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'Highway Patrol' Crew Goes on a Steak Outing

The director and actors from the 1950s TV show reunite at Musso & Frank Grill.

August 29, 2003|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

Unit 21-50 was 10-97 in Hollywood, going 10-7 for a lunchtime 11-98.

Or, in the police radio lingo of the 1950s, "Dan Mathews" was arriving in town for a reunion luncheon with some of the gang from the old "Highway Patrol" TV series.

Wearing a fedora and a gruff grin, reunion organizer Gary Goltz was the mirror image Thursday of the show's star, the late Broderick Crawford, as he climbed out of a replica 1955 Highway Patrol cruiser parked behind Musso & Frank Grill.

Series actor William Boyette was there. So was show director Herbert L. Strock, Crawford's son, Kelly Crawford, and Art Gilmore, the series' narrator, who intoned the words, "Whenever the laws of any state are broken, a duly authorized organization swings into action ... the Highway Patrol ..." in all 156 episodes of the groundbreaking police drama.

Each of them had stories to tell about the popular series, primarily filmed on the streets of the then-sparsely inhabited San Fernando Valley and aired from 1955 to 1959. They told how the Oscar-winning Crawford was picked to star as Dan Mathews, chief of the fictional Highway Patrol. And how the show pioneered the kind of quick-cut editing and tight-shot framing that is common in television today.

Goltz, a 50-year-old health-care sales consultant from Upland, has been a fan of "Highway Patrol" since he was a kid. He spent $25,000 refurbishing a 1955 Buick Special and equipping it like "Unit 21-50," the patrol car Crawford drove in the series. It frequently appears in parades in the San Gabriel Valley and Inland Empire and is a fixture at California Highway Patrol events.

Kelly Crawford, an Altadena film editor, sometimes rides in the cruiser with Goltz in parades. His father died in 1986, but until he met Goltz he never understood the magnitude of his dad's stardom, Crawford said.

"I went down to the set every chance I had," said Crawford, who was 8 when "Highway Patrol" was at the peak of its popularity. "But I always downplayed my dad. Gary's interest in the show helped me understand how popular my dad was."

Strock, 85, of West Los Angeles, recalled how Broderick Crawford beat out actors John Ireland, Sterling Hayden and Mike Connors -- who was the CHP's preference -- for the Dan Mathews role. Despite his rough persona, "Brod was the sweetest, most gentle kind of guy I've ever met," Strock said.

Strock said he concocted quick-cut editing to give the series its fast pace. The show was the first to routinely use extreme close-ups, he said, because "there were so many small TV sets back then. So I got in close on Brod."

Strock cranked out an episode of the half-hour show in two or three days of filming, he said. Many of the chase scenes were shot in Encino and Sherman Oaks, using unopened portions of the Ventura Freeway, which was under construction in the mid-1950s. Episodes also were shot in Canoga Park, Chatsworth and Northridge.

"It was much more authentic to be out there," Boyette said. The veteran Studio City actor portrayed Crawford's sergeant and appeared throughout the series. "We'd be out in the orange groves. Of course, there are no orange groves left now."

Announcer Gilmore, 91, of Sherman Oaks, said his voice-over work on "Highway Patrol" remains one of his career favorites. His narration tied each episode together.

"I read it 'wild' -- I'd read the copy without seeing the footage. I wouldn't see the show until it came on TV," Gilmore said.

Goltz attracted a small crowd to the Musso & Frank parking lot when he boomed the "Highway Patrol" theme over the cruiser's loudspeaker. He pressed another button and Gilmore's show-opening, "Whenever the laws of any state are broken ... " echoed once more across Hollywood.

Diner Mary Salisbury of Running Springs applauded the scene. "You forget about it until you hear this and see it again," she said. "What great memories."

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