Tuesday, February 05, 2008

R.I.P.: Barry Morse (1918-2008)

Barry Morse (above, right) earned iconic status in the 1960s as Lt. Philip Gerard, relentless pursuer of the wrongly convicted Dr. Richard Kimble (David Janssen, left) in The Fugitive, which boomers as diverse as myself and Stephen King still cherish as one of the coolest shows in the history of TV. Faithful viewers couldn't help hating the poor guy during most of the series' four-year run. (I vividly recall reading a mid-'60s magazine interview in which Morse complained, only half-jokingly, about strangers accosting him in public places and chiding him for tormenting that "nice Dr. Kimble.") Fortunately, however, the British-born actor got a chance to "redeem" himself in the famous final episode, when Gerard saved Kimble's bacon by -- bang! -- dropping the hammer on the elusive "one-armed man." (I loved this episode so much that, when it was aired as a daytime rerun, I played hooky from high school to re-watch it.)

Many boomers may also remember Morse as Prof. Victor Bergman in the '70s sci-fi series Space: 1999. And theatergoers throughout Canada -- where Morse spent most of his professional life -- doubtless have equally fond memories of his performances at the Shaw Theatre Festival and other venues. (An odd coincidence: Just a few months ago, while I was covering the Toronto Film Festival, I attended a preview screening of Eastern Promises at a moviehouse that had once been home for a theatrical company. Among the framed mementoes I noticed on the lobby wall: A poster for a stage production of Gore Vidal's Visit to a Small Planet starring and directed by -- cowabunga! -- that dude who used to chase David Janssen.)

And yet, really, with all due respect to those and his many other credits: All it took is one key role in a classic TV series to ensure Barry Morse's immortality. "He thought it was a good show — well filmed, well directed and well acted," Hayward Morse, the late actor's son, told the Associated Press. "He had nothing disparaging to say about The Fugitive." No kidding.

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