Rerun Junkie–They Didn’t Have Native Americans Back Then

As I discussed in a previous post, all of your favorites are problematic. All of my favorites, too.

One problematic aspect of reruns that’s probably the most glaring is the racist casting. White actors playing non-white roles has been common place for decades and was probably at its most popular in the Westerns of the ’50s, ’60s, and early ’70s. That’s right. Those Native Americans were not actual Native Americans. Those Mexicans? If they had a speaking role, they were most likely not actually Mexican.

John Saxon played a Native American on Bonanza and a Mexican on Gunsmoke. Martin Landau played a Mexican on both The Rifleman and The Big Valley. Michael Ansara not only played a Mexican in a couple of episodes of Rawhide, but he was frequently cast as a Native American, including starring in his own short-lived series called Law of the Plainsman playing Deputy Marshal Sam Buckheart, a character he originally played on The Rifleman.

Sadly, one of my favorites, F-Troop, was notorious for casting white actors as their Hekawi tribe members. Frank DeKova, Don Diamond, Edward Everett Horton (who also played a Native American chief on an episode of Batman), J. Pat O’Malley, Jamie Farr, hell even Don Rickles all played Native Americans. It seemed comedic timing was more important than racial accuracy. Not that there aren’t funny Native Americans; but back then, they didn’t even bother to look for them.

Of course, Native Americans and Latinos/Latinas weren’t the only ones having white actors step in for them. Boris Karloff played an Indian Maharaja on an episode of The Wild Wild West. Wende Wagner played a native Hawaiian on an episode of Perry Mason, and her aunt in that same episode was Miriam Goldina, a native Russian. Jim Backus’s wife, Henny, played a native mother on an episode of Gilligan’s Island. Spoiler alert! Russ Grieve, who played her native husband, and Mary Foran, who played her native daughter, weren’t natives either.

Two of the most curious examples of racist casting I have ever seen happened on two of my favorite reruns, both of which I’ve mentioned before, but I’m going to mention again because they are worth mentioning at every opportunity.

In an episode of Hawaii Five-O called “Samurai”, Ricardo Montalban played a Japanese criminal. Yes, you read that correctly and aren’t you glad that you did. In the second oddest case of yellow face I’ve ever seen (we’ll get to the first one very soon), a very Mexican Ricardo Montalban had his eyes artificially slanted to play a Japanese man. Like, his accent didn’t change at all. And whatever they did to his eyes made him look less Japanese and more like an eye lift gone wrong. The entire effect is very disconcerting and I highly recommend you try to catch that episode because descriptions and pictures don’t do it any justice.

To make an already confusing casting decision even more curious, Hawaii Five-O was typically good at casting Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders to play Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.

The truly oddest case of racist casting I’ve ever seen, however, belongs to the pilot episode of The Wild Wild West called “The Night of the Inferno”. In this episode Victor Buono played Juan Manolo aka Wing Fat.

Yes, let me break that down for you.

White actor Victor Buono played a Mexican man in disguise as a Chinese man. It’s basically a turducken of racist casting and I can’t help but gawk at it because I have no idea how to even begin to process it. I suppose if you’ve ever watched the series, then you can agree that at the very least, it sets you up nicely for some of the more bonzo episodes of the show.

Thankfully, this sort of whatthefuckery is largely in the past and though racist casting does still happen (whitewashing Asians and Pacific Islanders is still unnervingly common), the backlash is swift and loud. A new normal has been and is being established and even if I don’t watch current shows all that much, I’m still all for it.

After all, one day those shows will be reruns.

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Rerun Junkie– Perry Mason

The opening strains of the theme song are immediately recognizable even if you’ve never seen an episode of the show. And if you haven’t, you should. Perry Mason is classic TV, quite literally. The show ran for nine seasons, starting in 1957.

The show centered around title character Perry Mason (Raymond Burr), defense attorney, his always dependable assistant Della Street (Barbara Hale), and private detective Paul Drake (William Hopper). The law side of things was often represented by state’s attorney Hamilton Burger (William Talman), Lt. Tragg (Ray Collins), and Lt. Anderson (Wesley Lau).

Our heroes in classic black and white.

Each episode revolved around an innocent person being accused of a crime they didn’t commit. Perry would take their case and with the help of Della and Paul, he’d prove their innocence, usually in dramatic courtroom fashion.

Most of the cases involved a murder and some of them were quite over the top. Several faked deaths and lots of rich people doing horrible things. And Perry seemed to know a whole lot of people quite conveniently. It was how he got involved and/or how he solved the case.

With so many suspects, bad guys, and innocents, there was plenty of opportunity for guest stars. Bette Davis, Jerry Van Dyke, Alan Hale, Keye Luke, Adam West, Lee Merriweather, Victor Buono, James Hong, Denver Pyle, David McCallum, Jackie Coogan, Elisha Cook Jr, Gavin McCleod, Gary Collins, Louise Fletcher, James Best, and James Coburn all made appearances. Don’t recognize some of the names? Look them up. Most of them guested on the show before they landed the roles that you might know them from.

No matter the guest star or the storyline, Perry always came out on top. It made you almost feel bad for Hamilton Burger. I’d like to think that he won every case that didn’t feature Perry Mason on the defense.

Watching the episodes now, the black and white isn’t the only sign that it’s an old show. Back in the late 50’s/early 60’s people smoked freely, could easily board planes, were restricted by landlines, still sent telegrams, had to research by going through papers and files by hand, and social security numbers, birth certificates, and adoption records were more easily forged. There’s at least one thing (usually more) in each episode that could not be done today. Times have definitely changed and it’s fun to compare while trying to solve the case.

And that’s where you can find me most afternoons. Helping Perry, Della, and Paul solve a murder.

 

Where I Watch It

Rerun Junkie

I am a rerun junkie. I always have been and I feel like I always will be. If a show has been off the air for ten years or more, there’s a good chance I will find it and watch the hell out of it.

The 70’s are my favorite era, I think, particularly 70’s cop shows. Oh! Starsky and Hutch, CHiPs, Hawaii 5-0, Barney Miller, Banacek, Barretta, Charlie’s Angels, Rockford Files, I watched them all. I didn’t miss out on out on other hits, either. I enjoyed many episodes of Sanford and Son, All in the Family, and, of course, M*A*S*H. I can quote so many of those episodes word for word.

The old Nick-at-Nite was a great supply of reruns. Without it, I never would have been able to watch Laugh-In, Lancelot Linc Secret Chimp, Get Smart, or The Monkees. In FX’s infancy, I got to watch a lot of The Incredible Hulk, Batman, Green Hornet, and The Greatest American Hero. WGN was my go to place for The Addam’s Family and The Munsters, while on TBS I started many school mornings with Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, Happy Days, and Laverne and Shirley.

I get to continue my rerun junkie ways today as shows I watched first run when I was younger are now old reruns. Murder, She Wrote, In the Heat of the Night, Matlock, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Golden Girls, and Unsolved Mysteries. In the past I’ve got to relive the A-Team, MacGyver, Knight Rider, and Air Wolf.

The biggest bummer about this new day job is that I’m forced to give up three of my current favorite reruns: Perry Mason, Hawaii 5-0, and Unsolved Mysteries. I’ll also be missing some Golden Girls reruns because I won’t be able to stay up as late to watch them.

The best part about reruns is that the older I get, the better they get. I don’t know how it happens, but it does.

I think it has something to do with my sense of humor.