David Janssen Poster


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Overview (5)

Born in Naponee, Nebraska, USA
Died in Malibu, California, USA  (heart attack)
Birth NameDavid Harold Meyer
Nicknames Davey
Height 6' (1.83 m)

Mini Bio (2)

David Janssen was born David Harold Meyer in 1931 in Naponee, Nebraska, to Berniece Mae (Graf) and Harold Edward Meyer, a banker. He was of German, and some Swiss-German and Scottish-Irish, descent. David took the surname of his stepfather, Eugene Janssen. The Janssen family settled in Hollywood when he was a teenager and he attended Fairfax High School, where he developed an interest in acting. His film debut was a bit part in It's a Pleasure (1945), and at the age of 18 signed a contract with 20th Century-Fox. However, the studio dropped him after allegedly becoming disenchanted with his odd hairline and big prominent ears. Janssen had better luck at Universal, where he signed on in the early 1950s and became a supporting player in 32 films before appearing on TV as the star of Richard Diamond, Private Detective (1957). He resumed his movie career in 1961, a year after the series ended. His biggest success came from his lead in the series The Fugitive (1963), playing the haunted, hunted Dr. Richard Kimble, on the run for a murder he didn't commit. After the series ended, Janssen launched himself into a grueling schedule by appearing in lead and supporting roles in movies, but he had better luck with made-for-TV-movie roles and a short-lived series, O'Hara, U.S. Treasury (1971). He had another hit series with the cult favorite Harry O (1973). Janssen continued appearing in lead roles in nearly 20 made-for-TV-movies during the 1970s as well as other TV projects. He died in 1980 from a sudden heart attack at his Malibu home at the age of 48. Unfounded speculation holds that Janssen succumbed to alcoholism, a problem that plagued him most of his adult life. There were even unfounded rumors about drug use. However, a much more reasonable explanation for David Janssen's sudden demise is that this intense, dedicated, determined actor simply worked himself to death.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: matt-282

David Janssen reached the pinnacle of show biz stardom in the late 1960s on the strength of his remarkable, layered portrayal of the heroic, wrongfully convicted Dr. Richard Kimble, a man who had been cast aside by society yet retained his humanity and remained filled with integrity and compassion for others. Nebraska-born David Janssen was the son of a former Miss Nebraska who had toured as a Ziegfeld Follies showgirl. It was his stage mother who pushed him towards show business as a child and he appeared in bit parts in movies, TV variety shows, radio shows, and stage plays. In his early twenties, he was a contract player during the last years of the studio system, gaining valuable experience in everything from acting and dancing to horseback riding and boxing. He first came to the public's attention with the starring role in Richard Diamond, Private Detective (1957), a role which garnered positive reviews and recognition. But it was with his career-defining role as The Fugitive (1963) that he gained world-wide fame. Always in demand after that, he appeared in feature films and on TV throughout the 1960s and 70s. The hold that he had on the television-viewing public didn't wane right up until this untimely death at age 48.

David Harold Meyer was born on March 27, 1931 in Naponee, Nebraska, the son of Berniece and Harold Meyer. After his parents' marriage ended, mom and son moved to Los Angeles, California in 1938. Berniece married Eugene Janssen and David later took his stepfather's last name. As a teen, what David really wanted was an athletic career. At Fairfax High, he was a talented basketball and track athlete who won a scholarship to UCLA. However, an injury from pole vaulting led to the loss of the scholarship and a disappointed David decided not to pursue college. In 2001, former publicist Frank Liberman would recall that though David didn't study beyond high school, "He was one of the brightest men I've ever known. Very articulate."

At age 20, after a stint of summer stock in Maine, David landed a contract at Universal-International in the Talent Program. This apprenticeship was interrupted after less than a year when the Army called him up. Stationed for two years at the Fort Ord base in northern California, Corporal Janssen was discharged at age 23 and was able finally to concentrate on Hollywood.

By 1954, David was making a favorable impression at Universal and he was placed in minor roles in such popular films as To Hell and Back (1955), All That Heaven Allows (1955), and The Private War of Major Benson (1955). Cult of the Cobra (1955), a cheesy horror movie that featured an amazing cast of future TV stars, allowed David to stretch his acting chops a bit more than usual, up to that point in his career. Later, his acting in Showdown at Abilene (1956) so impressed the director that he quietly diffused David's energy by having him lean against a wall in most scenes so as not to upstage the lead actor in the movie.

After his contract ended at Universal, David moved on to other studio pictures, notably supporting roles in two features at Warner Brothers: The Girl He Left Behind (1956) with friend Natalie Wood and Lafayette Escadrille (1958), William A. Wellman's passion project about World War I American pilots. Ironically, the first was filmed at Fort Ord and some of the real soldiers on base recognized David but didn't know he was there to film a movie and were confused to see him in a captain's uniform.

