Nero Wolfe (film)

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Nero Wolfe
Wolfe-NW1977-1.jpg
Genre Drama
Distributed by Paramount Television
Directed by Frank D. Gilroy
Produced by
Written by Frank D. Gilroy
Screenplay by Frank D. Gilroy
Based on The Doorbell Rang 
by Rex Stout
Starring
Country United States
Language English
Original channel ABC
Release date December 18, 1979

Nero Wolfe is a 1977 TV film adaptation of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe novel The Doorbell Rang. Thayer David stars as Nero Wolfe, gourmet, connoisseur and detective genius. Tom Mason costars as Archie Goodwin, Wolfe's assistant. Written and directed by Frank D. Gilroy, the made-for-TV movie was produced by Paramount Television as a pilot for an ABC television series, but the movie was shelved by the network for more than two years before finally being broadcast December 18, 1979.

Production[edit]

Disappointed with the Columbia Pictures films based on his first two Nero Wolfe novels, mystery writer Rex Stout was leery of further Hollywood adaptations in his lifetime. "I've had offers," Stout told author Dick Lochte in 1967, "but I haven't been to a movie in 30 years and I despise television. ... Anyway, the money, in addition to what the books are bringing in, would put me in a tax bracket where I wouldn't see much of it. If the characters are any good for films or television they'll be just as good 10 years from now." Ten years later, a little more than a year after Stout's death, literary agent H.N. Swanson negotiated an agreement for a Nero Wolfe television movie.[1]

In 1976 Paramount Television purchased the rights for the entire set of Nero Wolfe stories for Orson Welles.[2][3] Paramount paid $200,000 for the TV rights to eight hours of Nero Wolfe.[4] The producers planned to begin with an ABC-TV movie and hoped to persuade Welles to continue the role in a mini-series.[5] Frank D. Gilroy was signed to write the television script ("The Doorbell Rang") and direct the TV movie on the assurance that Welles would star, but by April 1977 Welles had bowed out.[6]

"I was told to discover someone for the role since no other name actors were acceptable to them (ABC/Paramount) or to me," Gilroy wrote in his memoir, I Wake Up Screening (1993). "After a bicoastal search, which acquainted me with just about every corpulent middle-aged actor available, I, close to giving up, encountered Thayer David. No sooner did he start to read than Emmet Lavery, the producer, and I exchanged a look: We'd found our man."[7]

At a cost of about $1.5 million,[8] Nero Wolfe was filmed in March, April and May 1977, in locales including Van Nuys and Malibu, California, and New York City.[9] The scene in which Mrs. Rachel Bruner (Anne Baxter) goes ice skating was filmed at Rockefeller Center.[10]

The film had still not aired when Thayer David died in July 1978. In a November 1979 interview, Gilroy mildly complained to the Associated Press that Nero Wolfe had still not been broadcast by ABC, and praised the performance of David. "It doesn't affect my career one way or the other that they haven't shown it, but that was the most important thing he ever did on film, and I'm determined to get it aired," Gilroy said.[11]

Nero Wolfe was finally broadcast by ABC-TV at midnight December 18, 1979.[12] Asked why the movie had not been run before, a former ABC executive familiar with the movie's development said, "It wasn't very good. It was very slow and plodding and talky. We just felt it wouldn't get any numbers." Asked why it had finally been scheduled, a network staffer speculated, "It's called 'dusting off the shelf.'"[8]

Frank Gilroy was recognized with an Edgar Award nomination by the Mystery Writers of America in 1980.

In January 1981, Paramount Television's one-hour weekly series Nero Wolfe, starring William Conrad, began a 14-episode run on NBC.

Cast[edit]

Thayer David (Nero Wolfe) and Tom Mason (Archie Goodwin) in the 1977 TV movie Nero Wolfe

Reviews and commentary[edit]

  • James Bawden, Toronto Star — This adaptation of Rex Stout's The Doorbell Rang is way above average.[13]
  • Paula Vitaris, Scarlet Street — Not surprisingly, this version played fast and loose with the original story, even implying a romantic relationship between the notoriously woman-shy Wolfe and wealthy widow Rachel Bruner (Anne Baxter), at whose behest Wolfe had taken on one of his most formidable foes, the FBI. [14]

Home media[edit]

In 2003 AudioVision Canada released Nero Wolfe on DVD, in a described edition for the blind and those with diminished vision. ISBN 0-7789-8107-X

References[edit]

  1. ^ Lochte, Dick, "TV finally tunes in Nero Wolfe," Los Angeles Times, January 30, 1977
  2. ^ Pre-production materials for Nero Wolfe (1976) are contained in the Orson Welles – Oja Kodar Papers 1910–1998 (Box 17) at the University of Michigan Special Collections Library.
  3. ^ Kleiner, Dick, Oakland Tribune, December 30, 1976; Smith, Liz, The Baltimore Sun, March 14, 1977
  4. ^ Rosenfield, Paul, "Have You Seen Any Good Novels Lately?" Los Angeles Times, March 4, 1979
  5. ^ Kleiner, Dick, Oakland Tribune, December 30, 1976
  6. ^ Gilroy, Frank D., I Wake Up Screening. Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1993, ISBN 0-8093-1856-3 pp. ii and 147
  7. ^ Gilroy, Frank D., I Wake Up Screening. Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1993, ISBN 0-8093-1856-3 p. 147
  8. ^ a b Margulies, Lee, "Clues to Stout Mystery Revealed"; Los Angeles Times, November 29, 1979
  9. ^ Jacobs, Julie, "Valley News newsroom used in pilot TV movie about Nero Wolfe"; Valley News (Van Nuys, California), April 17, 1977
  10. ^ Gilroy, Frank D., I Wake Up Screening. Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1993, ISBN 0-8093-1856-3 p. 309
  11. ^ Sharbutt, Jay, The Associated Press, November 11, 1979
  12. ^ Terrace, Vincent, Television 1970–1980. San Diego, California: A.S. Barnes & Company, 1981, ISBN 0-498-02539-X page 266
  13. ^ Bawden, James, Toronto Star, February 23, 1991
  14. ^ Vitaris, Paula, "Miracle on 35th Street: Nero Wolfe on Television"; Scarlet Street, issue #45, 2002, p. 34

External links[edit]