The private eye has been a staple on television since the late 1940s. Since that time a vast array of gumshoes and private snoops have occupied the small screen, providing viewers with countless hours of rousing entertainment.
Private Eye TV Shows & Memorabilia Still Intrigue Collectors
Listed below are 10 top private eye shows and some of the outstanding paper collectibles they have generated. My apologies if I have left out your favorite.
"77 Sunset Strip" (ABC, 1958-64). Famously produced by Warner Bros. Television, "77 Sunset Strip" may well be the hippest private eye series ever to grace the television screen. It starred Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as Stu Bailey and Roger Smith as Jeff Spencer, a pair of suave private investigators who operated their detective agency, Bailey and Spencer, out of a swank office located at 77 Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, Calif. Later joining the firm was former parking lot attendant Edd Byrnes as Gerald Lloyd Kookson III, a.k.a. "Kookie," who became a full-fledged P.I. Collectors love the "77 Sunset Strip" comic book series produced by Dell. One outstanding cover is Dell Four Color #1211, dated 9-11/61, which features Zimbalist, Smith and Byrnes on the cover. One issue in outstanding graded CGC near mint/mint 9.8 condition sold at auction for a finger-snapping $598. Original price: 15 cents.
"The Rockford Files" (NBC, 1974-80). Tall, easy-going James Garner starred in this popular series as private investigator James Scott Rockford, a pardoned ex-con who ran his P.I. business out of a decrepit trailer located on the beach in Malibu, Calif. Created by Roy Huggins and Stephen J. Cannell, "The Rockford Files" was one of the slickest private eye shows ever produced, generating 118 memorable episodes punctuated by plenty of slam-bang action, con jobs, humor, romance, satire and wit. There are numerous TV magazines featuring "The Rockford Files" on the cover, the most prominent ones coming from TV Guide. A rarer issue would be the Sept. 29, 1974, issue of Television magazine, a slick cover TV listings-type publication issued as a supplement to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. This edition, featuring Garner on the cover, introduces readers to "The Rockford Files," Garner's third series for television. Find this issue in complete, excellent+ condition and it could be worth between $5 to $8.
"Mannix" (CBS, 1967-75). One of television's more durable private eye shows, "Mannix" starred Mike Connors as P.I. Joe Mannix, who in his first season worked for Intertect, a large, high-tech Los Angeles, Calif., detective agency. Mannix then went the self-employment route, establishing his own agency located at 17 Paseo Verdes in West Los Angeles, ably staffed by his girl Friday, Peggy Fair (Gail Fisher). Mannix was as cool as they come in the genre, tooling around L.A. in a series of classic muscle cars, including an Olds Toronado, Plymouth Barracuda and Dodge Challenger. The series was never dull, with Mannix braving multiple beatings and shootouts in 194 episodes. The show's opening sequence is still one of the small screen's most memorable, featuring series star Connors in a montage of action shots. Original television scripts are among the most interesting paper collectibles in the genre. A collection of 65 "Mannix" revised final draft scripts from 1971 to 1974 ("The Glass Trap," "A Game of Shadows," "The Thirty-Two Friends of Gina Lardelli," et al.) in very fine to excellent condition sold at auction for $299.
"Magnum, P.I." (CBS, 1980-88). Tom Selleck, who had previously appeared as private investigator Lance White in two episodes of "The Rockford Files," starred as Thomas Magnum, a former Navy SEAL and Vietnam vet who plied his trade as a gumshoe in Hawaii. Along with associates T.C. (Roger E. Mosley) and Rick Wright (Larry Manetti), Magnum worked the Hawaiian beat in 156 episodes. For the autograph set, an authentically signed 8-by-10-inch color photo of Selleck as Magnum, wearing his trademark Detroit Tigers baseball cap of course, can be purchased for around $50.
"Hawaiian Eye" (ABC, 1959-63). Anthony Eisley and Robert Conrad starred as Tracy Steele and Tom Lopaka, respectively, two private dicks who worked the city of Honolulu. Also in the cast was Connie Stevens, who played nightclub singer Cricket Blake. Grant Williams as P.I. Greg Mackenzie and Troy Donahue as hotel social director Phil Barton later joined the series. One of the most sought-after items for this classic series is the Hawaiian Eye board game, made by Lowell Toy Mfg. in 1962, which features Eisley, Conrad and Donahue on the box. Find one is complete, excellent condition and it could be worth $75 to $100.
"SurfSide 6" (ABC, 1960-62). Troy Donahue, Van Williams and Lee Patterson played a trio of young, hip detectives who operated their agency out of a houseboat docked near Miami Beach's famous Fontainebleau Hotel. "SurfSide 6" - their official Miami address - generated plenty of action and romance, as the three private eyes wound their way through 74 episodes. A collection of 148 original 8-by-10-inch black-and-white stills from "SurfSide 6" - many of them bearing press blurbs on back - in near mint/mint condition brought a top bid of $460 at auction.
"Honey West" (ABC, 1965-66). Produced by Four Star Films, "Honey West" starred Anne Francis in the title role, a female private detective who took over her father's business following his death. Assisting Honey were John Ericson as Sam Bolt, with her pet ocelot, Bruce, also on hand. Francis had first appeared as Honey West in the April 21, 1965, episode of "Burke's Law" titled "Who Killed the Jackpot?" "Honey West," which earned Francis an Emmy nomination in 1966, lasted but one season and produced 30 episodes. Gold Key published a single comic book for "Honey West" dated September 1966. One issue in graded CGC near mint- 9.2 condition sold at auction for $120. Original price: 12 cents.
"Peter Gunn" (NBC/ABC, 1958-61). Suave, sophisticated Craig Stevens had the title role of Peter Gunn, a private detective with a fondness for jazz whose standard fee was a cool $1,000. "Peter Gunn," whose classic theme song was expertly rendered by Henry Mancini, produced 114 episodes and garnered eight Emmy nominations. The Peter Gunn Detective Game is a must for any Peter Gun aficionado. Made by Lowell Toy Co. in 1960, a complete Peter Gunn game in top condition can sell for over $100.
"Barnaby Jones" (CBS, 1973-80). Buddy Ebsen was 64 years old when he made his debut as Barnaby Jones on January 28, 1973, playing a low-key, milk-drinking private investigator whose main clients were insurance companies. Also in the cast were Mark Shera as Jedediah Romano "J.R." Jones, Barnaby's young associate, and Lee Meriwether as Betty Jones, Barnaby's widowed daughter-in-law and assistant. "Barnaby Jones" lasted 7 years on the small screen, with its title character offering up his patented homespun philosophy and actually performing his own forensic work via a home laboratory over 178 episodes. One of the best collectibles to emerge in recent years was Ebsen's personal script for the series' first episode "Requiem for a Son." Authentically autographed by Ebsen, this paper treasure sold at auction for $311.
"Vega$" (ABC, 1978-81). Robert Urich starred as private eye Dan Tanna, cruising the streets of Las Vegas in his classic 1957 Ford Thunderbird. Playing one of his principal clients was Tony Curtis as Phillip Roth, the wealthy owner of several Sin City hotel casinos. "Vega$," whose character Dan Tanna had first appeared in an episode of "Charlie's Angels" titled "Angels in Vegas" (September 13, 1978), lasted three seasons on the tube and produced 69 episodes. One of the coolest "Vega$" paper collectibles to surface in recent years is the October 14, 1978, issue of TV Guide, personally autographed by the late Robert Urich (1946-2002). One dealer has priced this issue at $157.