David Janssen

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David Janssen (March 27, 1931 – February 13, 1980) was an American film and television actor who is best known for his starring role as Dr. Richard Kimble in the television series ‘The Fugitive’ (1963–1967). He also had starring roles in the 1950s hit detective series ‘Richard Diamond, Private Detective’ (1957–60), and as Harry Orwell in Harry O during the mid 70’s. In 1996 TV Guide ranked him number 36 on its 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time list yet many visitors to my site will have absolutely no idea who he is. As one gets older, the fickleness of fame becomes more apparent for when I was a child here was a man who, for a number of years, was possibly the most watched actor on television.

I have recently reacquainted myself with_ “The Fugitive”_ Tv series since I was too young to catch the original transmissions and when I saw several repeats in the late 60’s I was not afforded the opportunity to finally apprehend the one armed man. However in writing these commentaries, my raison d’etre is the human condition and many of the episodes have much to say about people and the motivations for their behaviour.

The series was remade as an early 90’s movie blockbuster starring Harrison Ford with an enterprising storyline involving a drug called provasic and the murder of Dr kimble’s wife, the direct result of a premeditated break-in to remove any incriminating evidence and to silence the leading character permanently. He is not at home at the time having been called into the hospital where he works to handle an emergency case. His wife returns home alone from the professional function they have jointly attended that evening only to be met by a killer with a prosthetic arm. The plotline moves briskly along ably assisted by Tommy Lee Jones as Lieutenant Gerrard but the constraints of a two hour movie restrict the exploration of any moral dilemma between the protagonists, the predominant aspect of the original Tv series which makes it to this day, compelling viewing. For sure, viewed with hindsight the series has its flaws; the police singularly fail to issue a revised mugshot with the doctor’s hair dyed jet black and viewed in rapid succession the reappearance of several actors in differing roles is somewhat disconcerting.

“The Fugitive” was produced by QM productions, the brainchild of Quinn Martin (May 22, 1922 – September 5, 1987) who was one of the most successful American television producers. He had at least one television series running in prime time for 21 straight years (from 1959 to 1980), an industry record. The narrator on the series was the actor William Conrad who later went onto star in “Cannon” , another highly successful QM production in the early 70’s.

The series analyses the effect on Gerrard’s marriage of his near obsessive desire to recapture Kimble even though he harbors doubts himself about the jury’s verdict; “the law says he’s guilty and my role is to uphold the law.” His wife has a breakdown in the episode “Landscape with running figures” and ends up alone and dependent upon the good doctor after she is temporarily blinded in a coach accident. In “Nemesis” Kimble is reluctantly thrown together with Gerrard’s son (played by a young Kurt Russell) yet at no time throughout the proceedings is the father concerned about his son’s welfare. Gerrard is a man who feels responsible for Kimble’s stay of execution from death row even though he cannot be held responsible for the train crash yet at no time throughout the four years does he put in a request to be taken off the case despite the mounting evidence of Kimble’s true personality. In his own way he rationalises the murder as an act of passion, that momentary point in time when a normal peace loving, law abiding citizen is tragically separated from “reason”. The one armed man lives solely in Kimble’s mind and Gerrard’s exhaustive yet futile hunt for the alleged killer at the time of the trial is enough to convince him that the authorities “have their man”. Barry Morse, who portrayed Gerrard, only appeared in roughly a third of the episodes and yet his shadow stalks Kimble in every storyline like a silent doppleganger. Once the series was into its second season and well established in overseas markets, Morse was on holiday in London with his family and recalled many years later being passed a message by a waiter whilst dining out with the simple inscription “Kimble’s in the kitchen!”

Filming “The Fugitive” took a terrible toll on David Janssen’s health; a punishing schedule for any actor, his workload was compounded by an appearance in nearly every scene. Despite many reports to the contrary , I don’t personally see any physical deterioration in his appearance in the last series (season four 1966-67) yet there is no denying that by the time he appeared as “Harry O” in the mid 70’s he appeared to have aged twenty years.

