1 9 6 1 – 1 9 6 6 (USA)
153 x 60 minute episodes
“Man . . . woman . . . birth . . . death . . . infinity”.
Most popular of the early medical dramas (it was the top show on ABC in the 1961 – 1962 season) Ben Casey was set at County General Hospital.
Neursurgeon Dr Ben Casey made female hearts go pitter-patter as they hadn’t in a long time. Nobody quite knew why, and despite the heart palpitations it created, Ben Casey had the assistance of the American Medical Association in its preparation.
More than $50,000 was tied up in medical equipment, with each show costing around $115,000.
The show was the brainchild of James E. Moser, who created the memorable Medic series on TV in 1954.
He was quoted as saying; “One day I was walking through Los Angeles General Hospital and I came upon a redheaded neurosurgeon. He was snapping into a telephone, “Damn it. Stop having hysterics!” – I knew that I had found a new type of hero for a medical show.”
Comparisons between Dr Casey and Dr Kildare (played by Richard Chamberlain) were inevitable. But while Kildare seemed like the hygienic chairman of the junior prom, Casey belonged in a black leather jacket on the back of a motorcycle.
When Vince Edwards heard the rumours circulating around the studio lots about a feud between him and Chamberlain, it began to get under his skin.
He said; “Mostly, a little success breeds a feud, or the feud is bred by a lot of loudmouths looking to put the knock on the two guys involved. Let’s say that competition is good for a long healthy life. If you want to call Dick competition, that’s alright with me, because knowing he’s got a good show only makes me want to try harder to come up with one of my own that lives up to the Ben Casey seal of perfection. I feel a kinship with him.”
Dark-haired Vince Edwards was discovered by Bing Crosby (the show was made by Crosby’s company) and put through a lightning course in handling scalpels and forceps to play the brooding and intense neurosurgeon.
He never had the boyish charm of Richard Chamberlain’s Dr Kildare, but he did have sex appeal – well, he had very hairy forearms. . .
The series was seen as harder-edged, capturing the round-the-clock strains of dedicated doctors in a city hospital. It tackled some controversial subjects, darting into close-ups during operations.
Casey’s original mentor was Dr David Zorba (Sam Jaffe), who guided the gifted young resident surgeon in his battles with disease and the medical establishment.
Zorba was replaced as Chief of Surgery in the 1965-1966 season by Dr Daniel Freeland (Franchot Tone).
Like the Kildare series, Ben Casey became soapier with age (but unlike Dr Kildare, the series was not split into half-hourly shows). Stories ran on from week to week, and Casey was even allowed to fall in love with Jane Hancock (Stella Stevens), a beautiful patient who awoke from a 13-year coma.
Dr Ben Casey
Dr David Zorba
Dr Maggie Graham
Dr Daniel Freeland
Dr Ted Hoffman