Created by Blake Ritchie
Pseudonym of Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts
LUCIUS CRANE was a corpulent, harpsichord-playing gourmet and private detective hired by the friends of a murdered women to find her killer in the failed 1959 TV pilot The Fat Man: The Thirty-Two Friends of Gina Lardelli. Crane was played by “hefty, beetle-browed character actor” Robert Middleton, and he had an associate, a thin fast-talking young Archie Goodwin-type. The great Rita Moreno also starred.
The show was apparently an attempt to bring Dashiell Hammett‘s The Fat Man radio show (loosely based on Hammett’s The Continental Op) to television, although there are more than a few elements of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe & Archie Goodwin floating around. (No longer Hammett’s manhunter, this fat man was a gourmet who liked to play the harpsichord and employed his own personal chef).
Frankly, the whole thing seemed to foreshadow TV’s Cannon. According to Dick Lochte, the show was “competently made and Middleton was able to be both tough and effete.” But, he adds, there was “no mention of Hammett.”
Or Stout, for that matter…
In fact, the Noirish blog speculates that:
It’s hard to know quite why the series didn’t get picked up. The radio show—E.J. “Mannie” Rosenberg, who produced this pilot, was producer of the radio incarnation too—was popular, and this pilot is very nicely put together. An obvious suspicion might be that the lawyers for Rex Stout—whose detective Nero Wolfe, also an extraordinarily plump gourmet with a younger sidekick to do the legwork, was created a dozen years before The Fat Man first broached the airwaves—finally raised an objection, but I’ve found no trace that this was the case.
The writers were Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts who were soon to be responsible for both Mannix and Mission Impossible, among others.
- Gina Lardelli was subsequently the name of a character (played by Corrine Camacho) in the 1969 Mannix episode “A Pittance of Faith.” In fact, the episode is a rewrite of Goff & Roberts’s script for the Fat Man pilot, credited to “Blake Ritchie,” apparently a registered pseudonym of Goff and Robets’ used to recycle old scripts.
- THE FAT MAN: THE THIRTY-TWO FRIENDS OF GINA LARDELLI
Black & white60 minutes
Screenplay by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts
Directed by Joseph H. Lewis
Produced by E.J. “Mannie” Rosenberg
Starring Robert Middleton as LUCIUS CRANE
and Tony Travis as Bill Gregory
Also starring Rita Moreno, Tony Travis, Frank Gerstle, Jan Arvin, Leslie Bradley, Argentina Bronetti, Herb Armstrong, John Bryant, Patrick Sexton