Richard Levinson (1934-1987) and William Link (1933- ) were one of the great writing teams in television mystery series. They met in school in 1946 and went on to a long and fruitful collaboration on radio scripts, plays, teleplays and two movies. The team was active in TV from 1959 until Levinson's untimely death in 1987 and together they created Mannix (1967-1975), Columbo (1971-2000), Ellery Queen (1975-1976), and Murder, She Wrote (1984-1996). They also had a number of short stories published between 1954 and 1966 and won four Edgar Awards during their career as partners. After Levinson died, Link continued to write and his short stories have been appearing on and off since 1996. He was president of the MWA in 2002 and has a website here.
|Gene Barry as John Chambers|
Another coincidence is that Gene Barry (1919-2009), who plays the killer in "Dear Uncle George," also plays the murderer in "Prescription: Murder." However, the characters and their stories are quite different.
|Alicia Li as Bea|
|John steadies Cupid|
Louise closes the drapes in the living room and complains that the old woman across the court has been spying on her neighbors. At the office, John had referred to Good Samaritan as a witch; now, Louise comments that she would not be surprised if the old woman turned up at the door with a poisoned apple. Both husband and wife use witch imagery to describe their neighbor and, like a witch in a fairy tale, the old woman's letter will lead to the destruction of their marriage and to Louise's death.
|Patricia Donahue as Louise Chambers|
|Dabney Coleman as Tom Esterow|
Esterow admits that he picked up the Cupid statue when he found the body and so his fingerprints are on the murder weapon. A key to the apartment is found in his coat pocket and he is accused of murder and taken to the police station. Wolfson suspects that the murder was a crime of passion and asks Chambers if his wife had been involved with another man, but John denies it.
|John Larkin as Simon Aldritch|
Chambers has a big surprise in store for him when he visits Aldritch's country home: left alone in the steam room, he finds Louise's missing comb and realizes that Aldritch, and not Esterow, was her secret lover. Simon admits to the affair and John accuses him of murder. Chambers goes back to the jail and apologizes to Esterow, suggesting that the Good Samaritan who watched his apartment might be able to identify Aldritch as his wife's lover and, by extension, her killer. John next visits Wolfson and explains his plan and his suspicions. When the Lieutenant is not persuaded by Chambers's story, John takes matters into his own hands and locates his missing neighbor, the Good Samaritan, who has been visiting her sister upstate. Back in his office, John is fired by Simon for going to the police, but a telephone call from Lt. Wolfson results in both men heading for the police station.
|Lou Jacobi as Lt. Wolfson|
Earlier, Simon had told Lt. Wolfson that Chambers was Uncle George, asking the policeman to keep it quiet in order to avoid a scandal that could hurt the newspaper's circulation. Suddenly, as Mrs. Weatherby talks, everyone in the room realizes exactly what happened, that John had been alerted of his wife's infidelity and had murdered her. Mrs. Weatherby, the Good Samaritan, has the last word, addressed to John Chambers: "I'm sure that if you knew what was going on you'd have done something about it."
|Charity Grace as Mrs. Weatherby|
Early in the show, we meet Bea, John's secretary, who is played by Asian-American actress Alicia Li. Surprisingly, for a 1963 television program, Bea is not a stereotypical Asian; instead, the character could be played by an actress of any heritage. Asian-American roles on TV were few and far between before the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 and those that were seen often portrayed Asians in traditional roles.
|Chambers returns home in shadow|
|Chambers and Esterow are doubled|
The only false note in the show--and it is a small one--occurs when Sam, presumably the superintendent of the apartment building where Chambers lives, has a scene with Chambers. Sam is portrayed as a stereotypical Irishman who can be bought with a drink of alcohol, a portrayal of an immigrant quite different than the enlightened portrayal of Bea by Alicia Li.
Even Mrs. Weatherby (Charity Grace) is fun to watch, as she must put her glasses on each time she has to look at someone to make an identification. The fact that her need to gossip leads her to make a comment that seals John's doom provides a perfect ending to the show, since it was her letter to Uncle George that led to the murder of Louise Chambers in the first place.
Unlike Lt. Columbo, who always seems to know who the murderer is and to hound them until they make a mistake, Lt. Wolfson does not seem to intuit the identity of the guilty party. Instead, as he says, he follows the evidence and likely is as surprised as anyone else to discover the truth.
Joseph Newman (1909-2006), who directed "Dear Uncle George," started out as an assistant director in the Golden Age of Hollywood, from 1933 to 1942, before becoming a director of short subjects (1938 to 1947) and finally of features, starting in 1942. His most memorable film is probably This Island Earth (1955), a science fiction classic. He worked in television from 1960 to 1965 and directed ten episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, including "The Second Wife"; "Dear Uncle George" was his first. Newman also directed four episodes of The Twilight Zone.
|Gene Barry as Bat Masterson|
Second billing goes to John Larkin (1912-1965), who was a busy actor on Old Time Radio from the 1930s to the 1950s, playing Perry Mason over the air. He began working in TV in 1954 and appeared in various shows for the next decade but never made much of a splash. He was on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour twice.
|Patricia Donahue in "A Stop at Willoughby"|
Dabney Coleman (1932- ) is convincing as the unjustly accused painter, Tom Esterow. Coleman has been a fixture on TV and in the movies since 1961 and appeared on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in "Dear Uncle George" and "Isabel." He was on The Outer Limits three times and later appeared on various TV series, including Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (1976-1977) and in the film, 9 to 5 (1980).
Lt. Wolfson is played by Lou Jacobi (1913-2009), who was born Louis Jacobovitch in Toronto. He began acting on stage in 1924 and spent decades treading the boards before his first appearance on screen in 1953. He was on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour twice.
In smaller roles, Alicia Li and Charity Grace both shine. Li (1924-2008) was born in Philadelphia and had a brief career on screen between 1961 and 1965 with six TV credits and three movies. Unlike her role as Bea, some of her other roles included "Chinese girl" and "Third native girl." Grace (1884-1965) was on the Hitchcock show five times and had small but memorable roles in "Party Line" and "Final Vow."
Unfortunately, like the rest of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, "Dear Uncle George" has not been released on DVD and is currently unavailable for viewing online. Hopefully, Universal will rectify this soon, because this episode is well worth seeking out.
Thanks to Peter Enfantino for checking all of the Link and Levinson stories in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine through 1963 to confirm that none of them was the source for "Dear Uncle George"!
In two weeks: "Run for Doom," starring John Gavin and Diana Dors!