54 years ago, the "Chicago Code" was 2-1-2

March 18, 2011

Cops always get television shows. But firemen? Almost never.

There was Emergency, back in the 1970s on NBC, but they were paramedics. Richard Roundtree had a post-Shaft TV show called Firehouse around the mid-1970s, but that only lasted a few episodes. And while Chicago cops have been depicted in all manner of television series great (Crime Story) and the so-so (Chicago Code), Chicago fireman never got a television show at all. Only a turkey of a movie, 1991's Backdraft, where everybody bickered, walked through slow-motion flames and talked like they came from Brooklyn, rather than, say St. Tommy More parish.

All of this is probably why the above clip of a 1957 television show called Chicago 2-1-2 caught my eye. It was last episode broadcast in the final ear of the DuPont Theater anthology show on ABC. Chicago 2-1-2 starred Frank Lovejoy as Chicago Fire Department Inspector Ed McCook, hot on the trail of an arsonist. The show was actually filmed here, which was quite the rarity then, and used Chicago locales quite well as you'll see from the clips. The night shot of the Chicago Theater marquee at the end of the show (in the clip below) is especially good.

Is the show any good? You can judge. It's stagey in that 1950s sort of way and sardonically-narrated, Dragnet-style. Still, it is fun to see 1950s Chicago, with bulbous cars, men in trench coats and those old EL cars whizzing by overhead downtown. Makes you wonder what a modern-day show like this might look like.

Oh, why was it Chicago 2-1-2? An area code? A telephone exchange? Nope. It was the signature of the main fire alarm office, located in City Hall in the television show.