Dr Kildare’s history stretches back to the forties, and serials on radio and in the cinema. The stories centres around a young doctor making his way in a large Californian hospital under the expert tutelage of crusty old Dr Gillespie. When the stories were transferred to NBC TV, the series was an almost instant hit, thanks in no small measure to Richard Chamberlain in the title role.
But the series was overtaken after a year by another medical series on the rival ABC network. Ben Casey was another kettle of fish altogether. Where Dr Kildare was bright and sunny, Ben Casey was dark and brooding. Dr Kildare had a laugh with the nurses whereas Dr Ben Casey was too busy with his angst.
In many ways, Ben Casey was the forerunner of today’s popular dramas, ER, Casualty and Chicago Hope. At the time, Time magazine reviewed the series saying it “accurately captures the feeling of sleepless intensity in a metropolitan hospital.” Ben Casey’s regular run-ins with authority and regular battles against the system made for occasionally uncomfortable but always unmissable viewing.
Vince Edwards died of pancreatic cancer in 1996 – a few years before he died, he recalled how the series’ success came as a total shock – as the series shot into the top ten shows, he was living in the spare room of a friend’s house, a far cry from the usual megastar’s abode.