Sunday, August 29, 2010

Jackson Gillis

Recognize that name?

I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't. But if you watched a lot of TV from the '50s to the '70s, you might remember seeing his writing credits attached to some of your favorite shows.

You might especially remember it if, growing up, you were the kind of pesky kid who insisted that your siblings or parents not change the channel after a program until after you had seen the credits.

More particularly, if you were a pesky kid like me.

Mr. Gillis, who was 93, died earlier this month.

I think I first remember seeing his name on "Perry Mason," where he adapted some of the Erle Stanley Gardner books in addition to writing very good original scripts for the series.

In 1963, when the series finally got around to doing the first Mason novel, "The Case of the Velvet Claws," Gillis wrote the script, providing a textbook example of how to adapt a novel from the 1930s for the 1960s and even, if I may say so, improve on it.

Then I saw his name on "Mickey Mouse Club" repeats. ("Hey, that guy whose name is on the 'Perry Mason' show also wrote for the Hardy Boys and Spin and Marty!")

I learned early on that anything written by Jackson Gillis was worth watching.

Although he wasn't basically a book writer (though his hometown paper, the Moscow Pullman Daily News in Idaho, mentions two mystery novels he wrote, which I'm sorry to say I haven't read -- yet), I think his best work can stand up with the best of the classic mystery authors.

Apparently the Emmy folks thought so, too. He was nominated for that award for writing "Suitable for Framing," one of the best "Columbo" episodes, starring Ross Martin as a murderous art critic. I watched it again on DVD earlier this year. It still holds up -- and it perhaps has the best "Columbo" ending ever. I still remember what an impact it had on me when I saw the episode the first time it was aired, in the early '70s.

He deserves to be remembered.

For The New York Times' obit -- which, curiously, doesn't mention his novels -- go here.

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