Martin Kane

Created by J. Walter Thompson & Co., on behalf of The U.S. Tobacco Company

MARTIN KANE was television's first private eye, and the show he appeared on, the aptly titled Private Eye was arguably its first infomercial, or at least an early champion of product placement.

An easy-going but determined Big Apple eye, Kane was immensely popular both on radio and television. He was followed soon after by Mike Barnett, the private eye hero of Man Against Crime, which made its debut a few weeks later. Together they became the first of what would become a long stream of video eyes.

Sponsored on both radio and television by U.S. Tobacco, Kane hung out at -- and always but always found a reason to pass though -- Happy McMann's Tobacco Shop, all the better to recap the plot and, more importantly, to plug the sponsor's endless array of products. But hey, the show was created by an advertising agency, after all...

Played by actor William Gargan on both radio and television, Kane was an affable kinda guy, sporting a spiffy bowtie and smoking a pipe, and looked for all the world like somebody's uncle, but under the veneer, he was hard and determined, and nobody's patsy.

But still further under that, he was still a kind of a doofus.

Which doesn't necessarily make these shows any less watchable, although some of the entertainment value was definitely unintentional.

The early days of live television are rife with stories of botched cues, falling scenery and hilarious fuck-ups, and Private Eye was no exception. Yet the show, like television itself, gradually improved, eventually shaking free of flat stereotypes, and by 1950, it had reached 12th spot in the ratings, and in two subsequent seasons, reached the top ten. It even spawned a short-lived comic book series, thus becoming the first TV/comic tie-in.

The radio show premiered a mere three weeks before the television show. Both were done live, and both proved popular, despite the fact that casting of Kane changed several times. In 1951, Lloyd Nolan (film's Mike Shayne) took over and in 1952, Lee Tracy stepped in to fill Kane's gumshoes. In 1953, Mark Stevens had a whack.

Each brought a different and slightly tougher spin to the character: Gargan was the world-weary but avuncular shamus, Nolan the wise-cracking private dick, and Tracy the "hardboiled cynic with a thick streak of sentimentality." Mark Stevens, who'd started in the classic 1946 B-noir The Dark Corner) brought a name change to the show (to Martin Kane, Detective) and a supposedly more realistic approach. According to Ric Meyer's TV Detectives, the show had good writing and an authentic feel to it, and was, all in all, a quality production.

A later attempt to revive the show, the British-produced, syndicated The New Adventures of Martin Kane, brought Gargan back as Kane, this time recast as a globe-trotting P.I. working out of London, but it never really caught on.

William Gargan on Martin Kane

From his 1969 autobiography, Why Me, Gargan gives us his perspective of his character, the series, and early TV:

"...Very soon in the game, I realized our stories were nothing to rave about. How much well plotted story line and genuine character development can you accomplish in a half-hour? So I made the program a showcase for me. After all, that was what we were selling - Martin Kane. I developed a tongue-in-cheek style, a spoof of the hard-boiled detective, a way of silently saying, 'Don't blame me for the lousy stories, I didn't write them. And anyway, what's the difference? Relax'

It was nothing staggering, my decision. It only made sense. Bogart's movie version of Sam Spade applied the same ground rules. We gave the audience a good time, and if all the threads were not tightly tied in a half-hour, we swept them under the bed. Have fun. And the show, for whatever reason, took hold.... The show had charm, and its charm held together the lunacy, the feeble character development, the limited camera work.

It also had a producer I could not abide.... He used the show for a flesh parade. The result was we had pretty, empty-headed girls on the show. blowing lines all over the lot.

The show began to slide downhill. In desperation, I began to mug a little more, to cover up the new holes, and the script writers began to write more blatantly. You get into a terrible rut this way. Everybody works harder to undo the damage, and the result is more screeching, more overacting, overwriting, which starts to drive the viewers away and to get them back you come up with more and more desperate gimmickery...." (Sounds like this aspect of TV hasn't changed much since the early days.).

Sidebar by Stewart Wright. For more on Gargan...


    (1949-51, Mutual; 1951-52, NBC)
    Approximately 175 episodes: 29 episodes are available
    First Broadcast: August 7, 1949 (Mutual); July 1, 1951 (NBC)
    Last Broadcast: June 24, 1951 (Mutual); December 21, 1952 (NBC)
    Writers: Ted Hediger
    Directors: Ted Hediger
    Sponsor: U.S. Tobacco
    Starring William Gargan as MARTIN KANE
    (Later Lloyd Nolan)
    with Nicholas Saunders as Sergeant Ross
    Frank M. Thomas as The Police Captain
    and Walter Kinsella as Happy McMann


