Screen Couples

We all know them: the Stoneses, the Andersons or the Stephenses. For some, they may be a guilty pleasure, for others a mere necessity to get a story told. For me, they are the cherry on top of any tale: fictional couples and their personal stories. On the fringes of drama, comedy and mayhem, romantic innuendo has always been my favorite treat. From Date with the Angels and Family Ties to Murder She Wrote or Babylon 5, I have a weakness for double entendre paired with a healthy sense of humor, smarts and mutual respect.

Della and Perry1) Perry Mason and Della Street, for example, have been my favorite couple for more years than I care to admit. On paper, radio and screen, the lawyer and his secretary know how to put a smile on my face. Committed to their work as much as to each other, the true nature of their relationship has always remained a mystery. For some fans, they are the best of friends while others suspect some hanky-panky behind closed doors. For me, they have long been married, the epitomized working couple who combines independence with traditional values. And that’s the beauty of those characters and their story. They ignite your imagination and tease you to the point of sizzling frustration with a simple look, remark or smitten smile. It is a tradition Erle Stanley Gardner himself started in The Velvet Claws in 1933 and lasted until 1994 when the last Perry Mason TV movie aired on NBC. Perfected by its signature cast, Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale, Perry and Della have since lived on in the hearts of many fans, the flame of their romance burning more and more brightly towards the series’ end.

Jennifer&Jonathan2) The second couple I have loved for as long as I can remember are Jennifer and Jonathan Hart. Sophisticated, rich and charming, the Harts had everything including a mutually executed interest in solving mysteries. Following in the footsteps of TV’s Mr. and Mrs. North, they dug up trouble where it’s usually hard to find but their love for each other made their cases stand out from others. Together, they were invincible and (much like Della and Perry) have stood the test of time. A mere decade after Hart to Hart was canceled on ABC, the couple returned to television in 1993, matured, refined, and every bit as committed to each other as they had always been. Today, the Harts are still a dream couple for their fans, a twosome who showed their audience the ingredients of true love and how it beautiful life can be even if you are denied to have your desired offspring.

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Hart to Hart

TV classics: Hart to Hart

USA 1979-84, 110 episodes, 5 seasons, 47 minutes each, ABC. Created by Sidney Sheldon, Producer: Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg, Music by Mark Snow. Cast: Robert Wagner, Stefanie Powers, Lionel Stander

Plot summary: As hobby sleuths, Jennifer and Jonathan Hart investigate mayhem and murder with a little help from butler Max and their dog Freeway.

Review: Loosely based on The Thin Man narrative, Hart to Hart entered American living rooms in the summer of 1979. Starring Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers as a wedded team of hobby sleuths, the show combined murder, mayhem and comedic situations with guest stars such as June Allyson, Diana Muldaur and Roddy McDowell. Supported by Hollywood veteran Lionel Stander as Max, Jennifer and Jonathan Hart investigated crimes in their hometown Los Angeles, as well as on trips around the world. Always combining duty with pleasure, Hart to Hart was a mystery show with the right amount of romance and action to entertain a family audience.

Originally written for Cary Grant, Robert Wagner was cast as a younger version of the charming leading man whose mansion was located in Mandeville Canyon. His on-screen chemistry with Stefanie Powers, once a guest star on his previous TV hit It Takes a Thief, was the main attraction of a show that never made it to the top of ratings. Warmly embraced by world audiences for the couple’s flirtations and banter however, the show had a decent five year run. With an unfortunate decline in script quality, the show was ended in 1984 and successfully rerun for many years until the formula was revisited in the early 1990s. Reprising their fan favorite parts in eight Hart to Hart TV movies, Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers reunited with their equally popular colleague Lionel Stander who remained a set imperative until his death in 1994.

Still dearly remembered by audiences around the globe, the Hart to Hart TV movies are now available on DVD while fans are still waiting for seasons three through five of the original show to be officially released. With their felicitous homage to Nick and Nora Charles with a dash of Mr. and Mrs. North, it would be a shame to not see the Harts on DVD as a complete set. Self-made millionaire Jonathan and his journalist wife Jennifer deserve to be introduced to young viewers who may not watch as much TV as generations before them but rather stick to DVDs and online streaming. In 2012, the upbeat tone of the series and the romantic foundation of each episode are still as entertaining and enchanting as in the 1980s when the show premiered on ABC. It is the perfect show for any spring season – hearty, suspenseful and bewitching. You’ll never forget it, especially due to the charm and quality of the performances of the three main actors and an adorable Lowchen dog called Freeway.

Hart to Hart intro

Mr. and Mrs. North

TV classics: Mr. and Mrs. North

USA 1952-54, 2 seasons,  57 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each, CBS (1952-53), NBC (1954), black & white. Based on Richard & Frances Lockridge’s original novels. Cast: Barbara Britton, Richard Denning and Francis De Sales

Plot summary: Pam and Jerry North keep stumbling into murder cases they investigate with or without a little help from their police detective friend.

Review: Before Mr. and Mrs. North found their way to the small screen, the married sleuths had a career in radio, a motion pictures and a series of novels to look back on. Originally created by Richard Lockridge as newspaper fiction in the 1930s, Mr. and Mrs. North were first reprinted as short stories and then further developed into a series of crime novels by the author himself and his wife Frances. In 1941, the sleuths were presented on Broadway, then moved on to silver screen Hollywood and radio one year later. Following their continued radio success, Mr. and Mrs. North were finally picked up for the small screen in 1952, starring Barbara Britton and Richard Denning as the title characters.When the show was canceled in 1954, the two leading actors reprised their on-screen chemistry on the continued radio program until it was taken off the air one year later.

For the duration of the show, Mr. and Mrs. North were often supported by befriended New York police Lieutenant Bill Weigand (Francis De Sales). Although helping them with an occasional interrogation or professional advice, the cases were always solved by the hobby sleuths, primarily by Pam who had a tendency to get herself in trouble for uncovering the truth. Jerry, her loving husband, often seemed to be one step behind – a fact that didn’t stop him from ignoring her hunches or ideas until her words made sense to him (mostly when Pam had already put herself in danger again).

If you think that the show may have dwelled on the interaction between husband and wife, in fact it did. That was the driving force of the show. The crimes they stumbled into were a mere setup for an entertaining half hour of married investigating. Sometimes, the solutions to their cases were so simple, it wouldn’t have worked if Pam and Jerry’s behavioral pattern hadn’t been so funny. Barbara Britton and Richard Denning did a beautiful job creating a sparkle of spousal familiarity that added spice and joy to the short and easy plots.

All in all, Mr. and Mrs. North is a diverting program with a group of sympathetic characters and a decent cast of actors who were joined by fantastic guest performers such as Raymond Burr (who would take on the role of his life as Perry Mason in 1957). It’s a great show for a cold winter night when all you want is to lean back on the couch with a hot cup of whatever-you-like.

Selected episodes available on DVD and online.

Mr. and Mrs. North pilot episode