Recommended listening

The Fugitive – Original Television Series Soundtrack Music by Peter Rugolo

Collecting film soundtrack music en masse is for celluloid devotees only, whilst more discerning collectors look for main titles and selective cues that work independently from the visuals.

This collection, featuring 24 tracks from the series composed by Pete Rugelo is incomplete, lacking as it does, all the supplementary library cues used in the programme. Nevertheless, the recordings, evidently transferred from original (possibly first-generation) master tapes enables us to revisit the wonderfully varied arrangements of the main theme and in particular the rumbling bass and pizzicato strings underscoring the main melody line. Yes it’s mono but high quality mono nonetheless!

Recommended viewing

The Fugitive (1963-67 [QM Productions])

“The Fugitive” has been issued on DVD to a degree of chagrin on the part of devotees. Apart from Pete Rugelo’s main themes many of the remastered episodes suffer from low-fi computerised music cues and not the original scores hijacked from other popular series such as “ TWILIGHT ZONE”, “THE OUTER LIMITS” and “STONEY BURKE”. CBS, operating within the constraints of copyright ownership, ceded to public pressure and hastily re-issued season 2 with many restored original cues. Owners with proof of purchase, were suitably appeased with officially sanctioned replacement sets. I love these stories – where nostalgia is concerned, don’t mess with “the anoraks”!!

An interim technical solution to the mess surfaced on the Internet underground. An anonymous group calling themselves F.A.R.T. (standing for the Fugitive Audio Restoration Team – did anyone check this?) took the enviable video restorations of the official DVD release and married them with unmolested audio tracks from previous VHS releases when available or failing that, off-air copies. They had to deal with some complex time compression issues and in the case of one episode, missing footage. They were even respectful enough to restore the end credit card that gave Peter Rugolo his well-deserved sole music credit. The result was made available for download on shady bit torrent sites.

Selected episodes

These episodes highlighted moral dilemmas and the all important question of putting one’s own interests and beliefs before that of any one else; in the case of the central character it was often slavish adherence to the hippocratic oath ahead of one’s own survival.

Nightmare at Northoak (26/11/63)
Man in a chariot (15/9/64)

Superb supporting role from Ed Begley as Professor Lazar. Begley was amongst the jury in the Henry Fonda film “Twelve Angry Men” and in this episode delivers a summation in Kimble’s mock retrial which goes to the very heart of our human sensibilities.

Nemesis (13/10/64)

Kimble returns to rescue Gerrard’s son when he walks into an animal trap and then implores the boy to give him one chance by not revealing his getaway route. Naturally the child, under subtle emotional pressure from his father, betrays but with poetic justice, the good doctor makes strong ground before hitching a ride to safety. The child procrastinates in the face of his father’s cajoling and Kimble correctly anticipates this to be his best leverage from the situation for ultimately pointing out the correct route is testimony to a loving father – son relationship and a minor understandably proud of his father’s chosen profession. Kimble bears the boy no grudges mailing him some sports cards at the end of the episode.

Cry Uncle (1/12/64)
Brass ring (5/1/65)

Angie Dickinson is the femme fatale whose conscience gets the better of her in the last reel.

Nicest fella you’d ever want to meet (19/1/65)
Corner of hell (9/2/65)
The survivors (2/3/65)

Kimble goes to the aid of his financially beleagured father in law and encounters his dead wife’s younger sister still “in love” with his heroic image as an innocent man on the run. Boxed in with a police cordon surrounding the family home, the good doctor must deal with the polarised emotions he encounters and in particular a mother in law who believes in his guilt and cannot emotionally move on from her daughter’s death. For pre CGI days, there is a superb choreographed chase scene as Kimble dives into the back of a passing truck to avoid the clutches of a police officer hot in pursuit.

