David Janssen life and biography

David Janssen picture, image, poster

David Janssen biography

Date of birth : 1930-03-27
Date of death : 1980-02-13
Birthplace : Naponee, Nebraska, U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Arts and Entertainment
Last modified : 2010-09-07
Credited as : Actor, roles in the movies Toy Tiger, To Hell and Back, Richard Diamond,Private Detective

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Janssen, David born March 27, 1930 - died February 13, 1980 an American actor, was born David Harold Meyer in Naponee, Nebraska. His father, Harold Meyer, was a banker, and his mother, Berneice Dalton, was a showgirl who appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies. When Janssen was an infant, his parents were divorced, and he toured with his mother in Ziegfeld's production of Rio Rita. They subsequently moved to Hollywood, where his mother married Eugene Janssen. David assumed his stepfather's surname.

While still in his teens, Janssen played small roles in several minor films, making his debut in It's a Pleasure (1945), a musical with Sonja Henie. Janssen attended Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, where he was a leading athlete. After leaving school, he continued his acting career. In 1951, at age twenty-one, he signed a long-term contract with Universal-International Studios, but he appeared in only two movies, Yankee Buccaneer (1952) and Bonzo Goes to College (1952), before being drafted into the army.

Resuming his acting career after discharge, Janssen had featured roles in a number of films where his good looks and raspy voice could be seen and heard to advantage. Among his movies in the 1950's were To Hell and Back (1955), Toy Tiger (1956) and The Girl He Left Behind (1956). In 1957 he won his first major television assignment in "Richard Diamond, Private Detective". In the role that Dick Powell had originated on radio, Janssen played a former policeman who becomes a private detective and uses his old contacts on the police force to help him solve crimes. The series had resourceful Diamond using his car phone to check in with his answering service, represented by a sexyvoiced woman known only as "Sam." "Sam," played by budding actress Mary Tyler Moore, was seen in silhouette; only her shapely legs were visible. During this time, Janssen also appeared in many other television plays.

By the early 1960's, no longer under contract to Universal-International, Janssen graduated to leading roles in such second-level movies as Ring of Fire (1961), King of the Roaring Twenties (1961), and My Six Loves (1963). He seemed fated, however, to remain on a lower rung of the ladder to stardom until he was signed to play the title role in the enormously successful television series "The Fugitive." Premiering on Sept. 17, 1963, the series cast Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble, a physician falsely accused of murdering his wife. Pursued by an implacable police lieutenant named Gerard (Barry Morse), Kimble spent each episode playing a significant role in the lives of people he met during his flight and narrowly escaping capture by Gerard. He also continued his relentless search for the elusive one-armed man he saw fleeing from his house on the night of his wife's murder. The final episode, aired on Aug. 29, 1967, drew one of the largest audiences in television history. Over a quarter-century later, in 1993, "The Fugitive" was turned into a well-received motion picture starring Harrison Ford as Dr. Kimble.

Although Janssen could now command larger parts, his popularity on television did not translate into full-fledged stardom in films. He continued to play substantial roles in such movies as The Green Berets (1968), The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968), and Marooned (1969). He also starred in two other television series that drew on his laconic, understated personality: in "O'Hara, United States Treasury" (1971-1972) he was an investigative agent for the government, and in "Harry O" (1974-1976), he played Harry Orwell, a world-weary former policeman, injured in the line of duty, who becomes a part-time private detective. Neither series achieved the enormous popularity of "The Fugitive." There were other television shows in the 1970's, most notably "A Sensitive, Passionate Man" (1977), in which the actor played a self-destructive alcoholic.

Janssen died of a massive heart attack in Malibu, Calif. At the time he was filming a television play about Father Damien, known as the Leper Priest. Two months after his death, a heated dispute over his will arose between his mother and his widow, Dani Greco, whom he had married in 1972. (An earlier marriage to Ellie Graham had ended in divorce in 1969, after ten years.) Janssen's mother claimed that her son's will, which left a reported $2 million to his widow, was either forged or signed under duress. Dani asserted that there had been strife between mother and son for many years, going back to her allegedly having left him in an orphanage from age eight to age twelve. Janssen's mother denied this claim.

Although he never achieved top-ranking stardom on the big screen, David Janssen displayed a low-key style and brooding, enigmatic personality that came across effectively on television.

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