|The rotating stars of 'The Name of the Game': Gene Barry, Robert Stack, & Tony Franciosa.|
When I was a grade school-age kid, The Name of the Game was one of those "grown up" TV shows that I loved. That Dave Grusin theme song instantly brings back memories. Game’s storytelling was considered hip and adult, and this Upper Michigan kid quickly made that distinction between what Mom liked, and what Dad liked. Mom favored cool shows like The Mod Squad, and Dad watched mostly westerns and the Green Bay Packers—though she watched the “modern” westerns, with hunky stars. When Name was still on at night time, its reruns were shown on our local afternoon movie show. My Mom enjoyed The Name of the Game, which was on NBC Friday nights, between two of Mom’s very favorites, High Chaparral and Star Trek!
|Friday nights in 1968 were a fave TV night for my Mom!|
The Name of the Game’s three leading men were essentially stars of their own 90 minute TV movies. Today, I still enjoy the shows more for the storytelling, and not so much the stars. In our house, we always thought Robert Stack was a stiff, with that sonorous voice and glowering eyes, sort of a minor league Charlton Heston. Gene Barry was another actor who acted with his voice, but seemed mellower, if slightly pompous. We thought Tony Franciosa was the king of cool back in the day, but now, he seems rather smug, like another Tony—Curtis. Still charming as ever is Susan Saint James, as the wisecracking girl Friday, Peggy Maxwell.
|Veteran Robert Stack had youngsters Ben Murphy and Susan Saint James as his co-stars.|
This episode, titled Ordeal, starred regulars Robert Stack as hard-nosed Dan Farrell, Crime magazine reporter, Ben Murphy as cocky sidekick Joe Sample, and Susan Saint James as Peggy, the quirky and often kidnapped secretary.
The guest stars are from my eye-roll Hollywood Hall of Fame: perennial plastic starlet Martha Hyer; middle-aged but still-pouty Farley Granger; and drum roll, please: Lloyd Bochner, with his trademark slicked back hair, ascot, and sneer. Most surprising is an uncredited O.J. Simpson, as the gas chamber prison guard. I guess The Juice got promoted when he rescued that cat in The Towering Inferno!
|Jessica Walter faces the gas chamber with prison guard O.J. Simpson!|
On the plus side, there’s Jessica Walter, at the start of her long roll in TV guest star roles, right up there with Vera Miles. Walter’s role was a showcase for her, sort of a mini-I Want to Live! And Jessica has that old time movie diva vibe, like Susan Hayward and Anne Baxter, theatrical, yes, but also intense and empathetic. Walter makes the most of her juicy role as Linda Ramsey, tough as the young "dancer/waitress," later the hurt wife, and finally the stoic figure on death row, fighting for her life. Walter looks lovely, even with her short '60s hairdo that would soon evolve into her famous Play Misty for Me shag.
|Jessica Walter as topless cocktail waitress turned top-tier socialite Linda Ramsey.|
I realized right off that Ordeal was a take-off on the infamous shooting of high society’s Billy Woodward by his former showgirl, now wife, Ann. This scandal was immortalized in the '70s by Truman Capote as part of his notorious Answered Prayers. Later, Dominick Dunne became a best-selling author with a fictionalized account, The Two Mrs. Grenvilles. Well, Ordeal got there first!
|Socialite from the wrong side of the tracks shoots her boozy rich husband, & claims she mistook him for a burglar?! 'Ordeal' could have been called 'The Two Ms. Ramseys!'|
In this take, Linda Ramsey is on death row, for the murder of her rich husband, Tom Ramsey, respectively played by Walter and Bochner. She shot him, claiming she thought he was a prowler. However, their marriage was very publicly on the rocks, and his wealthy family and friends thought she was a gold digger. The drunken playboy met Linda when she was a topless waitress, which is ironic, since Walter is rail thin here. Bochner's Tom seems to think of his marriage as a joke. He humiliates Linda by ripping her top off at a ‘welcome to his world’ cocktail party, to demonstrate how he met her. I recall being outraged by this as a 9-year-old!
|Farley Granger co-stars as Jessica Walter's louche lover.|
The bitter sister-in-law, Billie Ramsey, is played by Martha Hyer, in her usual mannequin manner. Her character is angry at being second banana to a brother who is bananas! Hyer’s Billie sees Linda as a fortune hunter and Tom as a debit to the family. However, Hyer’s expressions of unhappiness or anger looks like someone who just smelled something bad. At 44, Martha looks pretty, but the late '60s clothing and hair styles Martha sports make her slightly plump figure and face look like a glamorous bowling ball.
|Martha Hyer as the sinister sister-in-law, with Farley Granger as a charming hanger-on.|
Farley Granger plays the handsome, charming, and weak man with ease—sort of an American Louis Jourdan. Interestingly, Granger and Robert Stack acted together in the notoriously awful TV version of Laura the same year, with Lee Radziwill in the title role, Granger in the Vincent Price gigolo role, and Stack as Dana Andrews’ detective. Here, in Ordeal, their roles aren’t really that different.
|The opening titles of 'The Name of the Game' were made even more memorable paired with Dave Grusin's theme song.|
Lloyd Bochner is haughty and hammy as Tom, first as the degrading husband, then suddenly hurt and pathetic when he finds out his abused wife is cheating. Bochner’s character is a lot like Robert Stack’s Oscar –nominated role of a rich boy drunk, whose wife is suspected of shooting him, in Written on the Wind. That too, was based on a real life murder. Back to Bochner, who made a career of supercilious and slimy characters, from cheesy movies like Sylvia and Harlow to television villains, most memorably as Dynasty’s Cecil Colby.
|Robert Stack doesn't take kindly to intimidation, as former FBI man now reporter Dan Farrell.|
Robert Stack as Dan Farrell, was an extension of his famed Eliot Ness role in The Untouchables. Dan was also once an FBI man, now a crusading reporter, inflamed by the murder of his wife. The role is tailored for the actor, so the deadpan stare and booming radio voice are on full display. Now Bob Stack was by all accounts a nice guy, who had the good humor to spoof his image in the Airplane movies. But Bob’s humor is not on display as Dan!
|Ben Murphy as Joe Sample, Dan Farrell's cocky sidekick.|
Ben Murphy's character as the outspoken sidekick is rather annoying. Considering he’s supposed to be a hip young guy, his knee jerk reactions to everything are today middle-brow. Still, Murphy was an engaging actor, who always reminded me of a young Paul Newman mixed with Ryan O’ Neal. His big break, Alias Smith & Jones was just around the corner, another Mom favorite. Susan Saint James isn’t in this episode much, but it’s always nice to see her good-humored Peggy Maxwell.
|Dan Farrell's wise veteran paired with energetic upstart Joe Sample is a TV show staple.|
There are a lot of clever twist and turns in this episode and I won’t spoil them for you. The Name of the Game can be hard to come by, but YouTube is a good place to start, as are various classic TV cable channels, and Amazon.
The dramatic tale of Ordeal, especially as enacted by Jessica Walter, has stayed with me all these years, and I’m glad to have seen this episode again.
|From gas chamber to cover girl--that was a close one, Jessica!|
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