Roy Huggins
(aka "John Thomas James")
(1914-2002)

Crime fiction lost an important pioneer when Roy Huggins died on April 3, 2002 in Santa Monica, California, at age 87. Although best known for having created such popular TV series as Maverick, The Fugitive, 77 Sunset Strip and The Rockford Files, Huggins started out as a novelist, producing a trio of books and several short stories that later became sources for his broadcast dramas.

Huggins was born in Litelle, Washington, according to a biography available at the Museum of Broadcast Communications Web site. After graduating from the University of California and then working for the U.S. Civil Service during World War II, "he taught himself to write gripping and literate drama by copying in longhand Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely," The New York Times reported in its Huggins obituary.

His first novel, The Double Take (1946)--serialized in The Saturday Evening Post--was a Chandleresque yarn that featured Los Angeles private eye Stuart Bailey, whose client is being blackmailed in regard to his wife's past; Bailey must investigate the woman's history in order to end the extortion. (Bailey subsequently made three short-story appearances, and after some modification, became the chief protagonist--played by Efrem Zimbalist Jr.--in the Huggins TV series 77 Sunset Strip). Huggins went on to compose two more novels: a suspenser called Too Late for Tears (1947) and a James M. Cain-ish work called Lovely Lady, Pity Me (1949).

However, the purchase of film rights to The Double Take convinced Huggins that steadier employment could be had writing screenplays than novels. He went on to compose several movie scripts, including those for The Fuller Brush Man (1948) and The Good Humor Man (1950), before writing and directing the 1952 Randolph Scott/Donna Reed western, Hangman's Knot.

In September of that same year, Huggins was summoned before the infamous U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to answer questions about his brief membership in the Communist Party, which he'd joined because of his dislike of fascism. "I ended up agreeing that people who had already been mentioned many times were indeed known to me as Communists," he recalled many years afterward.

Huggins moved into television in 1955. He joined Warner Brothers and later Universal Television, creating such memorable series as Maverick (1957-62), 77 Sunset Strip (1958-64), The Fugitive (1963-67), Run for Your Life (1965-68), The Outsider (1968-69), The Rockford Files (1974-80) and City of Angels (1976). He also served as executive producer on shows ranging from Alias Smith and Jones and the short-lived James Farentino mystery, Cool Million, to Baretta and Hunter. In addition to his episodic works, Huggins was behind several made-for-TV movies and miniseries, such as the Bill Bixby western, The Invasion of Johnson County (1976), and the small-screen adaptation of Taylor Caldwell's big-canvas novel Captains and the Kings (1976).

Author Max Allan Collins, who was instrumental in giving Huggins the Private Eye Writers of America Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991, calls him "a fine crime writer, and he may have become one of the giants of the genre had he not gone Hollywood. On the other hand, had he not gone Hollywood, we would not have 77 Sunset Strip, Maverick, The Fugitive and The Rockford Files--merely major popular culture touchstones of the second half of the 20th century." Collins says that "Maverick was my childhood obsession, and Huggins (with Stephen J. Cannell) put together what I consider to be the best P.I. show of all time: City of Angels," a drama that was set in Los Angeles during the 1930s and starred M*A*S*H alum Wayne Rogers.

"One of the charming things about Huggins," Collins remarks, "was his propensity for recycling his one Stuart Bailey novel, The Double Take, as TV scripts. The Double Take is undoubtedly the most filmed private eye novel ever--there was a Hollywood movie [I Love Trouble, 1948], and it was done (I think) on every series Huggins produced. It was on Rockford (twice I believe), City of Angels and even Maverick! The three [Bailey] short stories were also the subject of many Huggins TV adaptations, probably just so Huggins could double dip: get paid for the screen story and for the script."

Of course, contriving scripts for his own TV series as well as for other network shows (which Huggins did under both his own moniker and as "John Thomas James," combining the names of the three sons he had with his wife, actress Adele Mara) demanded more inspiration than recycling. Director Fielder Cook, who'd worked with Huggins over the years, recently explained the producer/writer's creative methodology as part of a Salon magazine tribute: "What a guy. Know what [Huggins] did? He had this magnificent car--a Cadillac or a Lincoln--and he would take off, alone in the car, and he would drive out into the desert and he had a tape recorder with him and he would drive and drive and just talk these stories into the tape recorder, and come back, give them to a secretary and there was a season!"

