The thing that got me hooked on Ellery Queen – and mysteries – was the Ellery Queen TV show that ran in 1975. It starred Jim Hutton (father of Tim Hutton) and David Wayne as Inspector Queen. It was produced and largely written by Levinson and Link – the pair who brought us great mysteries such as Columbo, Mannix, and Murder She Wrote.
It was a brilliant show, with a great cast, and wonderful period style. The character of Ellery Queen evolved quite a bit in the book series – going from a foppish and silly young genius to a more bookish and absentminded fellow to a more brooding modern style toward the end. This series picked the bookish forties as it’s model, which I understand was partly modeled on Frederick Dannay – one of the writers behind the pseudonym of “Ellery Queen”.
Jim Hutton was always the perfect absentminded professor, but he was at least as famous for a number of action films he did with John Wayne, and a few conman sorts of roles. He always brought a bit of bookishness to the action roles, and in turn, he brought a certain sly wisdom that made his Ellery formidable even when he was forgetting things.
To me, though, it was David Wayne who stole the show. As Inspector Richard Queen, Ellery’s cranky father, he brought the perfect balance to Ellery. Just like in the books, these two were a perfect team. Fussing and arguing at times, but also always in sync, and a formidable pair for any murderer who dared cross their paths.
Unfortunately, this show only lasted for one season, perhaps because they had such complex stories. William Link has said that he and Levinson killed themselves to hide the clues in plain sight, and always play fair – but the stories were often too complicated for your average audience. Years later when they started Murder She Wrote, they made it easier to find the clues and kept the stories simpler. This was both easier on the writers and the audience.
I truly miss that show. It is NOT available on DVD yet. I have dear hopes that it will be.
One thing you can do for out of print works like this is to go to Amazon.com and search for the item. Sometimes you can sign up for the “alert me” or “first to know” mailing list. These lists don’t get you junk mail, but they do record how much interest there is in an out-of-print item, and each sign up is considered a “vote” for that item to eventually be offered for sale. Here is the Ellery Queen TV Show link.
The other thing you could potentially do is lobby famous people. I once met William Link at a mystery festival. He was premiering his own new Columbo play, “Columbo Takes the Rap”(and if that ever plays in your town, go see it. It’s a lot of fun). I asked him: “So when is Mannix going to come out on DVD?” He answered “Good question!” The next year, it was out.
I now kick myself that I had forgotten that he was responsible for the Ellery Queen TV show too. Next time I meet Mr. Link, I plan to ask him about it.