Peter Gunn (TV Series)

The Henry Mancini theme music is even more famous than the television series. That pounding jazz vibe with the sassy horns.

It’s a great song, but the television series is no slouch either. It ran from 1958-1961 and a total of 114 black & white episodes.

Peter Gunn was a private detective in a television landscape of mostly cowboys and private eyes. Private eyes in the late 1950s were stylish and portrayed as very successful. They may have lived by the ocean, but not in a well-worn trailer like Jim Rockford. The contrast between Peter Gunn and Jim Rockford couldn’t be greater. Both are fun but of different generations.

I started watching Peter Gunn on Amazon-prime and got hooked. It’s a smartly written show with a main character that is a TV version of Cary Grant. Craig Stevens looks a little and sounds a little like Grant. He carries (no pun) himself smartly like Cary. The creator of the show, Blake Edwards, knew what he was doing.

Stevens oozes the right amount of charm and sense of humor. He can handle himself in a fight but doesn’t look for trouble. He operates in a tough world but always looks dapper in his tailored suit and combed hair.  Most of the Gunn episodes aired in the late 1950s, but it has a decidedly early 1960s-JFK cool vibe.  Sitting in Mother’s could be Frank, Dino and Sammy, soaking up some jazz beats and notes.

Craig Stevens and Lola Albright

Gunn doesn’t have a secretary and never seems to be juggling a lot of cases. He lives well but not extravagant. When he’s not working, you can find him at Mother’s a lounge where his girlfriend Edie works as a singer. They are close but not serious enough to get married. No sign that she spends the night. These were the Eisenhower years.

This series has its origins in other detective characters created by Edwards (The Pink Panther, Victor/Victoria), first on radio and then other television series. In the 1950s, series usually had over 30 episodes in a season. Edwards produced the series and wrote some of the stories, but for a weekly series, he hired good writers and directors. Series television had a voracious appetite for content.

A half hour show (minus commercials) has to quickly set the situation, tell the story, and then tie it together. The show used a few regular sets but incorporates outdoor locations to provide enough action to advance the story and keep the audience. Blake kept the dialogue balanced to reveal the characters and delivery key story-points. On a limited budget, the shows had very good production values.

Gunn advising Lt Jacoby

The cast also included Police Lieutenant Jacoby, considered a friend of Gunn, and they help each other in solving cases. A good private eye always has inside help.

Stevens was well known about Hollywood, guesting on my television series and a number of small and secondary film roles.  A dependable actor who did not establish himself into a featured actor.  He was a very good fit for the Gunn series and this led to a long television career.

Producer Edwards keeps the show moving, no dead time in any episode. One of the high points is Edie singing with the band, incorporated in the episodes. From the theme song to the band at Mother’s to the incidental music, it might not have been high art but it had the beat of the era.

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