I’ll start off by saying, Mike Phelps is a friend of mine since I interviewed him. You can’t help it. But that doesn’t mean this review will be anything but honest. If I couldn’t give an honest review on the site I created then I would not do the review.
David Janssen wasn’t just a Star. He was human like the rest of us. He had the same problems but at times magnified with different circumstances but the Exact. Same. Problems. It’s just that his problems were free game for the world to see. Just think, you frown in a picture next to your wife or girlfriend and the next thing you know the world hears there is trouble in paradise. You and your girl find out there is a problem in your life months before there is one. Self fulling perhaps? Who knows?
In David Janssen-Our Conversations Volume One-The Early Years: 1965-1972 we discover just how human David Janssen was. The original Fugitive before Harrison Ford knew what a Wookie was and the reason the movie Ford was in was ever even made. But we also discover how super human he was. His long time non-Hollywood friend Michael Phelps gives us an inside look at just how David Janssen handled some of the toughest moments of his life, including his divorce from his first wife, Ellie Janssen. If you don’t know about that particular part of Janssen’s life, you’ll find out why I call Janssen super human.
David Janssen’s success with The Fugitive series and his problems following its success and its ending while still at the top of the ratings are discussed along with relationship problems with Ellie Janssen, Rosemary Forsyth and the woman he missed out on, as well as his love for the children the women brought into his life.
I like that we see David’s side of things, even these many years after Ellie Janssen’s biography David Janssen-My Fugitive told a decidedly different story about her time with David. A biography in which Michael Phelps was involved with but has clearly stated was Ellie’s story, not his. He typed as she dictated with his filling in blanks one moment while dodging flying glass objects another.
Michael Phelps’ back ground as a police officer prior to meeting David Janssen and then in security and as an investigator comes through in his approach to sharing his memories. As a historian I enjoyed the straightforward way the conversations were presented with small snippets of Michael Phelps’ own life interlaced to give a good passage of time and some parallels of the two friends’ lives that I’m not even sure Phelps realizes. This wasn’t just about a man sitting around waiting for his famous friend to call. Mike had his own life and David was interested in that life. Mike cared about David Janssen just as you care about your best friend. The long distance friendship Janssen and Phelps shared proved to me what kind of man Janssen was more than the words spoken revealed. And Mike’s concern for David throughout is obvious. That’s Mike. That’s Mike then, and that’s Mike now.
I enjoyed discovering David Janssen’s opinions about John Wayne, which I could see as being true. The discussions between Phelps and Janssen about Jack Webb of Dragnet fame who was the creator and executive producer of O’Hara: U.S. Treasury, a one season Janssen series. The people David found to be true friends were at times surprising to me. As you read through the conversations David also reveals more about himself than I think Michael Phelps realizes. In a way I think Mike was living a life that David Janssen wanted, but never realized it was what he wanted. David never actually recognized that was part of the thing that made his friendship with Michael Phelps work.
You move through the book at a good pace waiting for that next communication with David Janssen to find out what was going on in all facets of his life. Parts of conversations at times were just like any other friendship in the world in that things were repeated just like you would to your own friend; Greetings, inside jokes and endearments. You find yourself saying the same things with the nuggets of information mixed in. That was part of the editing agreement Michael Phelps had, don’t touch the conversations. Just think, “Hi, Dave.” “How did you know it was me,” Mike said with a laugh through the phone. “I would kill anyone else calling me at 3 AM.” (my paraphrasing of dialogue) That’s Michael Phelps.
As for the writing itself? Chapters are short so you commit to very small amounts of time reading and you know if you start another chapter it won’t be much to jump into as you are about to head out the door or go to bed. David Janssen did have a use of language at times that one might would expect from someone in the middle of situations he found himself in, but that adds to the authenticity of the book. I recommend reading this over the course of days as opposed to in one or two sittings. The reasons being there is a lot of information and the repetitive nature of parts of conversations between friends might lead ones eyes to skip forward. If you do, you might miss little moments that are very telling.
Michael Phelps gives the warts and all. Sure, Janssen was his friend but he gives it all to us. We get to make our own opinions.
