Thursday, March 7, 2024

The Hitchcock Project-Calvin Clements, Part One-Beta Delta Gamma [7.6]

by Jack Seabrook

Calvin Clements (1915-1997) wrote the teleplays for two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that aired in November 1961, during the show's seventh season: "Beta Delta Gamma," an original script, and "The Old Pro," based on a short story from Manhunt. Born in Jersey City, NJ, Clements joined the Navy at age sixteen and traveled through South Asia and the Pacific before becoming a fireboat pilot with the New York City Fire Department. He began writing short stories, the first of which was published in 1948, and retired from the fire department after twenty years to be a full-time writer. He had four novels published between 1952 and 1956, the year his last short story was published. Clements then moved his family from New York to Los Angeles, where he began a career as a television writer. He mostly wrote westerns and his last TV show aired in 1979. His son, Calvin Clements, Jr., is also a TV writer.

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Barbara Steele as Phyllis
"Beta Delta Gamma" begins as a college student named Alan whistles to himself as he walks across a beach after sunset and enters a house perched on the edge of the sand. The house is filled with a selection of other students, and large Greek letters on the wall above the fireplace identify it as the fraternity house of the local chapter of Beta Delta Gamma. A party is in progress, but one young man named Mark strikes a serious note, studying his lines for a play and quoting Hamlet's famous line, "The play's the thing wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king." As in the Shakespeare play, this episode will find a performance being put on that ends up uncovering the conscience of Alan, the king of the fraternity, who is referred to as a "'boy genius and valedictorian.'"

Burt Brinckerhoff as Alan
A beautiful young woman named Phyllis dances seductively around Alan, who appears to be slightly drunk and who resists the temptation she presents. After Alan tells Phyllis that she "'want[s] to crucify anything [she] can't have,'" Phyllis responds, "'Meaning I wanted you?'" Alan replies that she "'can't bear the idea that I'm not falling on my face running after you, dear.'" Alan's refusal to respond to Phyllis's attempt at seduction will soon drive her to set a series of events in motion that will, in a way, crucify him, and that will also reveal "the conscience of the king."

A pair of older beatniks enter the room and sit down; they are Franklin and Dodo, and Franklin comments on the goings-on by saying that "'We're not the lost generation, we're the stupid generation.'" The lost generation refers to Americans of the 1920s, whose youth (and many of its young men) was lost in the horrors of WWI. In a decision that proves Franklin correct, Mark challenges Alan to a drinking contest and hands him a pitcher of beer, which Alan proceeds to consume.

Duke Howard as Mark
Mark concedes that Alan has won but Alan is not satisfied and grows aggressive, insisting that Mark also drink a pitcher of beer. Mark resists and, before tensions can escalate any further, Alan passes out drunk. A woman named Beth remarks that Alan looks dead and suggests using Mark's makeup kit to make Alan look like a ghost when he wakes up, but Phyllis suggests something even darker: staging the scene so that, when Alan awakens, he will think that he has killed Mark with a fireplace poker. A fraternity brother named Robert goes next door and comes back with his father's medical bag, then injects Mark with a drug that will knock him out and slow his breathing so that it is barely discernible. Some fake blood on his forehead completes the illusion, and Mark passes out.

Joel Crothers as Robert
The soundtrack, which has been free of music up to this point, features an eerie flute and drum accompaniment as the students watch Mark lose consciousness. Everyone but Phyllis leaves; left alone with the two sleeping men, she puts the fireplace poker in Alan's hand before she departs. Later, the telephone rings, waking Alan from his drunken slumber. On the other end of the line is Phyllis, the architect of the unfolding nightmare, calling from next door. When Alan answers the phone, she hangs up and tells the others that he is awake.

Alan still holds the poker in his hand as he discovers Mark's seemingly dead body, looks at what he assumes is a weapon, and assumes the worst, all to more music by flute and drums, adding an early 1960s coffee house feeling to the scene. Alan heads outside in the dark and walks next door, where he tells the others that Mark is asleep. This is Alan's first act of deception, since he believes that Mark is dead but conceals it from his friends. Robert plays along with Alan's lie, telling him that they all left the fraternity house because Alan and Mark were shouting at each other. Alan says that he is going back to the house to "'sleep it off'" and, when he returns to the seeming corpse, he tries to rouse Mark without success and appears distraught.

Severn Darden as Franklin
The sun comes up in the morning and Alan returns to the house next door, where the other students wake up from their positions sleeping on couches and chairs in the living room. Alan tells them that Mark is dead and that he does not know how it happened or why. He has been up all night trying to figure a way out of his predicament. As Alan is about to call the police, Robert tells him the truth, that they made it look like Mark was dead but that he was really alive. Alan reveals that, in an attempt to cover up his seeming crime, he wrapped Mark in a blanket and buried him in the sand! Everyone rushes out to the beach, but the tide has washed away all evidence and Alan cannot find Mark's burial place. The show ends with more eerie flute and drum music and a shot of waves relentlessly washing the beach clean.

