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Darren McGavin
(as Mike Hammer)

Darren McGavin as Mike Hammer

All right, sweetheart, you may think of actor Darren McGavin as the potty mouthed father on The Christmas Story. But Darren went back long before then.

Because many actors' first roles are often uncredited, it's kind of hard to see when Darren first appeared. Certainly he appeared in the TV series "Lamp Onto My Feet" in 1949. Yes, that's nineteen forty-nine. This was literally in the primordial days of network television. His first starring role was Casey: Crime Photographer where he took over the starring role from Richard Carlyle in 1951. Originally a radio show, Casey was about a "crack crime photographer" of a great metropolitan newspaper. Of course, Casey actually got involved in solving the crimes and you wonder what the heck we needed the police force for. But then Casey was fiction and as hard as it is to believe - since it was on television, it must be true - very few crime photographers actually solve crimes. Not if they want to keep being crime photographers. The series only lasted to the next year, a decision that Darren himself thought was justified.

But Darren's best series has to be Mike Hammer where Darren played the detective creation of Mickey Spillane. In a day where special effects were virtually non-existent (or at best rather laughable), it wasn't practical to take up 15 minutes of the half hour show with overly choreographed fight scenes. No, they just had to have a good story and when Mike had to resort to rough stuff, it was quick. Better yet, with only half an hour, the script had be compact and concise, and the shows avoided the ennui of our three hour so-called "action" shows which put you to sleep waiting for the action to move on. The shows have been released on DVD.

With apologies to Biff Elliott, Brian Keith, and Stacy Keach, Darren's portrayal was the best of the Mike Hammer variants we've had through the years. Darren's portrayal was not as hard bitten as his literary counterpart, and the show is played with plenty of tongue in cheek. But like in the books, the television Mike didn't like to bother with legal niceties, and what raises the eyebrows of the modern audiences who remember the prissiness of 1950' TV shows ("Ozzie and Harriet", "I Love Lucy", "Leave It to Beaver") is the amount of violence and sexual innuendo in the episodes. Mike has no hesitation pounding hoods and slapping punks around (including teenage "beatniks") for information. He regularly shoots three or four people a week (or tosses them out upper-story windows or down fire escapes). There's also a lot of the shows where Mike has to deal with men who are indulging in what was then illegal "art" photography as a side line for would-be models, or non-family valued recreation of gentleman's interests, including said recreation requiring payment. One of the - ah - gentlemen - who was taking refreshment on the side and needed Mike's help was none other than a pre-Bonanza Lorne Greene. It was the subject matter and violence that contributed to the show's cancellation after two years. Laughable by today's standards, but there you are.

On the other hand there is one habit of Mike's that is - at least from our standards of today - absolutely unforgivable.

Mike smoked on camera.




"Darren McGavin and Kathy Browne Website", The authorized Darren McGavin and Kathy Browne website. Kathy, of course, was Darren's actress wife who also appeared in many television shows, including Star Trek and The Wild Wild West.