Superman never made any money for saving the world from Solomon Grundy

Friday, July 31, 2009

arcane: known to only a few; esoteric [L.>arcanus- hidden] (see holocryptic & recondite)

Alan King was always one of my favorites. Even as a wee lad, I loved his stand-up routines and his appearances on Johnny Carson's couch, even though I had no reason to relate to his put-upon-by-modern-life suburban persona; I even read his books, Anybody Who Owns His Own Home Deserves It and Help! I'm a Prisoner in a Chinese Bakery.

I can recall as clearly as yesterday watching King do one of his routines more than forty years ago, maybe on Ed Sullivan, taking the piss out of the crop of television shows that season. Westerns were still in vogue then, and one of his bits went: "Look at Bonanza. It's Father Knows Best out west. The Big Valley? Mother Knows Best out west. Dundee and the Culhane? Nobody knows best out west!" The line got a big laugh, but I didn't get it.

I had never seen an episode of Dundee and the Culhane, and I still haven't. I can recall seeing subway poster ads for the show; I think they showed a top hat and a cane lying on a table with a cowboy hat and gun, or somesuch still life, with text promising something new in westerns. I was intrigued. I think the hat and cane put me in mind of Bat Masterson, another show that I liked, and I was always a sucker for people referred to with the definite article, so I was all over "The Culhane." I was primed for the show, but I never saw it.

Although these scattered remembrances - a line from a comedian and a poster - have floated in my consciousness since Lyndon Johnson was president, it was only recently that I thought I could use the power of the internets to tie this loose end off once and for all. I imagined I would be able to find a Dundee and the Culhane fan club, a tribute website, and even, if I were lucky, a full episode on YouTube or Hulu or somewhere.

Boy, was I wrong.

Oh, there are some sources out there, to be sure. IMDb catalogs the show, and Wikipedia gives it all of 169 words. It is mentioned ever so briefly on some television mega-sites and baby-boomer nostalgia pages. But there is no love for DatC on the internets: no fan site, no shrines, no clips, and very few stills. This one below repeats the most.

For the record, the show was a lawyer-western hybrid that aired for thirteen episodes in the fall of 1967. Dundee was a British attorney who came to practice in the American old west (how does that work?), establishing an office in Sausalito of all places. The Culhane was his Irish-American --- apprentice? partner? -- I'm not really sure. Apparently, the pair traveled across the west, providing thrills of the Perry Mason meets Have Gun, Will Travel variety. Dundee was played by John Mills, pre-Oscar and long prior to his knighthood; The Culhane was played by Sean Garrison, who seems to have been a working television actor up until 1981 or so. All of the episode titles ended with "Brief" - "The Cat in the Bag Brief," "The Death of a Warrior Brief," and so on. I think I really would like to see an episode or two.

But what is much more interesting to me about this whole affair is that even with the internets, there is still some ephemeral knowledge that is out of easy reach. One of the first websites I ever contributed to years ago was a Tales of the Gold Monkey fan page. I was amazed then that this obscure show, which lasted one season in the early eighties, had so much information available; in the ensuing years, I gradually became accustomed to finding on the web any information I wanted I almost no time, and was amazed at just how much energy was poured into some pretty specific niche interests. But despite to this commodification of popular culture and the incredible networking power of the world wide web, there are still some things that remain known only to a few; the details of the adventures of these two gunslinging lawyers seem to be in the category. If I really want to find out about Dundee and the Culhane, I'm going to have to work a little harder than making a few Google searches. Somehow, that actually feels good.

And maybe I'll even do it. Then I'll know why that Alan King line was so funny.


RAB said...

The funny part of this for me is that as soon as you mention Alan King's name, before I even read the body of your post, the first thing that popped into mind was the name "Griff."

Sometime in the early Seventies, I saw King doing pretty much the same routine on the current television season, during which he repeatedly mentioned this failed series of the previous season starring Lorne Greene as a retired cop turned private eye in Los Angeles. All these years later I can't remember a word of King's routine, though I found it hilarious at the time...and I never saw Griff but King fixed it in my memory, seemingly forever.

The upshot is, we have essentially the same anecdote, albeit a decade apart. Also, Dundee and the Culhane sounds way more interesting than Griff.

Walaka said...

Now Griff I have seen. It was awful, but probably no more so than many seventies [insert choice]-turned-private-eye series.

What was it about Alan King that he could plant these darts so deep?

RAB said...

Well, that's what made him Alan King, right? A combination of wit and a personal presence (even, or perhaps especially, on a tv screen) that invites paying closer attention. If regular folks knew how it was done, we could all be Alan King too.