Why The Untouchables Are Unbeatable – TV Guide

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Show’s producer reveals reasons for the appeal of Eliot Ness and company

The Untouchables
, tele­vised last year in two parts on Desilu Playhouse, turned out to be a sleeper – one of those rare shows to which that old publicity cliche “acclaimed by critics and public alike” applied accurately. It was so well-liked that ABC promptly ordered an hour-long series, a thought which 37-year-old executive producer Quinn Martin solemnly swears never entered his head at the time he was making the original.

Martin, a pleasant-looking man who talks quietly with a sort of half-smile, takes considerable pains to describe The Untouchables series for exactly what he thinks it is.

“Eliot Ness,” says Martin, “would be a bore if you just made him up. It would be sort of like a ballet form of good and evil, as depicted by the TV Western. The fact that Ness actu­ally existed is the real stuff of this series.

“I don’t like the word ‘message’ per se,” he continues thoughtfully. “I think a soap box is a bore. We are concerned first with entertainment. But if, through this entertainment, we are able to leave a feeling, some kind of stimulation of thinking, then I think we can be of value both to our own industry and to the country.

“To do a show on crime for crime’s sake is as big a bore as the soap box. It is an unwritten law in TV that the bad man must wind up with his just deserts. In The Untouchables, without actually making it our primary pur­pose, we are showing why the bad man winds up as he does. It’s a cliche, but the man who lives by vio­lence generally dies by violence, but not specifically because he lives by violence. He winds up defeated, in most instances, because there were ­and still are-men like Eliot Ness and what the newspapers called his ‘Un­touchables’ – men of unquestioned integrity, who happened to believe im­plicitly in law and order and who couldn’t be bought over to any other way of thinking.

“It’s not the proper thing to say publicly, I suppose, but the fact re­mains that crime today does seem to pay in some areas. Back in the Twen­ties crime was pretty much out in the open. You could see it and you could go after it. Today it is much better organized and much less recognizable. It has a variety of respectable fronts. As such, it is actually more dangerous today than it was 30 years ago. It’s easy enough for the private citizen to become enraged when a car full of goons swings down a street spouting machine-gun bullets. It’s not so easy to become enraged when people are quietly and effectively-being fleeced of millions of dollars without realizing it and, sometimes, actually enjoying it.”

Starting with the real-life character of the late Ness (leader of the seven ­man squad of incorruptible Treasury agents), who is played by Robert Stack, The Untouchables bases many of its stories on incidents from the lives of real-life gangsters. “Of course,” says Martin, “we have certain prob­lems, largely legal problems. We don’t want to hurt anyone –say, for instance, the still-living sister or other close relative of one of these men who really never knew just how bad he was. And naturally, we don’t want to leave ourselves open for libel.

In­dicative of the problems Martin faces is a $1,000,000 damage suit recently filed by the estate of Al Capone against Desilu, Inc., CBS and Westing­house Electric Corp., the sponsor, alleging Capone’s name, likeness and personality were used for profit by the defendants in their original production of “The Untouchables” without con­sent of the Capone family.

“There is also a certain amount of dramatic license. If we have a scene in which a Lepke is talking to a Schultz, for instance, we naturally have to make up the dialog. We try to stick to the facts as closely as possible, but we can’t let the facts steer us away from our primary pur­pose-which is dramatic entertainment or let them do harm to anyone, including us.

“After all,” Martin says reflectively, “the FBI gets its appropriations on the basis of the job it does, and it’s understandable that they’d object to credit being given to someone else. We now have a gentleman’s agreement on the subject and we have never since then written Ness into a story that involved the FBI.”

“Early in the season, too, ABC was asked by the United States Attorney’s office in New York not to broadcast the planned third episode, The Noise of Death, until after the trial of the gangland leaders who had been nabbed at Apalachin, N.Y. The episode featured J. Carrol Naish as a fading Mafia leader and the Government felt its showing at that time might conceivably influence the jury. ABC and Desilu agreed to the postponement, even though it was a difficult rush to get a substitute episode filmed.

The Noise of Death was finally aired in mid-January when the Appalachian trial was over. One sponsor, incidentally, thought the episode was so horrifying that it withdrew its participation.”

To date, The Untouchables has touched on the lives of such “name” gangsters as Dutch Schultz, Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll, Wally Lagenza (head of the Tri-State gang), Jake “Greasy Thumb” Guzik, Bugs Moran and Al Capone – who was the subject of the original two-part Desilu Playhouse.

