THE GEORGE “BUGS” MORAN STORY
Airdates: November 5th, 1959 and June 23rd, 1960.
Teleplay by David Karp
Directed by Joe Parker
Produced by Normal Retchin
Director of Photography Charles Straummer
Special Guest Star Lloyd Nolan
Co-starring Jack Warden. Featuring Harry Shannon, Fredd Wayne, Peter Baldwin, Robin Warga, Miriam Nelson, Kem Dibbs, Barbara Stuart, Bob Hastings.
“In the winter of 1932 in Chicago, Illinois, an unusual crime was committed. A crime which echoed down the years to the present day. The crime was kidnapping. The kidnapper was one of Chicago’s most vicious mobsters.”
Chicago mobsters invade and attempt to gain control of small indepebent transportation unions, hoping to build them into large and powerful organizations. George “Bugs” Moran (Lloyd Nolan), believes respected union president Jack Halloran (Jack Warden), can be instrumental toward the end, but first he must convince Halloran to join him. He arranges to have Halloran’s son kidnapped. After agreeing to Moran’s plans and following the safe release of his son, Halloran resists Untouchable Martin Flaherty’s help and attempts to alert senior officials of a trucking company, who wish to have nothing to do with Halloran or his union.
“For the Larry Hallorans of the world, it is never enough. But as long as there are honest labor leaders, like Larry Halloran, the gangster element in American Labor will always be defeated.”
Originally titled The Velvet Touch, this episode is most definitely not the “Bugs” Moran story, but rather a small slice of his large, dirty pie. Renamed to entice viewers (and perhaps to differentiate it from a 1948 film of the same name), it ruined any opportunity to do it right later, especially considering that Moran was the fellow who, by freak luck, missed the opportunity to join his top men up against the wall in a garage at 2122 North Clark Street on February 14th, 1929. It would thereafter be called the Saint Valentines Day Massacre, the single most infamous day in Chicago gangland history.
Disappointingly, none of that is addressed here. It isn’t even mentioned. Nor does Winchell explain the root cause of the nickname Bugs. Even so, there is potential for this installment that simply fails to materialize, rendering this hour a virtual waste of air time, not to mention the talent of guest star Lloyd Nolan, who conveys a sense of elegance that flies in the face of his earned nickname.
Part of the problem is that Ness is largely invisible for much of the program, the lead taken up by an unusually aggressive Martin Flaherty. Ness’ absence is explained away by an apparent need to debrief Washington on the Capone case who nevertheless is emphatic that his men nail Moran during his trip.
Addressing the seeds of organized crime in the Teamsters Union (though not using that name), the story wanders about ponderously and confines the action to a moment of overkill near the conclusion in which one of Moran’s less thoughtful men fires into a contingent of peace officers armed to the fedoras and spoiling for a fight. Silly boy. Strange script.
Bugs Moran will return to the series from time-to-time, though not often enough given his position in the Chicago underworld both real and imagined. More often than not, Moran is portrayed by a far more bugs-like Robert J. Wilke, and much later by Harry Morgan.
MORAN: A love nest killing, eh? I like that. It appeals to my romantic nature.
• This episode is one of the most obvious and early attempts to do a “Ness-less” hour, an indicator of the original plan to have Robert Stack on hand for only the first half of the season. Stack would comment years later that without Ness, “it just didn’t work.” We agree.
• Bugs Moran would return in subsequent episodes Arsenal, The Eddie O’Gara Story and Doublecross.
• One of Moran’s men refers to him as “Bugs” and Moran himself introduces himself that way, which is suspect given the disparaging origins of the nickname.
• A colorful actor always under pressure of some kind, Jack Warden would revisit the series later in the First Season in Head of Fire, Feet of Clay and in the Second Season in the Otto Frick Story.
• The character of Jack Rossman will suffer two injustices in this episode. First, despite Rossman being the “expert wiretap,” Bill Youngfellow is asked to tap into a phone line instead of him. Moments later, Rossman is the first Untouchable to get shot in the show (by Moran, no less) and his injury is never acknowledged – an indication of how the series will inevitably treat anyone other than Ness and his right hand.
• While Moran evades the roadblock, Winchell chimes in later mid-scene (!), to mention that he’s arrested the following day. Moran’s second-in-command remains a part of the union. While Moran is arrested, we never see his gang’s influence totally removed, instead leaving Halloran to deal with the actual clean up. Here, the Untouchables have proven largely ineffective. Weird.
• Screenwriter David Karp, who did a much better job on The Empty Chair, often tackled social issues in his career, which is perhaps why he was tasked with authoring this script, but it’s a shame it feels like a first draft.
• George “Bugs” Moran, who did indeed target th Poultry Union and the Kosher Meat Peddlers Association for a short time, died in Leavenworth Prison in 1957, a victim of a fierce tobacco habit.