CONELRAD READ ALERT: Selected Books and Miscellaneous Tracts
Martin Grams, Jr's I LED 3 LIVES: The True Story of Herbert A. Philbrick's Television Program'
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I LED 3 LIVES: The True Story of Herbert A. Philbrick's Television Program

The early Cold War inspired a number of serialized media entertainments (radio's I WAS A COMMUNIST FOR THE FBI, television's BIFF BAKER, U.S.A., etc.) but none was as consistently entertaining or as durable as ZIV Television's I LED 3 LIVES (hereafter IL3L) starring B-movie stalwart Richard Carlson. IL3L, which ran for an astonishing 117 original episodes from 1953 to 1956, was based on Herbert A. Philbrick's popular 1952 book of the same name that recounted his nine years as a "citizen 'communist' counterspy." Philbrick takes his oathWeek after week, the frequently panicked and hyperbolic Carlson-as-Philbrick channeled the national angst of the era. The absurd paranoia captured in the program is priceless and is as worthy of preservation as any other Cold War national treasure. Sadly, outside of a loyal, but lonely fan-base, the show is all but forgotten.

How is it that in our TV-on-DVD-cluttered universe (wherein even the execrable SILVER SPOONS is easily accessible to '80s nostalgia masochists) a show as culturally significant as IL3L is not available to the masses? As matters stand now, the classic Red Scare drama which has not been broadcast since the 1960s can be seen only if the viewer is willing to expend a significant amount of effort and tolerate substandard video and audio quality. No, Lee Harvey Oswald's favorite childhood television show is not on Netflix. It is barely on grey market VHS. What is the IL3L fan to do? Read on.
The wonderfully quirky BearManor Media, a publishing house that caters to the obscure pop cultural taste, has answered the prayers of CONELRAD and others by releasing I LED 3 LIVES: The True Story of Herbert A. Philbrick's Television Program by Martin Grams, Jr. Mr. Grams' 449 page book is the ultimate reference guide to IL3L and moreover it serves as a literary Methadone for those fans desperately awaiting MGM Home Video to wake up and release the entire series on DVD.

The episode guide alone is well worth the $24.95 price of admission. Grams provides a detailed synopsis of every single IL3L installment including titles, airdates, credits, production notes and even shooting location information! The book also features fascinating script and memo material as well as a full production history of the show. There are also revealing short biographies of Philbrick and Carlson (who knew the real-life Philbrick shunned Senator Joe McCarthy?).

Tuning into a CONELRAD Cafe podcast?Less successful is the author's attempts at context and editorializing. Do we really need a statement from Grams in 2007 emphasizing his resolute opposition to Communism ("Communism is a form of enslavement and this author personally despises the notion of the United States under a Communist rule.")? At another point, Grams presents a page-long, fully credited entry from Wikipedia on the Communist Party. This wouldn't seem quite so odd (though it is odd) if he hadn't maligned the reliability of "on-line encyclopedias" earlier in his book. A more relevant (and interesting) fact omitted from the book is the ironic trivia that Fred Ziv hired blacklisted talent (most notably Lloyd Bridges for SEA HUNT). With material as strong as the episode guide and the production history, etc., Grams should have steered clear of the historical analysis. And someone at BearMedia should have caught the mistitling of Phillip Roth's 1998 book I MARRIED A COMMUNIST, too (it is referred to as I WAS A COMMUNIST on page 43).

The reader of Mr. Grams' book might also have been better served if the author had at least acknowledged the inescapable fact that when viewed today IL3L is absolutely hilarious. The closest Grams' comes to such an admission is when he makes reference to a great Bob Newhart routine (from the 1961 LP Behind the Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart) in which the comedian imagines a cell meeting in which one of the Communists stands up and says "Say, has anyone else ever noticed that whenever we assign Philbrick anything we all get arrested?" Indeed, it is the unintended humor of the scripts that makes the show interesting to the contemporary viewer. This undeniable component of the show's latter day appeal should have been dealt with in some manner.

Despite its editorial missteps, I LED 3 LIVES: The True Story of Herbert A. Philbrick's Television Program is worth owning if for no other reason to prepare for that glorious day when it is makes its legitimate debut on home video. CONELRAD readers can help make this dream a reality by voting for the show's release on TVSHOWSONDVD.com (registration is required). As of CONELRAD's nod in November, 2007 the show was holding steady at 91 votes. The studios do pay attention to this site, so we urge immediate action. It would be the ultimate Communist conspiracy to keep this show a secret. You know what to do!
Richard Carlon as Philbrick in ZIV Television's I LED 3 LIVES
I LED 3 LIVES: The True Story of Herbert A. Philbrick's Television Program
By Martin Grams, Jr.
Copyright 2007 by BearManor Media
449 pp

[ 34 | COMMENTS | Mar 09, 16 | 8:34 pm ]
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