“Most of these gangsters,” Martin muses, “came to pretty sorry ends. Although never proved, it’s generally accepted fact that Schultz was shot and killed by an organized mob. Coll was shot to death in a phone booth by his own gang. He was so crazy that they were afraid he’d turn on them. Lagenza finally went to the electric chair. Guzik died of a heart attack a few years ago. Moran recently died a natural death in prison. Capon, of course, died pretty much a raving maniac. He would up a physical and mental shell.”

Martin’s staff does a great amount of research, and he himself now knows “more about crime than I ever thought I’d know.” Many of the research reports that come to his desk trace a fascinating trail from the Twenties directly to the present time, complete with names, dates and places, which for obvious reasons, he’d just as soon not even mention, let alone put on film.

“After all,” he says, smiling about halfway, “we’re in the entertainment business.”

Originally published in February 27th, 1960 issue of TV Guide

One-Armed Bandits

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Airdate: February 4th, 1960
Written by E. Jack Neuman
Directed by Walter E. Grauman
Produced by Sidney Marshall
Director of Photography Charles Straumer
Special Guest Star Harry Guardino. Co-starring Larry Gates, John Beradioo. Featuring Theodore Marcuse, Wolf Barzell, Paul Comi, Ken Becker, Theodora Bryant

“Chicago, February, 1932. Crime was a big business that was spreading from the dark alleys of Cicero, across town to the gentler, social atmosphere of the Gold Coast. Times were changing and crime was changing with them. Like any big business, it had to change, but it still required the services of hoodlums and gunmen, like Al Barberry and George Colleoni; the courtroom techniques of unscrupulous attorneys such as Paul Curtiz, and the guiding hands of the man at the top, the man who had come up from the ranks and had made the transition from gangster to big businessman: Augie Viale.”

Augie Viale had never made in inner circle of the Capone syndicate; he had never tried, not even after Capone was sent to Atlanta for tax evasion. With the help of men in public office willing to look the other way, Viale was too busy making a place for himself with narcotics and hot cars, and a new enterprise.” Read More

Star Witness

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Airdate: January 21st, 1960
Produced by Josef Shaftel
Written by Charles O’Neal
Directed by Tay Garnett
Director of Photography Robert B. Hauser, A.S.C.
Co-starring Marc Lawrence. Special Guest Star Jim Backus. Featuring Dorothy Morris, Bart Bums, Jay Warren, Sal Annetta, William Justin, Tom Reese

“In 1934, the Great Depression was four years old. Al Capone had shifted his place of residence to a federal penitentiary. But the criminal empire which Capone had founded refused to fall apart. It continued to operate its multi­million dollar rackets behind legitimate business fronts. One such front was a firm calling itself Midwest Enterprises, Incorporated. It’s president was a man named Luigi Rinaldo, once one of Capone’s lieutenants and now a powerful figure in Chicago’s vice syndicate. Second in command was his enforcer, a compulsive young trigger man named Paolo Rienzi. “

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The Noise of Death

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Airdate: Original Air Date: January, 14th, 1960 (Originally Scheduled October 22nd,1959)
Written by Ben Maddow
Directed by Walter E. Grauman
Produced by Charles Russell
Director of Photography Charles Straumer
Co-starring Henry Silva, Norma Crane, J. Carrol Naish.
Featuring Mike Kellin, Rita Lynn, Karen docker, Joi Lansing, Harry Dean Stanton

“A nice day in Chicago, March 31, 1933. At No. 1229 Houser Boulevard lived Joseph H. Bucco, his wife and daughter. Everybody knew Joe Bucco and liked him.”
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Syndicate Sanctuary

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Airdate: January 7th, 1959
Written by George F. Slavin
Produced and Directed by Paul Harrison
Director of Photography Charles Straumer
Featuring Anthony Caruso, Robert F. Simon, Gale Kobe

“Calum City, thirty miles from Chicago, population, 10,000. A city fighting for its life, divided over an election that could mean honest government, or a return to the jungle law of the underworld. ”
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The Underground Railway

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Airdate: December 31st, 1959
Teleplay by Leonard Kantor
Directed by Walter Grauman 
Produced by Josef Shaftel
Director of Photography Charles Straumer
Special Guest Star Cliff Roberston
Featuring Virginia Vincent and Joe De Santis

“Outside the walls of Lewisberg Federal Prison, in the State of Pennsylvania, August 3rd, 1933. After serving two years and 17 days of the life sentence in a four man holdup of a Federal Reserve Bank shipment, three-time loser Frank Holloway, was on his way out again. The jail break was only step one toward the half-million dollar haul that had never been recovered. Now there were only two ways to cut the mellon: Half to Ed Johnson, custodian of the for tune who had never been caught, and half to Frank Holloway.”
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You Can’t Pick the Number

