Actor Mike Connors died surrounded by family Thursday afternoon at a Los Angeles hospital from complications of leukemia that had been diagnosed a week earlier, said his son-in-law, Mike Condon.
Mike Connors was best known for playing detective Joe Mannix in the CBS television series, Mannix. Connors was of Armenian descent and was born Krekor Ohanian in Fresno, California on August 15, 1925. Connors’ acting career spanned six decades; in addition to his work on television, he appeared in numerous films.
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.
Director 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 Sudden Fear (1952), Island in the Sky (1953), Swamp Women (Swamp Diamonds), Five Guns West (1955), The Day the World Ended (1955), Shake, Rattle and Rock (1956), 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 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 the second one aired) of ABC’s smash hit Maverick opposite James Garner in 1957.
In 1958, Connors appeared in the title role of the episode “Simon Pitt”, the series finale of the NBC Western Jefferson Drum, starring Jeff Richards as a frontier newspaper editor. He also appeared in another NBC Western series, The Californians.
That same year, Connors was cast as Miles Borden, a corrupt US 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. About this time, he also appeared on an episode of NBC’s Western series Cimarron City.
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 in and about Bisbee, Arizona; Whirlybirds, an aviation adventure series; and Rescue 8, based on stories of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. An episode of Studio 57 starring Connors and titled “Getaway Car” was proposed as a pilot for a series about the CHP to be called Motorcycle Cop. Connors also co-starred (as the villain) in the classic 1956 Roger Corman sci-fi film, The Day The World Ended, and also co-starred in Roger Corman’s Swamp Women that same year.
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).
Mannix was originally produced by Desilu Productions (later absorbed by Paramount Television). Then-president Lucille Ball 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 as the first episode shot at Universal Studios, after Ball ceased producing her program at Paramount Studios.
Connors played Air Force Colonel Harrison “Hack” Peters in Herman Wouk’s 1988 World War II-based miniseries War and Remembrance. Connors’ final appearance was in a Two and a Half Men episode, where he played a love interest of Evelyn.
Personal life and death
Connors married Mary Lou Willey in 1949; together they had a son, Matthew Gunner Ohanian, and a daughter, Dana Lou Connors.
Connors died in Tarzana, California, a week after being diagnosed with leukemia, at the age of 91.