Although he is probably best know for his roles in the television series' 'The Fugitive' and 'Harry O', David Jansen appeared in over one hundred films and dozens of television shows. Born David Harold Meyer he moved to Los Angeles from Nebraska when he was five with his Mom Berniece after his parents' divorce in 1935. Mom later married Eugene Janssen in 1940 and David took on his stepdads surname when he began his show business career.
He started his acting career in the 1945 film 'It's a Pleasure'. Over the next few years, either David’s scenes in movies were deleted or his roles went uncredited. This changed when he got the role of 'Beckett' in the 1952 adventure flick 'Yankee Buccaneer' starring Jeff Chandler and directed by Frederick De Cordova who went on to become executive producer of the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
At age 20, after a stint of summer stock in Maine, David landed a contract at Universal-International in the Talent Program. This apprenticeship was interrupted after less than a year when Uncle Sam called him up. During his Army days, Janssen became friends with fellow enlistees Martin Milner and Clint Eastwood while posted at Fort Ord, California. Upon his discharge he was finally able to concentrate on Hollywood.
He gained prominence in 1957 after actor and producer Dick Powell chose him to portray the title role in 'Richard Diamond, Private Detective' one of the first hard-boiled TV detectives. In the 1957-60 series, Janssen’s secretary, 'Sam,' appeared only as a pair of legs and a voice. It was Mary Tyler Moore’s first TV series role.
Mary Tyler Moore obviously went on to more memorable roles but there was much more in store for Janssen as well. He had just began his run, so to speak.
His biggest success came from his lead in the series 'The Fugitive', a Quinn Martin production in which he played Richard Kimble, a Midwestern doctor wrongly accused of murdering his wife who was constantly on the run from the police while trying to find the real killer, a one-armed man. When the series finale aired in August of 1967 it held the record for the greatest number of American homes with television sets to watch a series finale.
In 1973 David starred in Harry O where he played private detective Harry Orwell.
He was TV’s top detective, a knight errant with a bad back, a man who would rather walk the beach on a foggy morning than fight his way through the complexities of a human condition. But his contemplative life was always interrupted by a lovely woman, a hard luck kid or a good friend who needed his help. Despite gaining viewership and critical acclaim the show was cancelled after only two seasons in favor of a vehicle for Jansens co-star Farrah Fawcett Majors when ABC decided to take the network in a different direction with a new show entitled 'Charlies Angels"
With a penchant for nicotine and hard liquor, David Janssen suffered a heart attack in his Malibu home on February 13, 1980 at age 48. Among his pallbearers were Gene Kelly, Gregory Peck, Milton Berle, Richard Harris and Rod Stewart.