    (later known as MARTIN KANE, PRIVATE EYE)
    (1949-53, NBC)
    120 30-minute episodes
    First broadcast: September 1, 1949)
    Paul Dudley, Alvin Boretz, Joel Sayre, Ed Sutherland, Henry Kane, Donald S. Sanford, Lawrence Young
    Directors: Edgar C. Kahn
    Producers/Directors: Frank Burns, Ed Sutherland, Edward C. Kahan
    Sponsor: U.S. Tobacco
    Starring William Gargan as MARTIN KANE (1949-51)
    also Lloyd Nolan (1951-52)
    Lee Tracy (1952-53)
    Mark Stevens (1953-54)
    with Fred Hillebrand as Lieutenant Bender (1949-50)
    Horace McMahon as Captain Willis (1950-51)
    Nicholas Saunders as Sergeant Ross (1950-52)
    Frank M. Thomas as Captain Burke (1951-52)
    Walter Greaza as Captain Leonard (1951)
    King Calder as Lieutenant Gray (1952-54)
    and Walter Kinsella as Happy McMann
    Guest stars: Eva Marie Saint
  • Season One (1949-50, with William Gargan)
  • "Premiere" (September 1, 1949)
  • "Murder on Ice"
  • "The Gaiety Burlesque" (1950)

  • Season Two (1950-51, with William Gargan)
  • "Altered Will” (January 1, 1951)...Buy this episode on DVD
  • "Old Major's Murder" (1951)
  • "The Reclusive Sisters"
    Possibly aka "The Three Sisters"
  • "Movie Theatre Murder" (February 15, 1951)
  • “The District Attorney Killer” (March 1, 1951)...Buy this episode on DVD or Watch it now!
    Possibly aka "The Harry Wright Case"
  • "The Face of the Inventor" (March 22, 1951)
  • "The Fortune Teller" (March 31, 1951)
  • "Murder in the Court" (1951)
  • "The John Bixby Murder" (1951)
  • "Hotel Con Game" (1951)
  • "The Boxer and Ma Benson" (1951)
  • "Costume Ball" (1951"
  • "Plainsclothesman" (1951)
  • "The Case of the Losing Picture" (1951)
  • "The Case of the Stray Bullet" (1951)
  • "The Fortune Teller" (1951)

  • Season Three (1951-52, with Lloyd Nolan)
  • "A Jockey is Murdered" (1951)
  • "Rest Home Murder" (1951)
  • "Peanut Dopey" (December 20, 1951)
  • "A Crooner Is Murdered" (January 31, 1952)
  • "Black Pearls" (March 27, 1952)
  • "The Dope Pushers" (1952)
  • "The Fire Extinguisher Gimmick" (1952)
  • "Lovella" (1952)
  • "Sweepstakes Ticket" (1952)
  • "The Wire" (1952)
  • "Johnny Silver/Nightclub Murder" (January 31, 1952)

  • Season Four (1952-53, with Lee Tracy)
  • "Altered Will" (Spetember 29, 1952)
  • "Big Mistake" (October 5, 1952)
  • "Hit and Run" (October 10, 1952)
  • "Murder in the Court" (October 16, 1952)
  • "The Post Office Murders" (October 27, 1952)
  • "Trouble on Board" (1952)
  • "The Comic Strip Killer" (April 23, 1953)
  • "Eyewitness Resurfaces" (May 28, 1953)
  • "Subway Switch/Paperbag Robbery" (June 11, 1953)
    Possibly aka "The Stolen Money"
  • "Trip to Bermuda/The Beauty Queen Murder" (June 25, 1953)
  • "The Nevans Murder Case"

  • Season Five (1953-54, with Mark Stevens)
  • (September 1, 1953)
  • "Gambling Murder Witness" (January 1, 1954)
  • "Shoeshine Murder" (April 8, 1954)...Buy this episode on DVD .
  • "Witness to Murder" (April 18, 1954)
  • "The Milk Bottle Burglar" (May 20, 1954)...Buy this episode on DVD

    (aka "Martin Kane, Private Investigator" and "The Adventures of Martin Kane")
    (1957-58, syndicated)
    39 30-minute episodes, B&W
    A Towers of London Prouction for ABC TV
    Directors: Gerry Anderson (1 episode)
    Producer: Harry Alan Towers
    Starring William Gargan as MARTIN KANE
    with Brian Reece as
    Superintendant Page
  • "The Kidnap Story"
  • "The Passport Ring Story"


    (1950, Fox Features)
    2 issues
    Artists: Wally Wood, Joe Orlando.
  • June 1950, #1
  • August 1950, #2



    (2002, Critics Choice)
    This "Critic's Choice" collection includes “Altered Will” (1951), “The District Attorney Killer” (March 1, 1951), “Shoeshine Murder” (April 8, 1954) and “The Milk Bottle Burglar” (May 20, 1954) .

    (2006, Critic's Choice)
    This second "Critic's Choice" collection boasts another four episodes, with William Gargan, Lloyd Nolan and Lee Tracy each taking a stab playing Kane. Eva Marie Saint shows up in one episode as well.

    (2006, Classic TV Series)
    This 2006 release promises "four gritty episodes," featuring William Gargan.

    (2006, Classic TV Series)
    This 2006 release promises "four exciting episodes" from later in the series, with Lloyd Nolan taking over the lead..

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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