"The scripts Huggins wrote for the series he created are among the finest writing in television," opines Stuart M. Kaminsky, who in addition to penning novels based on his own characters, has to his credit two fine books (The Green Bottle and Devil on My Doorstep) based on the character of Jim Rockford, the charming and perpetually exasperated gumshoe Huggins created for former Maverick star James Garner. "Maverick and Gunsmoke were, in my opinion, the finest Westerns ever on television and both still play as well as they did when Huggins created Maverick. The Fugitive may be the finest dramatic series ever created and, in my mind, I find it impossible to believe that anyone can create a better private eye series than Rockford."

Kaminsky recalls once meeting Huggins, "back at Universal in the early 1970s. He was a gracious, quiet man, with a dancing quality in his eyes that made it clear that the world around him was fresh material for a new direction. If he had one particular strength," says Kaminsky, "it was in creating original characters who were always just ahead of the genre in which they existed."

It's hard to imagine a better epitaph than that.

......

UNDER OATH

  • "He taught me everything that I used through my career on how to create and write and produce a television show."
    -- Stephen J. Cannell
    .
  • "I'll be forever in his debt."
    -- James Garner, star of Maverick and The Rockford Files, in
    The L.A. Times
    .
  • "Roy was a giant in the television industry, He was brilliant. He had a very fertile mind and was a great storyteller. I think he had a sort of natural sense of popular art of the time."
    -- producer Jo Swerling Jr., in
    The L.A. Times

NOVELS

  • The Double Take (1946; Stuart Bailey)*
  • Too Late for Tears (1947)
  • Lovely Lady, Pity Me (1949)
    .
    * Also appeared in the March 1946 issue of
    Mammoth Mystery, in condensed form.

SHORT STORIES

  • "Appointment With Fear" (1946, The Saturday Evening Post; Stuart Bailey)
  • "Now You see It" (1946, The Saturday Evening Post; Stuart Bailey)
  • "Death and the Skylark" (1952, Esquire; Stuart Bailey)

COLLECTIONS

  • 77 Sunset Strip (1959, three novelettes based on the TV characters)

NON-FICTION

  • "The Bloodshot Eye: A Comment on the Crisis in American Television." (August 1962, Television Quarterly)

FILM

  • I LOVE TROUBLE
    (1948, Columbia Pictures Corporation / Cornell Pictures)
    93 minutes, Black and White
    Screenplay by Roy Huggins
    Based on his novel The Double Take
    Director:
    S. Sylvan Simon
    Starring Franchot Tone as STUART BAILEY
    Also starring
    Robert Barrat, Janet Blair, Raymond Burr, Janis Carter, Edward Ciannelli, Donald Curtis, Glenda Farrell, Steven Geray, John Ireland, Adele Jergens, Lynn Merrick, Tom Powers, Sid Tomack

  • THE FULLER BRUSH MAN
    (1948) (story)
    AKA That Mad Mr. Jones (1948)
    Screenplay by Roy Huggins

  • TOO LATE FOR TEARS
    aka "Killer Bait"
    (1949)
    Based on the novel by Roy Huggins
    Screenplay by
    Roy Huggins

  • THE LADY GAMBLES
    (1949)
    Screenplay by Roy Huggins

  • WOMAN IN HIDING
    (1949)
    Screenplay by Roy Huggins

  • THE GREAT MANHUNT
    (aka State Secret)
    (1950)
    Directed by Sidney Gilliat
    Screenplay by
    Sidney Gilliat  
    Based on a novel by Roy Huggins
    Starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Jack Hawkins, Glynis Johns, Walter Rilla

  • THE GOOD HUMOR MAN
    (1950)
    (story)
    Screenplay by Roy Huggins

  • SEALED CARGO
    (1951)
    Screenplay by Roy Huggins

  • HANGMAN'S KNOT
    (1952)
    Screenplay by Roy Huggins
    Directed by Roy Huggins

