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Dateline: San Francisco (1962)

Rod Taylor played Glenn Evans -- his character from "Hong Kong" -- in this pilot for a series that was not picked up by ABC.

After "Hong Kong" was canceled, public clamor prompted the network to try relocating the show to San Francisco.

Filming for the 50-minute pilot began on Feb. 12, 1962, and Rod did scenes on location in San Francisco and also on the Universal backlot. Locations included the glamorous and recently opened Fairmont Hotel, where Glenn Evans made his new home.

Anita Ekberg visited Rod on the set.

The Film and Television Archive at UCLA offers this summary of the plot: "Rod Taylor stars as a newspaper columnist. In this pilot episode, the daughter of his paperís publisher thinks that she has killed someone and asks Taylor for help." Rod's co-stars were Larry Gates and Barbara Rush.

UCLA also gives an alternate title for the show (likely the episode title): "Return to the City." Jules Bricken is credited as producer-director, and the teleplay writers are Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts.

A preliminary story written by Dorothy Robinson and Robert Blees is available in the archives of the University of Iowa Libraries. The story/episode is titled "The Castle" and is clearly based on the Hearst Castle, an opulent hilltop estate owned by publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, aka "The Chief." In its heyday, The Castle was famous for Hearst's gatherings of celebrities, politicians and journalists.

In the the Robinson/Blees version of the story, the Glenn Evans character is named Chris Andrews. He has an apartment in San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel and writes for The Observer.

The story opens with him receiving a special invitation to spend a weekend at The Castle by publishing magnate Walter Walsh, aka "The General." Circumstances regarding Walsh set the mystery in motion, and Chris Andrews gets the scoop.

It is likely that The Castle location did not make it to the final version of the story for budgetary reasons, and this likelihood is reflected in the title change from "The Castle" to "Return to the City." Still, both the teleplay and the preliminary story feature a publisher and a mysterious death.

ABC aired the episode only once -- March 27, 1962.

In a 1965 fan newsletter, Rod reported that the pilot was finished too late to get a good network time, so it was shelved by the studio.

Plenty of drama surrounds "Hong Kong" and "Dateline: San Francisco" behind the scenes.

A January 1962 column by Erskine Johnson, the Hollywood correspondent for the Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA), said that the network was deluged with about 11,000 letters of protest over the cancellation of "Hong Kong." The column assures readers that Rod would be returning to TV as Glenn Evans, but in "Dateline: San Francsico" rather than "Hong Kong."

Johnson wrote, "'Politics' is Taylor's diplomatic explanation for the sudden canceling of the show after only 26 weeks. But 'madness' is more appropriate." He goes on to explain:

A big talent agency, which sold the show to the network, had a falling out with the TV bosses of the 20th Century-Fox Studio, where it was financed and filmed. To continue the "Hong Kong" series, the studio would be required to make $14,000 weekly commission payments to the talent agency. The big studio was so mad at the big talent agency that the show was scrapped in its 26th week.

The sponsor, of course, was howling mad. "Don't worry," said the studio, "we will film a new show starring Rod Taylor." So the new show, "Follow the Sun," was filmed, but without Mr. Taylor, who had ideas of his own. While all the bickering was going on, Taylor went to Italy to star in a movie for MGM.

In reply to public clamor, the 26 "Hong Kong" shows are on the third rerun and filming starts next month on "Dateline: San Francisco." The new show is slated to start in September, perhaps sooner. And in agreeing to move his office from Hong Kong to San Francisco, Taylor won a contract for three big-screen 20th Century-Fox movies as a bonus.

Kaiser Industries was the big sponsor of "Hong Kong," and its owner, millionaire industrialist Henry Kaiser, was a big booster of Rod Taylor.

In an interview with Australia's TV Week in January 1962, Rod expressed confidence in the show, "Because the sponsor, as it now stands, is to be none other than my adopted dad, Henry Kaiser. He sent the word: 'If it has Taylor in it -- buy it.'"

This relationship between sponsor and actor was special, as noted in the Torrance, California, newspaper in March 1962. "They call each other 'Dad' and 'Son.' No other actor I know enjoys this kind of friendship with a former sponsor," wrote the columnist. "Kaiser formerly sponsored 'Hong Kong,' which is now in its third time around and is still popular."





Hong Kong: The original Rod Taylor series.

Article from NEA, Feb. 4, 1962. (PDF)

Article from TV Week, Australia, January 1962. (PDF)

Article/interview in Torrance, California, newspaper, March 11, 1962. (PDF)

Article at MysteryFile blog

"The Castle" story treatment can be ordered from the Special Collections Department at the University of Iowa.




UCLA's Film and Television Archive has a copy of the show for viewing on-site