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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Owen Marshall sucked. But I like it anyway.

Owen Marshall was an early 1970's drama of a lawyer and the cases he takes on. Much like Perry Mason, Owen Marshall found a way to win most cases. It was basic TV drama in those days. We were years away from Hill Street Blues and Family and others that didn't always go for the happy or predictable ending. But basically, like all shows, Owen Marshall: Counsellor At Law told stories. 
One of my favorite shows of all time is Law And Order. Most of us who like that show know the opening off by heart.

In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups. The police who investigate crime and the District Attourney who prosecutes the offenders. These are their stories.

In the world of TV drama, there is no comparison between Owen Marshall and Law And Order. Law and Order was one of the best written, filmed and acted shows of all time with storylines and issues that gripped you every week. Owen Marshall wasn't any of those things. It was just an okay 70s TV show.
Everybody has got a story. This is mine, and this is theirs. By theirs, I mean the people in the episode of Owen Marshall I just watched who have faded into the shadows, and those that shined brighter after this episode.
Owen Marshall sucked. But I like it anyway. I'm going to tell you why. So, first, my story. Then theirs.
The plot is predictable and somewhat boring.
The acting is bad, and when it isn't bad it is horrifically overacted by young actors looking to get noticed. In this episode (not the one I am using for this blog) James Brolin (pre Marcus Welby) plays an ex-boxer turned singer who gets in trouble. Oh, and he also has a horrible Louisiana accent and other traits which don't make any sense at all for the character he plays. So, he overacts the crap out of it.

The writing is terrible and the topics were weak and not explored in any detail. Not much to really recommend the show as time has passed. That is one of the reasons it is long forgotten and never mentioned with the great shows of that era. However, it did last for 4 years on TV, so it was popular enough. Popular enough in fact that I remember it well. Why?
Because it takes me back. Back to the early 70s, when I remember my parents watching an episode in their bedroom. It was one of the happy times when we were all in the room together before all the crazy shit in my life and our lives started to happen. I don't remember at all that specific episode or anybody that was on it, only that we all watched it together as a family.

Owen Marshall is a very 70s show. Back when you didn't have to wow them, and have great scripts, classic one liners and top shelf characters like you see these days. The minute you watch it, you are transported back to the 70s. Whether that is good or bad, take it for what it is.
Some 40 years later, Owen Marshall is back on my radar screen (You Tube screen actually) and it brings up all sorts of memories. Each time you watch one, you see all sorts of actors who went on to something very big, but were nobody when they were on the show. That still happens these days, but not as often.
I like to see young actors, who went on to much better things before they were anybody. And older actors at the end of their run, like Peggy Lee.

Here is another I watched with Peggy Lee. Yes, that Peggy Lee. Fever..Peggy Lee. Not a great actress, but certainly she could sing.

In the Peggy Lee episode, her son was played by Mark Hamill. The same Mark Hamill that went on to star in Star Wars 5 years later.

Here are some of the players in this episode called Shadow Of A Name, both the famous and the ones that never were. Everyone of them has a story. Just like all of us.

Arthur Hill was the star of the show. He played Owen Marshall, and he was in most of the scenes. Unless you do your homework these days you would be hard pressed to find him linked to any role but this one. But, he was very prolific before Owen Marshall, and afterwards for a time, until he decided to retire from acting for personal reasons.
In 1963 he won the Tony Award for his portrayal of George in the original Broadway production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? He also had many film and TV roles, including The Andromeda Strain (1971) and as the grandfather on Little House On The Prairie in 1976. 

Arthur Edward Spence Hill was born in Melfort, Saskatchewan, on the Canadian prairie. His boyhood ambition was to be a lawyer like his father, who knew each of the town’s 2,000 residents and was eager to help them with their problems. Writers have noted that in many ways Arthur Hill’s “Owen Marshall” character resembled the actor’s father.

