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Actor David Janssen was almost the perfect TV hero.
That special quality was probably most evident in the series "Harry O," produced in the mid-1970s.
He played private detective Harry Orwell, a bit cynical but brave, hobbled by the physical infirmities of a hard life catching up with him as he worked his way toward 50.
"Harry O" is considered by most TV critics as a small masterpiece of the television form and Janssen an example of the special charisma that very few actors have before the television camera.
He played gentle, tentative heroes, perfect for television in the 1960s and '70s but perhaps not quite right for motion pictures. Although TV brought him fame and fortune, Janssen's film career was far less distinguished.
Consider the titles: "Bonzo Goes to College," "Dondi," "Ring of Fire," "Hell to Eternity," "Macho Callahan," and "Once Is Not Enough," to name a few.
It was television that saved Janssen from a career of B-movie obscurity. First, the actor and producer Dick Powell chose him to portray Richard Diamond, one of the first hard-boiled TV detectives.
In the 1957-60 series "Richard Diamond, Private Detective," Janssen's secretary, Sam, appeared only as a pair of legs and a voice. It was Mary Tyler Moore's first TV series role.
Then came "The Fugitive," in which he played a Midwestern doctor, Richard Kimble, who was wrongly accused of murdering his wife and who was constantly on the run from the police as he tried to find the real killer, a one-armed man.
After "The Fugitive" ran its course, there was what seemed an unending procession of TV movies and miniseries, including 1978's "Centennial."
Some were good, some not-so-good, but Janssen was always in demand, always working.
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