I first met David and Ellie Janssen at a formal party held in the palatial Bel Air mansion of International Hotelier Conrad Hilton, in October of 1965. I was part of the private security detail and part of my duty was to wander around the ballroom, yet be inconspicuous.
This was a very formal affair, with the male guests wearing tuxedos and the ladies in designer gowns, wearing what I presumed to be very real and very expensive jewelry.
The security staff was dressed in charcoal grey trousers, white dress shirts, burgundy ties and navy blue blazers. The wait staff wore tuxedo trousers, white dress shirts, black bow ties and white waist jackets ith gold-plated buttons, gold braided shoulder boards and white gloves. The scene was right out of a Hollywood movie, I chuckled to myself.
There were 450 guests on the list for this dinner party. The event was held in the ballroom which was as large as the grand ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, which Mr. Hilton owned. A full orchestra entertained the guests. Cocktails flowed from two bars; aperitifs were passed around on sterling silver platters.
Many of the most famous film and television stars were on the guest list as well as many major business leaders and politicians. I am not one to feel in awe in the presence of celebrities, mainly due to the fact I am not a serious film or television fan. Also, I learned during my Air Force service that every man puts his pants on the same way I do, one leg at a time.
David and Ellie Janssen were among the legendary Hollywood ‘A’ list. Their presence was sought by the highest ranking of the film, television and business leaders in Los Angeles.
I was walking toward the main bar in the northeast corner of the ballroom as they entered. I had seen a few episodes of ‘THE FUGITIVE’ which was now in its third season. I recognized Mr. Janssen instantly.
Being from Indiana originally, I was familiar with the infamous case of Dr. Sam Sheppard of Cleveland, Ohio, As I knew it, the real Dr. Sheppard was in prison for life
Observing Mr. and Mrs. Janssen as they walked in, I noted he looked a lot better in his tuxedo; cleaner and more debonair than he did in some of the clothes he wore on the show.
Mrs. Janssen was radiant; she was absolutely beautiful. He was indeed a very lucky man, I thought.
I observed a waiter take their drink orders and briskly walk to the bar to fill it. As the waiter returned with their drinks, Mrs. Janssen left David’s side and walked over to speak with a small group of ladies.
Mr. Janssen walked slowly towards the main bar, sipping his drink, smiling, nodding and shaking hands with other guests. By the time he arrived at the bar, his glass was empty.
He asked the barman for a scotch and soda, a double. I could not help but notice his demeanor. His eyes darted around the room. His gaze was intense; he appeared to be physically tired and not really in the mood to be at a party. I was standing less than three feet from him and noted he was taller than he appeared on television.
Perhaps he felt me staring at him because he turned and faced me directly. “I assume you are working.” He said.
“Yes Sir, Security staff.” I replied.
“Are you one of the off-duty LAPD officers?”
“No sir, Private security, although I am trying to get on the police department. I was Military Police Combat Defense Forces in the Air Force.” I answered.
“You look like a cop . . . so you have law enforcement in your blood. Anyone in your family cops?”
“No, Sir! My paternal grandfather and an uncle were Circuit Court judges, I’m the ‘black sheep’ of the family, I chose to go into law enforcement.” I smiled.
“I was in the army and I don’t know many guys who wanted to be an MP. Usually they were the most hated guys, at least in the army.” He said with a grin.
“Yes, Sir! That is certainly true in the Air Force too, but I have close friends who are on the police department back home and I asked for it when I enlisted. I was lucky, I became a Canine Handler so it was mostly pretty good duty.”
“What kind of dog did you handle?”
“German Shepherd. I had the only female dog on the base. Of course, she was spayed and the males were neutered.”
Our conversation was interrupted by Mrs. Janssen who came to pull him over to a small gathering of ladies.
I wandered around the room carefully observing the actions of all the big shots. As they consumed more and more alcohol, their demeanor would change. Some inhibitions loosened. Soon I was back at the main bar, indulged in idle conversation with the head barman.
Mr. Janssen sauntered over to the bar again, sans his wife, and ordered a double scotch and soda. Receiving his drink he walked over to me again. “I didn’t introduce myself. I’m Dave Janssen.: He said warmly.
