3 October 2006 | Cheyenne-Bodie
James Farentino as a high priced private eye
Brilliant writer Larry Cohen created "Cool Million". He also created "Coronet Blue", "The Invaders", "Branded" and "Blue Light". Cohen got his start writing episodes of "The Defenders". Cohen later wrote and directed cult B-movies with interesting actors like David Carradine and Michael Moriarity. In recent years Cohen has written the excellent pulp movies "Phone Booth" and "Cellular".
"Cool Million" hero Jefferson Keyes would solve whatever your problem was for $1 million. Another intriguing premise from Cohen. But the client's problem would have to be BIG to justify that fee. (And didn't Cohen miss a bet by not naming his hero Sam Cool?)
James Farentino had been one of the three stars of "The Lawyers" segment of "The Bold Ones" for three years. That very entertaining series had been produced by Roy Huggins, who also produced this show. Roy Huggins other series include "Cheyenne", "Maverick", "77 Sunset Strip", "Run For Your Life" and "The Rockford Files". (Huggins' original title for "77 Sunset Strip" had been "Anything for Money", which is what Stuart Bailey's newspaper add said).
Roy Huggins hired stylish directors for "Cool Million", including John Badham, Barry Shear and Daryl Duke. John Badham and James Farentino must have been pals. They also teamed for the memorable, brutal first episode of "Police Story" and for an erotic "Night Gallery" with Joanna Pettet.
The first episode of "Cool Million" landed in the top fifteen, but later episodes got much lower ratings. Viewers sampled this show and decided they didn't like it.
James Farentino is a skillful actor, particularly good at character roles. He also has a flare for comedy. He was sort of a 70's version of Alec Baldwin. George C. Scott once said Farentino was one of his favorite young American actors. Farentino made a fine Happy in a TV version of "Death of a Salesman" (1966), which also starred Lee J. Cobb, Mildred Dunnock and George Segal. Being selected for that brilliant production of "Salesman" shows how highly regarded Farentino was as an actor.
But as a leading man, Farentino always struck me as a little too smug and not very human. I found it impossible to identify with Jefferson Keyes and difficult to like him, even though I'm a big fan of Roy Huggins and Larry Cohen. You never understood what made Jefferson Keyes so special that clients would agree to that fee. He just seemed like the usual muscle for hire. I never got further than fifteen minutes into any of the four 90-minute episodes, even though I liked the premise.
Jefferson Keyes should have been more of an intellectual and a little quirkier. Maybe he should have been an extremely expensive attorney who defended people charged with capital crimes.
Or the problems he solved for a million dollars should have been bigger. Maybe he would get a beautiful movie star to fall in love with you. Or find a way to turn around your failing business. Or get your son to stop using drugs. Or get you elected senator. Or find an elusive terrorist leader. Or get better scripts for your banal TV series.
And what was Keyes doing with all that money? Was he leading a lavishly hedonistic life style? Or was he taking the money from the rich and funneling it back to the poor? What was his motivation to continue working, since he was rich after one case? Did Keyes grow up so devastatingly poor that he could never get enough money?
The formidable Elizabeth Ashley had the distinction of being married first to James Farentino (Jefferson Keyes) and then George Peppard (Thomas Banacek). As far as is known, she was never married to Richard Widmark (Sergeant Dan Madigan). Still, I suspect Farentino and Peppard were challenging enough.
James Farentino and Roy Huggins reteamed a third time twelve years later for the dreadful "Blue Thunder", based on John Badham's exciting thriller.
Instead of buying "Cool Million", NBC might have been shrewder to expand "The Lawyers" segment of "The Bold Ones" to 90 minutes and put it on the mystery movie. Huggins often came up with intriguing stories for that show and Ives, Campanella and Farentino were good company as Nichols, Darrell and Darrell.