What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is not on my list of essential films, largely because it’s not a movie at all. It’s a two-part episode from the seventh season of a television show which highlights my possibly unhealthy infatuation with both Jack Webb and Martin Milner
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is not being done as part of a blog-a-thon. Instead, this is a monthly event hosted by MovieRob called Genre Grandeur. The way it works is every month MovieRob chooses a film blogger to pick a topic and a movie to write about, then also picks a movie for MovieRob to review. At the end of the month, MovieRob posts the reviews of all the participants.
For June of 2021 the honor of being the “guest picker” went to Joe of The MN Movie Man. The topic is “Summer Camp.”
Camp opens with Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers Pete Malloy (played by Martin Milner) and his partner Jim Reed (played by Kent McCord) on routine patrol when they are summoned to a machine shop where a silent burglar alarm has been triggered. At first glance, the two eat cops think this is a false alarm, but upon further inspection they find the building has been illegally entered. As they enter, they encounter two boys who have broken into the shop.
After taking them into custody, the younger-looking of the two boys named Greg (played by Lee Montgomery) convinces Malloy that he has no prior record and is remorseful over what he has done. Greg’s obvious fear at his situation coupled with Malloy’s meeting with Greg’s widowed mother Mrs. Whitney (played by June Lockhart) prompts him into releasing the boy to her.
However, later on Malloy’s boss Sergeant MacDonald (played by William Boyett) discovers that Greg has an arrest record under another name. Peeved at himself for falling for Greg’s act, Malloy is determined to find Greg. After dealing with some other calls, Malloy and Reed are dispatched to an armed robbery at a liquor store. Upon arrival, they engage in a foot pursuit with the robbers, and eventually one of them is discovered to be Greg Whitley.
Later, Malloy and another LAPD officer named Jerry Woods (played by Fred Stromsoe) are getting ready to embark on a trip with a busload of other “troubled” boys to a summer camp retreat. Just before they depart, Reed arrives with Mrs. Whitley and a last-minute addition to the trip…Greg.
Things get off to a less-than ideal start when the small-for-his age Greg is sent to bunk with the younger campers. Being 14, Greg doesn’t take kindly to this perceived slight. As result, Greg makes an attempt to buy friends by handing out ice cream he stole from the camp kitchen.
While Greg buys kitchen duty as punishment, some other campers hear of Greg’s exploits and decides to hang a theft charge on him over another camper’s wristwatch. However, before the watch is discovered to have been simply misplaced (it was found in the shower hanging on a faucet handle…right where the owner left it), Greg runs away from the camp. Being in the mountains of Southern California, this locale offers all sorts of perils. As expected, Greg finds one by falling over the edge of a cliff, nearly plummeting to his death. However, after his near-death experience and subsequent rescue by a Malloy-led search party, Greg seems to be “getting the message.”
This is re-enforced after another lengthy “father-and-son” style chat with Malloy while the two walk along a mountain fire road. Greg agrees to enter a cross-country race for which the boys are trained by Olympic pole-vaulting legend Bob Seagren (playing a cameo as himself). To everyone;s surprise, Greg proves to be a first-class competitor by besting all all the other campers and Malloy in the foot race.
Everything gets wrapped up before the credits roll at the end of this two-parter. None of the sub-plots interfere with the main story (the one with the exotic dancer and the boa constrictor is my favorite), Malloy and Greg seem to have come to an understanding, and as the bus full of campers arrives back in Los Angles, Reed is offering advice on how to handle Greg to Mrs. Whitley.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
For those of you that weren’t alive in the 1970s, you escaped some unfortunate things in America. Nobody pines for the “good old days” of the Vietnam War, a stagnated economy with rampant inflation, and the Arab oil embargo and the resultant energy crisis.
But conversely, missing those bad things also meant you didn’t get to experience two true gems of American television which can never be re-created because they are truly fruits of their age. One is “Jack Webb TV;” the other was pure broadcasting gold produced by the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) called The Superstars.