  • GUN FURY
    (1953)
    Writer
    Screenplay by Roy Huggins

  • PUSHOVER
    (1954)
    Screenplay by Roy Huggins

  • THREE HOURS TO KILL
    (1954)
    Screenplay by Roy Huggins

    A FEVER IN THE BLOOD
    (1961)
    Produced by Roy Huggins

  • THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES
    (1993)
    Writer

  • THE FUGITIVE
    (1993)
    Based on characters created by Roy Huggins
    Executive Producer: Roy Huggins

  • MAVERICK
    (1994)
    Based on characters created by Roy Huggins

  • U.S. MARSHALS
    (1998)
    Screenplay by Roy Huggins
    Based on his television series, The Fugitive
    Executive Producer: Roy Huggins

  • WRONGFULLY ACCUSED
    (1998)
    Based on characters created by Roy Huggins
    Written by Pat Proft
    Directed by Pat Proft 
    Starring Leslie Nielsen, Richard Crenna, Kelly LeBrock, Melinda McGraw, Michael York, Sandra Bernhard, Aaron Pearl
    Decent spoof of The Fugitive and other current thrillers. It helps if you like Nielson.

TELEVISION

  • KING'S ROW
    (Part of Warner Brothers Presents anthology)
    (1955-56)
    Created and produced by Roy Huggins
    Director: Paul Stewart

  • CHEYENNE
    (Part of Warner Brothers Presents anthology)
    (1955-56)
    Produced by Roy Huggins
    Director: Paul Stewart

  • CONFLICT
    (1956-57)
    Produced by Roy Huggins.
  • MAVERICK
    (1957-62)
    Created by Roy Huggins
    Writers: Roy Huggins, Marion Hargrove, Douglas Heyes, Montgomery Pittman,
    Directors: Douglas Heyes, Montgomery Pittman, Les Martinson
    Produced by Roy Huggins

  • COLT .45
    (1957-60)
    Produced by Roy Huggins

  • GIRL ON THE RUN
    (1958)
    (Pilot for 77 Sunset Strip)
    Produced by Roy Huggins

  • 77 SUNSET STRIP
    (1958-64, ABC)
    1 90-minute pilot
    205 60-minute episodes
    Created by Roy Huggins
    Writers: Douglas Heyes, Howard Browne, Marion Hargrove, Roy Huggins, Leonard Lee, Charles Sinclair, Roger Smith
    Directors: William Conrad, Lawrence Dobkin, Robert Douglas, Douglas Heyes, Leslie H. Martinson, Irving J. Moore, Leo Penn, Richard Sarafian, George Waggner
    Producers: Howie Horowitz, Fenton Earnshaw, Harry Tatelman, Joel Rogosin, William Conrad, Roy Huggins
    Executive Producers: William T. Orr, Jack Webb
    A Warner Bros Production

  • A FEVER IN THE BLOOD
    (1961)
    Produced by Roy Huggins

  • BUS STOP
    (1961-62 series)
    Produced by Roy Huggins

  • KRAFT SUSPENSE THEATRE
    (1963-65 series)
    Produced by Roy Huggins

  • THE FUGITIVE
    (1963-67 series)
    Created by Roy Huggins

  • RUN FOR YOUR LIFE
    (1965-68)
    Created and produced by Roy Huggins

  • THE OUTSIDER
    (1967, made-for TV movie)
    Created by Roy Huggins
    Directed by Michael Richie
    Produced by Roy Huggins
    Starring Darren McGavin as DAVID ROSS

  • THE BOLD ONES
    (1969-73 series)
    Produced by Roy Huggins

  • THE LONELY PROFESSION
    (Working title: The Savarona Syndrome)
    (1969, Universal made-for-TV movie)
    Original broadcast October 21, 1969
    96 minutes
    Directed by Douglas Heyes
    Written by Douglas Heyes, based on his novel The Twelfth of Never
    Executive Producer:
    Roy Huggins

  • THE YOUNG COUNTRY
    (1970)
    Written by Roy Huggins
    Directed by Roy Huggins
    Produced by Roy Huggins