If you are wanting a book to learn about the behind the scenes world of Hollywood, how actors had to play the game, how they had to worry about things we never need to and learn about a TV Icon Legend, about how a TV series really is made, then this is the book for you. Gift it if you want to.
Overall, this is a recommendation for any fan of old school real acting TV and Movie legends. This isn’t a name dropping sensationalist book, though names are mentioned. What you get is David Janssen, period.
InPart Oneof Our Conversation with author Michael Phelps, we learned about why this man was the only man that could write about his friend the TV Icon, the original Fugitive, David Janssen. Today we learn more from Mike about that friendship and about Mike Walsh, the other Mike in Mike’s life. Let’s get into Part Two of . . .
Author of David Janssen-Our Conversations Books 1 and 2
RW: Mike, you spent four years working on David Janssen-My Fugitive with Ellie Janssen, her biography of David, what happened next?
MIKE: Based on the success of the book, I took early retirement from the law firm and chose to embark on the challenging career of being an Author. I promised I would NEVER co-author a book again, especially with an ex-wife of a friend, who happened to be a celebrity.
RW: You then created the Mike Walsh Detective Novels. How was that writing experience compared to the memoir experience with Ellie Janssen and those four years?
MIKE: BOY . . . what a difference! I chose to write about something I know well; police procedurals, detective novels and court cases based on actual crimes.
After I left Indianapolis, Jack went on from uniform patrol officer to become a Burglary Detective, then Auto-Theft and finally to the elite Robbery & Homicide Unit. He was murdered on 11 December 1980 at 5:05 AM as he kicked in the door of a duplex where a vicious gang of armed robbery and murder suspects were hiding. I inserted myself as his rookie partner, Mike Walsh, and related cases ‘we’ worked on leading up to his murder. It took me almost thirteen years to write. I went to Indianapolis and researched his murder through talks with officers we knew, police and court files and local newspaper archives.
RW: Then there was the next one, also based on a true story?
MIKE: THE JOCKEY’S JUSTICE is based on a case I worked as Chief Investigator for a prominent Miami law firm. A highly respected horse racing jockey was brutally murdered on the last day of the racing season at a Kentucky race course. Eight years later, his widow and son-in-law, living in the Miami area, were arrested and charged with the crime. They hired our law firm. My assistant and I were dispatched to Kentucky to investigate the very cold case. I take my readers on a harrowing, rollercoaster ride into the sleazy underbelly of the fast and colorful ‘Sport of Kings’.
RW: Two fiction books after a memoir. I know you said you wanted to write fiction but how did you become a writer of fiction?
MIKE: I have always been a fan of detective novels. The murder of my friend, Jack Ohrberg is what inspired me to write HIS story. I decided to create the series and write novels based on the two, high profile murder cases I worked on for the law firm.
RW: You ran into a situation that I am certain many authors do when basing a book on a true story, would you tell us about that?
MIKE: In THE EXECUTION OF JUSTICE, I thought I had changed all the names, but after its release, Sergeant Bob Givans, who had been the SWAT Commander that tragic morning called me.
One of Jack’s daughters had sent him the book and he noted I had not changed HIS name. He promised not to sue me, said my depiction of the chaotic scene was “right on point”. One of Jack’s daughters sent me a nice e-mail, thanking me for the way I portrayed her father.
RW: Your writing style is very polished and easy to read. You were in the military, then the police, then an investigator. I am wondering where the writing background came from.
MIKE: I don’t usually blush, but you sure sparked a good one. I have written police reports, and while working with the law firm, I was charged with writing investigation reports and even legal motions, which my boss (the Attorney) would then review. I became very proficient with the legal motions, he seldom made a change. In working with Ellie, the book was edited and over one hundred pages were cut. Some reviews said it was “poorly written”. That did not give me any spurt of self-confidence. In my debut novel, The Execution of Justice, I had a lot of repetitions of how the protagonist dressed each day, what he and his wife had for breakfast and dinner, his two German Shepherds, but what I was attempting to do was show readers the PERSONAL side of a dedicated police officer’s life, that the men and women who serve and protect their communities are just ordinary people. I don’t think I’ll be writing any more memoirs. My next “Mike Walsh Detective Novel” is based on a double homicide case I worked on for the law firm. It occurred in Miami Beach in 1993. The State was seeking the death penalty. Two trials, they did not get the death penalty.