“Mike Phelps.” I said as we shook hands. “I know who you are; I’ve seen several episodes of ‘The Fugitive’ and I was a fan of ‘Richard Diamond-Private Detective’ before I joined the Air Force.”
I did not know if I would get into trouble chatting with a guest, but that was really of no concern. After all, he was the one who started a conversation with me.
“Do you like the show?” He asked with sincerity.
“Yes. Actually, I think it is one of the best shows on TV and yes, I think you are very believable in your portrayal of ‘Dr. Kimble’, and I still think the real Dr. Sam Sheppard is innocent.”
“Interesting . . . you know, so do I. The creator of our show, Roy Huggins, has not admitted the show is based on Sheppard, but the coincidences between the two are too close. Unfortunately, the real doctor didn’t have a train wreck to spring him.” He said, grinning broadly.
“I have to agree with you . . . too many similarities between the two. Dr. Sheppard from Ohio, Dr. Kimble from Indiana . . . both physicians . . . a wife who had a miscarriage and a wife who was pregnant; both wives brutally bludgeoned to death; a mysterious intruder who escapes, no witnesses . . . yes . . . too many similarities.” I mused.
“Yeah, but I’ve been on the run a long time.” He chuckled.
“This is your third season, isn’t it? How long are you going to remain a fugitive? I asked with a grin.
“Who knows? As long as the writing is solid, the plots remain interesting and we maintain ou ratings . . . who knows?” He replied with a serious, yet contemplative look.
I noted his voice was the same as it came across on television, very deep and distinct.
“So, how long have you lived in Los Angeles?” He asked.
“I’ve been here about six months.”
“Do you have family here . . . married, kids?”
“No, I recently separated from my wife . . . no family here, they are all back in Indiana.”
“Where do you live? L. A. is so spread out.”
“I live on North Highland, just off Santa Monic Boulevard.”
“Oh, that’s close to the studio; we’ll have to get together for a drink sometime, maybe lunch.” He offered sincerely.
“That would be nice, I’d like that.” I responded with a smile.
“Ellie and I are not staying for the dinner, I’ve had a long day so we’ll be leaving soon. Let me have your number and I’ll give you a call.”
I gave him my business card with my home phone number written on the back. He gave me his card and scribbled his private number on the back.
Ellie walked over smiling and planted a warm kiss on his cheek.
“Are you ready, Sweetheart, or do you want to stay and have another drink?”
“No, if you’re ready, we can go . . . oh, this is Mike Phelps . . . Michael, my wife Ellie.” He said as he introduced us. We shook hands.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Janssen.” I said. I noted he had said Mike, and then reverted to the formal Michael as he made the introduction.
“So nice to meet you, Michael. Has David been chewing your ear off” She asked with a beautiful smile.
“No,he hasn’t.” I replied, smiling back.
It was obvious she had observed from a short distance away that he and I had been involved in a lengthy conversation. I had noticed her looking in our direction several times.
“He likes to talk.” She gushed.
David sat his empty glass on the bar, and we again shook hands, and I with Ellie. They began walking toward the main entrance while stopping to speak and shake hands with other guests.
That is how I met David Janssen,
Little did I know that roughly forty minutes of conversation would evolve into a friendship that would span fifteen years. David was twelve years my senior, the same age as my eldest brother, Jack. I had developed maturity beyond my years’ thanks to my brother Jack and my time in the Air Force.
The age difference between us was not a factor as our friendship developed and grew over the years. Interestingly, I learned much later that Ellie was either nine or 12 years his senior, a fact he did not know until they applied for their marriage license in Las Vegas.
I would learn from David it was 12 years, but Ellie would only admit to a nine-year difference. Not that it mattered to David, and she sure as heck didn’t look to be older than him. Ironically, David was ten years older than Carol Connors.
I would soon learn that Ellie was never far away from David, except when he was working. When they were out together in public, whether at private parties or restaurants, she kept a close eye on him.
I would only see Ellie on two other occasions, including a small dinner party at their home before I briefly moved back to my hometown of Indianapolis.
It would only be two weeks before I received my first late night call from David Janssen inviting me to join him for a drink and late snack at The Formosa Cafe at Santa Monica Boulevard and Formosa Street. It was seven blocks from my apartment
During the remainder of my time in Los Angeles, this would be the first of many late night calls, drinks, and conversations. There would also be a few lunches, a couple of dinners and my best day, a visit to the set of ‘The Fugitive’.