David's first big break came when Dick Powell selected him for the title role of Richard Diamond, Private Detective (1957). The TV series ran from 1957 to 1960 and established David as an actor who could carry his own weight as the lead on a successful TV series. Notably, David's voice-over narration is used to great effect and he would, over the course of his career, narrate other projects. While doing his own show, he had time to appear in a diverse range of projects, from guest starring on other TV series to stage work.

In 1959, David, who didn't have the clout then that he would later enjoy, missed out on a supporting role in BUtterfield 8 (1960) when Elizabeth Taylor prevailed upon the producers to cast husband Eddie Fisher instead. David rebounded with Hell to Eternity (1960), for which he garnered great reviews and was nominated for a Golden Globe as "Most Promising Newcomer." 1961 was an especially busy year for David, who played the lead in five feature films. Among the films released that year were Ring of Fire (1961), King of the Roaring 20's: The Story of Arnold Rothstein (1961), Twenty Plus Two (1961), and Man-Trap (1961). He also found work in television.

It was 1963 when the tide turned and life would never again be the same. David took the role of Dr. Richard Kimble in The Fugitive (1963) and four very successful years followed. David Janssen completely inhabited the character Richard Kimble and this show remains today a favorite among classic TV fans and critics alike, who refer to it with respect and awe.

After the grueling schedule of 120 one-hour dramas as the sole lead actor over the course of four years, David sought work in feature films and was cast between 1967 and 1970 in The Green Berets (1968), The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968), Where It's At (1969), Marooned (1969), Generation (1969) and Macho Callahan (1970).

Though David's career in film never really took off, he remained a fixture on TV in the 1970s. In 1974, David embarked on another career-defining role. David Janssen personified Harry O (1973) in much the same way that he did The Fugitive (1963) a decade earlier, though with a totally different character. It is this portrayal that is often cited when one talks about the depth of David Janssen's performances. Again, what happened in these shows is less impactful than how it happened.

Feature films during this decade included the trashy Once Is Not Enough (1975), with columnist Joyce Haber noting "Janssen is stratospheres above anyone else in the movie. When he is on, he owns the screen". He also appeared in the suspenseful Two-Minute Warning (1976) opposite Gena Rowlands as his love interest. On TV, he could be seen in such well-received projects as Birds of Prey (1973), A Sensitive, Passionate Man (1977), Nowhere to Run (1978) and the majestic miniseries Centennial (1978).

David Janssen suffered a fatal heart attack in the pre-dawn hours of February 13, 1980 at his home in Malibu, California. His last TV movie City in Fear (1980) was broadcast a month after his death.

David was exceptionally well-liked and admired by his fellow actors and production crews. Co-stars Anthony Zerbe, Deborah Raffin and Jean Seberg thought he was wonderful to work with. Many years after his death, his name would crop up in interviews with people like Nancy Malone, Robert Vaughn, Jerry Orbach, Lee Grant, Cliff Robertson, Kim Darby, Shirley Knight and Marion Ross. He had a reputation for working hard and he treated people well.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: MissClassicTV

Spouse (2)

Dani Crayne (4 October 1975 - 13 February 1980) (his death)
Ellie Graham (23 August 1958 - 25 August 1970) (divorced)

Trade Mark (2)

Quiet, low-key acting style
Deep, whiskey-tinged voice

Trivia (39)

