THE NERO RANKIN STORY
Airdate: May 11th, 1961
Written by Leonard Kantor
Directed by Stuart Rosenberg
Produced by Lloyd Richards
Director of Photography Charles Straumer
Special Guest Star Joanna Moore
Co-starring Will Kaluva, John Dehner
Featuring John Duke, Jean Carson, Richard Karlan, Barry Kelly, Brook Byron, Murvyn Vye, Wolfe Barzell
“September 1933. Although Eliot Ness had successfully destroyed the Underground Court, he had not been able to smash its parent organization, the Big Syndicate, then in control of over fifty percent of the nation’s crime. With the death of Judge Foley, chief of the court and chairman of the Syndicate, it was expected that the power of the Syndicate would wane. But, on September the 16th, at a roadhouse on the outskirts of Chicago, top-ranking members of the national organization had congregated to vote on the man whom Foley had designated as his successor months before he died.
“The heir apparent was an elder chieftain of crime named Nero Rankin, Foley’s teacher, in infamy, and at present, proprietor of Chicago’s most popular roadhouse, the Club Debutante. But before Rankin could assume his role as head of the Syndicate, he had to win a vote of approval by the Syndicate big wigs: Maury Brigger, who controlled the Southwest; Lou Hyndorf, boss of the East Coast from Canada to the Florida Keyes; Hooey Barker, who had been able to dominate the underworld of the Midwest without stepping on Al Capone’s toes; Patty Polofsky of Detroit, who headed the gunman squad, and Cy Brenner of New Orleans, bookkeeper for the Syndicate. Others present were top-ranking subordinates of the Syndicate who had no voting privileges.”
After narrowly winning his seat as head of the Big Syndicate, elder warlord Nero Rankin (Will Kaluva), proves to be an unpopular chairman, especially with Hooey Barker (John Dehner), who has designs on the throne. Barker puts his girlfriend, Althea (Joanna Moore), up for the job of Rankin’s secretary, where she will keep an eye on the old man for him and the rest of the Syndicate brass. Instead, she falls for him as the type who “loves popsies” and the diamonds he bestows upon her. Unbeknownst to the Syndicate, Rankin has a heart condition and has offered Eliot Ness the key to sinking the syndicate – but only after he dies.
With Ness interrupting Rankin’s operations nightly, he dispatches a carload of thugs to gun down innocent citizens outside the Federal Building. This act, he envisions, will prove his mettle to other syndicate leaders and force Ness to lay off – until one of the witnesses positively identifies the wheelman for the trigger.
“Ness took the remaining ranking members of the Syndicate alive. From the ledgers and the books produced by Cy Brenner, came the evidence that led to prison terms for them ranging from twenty years to life. For Althea, as a possessor of stolen diamonds, there were several years without bubble baths. As for Nero Ranldn, his heart managed to hold out for eleven years, all of them spent behind bars. But, when he received word of his probation, it faltered, and he died of the good news.”
The sequel to the much superior The Underground Court earlier in the season, The Nero Rankin Story features a tiny uncredited cameo by Ernestine Wade as Althea’s maid. Wade was known to millions as Saphire Stevens, the long-suffering wife of Tim Moore’s George Kingfish Stevens in The Amos ‘n’ Andy Show on television, and had been one of the voices on the show in its later years on radio.
If anything is at all interesting about this program it is Joanna Moore, enjoying bubble baths and squeaking playfully as Rankin’s secretary. She has the charm of Gracie Allen’s mind enclosed in the topography of a 1930s centerfold. Dotted with stolen footage from previous episodes and haphazardly plotted, The Nero Rankin Story feels a bit lifeless.
SYLVIA: I haven’t had much to do with cops before.
NESS: If you stick us, we bleed.
ALTHEA: Since when have you been giving out apples without worms in ’em?
• Never one to suffer fools, Ness absolutely glowers his way throughout the entire episode, shunning a newspaper photographer (“Don’t you ever smile?”) and his disdain for Rankin apparent in their meeting – all of this is before Rankin spins a careful of Thompson submachine guns at innocent civilians outside the Federal Building.
• Byron Morrow’s uncredited cameo as Hartley Lester plays the role that would typically be filled by Ness’ superior, Beecher Asbury.
• Brook Byron will be back in The Ginnie Littlesmith Story in the Third Season, playing more or less the same type, but with a much stronger Leonard Kantor script.
• In the episode, the address of the Federal Building is listed as 913 Dearborn Street. In reality, Eliot Ness and his squad had an office in the Transportation Building at 600 South Dearborn Street. Ness had taken up space there to evade the prying eyes and ears of less trustworthy officers of the law.