Peter Gunn was the first detective show to focus on a character created for television instead of one adapted from other media. It followed the adventures of private eye Peter Gunn and his girlfriend, Edie Hart. The series was created by Blake Edwards and aired on NBC from 1958-1960 and on ABC from 1960-1961.
Peter Gunn reached 17 in the Nielsen ratings in its first season and 29 in its 2nd season. It was well-known for its talented cast and also praised for its music. It was one of the first TV shows to have an original score, and its soundtrack was nominated for an Emmy and 2 Grammys.
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The man who played Peter Gunn himself was born in Liberty, Missouri, on July 8, 1918. He earned a bachelor’s degree in dentistry from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 1936 and majored in theater at the University of Kansas at Lawrence in the early 1940s.
Craig began to act in the university’s drama club and caught a case of the film bug. It led him to Hollywood where he auditioned under the name Michael Gale. His first role was as a sailor in the 1939 film Coast Guard. After that, he adopted another stage name; Craig Stevens.
His next few roles were also small and secondary, including Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in 1939. He earned several parts in the year 1940 alone, including Alice in Movieland, Argentine Nights, Lady with Red Hair, and the short film Those Were the Days! He also earned a part in I Wanted Wings in 1940.
Craig took a break from films during WWII. He served in the United States Army Air Corps First Motion Picture Unit in Culver City, California. He still used his talents to act in propaganda and training films for the troops.
Craig got an official contract with Warner Brothers in 1941. He appeared in several films that year, including Affectionately Yours, Law of the Tropics, The Body Disappears, Steel Against the Sky, and the lead in the short film At the Stroke of Twelve. He even acted in Dive Bomber, a film that featured his future wife Alexis Smith who he shared no scenes with.
He earned other successful roles in the next years. They included several films in 1942 such as Spy Ship and Secret Enemies and The Hidden Hand, Three Cadets in 1943, and Learn and Live and Resisting Enemy Interrogation in 1944.
Craig and Alexis Smith were married on June 19, 1944. They were married for 49 years until her death from cancer in 1993 but had no children.
Craig took small roles after he got married, including the training film How to Fly Your Airplane and films such as Since You Went Away and The Doughgirls. He even got the opportunity to play himself in Hollywood Canteen. He earned the lead in Plantation Melodies in 1945 and supporting roles in several other movies from 1945-1949.
Craig began to focus on TV in the 1950s with roles such as a 1-episode appearance on the Lone Ranger and a guest spot on The Ray Bolger Show from 1953-1955.
He had already been working in film for 19 years when he first appeared on Peter Gun in 1958. He even did a comedy skit with Tenesse Ernie Ford based on the show on The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford on May 7, 1959.
Craig moved to London, England, to play the lead in Man of the World in 1962. He then appeared in 334 performances of the Broadway musical Here’s Love. In 1964, he followed that with Mr. Broadway, a 13-week drama on CBS. He then joined a touring production of Mary, Mary in 1965.
Craig even got the chance to bring Peter Gunn to the big screen in 1967. The film was simply called Gunn and, despite being advertised as Gunn-Number One, never got any sequels.
Craig got a co-starring role for 1 season on the NBC show The Invisible Man from 1975-1976. He then went on to guest-star in a wide range of shows and worked with Peter Gunn director Blake Edwards on the 1981 comedy S.O.B. He appeared in La truite in 1982 and the TV movie Condor in 1985. His final acting role was the TV movie Marcus Welby, M.D: A Holiday Affair in 1988.
Craig Stevens died of cancer at the age of 81 at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on May 10, 2000. Funds from his estate were used to create the Alexis and Craig Stevens Performing Arts Scholarship at the University of Kansas’ theater department. His character Peter Gun also inspired the comic character Agent 327 and the cartoon character Archer.
Lola Albright was born in Akron, Ohio on July 20, 1924. Her parents were gospel music singers, but her father also worked as an inspector for a local insulating business.
Lola went to King Grammar School and graduated from West High School in 1942. She took up singing and piano at a young age. She also started working as a receptionist at the WAKR radio station at the age of 15. She left that station at 18 years old and moved to Cleveland where she became a stenographer at WTAM radio.
Her first public performance was on WJAM, another station in the area. She was discovered when she moved to Cleveland and a local talent scout saw her. She then moved to Hollywood at the age of 23.
Lola’s first film role was a short singing spot in The Unfinished Dance in 1947. She also appeared in The Pirate and Easter Parade, but her breakout role was the film Champion in 1949. She managed to land over 20 film roles in the next few years in everything from B Westerns to the 1950 slapstick comedy The Good Humor Man where she acted alongside her future husband Jack Carson.
Her appearance in the 1961 film A Cold Wind in August earned her critical appeal and helped her land other film roles such as the Elvis Presley musical Kid Galahad in 1961 and the 1966 film Lord Love a Duck. She left film acting behind in 1968 after acting in The Impossible Years, but fame wasn’t finished with her yet.
Lola had already been appearing on television since 1951. She appeared in an episode of Lux Video Theater, a recurring role on The Bob Cummings Show, and guest spots on several other shows. She joined the Peter Gunn cast as Peter’s girlfriend in 1958.
Lola sang in 38 of the 114 episodes she appeared in. That helped her attempts to start up a music career. She released 2 albums, Lola Wants You in 1957 and Dreamsville in 1959.
Lola won an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in a Dramatic Series for her work on Peter Gunn in 1959. She followed that up in 1966 with a Silver Bear award for Best Actress at the 16th Berline International Film Festival for Lord Love a Duck.
Lola Albright was married and divorced 3 times. Her married to radio announcer Warren Dean lasted from 1944-1949. Her union to actor Jack Carson from 1951-1955. Her marriage to Peter Gunn piano player Bill Chadney lasted from 1961-1975.
