Not since M*A*S*H has there been a show that influenced more careers. EMERGENCY! was just that show. Many a youngster watched EMERGENCY! from 1972 to 1977 with wide eyes, imagining themselves as Johnny Gage and Roy DeSoto. I was definitely one of them. Every Saturday night I watched with my family and could see myself making the dramatic rescues. Everyone is fascinated by fire trucks and structure fires so the show seemed to be logical. The iconic actors influenced thousands of young men and women to become fire fighters, paramedics and other civil servants more than anything else in America today. So let’s take a look at the men and women who influenced so many young minds.
Johnny and Roy
One of the two most prominent faces of EMERGENCY! was Randolph Mantooth who played Johnny Gage. He was born in Sacramento California of Seminole Indian heritage. EMERGENCY! was the spring-board that launch his career. He worked as a regular on the soap operas, General Hospital, One Life To Live, and As The World Turns. Today he participates in Project 51 which celebrates the impact EMERGENCY! had on fire fighting and rescue and to honor those professionals. He is still working as a character actor as well. The other half of the dynamic duo was Kevin Tighe who played Roy DeSoto. Born in LA as Kevin Fishburn, he spent his life as a character actor. Even though he played the lovable paramedic on the show his career has included being the owner of the Double Duce bar in the movie “Roadhouse” and as the hard-nosed, take no shit Internal Affairs officer in “Another 48 hours.” He continues to act in both movies and television today.
Mike Norell played Captain Hank Stanley. Born in Idaho to a career Army officer, he spent most of his life traveling around the world and attended high school in Carlisle Pa. He too joined the army attaining the rank of Captain. He acted on the stage in New York before moving to LA where he won the role as Captain Stanley. He also wrote several episodes of the show. He still writes and produces today. The driver of Engine 51 was Mike Stoker, Born Charles Michael Stoker he was an actual fire fighter with the LA County fire department. He was hired because a real fire fighter was required to drive the equipment for the show. He was not in every episode if it interfered with his work schedule. He retired from the LA Fire Department in 1996 at the rank of Captain.
The rest of the Engine 51 crew consisted of Marco Lopez and Chet Kelly. Marco Lopez kept his real name for the show because the producers thought it sounded like a fire fighter’s name. Born in LA, he also appeared in many episodes of Dragnet in the 60’s. He was one of Elvis Pressley’s first stand-ins in the movie “Love Me Tender. Tim Donelly played Chet Kelly for EMERGENCY! The brother of one of the producers of the show, Dennis Donelly, he was the jokester of the A-Shift crew at Station 51. He appeared in episodes of Hawaii Five-O, Dragnet and Adam-12 as well as acting in several movies.
Rampart General Hospital
The staff at Rampart Hospital was an integral part of EMERGENCY! The medicos were led by Emergency Room Director Kelly Bracket, MD, played by Robert Fuller. Born Buddy Lee in Troy New York, he starred in hit shows like Wagon Train and Laramie. He starred in the movie “The Hard Ride” in 1971 and after that was reluctant to do EMERGENCY! but was convinced by producer Jack Web. He continues to act today. Bobby Troup played Dr. Joe Early. Born in Harrisburg PA, he obtained a business degree from the Wharton School from the University of Pennsylvania and served in the Marine Corps during WWII as a captain. He wrote the song “Route 66” for Nat King Cole and played clubs for 26 years. He had a bit part in the movie “M*A*S*H” in 1971 then starred in EMERGENCY! with his real life wife Julie London. Tragically Bobby died in 1999 in Sherman Oaks, California from a heart attack.
Ron Pinkard played Dr. Mike Morton for the entirety of the show. Born in Colorado, he attended 4 years of med school before dropping out and he was a full commander in the Navy. He also served as the director of the Mayor’s office of Art, Culture and Film for the City of Denver. He can also be seen in “The hunt for Red October” and served as Navy technical adviser. Julie London, born Julie Peck, in Santa Rosa CA, actually began her career acting in movies in the 40’s and 50’s. She was also a singer, releasing more than 40 albums. Her first husband was TV Producer Jack Webb. They divorced in the mid-50’s and she married her jazz singer manager, Bobby Troup. She and Troup would go on to star in EMERGENCY! which was produced by Jack Webb. London died after suffering complications of a stroke in 2000.
The Supporting Cast
Vince Howard, Born Vincent House, was a fixture on EMERGENCY! as Officer Vince from the LA Sheriffs Department. He appeared in 52 episodes and was well-known in that role. No matter what TV show or movie he acted in he played some sort of law enforcement official with the exception of Lethal Weapon 3 where he played a minister. James McEachin was another favorite actor of the show. He appeared in the first season as a construction foreman then had several other appearances as Police Lieutenant Crocket. Born in Renner, North Carolina, he earned a purple heart and silver star in Korea, as well as spending time as a police officer and fire fighter before moving to LA. He was better known as a record producer. When he left producing to pursue acting many felt he was the subject of Martha and the Vandellas song “Jimmy Mack”.
Born in Long Beach California, Dick Hammer was a real life LA County Fire Captain. He was hired to portray the role but left the show after 10 episodes in season 1 because of conflicts with his work schedule. He was a starting point guard at USC and was on the US Volleyball Team for the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. Prior to taking the fire department exam in 1959, he was the Director of the Long Beach Recreation Department. Born in California, Art Balinger played the recurring role of Battalion Chief Conrad. He played Captain Glavas in the original Dragnet in the 50’s then returned when Jack Webb brought the show back in the late 60’s as Captain Brown. Acting for most of his life, Balinger died in 2011 at the age of 96.
Born William Klein in Detroit, Bill Bryant usually played a fire captain on the show. He did portray a police sergeant in one of the episodes. He appeared in the show for a total of 19 episodes. Bryant died in 2001. Sam Lanier was one of the most famous people on the show. Everyone knew Sam Lanier but few knew his name. He was the voice behind the LA County Fire Department. He played the fire dispatcher. Lanier joined the LA County Fire Department as a civilian fire dispatcher in 1958 but retired due to a medical problem shortly after the show went off the air. He became a liaison of sorts, acting as Fire Safety Adviser for movie companies shooting in the LA area. Sadly, Lanier died of a heart attack assisting at the scene of a vehicle accident in front of his house in 1997.
Squad 51 and Engine 51 are two of the best known fire trucks in the country. Both are nondescript compared to the rigs of today. Squad 51 was basically a utility body on a 1 ton dodge truck frame. There was more than one used in the show. Engine 51 was a Ward-LaFrance engine. Considered the best out in 1974 it had a 500 gallon water tank and a 750 gallon per minute pump. Most engines of today don’t have a pump smaller than 1500 gallons per minute today. Some thought that Station 51 was built on the Paramount lot for the show. In actuality it was Station 127, an actual LA County Fire Station housing an Engine and a Ladder Truck.
Wow! They were really on the show?
EMERGENCY! saw a lot of famous people have guest roles on the show. Some were in the middle of great careers or at the beginning or end as well. As I end this I’ll leave you with just a few of the famous faces that acted alongside some of the most beloved characters of our time.