Mike Connors, TV’s “Mannix”: From athlete to ditchdigger to star (1971)
By Peer J Oppenheimer – Johnson City Press-Chronicle (Johnson City, TN) Aug 29, 1971
Until Mike Connors played “Mannix” on TV, he says, “I was considered primarily an athlete who just happened to act for a living. I think every actor who has been an athlete has had to overcome this handicap.”
There are other problems that face an actor who has been an athlete. Like having to watch his temper. “I have a slow temper, and it takes a great deal to make me lose it. But when I do — I go crazy! I used to cause a lot of trouble in high school when it was a badge of manliness to be ready for a fight.”
He also got into his share of fights back when he was playing basketball at UCLA (which was where a talent scout first spotted him). “There were certain little tricks we all used: hooking the pants, elbowing constantly, pushing when a game got close — that sort of thing. I got barred from the game a goodly number of times.”
Mike still gets into jams sometimes. “There’s always some guy who wants to prove to his girl or his wife that he’s tougher than I am. He’ll make a nasty crack about me to prove his own virility. Usually, I can kid him out of it, like telling him I’m not really a great fighter, just a great lover.”
But one day when he was doing a night-club act in Mexico, a big-game hunter who also fights bulls on horseback, openly challenged Mike — in newspaper headlines — to a duel using guns and live ammunition!
Two days later, Mike was in a restaurant when his companion suddenly spotted the man and said, “There’s the guy who challenged you!” Mike went over and introduced himself: “I understand you’d like to duel with me, using real bullets.”
“That’s right!” the man retorted. Said Mike, “It seems to me we’ll both lose. One will be dead; and, since shooting someone is a crime, the other will go to jail. What do you say we have a drink together and then flip a coin to decide who is the fastest draw?”
For a moment the challenger was undecided, then he burst into laughter. “I guess that does make sense.” He later admitted it was a girl who goaded him into challenging Connors.
Mike Connors really has to keep in shape — not just because of the stunts he does on the show, but because he’s one of the few stars who carries a one-hour weekly action-packed show almost totally by himself, with rarely a guest star in sight.
“I get up at 5:30, then work out in my gym for about 15 minutes. Then I jump into the pool and swim as many laps as it takes to get me tired, get out, shower, and go to the studio. Sometimes when it’s very cold, I substitute jogging for swimming. Weekends, I play tennis, go water-skiing, do other physical exercises to keep in shape.
“I’ve learned that the more you exercise to stay in shape, the more energy you have, and the longer you can work during the day.”
He puts in a 12-hour day at the studio, five days a week, nine months out of the year. “I rarely come home before eight at night. Luckily, I’m a fast study, so at least I don’t have to work on my lines after dinner. I can learn them between setups on the set.”
The first years in show business weren’t easy for Mike. His wife worked as a secretary-bookkeeper, and he sold Fuller brushes, waxed floors, put in sprinkler systems — even dug ditches. “But we never went without a meal, and I always managed to scrounge up the $50 a month to pay the rent on our Hollywood apartment.”
Mike was born Krekor Ohanian in Fresno, Calif., where his father, who emigrated from Armenia when he was 17, learned English well enough to practice law.
Theirs was always a closely-knit family. It still is. His father died when Mike was 16, but he sees his mother as well as his brother and two sisters regularly.
Mike’s life is one of stability and loyalty. He has been married to his college sweetheart, the former Mary Lou Wiley, for more than 20 years.
They have two children, a son, Matthew Gunnar, who is 12, and a daughter, Dana Lee, 11. His closest friends are people he met years ago, before he became well-known, and he has had the same agent for many years.
His publicist says of him: “In a profession where most of your clients treat you like dirt, it’s refreshing to find someone who treats you like a gentleman.”
In his pre-Mannix days, Mike made a number of movies. He got his first break playing the attorney. in “Sudden Fear” with Joan Crawford. He’s had co-starring roles in a lot of pretty good films, but none of them did much for his career.
Now that he has made it on TV, he doesn’t think much about the big screen. “I get offers for films constantly. My agent has three right now. But unless it’s terribly exciting, I’m not interested.”
Certainly, he doesn’t need the money. Gone are the days of pork-and-beans, when hamburgers were a treat. Today he lives with his wife and children on a one-acre estate in Encino, guarded by electric gates and a black Labrador retriever.
A Chinese couple take care of the place, and his garage is crowded with a 1937 vintage Bentley, a Maserati, a Cadillac, a Corvette, and a Ford station wagon.
“It’s kind of embarrassing,” he admitted, “since only two of us drive. We’ll have to get rid of a couple of cars.” But you know he probably won’t.
He feels he has worked hard — and is still working hard — for what he has. At this point, he feels there’s only one person who poses a threat to Mike Connors — John Wayne. “Whenever his films are opposite my show, we get murdered!” says Mike.
Mannix star says: TV could be better (1971)
By Mike Connors, syndicated in Green Bay Press-Gazette (Green Bay, Wisconsin) Oct 31, 1971
It seems very fashionable these days to be critical of everything that comes over that magical box fund in the living rooms, family room, bedrooms and bathrooms from coast-to-coast. Sure the programs could be better. They could be a lot worse, too!
The problem is that television, as we know it today, is, by its very nature, highly commercial. Consider what might happen if, to be really fair and to eliminate several variables, the networks agreed to program only half-hour shows against half-hour shows, hour-long series against hour-long series, etc.
