THE DEFENDERS was a TV series created by Reginald Rose ( who wrote TWELVE ANGRY MEN). It ran from 1961 to 1965 and starred E.G.MARSHALL and ROBERT REED as father and son defence lawyers, Lawrence and Kenneth Preston.
I’ve only just caught up with the first season (which had an amazing 32 episodes ). The dvd box set was brought out by The Shout Factory in 2016., and, as I reach episode 26, I can only add my name to the clamour to Shout Factory to give us the rest of this wonderful series.
The show started out in 1957 as a two-parter by Reginald Rose, starring Ralph Bellamy and William Shatner as the father and son legal team.
With the new series in 1961, it became “The Defenders” and E.G.Marshall and Robert Reed were cast in the leads. It was filmed in New York. Marshall and Reed worked well together.
It was clear from the start that this show was prepared to deal with complex social and political issues – a physician charged with mercy killing, capital punishment, the Hollywood Blacklist, a teacher fired for being an atheist – just a few of the issues covered.
For one episode about abortion, the usual sponsors got cold feet and the episode was held back till later in the season when another advertiser was found.
So many Hollywood stars appeared in the show,- Frank McHugh appeared in the third episode – as a murderer! Sam Jaffe is a doctor accused of killing his patient, Chester Morris, as a military lawyer. Also appearing were Mary Astor, Ruth Roman, Alexis Smith, Dane Clark, Zachary Scott, Teresa Wright and Lillian Gish.
Reginald Rose used many of the actors from 12 Angry men – Martin Balsam, Robert Webber, Edward Binns, Joseph Sweeney, plus of course E.G.Marshall.
One of my favorite episodes starred Frank Gorshin as an impersonator who kills his girlfriend, and in the tone of Michael Redgrave’s “Dead of Night”, he loses his sanity as he impersonates so many stars and can’t speak in his own voice any more.
The show won multiple Emmies and ran four seasons, with a total of 132 episodes – the fourth season had 36 episodes ! – each 45 minutes . Can you imagine that today.
There was a revival of the show in 1997, still with Marshall but starring Beau Bridges as another son of the original Lawrence Preston (Robert Reed had died in 1992) . – E.G. Marshall died shortly after the show began.
E.G.Marshall (1914 – 1998) was born Everett Eugene Grunz. He was active as an actor from 1945 till his death. From 1974 to 1982, he hosted CBS’s Radio Mystery Theater. His work on TV included playing Joseph Kennedy in “Kennedy” in 1982.
One of the first members of the Actor’s Studio, Marshall was never out of work – TV, stage, radio – and some movies. In an extensive interview which can be seen on You Tube, he said, “I was never asked to sign a term contract.” He was in three movies in 1954 – THE CAINE MUTINY, PUSHOVER and BROKEN LANCE.
I remember him in an uncredited part in CALL NORTHSIDE 777. He only made 4 film appearances in the 1940s, all uncredited.
He was married three times and had 7 children. The Television Academy.com have a long interview with him.
Despite The Defenders being nearly 60 years old, the stories still have a relevance today . If it’s true that Season 1’s sales have not been strong enough to merit further releases, I am very disappointed. “The Defenders” is quality television.