CW Developing Period Drama on California’s First Black Private Investigator

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Samuel Marlowe (Los Angeles Times)
Samuel Marlowe (Los Angeles Times)

A new period drama about a Black detective is in development at a major network following dismal diversity stats.

According to Shadow and Act, The CW network is creating a historical series about real-life agent Samuel Marlowe.

Titled “Marlowe,” the character-focused methodical piece will take place in 1937 Los Angeles. The title character will explore crime, mystery and community problems throughout Beverly Hills and Little Harlem’s various social groups.

“Marlowe” is the first project to follow the true story of the Black P.I. after his story inspired author Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. Actor Humphrey Bogart would later portray the character on film in 1946.

The development of “Marlowe” follows USA Today’s report on TV’s diversity. The CW is not the worst graded. That distinction went to CBS, which received a C-. Still, the youth-focused CW network scored a C+ amongst the other big networks of NBC, ABC and Fox.

The CW counts Latino-centered “Jane The Virgin” as its lone non-white led series. By comparison, A- graded ABC has eight shows, including “Scandal” and “How to Get Away With Murder.” Both series feature Black lead actresses with Kerry Washington and Viola Davis.

As for details on who Marlowe really was, uncertainty surrounds a claim that he was the first Black detective in L.A. But at the time of his death in 1991 at age 100, two local obituaries stated he was the first private investigator in the California city.

Specifically, The Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Sentinel deemed Marlowe the “first licensed P.I. west of the Mississippi.” Before then, a 1980 Sentinel piece said Marlowe’s new professional status in 1921 made him the “first Black man to have a licensed detective agency in the state of California.”

However, there is some confirmed information about his P.I. career. Marlowe emigrated from Montego Bay, Jamaica after serving in World War I. Once settled in L.A., the California Eagle reported he opened the S.B. Marlowe Detective Agency. It handled a variety of cases, including robberies, embezzlement and divorces.

But Marlowe did not only do detective work. He had a home repair company and a mortgage business, too. And, he established several organizations. One included The West Indian American Club, created in the 1930s. The group focused on connecting Blacks in the U.S. with Caribbean immigrants.

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