Monday, June 13, 2016

Ten TV Moments: David Wayne

Two years ago I wrote a blog about Meredith Baxter. It was not related to a new project or any other milestone – I just felt like celebrating an impressive and diverse television career. That’s the best thing about having your own blog – no editors to tell you what you can or can’t do.

Such pieces will now be a recurring feature here. There have been so many wonderful actors who, while not icons in the medium, have built a remarkable legacy of fine work. If, like me, you have access to enough classic television to create programming nights focused around a particular star or theme, perhaps these pieces will provide some inspiration.

I’ve selected David Wayne because I’m now enjoying a second journey through the classic and sadly short-lived Ellery Queen series, in which he costarred as Ellery’s father. 

Not every actor has a screen persona but some certainly get repeatedly cast into specific types of roles. With David Wayne, it was intelligent but temperamental men who were always annoyed about something – usually the vacuousness or incompetence of others.  That was certainly the case with Police Inspector Richard Queen, as well as several of these other moments that are worth revisiting.

The Twilight Zone (1959)
“Escape Clause” is not in the first tier of TZ classics – you may guess the twist in Rod Serling’s script before it is revealed – but Wayne is ideally cast as Walter Bedeker, a surly, self-centered hypochondriac who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for an extended life span of “a few hundred, or a few thousand” years. 

Naked City (1962)
One of the best DVD investments I’ve ever made is 80 bucks for 138 episodes of this groundbreaking 1958-1962 series, shot in evocative, atmospheric black and white on the streets of New York City. “The Multiplicity of Herbert Konish” is a typically strong outing, with Wayne as the title character – a mild-mannered broker who creates several other identities for himself. It’s up to Adam Flint to discover whether any of Konish’s aliases are also criminals. The answer is not what you might expect.

Batman (1966)
Since I have memories of watching Batman when I was 8 or 9, this was probably the first David Wayne performance I ever enjoyed. As with the series’ other famous guest villains I had no idea at the time that he had a career before arriving in Gotham City. To me he was just the Mad Hatter. The first of his two appearances (“The Thirteenth Hat/Batman Stands Pat”) is more memorable, as Jervis Tetsch is joined in his criminal escapades by a statuesque hat-check girl played by the stunning Diane McBain. 

The Good Life (1971)
I’ve never watched this series but I’ve seen clips on YouTube. It’s listed here because the concept and cast are so intriguing that I can’t imagine it not being enjoyable. Larry Hagman and Donna Mills play a middle-class married couple who take jobs as a butler and cook for wealthy industrialist Charles Dutton (played by David Wayne). Just 15 episodes were made before everyone moved on to more successful projects. 

Banacek (1973)
This is one of those shows I’ve wanted to write about for years but haven’t gotten to yet. Consider this a start: “Ten Thousand Dollars a Page” finds insurance investigator Banacek trying to discover how someone managed to steal a priceless book encased amidst high-tech alarms. David Wayne plays the book’s owner, a self-proclaimed tyrant. It was Emmy-worthy work, and from an acting-with-a-capital-A standpoint his best performance of those on this list. 

Ellery Queen (1975)
Wayne possessed one of those resonant golden-age Hollywood voices, instantly recognizable, which fit perfectly into this 1940s-set series where distinctive voices abound. Jim Hutton had the easygoing cadences of Jimmy Stewart, John Hillerman the cultured tones of William Powell, and the gung-ho reporter played by Ken Swofford would have blended right into His Girl Friday

Family (1978)
Ellery Queen may have temporarily trapped David Wayne in the “dad” zone with casting directors, as he would play several more fathers over the next few years. In “The Covenant” he played the ailing father of Doug Lawrence (James Broderick). It’s a typical Family episode, which means it’s better than 98% of everything else that has ever been on television.

Dallas (1978)
Full disclosure: I actually think Keenan Wynn’s take on embittered drunk Digger Barnes seemed more authentic than that of David Wayne, who originated the role. But Wayne had better material to play in the series’ early seasons, as he had to contend with his daughter Pamela marrying into the family he blamed for all his misfortune. 

Eight is Enough (1979)
In “Fathers and Other Strangers” the Bradfords vacation in Hawaii and Tom confronts his estranged father (played by you-know-who). There’s a bit too much filler in this stretched-out two-part episode, but its best scenes are shared by David Wayne and Willie Aames. Unless you count the scene with Elizabeth in a bikini. What, you’re just finding out now that I’m shallow?

House Calls (1979)
Now in his 60s, his cranky persona gracefully aging like vintage Port, David Wayne added some much-needed cynicism into this romantic sitcom about the romance between hospital coworkers played by Wayne Rogers and Lynn Redgrave. Wayne’s Dr. Amos Weatherby was going senile but preferred to think he was the last sane person in a world that was going crazy. I can relate. 


  1. David,

    Thanks for sharing this. Larry Hagman speaks very fondly of his longtime friendship with Wayne in his memoir, Hello Darlin', and how he relished the opportunity to work together on Dallas and The Good Life. Like you, I enjoyed his appearances on Batman; his interpretation of The Mad Hatter made him one of the show's best villains. Interestingly enough, according to Bat Scholar Joel Eisner, Wayne reportedly hated the role, and did the second appearance under protest; if that's true, then my hat's off to him, so to speak, because both his performances suggest nothing but the opposite. Also like you, however, I think of him foremost as Inspector Queen, though I will have to pull his Banacek episode from my DVD package and gave that a serious look.

    Ed Robertson
    Author, journalist, ghostwriter and host of TV CONFIDENTIAL

    1. Thanks, Ed - someone told me that Wayne and Hagman were neighbors for many years, which I did not know. Let me know what you think of the Banacek episode when you see it.

  2. I first remember David Wayne from ELLERY QUEEN, then shortly after that I saw him in a rerun of TZ's "Escape Clause". I remember him fondly from HOUSE CALLS too.
    I taped the pilot of THE GOOD LIFE one morning when it was part of a pilot week of Screen Gems Network. I thought the concept was good, but the show pretty much seemed to fall into the same tired slapstick all over a lot of tv at the time. David Wayne was good in it though.

    1. I'm sure it's not one of TV's lost treasures, but I do enjoy the relative simplicity and innocence of shows from that era. Even the bad ones. :)

  3. Great subject--David Wayne had such an amazing career! You know I love him too as the Ghost of Christmas Past in the 1979 made-for-TV movie AN AMERICAN CHRISTMAS CAROL. Keep up the good work! I can't wait to see who else you select.

  4. David Wayne and a pre-"Days of our Lives" Deidre Hall both appeared in an episode of "The Streets of San Francisco" entitled "In the Midst of Strangers."

  5. Let's not forget Wayne's Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode "One More Mile to Go", where he played an accidental wife-killer who hides the body in the trunk of his car and sets out to dispose of it, only to be bedeviled by a motorcycle cop (Steve Brodie), who is behind him and constantly stopping him for minor infractions. Wayne's reaction at the end, when Brodie notices that the back lights are out and he offers to help by opening the trunk, is priceless!