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In the wake of 'Wonder Woman's' success, try TV's first policewoman in 'Decoy'
Beverly Garland stars as policewoman Casey Jones in "Decoy," a 1950s TV show now in a complete-series DVD set for the first time. - photo by Chris Hicks
As has been noted elsewhere, its a very good thing that Wonder Woman did so well at the box office last weekend.

This may indeed force a shift in the thinking of (male) Hollywood moguls who have argued that women and especially female superheroes cant open a movie (show-biz parlance for pulling in a sizeable audience on the first weekend).

Or at least women who arent Jennifer Lawrence in a movie with Hunger Games in the title.

So look for more Wonder Woman movies, and perhaps reboots of films starring Elektra, Catwoman and maybe even Black Widow, aka Natasha Romanoff played by Scarlett Johansson as a supporting character in no less than five Marvel blockbusters about male superheroes. (After all, Johansson has already demonstrated her take-charge abilities in two non-Marvel leading roles, Lucy and Ghost in the Shell.)

But what about heroic women that arent so super, that is, those without super powers and outside of the fantasy or horror or science fiction genres a female John McClane (Die Hard) or Ethan Hunt (Mission: Impossible) or Jason Bourne?

There have been quite a few serious, or semi-serious, action movies led by women over the years, including Salt, Charlies Angels, G.I. Jane and Kill Bill, among others. And some have performed well at the worldwide box office. But none has led to an ongoing franchise, something thats long overdue.

TV does it better, and perhaps the strongest example right now is the long-running Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, with Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson, who will begin her 19th season in the fall.

And the strongest examples historically remain Police Woman in the 1970s and Cagney & Lacey in the 1980s.

Both of those shows are often cited as game changers, but the game doesnt seem to have changed all that much.

Then there was Decoy, starring Beverly Garland, a police procedural that aired in syndication during the 1957-58 season.

Say what, you ask?

That the one-season Decoy is largely forgotten today is something the DVD label Film Chest is attempting to correct with the release of a three-disc set that includes all 39 half-hour, black and white episodes, along with a 16-page booklet that chronicles each one and cites New York locations where they were filmed. (The booklet also claims that this was the first dramatic TV series with a female protagonist.)

Whether the producers of Police Woman were aware of Decoy is, of course, up for debate, but there are undeniable similarities between Angie Dickinsons Suzanne Pepper Anderson in the former and Beverly Garlands Patricia Casey Jones in the latter.

Both shows require their stars to go undercover as mob molls, junkies, showgirls and prison inmates, among other assignments. But where Dickinson exuded sex appeal in the free-and-easy 70s, Garland is more by the book in the conservative 50s, and the shows matter-of-fact approach owes something to Dragnet, right down to her voiceover narration.

Garland is the star and Casey is the only regular character in Decoy unless you count New York City as a character. Outdoor locations abound as Casey bounces from vice to homicide to various precincts, and the city is definitely a vibrant part of the show, from Central Park to Grand Central Station to the Brooklyn Bridge to Radio City Music Hall, and many more familiar Manhattan stops.

Garland is terrific, sympathetic and compassionate, yet tough when she needs to be, and, though this may be surprising given the era, her male colleagues never talk down to her or make sexist remarks.

Now thats breaking ground.

Although there are a few episodes of Decoy floating around on cheapjack public domain discs in DVD bins at dollar stores, the show has never had a sanctioned release until now.

And it holds up remarkably well. In fact, in some ways Decoy feels less dated than Police Woman.

If Garlands name rings a bell, its probably as a 1950s B-movie scream queen (It Conquered the World, Not of This Earth) or as a TV mom in the early 1970s (on the last three seasons of My Three Sons).

The latter also gave her a second career of sorts, as Garland went on to play Kate Jacksons mother on The Scarecrow and Mrs. King (1983-87) and Teri Hatchers mother on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1995-97).

She also starred in quite a few genre B-movies in the 1950s and 60s (mostly creature features, crime melodramas and Westerns) and played guest-star roles on dozens of popular TV shows from the 1950s through the 1990s.

Garland died in 2008 at the age of 82.

But as a young-and-hungry actress in 1950s New York, Garland somehow managed to land the lead role in Decoy, a forgotten-but-shouldnt-be TV series that is historically significant, very entertaining and well worth checking out.
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