The first fantasy series to appear on US television found its way to the small screen from a 1930's novel, The Jovial Ghosts, by Thorne Smith, via a big screen production by the legendary Hal Roach Studios starring Cary Grant ('Topper'-1937), two subsequent sequels ('Topper Takes a Trip'-1938, 'Topper Returns'-1941), and an NBC radio series ('The Adventures of Topper').
The story centred around ageing bank clerk Cosmo Topper, who, at the beginning of the tale was considering the purchase of a house previously owned by George and Marion Kerby; a fun loving couple that had been tragically killed on a skiing holiday in Switzerland. As they passed to the other side the two of them, and their pet St Bernard dog, Neil, returned to their home in spirit form making themselves visible to Cosmo, in order to convince him to stay. And stay he did for 78 episodes between 1953 and 1955 as the dull banker who gradually discovered a lighter side to life under the influence and company of George and Marion.
British born actor Leo G. Carroll starred as Cosmo Topper, years before returning to television as Mr Waverly in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Robert Sterling and Anne Jeffreys (real-life newlyweds as the series started) appeared as the fun-loving and sometimes mischievous ghosts. Lee Patrick was Cosmo's poor and sometimes bemused wife, Henrietta, whilst bank manager Mr Schuyler (Thurston Hall), and maids Katie (Kathleen Freeman) and Maggie (Edna Skinner) all had occasion to question Topper's sanity.
The early use of trick camera techniques gave George, Marion and Neil ghostly effects and objects moved seemingly of their own accord. The series was a hit with viewers and was also shown in Britain in the early days of ITV, although only 36 episodes were purchased. There have been several attempts to revive the series on TV, all unsuccessful.
Published on February 8th, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.