Joseph Campanella dies at 93

Joseph Campanella in a first-season episode of Mannix

Joseph Campanella, whose acting career lasted more than a half-century, died today at 93, according to Variety.

Campanella was a familiar face on U.S. television television, splitting his time between playing villains and sympathetic characters.

His credits included co-starring in the first season of Mannix as Lew Wickersham, the head of Intertect, the large agency where hero Joe Mannix (Mike Connors) worked.

Wickersham prided himself on devising a set of rules he said were designed to get the most of his employees. “Not me,” Mannix replied in a scene in the show’s pilot.

Throughout the first season, there was a tension between Mannix and his boss. That angle was dropped starting with the second season when Mannix went off on his own.

Campanella was nominated for an Emmy for playing Wickersham. He also returned in a sixth-season episode playing a different role.

Wickersham was based on entertainment mogul Lew Wasserman, the head of MCA, the parent company at the time of Universal.

According to commentary tracks on the first-season Mannix DVD set, Wasserman approved of Campanella’s performance. After Campanella departed Mannix, he was hired by Universal to play an attorney in The Lawyers segment of The Bold Ones.

Later in his career, Campanella was a voice in a 1990s Spider-Man cartoon. The actor was also the younger brother of character actor Frank Campanella (1919-2006).

Mannix vs. spies

Mike Connors in a first-season episode of Mannix, an iconic image used in the show's main titles.

Mike Connors in The Many Deaths of Saint Christopher, a first-season Mannix episode.

This week’s death of Mannix star Mike Connors spurred the blog to take a look at some spy-related episodes of the private eye drama.

Mannix mostly mixed it up with hoods and other crooks. But, on occasion, there were espionage-related stories.

The Many Deaths of Saint Christopher (first season): Intertect, the large detective agency Mannix works for in the first season, is hired by Germans representing a European industrial concern. They’re after a missing scientist.

Mannix doubts the motives of the agency’s clients — with good reason, it turns out. The reality is there are a group of Nazis from World War II and Nazi hunters. Mannix is in the middle and has to figure out who is who.

Deadfall (first season): A two-part story involving industrial espionage.

Vancom Industries is developing an advanced laser. It has hired Intertect to provide security. A Vancom lab technician is killed in an explosion caused by sabotage and the lead Intertect operative apparently has been killed in an auto accident.

Vancom rival Berwyn Electronics demonstrates its own version of the device. The laser only fires at a target spot and won’t fire if blocked from the target by a human being.

Mannix picks up the trail. The question is whether the Intertect operative was involved with the sabotage and who at Vacom participated in the theft of the system.

Meanwhile, Intertect chief Lew Wickersham (Joseph Campanella) is behaving erratically as the result of a medical prescription. Toward the end of Part I, Wickersham explodes in rage at Mannix and fights the detective viciously.

Mannix must not only solve the case but find out the reason for Wichersham’s behavior.

To the Swiftest, Death (second season): Mannix is participating in an amateur auto race. One of the race cars is involved in a fiery crash, apparently killing the driver. Mannix is hired to investigate the crash. But U.S. authorities are taking an unusual interest in the case.

Race Against Time (seventh season): The first two-part story since the first season of the series.

Mannix is recruited by the U.S. government. Mannix knows Victor Lucas, who is leading a resistance movement inside a repressive country.

Mannix recruits a famed heart surgeon (John Colicos) and smuggles him into the country. Mannix and the doctor meet up with members of the resistance movement. Before the doctor can perform the surgery, the pacemaker that Mannix brought with him has been smashed.

Mannix must now find another suitable pacemaker and find out who the traitor is within the resistance movement.

Bird of Prey (eighth season): Producers Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts acquired the rights to a Victor Canning novel as the basis of this two-part episode.

A case takes Mannix to another country. He becomes aware of a plot to kill the nation’s leader. In Part II, the plot succeeds and Mannix is framed as the assassin.

The detective now is on the run, trying to clear his name and bring the conspirators to justice. The two-part story also marks composer Lalo Schifrin’s final original score for the series.

Mike Connors, an appreciation

Sample of Mannix season two titles.

Sample of Mannix season two titles.

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.