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Mid-Century Modern Thunderbirds

A retrospective of Ford Thunderbirds on mid-century modern television shows

Image: Mid-Century Modern interior decor (click for larger image)Mid-Century Modern is defined by the designs seen in architecture, furnishings, clothing, appliances, and other products during the period from roughly 1940 through 1965. Easily identified by its clean lines and elegant simplicity, it was a concept where function became as important a consideration as form. Frank Lloyd Wright is one of the more notable architects who is largely responsible for making this style so popular. Think of the fictional house on Mount Rushmore in North by Northwest and you've got it.

This era is responsible for some of the most memorable buildings and homes in the architectural field, as well as clothing styles, product design, and automotive design. The classic television shows included below are symbolic of this era, and are a real treat to watch for people who value this design and this era. It's unfortunate that they were filmed in black and white, as no doubt the vivid colors used during this time would have been a delight to see.

Our mission was to locate the popular television shows of the time that were a reflection of this culture, as well as having a Ford Thunderbird as a regular supporting cast member. We believe we've accomplished what we set out to do.

77 Sunset Strip

Aired: ABC Network, Friday nights at 9:00
October 10, 1958-February 7, 1964 (Reruns ran through September 1964)

206 Episodes + Pilot (Pilot aired on April 16, 1957)

77 Sunset Strip was the Warner Brothers television show the defined hip and cool in the late fifties and early sixties. This was the one that started the detective television show trend, which was all the rage in the 1960's.

And what wasn't to love? The star characters were all handsome, swilled down martinis, got to hang out at all the hot places, dressed like they were millionaires, and drove around Los Angeles in spiffy new T-birds! It just doesn't get much cooler than that, Daddy-O!!

The private eyes had an office located at 77 Sunset Boulevard, which shared a parking lot with the swingin' hot spot Dino's Club—a place where all the groovy chicks hung out, and you would not be surprised to see members of the Rat Pack there, either. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, or Angie Dickinson would all fit in at Dino's just grand.

Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., Roger Smith, Richard Long, Edd Byrnes, Louis Quinn, Jacqueline Beer, Robert Logan, and Joan Staley were the stars of the show. Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. would go on to star in The FBI (also on ABC) after 77 Sunset Strip wrapped, and it too is an excellent source for viewing brand new Ford vehicles at their prime.

Image: 77 Sunset Strip cast posed with 1961 Ford Thunderbird Convertible
Image: Roger Smith, Edd Byrnes, and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. posed in front of 77 Sunset Strip door

Above: (L to R) Roger Smith, Edd Byrnes, and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.

Image: Raymond Burr as Perry Mason

Above: Raymond Burr

Perry Mason

Aired: CBS Network, September 21, 1957-September 4, 1966
Original schedule:

Saturday night 7:30-8:30 (1957-1962 season)
Thursday 8:00-9:00 (1962-1963 season)
Thursday 9:00-10:00 (1963-1964 season)
Thursday 8:00-9:00 (1964-1965 season)
Sunday 9:00-10:00 (1965-1966 season)

271 Episodes (1 color episode)

Perry Mason is a television crime drama starring Raymond Burr as attorney Perry Mason, Barbara Hale as his secretary Della Street, William Hopper as private detective Paul Drake, William Talman as District Attorney Hamilton Burger, and Ray Collins as Lt. Arthur Tragg of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Each week, the show began with a murder, and by a twist of fate or incorrect assumption, an innocent party became the prime suspect and was eventually charged with the crime. Enter Perry Mason and company to defend, investigate, uncover the truth, and reveal the identity of the true murderer, which, by the way, is never Mason's client!

And make no doubt about it: everything about Perry Mason was cool. He had an incredibly chic wood-paneled office suite in the fictional Brent Building in downtown Los Angeles, which had to have been located near the intersection of Fourth and Hill Streets, based on the view. Mason's suite was number 904 and came complete with the very best mid-century modern office furnishings and an outside balcony with a view of the Los Angeles skyline.

The cast always looked sharp in their business attire, and even on the occasions when they were in casual clothes, they wore only the finest designer duds. Perry had the kind of apartment you really only see on television or in the movies, with a nice fireplace in the living room and the latest in contemporary interior decor.

If you needed to call Perry, his office phone number was MAdison 5-1190, and you would likely then speak with Gertie, the receptionist, or perhaps even Della herself if you called after hours, because someone, it seemed, was always in the office, no matter the time.

Mason drove several different car makes throughout the series, including 1957 and 1958 Ford Fairlane Skyliner Retractable Hardtops, a 1958 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible, and a 1965 Lincoln Continental Convertible.

Paul Drake had all the Thunderbirds: first a 1957, and then a 1958 Convertible, followed by 1961, 1963, 1964, and 1965 Thunderbird Convertibles.

The 1965 Thunderbird Convertible was featured in the one color episode that was filmed, The Tale of the Twice-Told Twist, which revealed the T-bird to be finished in Caspian Blue Metallic paint with a Light Blue Metallic vinyl interior.

In at least one episode, Della Street was dispatched to pick up a client, and a 1958-1960 Thunderbird Convertible was shown waiting for them in the background. It's not clear from the scene or the conversation if it was her personal car, or if she had possibly borrowed Paul Drake's car for the errand.

Throughout the series, many great classic cars of various makes and models can be observed in the scenes filmed on location. In our opinion, It's one of the best shows ever produced, and the old cars in brand new condition are just one of the many good reasons to watch.

Image: Cast of Perry Mason television show (click for larger view)

Buy Perry Mason Episodes

Perry Mason - Season 2, Vol. 1
Perry Mason - Season 2, Vol. 2
Perry Mason - Season 3, Vol. 1
Perry Mason - Season 3, Vol. 2
Perry Mason - Season 4, Vol. 1
Perry Mason - Season 4, Vol. 2
Perry Mason - Season 5, Vol. 1

Notable mentions: Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone. While both of these shows include episodes that were set in modern times with contemporary clothing, furnishings, and automobiles, many of them were filmed entirely on studio sets, or were set in another time period, and as such didn't qualify for the specific topic of this page.

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