombs. Ron Soble (Dirty Jim on The Monroes) plays Little Augie henchman Big Smiley.
Season 3, Episode 10, "Ginny": Barbara Stuart (shown on the right, played Bessie on The Great Gildersleeve, Alice on Pete and Gladys, Bunny on Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., Peggy Ferguson on The McLean Stevenson Show, Marianne Danzig on Our Family Honor, and Alice on Huff) plays Dutch Schultz's girlfriend Ginny. Milton Frome (see "Louy K: Part 4--Heydays of the Organization" above) returns as Capt. McCloskey. Hal Hamilton (Dr. Sidney Fell on Days of Our Lives) plays dirty cop Det. Rand. Bobs Watson (Sidney on The Jim Backus Show) plays a popcorn vendor.
Season 3, Episode 11, "Little Augie": Vic Morrow (shown on the left, starred in Tribute to a Bad Man, God's Little Acre, and Portrait of a Mobster and played Sgt. Saunders on Combat! and Capt. Eugene Nathan on B.A.D. Cats) plays gangster Jacob "Little Augie" Orgen. Stanley Adams (see "Louy K: Part 2" above) returns as Charlie Gurrah. Sid Tomack (Jim Gillis on The Life of Riley) plays garment factory owner Henry James. Orville Sherman (Mr. Feeney on Buckskin, Wib Smith on Gunsmoke, and Tupper on Daniel Boone) plays one of his striking workers Samuel Landman. Terence de Marney (Case Thomas on Johnny Ringo and Counsellor Doone on Lorna Doone) plays underworld financier A.J. Tyler McVey (Gen. Maj. Norgath on Men Into Space) plays a judge. Hugh Sanders (starred in That's My Boy, The Pride of St. Louis, The Winning Team, and The Wild One) plays the New York District Attorney.
Season 3, Episode 14, "Blood Brothers": Harry Dean Stanton (shown on the right, appeared in Kelly's Heroes, Dillinger, Cool Hand Luke, Repo Man, Pretty in Pink, Alien, Paris, Texas and played Jake Walters on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman) plays small-time punk Tommy Ryan. Joe Corey (Humphrey Humpsteader on Dear Phoebe) plays his best friend Vince Matteo.
Season 3, Episode 15, "The Victor Gorido Story": Henry Corden (shown on the left, see "Louy K: Part 2" above) plays hitman Victor Gorido. Dick Miller (see "The Jack 'Legs' Diamond Story" above) plays his partner Happy Mione. Charles Wagenheim (see "The Sonny Rosen Story II" above) returns as Louie the Gimp.
Season 3, Episode 16, "Artie Moon": George Brenlin (Benny on General Hospital and Deke Dukowski on Adam-12) plays small-time racketeer Artie Moon. Mary Webster (Rachel Verinder on The Moonstone, Jill Reed on Emergency-Ward 10, Anna on Circus, and Sarah Onedin on The Onedin Line) plays his wife Goldie. Warren Oates (starred in In the Heat of the Night, The Wild Bunch, and Stripes and who played Ves Painter on Stoney Burke) plays his partner Charlie Brown.
Season 3, Episode 17, "Triple Cross": Stephen Roberts (Mr. Stan Peeples on Mr. Novak) plays thug Olaf Jurgeson. Nita Talbot (shown on the right, played Dora Miles on The Jim Backus Show, Marya on Hogan's Heroes, Judy Evans on Here We Go Again, Delfina on General Hospital, and Rose on Starting From Scratch) plays his girlfriend Mildred Greyson. John Gabriel (see "The Sonny Rosen Story II" above) plays his getaway driver Eddie Maschio. David Fresco (Albert Wysong on Murder One) plays Charlie Lucky operative Crawford. Peter Brocco (see "The Sonny Rosen Story II" above) plays Mildred's father Isaac Gross.
Season 3, Episode 18, "The Jonathan Wills Story": Tommy Cook (played Little Beaver in the Red Ryder radio serial and in feature film The Adventures of Red Ryder and appeared in Jungle Girl, Tarzan and the Leopard Woman, Humoresque, and Teenage Crime Wave) plays low-level criminal Joey Valenti.
Season 3, Episode 19, "Romeo and Rose": Paul Richards (see "Louy K: Part 1" above) plays hitman Manny "Romeo" Farkas.
Season 3, Episode 20, "Ike, the Novelty King": Joseph Mell (see "The Jack 'Legs' Diamond Story" above) plays novelty shop owner Ike, the Novely King. John Vivyan (see "Louy K: Part 2" above) returns as Lepke Buchalter. James Lanphier (shown on the left, see the biography section for the 1960 post on Peter Gunn) plays Lepke's lieutenant Pittsburgh Phil. Orville Sherman (see "Little Augie" above) plays furrier Sam. Norman Alden (see "The Jack 'Legs' Diamond Story" above) returns as Dutch Schultz hitman Lulu.