Bourbon Street Beat
Cal Calhoun, Rex Randolph and Kenny Madison
Created by Charles Hoffman (?)
Bourbon Street Beat (1959-60) was the first (but least commercially successful) of all the 77 Sunset Strip clones churned out by Warner Brothers TV factory back in the sixties, despite the intriguing setting of New Orleans.
In the debut, loosley based on Howard Browne's novel A Taste of Ashes (Browne was one of the show's writers), Big Easy private detective REX RANDOLPH, a well-dressed young man from one of New Orlean's "best" families. It should be noted that the brooding detective hero of Browne's novel, Paul Pine, bears little resemblance to the show's more light-hearted Rex, who travels to the small town of Pelican Bay to investigate the murder of his partner, whom the corrupt local police have already written off as a suicide.
The only voice of dissent is homicide dick CAL CALHOUN, a lanky, easy-going bayou giant of a man who likes to dress in white and sports a white plantation hat. Together, they crack the case, and a frustrated Cal decides his days on the Pelican Bay force are numbered. So he follows Rex back to New Orleans, and becomes his new partner, moving into the recently vacated position in the agency offices next to The Old Absinthe House in the French Quarter.
Of course, no 77 clone worth its salt would be complete without an attractive secretary holding down the fort, a trainee gumshoe, a buffoon for comic relief, and some sort of "hip" gimmick," like Kookie's comb. In Bourbon's case, the secretary was Melody Lee Mercer, an aspiring model, and the rookie was Texas rich kid KENNY MADISON, who was working his way through law school by allegedly doing part-time P.I. work, although mostly he seems to just hang around the office, wasting oxygen and snapping "glamour shots" of Melody.
The buffoon chores were ably handled by local jazzman Billy, aka "The Baron," a black pianist who seems to pop up almost everyywhere to act as a sounding board or offer a tune. Also appearing occasionally was his singer Lusti Weather.
The gimmick in Bourbon was in the way Melody and Kenny (and occasionally others) greeted each other. No mere handshake, or funky hi-five for these cats. Nope, the would-be woosome twosome would place their shoes "sole to sole", in a supposedly hip, "New Orleans-style" greeting. It didn't catch on.
Nonetheless, in many ways the show was the most enjoyable of the clones. The writing was, if not always logical, at least a bit more ambitious than the others, and there was an attempt -- at least sometimes -- to give both Rex and Cal a little more depth. Upper class Rex was apparently a master chef; a bon vivant who maintained a full kitchen in the backroom of the agency, where he would prepare various local delicacies such as bouillabaisse, and lobster soufflé for the rest of the staff, while decidedly working class Cal was a movie buff, covering the walls of his office with framed photographs of Hollywood stars, mostly female. He was also did impressions of various celebrities.
Evidently, Warner Bros. really thought this one would hit -- they even bought an interest in a real New Orleans restaurant, The Absinthe House, and placed the agency, Randolph and Calhoun, Special Services above it, even though the actual show was shot on a Hollywood backlot (the one used for A Streetcar Named Desire, in fact).
Unfortunately, despite a few decent scripts, an appealling cast (well, the leads weren't bad), and a real attempt at times of rising above the formula, the show bombed. Perhaps it was the lack consistency in the scripts. A healthy percentage of them were credited to W. Hermanos, a group pseudonym used by Warner to recycle scripts written for other series (Hermanos, is of course, Spanish for "brothers").
Not that Warner let anything go to waste -- Rex was eventually recycled as a member of the cast of 77 Sunset Strip and Kenny surfaced a year later in the same time slot as one of the Surfside Six Miami P.I.'s. Only big, tall Cal never surfaced again.
Maybe they should have given him a comb.
* Thirty-two writers were given credit on the 39 shows. According to Dick Martin, producer Charles Hoffman got most of the credits since he rewrote a number of scripts and earned an "and" team credit through abritration.
ALSO OF INTEREST
The themes for Bourbon Street Beat and the other Warner Bros cookie-cutter shows (77 Sunset Strip, Hawaiian Eye and Surfside Six, were utterly generic -- but catchy -- clones of each other. BSB's was no exception, but building a whole album on it? Especially since much of the music playred during the actual show was astoundingly inappropriate to whatever scene it was accompanying. Still, the cheesy. full-colour cover alone, with the entire cast, including The Baron and his littlepiano rolled out onto the sidewalk might be worth the price of admission.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Dick Martin for filling in some of the blanks.
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