Much of the childhood that I remember quite clearly revolved around television, radio and the movies; I grew up with many heroes who were musicians or TV and movie stars. In fact, I had scrapbooks with clippings from the newspapers about these stars, and the walls of my bedroom were adorned with posters of actors and singers.
And so it has been really sad for me to have to say goodbye, over and over, to some cherished “friends”. From David Bowie and George Michael to Alan Rickman and Carrie Fisher, the long list of farewells to entertainers last year became almost routine, but never less sorrowful.
Then this year, Mary Tyler Moore passed on. Moore was like an institution. I am pretty sure she – and her coworkers, Lou Grant in particular – were the reason I so badly wanted to be a journalist at age eight. Moore was such a strong female character on TV, so empowering, funny, hardworking … and, well, she was the star of the show! I wanted to be just like that!
Just watching old episodes and listening to the theme song bring back so many memories of a time gone by. I think The Mary Tyler Moore Show was where I first met many other favourite actors including Betty White, Georgia Engel, Valerie Harper, Ed Asner and the late Ted Knight.
When Moore passed away, there was a flood of tributes online, on TV and in newspapers everywhere.
It saddened me, however, that when Mike Connors bowed out recently, not as many people cared. “Mannix who?” was the more common response I seemed to hear here.
Mannix was a private detective TV show that ran for eight seasons from 1968 to 1975 in the United States. I remember watching the show here in Malaysia in the 1970s, at a very young age. It was one of my father’s favourite TV series and so we never missed it. It was in a time when the family would sit around the TV and watch whatever was on because we only had two channels to choose from after all.
Connors, 91 when he died, was one of the highest-paid actors on American television in the 1970s. He was nominated for an Emmy four times for his work on Mannix and won a Golden Globe award in 1970 as best actor in a dramatic series, back when I had never even heard of the Emmys or Golden Globes.
Variety says that he played basketball at UCLA where he was nicknamed “Touch”, and was credited in his first few films as Touch Connors. If you’re into B movies, go look for Roger Corman’s 1956 Swamp Women or Voodoo Woman, and you’ll find him there. I also just found out that he was in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments.
But it was Mannix that put Connors in the spotlight.
As Joe Mannix, Connors played the quintessential detective of those times – tough, handsome (he was of Armenian descent), drove cool cars, he was smart, stubborn and not afraid to get into a fistfight if it meant solving a case.
I remember the sort of car he drove (Google tells me it was a customised Oldsmobile Toronado) and how suave he looked driving it, or just walking down the street. (I was maybe five or six at the time but it seems to have made quite an impression!)
One of the things I remember most was the very jazzy theme music by Lalo Schifrin; who also wrote the tracks for Mission: Impossible (1966), Starsky And Hutch (1975), Cool Hand Luke (1967) and Bullitt (1968). The tune would keep playing throughout the episode at every interlude.
I think Mannix was one of the first of its kind – well, at least it felt that way for me.
It was a sort of template which spawned a whole era of crime series – from Cannon (the fat guy), to Barnaby Jones (the old guy), Longstreet (the blind guy), Rockford Files (the ex-con), Perry Mason (the defence attorney), Charlie’s Angels (the female ex-cops), Magnum PI (the moustachioed one from Hawaii), Tenspeed And Brownshoe (conman and accountant). There’s heaps and heaps more – Simon & Simon, Matt Houston, Remington Steele (my first brush with Pierce Brosnan), Tucker’s Witch, Riptide, The Equalizer, Moonlighting, Spenser: For Hire, right up to 2004’s Veronica Mars.
And these were just the detective series. There is a whole other list of cop shows which were just as captivating – always full of action, mystery solving and colourful characters. These days you can go through a whole season of a crime show and even the one darn murder remains unsolved. Sheesh! I am currently on Episode Three of Paranoid on Netflix (starring Indira Varma and Robert Glenister) and two people have been murdered in different continents, the police are clueless, and more time seems to be spent on their personal stories rather than getting to the bottom of the mysterious killings!
Having said that, television has never been better. TV shows are compelling and dramatic. Scripts are rich with thought-provoking storylines and delicious dialogue. Characters are developed, making them so memorable that you remember them long after the series have ended (here’s looking at you, Jim Hopper of Stranger Things – oh my god did you see David Harbour’s acceptance speech at the SAG awards?).
But when stars fade out, we need to pay tribute and remember their contribution.
Mike Connors’ passing marks the end of an era – the good old days when a TV show had a great theme track, was jam-packed with action, and featured a strong leading man or woman who kicked ass and changed the world, all in an hour or less.
Every now and again, it’s nice to hit the rewind button, and binge-watch those bygone days and the series that set the scene for today’s golden era of television.
Goodbye Mary Tyler Moore and Mike Connors, and thank you for some of the great TV moments you shared with us.