In Larchmont Village, a frightened man on a deserted street hears footsteps behind him. The man flees into a dead end alley. The predator follows and raises his gun. “Finally,” he says. He squeezes the trigger.
“This is Dr. Richard Kimble’s recurring nightmare,” intones narrator William Conrad on the early ‘60s TV series “The Fugitive” as the camera cuts to Kimble waking up in a cold sweat. On the run from the law, wrongly convicted of murdering his wife, Kimble must find the elusive one-armed man to prove his innocence while eluding the obsessive Lt. Gerard.
Thirty years, many reruns of the show’s 120 episodes and one feature film later, that dream sequence from “Nightmare on Northoak,” the 11th in the series, came to life again this weekend on Larchmont Avenue.
Playing Kimble and Gerard were 12-year-old Russell Van Vlack, a junior high student from Goodrich, Mich., and Michael Treat, a Union Pacific Railroad employee from Omaha. The production values on this shoot consisted of a single hand-held video camera. Cloutless, the crew could not clear the street. So for this version of the terrifying pursuit, Larchmont Avenue bustled with the Village’s Saturday morning cappuccino crowd.
The occasion was FugeCon II, the second annual “Fugitive” convention, which brought together about 150 die-hard fans from as far away as France and England to share feelings and relive moments from what organizer Texas Bob Reinhardt called “the greatest drama in television history.”
Reinhardt, a food service supervisor for an Austin, Tex., nursing home, said he’s been hooked on “The Fugitive” since he saw the first episode in September, 1963, when he was 13.
“It was unusual for me to get interested in that kind of show, because I was into the action shows,” said Reinhardt. “The first episode had only a couple of punches thrown and two gunshots at the end. It was more based on interaction between Kimble and the people he met.”
Reinhardt is president of FUGITIVES (Fans United for Great Intelligent Television and an Interesting Video Entertainment Series), a fan club he started in March, 1991. The group is one of three fan clubs dedicated to “The Fugitive” or its lead actor, the late David Janssen, to organize around that time. “It’s almost as if the spirit of David Janssen, in the month and year of (what would have been) his 60th birthday, three of us were moved to start fan clubs,” said Reinhardt.
The convention kicked off Friday night with a banquet at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, significant to “Fugitive” lovers because it was built in 1927, the year Richard Kimble was born.
Guest speakers included Roy Huggins, the creator of the series, Alan Armer, the producer, Jacquelyn Scott, who played Kimble’s sister and other ancillary “Fugitive” figures like actor Joseph Campanella and art director Serge Krizman. Muffett Martin, widow of executive producer Quinn Martin, attended.
“That was a highlight, meeting all the people who were involved with ‘The Fugitive,’ ” said Michael Kelly, a 37-year-old deejay from Hammond, Ind. “You saw their names when you watched the show, but you didn’t have faces to go along, so it was nice to meet them.”
It was also an opportunity for fans to get up and tell everyone what “The Fugitive” meant to them. That made the whole weekend worthwhile for at least one guest of honor. “It was fabulous. I couldn’t believe the number of people who were there,” said Bernice Janssen, David Janssen’s mother. “Everybody got up and some of the people even cried about how they worshiped him and how he changed their whole lives.”
After the “Nightmare at Northoak” taping Saturday morning, the group took a tour of the old Samuel Goldwyn studios (now called Warner-Hollywood) led by “Fugitive” second assistant director Bob Rubin. Then they lunched at the Formosa Cafe, where, according to the program, “David often ate.” Then it was off to a book signing for “The Fugitive Recaptured,” a 30th anniversary companion volume to the television show.
Saturday evening, fans met at the carousel at the Santa Monica Pier, to repeat another classic “Fugitive” scene. “This carousel is really important to us because of that scene in the episode, ‘Brass Ring,’ ” said Dave Brown, who owns a video production company in Richardson, Tex., co-organized the convention and was director, cinematographer and video cam wielder Saturday.
“This was where Kimble was trying to get away from the cops and he accidentally pushed the lever and started the thing up. And Kimble was moving and the cop was moving,” said Brown.
Although logistics--namely a full crowd of kids riding the carousel--prevented videotaping the scene Brown envisioned, the faux-Fugitives did re-enact another scene from the episode. In this scene, which took place on the staircase alongside the carousel, guest star Angie Dickinson’s character, who had framed Kimble for the murder of her brother, in a crisis of conscience confessed as the cops were leading Kimble away.
Asked how she felt after playing the Dickinson part, Judy Accurso, says “numb. Especially when this is practically your favorite episode.”
Accurso, a New York City housewife, came to L.A. alone to be with fellow fans. Her husband doesn’t share her devotion, Accurso says, but he does understand. “I tell everybody that he’s been willing to put a paper bag over his head with David Janssen’s picture on it. If that’s not devotion, I don’t know what is.”
After the filming and a sunset picnic at the beach, the group trekked to a Hollywood theater to watch the film version of “The Fugitive,” followed by a screening back at the Roosevelt of their own film, which Brown edited, looping in dialogue and dubbing in Conrad’s narration.
The emotional high point of the three-day “Fugitive” fest came Sunday morning as the convention wound to a close. Starting at around 9:30, fans began to trickle into Hillside Memorial Park in Culver City, where Janssen is buried. Many brought flowers. Some took pictures. “When I was a younger child, I thought, ‘If I ever get married, I’d like to have him as my best man,’ ” says Michael Kelly, who recently became engaged. “And I used to hope someday to meet him.
“A lot of these people really like David, and I’m sure 90% have never really met the man, so, like me, they’re are glad to come to see where he’s buried. It kinda puts things to rest.”