Being that his father was the type of lawyer he played on Owen Marshall, it isn't any surprise that a fine actor like Arthur Hill played the role very well and his legacy is that role. Before Owen Marshall, Hill was a very successful Broadway and stage actor. He retired from acting to look after his very sick wife, who died slowly from Alzheimer's. The same fate that took his own life a few years later. 

"I can't hold it. She's breaking up. She's breaking up."

"Gentleman, we can rebuild him. We have the technology."

Lee Majors. Between The Big Valley (his first big role) and The Six Million Dollar Man (the role he is most known for), he was on this show. He didn't get to do much, but he was not a bit player. Majors played an ex-college and pro football player who had become a lawyer. Just like Arthur Hill, this somewhat resembled Lee Majors real life. 
Majors earned a scholarship to Indiana University to play football. After he transferred to Eastern Kentucky he played in one game the following year, but suffered a severe back injury that ended his college football career. Following his injury, he turned his attention to acting. After college, he received an offer to try out for the St. Louis Cardinals football team. Instead, he moved to Los Angeles and turned to acting. His first big role was on The Big Valley. Also on that show was a very young Linda Evans, who would go on to make her name on Dynasty. Among the more than 400 actors that Majors beat out for that role on The Big Valley was Burt Reynolds, another former football player turned actor. Owen Marshall came along shortly after The Big Valley, and of course Majors caught his big break when he was cast as Steve Austin in The Six Million Dollar Man.

And on this episode, briefly at the start, he interacts with his future wife,  Farrah Fawcett,  who had a very small role. They didn't meet on this show, they began dating 3 years earlier in 1968, but neither were the megastars they became about 5 years later. 

Farrah went on to be known for two things. A famous poster, and a TV show about 3 young women who work as private detectives. 

Nobody knew back in 1971 that she would become anything more than she was at that time; a very famous TV and magazine model.

Barry Sullivan played the hot shot lawyer hired to get one of the two young college kids off because of a fire they set while they were drunk that resulted in a death. As it turns out, Marshall is a family friend of one of the boys and he is hired to represent one while Sullivan's character (Grant Chase) represents the other. They have different motives, objectives and strategies on how to try the case and they clash, which forms the basis of the episode. Sullivan usually played the heavy or the not so nice guy with power. It was his niche.
Barry Sullivan was born Patrick Barry Sullivan on August 29, 1912 in New York City. He was the seventh son of a seventh son, a very rare oddity.
Sullivan was never a big time actor, but if you watch any of the popular TV shows from the 60s or 70s you will find that Sullivan guest starred on it. I have recently seen him on Barnaby Jones, Ironside, Hawaii Five-O, Mannix,  McMillan and Wife, The Streets of San Francisco, many times more than once, and of course in this episode. You would recognize him if you saw him, but likely not know his name. Like Majors, he was a football player until he fell into acting and earned a very good living doing it. Unlike Majors, he was never a leading man. He did have one major leading role in the 1947 movie The Gangster. 

Although he was a working broadway actor for many years before he got into television, he was mostly in flops and once he began to get steady work on TV he gave up broadway stage acting. He had found a very successful, if not famous way to make a very good living as an actor. He was always in demand (much like his character in this episode) when he wanted to work. 
Sullivan's youngest daughter, Jenny, was an actress and successful playwright. In addition to that, she married very successful singer/songwriter Jimmy Messina.

Sullivan also made a guest appearance on The Bionic Woman, the spinoff counterpart to The Six Million Dollar Man, which he never guest starred on. He also made guest spots on The Virginian and Bonanza, two of the other big Westerns' of the 1960s, but never on The Big Valley, which starred Lee Majors.

Joan Darling was a series regular who was never asked to do much either, but did have her moments. She played Marshall's secretary. In this episode, she had a much bigger part than normal, convincing Majors character to investigate and join the case when he didn't want to, which led to the evidence that helped Marshall's client avoid a possible death penalty.
But it was as a director that Darling made her mark. She was a very successful TV director, and her biggest claim to fame was directing the "Chuckles Bites the Dust" episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and received a 1976 Emmy nomination for that work. 

