THE SILENT PARTNER
Airdate: February 1st, 1962
Written by Harry Kronman
Directed by Abner Biberman
Produced by Lloyd Richards
Director of Photography Charles Straumer
Co-starring Allyn Joslyn, Dyan Cannon, Bert Convey
Special Guest Star Charles McGraw
Featuring Stewart Bradley, Stanley Kahn, John Milford, Tim Graham, Sydney Smith, and “The Partner”
“Through most of the violent prohibition years, the hottest spot in Chicago, and a must to anybody who was anybody, was the Club Tunisian, a rendezvous where the leaders of society and the lords of crime rubbed elbows in mutual admiration and paid a king’s ransom to see and be seen.”
Popular nightclub comedian Eddie Paris (Bert Convey), wants out of his contract to audition for a major Broadway play in New York, but his boss, Pete Kelig (Charles McGraw), wants to keep him in Chicago. Frustrated, Paris attempts to meet with Eliot Ness to expose his boss’s involvement with The Partner, a legendary and mysterious figure rumored to have financed both Torrio and Capone, but Paris is followed.
The Partner insists that Eddie Paris must be done in and Kelig reluctantly agrees only after Laughton informs him that he is “one bullet away from a partnership.” As Laughton cleans up loose ends, he’s cornered by Ness and Lee Hobson (Paul Picerni), but when Hobson gets the shot off, Ness inevitably takes the credit in the press, despite The Partner’s warning that whoever is responsible will wind up dead.
“The captured hoodlum was quite willing to talk. The entire shipment of alcohol was picked up. As for The Partner, he had lost his taste for partnerships. The risks were too great, and there were no more Capones.” He was never active again after that night, retiring still unknown, as in fact he is to this day. “
In one of those clever bursts of imagination, the identity of The Partner is so secret, he is unnamed throughout the entire story and the actor who played the part is unidentified even in the credits, but his name is Oliver McGowan. who would later play bit parts in My Three Sons and Star Trek. Intentionally obscured through clever framing and composition, we never see The Partner’s face. Winchell introduces him with typical creative sophistication: ”Eddie Paris had underestimated his audience. Thirty minutes after he left the wharf, his performance was reported to the man at the top. As always, the message was carried by Wallace Laughton, contact for the most powerful man in the underworld and the least known. Only three top gangsters had ever met him. Only a handful of others knew he existed. A nameless, faceless somebody, known only by rumor, only as The Partner.”
The Silent Partner is a marvelous piece of theater in a splendid hour that features two young, ambitious actors on their way up: Bert Convey and the elegantly charming Dyan Cannon.
What elevates this episode even further is an element so rarely exploited in the series: the dynamic between Eliot Ness and Untouchable Lee Hobson.
After missing out on the First Season, Hobson was introduced in The Rusty Heller Story as if he had always been a part of the squad since the start. Hobson quickly became Ness’ right-hand agent and played second fiddle to Robert Stack – an arrangement that actor Picerni was completely satisfied with.
As the series found its formula in the First Season, Martin Flaherty (Jerry Paris) was “transferred” out of the squad and Cam Allison (Anthony George) was dispatched with machine-gun bullets. Both actors actually departed the series for similar reasons – they wanted bigger, meatier roles and the chemistry of the series meant Stack would always be the leading man.
As Picerni recounts, the Third Season was the last season for which Robert Stack had been contracted. Amid Stack’s negotiations with Desilu for additional seasons, the screenplay for The Silent Partner turned up, featuring Lee Hobson in his most prominent role.
“Don’t think Bob didn’t notice this,” Picerni wrote some years later.
During a raid, Ness’ gun jams and Hobson saves him. When Ness publicly takes credit for what was actually Hobson’s victory in taking down a murderous attorney, Hobson takes it personally, compelling Ness to send Hobson on his vacation early.
While on leave, Hobson is kidnapped by The Partner’s thugs in order to punish Ness and lure him into a trap. Unbeknownst to Hobson, the Partner had warned Ness that whoever was for knocking off his attorney was “was gonna be dead.”
While Picerni more than holds his own and relishes adding color to his good-guy depiction, he recounts that Stack treated him coldly during the production of the episode. Upset that the script could be considered a bargaining chip against Stack’s contract renewal, Picerni cornered Stack in his dressing room, affirming “If you don’t do the show next year, I don’t do the show…I won’t do the show without you.”
Picerni’s assurance was all it took that Desilu wasn’t going to “transfer” Eliot Ness and put Hobson in his place. Picerni was as loyal to Stack as Hobson was to Ness. Stack and Picerni remained friends for the rest of their lives.
• This episode succeeds in doing what the Fourth Season will fail miserably at – showing Ness and his men more dimensional than we’re used to.
• Ness should have recognized The Partner’s voice – but it’s still an interesting choice to let the bad guy get away with it.
• Ness forcing Kelig to double for him is a stone-cold move. It’s just a shame he looks ridiculous in Kelig’s hat.