by Herbie J Pilato
There’s an episode of Seinfeld (NBC, 1989-1998) called “The Limo” (2-26-92) in which Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld) and his neurotic friend George (Jason Alexander) are in a moving limousine attempting to escape from neo-Nazis. George suggests that he and Jerry leap from the moving vehicle and roll out onto the ground.
To which Jerry replies, “Who are you – Mannix?!”
That reference remains a true testimonial to the immortal popularity of the classic TV detective series of the same name starring Mike Connors, which originally ran on CBS from 1966 to 1975.
Connors, who died of leukemia on January 27, 2017 (only one week after he was diagnosed), played private-detective Joe Mannix on what became one of the longest-running police crime dramas in TV history, and stood-out because it was the first to feature an Armenian male lead.
Along with NBC’s Star Trek (with Nichelle Nichols as communications officer Lt. Uhura) and that same network’s Julia sitcom (starring Diahann Carrol as a nurse), Mannix was also one of the first shows to feature an African-American actress on a weekly basis; as Gail Fisher played Joe’s trusted and loyal secretary and friend Peggy Fair (a role for which Nichols had auditioned).
Additionally, Mannix and Trek happened to be owned and operated by Lucille Ball’s Desilu Productions, which also supervised her Here’s Lucy CBS comedy (from 1968-1974), on which Connors made a guest-appearance as Joe Mannix.
Connors would reprise his most famous role twice more: in 1997 for an episode of CBS’ Diagnosis: Murder (starring his good friend Dick Van Dyke) and in the 2004 feature film comedy Nobody Knows Anything.
As detailed on IMDB.com, Connors was born Krekor Ohanian, of Armenian descent, on August 15, 1925, in Fresno, California. Tall, athletic, and handsome, he played basketball in college, during which time he was nicknamed “Touch” for his agility at the game.
He utilized “Touch Connors” as a stage name for early movie appearances like Sudden Fear (1952), The 49th Man and Sky Commando (both in 1953), Day the World Ended (1955), and The Ten Commandments (1956), among others.
He also used that pre-Mannix moniker for his first few television appearances on shows like The Ford Television Theatre (for an episode titled, “Yours for A Dream,” his small-screen debut), City Detective, The Lineup, and The Loretta Young Show, during which he as intermittently known as “Touch,” “Mike,” “Michael,” and one time as “Jay” (for a 1956 episode of State Trooper).
After that he was billed as Mike Connors for TV shows like The Untouchables, Perry Mason, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Wagon Train, and more.
Then came Mannix, followed by TV-movies such as The Killer Wouldn’t Die (1976), Long Journey Back (1978), and Casino (1980), followed by one season of ABC’s 1981-1982 series, Today’s F.B.I., on which he played agent Ben Slater.
Other small-screen gems included an episode of Steven Spielberg’s reboot of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1989), the hit mini-series War and Remembrance (1988-1989), the reboot of Burke’s Law (1994), The Commish (1993), Walker, Texas Ranger (1998), and a recurring role as Chipacles in the syndicated Hercules series starring Kevin Sorbo (1998-1999).
Connors last on-screen performance was for an episode of the CBS sitcom, Two and a Half Men, called “Prostitutes and Gelato” (2007), in which he portrayed a character named Hugo.
A private and dedicated family man, Connors had been married to the same woman, Mary Lou Willey, since September 10, 1949; a union that produced two children: Matthew Gunner Ohanian (born in 1958) and Dana Lee Connors (born 1960).
According to television and film archivist Robert S. Ray, “Mike Connors brought his own sense of style, bravado and intelligence to his portrayal of Mannix.”
Ray, who serves on the Board of Directors for the nonprofit Classic TV Preservation Society, adds, “But I think the word that best describes his persona is ‘integrity.’ Joe Mannix was a ham-fisted guy brought up on the tough streets of LA. He was an even match for all the thugs he ran up against in any given episode and could very easily have been one of their compadres. But his integrity and sense of honesty kept him on the right side of the law, even if his take-no-prisoners demeanor made his connections in the local Police Department wary of him.”
Comparing the Mannix star with other legendary TV male stars such as Ed Asner, best known from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Ralph Waite, of The Waltons, Ray concludes, “Mike Connors presented a seemingly fundamental decent presence on screen.”
This tribute to the late Mike Conners is an edited excerpt from Dashing, Daring and Debonair: TV’s Top Male Icons from the 50s, 60s and 70s by TVWriter™ Contributor Herbie J Pilato, host of Then Again with Herbie J Pilato, a new classic TV talk show that will debut on the Decades network later this year.
Learn more about Herbie J HERE