Ben Casey

1961 | United States

Unlike the almost saintly portrayal of doctors in other medical series, doctor Ben Casey was shown as a tough rebel who was ready to flaunt the rules if it was in his patient's interest. Casey was Doctor Kildare's closest US rival during the 1960's and even though it never quite matched Kildare's popularity, it was in many respects a far superior series. Created by novice priest James Moser, Casey worked as a neurosurgeon at the County General Hospital and although he would refuse to bow to the medical establishment he was given a stabilizing influence in the form of wise old mentor, Dr David Zorba (Sam Jaffe). What set this show apart from the rest was its pioneering use of close-up shots during surgical scenes, and the feeling of urgency that was conveyed to its audience in much the same way as ER was to do over thirty years later. It was also the first series to tackle difficult subjects like abortion. Sydney Pollack, later to direct the Academy Award winning Out Of Africa, worked on the show. 

The lead character was played by ruggedly handsome Vince Edwards, a former New York State Swimming Champion who'd had a tough Brooklyn upbringing. Interviewed in 1963, Edwards (born Vincent Edward Zoino) recalled, "I was the son of a bricklayer. He's been dead years along with three of my brothers and sisters. We were seven in all. Until I was quite a big guy I didn't know there were people who could afford to change their clothes every day, that some houses had more than one bathroom and that the living room wasn't for sleeping in." However, Edwards worked hard enough to get his way into Ohio State University before joining New York's American Academy of Dramatic Art, where among his classmates were future stars Grace Kelly, Anne Bancroft and John Cassavetes. His tall athletic build eventually led him to the title role in the film 'Mr. Universe' and he was spotted by Hollywood legend Bing Crosby, whose company (Bing Crosby Productions) were about to begin filming Ben Casey. The series ran for five years. Unfortunately, before it ended it became a much 'soapier' watered down version and was cancelled in 1965, five months ahead of Dr Kildare

Published on November 29th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus (2001) for Television Heaven.