At the end of the pilot episode of Mannix, the namesake detective is troubled.
His client is elderly mobster Sam Dubrio (Lloyd Nolan), an absolute piece of human trash. Dubrio was the target of an extortion designed to look like a kidnapping. His (not biological) daughter was part of the plot.
Joe Mannix has figured out that Dubrio’s long-suffering and abused wife is part of the plot. As played by Mike Connors, the viewer can see in Mannix’s eyes he wouldn’t mind letting her go.
But Mannix can’t let it go. He gently, but firmly, calls out Mrs. Dubrio (Kim Hunter). Only now does the mobster realize how he’s been played.
It’s a very nice scene. Connors comes across very naturally. It’s a moody conclusion after memorable set pieces, including Mannix dodging a helicopter.
Connors, who died this week at 91, wasn’t a flashy actor. But audiences found him likable and more than just an action star. He made Mannix a popular show, which ran eight seasons on CBS.
The season one DVD set of Mannix has an interview and commentary track with Connors and his first-season co-star, Joseph Campanella. The latter played Lew Wickersham, head of the large private detective agency that employed Mannix.
The first season had an undercurrent of the individualist detective coping with the bureaucratic detective agency and its rules.
Campanella told Connors in the DVD extras that the star of a series sets the tone and on Mannix it was a relaxed one. He gave Connors all the credit.
Starting with the second season, Mannix was off on his own. According to Campanella, executive producer Bruce Geller told him that the audience’s interest was on Connors’ Mannix, (Campanella would return in a later season as a guest star in a different role.)
Thus, Mannix was now helped primarily by his secretary, Peggy Fair (Gail Fisher), the widow of a police officer. Fisher won an Emmy in the role and was nominated for three others.
Connors was athletic and had played college basketball at UCLA. He was already in his 40s when Mannix began production in 1967. But he was quite convincing. He needed to be. Mannix absorbed untold punishment from hoods (and even an occasional spy).
Connors was so convincing it actually seemed plausible in 1997, at the age of 71, he reprised the role of Mannix in an episode of Diagnosis: Murder.
The installment of the Dick Van Dyke crime mystery, written by Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin, was a sequel to a 1973 Mannix episode. The original guest stars ( Pernell Roberts, Julie Adams and Beverly Garland) also returned.
Mannix wasn’t necessarily in his 70s like the actor who played him. But it was clearly an older Mannix. He was still as dogged as ever, in this case determined to make good a promise he made in the original 1973 episode. The actor sold the audience on every bit of the story.
Connors, of course, was more than Mannix. His IMDB.COM entry lists more than 100 acting credits between 1952 and 2007.
They include 1966’s Kiss The Girls and Make Them Die, a spy film set in Brazil that bears more than a little resemblance to 1979’s Moonraker. He also had other televisions series, including Tightrope and Today’s FBI.
Still, for many, Connors will also be linked to Mannix. That’s thanks to his characterization of the detective as well as Lalo Schifrin’s theme and the title design, often employing multiple images of Mannix in action.