David Janssen’s Life & Career


David Janssen needs no introduction.

David Janssen’s career as a television and film star spanned thirty-four years.  He starred/appeared in forty-four feature films; 21 Made-for-Television movies; four television series, and made countless guest star appearances in other television series, variety, and talk shows. He was known as the “hardest working actor in Hollywood.”

He is best remembered for his starring role as “Dr. Richard Kimble” in the ground-breaking, award winning, record-setting Q-M Productions, “The Fugitive” on the ABC Television Network (September 17, 1963, to August 29, 1967). The two part climactic conclusion of the series on August 29, 1967, set a Nielsen Rating record: 72% of all U. S. households tuned in, an estimated 32 million viewers. This record held until March, 1980.  The series made David Janssen an international star and a multi-millionaire.

David Janssen lived a fast life. He worked hard and he played hard. He married Ellie Graham on August 23, 1958.  At the time he was starring in  “Richard Diamond – Private Detective,” a Four Star Productions which aired on CBS Television Network (1956-1960). Ellie was his first wife; David was her third husband. She was with him as his career surged with the first season of, “The Fugitive.”

On August 23, 1968, at an intimate tenth anniversary party hosted by Dani and Buddy Greco, David took Ellie onto the balcony,  presented her with a diamond encrusted gold bracelet and a Cartier wristwatch.  Then,  David announced to Ellie that he was leaving her and filing for a divorce. He abruptly turned and left the party without a word to anyone.

There was no other woman. His decision was made due to Ellie’s possessiveness and jealousy.  The divorce was extremely acrimonious and protracted. It became final on August 25, 1970, and was the longest divorce proceeding (at the time) in California history.  Even after the divorce was final, Ellie continued to file for modifications, demanding more money for another year. Ironically, Dani filled for divorce from Buddy after ten years of marriage. In 1970, she set her sights on David Janssen.

On October 5, 1975, David married for the second time. Dani Swanson-Crayne-Greco became Mrs. David Janssen. This marriage was doomed from the start. Dani had taken control of David’s finances (she was a gifted businesswoman), she had closed his office on Sunset Drive, discharged his long-time Valet, Victor Gentile, as well as his Business Manager, Fred Barman. She even alienated his closest friends. He felt trapped. During the four years and four months of their tumultuous marriage, there were many separations. On February 8, 1980, David told a few of his closest friends he had instructed his attorney to file for a divorce from Dani – no matter the cost.

He had been living in his Malibu Beach home for nearly three months. Dani was ensconced in their Century City condominium. He had begun filming of a new Made-for-Television movie, “Father Damien,” on February 11th.

On the evening of February 12th, 1980 at approximately six o’clock, Dani appeared unexpectedly and uninvited at his Malibu Beach home, carrying a tray of homemade brownies for David. David had just finished his shower and dressed and was preparing a drink for himself. His long-time cook and housekeeper, Beatrice, was beginning to fix his dinner. Dani dismissed Beatrice, saying SHE was going to prepare his dinner, that Beatrice could go home. Was this an attempt at reconciliation by Dani? Only she can answer that question.

At approximately 4:20 in the morning on Wednesday, February 13th, 1980 Dani called for an ambulance, reporting David was very sick. The Paramedics arrived and reportedly had the siren sounding on the ambulance for at least five minutes before Dani opened the electric gate. The Paramedics revived David and placed him in the ambulance.

Actor Stuart Whitman (David’s neighbor) had come over to see what was happening. The Paramedic Lieutenant asked Dani if she wanted to go with them in the ambulance. She declined, turning to Whitman and telling him he would have to drive her to the hospital, “but get your other car, I don’t like this one,” referring to his two-seater sports car.

Mr. Whitman did as she asked. When he returned, he stated he had to wait at least ten minutes for Dani to answer the door. He said she appeared dressed as if she were going to a “Hollywood Premier.”  When they arrived at the Santa Monica Hospital, a Priest met them in the hallway outside the Emergency Room and shook his head. At about 5:55 in the morning of the same day – February 13, 1980 – David Janssen was pronounced dead. It was forty-two days before his 49th birthday.

Dani asked Mr. Whitman to take her back to David’s Beach home. At around ten o’clock that morning, Dani was photographed with her actress friend, Linda Evans, on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills shopping, joking and seemingly in a jovial mood. We all grieve in our own way.

Dani made the arrangements for David to be remembered at Hillside Memorial Park in Culver City.  Dani invited all of Hollywood Royalty. She tried to prevent David’s mother (Berneice) and his sisters Jill and Teri, as well as Ellie and her daughter (Diane) from entering the chapel. Abby Greshler intervened, and they were seated in the family pew.

David was eulogized by Quinn Martin, Suzanne Pleshette, Richard Lang, Attorney Paul Ziffren, and Angie Dickinson. Actors James Garner and Clint Eastwood attended, visibly distraught. Several hundred devoted fans congregated on the grounds outside of the Memorial Chapel.

Ellie Janssen relocated to Miami, Florida and we had a chance encounter at the world famous Jockey Club, where I served on the Board of Governors. Ellie was being escorted on a tour of the club by Ms. Bobbe Starr, our Membership Director. Ellie recognized me, and we renewed our friendship. Ellie was approved for membership in the club. Within months, after many lunches and dinners, sharing memories of David, I made the suggestion she should write her memoir of their marriage and her unending love for him.

She began working with a ghost writer and discharged him after about six weeks. She hired another which lasted only about five weeks. I perused what they had written (about 100 pages) and suggested we could write it ourselves. Of course, I had no experience in writing, but Ellie agreed and we began collaboration on her memoir.

I suggested the title, “David Janssen – My Fugitive,” and she loved it.  We began the project in 1988, and the book was published by Lifetime Books, Inc. in December of 1994 in hardcover. Paperback editions were released in 1995, 1996 and 1997. Combined worldwide sales were reportedly more than 1.2 million copies.

I shared a close friendship with Dave over the last fifteen years of his life. I was amazed at how our friendship started and developed. I was not in the movie or television business. I was just an ordinary guy, as he longed to be, but being a TV-Film star prevented him from living an ordinary life.  After our first few drinks together, he instantly sensed I could be trusted; what he said to me would not become tabloid headlines the next day. I learned a few months after we met that I was also an “alibi” for him with Ellie.

At the urging of many, many of David’s devoted fans, and a few of his closest friends who knew of our friendship, I decided to take a long journey into the past and write “DAVID JANSSEN-Our Conversations.”  I recalled hundreds of conversations between Dave and I over the last fifteen years of his life. Not all conversations are verbatim, but they are damn close. Once you have a friend like David Janssen, who has entrusted you with his most private, inner thoughts, you NEVER forget.

David was an extraordinary man – a man of many talents, and most of all, a really “down-to-earth, kind, compassionate, and sensitive man.” With the exception of Ellie, I had not disclosed any of our conversations with anyone until I wrote these books.

Dedicated fans around the world have looked forward to marking the 50th Anniversary of “The Day the Running Stopped” – the climactic conclusion of “The Fugitive.”

On this site, I want to celebrate David Janssen’s life and career.  I invite all fans to post their comments, memories and favorite characters that David Janssen portrayed on screen. There is also a Q & A page where I invite fans to ask questions about David and, if I can answer them, I will. There will be pages of photos and video clips of David Janssen, both on and off screen.

My personal thanks to you for being a loyal Fan of  David Janssen.

Thanks so much for stopping by and, please, enjoy your visit!