RW: When can we expect this next Mike Walsh novel to come out?
MIKE: As soon as the marketing obligations of Dave’s books ease up some, I will start writing “INSANE JUSTICE“. I literally lived and breathed that case for over two years, so it will be very easy and fast to write. I hope to have it ready for release by the summer of 2015.
RW: Let’s switch gears a little. You write, but there is another step to the book process – the editing. I know you have a great editor behind you. Tell us a little about Norma Budden and how the two of you became associated.
MIKE: NORMA BUDDEN is an extraordinary Author in her own right. I first learned of her work by purchasing, reading and posting a Review of “COMING UNGLUED: A Mother’s Journey Into Hell“. This book dealt with domestic violence. I ended up buying a second Paperback copy for a lady friend I knew was the victim of domestic violence. She read it, then read parts to her abuser, who then read the book himself. The abuse stopped, almost instantly. He stopped drinking and they are like high school sweethearts again. I related the story in e-mails to Norma. I then read her other books; romance novels with some suspense interwoven. We became friends. I mentioned Dave’s books and that I was looking for a new Editor. She said she was an Editor as well. We struck a deal, and I could not be happier. Not only is she an Editor, she also completely re-designed my personal website and converted my manuscript for uploading to Amazon Kindle. We have become close friends over the past three years. She resides in Canada, but will be visiting me in Miami in April, 2015. You can see all of her books on Amazon. Her “FREEDOM IN LOVE” series has three books so far, and I highly recommend them.
RW: How much editing went into David Janssen-Our Conversations?
MIKE: VERY LITTLE. The only restriction I placed on Norma Budden, as my Editor was that NOT a single word of any conversation could be deleted, altered or changed in any way.
RW: That’s understandable. The conversations are what you know. So I get that. Speaking of those memories, was it difficult to go through those after all these years?
MIKE: Yes and no. Yes, in recalling conversations where Dave was going through mental hell during the protracted divorce proceedings with Ellie, and later the volatile relationship with his second wife. And then NO, during our conversations where he was excited at a new film role, a new Made-for-Television Movie, a new series. I can still hear his voice and see him just as if he were still alive. He was an extraordinary guy and he lived his life to the fullest, unfortunately for everyone who knew him personally, and his millions of devoted fans, his personal habits of smoking and drinking may have contributed to cutting his life way too short.
RW: I think this is a good place for you to explain to our readers about your fascination with German Shepherds and why I probably am bringing that up.
MIKE: As a boy growing up, we had a Cocker Spaniel. When I enlisted in the Air Force and went through Military Police training, I became fascinated at how big, strong, super-smart and obedient our German Shepherds are. I have had one ever since, sometimes two at a time, male and female. Shortly after I relocated to New York City, I travelled to New Jersey and bought a German Shepherd puppy from a breeder. I named him Baron der Hunter. Dave came to New York and we had dinner at a restaurant close to my apartment. I assume you mention this because I invited Dave to my apartment to meet “The Bear” as I sometimes called Baron. He loved Baron and Baron loved him. Dave gave him a bite of his (prime rib) treat, and actually got down on the floor, with his very expensive suit on and played with Baron for close to an hour. It was hilarious to watch. Dave loved dogs, but Ellie was allergic to dogs and cats and aside from that with his schedule, he just couldn’t have one.
RW: What’s your writing environment like, your writing space? I was speaking to a young lady recently and she was on her couch writing on her laptop with her office only steps away. I somehow don’t see you hunched over on the couch with a cushion as a desk.
MIKE: I have a home office, approximately 12 X 12. I have a two large cherry wood book (Barrister) cases with glass doors, full of books I’ve read. I have my desk with hutch where I have police memorabilia and Eagles figurines and more books, with my HP TouchSmart All-In-One desktop computer. On the other side of the room I have another desk with another desktop computer, a cherry red lateral file drawer with an HP Officejet 8600 Pro printer-fax-scanner-copier. I have a small TV which is usually turned to Fox News channel, but I am usually too concentrated on work I don’t pay attention. I am up with my first cup of coffee at four o’clock each morning, check and respond to e-mails and then WRITE. I take the dogs to the park for their morning run at daybreak, an hour later I am back home, shower, shave, more coffee, orange juice and back on the computer. I usually finish work by about eight o’clock, sometimes later at night and in bed by midnight.
