October 14 of the year that just passed marked an obscure-but-highly-significant landmark in the history of television drama: the 60th anniversary of the premiere of "Decoy," the first-ever TV series featuring a woman police officer.
No studio celebrated the date, nor did any entertainment trade publication recall the series or its heroine, New York City Police Officer Casey Jones (played by veteran character actress Beverly Garland).
That is sad. Given the rise of women through the ranks in modern metropolitan police departments as well as the high profile given women in law enforcement in such contemporary series' as "Law and Order" and "CSI," it is certainly worth recalling where and with whom it all began.
When "Decoy" was created and launched for syndication, police shows were numerous and well-watched on the "small screen." Sgt. Joe Friday (Jack Webb) was the face of the Los Angeles Police Department on "Dragnet." The gruff Lt. Frank Ballinger (Lee Marvin) headed a special unit of the Chicago Police known as "M Squad" on the eponymous series. New York's finest was represented in the hit shows "Naked City" and "87th Precinct."
The role of the "women in blue" at these respective departments in these shows was minimal, if not non-existent.
That changed with "Decoy" and Casey Jones. In contrast to striking characters of future series such as Sgt. Pepper Anderson (Angie Dickinson) of "Policewoman" and Lt. Oliva Benson (Markiska Hargitay) on "Law and Order," Officer Jones was pretty but by no means glamorous. She was a "cop's cop" and "all business" as she went undercover (hence the title) to pose as a teacher, a model--or whatever it took to flesh out and capture some fearsome criminals and do so in thirty minutes.
One learned next-to-nothing about Casey's personal life. At one point, she volunteered that she had studied to be a ballet dancer. At another, she mentioned that a young man she had been in love with was a police officer who was killed by the suspect he was pursuing.
No one sexually harassed Casey Jones.
Once, while waiting on the street for a friend, Casey recalled what she encountered during her wait: "A masher, a fast proposition, and an even faster brush-off."
On another occasion, a sleazy tipster meets Casey in back of a dark theater to pass on information about a suspect. When he suggests she "come up to may place," she ignores him. Finally, when he goes too far, Casey snaps: "You keep your hands off me or I'll pull you in for mashing!" (the mid-century euphemism for sexual harassment).
There was also no talking-down to or misbehavior toward Officer Jones by colleagues and superior officers. To them, she was "one of the guys" and, for the most part, they called her "Jones."
Each show closed with Officer Jones looking into the camera and, very much like "Dragnet's" Sgt. Friday or Lieutenant Dan Matthews (Broderick Crawford) of the "Highway Patrol," delivering a powerful message about the must-completed case or law enforcement in general.
"It's a reassuring thought to know life picks up again," went one of her closing admonitions, "sooner or later."
"In this line of work, a cup of tea is an open door," went another.
The veracity of "Decoy's" stories of how its heroine operated appears unquestioned. Each episode was dedicated to the "Bureau of Policewomen, NYPD" and closed with acknowledgement to a genuine law enforcement official for her advice and assistance.
In 1958, Casey Jones solved her last case. No one has ever truly explained why "Decoy" was canceled but it seems a fair guess that with prime-time television glutted with crime dramas for so many years, one of the shows was just not going to continue.
Beverly Garland went on to a highly successful career, playing such strong roles as the woman Fred Macmurray finally marries on "My Three Sons" and Kate Jackson's mother on the spy series "Scarecrow and Mrs. King." Before her death in 2008 at age 82, she also owned and managed a hotel in Hollywood Hills.
But "Decoy" and Casey Jones are by no means forgotten. Thanks to YouTube and a recent line of DVDs, many of the episodes are available.
In viewing the black and white programs, one will casually notice such future stars as Larry Hagman and Peter Falk in their earliest times on camera.
These days, the role of the policewomen--or "police officers," as some big-city departments require men and women in uniform to be called--is fairly well-known. Any police drama usually features women at the precinct.
So it is worth remembering one of Casey Jones' early renditions of the work she and her colleagues were doing as heroines then unsung: "We pose as hostesses and society girls...anything the department wants us to be, we can be. There are 249 of us and two things we have in common wherever we go are a shield, known as a 'potsy,' and a .32 [caliber] revolver. We're New York's finest...we're policewomen."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
© 2023 Newsmax. All rights reserved.