28 August 2006 | Cheyenne-Bodie
A very viable cast but too tame a treatment
Executive producer Frank Glicksman had done an excellent job in 1964 of turning the movie "Twelve O'Clock High" into a TV series. Gregory Peck gave perhaps his finest performance as Brigadier General Frank Savage, and coming up with a TV replacement for Peck was daunting. But Robert Lansing was so good it would be hard to say which actor was the better Savage.
The next year Frank Glicksman turned "The Long, Hot Summer", another 20th Century Fox movie, into a TV series.
The toughest job here was the casting of Ben Quick, who had been played by Paul Newman in one of his best, loosest performances. Roy Thinnes had done a couple of impressive supporting guest roles on "The Eleventh Hour" and "Gunsmoke", but he was far from a star. He wasn't even working that much. Gary Conway ("Burke's Law" "Land of the Giants") was reportedly the early front runner for the role of Ben Quick, but Thinnes beat him out with an audacious sexually aggressive audition. Burt Reynolds also once said this was the one TV role he really wanted, and he was extremely disappointed in not getting it. Reynolds said he wasn't pretty enough for the producers, and he had some dismissive things to say about Thinnes who he didn't name.
Roy Thinnes gave a very strong, star-making performance that was almost as impressive as Robert Lansing's had been the previous year. When this series ended, Quinn Martin immediately signed Thinnes for "The Invaders".
The rest of the cast was also terrific. Edmond O'Brien ("D.O.A.") played stormy patriarch Will Varner and blond Nancy Malone ("Naked City") was subdued Clara Varner. Lana Wood was Eula (the role in which Lee Remick simmered.) Ruth Roman was outstanding in the Angela Lansbury role and John Kerr ("Tea and Sympathy") played the Richard Anderson role of Clara's gentlemanly beau. Only the casting of Jody Varner (a fascinating Anthony Francisosa in the movie) seemed a little weak. Maybe they could have gotten Robert Blake or Dennis Hopper.
But, all in all, Frank Glicksman did a remarkable job of casting.
The series was done with independent stand alone episodes rather than in serial format (as had originally been planned), and that was probably a mistake. The series didn't get you involved enough in what was going to happen next. The characters were basically frozen and weren't truly allowed to develop and change as the characters on "Peyton Place" did. Also none of the characters was given enough of a dark side or allowed to engage in outlandish behavior. Even old Will Varner seemed a pretty agreeable guy, sort of like Ben Cartwright. (Edmond O'Brien quit the series when the producers decided to focus on Thinnes (who received third billing after O'Brien and Malone.) Dan O'Herlihy ("Fail Safe") replaced O'Brien.)
If "The Long, Hot Summer" wasn't going to be a serial, maybe they should have made Ben Quick a man drifting from town to town, and forgotten the rest of the characters.
Frank Glicksman was a little too straight laced and serious to make his "Long, Hot Summer" the true guilty pleasure that the movie is. But the series was very professionally done. Glicksman had a big success three years later with "Medical Center".