Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Name of the Game; Kraft Suspense Theatre; Jack Kelly; Nancy Kovack-Mehta; Pat Hingle; Grace Lee Whitney

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Season #1, Episode # 10.

The Name of the Game.

Original Air Date - December 26, 1963

Setting/Time - The present in a Las Vegas casino/hotel.

Plot/Review/Discussion -

Jack Kelly plays a professional gambler, who, while knowledgeable about casino gambling, is broke. He is approached by a "high roller" at the casino with a proposition. The high roller is long on cash but short on knowledge. The high roller will bankroll Kelly for the purpose of making a big score overnight and splitting the proceeds.

The conflict centers on disputes between the two main characters over strategy and control. The action is often interrupted by romantic distractions involving each man. The plot does not simply involve beating the casino. The plot revolves around the battle between the two main characters as they gamble.

There is an element of surprise and mystery to this episode that is not revealed until near the end.

This episode gives the appearance of class to casino gambling. The men wore suits and the women were elegant, even while losing large amounts of money at the table (I cannot remember whether they played craps or roulette). This image, while unrealistic, makes for a nice contrast with actual players in casinos now popping up all over the country.

The KST casino was unrealistically small and simple in contrast to actual casinos or casinos featured in modern television or movies.

The plot is believable. When the surprise element is introduced, it is apparent to the viewer that it was present all along. All elements of the story are brought together in the conclusion and resolution.

A conflict over control of casino strategy (coupled with romantic side stories) may seem weak, but it works in this case. Not every situation need be life-or-death to generate audience interest. Whether they gamble or not, an audience might more easily identify with the two gamblers' conflict than with much of what appears on television today.

Miscellaneous - This is the first of two KST episodes to focus on casino gambling.

Cars - Vehicles played a small role in this episode. I believe a Lincoln Continental was visible in the casino parking lot from the manager's office window toward the end of the episode. [I will update this portion if RTV reruns this episode.]

Actors -

Jack Kelly plays the professional gambler. Kelly made the first of his three KST appearances in this episode. Kelly began acting at age 12 and continued for more than 50 years. Kelly previously played in Maverick as one of the title characters. Kelly also played a major role in Forbidden Planet and played the lead in one episode of Kraft Mystery Theatre with future KST actor Broderick Crawford.

Pat Hingle plays the high roller that bankrolled Kelly's character and spent most of the episode fighting him. Hingle's career lasted more than 50 years (until his recent death) and included such series as Twilight Zone, KST spinoff Run For Your Life, Magnum, Murder She Wrote, the 2001 Christian movie Road to Redemption and many others.

Sydney Pollack directed this episode (and two later KST episodes - "Watchman" and "Last Clear Chance").

Star Trek Connection -

Even though the plot was not as strong as some earlier episodes (episodes ## 3, 4, 5 and 6), this one is a favorite of mine largely because of the Star Trek connection. As far as I know, only season #2's "Eddie Carew" features more Star Trek connections than "Name of the Game." [My knowledge is incomplete, as I have not seen about 12 episodes and is unreliable.] This episode and "Eddie Carew" each featured 4 Star Trek actors, but "Eddie Carew" also featured a Star Trek director. The Trek actors in "Eddie Carew" also played more important roles, while two of the Star Trek actors in "Name of the Game" were less important.

Nancy Kovack (now Nancy Mehta) played the romantic interest for Kelly's character in "Name of the Game." She would later play a pivotal role in Star Trek's "Private Little War." Her character in KST would be almost unrecognizable to Trek fans, as it is so different from Kovack's Trek character. Her KST character is one of the most enjoyable parts of "Name of the Game."

Kovack enjoyed a 25 year career in radio and in Hollywood and elsewhere, winning eight beauty pageants and guest starring in such shows as Bewitched, Mannix and the Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Numerous of her episodes are available on

She became a historical footnote more than a decade ago, as she was on the periphery of the Bill Clinton scandals of the 1990's. She was the victim of an embezzlement scheme of Susan McDougal, who also served jail time in connection with Clinton's Whitewater scandal. McDougal escaped conviction on charges related to Kovack-Mehta when McDougal's attorney, future Michael Jackson and Scott Peterson defender Mark Geragos, denounced the prosecution as part of a conspiracy to harm Bill Clinton.

Barry Atwater plays the Casino manager. Atwater later played Spock's Vulcan hero Surak on "The Savage Curtain." Atwater and Jack Kelly each have the distinction of having played opposite Robby the Robot; - Kelly in Forbidden Planet and Atwater in an episode of Thin Man (with Peter Lawford). Atwater acted until his death in 1978 on such shows as Gunsmoke, Mission Impossible and Twilight Zone. In every role in which I have seen him, his character is very similar to that of Surak.

Steve Ihnat plays a brief, but important, role as the pit boss. The role is important because the pit boss' (and later Atwater's) approval of certain large bets makes those bets more dramatic. Ihnat later played the main guest star in Star Trek's "Whom Gods Destroy." He died at age 38 of a heart attack in 1972. He played on numerous TV episodes, usually as a villain, including a guest role on Big Valley opposite KST guest star Harold Stone.

The most interesting Trek connection is Grace Lee Whitney, who plays a gambler that briefly wins before losing it all at one of the tables. This role is uncredited at and unmentioned in Whitney's autobiography. (I know of Whitney's role only because I noticed her name in the closing credits). Whitney's KST character is not similar in appearance or temperament to Yeoman Rand.

That KST remains so unknown at this time is so unfortunate because the Trek fans would surely enjoy seeing the Star Trek actors play in other roles, especially when there are so many in one episode. Few fans are as familiar with their favorite series as Trekkies are with every detail of Star Trek. I am sure they would appreciate seeing some of these details rearranged and in a new light. Many Star Trek fans are unaccustomed to seeing most of the television shows of the 1960's. As I commented weeks ago:
Those of us that grew up in the 1970's watching reruns of classic Star Trek became accustomed to seeing each of the guest stars solely in his Star Trek role. It is surprising now for us to see these actors in other roles. Many of these actors (the guest stars as well) have become well known more for their Star Trek role than for anything else. Those guest stars that survive make frequent appearances at Star Trek conventions. Many of their other roles are forgotten, even though the Star Trek appearance was often only one of many, many roles in their long careers.

"Name of the Game" was one of the first KST episodes I have seen. This episode helped get me hooked on KST, as picking out the Star Trek connection(s) added another enjoyable element to each episode.
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