“Ironside” was one of the best detective shows of the 1960s and remains a classic of its genre. Memorable characters, brilliant acting, well-crafted stories and unforgettable theme music written by the legendary Quincy Jones, “Ironside” brought the beloved actor Raymond Burr back to series TV after a nine year Hall of Fame portrayal of the most famous lawyer in TV history: Perry Mason.
“Perry Mason” ended its run in 1966, but the remarkably robust, vigorous and energetic Burr jumped immediately back into the rigorous demands of series TV in 1967. He starred as former San Francisco Chief of Detectives Robert T. Ironside in a pilot movie that led to the very successful series, which itself ran for eight seasons.
In the pilot, Burr’s character, a tough, demanding and brilliant Detective with a quick wit and often just as quick temper, took his first vacation in 25 years. At a remote cabin while he is talking on the phone, Ironside is shot by a sniper with a grudge wielding a rifle and is left for dead. Somehow, he survives but is permanently disabled – he is paralyzed him from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair.
The series was created by Collier Young. The decision to make Burr disabled was remarkable for the era, as few TV leads were ever depicted as anything but able bodied.
Forced to cope with his disability, Ironside is humbled by his emotions, as well as the outpouring of support he receives from friends and colleagues.
Determined not to be trapped in his wheelchair or give up his career, he volunteers to work within the police department as a “special department consultant,” investigating his own attempted murder as his first case.
Ironside drafts two young law enforcement officers, Detective Sgt. Ed Brown, portrayed by Don Galloway, and Officer Eve Whitfield, portrayed by Barbara Anderson.
He also hired delinquent-turned-bodyguard Mark Sanger, portrayed by Don Mitchell, as his “legs.” Sanger, an African-American with a chip on his shoulder and a hatred for the police, eventually went to law school and became an attorney.
Ironside’s consultant status was granted by Commissioner Dennis Randall, portrayed by Gene Lyons, who also frequently clashed with his long-time friend over Ironside’s investigative methods and his willingness to break the rules to achieve true justice.
Ironside was allowed to retain a floor (for living and office space) at police headquarters and made use of a specially modified and equipped police van to accommodate his wheelchair. The kitchen cupboards were filled with one provision: cans and cans of chili con carne, which Ironside called the “pefect food.”
Once his staff was assembled, Ironside “rolled” into his investigations, traveling in the specially equipped van that Mark had converted to accommodate the Chief’s special needs.
During the series, the show took an unflinching look at the social issues of the 60s and 70s, which included racial strife, the war in Vietnam, and drug use.
As the stories evolved, the barely civil relationship between Ironside and Mark deepened to a close friendship, and eventually the three “staff” members became Ironside’s true family.
Whitfield, who was hugely popular, left the series in 1971. Elizabeth Baur joined the cast as Officer Fran Belding and remained until the series ended in 1975, but never found the fan base that Whitfield had.
This boxed set includes all of the first season episodes including: The Pilot; Message from Beyond; The Leaf in the Forest; Dead Man’s Tale; Eat, Drink and Be Buried; The Taker; An Inside Job; Tagged for Murder; Let My Brother Go; Light at the End of the Journey; The Monster of Comus Towers; The Man Who Believed; A Very Cool Hot Car; The Past Is Prologue; Girl in the Night; The Fourtenth Runner; Force of Arms; Memory of an Ice Cream Stick; To Kill a Cop; The Lonely Hostage; The Challenge; All in a Day’s Work; Something for Nothing; Barbara Who?; Perfect Crime; Officer Bobby; Trip to Hashbury; Due Process of the Law; and Return of the Hero.
A few of the actors who guest starred in the series over the years included Harrison Ford, Joan Van Ark, Bill Bixby, Kent McCord, John Rubinstein, Jack Lord, Norman Fell, Gavin MacLeod, Gary Collins, William Shatner and Martin Sheen. Even Quincy Jones had a guest starring stint.
Raymond Burr was a truly unique man. He was a voracious reader with an almost photographic memory. Although he did not attend college, he had an interest in almost everything and studied on his own gaining an impressive bank of knowledge that rivaled university graduates with advanced degrees. In addition to his active mind and endless energy (he slept very little) he also cultivated orchids and even developed a variety he called “Della,” named and inspired by his beloved former Perry Mason…
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I have just watched a few of these episodes…and I want to alert my fellow DVD buyers that if they are fans of this show….the DVDs are very high quality. This show must have been shot on good film stock as the images are crisp, well saturated and excellent contrast. The guest stars are movie star quality and the stories are interesting..and well acted. Above all…Raymond Burr is a fascinating actor and as far as the small screen is/was concerned he had a commanding presence which is always compelling. I’d put these on a par with the columbo sets …in story and strength of guest stars. If you are a fan you will not be dissapointed.
Ironside was an outstanding television series for a number of reasons. One reason is that this series about the paralyzed Chief of Detectives of San Francisco began a wave of series with detectives and law enforcement types who dealing with some type of handicap or seeming hindrance (Longstreet, Barnaby Jones, and Cannon). Second, it was one of the first television shows that included a black regular (Don Mitchell) in its politically correct mix of white, black, and female that would often duplicated in years to come.
But one of the most compelling reasons that this show still intrigues and captures the attention of the viewer is the presence of Raymond Burr. Not only did he give Robert Ironside the gravitas, wit, and intelligence that the character required, but he did something that no other television actor had accomplished up to that point, and few have done since, and that is to completely reinvent himself successfully a new character in the public’s imagination. The transition really began from motion pictures to television since Burr had been a reliable villain in films in the late 40′s to mid 50′s. Then, as Perry Mason, Burr transformed himself from a shady, often psychotic character to the smooth, intellectually astute attorney who never lost a case. Then two years after Perry Mason went off the air, Burr transformed himself once again from Mason to Ironside, a hardened, cynical, even bitter detective who has to learn to depend on others for the first time in his life. Andy Griffith and Buddy Ebsen accomplish this feat later by having success as two different characters, Griffith as Andy Taylor and Matlock, and Ebsen as Jed Clampett and Barnaby Jones, but no one on television has reinvented himself as two successful and totally different leading characters as Burr did with Perry Mason and Ironside.
Like all great television shows, Ironside had the strong lead character, great supporting cast (Mitchell, Don Galloway, and two lady detectives who worked at different times during the series – Barbara Anderson and Elizabeth Baur), great guest stars, great writing and great directing. This remarkable series richly deserves its DVD release.