  • THE CHALLENGERS
    (1970)
    Story, as John Thomas James
    Produced by Roy Huggins

  • HOW TO STEAL AN AIRPLANE
    (aka "Only One Day Left Before Tomorrow" [The Scavengers])
    (1971)
    Executive Producer: Roy Huggins

  • ALIAS SMITH AND JONES
    (1971-73 series)
    Produced by Roy Huggins

  • TOMA
    (1973-74 series)
    Produced by Roy Huggins

  • .THE ROCKFORD FILES: BACKLASH OF THE HUNTER
    (1974 made-for-TV movie/pilot)
    Co-creator, writer

  • THE ROCKFORD FILES
    (1974-80, NBC series)
    Creator
    Co-creator
    Also writer
    , as John Thomas James

  • THIS IS THE WEST
    (1974; made-for-television movie)

  • THE STORY OF PRETTY BOY FLOYD
    (1974; made-for-television movie)
    (aka "Pretty Boy Floyd")
    Executive producer: Roy Huggins

  • THE INVASION OF JOHNSON COUNTY
    (1976; made-for-television movie)

  • TARGET RISK
    (1975)
    Produced by Roy Huggins

  • BARETTA
    (1975-7; series)
    Produced by Roy Huggins

  • CITY OF ANGELS
    (1976; series)
    Co-created by Roy Huggins and Stephen J. Cannell
    Produced by Roy Huggins
    Starring Wayne Rogers as JAKE AXMINSTER

  • CAPTAINS AND KINGS
    (1976; television mini-series)
    Executive producer: Roy Huggins

  • ASPEN
    (1977; mini-series)
    Produced by Roy Huggins

  • THE JORDAN CHANCE
    (1978)
    Screenplay by Stephen J. Cannell
    Based on a story by Stephen J. Cannell and John Thomas James (Huggins)
    Directed by Jules Irving 
    Produced by Roy Huggins
    Executive producer: Roy Huggins
    Starring Raymond Burr, Julia Benjamin, Ellen Blake, James Canning, Maria Elena Cordero, John McIntire, Gerald McRaney, Ted Shackelford, Stella Stevens
    Burr plays Frank Jordan, a man wrongfully imprisoned, who becomes a lawyer upon his release and establishes the Jordan Foundation, whose goal is to give the wrongfully imprisoned, one last chance at absolution.

  • ARTHUR HAILEY'S WHEELS
    (
    1978; mini-series)
    Executive producer: Roy Huggins

  • COOL MILLION
    (1972, NBC; series)
    Created by Larry Cohen
    Writers: Gene Levitt, Juanita Bartlett, John Thomas James (Roy Huggins), Richard Morris
    Directors: Gene Levitt, John Badham, Barry Shear, Daryl Duke.
    Executive producer: Roy Huggins
    Starring James Farentino as JEFFERSON KEYES

  • HUNTER
    (1984-1991; series)
    Writer: Roy Huggins (also as John Thomas James)
    Executive Producer:
    Roy Huggins
    Roy Huggins also wrote several episodes of this likable Dirty Harry-clone.

  • THE FUGITIVE
    (2000-01, CBS)
    Executive producer: Roy Huggins
    Directors: Jeff Bleckner , Richard Compton
    Writers: Valerie Mayhew, Vivian Mayhew 
    Starring Timothy Daly as Dr. Richard Kimble
    Also starring
    Mykelti Williamson, Stephen Lang, Connie Britton, Bob Morrisey, Richard Brestoff
    Decent retake on the classic series, though owing more to the film than the original series. Great production values, and Daly and Williamson were likable enough in the roles.

FURTHER READING

  • Hollywood TV: The Studio System in the Fifties (1994; by Christopher Anderson)
  • Prime Time, Prime Movers: From I Love Lucy to L.A. Law--America's Favorite TV Shows and the People Who Created Them (1995; by David Marc and Robert J. Thompson)

RELATED LINKS

Respectfully submitted by J. Kingston Pierce, crime editor for January Magazine and head honcho at The Rap Sheet.


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