Take it a step further and, for the benefit of the viewer, program, completely divergent programs of equal length in any given time period. Without a doubt, a greater variety of programs available presents a definite advantage to the home viewer.
But the advertisers’ requirements must also be considered, since the networks at present do not receive government subsidies to support programs that don’t rate high enough on Mr. Nielsen’s lists to attract enough advertising review to stave-off the executioner’s swinging axe.
Generally speaking, the major stumbling block facing more balanced programming are inherent in the television beast as we know it today: the advertiser has his choice of time, day and program; and the programming is itself designed to produce a resultant first, second and third-rated show for a particular time period.
It is these obstacles that must be overcome by joint action by the FCC, the networks, the advertisers, and the viewer, who is, after all, the captive target.
Vintage Mannix TV show opening credits/intro & outro with theme music
Mannix: On target (1971)
Sight-in on action with Mike Connors starring as private investigator Joe Mannix in Paramount Television’s popular “Mannix” series, now airing its fifth season, Wednesday nights on CBS-TV.
Gail Fisher co-stars as Peggy Fair and “Brady Bunch” star Robert Reed returns in the recurring role of police lieutenant Adam Tobias in the hour-long crime drama.
Mike Connors: ‘Mannix’ says TV to scrap cop shows (1973)
By Jerry Buck in The Missoulian, Saturday, December 22, 1973
Every week for the past seven years, somebody has tried to bump him off, floor him with a right to the jaw, or leave skid marks across his tailor-made sports coat.
Mannix, played by Mike Connors, has not only endured, he has triumphed. All the while Mannix was taking his lumps and solving his cases, his show seldom dropped below the top ranks of the ratings.
“Mannix” has had the longest run of any private detective series, and was the first of the detectives in the current cycle. In fact, it set off the bulging trend toward police shows. All indications are that by next year many television cops will be off the force. “Mannix,” by all odds, will remain.
“I’d say absolutely that we’re going to see a thinning of the ranks,” said Connors. “It’s like everything else. The airwaves are saturated with cops until people are fed up. All the shows are hurt when you have too many.”
Connors, with waves of thick black hair and a tanned, ruggedly handsome face, said, “I don’t care what the framework of the show is — black detective, fat, old, young, wheelchair — it’s all basically law and order.
“I’m sure what’s going to happen is that we’ll have ‘The Waltons‘ and ‘Apple’s Way’ and seven more of that kind of low-key, life-happening show. Then people will get fed up with that, and an action show will come along and be a smash hit.”
That, in a sense, is what happened to “Mannix.” It came along in 1967, and marked one of those turning points in television. The era of the spy, the undercover agent and the hero with a fistful of gimmicks was coming to an end.
“Mannix” was a two-fisted private eye, a return to the old tradition. And it caught on. It came, too, at a time when the Western was fading and the public was looking for a more contemporary hero. Originally, Joe Mannix was just a cog in a big computer-run investigative agency.
Connors said, “The basic premise was that I would fight the Establishment and the computerized procedures. That’s what intrigued me originally. But you can’t do that every week. Somebody’s going to say, ‘Why doesn’t he quit?’ Which was the next step; and in the second year Mannix was on his own.”
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Connors, of Armenian descent, was born Krekor Ohanian in Fresno, Calif., about 48 years ago. He won’t reveal his exact age. He served in the Army Air Corps in World War II, and then entered UCLA where he became a basketball star.
It was on the court that young Ohanian attracted the attention of movie talent scouts. He was planning to become a lawyer, but switched to drama. Later, he attended Southwestern University Law School at night for two years. He changed his name to Touch Connors, and got his first acting job with Joan Crawford in “Sudden Fear.”
He married his college sweetheart, Mary Lou Wiley, and sold brushes door to door, waxed floors, and put in sprinkler systems until he could support himself as an actor.
A break came in 1959 when he was signed to play a part in “Tightrope.” He went on to costar in such movies as “Where Love Has Gone”, “Harlow”, “Good Neighbor Sam” and “Situation Serious — But Not Hopeless.”
It was during this time that he changed his name to Michael Connors, and finally to Mike Connors.
“I have always been a frustrated nightclub performer,” he said. “I think that would be the most exciting form of entertainment. In fact, I tried my hand at it once in Mexico and South America around 1961. If I bombed, I could always say that I didn’t understand the language. I lasted 10 weeks in Mexico City — but they knew me from ‘Tightrope.'”
Connors, who would like “Mannix” to go on for one more year, if not longer, was asked if he wanted to get away from playing detectives. “I’d love to do comedy,” he answered.
“Basically, I like action-type characters. If I do a motion picture, I’d like to do something on the order of what Cary Grant did in ‘To Catch a Thief’ and ‘North by Northwest.’ A very upbeat action picture, which they don’t seem to be doing much of anymore.”
Postscript: Mike Connors (1925-2017)
Mike Connors, who had been born on August 15, 1925 in Fresno, California, died in Los Angeles on January 26, 2017, at age 91.
Connors is seen here with his friend, actor Peter Graves, at the Mission Impossible and Airplane star’s Hollywood Walk of Fame induction ceremony in 2009.
I remember my parents watching Mannix but back then I was only interested in Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family. Just this past weekend, I actually sat and watched two episodes of Mannix on FETV. It was entertaining seeing the fashions, decor, etc. but I enjoyed the program as well.
Thanks for the information!
Thank you for such an entertaining, informative post on one of my favorite shows. “Mannix” doesn’t get mentioned much nowadays. I’m glad someone else remembers it. Thanks again.