Mr. Lucky

In my misspent youth, Mr. Lucky’s was a disco in Glendale, a small Denver suburb notorious for its bars and nightclubs. Disco probably isn’t the right term. It featured live music on two floors, often rock on one floor and country on the other. I recall one night there that I shouldn’t have driven home from. Luckily, I didn’t kill myself or anybody else. But this post isn’t about any of that.

Mr. Lucky was a television series developed by Blake Edwards and featuring the music of Henry Mancini. It aired for one season, 1959-60. Given that it overlapped with Peter Gunn, another Edwards/Mancini vehicle, it’s hard to resist comparing and contrasting the two.

Mr. Lucky, whose first name we never learn, was a gambler. We first meet him and his compadre Andamo (who also has but the one name) on an unnamed central American island where they flee authorities after a failed revolution. Returning to America, they set up shop as a casino on a yacht in international waters near an unnamed American city. After several episodes, they convert their operation to a high-end restaurant. (The series sponsor didn’t like the unsavory gaming aspect.) Lucky and Andamo characterize themselves as partners, but Lucky is clearly in charge: he makes the conversion without even telling Andamo about it until it is a fait accompli.

Lucky was played by John Vivyan, who was unknown to me. I felt his visage was familiar, though, in an odd sort of way. I kept thinking I’d seen him in cartoon form, perhaps, with his long face, strong jaw, and prominent dimple. Not quite Dudley Do-Right, but in the same mold.

His compadre (a term I repeat, because they used it for each other every episode) was played by Ross Martin, best known to me as Artemus Gordon, James West’s sidekick on The Wild Wild West. And by that, let me be clear that I refer to the quite enjoyable 1960’s television series rather than the abominable Will Smith movie. Andamo provides most of the comic relief. He has a slight, unspecified, south-of-the-border accent, wears frilly shirts, and chases (but seldom catches) women.

Typical banter between the two, in addition to calling each other “compadre”, includes quoting odds. “Three will get you five it’s a trap!” or “Ten to one he doesn’t have the money.” One of my favorites that shows up every few episodes is “That’s it, and that’s all!” Sometimes one of them says the whole thing, but often they split it, one saying “That’s it” and the other finishing. “That’s It And That’s All” is also the last tune on the soundtrack album.

Plotwise, Mr. Lucky mines very much the same vein as Peter Gunn. Gunn was a private detective for hire to anybody with the dough. Like Gunn, Lucky mostly takes place at night, but the noir elements are not as strong here. Lucky and Andamo don’t engage in their escapades as part of their careers. Trouble generally comes looking for them. Their yacht is used to smuggle aliens, or is hijacked, or they find a stowaway.

Peter Gunn had an ally on the police force. Lt. Jacoby was a pal, even if their dialog didn’t always sound like it. They sometimes took vacations together. On Mr. Lucky, the police were represented by Lt. Rovacs. He was played by Tom Brown, who, in spite of his long filmography, was unknown to me. It’s more of an adversarial relationship. Lucky is honest with him, but not always cooperative.

Lucky and Andamo are confirmed bachelors. Pippa Scott appears in about a quarter of the episodes as Maggie, Lucky’s girlfriend, if that’s not too strong a term for it. These are mostly early episodes, and unlike Pete Gunn, Lucky plays the field a bit. But sex and romance are not much present in the series.

In spite of Mancini’s contributions, music is not as important in Mr. Lucky as it was in Peter Gunn. The cold opens follow the same format: they all feature the same drumbeat with different instrumentation and tune for each show. When the yacht was a casino there was no live band, while one shows up occasionally in the restaurant. But I’m pretty sure the only tune this band plays is the main theme. The part of the main theme we hear over the opening credits doesn’t thrill me, but I find the longer version on the soundtrack more appealing. Oh, and Lucky’s pocket watch plays the first few notes of it when it is opened.

Given that both series were created and produced by Blake Edwards and made in the same studio, the similarities don’t end with plot and music. Many of the episodes were directed by Boris Sagal, Alan Crosland Jr, and Lamont Johnson, who did most of the work in Peter Gunn. Gene Coon, best remembered for his work on the original Star Trek series, wrote only one Gunn episode but was responsible for more than a quarter of Lucky.

And, as the two series used the same studio, it’s natural that we’d see some of the same sets. In The Brain Picker, they had a fist fight in what looks very much like Pete’s apartment.

Guest stars in Lucky were quite a bit more familiar to me. This surprised me, as they were produced at the same time, I’d have expected to see the same guests on both series. Later in the decade, both Star Trek and Mission: Impossible were produced by the same studio (Desilu). It was quite common to see guest stars show up in both shows at pretty much the same time. Gavin McLeod shows up twice in Mr. Lucky. One episode had Jack Nicholson and Richard Chamberlain. It was the first time they worked together.

I can’t resist commenting on the cars. As one might expect, automobiles aren’t as common in this series, given that much of the action takes place on a yacht. But when Lucky and Andamo do go ashore, they go in style. Early episodes feature a gorgeous 1960 Imperial Crown 2 door convertible. The steering wheel is similar to that in Peter Gunn’s Fury (that is, not quite round). The Imperial is propelled by a 413 cid v-8 pumping out 350 horsepower and driven by a 3 speed automatic transmission. Only 618 were made. Today they’re going for well in excess of $100k.

1960 Imperial Crown convertible

Perhaps the restaurant wasn’t as lucrative as the casino. In later episodes, the Imperial is replaced by a Chrysler New Yorker. I suspect that this car was the same car we saw many of Peter Gunn’s villains driving. It, too, is a convertible. In these days before seatbelts, they tried all sorts of gimmicks. In the New Yorker, the seats swiveled a bit towards the door to make egress easier.

Mr. Lucky is somewhat less violent than Peter Gunn. Fistfights are still a staple, and it’s not uncommon for a bad guy to get gunned down, but the body count is considerably less here. In Gunn, it was fairly normal to see several people (men, always men) get gunned down in a gun battle. In Lucky, a good number of episodes were death-free, and it was unusual for more than one man to die. In 1960, television was quite violent but never gory.

Overall, I think I preferred Mr. Lucky over Peter Gunn. Perhaps that’s because, with a shorter run, there were fewer weak episodes.