Born at 10:00am-CST.
His mother and both of his sisters appeared as extras in The Fugitive (1963).
He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, only about a block away from the Chinese Theater. When it was placed there, it was in front of David's favorite ice cream shops as a child. The star dedication was on his mother's birthday in 1989.
Twisted his right knee in 1948 while pole vaulting for reporters from the Hollywood Citizen News.
Older half-brother of Teri Janssen and Jill Janssen.
His last role was in the film Inchon (1981). Even though he died before the movie was completed, his part was not deleted (this was a widespread rumor).
Mother, Berniece Janssen.
As a contract player at Universal-International in the 1950s, he attended Universal's acting classes with a fellow Universal contractee, Clint Eastwood. The two became acquaintances, and Eastwood very briefly dated Janssen's widow, Dani Crayne.
Best remembered by the public for his starring role as Dr. Richard Kimble on The Fugitive (1963).
Was close friends with Stuart Whitman.
A close friend of Richard Harris, who was so upset by Janssen's death that he sat outside a cathedral in New York for hours in the snow upon hearing the news.
Made 21 TV movies, which includes two mini-series.
Worked frequently for Dick Powell on TV.
Called his highly successful TV series "The Fuge.".
He was a top track star at school.
Deborah Raffin on David Janssen: I was frightened by his rough, tough image. He's totally different, sensitive, considerate, a true gentleman. (The Indianapolis Star, July 26, 1975, p. 14).
Angie Dickinson on David Janssen: He was a great gentleman, a great date, and a great love. [Vanity Fair, December 31, 2007].
He did a lot of his own flying in Birds of Prey (1973) (Flying Magazine, June 1988, p.30).
Pallbearers at his funeral on February 17, 1980 included Rod Stewart, Gregory Peck, Gene Kelly, Richard Harris, Milton Berle, Linda Evans's husband Stan Herman, and Suzanne Pleshette's husband Tom Gallagher.
Excelled at basketball in high school.
Frank Liberman, a veteran Hollywood publicist who had many famous clients, represented David Janssen for 16 years and has cited Janssen as one of his favorite clients: "He was wonderful. He was one of the brightest men I've ever known. Very articulate".
Contributed a turkey pot pie recipe to Diana Millay's cookbook "I'd Rather Eat Than Act." Diana Millay was his co-star in Target: The Corruptors: The Middle Man (1962).
David was the son of Berniece Mae (Graf) and Harold Edward Meyer. He took on the surname of his stepfather, Eugene Janssen. His paternal grandparents were William Meyer and Myra Angela Wert. His maternal grandparents were Werner Daniel Graf and Verna Eliza Waggoner. His ancestry was German, and some Swiss-German and Scottish-Irish.
He was against the Vietnam War, although his involvement in The Green Berets (1968) caused many to think he supported US involvement in the conflict.
Was a voracious reader. He'd buy two copies of whatever book he wanted to read, one for his home in L.A. and one for his home in Palm Springs.
18-year old David held a 3-year-old Cher, when her mother, Georgia Holt, couldn't get a babysitter while filming a watch commercial.
Advised Farrah Fawcett to turn down Charlie's Angels (1976).
Linda Evans, his costar in Harry O: Guardian at the Gates (1974), and Jean Seberg, his costar in Macho Callahan (1970), both have said that David Janssen was their moms' favorite actor.
Linda Evans on David Janssen: I never met anyone who didn't adore David. To this day I still miss that guy; he was one of a kind. (from Evans' 2011 memoir "Recipes for Life").
Was also a songwriter.
On ice skates, David Janssen hosted "Highlights of the Ice Capades" (NBC-TV, Nov. 4, 1970).
Patrick Macnee on David Janssen: The best television actor by far of anybody was David Janssen.
Quinn Martin's eulogy for David Janssen on February 17, 1980: He was a true professional, a superstar.
Younger half-brothers: Larry and Lee Meyer (twins born in 1942).
Close friend of Jerry Orbach, whom he met doing a stage play in Dayton, Ohio, during the summer of 1959. Janssen had the lead in Mister Roberts and Orbach appeared as the character Mannion.
He smoked four packs of cigarettes a day.
His autopsy found physical signs of, and damage from, smoking in his mouth and lungs. His liver was fatty with alcoholic systems but he did not have cirrhosis. He had major blockage in three heart arteries, probably brought on by years of excessive smoking.
He was half-Jewish and half-Irish by descent.
Was in a relationship with Sandra Giles in 1956.

Personal Quotes (9)

TV is my sleeping pill.
[on his divorce from his first wife Ellie]: After 11 years of marriage I dived into what I considered a newfound freedom. I was working hard and playing hard. Flying my own plane to parties all over the country and down to Mexico, having what I thought was a great time. I participated in life on what might be considered the grand scale, before I decided I had one hangover too many, one party too many, one charted plane and 14 servants too many. Too many cars that I never got around to drive.
[on why he takes so many acting roles]: I have always considered myself basically unemployed. I'm from Nebraska and I feel guilty when I'm not working.
[on Jack Webb, the producer of O'Hara, U.S. Treasury (1971)] Jack Webb marches to a drummer that is not my drummer.
Good living I've learned, not inherited.
[on high school athletics] I broke a cartilage in my left knee cap while pole vaulting. Calcium formed in my knee, and it is still very painful at times. As for being against athletics in high school - on the contrary, I'm all for it! We don't want to produce a generation of eggheads, do we?
[on Fred Silverman, ABC's programming chief, who canceled Harry O (1973) after two seasons] Silverman wanted more sex and violence in the show. I wanted more humor - more relationship between myself and Anthony Zerbe.
[on the violence depicted in Two-Minute Warning (1976)] We live in a violent world. Unfortunately. I don't care for it. But it's the only world I got to live in. So if motion picture producers and people are depicting what's happening in the world today, which is what we all want to see even though we don't admit it, then you have to have violence as part of our everyday life. If it changes, and if we can make it change, that's something else. In the meantime, this is entertainment as it is today.
You have no idea how much work goes into an hour show. It's three times harder than doing a half-hour show and that's not faulty arithmetic.

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