Deeply personal insights bring iconic actor, David Janssen, to life.
A trio of books by Ellie Janssen and David Janssen’s close friend, Michael Phelps, reveal the off-screen character of the man known as, “the hardest actor in television and film.”
Even today, decades after his death, viewers remember the beloved actor who garnered international fame as “Dr. Richard Kimble,” wrongly convicted of killing his wife in the television series,“The Fugitive.” The climactic two-part conclusion set a Nielsen record for the most-watched television series, with 72 percent of all U. S. households tuned in – an estimated 32 million people. The record remained until March of 1980.
That role was just one of many David Janssen played in his 34-year career. He appeared in 44 feature films, 21 Made-for-Television movies, starred in four television series, made countless guest star appearances in other television series and on a variety of talk shows. Be sure to take a look at Janssen’s extensive film credits.
David Janssen ~ My Fugitive
In DAVID JANSSEN ~ MY FUGITIVE, Ellie Janssen (co-authored by David’s close friend, Michael Phelps) gives his fans an intimate look at Janssen during their ten years of marriage.
David Janssen married Ellie Graham on August 23, 1958. He was her third husband, she was his first wife. At that time David was starring in “Richard Diamond – Private Detective.” He had been handpicked by Actor/Director/Producer Dick Powell to bring the show to television that Powell had played on the radio. Powell felt he was too old and not the dashing, debonair man the “Diamond” character called for; David Janssen – tall, dark and handsome – was.
The “Diamond” series was David’s first “big break” in television and film. At the beginning of the third season, David and Ellie had married. David was referred to Mr. Abner Greshler, a Lawyer-Agent for some of the biggest stars in the film and television industry.
Mr. Greshler was impressed with David and agreed to represent him. First, he negotiated with the William Morris Agency to release David from his contract with them. Next, he renegotiated David’s contract with Dick Powell’s company, Four Stars Productions, for David’s starring role in “Diamond.”
David and Ellie were left speechless when Mr. Greshler presented him his new contract – with a salary increase from $750.00 per episode to $7,500.00 per episode. Mr. Greshler and David Janssen signed contracts every three years for the remainder of his life, Mr. Greshler was David’s Agent at a “standard” fee of 10% of all David’s earnings.
In 1962, Producer Quinn Martin approached Mr. Greshler and said he wanted David Janssen to play the starring role in a new television series called “The Fugitive.” Mr. Greshler negotiated David’s contract which provided David with 20% ownership of the series, based on the “unknown” factors: the concept of the show and the fact it had been purchased by ABC Television Network (at the time a fledgling network on the brink of bankruptcy.)
By the middle of the second season, “The Fugitive” was a “hit”, making David a multi-millionaire and saving ABC Television Network from extinction. David and Ellie built a custom home in the exclusive Trousdale Estates in Los Angeles. By the end of the second season of, “The Fugitive,“ David had become an international star.
There were also problems boiling in their marriage. Ellie recounts the shock and pain she experienced on the night of their 10th wedding anniversary. At an intimate party in their honor hosted by neighbors Dani and Buddy Greco, David took Ellie onto the balcony, presented her with a diamond encrusted gold bracelet and a Cartier wristwatch, and told her he was filing for divorce. He turned and abruptly left the apartment without a word to Dani, Buddy, and the guests.
After several years of being urged and inspired by a few friends and many, many fans of David Janssen, Michael Phelps wrote his own memoir of his friendship with David Janssen over the last fifteen years of the actor’s life. It was Award Winning Singer/Songwriter Carol Connors, one of two women David loved and lost, who finally convinced him that David’s story had to be told.
David Janssen ~ Our Conversations
In DAVID JANSSEN ~ Our Conversations: Volume One-The Early Years (1965-1972) and DAVID JANSSEN ~ Our Conversations: Volume Two-The Final Years (1973-1980), Michael Phelps shares hundreds of conversations in which the iconic actor revealed his innermost, private thoughts – thoughts he shared with only a few of his closest friends.
Topics include his career, his marriage, and bitter divorce from Ellie; his relationship with his mother, Berneice, and his stepfather, Gene Janssen; his sisters Jill and Teri; Ellie’s daughters; many of his roles, actors, directors, producers, and writers with whom he worked. Michael Phelps makes the disclaimer that, “not all conversations are verbatim, that would be a human impossibility, but they are pretty close. When you have a friend like David, you never forget.”
Together, the three books provide David Janssen’s millions of fans with a candid look at his private life. The books offer a rare opportunity to observe the breathtakingly handsome actor off-screen. From his romantic interests to his demons, to his career ups and downs, he is revealed to be a down-to-earth guy – a kind, compassionate, and sensitive man whose celebrity prevented him from living an ordinary life.
David Janssen died at age 48 of a massive heart attack, shocking the world. The ugly rumors and suspicions surrounding his death are addressed in the books. All of Hollywood Royalty and thousands of his devoted fans attended his services on Sunday, February 17, 1980. Ellie attended with her daughter (Diane) and friends, Kay Donno and Peggy Burke – former wife of Actor Paul Burke. It was Ellie’s Birthday.
Michael Phelps is working with Jason Gilbert, an Attorney, and actor in Ottawa, Canada to develop a biopic of David Janssen’s life and career based on the three books.
~ Limited Time Only ~
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David Janssen: My Fugitive & Our Conversations (Volumes 1 & 2)
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