Originally Published March 21st, 2004
Although it ranked in the top twenty-five for the 1959-1960 season this series was nevertheless cancelled after only one season. John Vivyan and Ross Martin starred a pair of wheelers and dealers who ran a gambling establishment aboard a ship anchored in international water -- at least until the sponsors got worried and forced the network to stop referencing gambling.
John Vivyan starred in this series as the title character, the suave Mr. Lucky, whose full name was never revealed. Lucky was an adventurous, fun-loving gambler who ran a casino (later a nightclub) out of his yacht -- the Fortuna II -- which was kept floating in international waters (three miles off shore) to escape government oversight.
Despite his disreputable interests, Lucky was for the most part an honest, upstanding citizen. He just had a lot of friends who weren't. Ross Martin co-starred as Andamo, Lucky's friend and business associate, who was less willing to risk his neck the way Lucky was. Martin referred to the role as "the most enchanting bit of subsidized tomfoolery ever to come his way" . Nevertheless, the two always managed to get themselves into -- and out off -- all manner of trouble.
Pippa Scott appeared occasionally as Lucky's girlfriend, Maggie Shank-Rutherford, and Joe Scott played the nameless Maitre d' aboard the Fortuna II. Tom Brown played Lt. Rovacs, Lucky's friend in the police department, who helped him out whenever things to dicey, which was often. Lucky was robbed, attacked and strong-armed, yet his luck always held out. He won the lottery, beat the odds and always came out on top.
The series was loosely based on the 1943 film Mr. Lucky, starring Cary Grant, but the closing credits to Mr. Lucky acknowledge an original short story entitled "Bundles For Freedom", written by Milton Holmes.
On Saturday, June 6th, 1959, CBS premiered a new crime drama called Brenner, starring Ed Binns and James Broderick as a father-and-son crime-fighting duo. The sponsor for the series, the Lever Brothers Company, decided less than two months after Brenner premiered that they would prefer to sponsor a different series during the 1959-1960 season, and thus Brenner was taken off the air .
John Vivyan and Ross Martin as Mr. Lucky and Andamo
CBS, however, felt the series had potential and decided to continue producing episodes (Brenner was repeated during the summer for several years; additional episodes were shown in 1961 and 1964) . In place of Brenner, the Lever Brothers Company would sponsor Mr. Lucky. Life Cigarettes was a co-sponsor . The final first-run episode of Brenner was broadcast on September 19th, 1959; repeats were shown through October 10th. A musical special was aired on October 17th and the following week, on October 24th, Mr. Lucky debuted.
Presumably, production on the series forced the late premiere. Richard Anderson of The New York Times, in a very brief review of the series, said only that "It will be lucky to last the season" (he had higher hopes for other new CBS entries, The Betty Hutton Show and The Twilight Zone) . Of the premiere, The Chicago Daily Tribune wrote "There's a beautiful girl, a minimum of talk, and nice background music. The youngsters should like it" .
The series was situated between Wanted: Dead or Alive and Have Gun, Will Travel. It aired against The Lawrence Welk Show on ABC and The Deputy on NBC. In the series opener, Lucky and Andamo are running a casino situated on the nameless Latin American island Andamo called home. When the island's El Presidente found out they were involved in gun running, he had Lucky's yacht, the Fortuna, sunk and Lucky and Adamo arrested.
John Vivyan as Mr. Lucky
At the same time, a female assassin was in the area and her target was El Presidente. She managed to kill him and soon Lucky and Andamo were implicated in the assassination. As the assassin kept the island's soldiers and guards busy, Lucky and Andamo were able to commandeer a small boat and escape. At the start of the next episode, the two find themselves off the coast of California. Lucky uses his impressive gambling skills to earn an awful lot of money and soon purchases a new, larger yacht.
Christened the Fortuna II, the yacht is brought to international waters, where Lucky and Andamo drop anchor and resume their operation. The lawless international waters allow Lucky to operate his establishment without worrying about legal implications (or taxes).
All manner of unsavory characters were attracted to the Fortunate II and Mr. Lucky did business with a good number of them. Early episodes of the series involved counterfeiters, gangsters and thieves, not to mention a mysterious death, an angry painter and a runaway heiress.
