Saturday, June 23, 2012

It's Burke's Laaaaw!


BURKE'S LAW premiered in 1963 and ran in one form another for three seasons before being revived a full three decades later. For me, though, it was one of those Saturday afternoon cop shows that dotted the local stations in the late sixties.

An early one of the gimmick detectives, Gene Barry's Amos Burke was a millionaire police Captain who investigated crimes in his chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce Silver Shadow. He was single and lived in a mansion where he constantly had a different young lady, many of whom were strongly hinted at having stayed the night in the past.

Barry had somehow managed to avoid being typecast after his successful run as BAT MASTERSON--or did he? Both Bat and Burke were stylish lawmen. In a way, Gene Barry was simply updating his basic role the way James Garner would later do with Maverick/Rockford. He was aided and abetted on the series by veteran actor Regis Toomey and former "Teenage Frankenstein" Gary Conway as fellow detectives. Conway, especially in the early episodes was played up as the younger, handsome hero that the younger viewers might latch onto.

After a while, it became obvious that Barry was the show, though. Tough when he needed to be, soft at times but never weak and always, always witty! Burke was constantly quoting old sayings he'd just made up and labeling them as "Burke's Law." Episodes were all murder mysteries whose titles began with "Who killed...?" Familiar faces abounded and many fairly big-name guest stars per episode became a trademark of the episodes.

Toomey was a welcome presence but rarely had much to do other than look authoritative. Actor Leon Lontoc was our hero's chauffeur. Although not technically a policeman, he helped solve the mysteries at times while providing Mantan Moreland-style comic relief to Barry's Charlie Chan character. 

BURKE'S LAW was popular enough to be merchandised in both the US and the UK.

One highlight of the series was the appearance of actress Anne Francis as HONEY WEST, a female private investigator who was spun off into her own popular--now cult-favorite--series.

By 1965, spies were all the rage in all media thanks to the success of James Bond in an era of Cold War politics. The final, truncated season of the series ditched everything and everyone except Barry and made millionaire Burke into AMOS BURKE, SECRET AGENT.

Barry still avoided typecasting and went on to various other series as well as major TV movies and guest roles and even a surprise successful stint in Broadway musicals.

But in the early nineties, Gene Barry once again became Amos Burke in a short-lived modern revival of BURKE'S LAW, this time co-starring handsome young Peter Barton (THE POWERS OF MATTHEW STAR).

Anne Francis even returned as Honey West...more or less.

An early hit for Aaron Spelling, BURKE'S LAW has proven to have staying power with rerun success and in time has become a cult favorite due to the many guest stars in episodes, nearly all of who effortlessly have their scenes stolen by the outright charm of star Gene Barry. It's Burke's Law.

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