4 July 2007 | Cheyenne-Bodie
Keith Larsen, Jeremy Slate and Ron Ely in peak form
"The Aquanauts" (1960-61) was basically an hour-long version of the wonderful "Sea Hunt". Both shows were produced by ZIV productions, which always did good work. But "The Aquanauts" was on the CBS network, rather than being syndicated like most other ZIV shows.
Thirty-six year old Keith Larson ("Brave Eagle", "Northwest Passage") played hero Drake Andrews, a former Navy frogman who now took free-lance assignments. Larson was a very attractive, extremely well-built, low-key actor who made a fine series lead. (Larsen was married at the time to elegant Vera Miles, who had previously been married to Tarzan actor Gordon Scott. Vera Miles must have had a weakness for beautiful men with beautiful bodies. No wonder Hitchcock didn't get anywhere with her.)
The great Jeremy Slate, age 34, played Larsen's blond side-kick Larry Lahr, but the show mostly focused on Larsen.
Keith Larsen was terrific in all three of his series, but luck wasn't on his side. Larsen developed an ear infection that wouldn't allow him to skin dive. He had to leave "The Aquanauts". (On the show, they said Drake Andrews went back into the Navy.) Larsen never had another show although he certainly deserved one. He actually only had one more job on TV- as a guest star on "The Roaring Twenties". Larsen did some directing (including a film with Dennis Weaver and Vera Miles.) His marriage to the delightful Vera eventually ended.
Twenty-two year old Ron Ely came in to replace Larsen. Ely played Mike Madison. Jeremy Slate and Ron Ely alternated from week to week as to who got top billing. Slate and Ely were two young, vital, attractive guys, and they were both good actors. They had fine chemistry together. Slate's character was more emotional and less mature while Ely was more of an intellectual.
The show's title was soon changed to "Malibu Run". Slate and Ely opened a shop in Malibu that sold skin diving equipment. The name of the store was "The Aquanauts". The boys did skin diving jobs on the side. But the skin diving became a little less the focus of the show. It was now more an adventure/crime show revolving around two charismatic, romantic leads.
"Malibu Run" emphasized the glamor of the boys' lives. Larry Lahr and Mike Madison lived at the posh Holdiay House in Malibu. They each had a stylish bachelor pad at the hotel, with a view of the ocean. They drove cool sports cars. And the woman they met were spectacular.
The guest stars were just as attractive and appealing as the leads. They included Peter Falk, Inger Stevens, Dyan Cannon, Burt Reynolds, Mary Tyler Moore, William Conrad, Telly Savalas, Anne Helm, Yvonne Craig, Leslie Parrish, Donna Douglas and Susan Oliver.
Four of "The Magnificent Seven" also guest starred: Robert Vaughn, James Coburn, Charles Bronson and Brad Dexter. Steve McQueen's "Wanted: Dead or Alive" was on right after "The Aquanauts". "The Magnificent Seven" was released in October 1960, just about the time "The Aquanauts" started.
Carroll O'Connor had a recurring role in a couple of episodes as a police lieutenant.
"The Aquanauts" was on Wednesday nights at 7:30 eastern time, competing against "Wagon Train" with Robert Horton and "Hong Kong" with Rod Taylor. The time slot was sort of a battle of the network he-men. "Wagon Train" got the best ratings and the other two series were canceled, although they were both fine efforts.
Astonishingly, Jeremy Slate never had another series despite his excellent work here. But he became a hot guest star, and he gave superb performances on "Route 66" (as a surfer), "Gunsmoke" (as a likable young man who saves Matt Dillon's life but who gets hanged at the end) and "Empire" (as a likable young ranch hand with a mysterious past who winds up in a deadly boxing match with Ryan O'Neal). Slate also guest starred on "The Defenders", "Naked City", "The Untouchables" and "Combat". Producer Hal Wallis (who jump started the careers of Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster) signed Jeremy to a film contract, but movie stardom didn't happen. With the right breaks, maybe Jeremy might have been another Kirk Douglas.
Jeremy Slate and his then wife Tammy Grimes guest starred on "Tarzan", which starred Slate's old partner Ron Ely. I hope Jeremy and Ron had a lot of good times to remember.
Ron Ely starred in a revised version of "Sea Hunt" in 1987. The 49-year old Ely was Mike Nelson, the role played by Lloyd Bridges in the original. In this version, Mike Nelson had a lovely full grown daughter who was his diving buddy.