Saturday, July 9, 2016

TELEVISION’S INTEGRAL CHARACTER

VERN ST. CLOUD

In my previous “Integral Characters” entry of March 6, I introduced a recurring and integral character, Richie Brockelman, from The Rockford Files. If Rockford ever had a sidekick, Richie would fit in the traditional sense. One of the more amusing characters to appear in multiple episodes was also in Rockford’s line of work. But this character is a royal pain. Obnoxious. Nobody wants to see him let alone work with him. He cheats his way through cases, all the while complaining about how unfair life is to him. He is a bore and a blowhard. The character is Vern St. Cloud, played perfectly by Simon Oakland.

Here is a glimpse into the three episodes in which St. Cloud appeared on The Rockford Files. Vern is another integral supporting character who establishes credibility for the series. We can assume within the vast Los Angeles metro area there are many private detectives. Inevitably, St. Cloud and Rockford will cross paths.

Sticks and Stones May Break Your Bones, but Waterbury will Bury You
Rockford’s first meeting with St. Cloud, Season 3, is not a pleasant experience. As Rockford exits his Firebird late at night and he gets hit over the head from behind. When Rockford rises to his feet he finds St. Cloud all smiles in a Marquees of Queensberry boxing stance. Rockford is amused by it. Until he gets punched twice in the face. Jim realizes this guy is serious and punches him in the stomach so hard, Vern drops to his knees and begs for ulcer mercy. Jim pulls out St. Cloud’s wallet and barks, “Vern St. Cloud. Okay. What’s your problem? Rabies?!”

After complaining about his ulcer, St. Cloud confesses that he thought Rockford might be his only lead in finding a difficult to locate suspect. St.Cloud along with some other Los Angeles private investigators have lost their P.I. license. Cleavon Little also stars as Billy Merrihew, another P.I. out of work, who is also involved in the same case as St. Cloud.


Rockford discovers a mega investigating company, Waterbury Security Systems, has been framing and eliminating some independent investigators, padding their client list. St. Cloud has no optimism whatsoever with Rockford’s plan and spends his energy complaining that it will not work. Rockford tells him,  “It will work and you are going to do it, Vern!” St. Cloud creates a diversion, threatening to jump from atop of the Waterbury’s 16 storey building, beer bottle in hand, while Jim and Billy grab enough evidence to convict certain members of the Waterbury. As the story wraps with a successful ending, Rockford and Merrihew suggest the three grab a drink together. St. Cloud, visibly uncomfortable with the thought of social interaction, says no thanks because on a week or two they will all be competing again, “Dog eat dog!” The stinger is that Vern has to undergo a psychiatric evaluation because of his “suicide” attempt and his despondency. Vern states jokingly, “Imagine me, despondent!”

The House on Willis Avenue
While attending the funeral of a legendary Los Angeles P.I., St. Cloud causes a disturbance and accuses Richie Brockelman of trying to bleed the widow with a supposed case. The late P.I.’s office is bugged, unknown to St. Cloud, who is snooping around and making “free” long distance calls on the deceased’s office phone. Two operatives barge through the door and


Vern finds himself at gunpoint. He is shuttled off to a parking garage where Garth McGregor, played by Jackie Cooper, has his car hooked up to a lie detector with Vern’s ride. St. Cloud is scared to death and quickly confesses about trying pick up another case from the deceased’s files. Things are tough all over for him plus the expense of a minor surgery coming up and all. MacGregor realizes Vern knows nothing that would jeopardize him and tells his operative to take him out and cut him. Vern is in a panic over the “cut him” phrase fears his end is near. It simply meant to cut him from the electronic equipment. McGregor’s right hand man, Pernell Roberts, tells him, “Vern, when you go in for that surgery, don’t let them take out any guts. You’re running short as it is.”

Nice Guys Finish Dead
Though a bit less integral to this episode, Simon Oakland’s final appearance as Vern St. Cloud is in Season 6 of The Rockford Files. He is the emcee for the local Goodhue Award ceremony honoring outstanding detective work for the year. He is disgruntled that Rockford is even nominated and has few words of praise when introducing him. Afterall, Rockford did nothing


more than check record files which corrected a timing error in a case which changed court laws forever. Larry Manetti plays St. Cloud’s nephew who is a chip off the old block. Just the site of Rockford disgusts him. But when Vern introduces another nominee, Lance White, played by Tom Selleck, it is with endless praise and endorsements. This is one of the most memorable episodes of the series thanks to the chemistry between Garner and Selleck and the whole idea of an annual detective award ceremony, which, after a fashion, did exist in LA at the time. Lance, Mr. Perfect, praises Rockford’s work and says he voted for him. Rockford feels sheepish because he voted for himself.

Simon Oakland’s Vern St. Cloud character is a standout guest star. After losing his license in his first appearance on Garner’s show, he has to work at his brother-in-law’s shoe store. The latter losing patience each day with Vern. When demanded to locate a specific shoe in bone for a lady who has been waiting a long time, Vern scans the stack of boxes and completely gives up. He cannot even focus on the shoebox labels. A character with little patience who prefers to expend as little effort as possible to get what he wants.

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