The cast of Squad 51: left to right – Julie London, Robert Fuller, Kevin Tighe, Bobby Troup and Randolph Mantooth. Photo courtesy of RobertFuller.com; used with permission. Click image to enlarge
By Paul Williams
In a high-definition, five-hundred channel universe, you never know what you’re going to see on some weird channel you didn’t even know you received. It’s like they’re showing everything that’s ever been shown in the history of TV, over and over again. Add the internet and DVDs to the equation, and the past is made present as TV shows from decades ago seemingly rise up and walk.
Or drive, as the case may be.
And driving is what the paramedics of fire-station drama Emergency! (1972-1977), along with the officers of police series Adam-12 (1968-1975) are again doing. For the past few years, these shows have found a new home on cable and satellite TV, and online as well, where you can purchase re-released episodes by the season for thirty-bucks a pop. Yes, throughout Canada and the U.S., “Rescue Squad 51” and “Police Unit 1-Adam-12” are still on the road, lights flashing and sirens wailing.
But don’t dismiss Emergency! and Adam-12 as just another pair of “classic” TV shows. In addition to their nostalgia value (it’s cool to see the old cars, vintage fashion, and what passes for a “heinous” crime back in the day), what’s fascinating for trivia buffs is the relationship between producer Jack Webb, and supporting cast members of Emergency!, Julie London and Bobby Troup. These are three people, uniquely connected over time, whose accomplishments went way beyond the world of weekly TV dramas, and that’s a fact.
Jack Webb; photo courtesy of Raul Moreno Collection; used with permission. Click image to enlarge
You may know of Jack Webb in relation to his enormously popular Dragnet radio and TV series. Webb created the show and starred as “Sergeant Joe Friday,” a no-nonsense, by-the-book, police officer with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). The story lines were, “taken from actual case files of the LAPD,” as was Webb’s rigid adherence to correct police procedure. By all accounts, his gruff, clipped, blue-collar Friday was not much of an act. This was Jack himself, in a rumpled tweed jacket, on the beat.
Off screen, though, Webb was no flatfoot. A multi-talented film and TV actor, would-be artist, director, radio announcer, and jazz lover, he parlayed his innovative and influential ideas into a successful company called Mark VII Productions, which was the producer of Emergency! and Adam-12. Arguably, it was Webb who invented “reality TV,” or at least “reality-based TV.” But as you will note from watching his shows, Webb’s version of reality tended toward the sentimental and moralistic. Still, his heart seemed to be in the right place.
Kevin Tighe and Randolph Mantooth; photo courtesy of www.emergencyfans.com; used with permission. Click image to enlarge
Webb’s linear, episodic, and almost documentary style transferred easily from Dragnet and Adam-12 (another “police procedural”) to Emergency!, the premise of which was straightforward enough, but very topical at the time. Firefighters Johnny Gage and Roy DeSoto (played by Randolph Mantooth and Kevin Tighe), become paramedics assigned to Station 51 of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. The time is 1972, and paramedics are a new thing. Many doubt the ability of firefighters to do medical work, and even supporters worry about their effectiveness in the field. Consequently, “Gage” and “DeSoto” are attached by telephone to “Rampart” General Hospital, from whose emergency-room staff they get real-time directions and advice.
The key hospital staff comprises the hip, tough, Dr. Kelly Brackett (Robert Fuller), the kinder, gentler Dr. Joe Early (Bobby Troup) and the nurse with the heart of gold, Dixie McCall (Julie London). Here’s where it gets interesting for trivia buffs.
For many years, London was a major movie star, playing alongside Hollywood’s leading men like Gary Cooper and Rock Hudson. Her movie career began in the 1940s and by the mid-to-late 1950s she was headlining three, sometimes four, movies a year.
Julie London, Bobby Troup and Robert Fuller; photo courtesy of www.emergencyfans.com; used with permission. Click image to enlarge
Building on her success, London focused on a singing career, becoming one of the top female vocalists of the 1950s and 1960s. She was beautiful and glamourous, possessing a distinctively smoky, sexy voice. Her signature song was “Cry Me a River,” recorded in 1955, and since covered by countless performers including Aerosmith, Dianna Krall and Alison Moyet. “Cry Me a River” is probably one of the most popular songs of all time.
