Up in Roy Huggins’ bedroom is a picture taken of him in 1960, smiling smugly at the camera. It was shot by his wife just moments after he came up with the idea for a television series called “The Fugitive.”
“I felt it was a great idea, and I wanted to record the moment in history when I thought of it,” Huggins explained.
Twenty-three years later, “The Fugitive” still brings that smile to Huggins’ face. His idea, about an innocent man accused of murdering his wife who escapes from authorities to engage in a relentless pursuit of the real killer--a one-armed man--had a successful run on ABC from 1963 to 1967.
Huggins’ smile will probably grow wider still today with the release of the big-screen version of “The Fugitive,” which is expected to do blockbuster business. Huggins is one of the executive producers of the Warner Bros. film, which stars Harrison Ford as the hunted Dr. Richard Kimble and Tommy Lee Jones as his obsessive hunter, U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard, who is determined to bring him to justice.
The big-screen “Fugitive” marks yet another milestone for the 79-year-old Huggins, who also created such classic television series as “Maverick,” “77 Sunset Strip,” “Run for Your Life” and (with Stephen J. Cannell) “The Rockford Files.” He said the film effectively captures the spirit of the series, which starred David Janssen as Kimble and Barry Morse as Lt. Philip Gerard.
“The filmmakers and the people at Warners did a tremendously good job with this movie,” Huggins said enthusiastically as he relaxed in the living room of his large West Los Angeles-area home. “I don’t really take any credit for it. Wish I could.”
Huggins had to leave the film in mid-shoot after he was diagnosed with throat cancer. He was successfully treated and is now feeling fine.
“The Fugitive” is the latest in a recent rash of vintage television shows and sketches that are being resurrected in feature films. “The Addams Family,” “The Untouchables,” “Dragnet,” “Wayne’s World,” “Coneheads” and “Dennis the Menace” have already come down the pike. On the horizon are “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “The Flintstones” and “Maverick.”
Huggins doesn’t believe the trend is a sign of declining creativity in Hollywood.
“The movie-making community is just as creative as ever,” he said. “But making movies is such a gamble that they like to go with titles that have a large curiosity factor. The bottom line is financial and insecurity.”
Bringing “The Fugitive” to the big screen had its own problems, said Huggins. “I always had the right to make the show as a movie, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it. The series had come to a conclusion with Kimble catching the one-armed man and being found innocent. The movie had to be different--catching the one-armed man wouldn’t be enough. There had to be a second-act curtain and something else would have to happen.”
Keith Barish, the other executive producer for the film, convinced Huggins that an exciting movie could be made. “He said the people who go to movies hadn’t seen the show when it was first on, so it would be new to them. All these other elements were added to make it fresh, and they added the last twist. They did what they had to do.”
(“The Fugitive” television show is currently running on cable’s Arts & Entertainment channel at 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. weekdays. The first episode will be shown Saturday at 4 p.m. and the two-part finale, still one of the highest-rated series episodes in the history of television, will be shown Saturday at 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. NBC will also show the first “Fugitive” on Aug. 18 at 10 p.m., part one of the finale on Aug. 19 at 10 p.m. and part two on Aug. 21 at 10 p.m.)
Huggins came up with the idea for “The Fugitive” after leaving Warner Bros., where he had served as producer of “Cheyenne,” a Western that was the first filmed hourlong series and the first series produced by a movie studio.
“Westerns were tremendously popular at the time, and I was trying to figure out how to put that kind of genre into a contemporary environment,” Huggins recalled. “I wanted to have a hero who behaved like a Western hero--who was totally free, had no permanent residence or commitments, no responsibilities.”
Huggins said he never intended the show to turn into a chase drama: “I never wanted to emphasize that aspect. I wanted it basically to be a show about a man who was in trouble the moment he got up from bed every day. But (executive producer) Quinn Martin added that aspect to it, turning it into a ‘Les Miserables’ sort of show. Without him, there never would have been a Javert-sort of character with Girard.”
But even though he was so confident with the “Fugitive” concept that he had his wife break out the camera to record the moment, the idea was met with hostility.
“And I intended to stay out,” he said.
For two years, Huggins got the same response--from his lawyer to his agent to close friends who told him it would ruin his career. “They thought it was distasteful, glorified lawlessness and seemed pointless. I was so upset I decided to enter graduate school at UCLA to study political theory. I was through with television.”
Only in a later meeting with Leonard Goldenson, who was then president of American Broadcasting-Paramount Theaters, the precursor of ABC Inc., did “The Fugitive” finally find validation.
Now the show and movie have Huggins running. He said there’s the possibility of a sequel to the film and of a new television version.
Huggins is also writing his memoirs of his golden age of television, “Tears From a Glass Eye.” He has no desire to get back into television on a full-time basis: “It’s for younger men--preferably around 14.”