Ben Casey is an American medical drama series which ran on ABC from 1961 to 1966. The show was known for its opening titles, which consisted of a hand drawing the symbols "♂, ♀, ✳, †, ∞" on a chalkboard, as cast member Sam Jaffe intoned, "Man, woman, birth, death, infinity." Neurosurgeon Joseph Ransohoff was a medical consultant for the show and may have influenced the personality of the title character.
The series starred Vince Edwards (credited as Vincent Edwards) as medical doctor Ben Casey, a young, intense but idealistic surgeon at County General Hospital. His mentor was Doctor David Zorba, played by Sam Jaffe. The show began running multi-episode stories, starting with the first five episodes of Season 4; Casey developed a romantic relationship with Jane Hancock (Stella Stevens), who had just emerged from a coma after fifteen years. At the beginning of Season 5 (the last season), Jaffe left the show and Franchot Tone replaced Zorba as new Chief of Neurosurgery, Doctor Daniel Niles Freeland.Vincent Edwards as Dr. Ben Casey
Sam Jaffe as Dr. David Zorba (1961-1965)
Harry Landers as Dr. Ted Hoffman
Bettye Ackerman as Dr. Maggie Graham (In real life, Bettye Ackerman was married to Sam Jaffe.)
Nick Dennis as Orderly Nick Kanavaras
Jeanne Bates as Nurse Wills
Franchot Tone as Dr. Daniel Niles Freeland (1965-1966)
NOTE: The most frequent time slot for the series is in bold text.Monday at 10:00-11:00 PM on ABC: October 2, 1961—May 13, 1963; September 14, 1964—March 21, 1966
Wednesday at 9:00-10:00 PM on ABC: September 9, 1963—April 22, 1964
In its early run, Ben Casey dominated its time slot. In the 1962-1963 season, it swamped Loretta Young's return to weekly television in her family sitcom The New Loretta Young Show on CBS. In 1963, it moved to Wednesdays as the preceding program for ABC's drama about college life, Channing.
However, due to the combination of CBS' The Beverly Hillbillies and The Dick Van Dyke Show, Ben Casey returned to its original Monday night time slot in the fall of 1964, remaining there until its cancellation in March 1966. Daytime repeats of the series also aired on ABC's weekday schedule from 1965 through 1967.Nielsen Ratings
NOTE: The highest average rating for the series is in bold text.
There was both a comic strip and a comic book based on the television series. The strip was developed and written by Jerry Capp (née Caplin) and drawn by Neal Adams. The daily strip began on November 26, 1962 and the Sunday strip debuted on September 20, 1964. Both ended on July 31, 1966 (a Sunday). The half page format was regarded as the best Sunday format, and one effect by Adams can only be appreciated in the half page—a globe in one panel is a continuation of Ben Casey's head in a lower panel. The daily strip was reprinted in the Menomonee Falls Gazette. The comic book was published by Dell Comics for 10 issues from 1962 to 1964. All had photocovers, except for the final issue which was drawn by John Tartaglione.
From 1962 through 1963, the paperback publisher Lancer Books also issued four original novels based on the series. They were Ben Casey by William Johnston, A Rage for Justice by Norman Daniels, The Strength of His Hands by Sam Elkin, and The Fire Within, again by Daniels, small-print standard mass-market size paperbacks of 128 or 144 pages each, typical of tie-ins of the period. The covers of the books featured photographs of Edwards as Casey or, in the case of the last novel, a drawing of a doctor with Edwards' appearance.
In 1988, the made-for-TV-movie The Return of Ben Casey, with Vince Edwards reprising his role as Casey, aired in syndication. Harry Landers was the only other original cast member to reprise his role (as Dr. Ted Hoffman). The film was directed by Joseph L. Scanlan. The pilot was not picked up by the major networks to bring the series back.
In 1962 the series inspired a semi-comic rock song, "Callin' Dr. Casey," written and performed by songwriter John D. Loudermilk. In the song, Loudermilk refers to the TV doctor's wide-ranging medical abilities and asks whether Casey has any cure for heartbreak. The song reached #83 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
During the Vietnam War, the term "Ben Casey" was used by American troops as slang for a medic.
The term "Ben Casey" has also been used for many years in Australia to denote a type of side-buttoning uniform jacket for doctors, dentists and pharmacists, similar to the one worn by the main character on the TV show.
The long-running Cleveland, Ohio late-night movie program The Hoolihan and Big Chuck Show and its successor program, The Big Chuck and Lil' John Show, regularly aired comedy skits under the title "Ben Crazy" that parodied Ben Casey. The skits opened with a spoof of the chalkboard sequence, adding one more symbol at the end — a dollar sign ($), accompanied by a laugh track. "Big Chuck" Schodowski, one of the hosts of the show, said that the skits continued to air for so many years after the 1966 cancellation of Ben Casey that younger viewers probably did not recognize the opening, and also that real-life doctors would send in ideas for skits, some of which were used on the show.
Dickie Goodman released a novelty song in 1962 entitled "Ben Crazy" that parodied Ben Casey as "Ben Crazy", Dr. Zorba as "Dr. Smorba", and also parodied Dr. Kildare, the main character on another popular 1960s medical drama series. Goodman's recording used his "break-in" technique of sampling lines from then-popular songs to "answer" comedic questions; it also sampled the Ben Casey title sequence and theme. The record reached #44 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The Flintstones episode "Monster Fred" (Season 5, episode 2, 1964) featured a mad doctor character named "Len Frankenstone" (voiced by Allan Melvin) and his associate, "Dr. Zero" (voiced by Doug Young). These characters were parodies of Ben Casey and Dr. Zorba.
The veterinarian in The Simpsons, first introduced in the episode "Dog of Death" performing surgery on Santa's Little Helper, was based on Ben Casey.