In her singing career, Julie London sold many millions of albums, recording over 30 in total. She sang in the best nightclubs, headlined numerous shows, and continued a successful movie career into the 1960s.
Oh yes, and from 1948-1953, she was married to Jack Webb.
So hold that thought, while we turn to Bobby Troup (Dr. Joe Early). Troup started out as a jazz musician — a pianist-songwriter, to be exact. He began as a behind-the-scenes guy, and wrote songs for stars of the day like Sarah Vaughn, Joe Williams and Peggy Lee. But if he’s remembered for only one musical achievement, it would be for writing the music and lyrics for, “(Get your kicks on) Route 66.” Maybe you know it – it goes like this:
Well if you ever plan to motor West
Travel my way, take the highway
That’s the best
Get your kicks, on Route 66
(Bobby Troup, Londontown Music, 1946)
Robert Fuller, Randolph Mantooth, Julie London, Kevin Tighe and Bobby Troup. photo courtesy of www.robertfuller.info; used with permission. Click image to enlarge
“Route 66” was a huge hit for Nat King Cole, and the catchy melody and clever lyrics have endured for more than half a century. It’s one of the most recorded jazz standards ever written, and it surely kept Troup in new shoes for the rest of his life. Coincidentally, Troup wrote part of the song while driving a 1941 Buick from Pennsylvania to Los Angeles. At the time, L.A. was the place to be for songwriters, which is why he was headed there.
Then, after Jack Webb and Julie London divorced in 1953, Troup met and married Julie London.
Troup and London met in 1954, and it was Troup who managed and developed London’s hugely successful singing career. This was not surprising, because as well as being a respected musician, he had a degree in business from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Troup even wrote a few songs for London, including a big hit, “Daddy.” The classy pianist and the sultry singer were married in 1959, and stayed that way for 40 years.
But Jack Webb obviously continued to occupy a role in their lives. Troup, it turns out, played in a few episodes of Webb’s Adam-12, as did Troup’s daughter, Ronne. When it came time to cast for Emergency!, Troup and London moved into Rampart General full time, pretty much leaving behind their professional careers in music and in film.
In the early 1980s, Jack Webb was preparing for a third Dragnet series, apparently planning to reprise the role of Sergeant Joe Friday. Unfortunately he died from a heart attack in 1982, likely related to his notorious cigarette habit — up to three packs a day, some said.
Bobby Troup died in February 1999, aged 80, and Julie London died one year later on Bobby Troup’s birthday, October 18th. She was 74.
|Jack Webb Dragnet badge; photo courtesy of www.badge714.com; used with permission. Click image to enlarge|
Rampart, by the way, was a part of Los Angeles where Webb lived as a child. “Rampart General” in the show was a real hospital and still exists, although it’s called Harbor UCLA Medical Center, and is located in Torrance. The Los Angeles Police Department thought so much of Webb that they gave him a funeral with full police honours, named a police academy auditorium after him and retired Joe Friday’s LAPD badge, “714.” The LAPD Historical Society still holds an annual “Jack Webb Awards” ceremony. And Emergency! is credited with accelerating the acceptance of EMT-paramedic programs nationally and internationally, as a standard component of modern emergency services.
If you’re interested in the music angle, at least 25 Julie London CDs are available, as are a half-dozen by Bobby Troup. iTunes has songs by both artists, including “Cry Me a River” and “(Get your kicks on) Route 66.”.
And if you’re motivated to drive Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles, check out Historic66.com.
Finally, Martin Milner, who played Officer Pete Malloy in Adam-12, was also the star of a show called, coincidentally, Route 66 (1960-1964) in which two buddies have adventures while driving the highways of the U.S. in a shiny Corvette convertible. Apparently the producers of the show didn’t want to use Bobby Troup’s “Route 66” as the theme song because they didn’t want to pay royalties. They had composer Nelson Riddle write an original theme, which itself became a hit.
As Sergeant Joe Friday is credited with saying (although he actually said it a little differently), “Those are the facts, ma’am. Just the facts.”