Wednesday, November 30, 2011

They Call Him Hawk

If HAWK is remembered today, it's as the first television series to star Burt Reynolds in the leading role. Although Reynolds had been a regular on RIVERBOAT and GUNSMOKE, he did so as the sidekick to leading men Darren McGavin and James Arness, respectively. In 1966, series creator Allan Sloane (later an Emmy winner for writing TO ALL MY FRIENDS ON SHORE) cast Burt as John Hawk, a tough New York City cop with a twist: he was also a full-blooded Iroquois.

Making Hawk further unique were his status as an investigator for the District Attorney's office, rather than a member of the NYPD, and his preferred hours of work, which were after dark. This required a lot of night shooting, which probably played hell with HAWK's production budget, but certainly gave the series a distinctive atmosphere.

HAWK ran just 17 episodes in the fall of 1966, but that was long enough for Belmont to release one tie-in paperback, which was penned by Richard Hardwick. HAWK appears to be an original story by Hardwick, and has Hawk and his partner Dan Carter (played by Wayne Grice in the series) investigating the apparent murder of a wealthy playboy in a car explosion.

I say "apparent," because the intended victim, Jason Bellamy, is still alive, having agreed to lend his car to a friend, who was actually killed. Bellamy is the leader of a small group of committed revolutionaries preparing to overthrow the dictatorial regime of San Sebastian in Central America, which obviously leaves many possible suspects.

Hawk's ancestry is, of course, a subject for conversation among characters in the book, as it was in the series. On television in 1966, Indians were rarely shown doing anything more dignified than wearing war paint and battling lantern-jawed cowboys. Casting the handsome Reynolds, who really did have Native American blood, as not only a good guy, but a leader of men, was very progressive (and note how television has regressed in this regard in the 45 years since HAWK was telecast).

Hardwick crafts a solid if unspectacular mystery and captures Reynolds' voice well. I like the book's painted cover, which goes uncredited.

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