November 23, 2016

But what did you really think, Brett Halliday?

Did you ever wonder how writers whose work winds up being adapted for television feel about those adaptations? We know they're not always pleased, and if one of them happens to be named Harlan Ellison, we also know we're sure to read about it. Most of the time they profess to be pleased, at least in public, but often they have ways of letting people know their true opinions. Not all of them are as creative as Brett Halliday, though.

Halliday was the literary creator of Michael Shayne, a two-fisted detective out of the Mickey Spillane school, with perhaps a little less sex and violence. In addition to appearing in nearly 80 books (50 of which were actually written by Halliday; the rest by ghostwriters), Shayne also featured on radio and in a a very successful series of movies, with first Lloyd Nolan and then Hugh Beaumont (!) portraying Shayne. Inevitably, Shayne would make it to television, in a 1960 series starring Richard Denning, about which I wrote here.

The pilot episode "This Is It, Michael Shayne," contains an addendum plugging the series to potential sponsors. Halliday himself makes a brief appearance in this section, seeming quite enthusiastic about the potential series.* Denning even uses uses Halliday's continuing involvement in the series as yet another incentive for those sponsors. It's quite an interesting plug.

*At least in words, if not in delivery. Maybe his ghostwriters wrote it for him.

Considering that Michael Shayne lasted just one season, one might be curious as to how Halliday felt about it all. Well, thanks to the fact that the Shayne books continued to come out long after the series ended, we have an idea.

In the book Murder by Proxy, published in 1962 (after the series had been cancelled), we find that the character Michael Shayne now lives in a world in which the Shayne TV series also exists, giving people a chance to ask about his thoughts on the series. It's a very meta concept, but not an unknown one; after all, both Archie Goodwin and Dr. Watson will, on occasion, run into someone who's read one of their books detailing a case solved by their famous bosses. It's natural, then, that it would be updated for the modern age by having had people see the TV series.

Anyway, as we join the story in progress, Mike and his newspaper friend Tim Rourke (played in the series by Jerry Paris) have stopped for a drink in a cocktail lounge, where they're served by Tiny the bartender, who knows Shayne well.

"Aren't you Tim Rourke, now? So it'll be bourbon and water. You can see I read all those books about you, Mike. But what's with this lousy T-V show on NBC Friday nights" He scowled as he poured whisky for Rourke. "Where'd they did up that bird that plays you, Mike? Why in hell aren't you out there playing the part your ownself?"

"A small beer, Tiny," Merrill had Ellen's photograph in his hands and he tapped it on the bar, but Tiny was giving his full attention to Shayne. "Take that show last night now. I turn it on every Friday night here just for laughs. My God, Mike! The way that actor got pushed around by everybody last night. How can you stand to watch it?"

Shayne said, "I don't." He sipped the fine cognac appreciatively. "I haven't tuned it in since the first two shows. Richard Denning is supposed to be a very fine actor."

"He the guy who plays you?" Tiny snorted his disgust. "Maybe he's a good actor, but the things they have him do...." He shook his head sadly. "And how do you like that young wise-cracker they got playing you, Mr. Rourke?"

Rourke said, "I'm like Mike. I just don't watch T-V."

"What's the matter with that friend of yours that writes the show?" Tiny demanded. "That Brett Halliday. Has he gone nuts or something? His books are swell, but God preserve me from those stories every Friday night."

"He doesn't write those," Shayne explained wryly. "The wise boys in Hollywood won't let him. They think they've got writers out there who know better how to do it."

"I'll tell you one thing frankly, Mike. It's a stinker and it's not going to stay on the air very long. Like I say, I turn it on here because it's supposed to be you and from Miami and all, and I hear what people say about it. We're proud of you in Miami, damn it, and it makes people sore to watch it."

Later, Shayne is interviewing a possible witness to a murder he's investigating. After getting the information he's looking for, he tells the man that the police may want to speak with him later.

"Sure. Say, aren't you Mike Shayne, the famous detective?

"I'm a detective and my name is Shayne."

"Gee, my kid'll be nuts when I tell him. He watches your T-V show every Friday night, but that actor doesn't look like you much."

Shayne grinned and got back in his car as a taxi drew up behind him.

Finally, there's the scene in which Shayne is working with Angelo Fermi, a detective on the New York police force. They're introduced by Shayne's old friend Jim Gifford.

