TV classics: Decoy aka Decoy Police Woman

USA 1957-58, 1 season,  39 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, Syndication, black & white. Inspired by Jack Webb’s Dragnet, Dedicated to the Bureau of Policewomen of the NYPD. Cast: Beverly Garland

Plot summary: Police woman Casey Jones investigates undercover in New York City by diving into different milieus and situations to solve her assigned cases.

Decoy Police Woman pilot episode

Review: Decoy was the first American TV show that focused on a female police officer, Casey Jones. With only one central character, Decoy Police Woman presented crime stories from a female perspective, often commented on by Beverly Garland as Casey Jones at the end of an episode. Crimes on women were frequently covered, but not exclusively so. The show offered a new insight but wasn’t meant to only attract a female audience.

As an undercover officer, Casey Jones entered a lot of different worlds and milieus. Beverly Garland thus laid the groundwork for an interesting show by playing the same character under different circumstances and in different situations each week. She had to adapt to her weekly case and mastered the art of transformation from a dutiful officer to whatever her cover required. Later known for her memorable supporting roles in My Three Sons and Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Beverly Garland got a chance to shine on Decoy by showing her diversity and maturity as an actress. And so she did as a sincere and committed forerunner for the talented ladies of Charlie’s Angels, Police Woman or Cagney and Lacey.

Today, Decoy Police Woman is not only a great history lesson for Women’s Studies majors, classic TV enthusiasts and feminists, it is also an entertaining show with elements of film noir and an interesting cast of guest stars like a young Larry Hagman or Peter Falk. Decoy is full of suspense intensified by the beautiful performances of Beverly Garland. It’s a real pity this show only lasted one season.

Selected episodes available on DVD and online.

The 70s

On the next couple of Fridays I will bring you information about and recommendations from beyond my favorite decades, starting today.

The 1970s

Fashion in the 70s was colorful with patterns that could make you dizzy. Skirts were super long or super short. You had knee-high boots and ethno-chic tunics. Trousers were flared and paired with platform shoes. Popular colors were hippie rich and often psychedelic. A deep rich brown combined with a bright orange and sunny yellow, or a combination of colors that weren’t necessarily easy on the eyes. 1970s fashion was about fun, second wave feminism and comfort. The music world presented ABBA from Sweden and Saturday Night Fever on dance floors worldwide. Glam rock and punk entered the scene, while microwave ovens became more popular in US homes.

On TV, Mary Tyler Moore had her successful debut, as well as The Muppets. Following affirmative action, Woodstock and the relaunch of an arduous gender debate in the 60s, 1970s television was the mirror of a society still heavily entangled in the Vietnam war. M*A*S*H was a direct answer to the pains and fears of an entire generation, inspired by its preceding feature film and novel. Other examples for successful shows from that era are Happy Days, my decade favorite Hart to HartThe Love Boat, or The Waltons with their rather classic entertainment qualities. New family realities and changing structures were picked up on The Brady Bunch, The Odd Couple, The Partridge Family or Three’s Company, the ongoing debate on gender equality on a variety of shows that circled around female leads. Not that TV hadn’t presented women as central heroes before, but the tone had changed and the atmosphere. Charlie’s Angels, Maude, Police Woman or Wonder Woman didn’t have much on Lucy Ricardo, Donna Stone, Samantha Stephens or Susie McNamara. It was a different fabric these “new women” were made of, independent and hard-boiled yet often sexed up. They were supposed to find their way in a man’s world, no matter what, and their wardrobe and wisecracking attitude helped them accomplish that goal.

On the silver screen, gritty, sexed-up, shocking or taboo-breaking was in vogue: The Godfather, The GraduateKramer vs. Kramer, Norma Rae, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Taxi Driver were big hits, as well as the emerging genre of disaster movies kicked off by the adaptation of Alex Haley’s Airport. Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of either one of these films although I have always greatly appreciated each film’s stellar cast. Cabaret or Love Story  are more my cup of tea, along with the surfer movie Big Wednesday for three simple reasons: California, William Katt and his mother Barbara Hale. I guess you can see my priorities.