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Airdate: December 24th, 1959
Written by Henry F. Greenberg
Directed by Richard B. Whorf 
Produced by Charles Russell
Director of Photography Charles Straumer
Co-Starring Jay C. Flippen, Darryl Hickman, Christine White, Doreen Lang, Harry Tyler 

“Chicago, South Side. October, 1932. The depth of the Depression. A time of hardship and despair for many, of standing lines and waiting for a meal. For some, not even a place to sleep. A time of closed gates and no work signs. A time of hope, of small, desperate hope. Hope for a better tomorrow and a little break today. Any little break, any heaven-sent little windfall, to happen now, today, right now. The mobsters were equal to the task and came up with the numbers game. On the surface, it worked like a lottery. You chose a number from zero, zero, zero, to nine hundred and ninety-nine. Your chances to win were one in a thousand. If you were lucky, you got back six hundred for one. If you lost, you could play again tomorrow, and nine hundred and ninety nine times out of a thousand – you lost.”
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The Tri-State Gang

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Airdate: December 10th, 1959, June 9th, 1960
Written by Joseph Petracca
Produced by Josef Shaftel
Directed by Allen H. Miner
Director of Photography Charles Straumer
Special Guest Star William Bendix
Featuring Alan Hale, Gavin MacLeod, Jay Adler, Roxanne Berard, Stanley Adams, Peggy Maley, Joseph Mell, John Ward

“In the latter part of 1933, an epidemic of hijacking broke out in the states of Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. The similarity of the holdups identified them as the work of the Tri-State Gang. This time it was a factory shipment of radios. The routine was always the same: Big Bill Phillips, a cheap, hulking six-foot-four ox of a man, handled the truck. Artie McLeod, a cheap tin horn gambler, handled the burlap hood with style and efficiency. The oldest of the gang was Georgie Kaufman, a battered ex-pug who once fought Benny Leonard in Madison Square Garden. The fence was James Jonathan Harris, sometimes called Gentlemen Jim. A quiet-spoken Englishman from the moors of Yorkshire. He was a suspicious and ever-watchful man. Bobby May, second in command, three-time loser, an ex-con, San Quentin. The leader of the gang was Wally Lagenza, a pale, cold, blond beast untouched by any civilizing influences. The doctors at Dannemora once described him as a vicious, antisocial animal, dangerous, ruthless and depraved. Eliot Ness and his men had been assigned by Washington to investigate the activities of the Tri-State Gang. That same night, they drove down to Richmond, Virginia, where they met with Sheriff Wilson of Richmond County.
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Fulfilling Dad’s dream: Son working to finish book on ‘Untouchables’

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The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette explores the effort behind finishing Dan Lynch’s book on The Untouchables:

While Kelly Lynch didn’t go into the same profession as his father, he has spent the past few years delving into his father’s passions.

One of those, the railroad, has seen Lynch become the executive director of the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society and his involvement in the restoration of the historic steam locomotive No. 765.

The other is a TV show that Lynch describes as creating a cultural awakening, having impacted everything from “The Simpsons” to “The Sopranos.”

Lynch was barely a teenager when he began to watch with his father the VHS tapes his dad had recorded of the TV show “The Untouchables.”

Dan Lynch would have been a teenager when the show debuted in October 1959, but it made a huge impact on him and started a fascination that continued until he passed away in 2014.

This year, as the show marks its 60th anniversary, the Spencerville resident has uncovered an unfinished, 400-page manuscript written by his father and has revisited the TV production in the digital age.

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The Surprised Mr. Stack – TV Guide

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This article was originally published in the December 5th, 1959 issue of TV Guide.

He finds himself starring in a TV series that was supposed to be a movie

When Robert Stack was first shown the script for The Untouchables, he solemnly shook his curly head and pointed the tips of his well-bred thumbs toward the floor. It was his professional opinion that the story of Eliot Ness, United States Treasury agent, was lacking in something.

“From an actor’s point of view,” says Stack, a 40-year-old California socialite, whose approach to his career has always been marked by a certain detachment, “it had no dynamics. Don’t ask me what that is, but I can assure you it’s a quality that’s mighty important to the leading man, two critics and three other actors.”

For this reason, Stack was cool about playing the Ness role when it was first offered him by Quinn Martin, ex­ecutive producer of the Desilu pack­age, and Phil Karlson, its director and a long-time friend of Stack’s. Aside from the fact that Martin and Karlson thought enough of him to drop by his house and make the pitch, Stack says two things made him change his mind and agree to clean up Chicago-on film, at least. Read More