The past two weeks have been especially sad for the entertainment industry. While the untimely death of the talented Heath Ledger has received much of the news coverage, we’ve also seen the passing of such TV icons as Allan Melvin (Sam on The Brady Bunch), Lois Nettleton (whose many television appearances covered classic dramas like The Fugitive, cult TV-movies like Women in Chains and contemporary comedies such as Seinfeld) and, of course, Suzanne Pleshette (The Bob Newhart Show).I’m sad to report the loss of yet another TV icon. This morning I learned from my friend Anthony Wynn of the passing of Barry Morse, the versatile British actor best known to American audiences for his roles on The Fugitive (ABC, 1963-1967) and Space: 1999 (ITC, 1975-1977). Tony collaborated with Barry on many projects over the past ten years, including Barry’s recently published memoir, Remember with Advantages.
Barry proudly considered himself a “character actor” in the truest sense of the word. In a career that spanned 70 years, he brought to life literally hundreds of different characters on stage, screen and television throughout the U.S., U.K. and Canada. His vast body of work covered everything from Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw, to Gore Vidal and A.R. Gurney, to his own critically acclaimed one-man show, Merely Players, to memorable appearances on hundreds of television shows, including The Twilight Zone, The Untouchables, The Outer Limits and The Invaders, as well as groundbreaking miniseries like The Winds of War, War and Remembrance and Sadat.But in the annals of American pop culture, it is the character of Philip Gerard, “the police lieutenant obsessed with the capture” of the wrongly convicted Dr. Richard Kimble (David Janssen) on the Emmy Award-winning ABC series The Fugitive, for which Barry Morse is best remembered. Twenty years before Larry Hagman, J.R. Ewing and Dallas, Barry’s portrayal of Lt. Gerard was the original “man you loved to hate.”Perhaps Stephen King said it best. “Lt. Gerard really scared me as a kid,” he said to me when I interviewed for my book The Fugitive Recaptured. “Barry Morse was so good, he brought an element of reality to Gerard that a lot of TV characters didn’t have. Whereas most series characters remain emotionally static, Gerard actually seemed to grow less and less tightly wrapped as the show continued. Gerard was completely nuts – at least, I thought so. Kimble had made him crazy, and as The Fugitive went on, you could see him heading further and further into freako land.”Having gotten to know Barry a bit myself as a result of The Fugitive Recaptured, I can tell you he got a quite kick of Mr. King’s assessment. Though his years on The Fugitive represented a small fraction of his collective work, he remained proud of his association with the series and its impact on American dramatic television. We spoke many times during the three-year period in which I researched and wrote the book. He was a marvelous storyteller with uncanny powers of recollection, tremendous warmth and compassion, and great fondness for David Janssen and Quinn Martin. Plus, being veddy, veddy British, he also had a cheeky sense of humor. With the possible exception of Suzanne Pleshette, he was as refreshingly down to earth as any actor I’ve come to know.
Rest in peace, Lt. Gerard.
Pop Culture Critic and Television Historian
author, The Fugitive Recaptured and other books on television