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THE OFFICIAL FAN’S GUIDE TO THE FUGITIVE

“The Fugitive, a QM Production starring David Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble, an innocent victim of blind justice. Falsely convicted for the murder of his wife; reprieved by fate when a train wreck freed him en route to the death house. Freed him to hide in lonely desperation, to change his identity, to toil at many jobs. Freed him to search for a one-armed man he saw leave the scene of the crime. Freed him to run before the relentless pursuit of the police lieutenant obsessed with his capture.”

-- Text of opening narration to The Fugitive read by William Conrad (heard from first episode of second season through last episode of the series)

The original incarnation of the television series The Fugitive (ABC, 1963-1967) was not explicitly about the Cold War. But the program’s premise of an innocent man falsely accused of the murder of his wife and on the run from the “death house” was at least subliminally informed by the tense times of the era. The early black and white episodes, in particular, exude a palpable suspense that is still thrilling to experience today.

That suspense, of course, is driven by the fact that the viewer knows from the very beginning that Dr. Richard Kimble is not guilty of killing his wife, but faces certain execution if captured (1963’s death row was a lot swifter than today’s model). In a unique role reversal for the early 1960s, the police officer “obsessed” with Kimble’s capture, Lt. Philip Gerard, is actually the villain of the series. Barry Morse (1918-2008) plays Gerard like a bureaucratic fussbudget whose one guiding mission in life is to return his prey to custody (Kimble escaped on Gerard’s watch). It is not until the very last episode of the series that any crack is seen in Gerard’s cold, analytical worldview.

David Janssen (1931-1980), in turn, portrays Kimble with a twitchy, hangdog demeanor who has a mission of his own – to hunt down the man who really did murder his wife, the elusive drifter known as the One Armed Man. Unlike his pursuer, Kimble is always willing to go out of his way to help people even if it means delaying his own desperate search. Indeed, on more than one occasion Kimble saves Gerard’s life.

But is Kimble all good? Not really. And this is where the intriguing film noir qualities of the series kick in. There is a daring subtext present throughout the run of the show that the character of Dr. Kimble is not exactly emotionally destroyed by the tragic death of his wife. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that Mrs. Kimble’s murder was a net positive for the Fugitive. To understand the merits of this argument, one must revisit the state of the Kimble union prior to her untimely demise.

The Kimble marriage was not exactly Ozzie and Harriet. And the fact that the couple was heard arguing (about adoption) on the day Helen Kimble was murdered helps seal the jury’s verdict against the doctor. Richard Kimble wanted to adopt a child because his wife was incapable of bearing their own. Helen, who liked to swig martinis and challenge one-armed intruders, was not the most sympathetic victim. So when Richard Kimble starts romancing some of the women he encounters on his flight from justice, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that life on the run is not all bad.

In stark contrast, there is no such moral ambiguity of this type present in the 1993 Harrison Ford film version of the series. Supposedly there was a brief romantic subplot between Ford’s Kimble and the Julianne Moore emergency room doctor character, but it was dropped. What remained in the released movie was the Moore character dropping a dime on Kimble when she spots him in a hospital hallway helping a sick child. And the Helen Kimble as seen in the film (played by Selma Ward) has none of the unbalanced qualities of the small screen Helen.

Of course, the suspected (and always officially denied) origins of The Fugitive rest in one of the most sensational trials of the Cold War era – the Dr. Sam Sheppard murder trial of 1954. Such dark source material is bound to have an impact on a dramatized treatment. Sheppard was a handsome young osteopathic surgeon from a Cleveland, Ohio suburb convicted of murdering his wife, Marilyn. Sheppard (1923-1970) always proclaimed his innocence and insisted that a “bushy haired intruder” committed the crime. Sheppard was eventually acquitted in a 1966 re-trial, but could never escape the public suspicion that he had gotten away with murder. Sheppard did not enhance his image by getting engaged to the flamboyant German divorcee Ariane Tebbenjohanns while still in prison (they wed three days after his release).

In the fictionalized reinvention of Dr. Sheppard’s saga, the doubt of guilt has been removed from the protagonist’s back, but he is not without the flaws alluded to earlier. For example, Helen Kimble is clearly not on the doctor’s mind in the “morning after” scene from the September 29, 1964 episode “Man on a String.” In fact, it is beyond a reasonable doubt that Kimble and guest star Lois Nettleton have had an evening of passion. It must have been a fairly shocking thing to see in 1964. And there were other encounters Kimble had during the course of the series that were hard to misinterpret.

The repeated depiction of Kimble’s hometown of Stafford, Indiana as a gossipy suburban nightmare is another example of how Kimble’s life on the run could be perceived to be preferable to the stagnant existence of mandatory attendance at cocktail and Bridge parties. The fact that a jury of his peers convicted Kimble, a favorite son, is another excuse to hate the town. And, of course, Kimble’s antagonist, Gerard, is shown throughout the series to be an entrenched member of the Stafford community. The viewer therefore cannot help but feel a twinge of dread when, in the famous final episode, the freshly exonerated Kimble decides to set down roots again in this vindictive town.

The last shot shows Kimble strolling down a sidewalk with the last of his post-Helen conquests, Jean Carlisle (played by Diane Baker with none of the eccentricities of Dr. Sheppard’s second wife). He flinches briefly as a police car drives by. The audience is left to imagine what happens next.

Mel Proctor’s excellent The Official Fan’s Guide to the Fugitive is a perfect companion book for the obsessed Fugitive fan. Proctor, clearly a fan himself, provides an originally researched history of the show (this is not a clip job from TV Guide as so many of these types of books are), an episode guide and even a copy of the original treatment for the series by creator Roy Huggins. And just for fun Proctor also provides a list of all of Richard Kimble’s aliases from every single episode! This is probably the kind of trivia that can be found today with a couple of Google searches, but not when Proctor was researching his book in the early nineties. That is the kind of obsession the editors of CONELRAD respect and love.

THE OFFICIAL FAN’S GUIDE TO THE FUGITIVE
By Mel Proctor
Copyright 1995
Longmeadow Press, Stamford, CT
185 pp

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