As we would have our infrequent meetings over drinks, I began to take notice that he was a vert ‘down-to-earth’ man – not what one would normally expect of a mega TV and film star who had instant recognition in public.
I also realized a bond was being formed early on between us. I believe it was based on the fact I had no knowledge of the film or television industry, and no real interest in it. In addition, he knew I liked him as a person, not as a TV and film star.
He seemed to know immediately that whatever he said to me over drinks would not be emblazoned across the tabloids’ headlines the next day. He knew without question that what he said to me, no matter how trivial, would be held in the strictest confidence.
I would soon learn how much he valued his privacy. Even when working, it was rare he would socialize with his fellow actors or crew. He would crack jokes with them on his way to or from his dressing room and later, his mobile dressing room – he dubbed The Silver Bullet – a gift from Mr. Quinn Martin.
He would spend most of his time in his dressing room. He told me when he was not on the set, he enjoyed the down time to read and relax. At the end of the day, he would have drinks with his fellow actors and crew.
As I moved back to Indianapolis and later to New York City, and years later to Miami, Florida, David and I kept in frequent contact.
Occasionally, we would see each other when he was in New York or Miami. Most of his calls came late at night or the wee hours of the morning. He knew he had a ‘shoulder to cry on’ in his times of distress or an interested ear when he was exuberant over a new film role or television series.
I was totally shocked on 13 February 1980, while watching the NBC Today Show and they broke into a commercial with ‘BREAKING NEWS from Los Angeles’.
The announcement was thatActor David Janssen died suddenly from a reported massive heart attack. I was stunned! I could not believe it!
I had spoken with his just four days before and he was excited about starting the filming of a new made-for-television movie, ‘Father Damien’. He was so exuberant; he sounded as if he was full of energy . . . happy. The film was to be shot on the beach, not far from his beach house in Malibu. I knew he was separated again from Dani and she was living in their Century City condominium.
David had told me in our last conversation that he had passed a complete physical a couple of days before, a requirement for the film’s insurance carrier.
HOW in the HELL could he pass a physical and die of a massive heart attack a few days later? I was not the only one with that burning question on my mind.
I was at home in Miami when I hear the tragic news. I wanted so badly to jump on the next plane and fly to Los Angeles if nothing more than to pay my respects. However, business demands prevented me from doing so.
I later realized from the media coverage of his funeral services, I would not have gained access had I been there. I would have been held back with the sea of fans at the Cemetary. Furthermore, I learned years later from Ellie there were attempts by Dani to keep her and David’s mother from the services. Those attempts failed thanks to David’s agent and friend, Mr. Abby Greshler.
* * *
In late October of 1988, I was in the cocktail lounge of the world famous Jockey Club, of which I was then serving on the Board of Governors when Ms. Bobbe Starr, our Membership Director, entered with a strikingly beautiful lady.
I watched as they walked around the lounge and exit by the baby grand piano and then into the main dining room. I was wracking my brain trying to remember where I had seen this woman before.
The very next evening, again in the cocktail lounge at The Jockey Club, Bobbe Starr, and this gorgeous lady returned and sat at a small table before the fireplace.
I was seated at a nearby table with my brother Bob, discussing the days’ business. I felt the lady staring at me, then turned and began to feel self-conscious.
“Yes . . . “,
“It’s me, Ellie . . . Ellie Janssen.” She said, flashing her beautiful smile.
“You know each other?” Bobbe asked.
“Why yes, he was a good friend of ours!” Ellie exclaimed to Bobbe as if we were long-lost friends.
I stood to walk over and shake her hand and, without standing, she almost pulled me down into her lap as she gave me quite an unexpected hug.
In my opinion, the years had been very kind to her; she was absolutely striking and appeared years younger than what I knew her to be. It did not appear to me that she had any help from the famed Beverly Hills plastic surgeons.
I introduced her to my brother and invited her and Bobbe to join us for dinner and they accepted. We learned Ellie had applied for membership in the Club.
During dinner, of course, the main topic of conversation was David, although somewhat restrained. The divorce was off limits, not discussed at all. I knew it had been very painful for Ellie. She had never remarried, nor had there been any publicity about any other men in her life, at least to my knowledge.
