Jessica Walter, versatile actress, dies at 80

Jessica Walter in Counter-Stroke, a third-season episode of The FBI

Jessica Walter, a versatile actress whose career spanned decades, has died at 80, Deadline: Hollywood reported.

Early in her career, she was part of the “QM Players” actors who frequently appeared in television shows produced by Quinn Martin. That included six episodes of The FBI as well as installments of Cannon, The Streets of San Francisco and Barnaby Jones.

Her many other credits included the 1966 film Grand Prix and 1971’s Play Misty for Me as well as episodes of TV series such as It Takes a Thief, McCloud, Ironside, Mannix, Mission: Impossible and Wonder Woman. Her 21st century credits included doing voice work for the Archer cartoon series.

Walter’s IMDB.COM entry has 161 acting credits. She won an Emmy award for Amy Prentiss, a short-lived series that was spun off from Ironside.

The man who assembled the ‘QM Players’

John Conwell's title card in a second-season episode of 12 O'Clock High.

John Conwell’s title card in a second-season episode of 12 O’Clock High.

One of an occasional series about unsung figures of television.

In the 1960s and ’70s, shows produced at QM Productions had the feel of a repertory theater as many of the same guest stars appeared on various Quinn Martin shows.

As noted in the book Quinn Martin, Producer, there was an even nick name for this: the “QM Players.” The informal group consisted of performers such as Leslie Nielsen (star of the first QM series, The New Breed), Peter Mark Richman, Louise Latham, Jessica Walter, J.D. Cannon, Lynda Day George, Bradford Dillman and many others.

The QM executive responsible for this was John Conwell, who headed the company’s casting operation. He was a former actor, appearing in such productions as The Twilight Zone pilot, Where Is Everybody? and as a guest star in a Ray Milland series, Markham.

Conwell moved from in front of the camera to behind it, including the fourth season of The Twilight Zone, when the show aired in a one-hour format. He became part of QM Productions with that company’s second series, The Fugitive.

For most of his time at QM, however, Conwell’s titles in QM show credits didn’t really give the audience an idea of what he did.

Conwell was initially credited as “assistant to producer,” then “assistant to the executive producer.” Finally, by 1977, he was credited as “in charge of talent.”

In any case, Conwell became one of producer Quinn Martin’s key lieutenants. Martin paid more for guest stars ($5,000 for a one-hour episode compared with a going rate of $2,500). So that helped raise the interest of performers to be on QM shows.

Still, it was Conwell who ran the QM casting operation, which also had casting directors for individual series. That may help to explain why actors kept coming back.

Conwell even stayed at the company after Martin’s departure following the sale of QM Productions to Taft Broadcasting. He died in 1994 at the age of 72.