Monday, December 24, 2012

Car 54 Where are You by Martin Grams

Regular readers of Bruce’s Journal should know that for 50 years I have been a big fan of Car 54 Where are You that originally aired from 1961-63 on NBC.  I recently reported on an excellent web site on the show that lead me to this book which is the definitive volume on this show.

Grams, M. (2009). Car 54 where are you?. Albany, GA: BearManor Media.

It tells a lot about how Nat Hiken conceived the series.  Most police shows back then demonstrate the excellent work that officers do in fighting and preventing crime.  Hiken saw the need to demonstrate that policeman are people too with lives away from their jobs.  He was quoted as saying “I want to show that cops are human beings.  They’re regular guys underpaid  for what they do. And have human failings and problems.“  The working title for the show was “The Snow Whites” since back then the tops of police cars were white.  Back then two-tone cars were popular.  My dad had a 1957 Chevy Bel Air with a black body and white top.

The show was filmed in the Bronx with a red car  since in the early 1960s police cars were green.  This way Car 54 would not be mistaken for a real police car.  Reaction to the show was mixed.  For example the New York Times wrote an editorial praising the show for its humanizing police officers.  There was some criticism of the show’s portrayal as police officers as clowns.

One can not argue with success as the show garnered very high ratings in the two seasons that it was on the air.  Until I read this book, I did not know the reason that the show was only on the air for two years.  The author reports  that according to Fred Gwynne (the actor who played Officer Muldoon) Nat Hiken was under great stress to write, produce, and direct the series.  He just couldn’t handle that and sadly pulled the plug on the series.  Hiken was a heavy smoker and sadly passed away in 1968 at age 54.  I thank him for the two seasons and 60 episodes of the series.

The author provides a synopsis of the 60 episodes and an appendix of unused plot suggestions and outlines.  He provides biographical information on most of the cast members and much minutiae about the series.  No book is perfect, I would have liked to see more information about cast members Beatrice Pons, Hank Garrett and Charlotte Rae.   I must commend Martin Grams for providing a lengthy bibliography of sources he used to write this book.  It is highly recommended for Car 54 fans who saw the show in the 1960s or those who found it in later years.

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