Our topic of conversation that evening was mostly about his rise to worldwide fame in his role as ‘The Fugitive’ , and his other series and films. We discussed Dave’s tragic, sudden death, his funeral services and the ‘good’ memories Ellie held so dear. Dani’s name was not brought up.
Over the course of the ensuing weeks, Ellie’s membership was approved and we would enjoy dinner several times a week, discussing the paths our lives had taken and, of course, David.
She knew David and I had become good friends over the years, that David trusted me and considered me a loyal confidant. She knew we spoke frequently and queried me about what Dave had told me about her, Rosemary and Dani. I politely evaded the questions.
She knew Dave had introduced me to several film and television celebrities but I was not overly impressed and didn’t form any kind of friendship with them.
During one of our dinners with my brother Bob and his wife Sheryl, I asked Ellie why she had not written a book about her life with David, his rise to fame and the role she played in helping him as a faithful ‘Hollywood Wife’. Ellie said she had often thought of writing such a book but did not know where to begin
I suggested we could find a Ghost Writer’ in the area. She indicated she did not have the resources to pay a ‘ghost writer’. I suggested I could finance the project and be reimbursed from the royalties. She agreed without hesitation and seemed to sparkle at the opportunity of telling her story.
Within weeks we located a ‘ghost writer’ who had written a couple of novels and several award-winning short stories. After about six weeks, Ellie became dissatisfied with their working relationship, with his style of writing and she summarily discharged him.
She discovered a lady in Santa Barbara, California; an accomplished, published author and biographer of celebrities. Ellie called her and discussed the project. She expressed great interest and gushed she was one of David’s most die-hard fans.
We flew her to Miami and ensconced her in The Jockey Club guest wing. I paid her non-refundable retainer and all expenses, which included five weeks at Club nad working breakfasts, lunches and dinners with Ellie. Once again, in short order, Ellie became disenchanted with her writing style, after first feeling they were working well together. Ellie discharged her.
I asked Ellie if I may read what had been collectively written by her and the ‘ghost writers’. After reading the less than one hundred pages, I exclaimed to Ellie that she and I could write the book ourselves.
At this point, her book had no title. I suggested, ‘DAVID JANSSEN – MY FUGITIVE’ , and Ellie loved it. Thus a six-year project began.
Ellie suggested we share ownership of the copyrights and royalties to the book on a fifty-fifty basis; I agreed. It was incorporated into our contract with the original publisher.
* * *
I was engaged full-time as the Chief Investigator for a prominent Miami Law firm, specializing in criminal defense. As a result, most of our collaboration was done in the evening hours, nights and weekends.
As I could arrange my schedule, we made trips to Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, Palm Springs, Las Vegas, and New York for the purpose of conducting research and hosting interviews with many celebrities who had been close friends with David and Ellie during their marriage.
We interviewed their longtime housekeeper/cook Beatrice; David’s mother, Berniece Janssen, Victor Gentile who had served as David’s Secretary/valet for many years, Suzab=nne Pleshette, Michelle Lee, Lucille Ball, Jerry Lewis, Raymond Burr, Gregory Peck, Paul and Peggy Burke and many others.
During the initial writing process, Ellie and I had several strong disagreements as she related incidents that occurred with David. Recalling that Dave had spoken with me about the same incidents, I would attempt to clarify, to insert Dave’s point of view. In doing so, I saw first-hand what Dave had told me about Ellie’s extreme anger. In her home in Las Vegas, as she lounged while drinking a cup of coffee and dictating to me as I typed into my computer, I objected to an incident and without thinking, said to her, “That is not what Dave told me.”
She threw the half-filled cup of coffee across the room and it shattered on the wall above my computer, splashing drops of hot coffee over my face and chest and the computer monitor. I was shocked as she screamed: “IT’S MY FUCKING BOOK! DON’T BELIEVE EVERY GODDAMN THING DAVID TOLD YOU!”
There was no doubt she wanted, demanded complete control. I learned to keep my mouth shut and write. After all, it was her book . . . her story. I cleaned up the mess without saying a word. About an hour later, Ellie apologized.