RW: You get almost less sleep than I do it seems. You appear to be a healthy man. What do you do to stay healthy?
MIKE: I actually am in great health, for a man turning 72 next September. I was diagnosed with Bladder Cancer just over a year ago and have been receiving treatment at the Veterans Medical Center of Miami. I have had three aortic aneurysms requiring surgery, and just learned I have a new one in my right femoral artery, where I had a femoral-to-femoral bypass surgery in November of 2010. So, I have an upcoming surgery . . . but I wanted to do this Interview first. Aside from that, I stopped smoking a couple of years ago and seldom imbibe in my favorite J & B Scotch. I think I am in good shape, and feel like I’m still in my forties.
RW: When are we going to see a memoir of a TV Icon’s “Shoulder to cry on” come out?
MIKE: You make me laugh, Ron. I never looked at our friendship as me being the one to have a shoulder for Dave to “cry on”. I always looked at our friendship as just two guys who became friends and could talk to each other about anything. I never boasted to anyone that; “Hey see ‘The Fugitive’ . . . that’s David Janssen . . . he’s a good friend of mine.”
When he began the “HARRY O” series, my then girlfriend and I would watch it at my apartment, sometimes we would host a few of our friends, but even they were not impressed that I had a TV-Movie Star as a friend. We would all critique the episodes and have a lot of fun doing it. Of course I would tell Dave all about it later.
RW: You mentioned when you heard about David Janssen’s passing and the thoughts that ran through your mind. Has it crossed your mind or have you given any thought to writing a Mike Walsh Detective Novels story based on anything like the loss of a beloved acting icon, tastefully as I think you would obviously handle it? More as a way to relieve your mind of all those thoughts as oppose to simply a creative process.
MIKE: To be honest, no. However, you have given me a great idea. When I first heard the news, I was totally shocked, in total disbelief. I had spoken with Dave just five days before he died. He called me to let me know he had just passed a very thorough physical examination for a large insurance policy required by the studio producing “Father Damien”, and they were to start filming two days later on Malibu Beach. He and Dani were again separated, and the location for the start of the film was only a few short miles from his home on Malibu Beach. He sounded extremely happy, anxious to start the film and I can say he was completely sober in our last conversation. HOW could he die of a massive heart attack just five days later? When Ellie and I went to Los Angeles to interview people close to them, we spoke with David’s mother, his housekeeper/cook Beatrice, Actor Stuart Whitman (his next door neighbor) a Paramedic Lieutenant, one of the first on the scene. A lot of SUSPICION of HOW he died was raised. A lot of unproven rumors centered around his second wife. Over the years I have come to accept he died of a massive heart attack. Rumors were widely circulated that “high levels of drugs (morphine and cocaine) and alcohol” were found in David’s body at autopsy. Ellie and I went to the L. A. Medical Examiner’s Office and viewed the Microfilm of his autopsy. NO DRUGS of any kind, and just a trace of alcohol.
I KNEW David was adamantly against illicit drugs and would NEVER engage in such, even for recreation. He had said to me many times, he had seen people in the “business” ruin their careers, even lose their lives accidently by overdosing on drugs. Dave always made sure he was in control of his faculties, even when he was close to being drunk. There were rumors he had three-way sex with a Playboy Bunny and a married woman the night before his death. All such rumors are preposterous. He had just finished a fourteen+ hours day filming. He came home, showered and made himself one drink. Beatrice was going to prepare his dinner, when Dani appeared, unexpected and uninvited and dismissed Beatrice for the day, telling her that SHE was making a “special” dinner for the two of them. Was Dani there in an attempt to reconcile? I’ll never know, but is it possible? I would have to say yes. A storyline for a Mike Walsh Detective novel? I’ll give that some thought. (LOL)
RW: One final thing, I have always asked authors to describe their book in one word. Instead I want to ask you to describe David Janssen in one word. Why the man and not the book, because I think that will also describe David Janssen-Our Conversations. And you can explain why if you like. MIKE: EXTRAORDINARY! Why do I choose that word, you may ask? Because David Janssen was an extraordinary, multi-talented man; an extraordinary actor, a Poet, a Song writer, a Comedian, an animal lover, a man who helped complete strangers (especially single mothers in distress and he did so anonymously). He was truly a kind, sensitive, compassionate man who, aside from his celebrity status, was a really ‘down-to-earth’, ordinary guy.