Calvin Clements's teleplay for "Beta Delta Gamma" is simple and straightforward on the surface, a cautionary tale about the dangers of excessive drinking among college students, yet it contains subtle undercurrents that increase the tragic nature of events. The conscience of fraternity "king" Alan has been revealed, as the quotation from Shakespeare at the opening of the episode promised. When faced with apparent evidence of his accidental murder of Mark, Alan chose to lie to his friends, not call the police, and bury the body in the sand. His conscience pricks him in the morning and he confesses, but by then it is too late. Phyllis, spurned by Alan at the beginning of the show, gets her revenge in a way she never intended, by making Alan a murderer and Mark a real corpse.

Barbara Harris as Beth
The power of nature is revealed in the end and the viewer is left to wonder what will happen next. Will the students call the police and reveal Alan's crime and their part in it, or will they close ranks and take the chance that Mark's body will never be found?

The situation in "Beta Delta Gamma" has a passing similarity to two other episodes in the series, both of which were based on stories by Robert Arthur. The first is "The Jokester," which was based on a 1952 short story and which aired in 1958; in it, a prank-loving newspaper reporter pretends to be a corpse in order to scare an old morgue attendant, but the attendant causes the reporter to become a real corpse. The second is "The Cadaver," which was based on a 1964 short story and which aired that year; in it, a law school student with a drinking problem is frightened when a corpse is planted in his bed to scare him when he wakes up. "Beta Delta Gamma" does not seem similar enough to "The Jokester" to suggest that its author was familiar with it, but "The Cadaver" shares some interesting parallels with Clements's teleplay, so perhaps Arthur may have seen the earlier show before he wrote his story.

Petrie Mason as Dodo
"Beta Dela Gamma" is directed by Alan Crosland, Jr. (1918-2001), who started out as a film editor, working on features from 1944 to 1954 and on TV from 1955 to 1957, then began directing episodic television in 1956. He directed 16 half-hours and three hours of the Hitchcock series, including "The Woman Who Wanted to Live," as well as episodes of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. Crosland directed a handful of movies, but his main focus was on TV, and he directed his last show in 1986.

"Beta Delta Gamma" is an unusual episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents in that none of its seven cast members ever appeared in any other episodes.

Burt Brinckerhoff (1936- ) stars as Alan. He acted in numerous TV shows from 1954 to 1970 before becoming a busy TV director from 1971 to 2002; he also appeared on Broadway from 1958 to 1968.

Playing the seductive Phyllis is Barbara Steele (1937- ). Born in England, her screen career began in 1958 and continues today with voice work. Two of her most famous roles came right before this episode, as she appeared in Mario Bava's Black Sunday in 1960 and in Roger Corman's The Pit and the Pendulum in 1961. She later was seen in Fellini's 8 1/2 (1963) and in an episode of Night Gallery. She is beloved among horror film fans and considered one of the all-time great scream queens. As a treat for her fans, I've included a clip of her dance from the opening scene of "Beta Delta Gamma."

Mark is played by Duke Howard, who had only a handful of TV credits between 1961 and 1973; this was his first.

Joel Crothers (1941-1985) plays Robert; he was on TV from 1955 to 1985 and is best known for his long-running roles on several soap operas, including Dark Shadows (1966-1969), Somerset (1974-1976), The Edge of Night (1977-1984), and Santa Barbara (1985).

The oldest member of the fraternity is Franklin, who is also referred to as "'senior'"; he is played  by 32-year-old Severn Darden (1929-1995), who was a founding member of The Second City comedy troupe. He appeared on screen from 1961 to 1989 and was seen on Night Gallery and The Night Stalker.

Another former member of The Second City is Barbara Harris (1935-2018), who plays Beth. She trained with The Actors Studio and appeared on screen from 1961 to 1997; this was one of her first roles. She also appeared on Broadway from 1961 to 1967 and won a Tony in 1967 for The Apple Tree. Hitchcock fans know her as Blanche in Family Plot (1976).

Finally, Petrie Mason plays Franklin's companion, Dodo; this is her only credit.

The beach house in "Beta Delta Gamma" appears to be the same one used in "The Last Dark Step" and "Madame Mystery;" it is located on Malibu Beach.


"Archives West Finding Aid." Calvin Clements Papers - Archives West,

"Barge Girl." Paperback Warrior,

"Beta Delta Gamma." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 7, episode 6, NBC, 14 November 1961.

"Calvin Clements." Stark House Press,

"Calvin J. Clements Sr.; Writer of Westerns for Film, TV." Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 19 Mar. 1997,


Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.


Sweedo, Nicholas. "Calvin Clements, Jr.: A Conversation." Calvin Clements, Jr.: A Conversation ~,


Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "One for the Road" here!

Listen to Annie and Kathryn discuss "Beta Delta Gamma" here!

In two weeks: Our series on Calvin Clements ends with a look at "The Old Pro," starring Richard Conte!


Grant said...

Severn Darden could make the most serious story feel a little funny, with that comedian's delivery of his.

Jack Seabrook said...

His face seems so familiar but I don’t know what else I’ve seen him in.

Peter Enfantino said...

Severn Darden is probably most famous for his role as Kolp in the final two Planet of the Apes flicks. Another great summation of another great episode, Jack. I always get this one and "The Jokester" mixed up.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Peter!