Sunday, 29 January 2017

Godspeed Mike Connors

Mike Connors, best known for starring in the detective series Mannix, died on January 26 2017 at the age of 91. The cause was complications from leukaemia.

Mike Connors was born on August 15 1925 in Fresno, California. In high school he was part of the basketball team. During World War II he served in the United States Army Air Forces. Following the war he attended the University of California, Los Angeles on a basketball scholarship. There he planned to study law. After seeing Mike Connors on the basketball court, director William Wellman encouraged the young man to go into acting. He made his film debut in Sudden Fear in 1952 and appeared in the films The 49th Man (1953) and Sky Commando (1953) before appearing in William Wellman's film Island in the Sky (1953).  In the Fifties he also appeared in such films as Day of Triumph (1954), Five Guns West (1955),  Day the World Ended (1955), Swamp Women (1956), The Oklahoma Woman (1956), Flesh and the Spur (1956), The Ten Commandments (1956), Shake, Rattle & Rock! (1956), Suicide Battalion (1958), Live Fast, Die Young (1958), and The Dalton That Got Away (1960).

Mr. Connors starred in the short-lived TV series Tightrope!. Debuting on September 8 1959, it followed an undercover police officer named Nick. It was regarded as one of the more violent shows of the era. In the Fifties he also guest starred on such shows as The Ford Television Theatre, Mr. & Mrs. North, The Lineup, Schlitz Playhouse, The Millionaire, The Loretta Young Show, M Squad, Maverick, Have Gun--Will Travel, The Gale Storm Show, Wagon Train, Studio 57, Cheyenne, Lawman, Bronco, One Step Beyond, Mike Hammer, State Trooper, and Whirlybirds.

The Sixties saw Mike Connors begin a long run planning detective Joe Mannix on the TV show Mannix in 1967. In the first season Mannix worked for a high tech detective agency called Intertect. For the second season the show was revamped so that Joe Mannix was working on his own and it became a straight forward detective show. Mannix differed from many detective shows in that its hero often took a beating and was sometimes even shot. Despite the fact that most of its run was in the Seventies, a time when violence was nearly unknown on television (even in police and detective shows), Mannix remains notable for its violence. In the Sixties Mike Connors also guest starred on such shows as The Untouchables, Redigo, Perry Mason, and The Red Skelton Hour. He appeared in the films Panic Button (1964), Good Neighbour Sam (1964), Where Love Has Gone (1964), Harlow (1965), Situation Hopeless... But Not Serious (1965), Stagecoach (1966), and Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die (1966).

In the Seventies Mike Connors continued to star on Mannix. He even guest starred as Joe Mannix on an episode of Here's Lucy. He also guest starred on an episode of Police Story. He appeared in such TV movies as The Killer Who Wouldn't Die, High Midnight, and Casino. He appeared in the films Avalanche Express (1979) and Nightkill (1980).

In the Eighties he starred in the short-lived series Today's F.B.I. He appeared in the mini-series War and Remembrance. He guest starred on The Love Boat and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He appeared in the films Too Scared to Scream (1985) and Fist Fighter (1989).  In the Nineties he guest starred on The Commish; Burke's Law; Murder, She Wrote; Diagnosis Murder (as Joe Mannix); and Walker, Texas Ranger. He provided the voice of Chipacles in the animated series Hercules. He appeared in the films Ciudad Baja (Downtown Heat) (1994), James Dean: Live Fast, Die Young (1997), and Gideon (1998).

In the Naughts he reprised his role as Joe Mannix in the movie Nobody Knows Anything! (2003) and guest starred on the TV show Two and a Half Men.

Mike Connors seemed to have been born to play tough guys on television. Certainly Joe Mannix was among the toughest. The long time slogan for Timex watches could easily be applied to Mannix, "Takes a licking and keeps on ticking." While Mannix could survive an incredible amount of punishment, he was not a simple brute. Ultimately he was a good natured, regular guy with a willingness to help those in trouble.

While Mike Connors would play a number of tough guys on television (including Nick on Tightrope) and in films, he was quite capable of playing other roles. When Raymond Burr had infected teeth, Mr. Connors filled in for him as attorney Joe Kelly on Perry Mason. In fact, Mike Connors had been one of the actors to try out for the role of Perry Mason and was considered as a possible replacement if Mr. Burr chose not to return to the show.

Mike Connors also had a talent for comedy that is not often recognised. Beyond his memorable guest appearance on Here's Lucy, he also starred in the black comedy Situation Hopeless... But Not Serious (1965) and guest starred on TV comedies from Hey, Jeannie! to The Love Boat. And while Mike Connors generally played good guys, he could make for a very good villain. He played the gangster of the title in the episode "The Eddie O'Gara Story" of The Untouchables. In the Wagon Train episode "The Dora Gray Story" he played a corrupt and bitter United States Army lieutenant. Mike Connors made a very good tough guy and a very good hero on television shows and in films, but he could play many other roles as well.

1 comment:

Caftan Woman said...

Good Neighbor Sam is a longtime favourite of mine. Mike Connors was a good looking actor who proved he could handle comedy with the best of them. Why the movies didn't exploit that at that time is a mystery to me.