Yet another noted television star has died: Mike Connors, 91, known for his hit series of the late 1960s and early 1970s Mannix and the earlier Tightrope! program, has passed away. According to his son-in-law, he had been diagnosed with leukemia a week ago.
Cancer is a bitch, no question about it, but at least Mike Connors led a long, good life. He also had one of the longer marriages in Hollywood, having married wife Mary Lou Willey in 1949. They had two children together.
Obviously Connors couldn't use his real name, Kreker or Krekor Ohanian, which simply wasn't marquee material. He was born in Fresno, California, in 1925. Before embarking on his long acting career, he was a noted basketball player at USC under the legendary coach John Wooden. One time famed director William Wellman attended a basketball game Connors played, and Wellman thought he had the looks to be a star.
It took Connors a few years to hit the big time. He played in some good films in the 1950s, but he made some turkeys, like Swamp Women. Originally he was billed as "Touch Connors." He also made numerous television guest appearances before starring in his own series.
His first starring series was the one-season detective show, Tightrope!, a show that has some sort of cult following. What surprises viewers today is how much Connors looked like Sean Connery. Now I don't know if that was a coincidence Connery looked like Connors or whether Connery was made to look like him, but they looked a hell of a lot alike. It didn't help their last names were similar, but Mike Connors couldn't use Kreker/Krekor Ohanian and be taken seriously as leading man material.
“Mannix” ran for eight seasons from 1968 to 1975 and was the last series from Desilu Productions. Connors won a Golden Globe for his performance as a tough, athletic investigator, who in quintessential detective show style, insisted on doing things his own way and often got beat up in the process. He drove an impressive series of muscle cars including a Dodge Dart and Chevrolet Camaro.
Desilu president Lucille Ball convinced CBS not to cancel the show despite initial poor ratings, and the show caught on after being retooled into a somewhat more conventional detective series. Mannix’s secretary, played by Gail Fisher, was one of few African-American actresses on TV at the time. “Here’s Lucy” produced a crossover episode in 1971 with Connors and Ball, called “Lucy and Mannix are Held Hostage.”