Angie Dickinson has the credentials to read television’s female law enforcers their rights, having been one of the earliest.
The veteran actress went from star of such movies as the original “Ocean’s 11” and “The Killers” to home-screen staple in “Police Woman,” NBC’s “Police Story” spinoff that ran four seasons (1974-78). The show came at a time when women typically weren’t drama-series leads … and when told that other actresses cite her as someone who opened gates for them, Dickinson replies to Zap2it, “It’s nice to be a standard bearer.”
Ironically, she might not have been the performer who would become Sgt. Suzanne “Pepper” Anderson. “I happen to know that they wanted Karen Black for the ‘Police Story’ episode,” Dickinson reports, “and as we were shooting that, they said, ‘This could make a series.’ They didn’t have a separate series in mind at all when we started.
“I often think, ‘What if I hadn’t done that and someone else had?’ I wonder how long it would have taken for them to strike it rich [with a female-cop show], because Teresa Graves’ ‘Get Christie Love!’ didn’t go, and none of the others worked. Before that, there was one of those every-four-weeks shows, ‘Amy Prentiss’ with Jessica Walter. But that character was hard-nosed, sort of like the principal of a school. I played it vulnerable, and that was what did it.”
Two signs of Dickinson’s impact are the movies “Passenger 57” and “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka,” in which her name is used to invoke the image of an action heroine. Still, she emphasizes the repartee she had with Earl Holliman and her other “Police Woman” co-stars: “They kidded each other and protected each other. It was a nice unit that really worked well together.”
Dickinson is enjoying some notable work now. She’ll participate in next month’s third annual TCM Classic Film Festival — staged by Turner Classic Movies — at a Hollywood showing of the 1959 Western “Rio Bravo,” in which she starred with John Wayne, Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson. Then on Monday, May 14, she’ll be featured in a new PBS “American Masters” documentary on Johnny Carson, who played host to her many times during his era on NBC’s “Tonight Show.”
“Police Woman,” which earned Dickinson a Golden Globe Award and three Emmy nominations, can be seen again in a Season 2 DVD set recently released by Shout! Factory. She cites TNT’s “Southland” as a current series she feels does justice to female police officers.
“It’s not unusual anymore” to see such characters, Dickinson notes. “Mine was unusual because she was the only one then, and it was a new focus. Aside from the ones on ‘Southland,’ which I love, you can tell immediately what any of them is going to do. Or at least I can.”