Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Barry Morse

You might not remember that name, but if you're a certain age -- OK, OK, if you're my age -- chances are you'll remember Lt. Philip Gerard, the grim policeman who hounded Richard Kimble in "The Fugitive."

Yes, that was Barry Morse. He died last weekend at the age of 89.

Even now, as I recall the series -- in its original run and in its reruns -- I remember Gerard as a rather fearsome character, always tightlipped, never losing control and somehow scarier for never losing control.

And I suppose if you weren't around at the time, it might be difficult to believe what a hold the series' finale had on the American public. Is there an actor anywhere, in any century, who could look more put-upon than David Janssen, who played Kimble? And I can still remember the catharsis I felt (my aversion to violence notwithstanding) when Kimble, in the climactic scene at the top of an amusement park ride, began to beat the crap out of the one-armed man who had actually killed his wife. And how, when the one-armed man fought back, got the upper hand and was about to kill Kimble, a gunshot from below killed the killer, and how the shooter was revealed to be Lt. Philip Gerard himself. Wow!

Not to mention the epilog (as producer Quinn Martin always spelled it), in which Kimble was shown beginning his best day in years. (What guy wouldn't want to start the day with a new lease on life and a new girlfriend, especially one played by Diane Baker?) And how Gerard was standing by and shown to be, um, smiling, though maybe a bit painfully? (That would make sense -- I suspect Gerard hadn't used those facial muscles in some time.)

Morse also did a science fiction show, "Space 1999," which I never did watch. But I also remember him from a "Twilight Zone" in which he played an abusive critic who buys a player piano that proves his undoing. Then again, anyone who would abuse Joan Hackett (who played his wife) is clearly a swine who deserves whatever Rod Serling could dish out. (Or more specifically, Earl Hamner Jr., who wrote the episode long before he created "The Waltons.")

I can't remember whether it was during the original run of "The Fugitive" or afterward, but I did see Barry Morse as himself as the host of a small show on PBS. (Or maybe it was NET at the time -- remember National Educational Television?) How amazed I was at his volubility and his British accent! This, my unsophisticated self thought, was truly a classy guy!

And years later, my somewhat more sophisticated self still thinks so.

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