Wings of an angel (14/9/65)
Middle of a heatwave (21/9/65)

It’s difficult to understand the popularity of this series amongst woman since, with notable exceptions, they are portrayed in such unfavourable terms. In this episode Kimble breaks up with a woman he has been seeing for a fortnight because its time to move on and at this stage she cannot interpret his unforthcoming manner as anything but an emotional brush off. Having confirmed to her in a parking lot that she does mean something to him but that he must move on he is the recipient of a physical assault when she rakes his cheek with her nails. As the story unfolds, the doctor must deal with the discovery of the woman the following day, beaten and raped by a roadside. Her paranoid and suspicious sister convinces the police to hold Kimble on suspicion. All is revealed at the end and the guilty party helps the fugitive to escape. None of this is particularly fascinating but the woman most certainly is. When she is discovered during the police hunt and Kimble calls out her name as she comes around, she recoils in horror at his face and in full view of the police officer. Matters get worse. As our hero’s various alibis begin to crumble he is held behind bars pending verification of his fingerprint records. Gerrard and the electric chair beckons. In desparation Kimble makes a plausible case for a face to face meeting with the woman since she will clearly exhonerate him. Unfortunately she has already admitted to her sister that after the parking lot contratemp she had had thoughts only of “getting even” with him. She wanted him to feel the same kind of pain that she felt so confesses that she simply picked up the next available man without even being sure what exactly she was going to do. “That’s all of it” her sister enquires during the drive. “That’s all I can remember” comes the reply. She is clearly lying.

The showdown with the woman occurs but with the police outside the room, the sister insists on being present. She comes to appreciate why the man she was falling for had to move on and that kimble cannot afford to wait until the end of the weekend for his other alibi to return. “I knew I couldn’t be that wrong (about you)” she replies but insists that she cannot remember anything and anyway, if he’s not arrested in this town he will be in the next. The look of his reaction to this statement is “appalled bewilderment”. As it transpires the woman was raped by her brother in law and both her sister’s feelings and her reputation amongst the townsfolk are at stake. Kimble’s arrest and subsequent execution will neatly resolve all issues. The sister hides Kimble but under pressure from the police, betrays his whereabouts albeit too late as her husband has already helped him to escape.

In the final scene the raped woman admits to the police that she led her brother in law on, “you might even say I drove him on and then all of a sudden I decided the game time was over and that I wanted to go home. It was too late. I’ll say that in court Frank”.

Truly a disturbing insight into the female psyche.

All the scared rabbits (26/10/65)
An apple a day (2/11/65)

Kimble’s dedication to his former professional life comes to the fore as he simultaneously resists the advances of an extremely dangerous woman. Running from the police, he hides out at a farm owned by a local country doctor Josephus Adams, who treats his patients with honey and a reassuring word. After one elderly woman under Adam’s care dies from a protracted bronchial infection, an angry Kimble intervenes and tries to help the patients. In the meantime, Adam’s wife, Marianne, stumbles upon Kimble’s identity and tries to use that to her own advantage. When Adam’s teenage niece, Sharon, falls into a coma after having an allergic reaction to a bee sting, Kimble risks his freedom to take her away from Adams to a hospital for treatment.

The episode highlights the limitations of alternative medicine although Josephus’s wife is able to see only the financial rewards of it within a small unquestioning rural community. Having met her future husband (more than twenty years her senior) whilst working in a hospital, she observes his effect on trusting folk and resents Kimble’s interference. Mindful of the potential professional ruination facing her husband if his alternative modus operandi is proven incorrect, she calls the police to have Kimble arrested on route to the hospital with Sharon. Before all this unfolds of course, she is happy to “make a play” for the much younger man. Relaxing on the sofa after her husband has retired for the evening Marianne asks Kimble “How long are you going to be afraid of me?” With the beneficial detachment that only evading recapture can bring, Kimble replies “Where did you meet your husband”. She smiles and half chuckles “You want to change the subject – alright”. Having satisfied his curiosity she stretches back out on the sofa whilst gently carressing his arm. “But right now, let’s just pretend there is no Josephus”. The unfolding events of the storyline prevent this compromising situation continuing, and when Marianne’s overtures are not reciprocated, she unhesitatingly phones the police later on to have Kimble arrested. I wonder what it is about dangerous women, that somewhere along the line when things get too hot to handle, the Police are always involved?