"Only inducement I could hang in front of Angelo's nose to get him out here this afternoon, was that you'd tell him how to get a Fermi show on television."

Shayne grinned and told the New York detective, "You wouldn't like it. If you ever watched my show, you'd know why I don't."

"I'd like the money that is in it," Fermi told Shayne with conviction. "I have this idea for a series built entirely on the use of fingerprint evidence to solve otherwise insoluble cases. Everything authentic and taken from the records. I have been gathering material for twenty years, but I do not know how to approach the networks." His liquid black eyes were hopeful.

Shayne said, very seriously, "I'll tell you what, Fermi. If this thing comes off this afternoon the way I think it will, Brett Halliday will be up here getting the dope from you to help him make a book out of it."Brett is the one who knows all the T-V angles. You talk it over with him and he'll give you the straight dope."

I'm not positive, but I think Halliday didn't much like Richard Denning as Shayne. Nothing personal, I'm sure. Having read several of the books, I have to agree - Denning is too smooth, more like Peter Gunn, though if you take the TV series on it's own, he's very good in it. The series, too, is good fun as long as you don't expect the hard-drinking, two-fisted toughness and bodacious babes of the novels. Halliday obviously found the show much too sanitized for his own liking, and it's true that the two episodes he penned do have a harder edge than the rest.

As I mentioned, Halliday had ceded the Shayne books to ghostwriters by the time the book came out; still, they were published under his name, and one would have to think that his feelings about the series approximated those written by the ghost. In the end. both the TV series and the books are worthwhile on their own terms - separate, but reasonably equal.


And before I forget - since this is the last piece to appear before Thanksgiving, let me take a moment to wish each and every one of you a very happy Thanksgiving. I may say this every year, but it remains true, that I have much to be thankful for - including those of you who spend a few minutes of your day reading what I've written, and occasionally commenting on it. I"m very grateful to you all, and I'll go on being thankful that you share that time with me.


  1. This is about 'Brett Halliday' ... but it's actually about Davis Dresser, who created not only Michael Shayne but also the 'Halliday' persona that you see in that sponsor pitch at the end of the pilot.

    Dave Dresser was an old-line pulp fiction writer.
    He regarded himself as a working man, providing a product for his 'customers' - the readers of magazines and low-budget mystery books and digests.
    Dresser had many pen names besides 'Halliday'; so did many of his contemporaries in the pulp field.
    That 'Mike Shayne' became popular enough to break into other branches of entertainment was far from uncommon. Quite a few pulp characters found their way into movies, radio, comics, etc. - and the writers who had the foresight to retain ownership of those characters became reasonably wealthy as a result.
    Adaptation, and the changes wrought thereby, were always part of the package; Dresser knew this, as far back as the Fox movies of the '40s. As long as the checks cleared, all was well.
    So when Michael Shayne -the TV Series came about, Davis Dresser was more than willing to lend his presence to the publicity machine, as in this pitch (possibly assisted by his ghostwriters, who were mainly old friends from the pulp days).
    In the October 8-14 TV Guide, there's an article signed as by 'Brett Halliday', about the origins of the 'Mike Shayne' character; there's a photo of Davis Dresser with Richard Denning accompanying the article, so he must at least have had a hand in the writing thereof.
    At that point, Dresser was all in favor of the TV show (in which he had some equity), thus the TV Guide piece.
    Side note: about a year before, James A. Michener penned a similar Guide piece about the then-new Adventures In Paradise series, with special praise for its star, Gardner McKay.
    Michener's enthusiasm for the series and McKay was not shared by most TV critics, but Michener, "serious novelist" that he was, was also in business for himself; he knew the publicity score.

    The 1962 novel, which was probably written by a Halliday ghost, was obviously written after the TV series's cancellation, so sour grapes may be in play here.
    Had the Shayne show been more successful, with a few seasons under its belt (and income coming in to the 'Halliday' organization), the attitude expressed just might have been more favorable.

    This is my third attempt to post this comment.
    The first two vanished after I saw them in 'published' form.
    Now I'll see if I'm being shut out ...

  2. He didn't hate it enough to return the money they paid him...

    1. Hey Paul:

      Skip ahead to the comments at the next post.

      My reply to myself should enlighten you ...

    2. Hey Paul:

      Skip ahead to the comments at the next post.

      My reply to myself should enlighten you ...


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!