David Janssen on his time at Universal

Before The Fugitive, Janssen was another cog in the studio system.

No, the headline isn't a reference to an Orlando vacation.

Back in the day, actors would be signed to contracts with particular studios. Movies would exclusively star actors who were under contract to that given studio. A Warner Bros. picture would be populated with actors under a Warner Bros. contract. Same thing with Columbia. When people refer to the "Studio System," this is what they mean. Those contracts gave the executives at those studios more power. Lots of stars' lives were held by a select few studio bosses. The studio executives giveth, the studio executives taketh away. Nowadays, actors are free to mess up their own lives, but back then, it was all up to people like Jack Warner and Carl Laemmle.

One such actor whose life was held under the sway of the studio system was David Janssen. Before he was famous for The Fugitive, Janssen was under contract with Universal-International, which is today known as Universal Pictures. There, his talents were mostly underutilized in movies like Swamp Fire and Untamed Frontier. It was great work for a then-unknown Janssen during his teenage years, but most of his roles were forgettable. However, Janssen was very giving when reflecting on his time in the studio system, and noted the different ways the period benefitted his career in the long run. 

"As part of the passing parade, I saw many kids come and go," Janssen told The Detroit Free Press in 1963. "We had drama classes, boxing lessons, dancing, and fencing given us by the studio. It spent a fortune developing new talent." 

Despite the control that studios had over their actors, Janssen contended that he was a better actor for the time he spent at Universal- International. Despite his spot on the lot, though, Janssen didn't spend a lot of time cavorting with his more famous coworkers.

"I never met Clark Gable nor Ava Gardner, but I was introduced to Lana Turner once," said Janssen. "I'm no hero worshipper, but I've wondered what kind of girl Ava really is. I've tried to figure if it's the old grasshopper story that the world owes them a living that makes them who they are: I'm curious as to what makes them tick." 

Three years later, ABC would premiere The Fugitive, making Janssen's face one of the most-watched on television.

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5 Comments

Runeshaper 6 months ago
It was cool that the studios offered so much. Good article, MeTV (-:
MrsPhilHarris Runeshaper 6 months ago
They sure did!
LoveMETV22 6 months ago
Good article. It was nice that David Janssen had complimentary comments about Universal. Too bad he
never got to meet Clark Gable or Ava Gardner.

On the "Studio System", nothing has changed "Thenadays or Nowadays." However "Present Day" it would be nice if the Studios/Writers/Actors and others in the entertainment Industry, are able to finish their give/take struggle and find a mutual agreement that works for all.
cperrynaples 6 months ago
It was typical in the '60's for most studios to have contract players! Universal kept this up the longest through the '70's!
texasluva 6 months ago
The Fugitive, making Janssen's face one of the most-watched on television. That he was with 120 51 minute segments that ran 4 years. Most were riveting when Dr. Richard Kimble was on the run for his life. To hopefully find that person "the one armed man that actually murdered his wife" Each episode not only got him closer to that answer but with Lt. Gerard Hot on Kimble's heels. Vowing to recapture him and back to justice. If there is one TV Series to take in a watch, this be the one.
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