Names like Superman, Batman, Iron Man and Spider-Man may sound silly, but there’s something sillier still.
At least those heroes chose their melodramatic noms de guerre. How much sillier is it when a hero just coincidentally happens to have a melodramatic name that advertises his profession? You know, like Doc Savage, Mike Hammer and Peter Gunn. The name of a later TV private eye, Remington Steele, was conceived as a parody of the name “Peter Gunn.”
Freudian implications aside, Gunn was the polished and poised protagonist in a stylish private eye TV series created by Blake Edwards that aired from 1958 to 1961. He was played by Craig Stevens, an actor who might be better remembered today if his looks, sartorial splendor and savoir faire had not so closely resembled Cary Grant’s.
One cool cat, Pete operated out of a jazz club called Mother’s in some waterfront city. His girl — the equally obviously named Edie Hart — was the lead singer at the club. Her smooth elegance mirrored Gunn’s, only slightly smudged at moments by hints of her frustration at Gunn’s matrimonial elusiveness.
Gunn was cool enough to make it into a comic book, Dell’s Four Color 1087 (April-June 1960), giving artist Mike Sekowsky a rest from the superhero-packed panels of DC’s Justice League of America. Sekowsky got a chance to show what he might have done with a realistically illustrated Rip Kirby-style newspaper strip.
The television series is remembered today largely for the permanent link it forged between action-adventure and jazz, thanks to composer Henry Mancini, who filled the episodes with original music. His Peter Gunn Theme remains iconic, and was the direct ancestor of The James Bond Theme. David Anthony Kraft and I had the privilege of seeing Mancini’s orchestra perform the piece at a university concert in 1973.
Few people know, however, that the famous theme has lyrics. Here they are, in part (and they sound like Edie Hart being heartfelt):
Every night your line is busy
All that buzzin’ makes me dizzy
Couldn’t count on all my fingers
All the dates you had with swingers
I'm gonna kiss you goodbye
And walk right through that doorway
This is the last time we’ll meet
On the street going your way…