6 July 2006 | dgrahamwatson
Probably Rock Hudsons last big role in Hollywood!
This was one of NBC's Sunday night mysteries movie series from the 1970's. It probably doesn't carry the same weight in cult status as COLUMBO and McCLOUD but never the less it was very popular at the time. Apparently in the US all three of these series rotated every Sunday night but in the UK McMILLIAN AND WIFE was broadcast on a Thursday night where it remained throughout it's run.
The series main attraction was Rock Hudson a former leading man in movies during the 1950's and 60's who probably started to find big screen film roles hard to come by, so movies made for TV that were packaged into a series format were ideal at this stage of his career. Although back then it probably seemed a step down actually by today's standards doing cable or TV work even is no longer seen as a step down, many big names from the movies are happy doing work on the small screen, it's lucrative and keeps you in the public eye.
Hudson played San Francisco commissioner Stewart McMillian who wasn't content to sit behind a desk doing paper work but was more inclined to work on the streets doing all the nitty gritty investigative work with with his youthful and feisty wife Sally (Susan st James) at his side and his ever loyal assistant Sergeant Charles Enright (John Schuck) in support too. This was due to the fact that the story lines or mystery mostly revolved around them i.e. somebody holding a long standing grudge against them.
It wasn't a heavy drama or a thriller but a mystery series with humor in it. McMillian himself who was assertive and didn't suffer fools gladly often got impatient with some of the characters he encountered and dealt with it with humor. Sergeant Enright his side kick certainly did not upstage McMillian, although a lovable character he seemed to end up doing some of the less glamorous or thankless tasks. You got the impression that he was not the brightest bulb in the pack and a bit naive but never the less he was enthusiastic, energetic, loyal, hard working and reliable for most part.
Sally, McMillians wife almost resembled a typical flower power girl back in those days, petite with a care free spirit who never took herself too seriously. Although she was inquisitive by nature she was often helpless and clumsy when left to her own devises, you could often her her cry out "oh Mac" when nervous. I'm not sure that her shrill and some what flaky character would have impressed the feminist movement back in the 70's which was in full swing at that time. She was probably 20 years his junior, totally devoted to her husband and not very independent. Even when she took matters into her own hands or started to meddle in one of his investigations on her own she wasn't very convincing and more often than not got her self into trouble and had to rely on Mac to get her out of it.
She was better in the supporting role or at least hanging off his arm, although it has to be said she played a central role to the over all chemistry and success of the series. By today's standard of tough talking, high kicking, gun brandishing, tank-topped tattooed clad women of today Sally is defiantly a relic of the past, sweet, funny, feminine and pretty. Lastly, there was the brash and sarcastic housekeeper Mildred (Nancy Walker) whose wise cracking New York humor added a funny dimension to the whole format and kept the easy watching and laid back nature of the show honest.
There was talk at the time of tension between the cast members, Hudson upset at being upstaged by Susan st James who was very popular but I have to say I never sensed that in the re-runs I have seen. In fact the chemistry between Schuck and Hudson was very good and I felt that they genuinely got on well. Rock Hudson seemed to enjoy his part an I never sensed any resentment between himself and the rest of the cast bearing in mind his previous success on the big screen prior to this, he seemed comfortable in his own skin.
The first three seasons were probably the golden years and from season 4 onwards Sally was less visible, perhaps Hudson wanted to have a more prominent role, did not like being upstaged by his co hosts, I don't know? Maybe Sally's damsel in distress role was not believable as the 70's progressed. Eventually, the original cast members were written out or else given small roles and Hudson continued the role on his own for a final season before it was eventually axed.
The stories were OK but perhaps McMillian was too old to pull of the bachelor part and not very convincing as the grieving widow, but I think that TV was changing and it was time to end the whole format. It lasted from 1971-1977 a respectable six seasons and was a welcome addition to the early evening, easy watching TV shows of the 1970's. It no doubt provided the inspiration for the later HART TO HART TV show a few years later.
After this Hudson worked on the mini-series WHEELS followed by the highly popular MARTIAN CHRONICLES and a couple of years later WORLD WAR III. He then almost disappeared from the screen until his shocking entrance in the glam soap DYNASTY. McMILLIAN AND WIFE was probably his last prominent role in his acting career and it was not a bad swan song at all. Hudson died in 1985 and Nancy Walker a few years later. John Schuck is still active and Susan st James has just recently returned to TV after a long absence. Check it out!