Everybody knows the Jack Webb detective drama Dragnet; Webb’s “Sergeant Joe Friday” is arguably the most iconic TV cop in American history. ADAM-12 was another Webb production dedicated to the “street cop” rather than the investigator. Meanwhile, The Superstars was a unique collection of various “world-class” athletes participating in a “decathlon”-style series of sporting events.
The link between the two is none other than Bob Seagren. Best known as an Olympic pole-vaulter, Seagren first became a national figure in the 1960s by winning six Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and four National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championships. Seagren was also the top pole-vaulter at the Pan American Games held in Winnipeg, Canada in 1967. The following year Seagren captured the pole-vaulting gold medal at the Olympic Games in Mexico City. Four years later, Seagren won the silver medal at the Olympic Games in Munich, West Germany.
To make a long story short, by 1973 Bob Seagren was not only a world-class athlete in his prime, he was also well-known in America. This made him an ideal candidate for The Superstars.
The “brain-child” of Dick Button, the 1948 and 1952 Olympic gold medalist in men’s figure skating, The Superstars was launched on ABC in 1973 as the network had recently lost the broadcast rights for the National Basketball Association (NBA) and had a need for sports programming to fill weekend afternoons. To that end, the original contestants were selected from across the spectrum of sports; specifically they had to be recognizable to sports viewers in America at the time. In 1973, the following was a nearly-prefect list for that requirement:
These ten athletes were pitted against each other in a series of events designed not to give any advantage to the participants; for example, the bowler would not be allowed to compete in the bowling event. In other words, nobody was going to be the “sacrificial lamb” to get in the ring with the heavyweight champ. However, if you are wondering why a professional bowler was included in this group, you have to understand that in the pre-cable TV America of the 1970s, pro bowling was a staple of weekend afternoon programming, and ABC had the rights to it since they lacked “big” sports. In other words, there was no way ABC wasn’t going to use The Superstars to promote whatever they had.
That also explains the presence of all the guys who weren’t from the “big” sports. Most of the contestants were from events which routinely appeared on ABC’s other sports programming staple Wide World of Sports. As an Olympian, Seagren was certainly no exception; in fact it’s why he was named as a competitor when golf legend Gary Player pulled out.
Once the field of competitors was established, they took part in the following events:
Scores were calculated based on the order of finish in an individual event; 10 points for 1st place, 7 for 2nd, 4 for 3rd, 2 for 4th, and 1 for 5th. Seagren was crowned the champion of the inaugural Superstars, largely on the strength of 1st place finishes in Baseball Hitting, Cycling, Weight Lifting, and the 1/2-Mile Run.
The Superstars existed somewhere in the world in some form into the 21st-century, but is best-known for the ABC version of the 1970s. There was simply nothing better than watching guys from all around the sporting world doing the same stuff you had to do in 8th-grade Phys. Ed. There’s was simply nothing better on television at the time.
The versatility it took to win that competition also applies to Seagren’s acting career; that cameo on ADAM-12 wasn’t his first foray into television, and it certainly wasn’t his last. Actually, he’s got a pretty impressive IMDB page for a pole vaulter. His best role might be his portrayal of “Dennis Phillips,” a closeted gay football player who was in a relationship with Billy Crystal’s “Jodie” character on the 70s ABC sit-com Soap.
But for me, there will never be anything better than The Superstars.
The Moral of The Story:
No matter how old I get, a part of me will always be 12, which means I will always love Jack Webb, The Superstars, and sophomoric humor. I’m just glad I managed to resist the whole “pole vaulter playing a gay character” thing. Not only are there a ton of bad jokes in there…they write themselves…
P.S. If you are a Superstars fan like me, here’s the definitive information source for the entire series.
P.P.S. If you’re curious to see the other Jack Webb and/or his “usual suspects” I’ve covered…
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