Which famous cop show was produced Lucille Ball’s Desilu Productions, created by Columbo co-creators Richard Levinson and William Link, and run by Mission: Impossible creator Bruce Geller? The classic CBS drama Mannix (1967-1975), which starred Mike Connors as the tough, caring, oft-injured Los Angeles private eye Joe Mannix.
Mannix, in fact, was knocked unconscious 55 times and shot 17 times during the series’ run (according to the 2014 book And Now, Back to Mannix by JoanAnn M. Paul), including one gunshot wound to the temple that left him with a case of psychosomatic blindness. Aside from being one of the most violent dramas of its day, Mannix also focused as much on the characters’ lives as it did on the cases Joe was hired to investigate, a groundbreaking feature that would soon be followed by other hit detective shows, from The Rockford Files to Magnum, P.I.
In honor of the new release of Mannix: The Complete Series DVD box set, here are six fun facts about the Emmy and Golden Globe-winning series, including how Lucille Ball helped create and save the show, some of the series’ most unlikely celebrity guest stars, and the connection between Mannix and… The Brady Bunch.
1. Mannix premiered on September 16, 1967, and the series will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year. Mannix’s eight-season run also makes it the longest-running ever Desilu drama, topping Mission: Impossible’s seven seasons, The Untouchables’ four seasons, and three seasons each for I Spy (produced by Triple F Productions under the Desilu umbrella) and Star Trek.
2. More reasons for Mike Connors to love Lucy: Connors became Joe Mannix after Gary Morton, Ball’s second husband and the head of Desilu when Mannix was being developed, saw his cool car. A vintage auto collector, Morton noticed Connors’ 1937 Bentley convertible outside his office on the Desilu lot when Connors was visiting. The two started talking, and Morton remembered he was looking for the lead for a new detective series, and thought Connors would be perfect.
Later, when the show’s first season left CBS ready to cancel it, Ball personally went to bat for Mannix, convincing the network to renew the drama as long as changes were made. Joe Mannix went from working for a company called Intertect, which focused on using computers to solve cases, in Season 1, to being a solo P.I. — using his low-tech people and fist-fighting skills — in Season 2, and the show eventually became a Top 10 ratings hit.
3. Joe had a couple of police friends who helped him on cases occasionally, including Lt. Adam Tobias, played by The Brady Bunch dad Robert Reed. In the Season 3 Mannix episode “Who Is Sylvia?” Mannix attended a party at the home of Phil, one of his old Army buddies, and the set for Phil’s home was also the set used for… the Brady family’s headquarters. Check out the video below, where you’ll recognize that iconic staircase. And yes, that is Jessica Walter playing Phil’s wife, Kathy, making for a Mannix-meets-The Brady Bunch-meets-Arrested Development classic TV triple play.
But wait, there’s more … in the Mannix Season 6 finale, “The Danford File,” Mannix attends another cocktail party, once again at a home represented by The Brady Bunch set. This time, the woman of the house is named Laura… and she’s played by Jessica Walter.
4. In the 1973 Mannix Season 7 episode “Little Girl Lost,” Joe investigated the murder of a journalist. In the 1997 Season 4 “Hard-Boiled Murder” episode of the Dick Van Dyke series Diagnosis: Murder, Joe was revealed to be friends with Van Dyke’s Dr. Mark Sloane, who helped him suss out the culprit from the murder that happened 24 years earlier in TV land. The sequel episode even included appearances by “Little Girl Lost” guest stars Pernell Roberts, Julie Adams and Beverly Garland.
Connors also appeared as Mannix in the Season 4 Here’s Lucy episode “Lucy and Mannix Are Held Hostage,” when Joe Mannix saved Lucy from bumbling thieves… with the help of Lucy and a bottle of ketchup.
5. As part of the second-season revamp of the show, Mannix hired a secretary to work in his new solo office. Gail Fisher played Peggy Fair, the widow of one of Joe’s cop pals. (The role of Peggy was originally supposed to be played by Nichelle Nichols, but the actress was contractually committed to continue playing Lt. Uhura on that other Desilu production, Star Trek.)
Fisher became the first black actress to win an Emmy in the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series category in 1970, and she was the first black actress to win a Golden Globe as Best Actress in a Television Series – Drama, in 1973. Connors also took home some awards for his role as Joe Mannix: He won a Golden Globe, as Best TV Actor – Drama, in 1970, and the series won the Globe for Best TV Show – Drama in 1972.
6. Among Mannix’s long list of random guest stars: Neil Young (performing with Buffalo Springfield in Season 1’s “Warning: Live Blueberries”); Neil Diamond (performing as Neil Diamond in Season 1’s “The Many Deaths of Saint Christopher”); Milton Berle (playing a comedian named Danny Brite in Season 5’s “Nightshade”); Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (as a college basketball player named Jeff in Season 4’s “A Day Filled with Shadows”); and Lou Rawls (playing a singer named Vance Logan, who’s framed for murder in Season 5’s “Lifeline.”)
Mannix: The Complete Series is available on DVD from CBS DVD/Paramount.
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