Whispering Smith (TV series)
Whispering Smith: The Interpreter
Whispering Smith is an American Western series that aired on NBC. Based on a 1948 movie, the series stars Audie Murphy as Tom “Whispering” Smith, a police detective in Denver, Colorado. Filming of the series began in 1959, but the program did not air until May 8, 1961, because of unexpected production problems.
Whispering Smith combines elements of CBS‘s Have Gun – Will Travel starring Richard Boone, NBC’s Tales of Wells Fargo starring Dale Robertson, the syndicated Shotgun Slade with Scott Brady, and ABC‘s The Man From Blackhawk, a Stirling Silliphant production starring Robert Rockwell. While the setting of the series is unique, it is otherwise a standard detective program.
Along with the film, the program was also loosely based on the exploits of Allan Pinkerton, first head of the United States Secret Service, in that the character Whispering Smith fought to bring modern police methods to the American West. Some episodes were based on actual cases from the files of the Denver Police Department. After seven episodes were filmed, costar Guy Mitchell, a recording artist who portrayed detective George Romack, broke his shoulder in a fall from a horse. By the time he recovered, Murphy had a film commitment (Hell Bent for Leather, shot August 17 – September 11, 1959) and production had to be further postponed. Actor Sam Buffington, costarring as police chief John Richards, committed suicide at the age of twenty-eight, and had to be replaced. Once scheduled, the series missed its intended debut date because of an NBC news special. After the premiere of Whispering Smith, the U.S. Senate Juvenile Delinquency subcommittee claimed that the series was excessively violent, and Murphy rushed to its defense.
A hearing before the subcommittee made the front page of The New York Times on June 9, 1961. With the lights dimmed in their meeting room, members of the subcommittee watched the second episode, “The Grudge”. They saw a story of bloody revenge that included the following: a fistfight, a mother horsewhipping her son, a claim of sexual assault (fabricated) in a hotel room, a story told of a man laughing after shooting another man six times in the stomach, a gunfight ending in injury, and the same mother, at the end, accidentally shooting and killing her daughter instead of the target (Smith/Murphy). The story was set in Denver, Colorado and when the lights came up Senator John A. Carroll of Colorado called the episode “a libel on Denver.” An executive producer for Revue Studios defended the program before skeptical senators. The committee staff estimated that 2,500,000 children had watched “The Grudge.” The program was soon discontinued, as Murphy himself lost interest in the project.
The series was further inspired by a 1948 theatrical release of the same name, Whispering Smith, starring Alan Ladd, as a no-nonsense railroad investigator assigned to solve the mystery of a rash of train robberies. He sadly finds that the perpetrator of the crimes is an old friend, Murray Sinclaire, portrayed by Robert Preston. The 1948 film, based on a Frank H. Spearman novel, was not the first motion picture based on the railroad detective. There were three Whispering Smith silent films in 1916, 1926, and 1927 and a talking picture in 1935. In the first of the silent films, Harold Lloyd served as an assistant director, while the director, J. P. McGowan, also played the lead. In 1951, the film, Whispering Smith Hits London starred Richard Carlson as an American detective working on a special case at Scotland Yard in England.
Twenty Whispering Smith episodes aired through September 18, 1961, in the time slot following Tales of Wells Fargo. The remaining six segments were never broadcast on NBC. Whispering Smith aired at 9 p.m. Mondays opposite the CBS sitcom The Danny Thomas Show and the second half of the ABC modern detective series Surfside 6.
The budget was $45,000 an episode.
- Robert Redford and Gloria Talbott as Johnny and Cora Gates in “The Grudge,” the second episode of the series
- Harry Carey, Jr. as Sergeant Stringer in “Safety Valve”
- Richard Chamberlain as Chris Harrington in “Stain of Justice”
- James Best in starring role in “The Hemp Reeger Case”
- Edward Platt in “The Hemp Reeger Case”
- Roscoe Ates (1895–1962), formerly of the 1950 western The Marshal of Gunsight Pass, as a sheriff in the episode entitled “Three for One”
- Clu Gulager, later co-star of The Tall Man and The Virginian, as Jeff Whalen in “The Devil’s Share”
- Myron Healey as Jim Conley in “Double Edge”
- Don Keefer as Dr. Johnson in “The Deadliest Weapon”
- Read Morgan as Hob Tyler in “The Jodie Tyler Story”
- Forrest Tucker, later star of the western sitcom F Troop, as Gunman Bardot in “Trademark”
- Elen Willard, as Charlotte Laughlin in “The Quest”
- Alan Hale, Jr., who starred in the western series Casey Jones, appeared in the series finale, “The Idol”, as Ole Brindessen, the witness to a swindler who commits murder.