Finally, in early 1994, the manuscript ot 350 pages was submitted to our Editor and Publisher. Included were twelve pages of black and white photos. Several months later, the editing complete, the book was cut down to 151 pages. ‘DAVID JANSSEN ~ MY FUGITIVE’ was published in hardcover by Lifetime Books, Inc. in December of 1994. Paperback Editions followed in 1995, 1996, and 1997. Hardcover and paperback editions combined reportedly sold in excess of 1.2 million copies worldwide.
Both Ellie and I were disappointed the publisher had cut so much of her story, but we were pleased with the reception the book received. I was personally, secretly disappointed because I knew it was her story as she recalled her life with David – especially his drinking habits, his alleged ‘womanizing’ and the most difficult period of the protracted divorce proceedings.
It was the period beginning in early 1966, shortly after I had met them when Dave began sharing with me his feelings about his marriage.
We had many, many serious conversations and he opened up to me about the reasons he felt his marriage was failing; his reasons were in direct conflict with Ellie’s recollections of the failure of their marriage. She either could not see it, or refused to believe it at the time. In her book, she placed all the blame on Dave.
I took time off from the law firm and accompanied Ellie on a whirlwind book-signing tour, including a guest appearance for Ellie on ‘THE GERALDO SHOW’ for an episode titled ‘Hollywood Wives’. The show featured the ex-wives of Jerry Lewis, Johnny Carson, Dean Martin and Ellie. I was dismayed at the lurid allegations these bitter ex-wives spouted about these great entertainers.
We attended the annual convention of ‘THE FUGITIVE’ fan Clubs at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood.
Based on the success of the book, and upon early retirement from the law firm, I chose to embark on the challenging career of being an author. However, I promised myself that I would never co-author a book with anyone, especially the ex-wife of a celebrity. I chose to write about something I know – specifically, police procedurals, detective novels, murder and mayhem based on actual cases I had worked.
* * *
My debut novel, ‘The Execution of Justice’ was published by Blue Line Publishing House, Inc. on 30 January 2009. With this novel, I created the ‘Mike Walsh Detective Novels’ series. The novel is based on the murder of a close friend and one-time mentor of mine, Detective Sergeant Jack R. Ohrberg, Robbery & Homicide Unit of the Indianapolis Police Department.
The novel is unlike most detective or crime novels in that I endeavored to give my readers a true and deeply personal insight into the personal, as well as the professional lives of the dedicated men and women across our nation who serve and protect abd all too often pay the ultimate price for their communities.
Detective Sergeant Jack R. Ohrberg was a dedicated police officer. On 11 December 1980, he was brutally murdered by two members of a vicious gang of armed robbery suspects who had previously killed a Brinks guard.
He was shot and killed as he kicked in the door of a house where the gang members were hiding. He lay on a frozen concrete porch as a two and one-half hour shoot-out between police and the suspects raged.
Jack died at almost the same hour of the day as David almost ten months to the day. That was a very bad year for me, I lost two very good friends.
Publicity surrounding the release of ‘The Execution of Justice’ revived interest in ‘DAVID JANSSEN-MY FUGITIVE’. Many of David’s fans contacted me wanting to purchase the book. With the cooperation of Blue Line Publishing House, Inc. I released the Fourth Edition (Updated) of ‘DAVID JANSSEN-MY FUGITIVE’ (Paperback) on 15 July 2010 at the original 1994 published price of $18.95. It is available at the Amazon discounted price of $16.20 (and also on my website; www.MichaelPhelpsNovels.com). It is also available at Barnes&Noble.com, Smashwords, Kobo and all Internet Booksellers.
‘The Jockey’s Justice’ , the second title in the ‘Mike Walsh Detective Novels’ series was published in E-book format by Blue Line Publishing House, Inc. and is available on Amazon Kindle Store, B&N.com, Smashwords.com, Kobo.com and all other Internet Booksellers. It will soon be available in Paperback Edition.
‘The Jockey’s Justice’ is based on the brutal murder of a winning, and highly regarded horse racing jockey in a small western Kentucky town. Eight years after his murder, his widow, son-in-law and his widow’s nephew are charged with the crime. Th widow and son-in-law lived in the Miami area and retained our law firm to represent them. My assistant and I were dispatched to Kentucky to investigate the case. The novel provides readers with a roller-coaster ride into the sleazy underbelly of the Sport of Kings.