Reportedly feeling pressure from the show's sponsors, CBS did away with the gambling in the February 6th, 1960 episode, having Lucky transform the Fortuna II into an exclusive floating nightclub. Despite the change, the same type of characters from the gambling episodes showed up in the nightclub episodes: rapscallions, gangsters, mobsters and the like.
The Fortuna II
Episodes in the second half of the season involved Lucky's salad chef being thrown in prison, Lucky being framed for tax evasion, Lucky being framed by thieves, a father trying to leave the country with his daughter on the Fortuna II, Lucky winning a date with a lovely actress, and Lucky being robbed by a waiter he had earlier given a second chance.
Throughout the series, one thing was made clear: Lucky wasn't particularly bothered by anyone or anything as long as he could bet on it. Lucky and Andamo were both big into placing odds on whatever situation they happened to be in. For example, at the end of the first episode when Lucky and Andamo are getting away in a rickety old boat, Andamo puts odds on when they'll run out of gas. In another episode, Lucky puts odds on whether or not a woman getting ready to jump overboard can swim (she was pretending she wanted to kill herself and Lucky knew it).
Seemingly, Lucky knew just about everyone. Half of his acquaintances were friends, the other half weren't. Some took advantage of him, hoping to get a few thousand from the notoriously wealthy man, others simply wanted to use him as a scapegoat so they could break the law and get away with it.
Mr. Lucky was John Vivyan's first starring role and he had beat out roughly 30 other actors to get it . In March of 1960, he had to give up a role opposite Ingrid Bergman because it would conflict with production on the second season of Mr. Lucky . Vivyan must have been surprised, then, when Mr. Lucky was cancelled in mid-April .
Pippa Scott as Maggie Shank-Rutherford
As late as June, Vivyan felt certain either ABC or NBC would pick up Mr. Lucky for another year . They didn't. What made the cancellation more surprising was the fact that Mr. Lucky was a successful series, ending the 1959-1960 season tied for 21st with Zane Grey Theater and General Electric Theater, also on CBS.
A total of 34 episodes were broadcast, with the final first-run broadcast on June 18th, 1960. Repeats of the series were aired by CBS through September 3rd, 1960. Several notable actors and actresses appeared in episodes of Mr. Lucky, including Jack Nicholson, Barbara Bain, Yvonne Craig, Frank Gorshin, Ted Knight, Richard Chamberlain and Yvette Mimieux.
The theme from Mr. Lucky, composed by Henry Mancini, made it to #21 on Billboard's top pop singles chart . Mancini would release a pair of records through RCA with music from the series: Mr. Lucky 1960 and Mr. Lucky Goes Latin in 1961. Lucky's beloved pocket watch, when opened, played five notes from the Mancini theme.
In the fall of 1961 the series was put into syndication by Official Films, along with Peter Gunn, Yancy Derringer, Wire Service and Du Pont Theatre .Works Cited:
1 "Ross Martin Happy as Lucky's Pal." Chicago Daily Tribune. 10 Apr. 1960: N_A4.
2 Adams, Val. "TV To tell Story Of Photographer." New York Times. 30 Jul. 1959: 55.
4 Adams, Val. "News of TV and Radio." New York Times. 25 Oct. 1959: X17.
5 Anderson, Robert. "Japanese Painter a TV Draw." Chicago Daily Tribune. 1 Sep. 1959: C11.
6 "Today's TV Previews." Chicago Daily Tribune. 24 Oct. 1959: 16.
7 Lowry, Cynthia. "John Vivyan's Lucky -- At Last." Chicago Daily Tribune. 13 Mar. 1960: N13.
9 Wolters, Larry. "TV Ticker." Chicago Daily Tribune. 16 Apr. 1960: A9.
10 Wolters, Larry. "TV Ticker." Chicago Daily Tribune. 4 Jun. 1960: C7.
11 Brooks, Tim and Earle Marshe." The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows: 1946-Present. 8th ed. New York: Ballantine Books, 2003: 1495.
12 Shepard, Richard F. "Green Novel Set for TV on Nov. 26." New York Times. 4 Jul. 1961: 37.