In Memoriam: Mike Connors, aka Mannix, Golden Globe Winner, 1925-2017

by Yoram Kahana January 28, 2017

hfpa archives

Mike Connors, Mannix's long-running TV gumshoe and a Golden Globe winner, died on January 26 in Tarzana, California, aged 91.

Once Mannix, launched in 1967, took hold, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association voted Connors Best Actor-TV in 1970, and nominated him every year through the show's end in 1975 - six times in all. The show itself became the most popular crime drama of the period, and was Globe nominated four times, winning for Best Television Drama in 1972. Connors' costar, Gail Fisher, was one of the first African American  actresses to be cast in a supporting role in a major TV series, and the HFPA nominated her four times, and  twice gave her the Golden Globe. Before landing his own show, Connors toiled in television for decades, in supporting roles. As lead he became one of the highest-paid television actors of the 1970s. He played the eponymous Joe Mannix, handsome in a tough guy, macho way, a Korean War veteran, an Armenian-American (as Connors himself, born Krekor Ohanian) driving around Los Angeles in a spiffy car equipped with a futuristic computer, and dispensing  Armenian proverbs - and fistcuffs. The show was innovative, with fast editing cuts and a jazzy score by three-time Globe nominee Lalo Schifrin.

In contrast to popular TV sitcoms of the era, (the Mary Tyler Moore Show was broadcast next to it), Mannix was gritty and violent. The lead was often shot , pummeled and beaten unconscious 55 times in eight seasons. Not bad for an actor who often claimed that he was a "frustrated song-and-dance man".

Mike Connors as Mannix, dealing with high-tech gizmos in the violent streets of 1970s Los Angeles.

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Connors was born in Fresno, California, a region settled by Armenian immigrants. His father, a lawyer, often worked for his poor neighbors , and -as Connors told an interviewer - was sometimes paid with fruit or chickens. After a stint in the military during World War II and studies at the University of California in Los Angeles on a basketball scholarship, Connors planned to follow his father into law, but director William A. Wellman saw him on the basketball court, and brought him to a casting agent, who changed his last name to Connors, and got him his first role, in the 1952 noir Sudden Fear, starring Cecil B. deMille laureate Gloria Swanson. The movie earned Swanson her only Globe nomination, and set the newly minted Connors on his way.

He never looked back. He played in low-budget B movies, billed as "Touch" Connors, his basketball nickname. Several movie and TV roles, and two name changes later, he became Mike Connors, the iconic feisty detective Joe Mannix, his signature role and lasting memory.The series was created by Bruce Geller, whose earlier Mission Impossible  (1966-1973) rode the zeitgeist of Cold War intrigue and espionage to worldwide fame and popularity [and also four Golden Globe nominations and a win in 1968 as Best TV Drama). While MI was all about cunning, stealth and minute planning, Mannix was in your face ,  all guts and violence, reflecting an America embroiled  in a brutal and bloody fight in Vietnam.When Mannix ended, Connors kept working in television, but except for one year on Today's F.B.I. (1981) never again as a lead of his own series. He did use his Mannix fame to advocate the causes of his Armenian community, supporting movies about the Turkish genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. He was philosophical about his career.  “I knew the type of acting I liked — that very natural type of acting,” he said, “but I just wanted to be successful. So, whatever. I was willing to do anything that they’d hire me for".RIP Mike Connors, Joe Mannix, a tough guy, a private eye with a big heart.