David Janssen was an American TV and film actor. He is better known for his TV performances. David was just 13 when he made his acting debut. By 25, he had already appeared in about 20 films, but the TV series titled ‘The Fugitive' was the first major milestone of his career. It was his first regular role in a series. It also marked his longest association with any series. Some of his other notable TV productions, in which he was seen in lead roles, were 'Richard Diamond, Private Detective,' 'Harry O,' and 'O'Hara, U.S. Treasury.' David had been featured in quite a few TV movies and had appeared in leading roles in many of them. Most of his prominent film roles came to him in the second half of his career. David is remembered for his low-key acting style and his deep, intoxicated voice, which was utilized in the TV miniseries 'Centennial.' David had also served in the US army, and during his tenure, he befriended a few legendary actors. He was married twice. Unfortunately, he lost his life to the ill effects of smoking and drinking at the age of 48.
Childhood & Early Life
David was born David Harold Meyer, on March 27, 1931, in Naponee, southern Nebraska, to Harold Edward Meyer and Berniece Graf. His father was a banker. David was of Irish and Jewish descent. David moved to Los Angeles after his parents divorced in 1935. Berniece later married Eugene Janssen, and David adopted his stepfather's surname. He had two younger half-sisters, namely, Teri Janssen and Jill Janssen.
David attended 'Fairfax High School' in Los Angeles. He was the top basketball player in his high school and set a record that was not broken for over 2 decades. By 13, he had already debuted as an actor. He later served 2 years in the ‘US Army’ and was posted at Fort Ord, California.
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David’s first film role was in the 1945 film 'It's a Pleasure.' This role was uncredited. Over the next few years, either David’s scenes in movies were deleted or his roles went uncredited. This changed with the 1952 adventure flick 'Yankee Buccaneer.' He hosted a quiz show titled 'Leave It to Harry' 2 years later.
After an uncredited role in the series 'Boston Blackie,' David made his TV debut in 1955, with the anthology series 'Lux Video Theatre.' At that point in his career, David did films and TV shows concurrently. He gained prominence after he was cast in the titular role in the ‘CBS’/'Four Star' detective drama 'Richard Diamond, Private Detective.' David remained on the show from 1957 to 1960. Meanwhile, he appeared in the 1955 color film 'To Hell and Back,' a biopic of noted World War II soldier Audie Murphy.
In 1963, David began his stint as ‘Dr. Richard Kimble’ (also ‘James Lincoln’) in the 'ABC' drama 'The Fugitive.' He was last seen on the show in 1967. He shot the 1967 film 'Warning Shot' while he was on a break from filming 'The Fugitive.' David’s mother and half-sisters also appeared in brief roles in the series. The following year, he appeared in the war film 'The Green Berets.' Many thought that David supported the US government, as he appeared in a film set in the backdrop of the Vietnam War. However, this was not true, as David was against the war.
David had a prominent role in the 1969 drama film 'Where It's At.' He was next seen as leading characters in films such as 'Marooned' (1969), 'Macho Callahan' (1970), and 'The Swiss Conspiracy' (1976). David bagged a significant TV project in 1972, when he was offered the role of ‘Jim O'Hara’/ ‘James O'Hara’ in the 'CBS' crime drama 'O'Hara, U.S. Treasury.' Around the same time, David began receiving significant roles in TV movies such as 'Moon of the Wolf' (1972), 'Hijack' (1973), and 'Mayday at 40,000 Feet!' (1976).
David was part of the miniseries 'S.O.S. Titanic,' the first color ‘Titanic’ film. Toward the end of his career, he appeared as a narrator in 12 episodes of the 'NBC' miniseries 'Centennial.' He also appeared in its final episode (as ‘Paul Garrett’). David appeared as ‘Lester Horton,’ a lead character, in the 1978 Italian–Greek co-production Eurospy film 'Covert Action' and hosted the 1979 documentary series 'Biography.'
David’s last acting stint was as ‘David Feld,’ a journalist, in the 1981 war film 'Inchon,' although most of his scenes were deleted from the final print. David was honored with a “star” on the 'Hollywood Walk of Fame' located on the 7700 block of Hollywood Boulevard. He received this honor on his mother’s birthday.
Family & Personal Life
David was initially married to model and interior decorator Ellie Graham. They walked the aisle on August 25, 1958, in Las Vegas. They divorced in 1968. David then married actor and model Dani Crayne Greco in 1975 and remained married to her until his death.
David was a heavy drinker and smoker and eventually died of a heart attack on February 13, 1980, in his Malibu home. He was cremated at the 'Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery' in Culver City, California. On February 17, a non-denominational funeral was organized at the Jewish chapel of the cemetery.
Before his death, David was shooting for the TV movie ‘Father Damien: The Leper Priest,' based on the life of Father Damien, a priest who had devoted his life to the lepers of Molokai, Hawaii. Following David’s death, the role was reassigned to actor Ken Howard.
David signed a contract with ‘Universal-International' in the 1950s. Around the same time, David and actor Clint Eastwood attended 'Universal's in-house acting workshop. The two eventually got to know each other, and later, Eastwood dated David’s widow, Dani, briefly.
David was a voracious reader and also had a flair for writing. He had even penned the lyrics of a few songs. David also enjoyed playing tennis and golf. He was an ambidextrous, which means he was able to use both his hands with equal ease. He was a staunch ‘Democrat.’
In 1996, ‘TV Guide' featured David in the 36th spot on their '50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time' list.