Extraordinary describes my new friend Mike. I call him friend because that’s how he makes one feel after speaking with him just once or twice. I know why David Janssen called Michael Phelps at 1:15 that early morning back in 1965. If you don’t know by now, then read parts one and two of this interview again, my fellow book fiends. I always say to follow an author everywhere you can, and buy all their books. That’s a given. I think you want to after reading these two days of interviews. Something you don’t know about Mike? He’s an Indie Author’s friend. He roams the blogs and comments. He reads books and leaves reviews. He supports the Indie Authors. I didn’t ask him about that. I already knew. You see, he may have been an Investigator, but I was a Historian who still loves to do research.
Click any image to go and purchase one of Mike’s books. I’m in the middle of Conversations now and I hate that I had to break away to even post this interview, sorry Mike, but the book is just that good. And if you want an editor, go get Norma now. I tell you, Mike’s writing combined with Norma’s editing and you’ve got an excellent book. These are two books I will be reading again and again. I’m just like that. I can’t wait to get my eyes on Mike’s fiction work as well. Those are actually next on my to read list.
I’m an old school movie and actor fan. Give me a classic on DVD and I’ll love you for life. Sorry, I don’t have the Blu-ray thing yet. Imagine my reaction when the man that said “Call me Mike, that’s what my friends call me” showed up. Close friend and confidant of a TV Icon. Co-author of the only authorized and millions selling biography of the original Fugitive before Harrison Ford ever had his first credit role in film. Yes, “I’m Michael Phelps ‘the writer’, not the young Olympic Champion” as he likes to jest. Reading his books David Janssen-Our Conversations Book 1 and 2 you instantly feel as though you are back in another time walking with him as he reminisces about his friend David Janssen, TV star of so many series from Richard Diamond, Private Detective and The Fugitive, to O’Hara, U.S. Treasury. He was finally convinced to share his conversations with ‘Dave’ as he calls the Icon, now it’s time to have Our Conversation with Mike.
RW: Mike, in the Preface to David Janssen-Our Conversations you give exactly how you and David Janssen met at a party where you were working security and how the two of you created this friendship. What thoughts went through your mind about this what I might at first glance call an Odd Couple?
MIKE: Here was this Mega-TV and film star, the same age as my older brother, and here I was, a “nobody”, not involved in the television or movie business . . . why would a celebrity like him even speak twice to someone like me. I learned later that David Janssen was in reality, just an ordinary, ‘down-to-earth’ guy who happened to be a celebrity, but yearned to have friends outside of his ‘work’ and to be treated as a ‘normal’ guy.
RW: When did the actual friendship with David begin?
MIKE: Two weeks after our first meeting he called me and invited me for drinks at The Formosa, a nice little restaurant/bar near the studios where “The Fugitive” was being filmed. It was 1:15 AM. That is when I learned a routine day for filming the television series may last 14 to 16 hours or longer. Also, that David Janssen always liked to stop (usually at The Formosa) and have a couple of drinks to unwind before going home.
RW: Your second meeting was a call in the middle of the night, a practice that would continue while you were in L.A. David trusted you quickly for a celebrity who valued his privacy. Why do you think it happened like that?
MIKE: I honestly can’t answer that, as I never asked Dave. I can only assume it was the fact I was NOT in the TV or film industry, when we met, I did not look at him in awe. We just had, what I would say was, a casual conversation between two guys at a party. I talked to him as if he were just an ordinary guy. He had an interest in police work and dogs, that helped, I think. Dave had no ego to speak of, and he really liked people and wanted to have friends who liked him for the man he was, not for his fame. He soon learned that whatever we discussed, I would not repeat it, it would not show up in some tabloid or fan magazine. Ellie (Dave’s first wife) mentioned that when we first talked about Dave.
RW: The after-hours drinks didn’t last forever. Mike, how did your long distance phone call friendship begin with David?
