Hand color tinted photo of Mike Connors as Joe Mannix from the 1960s television series, Mannix
Mike Connors (born Krekor Ohanian August 15, 1925-January 26, 2017) was an American actor best known for playing detective Joe Mannix in the CBS television series, Mannix. In the 1959–1960 television season, he had played a crime-fighting investigator known only as “Nick” in another CBS series, Tightrope.
Connors was born in Fresno, California, of Armenian descent. He was an avid basketball player in high school who was nicknamed “Touch” by his teammates. During World War II he served in the United States Army Air Forces. After the war he attended the University of California at Los Angeles on a basketball scholarship, where he played under coach John Wooden. He was a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. William A. Wellman got him into acting after noticing his expressive face while Connors was playing basketball. He appeared on the Los Angeles CBS station as “Touch” Connors in an episode of Jukebox Jury before the program went national via ABC in 1953. Connors is credited in his early films, such as Island in the Sky (1953), Swamp Women (a.k.a. Swamp Diamonds), Five Guns West (1955), The Day the World Ended (1955), and Flesh and the Spur (1957) as “Touch Connors”.
Connors recalled in an interview that he was renamed by Henry Willson saying that “Ohanian” was too close to the actor George O’Hanlon and came up with “Touch Connors”.
His film career started in the early 1950s. Connors was cast in the critically acclaimed John Wayne film, Island in the Sky (1953 film) in which he was a crewman on one of the search and rescue planes. In 1956, still billed as Touch Connors, he played an Amalekite herder in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments starring Charlton Heston.
He appeared in numerous television series, including the co-starring role in the 1955 episode “Tomas and the Widow” of the NBC western anthology series Frontier. He guest starred on the early sitcoms, Hey, Jeannie! and The People’s Choice. He guest starred in two Rod Cameron syndicated crime dramas, City Detective and the western-themed State Trooper, and played the villain in the first episode filmed (but second one aired) of ABC’s smash hit Maverick opposite James Garner in 1957.
In 1958, Connors appeared in the title role “Simon Pitt,” the series finale, of the NBC western Jefferson Drum, starring Jeff Richards as a frontier newspaper editor. He appeared too in another NBC western series, The Californians.
That same year, Connors was cast as Miles Borden, a corrupt U.S. Army lieutenant bitter over his $54 monthly pay, on NBC’s Wagon Train in the episode “The Dora Gray Story”, with Linda Darnell in the title role. Dan Blocker, prior to Bonanza, also appeared in this episode. About this time, he also appeared in NBC’s Cimarron City western series starring George Montgomery and John Smith.
Connors appeared in other syndicated series, The Silent Service, based on true stories of the submarine section of the United States Navy, Sheriff of Cochise, set about Bisbee, Arizona, Whirlybirds, an aviation adventure series starring Kenneth Tobey, and Rescue 8, based on stories of the Los Angeles County Fire Department and starring Jim Davis and Lang Jeffries.
Later, he was cast in the episode, “The Aerialist”, of the anthology series, Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond. In 1963, he guest starred as Jack Marson in the episode “Shadow of the Cougar” on the NBC modern western series, Redigo, starring Richard Egan. In 1964, Connors appeared in a pinch-hit role for Raymond Burr as Attorney Joe Kelly in the Perry Mason episode, “The Case of the Bullied Bowler.” In 1965, he co-starred in one of Robert Redford’s earliest film roles, a World War II black comedy, Situation Hopeless… But Not Serious alongside Sir Alec Guinness.
Connors later took the starring roles in Tightrope (1959–1960), Mannix (1967–1975), and Today’s F.B.I. (1981–1982). Because of the popularity of Tightrope in Mexico during the early 1960s, Discos Orfeon released a 45 rpm single of Connors singing in Spanish. Mannix was originally produced by Desilu Productions (later absorbed by Paramount Television). It was then-President Lucille Ball who pushed for CBS to keep the show on air after a lackluster first season in the ratings. This move enabled the show to become a long-running hit for the network. Connors was able to work with his boss on-screen during a cross-promotion episode of Ball’s Here’s Lucy series in 1971, showing his skill at comedy. The episode, which opened Lucy’s fourth season, is entitled “Lucy and Mannix are Held Hostage”. This was notable the first episode shot at Universal Studios, after Ball ceased producing her program at Paramount Studios.
Connors’ long history of police and military roles very possibly was the reason he was chosen to play Air Force Colonel Harrison “Hack” Peters in Herman Wouk’s 1988 World War II-based miniseries War and Remembrance.
Connors died on January 26th, 2017 at the age of 91 from leukemia at a hospital in Tarzana, California.