But it was as a film director that she will be most remembered. She was one of the first female film directors when that simply did not happen. She broke into that medium in 1976 with the Susan Dey starring film, First Love.

Jean Allison played the mother of Jerry Collier (played by Tim Matheson), the client of Owen Marshall who did do the crime, but only by accident. 
Allison was just a working actress, who never really worked much or gained any notice. Her first husband, Jerry Boyd,
wrote Million Dollar Baby.

In 1960 Allison met Phil Toorvald, a Stanford University senior studying electrical engineering. Allison decided that acting would take a backseat to her greater love, raising a family.  She was happy being a mother for many years and never returned to acting. 
Her first feature part had been in the 1958 film Edge of Fury On that set she met cameraman Jack Couffer. Fifty years later, after each had survived the loss of long time spouses they now share their lives together in retirement. 
Ed Begley Jr. went on to do some great things as an actor, and is now a devout environmentalist. In this episode, he played the basketball player in the first scene who is killed accidentally in the fire. He was only 22 at the time of this episode, one of his first roles. And not much of a role at that.
It wasn't until 1982 that he hit it big with St. Elsewhere. But he almost never made it to that show ten years later. In 1972, just a year after his character on Owen Marshall died in the fire, Begley was attacked in real life by a  gang of teenagers and nearly fatally knifed.

Two of his then little known co-stars on St. Elsewhere also went on to hit it big. Mark Harmon, also an ex football player went on to the mega hit NCIS, while Denzel Washington ended up doing okay in films. 

Tim Matheson played the Marshall's client. He had a significant role in this episode and clearly stood out as one of the better actors. His career really didn't take off until his starring role in Animal House (1978). He has been a steady working actor since then and has had many starring, if not spectacular roles.
He went on to act in over 100 film and television projects. Matheson had a recurring role as Vice President John Hoynes on The West Wing, a show that also starred Mark Harmon and also Ed Begley Jr., whom his character had killed 30 years previous in this episode.

John Larch played George Patterson, the District Attorney who wanted revenge for losing so many cases to better lawyers. Much like Barry Sullivan (who was his rival in this episode) Larch was a long time TV character actor, mostly in Westerns. He was in just about every western that TV made-except The Big Valley. Unlike Sullivan, he didn't get the notice that others did although he was a series guest star regular. He did have significant guest starring roles of a few episodes each for both Dallas and Dynasty, two of the biggest prime time soaps of their day.
Dennis Rucker as Harold, the witness at the party that gives the clue that saves Marshall's client from a possible death sentence. He was so obscure as an actor that I could not find out much about him. One of those who probably had an interesting life story that will never be told.
Bryan Montgomery played Roger Carlyle, the son of a wealthy importer who had the hot shot attorney (Sullivan) hell bent on getting him off even though he thought he was guilty, when in fact he wasn't. 
Montgomery's acting career never amounted to much, even as a bit player on TV shows. In Los Angeles from the early 1970s he found work as an actor and model. But his popularity never amounted to enough to make a living at it.
Later he became a restaurateur and opened both Beecher's Cafe in Malibu and Razzle Dazzle in Santa Monica, dying at age 62 in 2008.
Some made it big after this episode. Some didn't. Some took many years to hit it big. Some never did. Others were steady actors who made a good living, while others gave up acting for other pursuits. One was to be a wife and mother, while another became a famous director. 
Still another pair became man and wife and big time 70s icons on TV shows that endure to this day. 
Everybody has got a story. Sometimes you never hear that story. Today, you heard some of them. 
Part of my story is tied up in their stories, and the memories that come along with them. I watched many of the shows that were mentioned in this blog, and each one of those has a story and memory attached. But those are stories for another blog. 
As for me, I will keep watching shows like Owen Marshall, even though I know they aren't very good. It is what you don't see on the screen that makes it worth watching them again. And again. And again. Its the stories they don't tell.

1 comment:

  1. I understand Farrah was a semi regular on this series! Where can I see these episodes with Farrah?


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