The Most Famous Private Investigators in Film and Television

Hollywood's Most Famous Private Investigators


Eye Spy details some of the most famous private investigators. When you think of a private investigator, the words private eyes, detectives, sleuths, and long trench coats may come to mind. The best TV shows are those that incorporate a mystery and good comedy. But which Private Eyes are the most memorable?

Who Are the Most Famous Private Investigators?

Jake ‘J.J’ Gittes is a fictional Irish-American private eye in the film-noir movies Chinatown and The Two Jakes. Gittes is played in both films by Jack Nicholson. Played by Jack Nicholson in the film Chinatown.

He lives in Los Angeles from where he runs his Private Detective business with the aid of his two assistants Larry and Duffy; famed for his unorthodox method, he’s known as a man to turn to if you want to get something done. However, despite his nasty reputation, he has strong morals: he will never betray a friend or extort a confidante and he just can’t help but come to the aid of a damsel in distress.

But, most of his cases revolve around marriage disputes and infidelities. Thus, it’s up to him to prove or disprove the accused’s guilt.  But for him these always seem to lead into murkier water. From the land rustling and water stealing conspiracy of Chinatown. Onto the murder of a wealthy realtor linked to an orange grove connected to his past in The Two Jakes.

Here is a List Of The Most Famous Private Investigators:

Jim Rockford

Jim Rockford is a fictional character on the television series The Rockford Files. The character is different from the average fictional P.I. in many ways. Instead of being an ex-cop, he is a former convict, albeit one who was falsely imprisoned. Instead of being a loner, he has a close relationship with his father, “Rocky”, and has a large group of friends. He enjoys fishing and would rather spend time doing that than working.  Rockford often describes himself as “chicken” though often his actions speak otherwise. He lives in a small trailer on the beach.

The detective story writer Stuart Kaminsky has written two books with Jim Rockford as the main character, entitled “The Green Bottle” and “The Devil on My Doorstep”.

The show is famous for its opening segment featuring the answering machine of James Garner’s character. The title scene began with this line: “This is Jim Rockford. At the tone, leave your name and number and I’ll get back to you.” Throughout the series, fictional characters from the show would call Jim and leave comical messages on his machine. Some of the messages are also published in the book: “This is Jim Rockford…”.

Jim Rockford was referenced in ABC’s Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, under the question “Which of these television detective characters is an ex-convict?”

Magnum, P.I.

Magnum, P.I. was an American television show that followed the adventures of Thomas Magnum (played by Tom Selleck), a private investigator living in Hawaii. The show aired eight seasons on the CBS network from 1980 to 1988. Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV is a former U.S. Navy SEAL and Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) officer, who was awarded the Navy Cross and strongly prefers being called “private investigator” over “private eye” or “private detective.” He lives in the guest house of a posh beachfront estate (“Robin’s Nest”) on the island of Oahu, at the invitation of its owner, celebrity author of lurid novels Robin Masters (whose face is never actually seen), in exchange for his expertise in quality control of the estate’s security. Magnum is a graduate of the Naval Academy, where he played quarterback, and left the Navy in disillusionment after approximately ten years service.

Philip Marlowe

Philip Marlowe is a fictional private eye created by Raymond Chandler in a series of detective novels including The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye. Marlowe first appeared in The Big Sleep, published in 1939.

Philip Marlowe’s character is foremost within the genre of hardboiled crime fiction that originated in the 1920s, most notably in Black Mask magazine, in which Dashiell Hammett’s The Continental Op and Sam Spade first appeared. The private eye is a pessimistic and cynical observer of a corrupt society, yet the enduring appeal of Marlowe and other hardboiled detectives lies in their tarnished idealism.

Underneath the wisecracking, hard drinking, tough private eye, Marlowe is quietly contemplative and philosophical. He enjoys chess and poetry. While he is not afraid to risk physical harm, he does not dish out violence merely to settle scores. Morally upright, he is not bamboozled by the genre’s usual femme fatales, like Carmen Sternwood in The Big Sleep. As Chandler wrote about his detective ideal in general, “I think he might seduce a duchess, and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin.”