At the end of the story Josephus admits to Kimble at the bus stop that he will not continue practising although he has quite a bit of money and that “maybe I can figure out a way to save a life or two with it.” What will you do?” asks Kimble. “I don’t know – Marianne will be gone. I can raise bees I suppose”. There you have it – a union supported by an agenda and once the edifice of local prestige and financial reward has been removed, the marriage will end and the old man knows it. Millions of relationships are run according to these rules, but I can’t live with a woman like that and I’d much rather be on my own.

Landscape with running figures – parts 1 & 2 (16 & 23/11/65)
When the wind blows (28/12/65)
Ill wind (8/3/66)
Death is the door prize (20/9/66)
Joshua’s Kingdom (18/10/66)
Approach with care (15/11/66)
The evil men do (27/12/66)

In terms of pure entertainment there were many other episodes that worked extremely well such as

Fear in the city (17/9/63)

The opening episode featuring the always compelling Brian Keith as the abusive husband of the lovely Vera Miles, driven to irrational pangs of jealousy and thoughts of murder. I first saw Ms Miles in Hitcock’s “The Wrong Man” and then as Janet Leigh’s sister in “Psycho”. She was lovely to behold with a sympathetic screen personality that brought men’s natural protectiveness to the fore.

Escape into black (17/11/64)
Trial by fire (10/10/65)
Wife Killer (11/1/66)
Wine is a traitor (1/11/66)
The Judgement (parts 1 & 2) (22 & 29/8/67)

A sensitive, passionate man (1977)

Co-starring with Angie Dickinson, who had previously worked with the actor in an episode of “The Fugitive” entitled “Brass Ring,” Janssen delivers his finest performance as an alcoholic, wringing forth from the script every nuance of an addiction that was grossly overlooked as an chronic illness for many years. He was 45 at the time of filming but his work/life balance and his own battles with the bottle made him look years older. There’s no hope for the married couple when, following a short interlude on the wagon, Janssen’s character starts seeing merits in cooking wine.

Recommended reading

David Janssen – My Fugitive (Ellie Janssen)

This is the only authorized Biography of the DAVID JANSSEN co-authored by Ellie Janssen, David’s wife (1958-1972), and Michael Phelps.

They say that behind every successful man is a great woman and Janssen’s first wife was undoubtedly an astute strategist helping the actor to land his first major television role in “Richard Diamond-Private detective” whilst orchestrating all his subsequent career choices in addition to planning and executing the most flawless and memorable parties in their Holmby Hills home for Hollywood’s “A” List. Reportedly she never involved herself in another relationship after the longest running divorce case in Los Angeles Court history. She may well have loved him but independent wealth eases the need for women of a certain age to “nail down” their financial security with another partner.Perhaps she was too busy counting the money for as part of their divorce agreement, Ellie received a ten percent ownership of “THE FUGITIVE” series (half of David’s twenty percent.) Ironically, it was Ellie who demanded David receive an ownership in “THE FUGITIVE” series at the outset, before the series became a huge hit. This provided her with a comfortable income for the rest of her life.

The Fugitive Recaptured: The 30th Anniversary Companion to a Television Classic [Paperback] (Ed Robertson)

The much vaunted encyclopedia on one of the most successful series of all time. It’s hard to imagine why anyone would want a complete listing of every alias used by the lead character but there’s enough additional arcane facts, photos and interviews to keep the trivia buff well satisfied. I don’t own it but I’ve read extracts, and when it turns up second hand somewhere I’ll be first in line.

The Official Fan’s Guide to the Fugitive [Paperback] (Mel Proctor)

An even larger volume laced with cast interviews and location secrets. Don’t bring both volumes home if you want to keep your marriage intact. Sneak the second one in!