Lola retired from acting in 1984 and spent her last years in Toluca Lake, California. A fall in 2014 that fractured her spine led to declining health.
Lola Albright died at home of natural causes at the age of 92 on March 23, 2017.
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Herschel Bernardi was born in New York City on October 30, 1923. He was literally acting before he could talk, appearing with his family in Yiddish films by Edgar G. Ulmer as a baby.
He didn’t stop acting when he grew up but transitioned from Yiddish to English roles. He guest-starred in an episode of Bonanza in 1961 and an episode of Mr. Novak in 1963. He got the starring role in the CBS sitcom Arnie from 1970-1972, voiced Woodhead the rocking horse in Journey Back to Oz, and provided the Cowardly Lion’s singing voice.
Herschell appeared in several films and TV shows until being blacklisted in the 1950s. Once that was over, he continued to act and lent his voice to hundreds of films. He also appeared in hundreds of commercials with mascots such as Charlie the Tuna andthe Jolly Green Giant, and the famous “how many licks does it take” Tootsie Pop commercial.
Herschel even had a few successful records, including If I Were a Rich Man in 1967 and Pencil Marks on the Wall in 1971. The Vanguard Recording Society also had him record the semi-satirical “Chocolate Covered Matzohs live in front of an audience.
Herschel earned 2 Tony nominations for his role in the original production of Zorba and the 1981 revival of Fiddler on the Roof. He also earned a Primetime Emmy nomination and 2 Golden Globe nominations for his work on Peter Gunn and Arnie.
Herschel Bernardi died at the age of 62 at home on May 9, 1986, after suffering a heart attack in his sleep. He’s buried at the Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetary in Los Angeles, California.
Hope Emerson was born in Hawarden, Iowa on October 29, 1897. She began acting and touring with her mother at the age of 3. Once she graduated from West High School in Des Moines in 1969, she moved to New York City and began a vaudeville career.
Hope went to Broadway in the 30s, making her debut in Lysistrata. Her imposing size and height made her the perfect fit for the role of Amazon woman Lamputo.
She made her film debut in the 1932 film Smiling Faces but returned to the stage after that. Her performance in Street Scene in 1947 earned critical praise. She also provided the voice of Elsie the Cow for Borden Milk commercials throughout the 1940s.
Hope’s film roles included Adam’s Rib in 1949, Cry of the City in 1948, Westward the Women in 1952, and Death Valley Days in 1958. She even earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her performance as Evelyn Harper in the 1950 film Caged.
Hope’s first television roles were small guest appearances such as playing a housekeeper on the last episode of It’s a Great Life and an episode of Mr. Adams and Eve in 1957.
She joined the Peter Gunn as the matron known as Mother from 1958-1999 and earned an Emmy nomination for it. She left after the first season for a starring role in The Dennis O’Keefe Show. Minerva Urecal replaced her in part because of their physical similarities.
Hope Emerson died of liver disease at the age of 62 on April 24, 1960. She’s buried in the Grace Hill Cemetery in Hawarden, Iowa, and never got married or had children.
Florence Minvera Dunnuck was born on September 22, 1894, in Eureka, California. She developed her stage name by combining the letters from her hometown and state.
She began performing under her new name in the world of vaudeville. Her film debut came in 1933. It was followed up by uncredited parts, but she also played Mrs. Pasquale on the Sunday Night Hi-jInks radio program from 1932-1937.
Minerva entered the world of television in the 1950s. Most of her parts were westerns, such as The Adventures of Jim Bowie from 1956-1958. She also earned guest spots on My Friend Flicka, The Roy Rogers Show, The Loan Ranger, and The Range Rider.
Her only starring TV role was on The Adventures of Tugboat Annie. She eventually succeeded Hope Emerson in the role of Mother on Peter Gunn. She appeared in several guest roles after that, such as 2 episodes of Perry Mason. Her final TV appearance was as Mrs. Griffin on an episode of Petticoat Junction in 1966.
Minerva Urecel died of a heart attack at the age of 71 on February 26, 1966.
William John Bertanzetti was born on October 24, 1924, in Millsboro, Pennsylvania. He had cartilage-hair hypoplasia dwarfism and stood at 3ft 9in as an adult.
His family moved to California in 1927, and that lead him into the world of acting. He appeared in Micky McQuire shorts in the 1920s and 30s.
His film debut came when he was 8 years old in the 1933 film Gold Diggers of 1933. He also got a small, uncredited part in the 1935 film Bride of Frankenstein.
Billy also found parts on TV, including a recurring role as a leprechaun on The Dennis Day Show. He also joined the Peter Gunn cast for 8 episodes as a pool hustler named Babby. He even appeared on children’s shows such as Billy Barty’s Bigtop in the 60s and The Bugaloos from 1970-1972.
Billy guest-starred on several other shows and provided the voice for Figment in Epcot Center’s Journey Into Imagination ride. He even appeared in the annual Telemiracle telethon, one of the most successful in the world.
Billy married Shirley Bolingbroke in 1962. They had 2 children, Lori Neilson and Braden Barty, both of whom went to work behind the scenes in the entertainment industry. The entire family joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Billy was also an activist. He founded the Little People of America organization in 1957. It began as a meeting of 21 people and grew into a group that had over 6,800 members by 2010.
Billy earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1981. He was sued by 2 writers for his canceled show Short Ribbs which aired for 13 weeks in 1989. Both of them lost their case against him, but he claimed that the ordeal was the most publicity he ever got.
Billy Barty died of heart failure at the age of 76 on December 23, 2000. He’s buried at Glendale’s Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery. His nephew Michael Copeland worked with his wife Debra to write Within Reach: An Inspirational Journey into the Life, Legacy, and Influence of Billy Barty.
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