Back to DAVID JANSSEN. Many of Dave’s fans and a few of his close friends have inspired and encouraged me to write this memoir of the private conversations we shared over the last fifteen years of his life. I was amazed to have been contacted by his devoted fans from Denmark, Germany, France, Spain, England, Italy, Canada, Australia and several in South America.
I am no longer amazed that David Janssen continues to have millions of devoted and caring fans around the world 34 years after his untimely death.
He was the consummate professional, dedicated to his art and devoted to giving each performance his very best. He did not do that to win awards such as Oscars or Emmys. He did it for his Fans. He was a perfectionist; it was in his genes.
In this memoir, ‘DAVID JANSSEN-Our Conversations: Volume One-The Early Years (1965-1972) and Volume Two-The Final Years (1973-1980) I reveal hundreds of conversations between Dave and me. I have never shared these conversations with anyone, except Ellie when we were working on her memoir.
I cover many topics we discussed including his marriage and divorce from Ellie; his affair with Actress Suzanne Pleshette, Actress Rosemary Forsyth, his relationship with his mother Berniece Janssen, his step-father Gene Janssen, half-sisters Jill & Teri Janssen, Ellie’s daughters Kathy and Diane, his drinking habits, his alleged womanizing, many of the top Hollywood producers, writers, directors and stars with whom he worked and his various film and television roles.
Dave’s opinion of the Viet Nam War and politics was mentioned as well as his marriage to and planned divorce from his second wife, Dani Swanson-Greco-Janssen-Needham-Janssen, and most of all, the two women in his life whom he actually loved and subsequently lost – actress Suzanne Pleshette and two-time Oscar-nominated, award-winning Singer/Songwriter Carol Connors.
Collaborating with Carol on the theme song for ‘My Sensitive, Passionate Man’ an NBC Movie of the Week starring David Janssen and Angie Dickinson. Dave wrote the lyrics and Carol and Bill Conti wrote the music. A love affair blossomed between Dave and Carol, lasting over two years during the many separations he had from Dani.
Dave had told me and others he was that he was headed for divorce court again. In retrospect of that time, Dave was afraid of the outrageous cost of a divorce from Dani and he lost Carol.
I will relate our conversations as close to verbatim as possible. Like Dave, I have been blessed with an excellent memory. I have not made anything up, nor have I exaggerated. I want to give his fans a true insight into his life as he lived it off-screen. I want to emphasize that it is a human impossibility to recall our conversations verbatim, especially almost fifty years have passed, I never recorded Dave in any circumstance. When I began this project, I sat at my computer and closed my eyes and found I could actually HEAR his voice. While not exactly verbatim, the conversations related herein are darn close.
David Janssen was a very intelligent man. He was a voracious reader and quite knowledgeable in history and current events of the time. He was also quite opinionated and would stand his ground.
He was also quite funny; he had a quick wit, loved jokes and contrived many practical jokes he would spring on his friends, cast members and crew alike. No one was considered off-limits when it came to being a target of his jokes. He also reveled in being the subject of a prank and always took such with a hearty laugh. Sadly, the studios failed to take notice of his comedic talents. Dave felt strongly the role of ‘Dr. Richard Kimble – THE FUGITIVE’ had stereotyped him and precluded him from consideration for many roles.
I have tried to concentrate on conversations I believe will give his fans the true picture of the man David Janssen really was.
In looking back over our 15 years of friendship, ending with his sudden death, I cannot comprehend how this man who had it all was so miserable and tormented in his mind. He had good looks and was multi-talented. He had fame, wealth, and millions of devoted fans.
I was always amazed at how well he hid his anguish from the public. I personally place the blame for David’s torment on the women he married. By comparison, I had no good looks, no fame, no wealth, no admiring and devoted fans, no talents like his – yet I was happy.
It is my belief David will not fault me, nor look upon this memoir as a betrayal of his confidence. Actually, I think will smile down and enjoy a good, hearty laugh or two. That is what I miss most about Dave; his hearty, genuine laugh . . . his jokes.
I also miss our sitting in an out-of-the-way bar or lounge, drinking our scotch, almost matching each other drink for drink and sharing quiet, yet intense conversations, and his late night/early morning calls when he needed a friend to talk to.
Now, as I approach the winter season of my life, I seldom imbibe in my favorite J & B Scotch. It just isn’t the same without Dave.