David Janssen was a certified genius. He had an IQ of 160 and read about six books a week.
Born with the name David Harold Meyer, his beauty queen mother later married Eugene Janssen, which is how David got his name. By the time he was in his mid 20s, he'd already racked up dozens of credits in film and television, but it was his portrayal of Dr. Richard Kimble in the 60s television series The Fugitive that made him a star.
Most actors would consider themselves lucky to have one hit show, but David starred in two, the other being the 70s cop show Harry-O. The pilot to the series was called Smile Jenny, You're Dead (1974), and featured the likes of Jodie Foster, Clu Gulager, Andrea Marcovicci and Zalman King! I love them all! Although I don't remember much about the series now, when I was a wee Amanda By Night, this and The Streets of San Francisco were my favorite shows. I know, I was a serious kid!
It was also during this decade that the now iconic actor was making a bevvy of television movies, mostly suspense. His gruff, darkly handsome features allowed him to appear in everything from thrillers to westerns.
One of his most popular tele-pics was the Longest Night (1971), which is a tense thriller about a wealthy girl buried somewhere in a coffin as the cops race against time in an attempt to save her. Shortly afterwards David starred in Moon of the Wolf (1972) which was about (surprise, surprise) a werewolf, and also featured another handsome TV stud, Bradford Dillman.
David racked up several television movie credits before his untimely death in 1981, at the age of 49 when he suffered a fatal heart attack in his Malibu home.
Here is a list of some of his television movies (the linked titles are available online):
Night Chase (1970)
The Longest Night (1972)
Moon of the Wolf (1972) *Moon is also streaming on Hulu!
Birds of Prey (1973)
Smile Jenny, You're Dead (1974)
Stalk the Wild Child (1975)
Mayday at 40,000 Feet (1976)
Golden Rendezvous (1977, this is only on vhs)
The Golden Gate Murders (1979)
City in Fear (1980, this is only on vhs)
Don't forget to check out his official website, The David Janssen Archive. It's pretty cool. Poke around…
And you can read about the actor's darker side (and his affair with Angie Dickinson!) at People Magazine Archives
*Portions of this were originally written for my TV movie Yahoo group.