Sam Spade

Sam Spade is a hardboiled private detective and the leading character in Dashiell Hammett’s novel The Maltese Falcon (1930) first published as a serial in the pulp magazine Black Mask. He also appears in three short stories by Hammett.

Sam Spade is most closely associated with actor Humphrey Bogart, who played the character in the most famous film version of The Maltese Falcon. This was the third and most well known movie version of the book, made in 1941 and directed by John Huston in his directorial debut.

Spade was played by Ricardo Cortez in the 1931 version. In the 1936 film Satan Met a Lady, which was based on The Maltese Falcon, Warren William played the central character Ted Shane. Despite a number of perceived flaws and misteps – Bogart failed to dye his hair to the characteristic blonde called for by the novel, was considered to be too small and dark for the role, with the wrong facial structure, and was even slighted for not being enough of a lecher – he turned out not only to have succeeded, but in fact to have created the archetypal private detective, one which has influenced “film noir” characters ever since.

George Segal played Sam Spade, Jr., son of the original, in the 1974 spoof The Black Bird. The character was also parodied as Sam Diamond, played by Peter Falk, in the 1976 comedy Murder By Death.

In the radio productions, Sam Spade was played by Edward G. Robinson in a 1943 Lux Radio Theatre production, and by Bogart himself in a 1946 Academy Award Theatre production, both on CBS. A 1946–1951 radio show called the Adventures of Sam Spade (on ABC, CBS, and NBC), starred Howard Duff (and later, Steve Dunne), and took a considerably more tongue-in-cheek approach to the character.

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes is a fictional detective of the late 19th and early 20th century.  His first published appearance was in 1887. Holmes is famous for his prowess at using logic and astute observation to solve cases. He is perhaps the most famous fictional detective, and indeed one of the best known and universally recognisable literary characters.

Conan Doyle wrote four novels and fifty-six short-stories featuring his creation. The stories first appeared in magazine serialisation, notably in The Strand, over a period of forty years. The stories cover a period from around 1878 up to 1903, with a final case in 1914.

Simon Templar

Simon Templar is a fictional character in a long-running series of books by Leslie Charteris.

He sometimes uses the nom de guerre Sebastian Tombs.  Furthermore, he calls himself by sundry other names, all with the initials S.T.,. Such as Sullivan Titwillow and Sugarman Treacle – the Saint has a boyish sense of humour. He frequently leaves a “calling card” at the scenes of his “crimes,”. Moreover, consisting of a stick drawing of a man with a halo. Thus, is the logo of both the book series and the later 1960s TV series.

Templar started his career as a criminal and suggest that he had somewhere developed the skills of a burglar. However, that at the time of the books, all of his income derives from the pockets of the “ungodly”. There are several references to a “ten percent collection fee” as he extracts large sums of money from his victims. These unworthies include corrupt politicians, warmongers, and indeed all the nastier forms of low life. “He claims he’s a Robin Hood,” bleats one of his victims, “but to me he’s just a robbing hood.”

Inspector Jacques Clouseau

Inspector Jacques Clouseau is a bumbling fictional French detective in Blake Edwards’s Pink Panther series.In the most recent Pink Panther film, he was played by Steve Martin.

He is also the inspiration of the main character in a series of animated shorts. Another cartoon obviously some what inspired by Clouseau is Inspector Gadget.

In many countries, such as Greece, this character’s name has become synonymous with policemen. As a result, they keep making ludicrous assumptions and are utterly unable to crack even the easiest case.

Most Famous Private Investigators

In real life, there are two contrasting PI myths.  Usually that the work of a Private Investigator is exciting. But, at the opposite extreme, boring. The truth is somewhere right in the middle. That is, unless you work at Eye Spy.

However, nothing is as exciting as an investigator unraveling a case and uncovering the truth. Do you need help with an Investigation? If so, please call Eye Spy today 888-393-7799. While there are more notable private investigators in the United States and even around the world, they have all made their mark. Thus, all dream to follow in their footsteps. These stars have paved the way for today’s more modern private investigators. Call us today at (888) 393-7799 or  [email protected] for a FREE Consultation


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