Tuesday, January 28, 2020

"Forgiving Jack Kelly"


It's time.

I’ve been down on this guy since 1957.

And for no really good reason.  (Although when did “intense grievance” require rational justification?)

My longstanding beef with Jack Kelly is quite simple.

He was not James Garner.

Which will make immediate sense to any Maverick fan, though even they likely got over it, and I didn’t.  Just last night, I “surfed” to a rerun of Maverick on The Westerns Channel and it was Jack Kelly and I spontaneously went “Awww.”

Which led me to think maybe it was time I should stop doing that.

Here’s the thing.

Unable to keep up with its breakneck production schedule, they decided to halve the load and have two “Mavericks” simultaneously cranking out episodes, one starring the original “Bret”, the other starring the mandatorily “B” name-starting “Bart.”  (There was later also a “Beau” and a “Brent.”)

The glaring problem was that “Bret”, played by James Garner, “had it” and “Brother Bart”, played by Jack Kelly, did not.

That’s why, for over sixty years, I have tuned in to Maverick rooting for “Bret” episodes, and griping vociferously when confronted by “Barts.”  

Both of them played essentially the same character.  (Recent research reveals they played exactly the same character.  Producer Roy Huggins “… insisted the writers visualize Garner as ‘Maverick’ while writing {all of} the scripts.”)

A dapper, card-playing reluctant hero, is what he was, no matter who played him, the spectacular Garner, or the thundering disappointment.

The unique “anti-hero” persona is why I enjoyed Maverick.  Although he inevitably did the right thing, it took (either) Maverick longer to get there than any other hero on television, which made the series stand out.  

Everyone else was itchin’ for a ruckus.  Maverick – whoever it was – itched for a “Full House” and a tasty cigar.

The thing is, with his irrepressible twinkle, James Garner could naturally pull that “Reluctant Hero” shtick off.  (Essentially playing it throughout his career, from T.V’s The Rockford Files to feature films like Support Your Local Sheriff and The Americanization of Emily.)  

Jack Kelly had no twinkle.

He had a hat and a horse.

Kelly was capable enough performer, acting in scripts written with another actor in mind.  Who knows?  Maybe if they had tailored the scripts specifically for him.

PRODUCER:  “An ‘okay actor’ with no twinkle.  Make me some magic, boys!”

Sound like a “Winning Formula” to you?

They’d have been better off giving his character a distinguishing “hook”, like one arm, or something.  (Note:  “Hook” is a show biz term, meaning “an identifiable characteristic.”  I did not mean to infer the missing appendage had been replaced by a hook.  Although shuffling cards with one hand… Nah.)

You know what?  I say “Let’s bury the hatchet.”  (Although I am unaware of Jack Kelly having any grievance against me, so it’s a one-sided “bury the hatchet.”)

The next time I turn on Maverick and it’s Jack Kelly not James Garner, I will not act like,

“Ladies and Gentlemen.  Replacing Ethel Merman in Gypsy will be Florence Henderson.”

From now on, I take Jack Kelly exactly as he is:

A man playing James Garner.

Without the twinkle.

4 comments:

JED said...

I know how you feel. I'm the same way with Curly episodes and Shemp episodes. I will try, from now on, to be as forgiving as you are.

JED said...

And yes, I know that Shemp was the original third Stooge in the act. But Curly remains my choice. Sometimes replacements are better than the originals.

Dave said...

Got to agree with you, but it never concerned me too much. (Certainly, Curly over Shemp.)

Another irrelevant note: on Bob Hope's final Christmas trip to Vietnam, (1971), one of his writers was Ed Weinberger, not Ed. Weinberger.

Brian said...

I feel the same way about any "Bewitched" episode that didn't have Uncle Arthur in it.