Mike Connors, Star of 'Mannix,' Dies at 91
The Hollywood Reporter
By Mike Barnes
'Mannix,' the last series from Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s Desilu Productions, aired for eight seasons from September 1967 until April 1975.
Mike Connors, who took a punch as well as anyone while playing the good-guy private detective on the long-running Saturday night action series Mannix for CBS, has died. He was 91.
A former basketball player for legendary coach John Wooden at UCLA, Connors died on Thursday, The Hollywood Reporter confirmed, but no other details were readily available.
Mannix, the last series from Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s famed TV company Desilu Productions, aired for eight seasons from September 1967 until April 1975. Created by Richard Levinson and William Link and developed by executive producer Bruce Geller, the hit series featured a memorable score from jazz great Lalo Schifrin and starred Connors as a noble Korean War veteran who leaves a large Los Angeles detective agency to strike out on his own.
Mannix drove several hot automobiles during the series’ run (some souped up by George Barris), including a 1969 Dodge Dart, a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda convertible and a 1974 Dodge Challenger. He was often seen bailing out of these cars when the brakes were tampered with — that is, when he wasn’t getting beaten up or shot at by the bad guys. (By one count, Mannix was shot 17 times and knocked unconscious 55 other times on the show.) His athleticism and striking dark looks were perfect for the role.
Though Mannix was criticized for being excessively violent when it aired, Connors said in a 1997 interview with the Los Angeles Times that the series was tame by modern-day standards.
“We did have car chases and fights,” he recalled, “but when you compare them to shows that are on now, we were very, very low-keyed.”
For all the physical abuse, Connors became one of the highest-paid stars on television, earning $40,000 an episode at the height of the show’s ratings run. (He sued CBS and Paramount in May 2011, claiming he was never paid royalties on the show despite being owed millions of dollars.)
Connors received four Emmy nominations from 1970-73 and six Golden Globe mentions from 1970-75 but won just once, picking up a trophy from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in 1970. The only Emmy the show ever received was given that year to Gail Fisher, who played Mannix’s prim and steady secretary Peggy. Fisher was one of the first African-American actresses to have a regular series role on TV.
The Armenian-American actor was widely recognizable for three other series: Tightrope (1959-60), in which he starred as an undercover agent infiltrating organized crime; Today’s FBI (1981-82), in which he played an FBI supervisor; and the syndicated series Crimes of the Century (1989), which he hosted. He played Robert Mitchum’s war-time comrade in the 1988-89 miniseries War and Remembrance.
Born Krekor Ohanian in Fresno, Calif., on Aug. 15, 1925, Connors served in the Army Air Force during World War II, then came to Westwood on a basketball scholarship. While aiming toward law school, he developed a passion for acting and appeared in several plays. He was encouraged by Oscar-winning writer-director William Wellman (A Star Is Born), who spotted him while playing for the Bruins.
Connors got his professional start in 1952 in an RKO release, Sudden Fear, as Touch Connors (Touch had been his nickname at UCLA). He continued in small roles for a number of years, with turns in Island in the Sky (1953), starring John Wayne, and as a herder in The Ten Commandments (1956) with Charlton Heston.
He made his TV debut in 1954 with a role on Ford Theatre and continued with numerous small roles while gaining recognition as a heavy on such Westerns as Gunsmoke, Maverick, Wagon Train and Cimarron City.
He changed his name to Mike Connors in 1958 and appeared in such movies as Live Fast, Die Young (1958) and Situation Hopeless … But Not Serious (1965), which starred Alec Guinness. He landed one of his best early movie roles in the 1966 remake of Stagecoach, playing the cardsharp.
Throughout his career, which spanned nearly 50 years, Connors made numerous guest-star appearances on such shows as The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp; The Millionaire; The Untouchables; The Fall Guy; The Love Boat; Walker, Texas Ranger; Murder, She Wrote; Burke’s Law; The Commish; Diagnosis Murder (as Joe Mannix); and, in 2007, Two and a Half Men.
He voiced the character Chipacles in Disney’s animated series Hercules.
Other film credits included Sudden Fear (1952) opposite Joan Crawford; Too Scared to Scream (1985), which he also produced; Avalanche Express (1979); James Dean: Race With Destiny (1997), as studio head Jack Warner; and Gideon (1999).
Connors was active in charitable organizations, including Operation Missing Persons, an educational program to promote awareness of the neurological disorder dystonia. He also served as a spokesperson for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.
Connors and his wife Mary Lou celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2005.
CONNORS, Mike (Krekor Ohanian)
Born: 8/15/1925, Fresno, California, U.S.A.
Died: 1/26/2017, Tarzana, California, U.S.A.
Mike Connors’ westerns – actor:
Five Guns West – 1955 (Hale Clinton)
The Twinkle in God’s Eye – 1955 (Lou)
Frontier (TV) – 1955 (Tomas)
The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp (TV) – 1955 (Mel Dunlap/Lou Rinaldi)
Flesh and the Spur – 1956 (Stacy Daggett)
The Oklahoma Woman – 1956 (Tom Blake)
The Adventures of Jim Bowie (TV) – 1956 (Rafe Bradford)
Gunsmoke (TV) – 1956 (Bostick)
Have Gun – Will Travel (TV) – 1957 (Johnny Dart)
Maverick (TV) – 1957 (Sheriff Barney Filmore/Ralph Jordan)
The Sheriff of Cochise (TV) – 1957 (Jess Stiles)
Cheyenne (TV) – 1958 (Roy Simmons)
Cimarron City (TV) – 1958 (Bill Thatcher)
Jefferson Drum (TV) – 1958 (Simon Pitt)
Lawman (TV) – 1958 (Hal Daniels)
The Texan (TV) – 1958 (Larry Enright)
Wagon Train (TV) – 1958 (Lt. Miles Borden)
The Californians (TV) – 1959 (Charles Cora)
Bronco (TV) – 1959 (Hud Elliott)
The Rough Riders (TV) – 1959 (Randall Garrett)
The Dalton That Got Away – 1960 (Russ Dalton)
Redigo – 1963 (Jack Marston)
Stagecoach – 1966 (Hatfield)
Walker, Texas Ranger (TV) – 1998 (Judge Arthur McSpadden)