Richard Diamond, Private Detective

1957 | United States

Fans of this hard-boiled detective series from the 1950’s realised two things. First, its star, David Janssen, was a fine actor. And second, “Sam” had a great pair of legs. More on the gams a little later. For now, let’s talk about Mr. Diamond.

Created by writer and director Blake Edwards, who would find later success with “The Pink Panther” and other films, Richard Diamond was a New York City cop who gave up his badge and became a private detective. From 1949 until 1952, actor Dick Powell played the fun-loving PI on radio. Five years later, Powell turned to working behind the camera for his “Four Star Productions” and created a television version of Richard Diamond. 

David Janssen as Richard Diamond

He spotted unknown actor David Meyer and suggested he change his name to David Janssen. With Regis Toomey as Lieutenant Dennis “Mac” McGough, Richard Diamond, Private Detective premiered July 1st, 1957 on CBS. Richard’s inside work with the police department gave him an edge other private detectives didn’t have, helping him to solve many a stubborn case. In 1959, Richard moved from New York to Hollywood, where he found girlfriend Karen Wells (Barbara Bain). And in those pre-answering machine and voice mail days, Richard hired an answering service to collect his phone messages. The young woman who delivered those messages was a gal named “Sam”. Viewers never saw her face; they only saw her beautiful legs as she delivered Richard’s messages in a breathy voice.

The actress who played “Sam” wasn’t listed on the credits either. But readers of “TV Guide” finally learned who “Sam” really was in a May 1959 article, modelling the newest women’s hosiery. The magazine revealed the young woman who played “Sam”: Mary Tyler Moore. Soon after the article was published, Moore left the series. Eventually, TV viewers would see more of Moore on The Dick Van Dyke Show and her own ground-breaking sitcom. 

To replace Moore, the producers found another unbilled actress to play “Sam” (Roxanne Brooks). The Hollywood episodes gave Diamond a new friend on the Los Angeles Police Department in Lieutenant Pete Kile (Russ Conway); another cop named Sergeant Alden (Richard Devon) was always trying to get the gumshoe. Richard Diamond, Private Detective left CBS for NBC in 1959, but the final episode aired in September 1960. Janssen would go on to greater television fame with The Fugitive and Harry O.

Creator Blake Edwards may have been one reason “Richard Diamond” had a relatively short life. In 1958, he created Peter Gunn, a detective series that was long on style with cool jazz music and an equally cool star in Craig Stevens. Also that year, Warner Brothers came up with 77 Sunset Strip for ABC, the first of what would be considered the “two part private eye, one part cutie pie” school of crime solving: Handsome lead actors with a good looking sidekick (male or female) and the hip lingo of the time. Both shows made Richard Diamond look a bit old-fashioned. And not even “Sam’s” gams could help. 

Published on November 7th, 2019. Written by Mike Spadoni (2004) for Television Heaven.

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