MIKE: Soon after meeting Dave, I wanted to leave Los Angeles, and relocate to New York City, as my estranged wife lived in Connecticut. At that time, I had hopes for reconciliation. So a lot was happening in both our lives. That unfolds in Chapter One, and continues throughout the two volumes.
RW: Will you give our readers an example of a story they will see in Our Conversations, something that might surprise them? Okay, maybe not surprise because you want to leave those nuggets of wonder in there for them.
“It was just after 2:30 in the morning when I pulled into his driveway. It took him a few minutes to open the door. He used the door as a crutch to raise himself out of the seat and steady his feet on the paved driveway. As he leaned in and was saying goodnight, the front door of his home opened and I could see Ellie’s silhouette against the interior lighting. She took one look at Dave and screamed; “DAVID, WHERE IN THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN? YOUR MEETING ENDED HOURS AGO, I CALLED ABBY!” “Having a drink with my friend, Mike.” He said in a soft, firm voice. With that I heard the sound of breaking glass, as David seemed to duck his head; I then noticed a dark red liquid running down my passenger window. Ellie had apparently thrown a glass of red wine and smashed it against my window. As he turned and bent down again to say goodnight. he was smiling. From the car interior lights I saw what appeared to be red wine splashed on his caramel-colored sports jacket and royal blue shirt. “Sorry about that . . . see you later.” He said, surprisingly with a smile. As he closed the door I could hear Ellie screaming something about him missing a party.” – END of NUGGET. (LOL)
RW: Mike, if you would, give us an idea of the depth of your relationship with David, and his family, then and now. I want people to realize how close this friendship was. I mean even family members respected it.
MIKE: Aside from Ellie, her daughters Kathy and Diane, the only other member of David’s family I met was his mother Berniece. When Ellie and I were writing her book, we flew Kathy and Diane to Miami and had a very nice dinner at The Jockey Club. Ellie then told Diane she was including Diane’s unwanted pregnancy and subsequent abortion (at age 16) in the book. It hurt Diane deeply, and ruined their visit. Both Kathy and I took Diane’s side and implored, begged Ellie not to include that in her book. Ellie did put it in her book. Her justification being: the secrecy surrounding the trip to Mexico for the abortion, because it would have caused a scandal for David. How she figured that, we’ll never know. I have not seen nor spoken with Diane or Kathy in over twenty years. Diane told me David was planning to divorce Dani a month before his death, which of course he had also told me as well as a few close friends. I can tell you they are both beautiful and talented young ladies.
RW: The book you mentioned, the memoir by Ellie Janssen, which you co-authored with her, David Janssen-My Fugitive in 1994 has sold millions of copies. What finally persuaded you after all this time to write about your own personal friendship with David Janssen?
MIKE: Since the publishing of DAVID JANSSEN-MY FUGITIVE many, many of David Janssen’s fans and a few of his close friends who knew of the friendship Dave and I shared urged me to write this book. I wrestled with the thoughts that I would be betraying his trust. A few of my close friends, Moises Raudez, one of my Godsons and CAROL CONNORS convinced me I would be doing him a favor, letting his fans see what a really nice, ordinary guy he was and how he was dealing with personal torments, not seen on the screen. Writing DAVID JANSSEN~Our Conversations was a daunting task and in some ways, cathartic for me.
RW: Knowing of the creative process behind My Fugitive I can see how you needed to put out David’s views as he shared them with you. Mike, I have to say as a former history teacher and having had to learn facts to teach each year, I had repetition to help me remember things. But with something like this, how does one recall all those conversations and facts you have in your book?
MIKE: In the Preface, I noted that I have written Our Conversations as close to verbatim as is humanly possible. I have not exaggerated nor expounded. In the beginning, I sat down at my computer and closed my eyes; thought back to the first time we met. I visualized the scene, and found I could actually HEAR David’s voice. The conversation flowed easily. I recalled every topic we discussed in that roughly forty minutes talk. I recalled meeting Ellie and her words precisely. Going forward, I found no problem recalling our conversations, whether we were meeting in a bar or restaurant, or the countless long-distance phone calls. I NEVER recorded a single conversation with David, nor did I keep a diary.
Initially, I had a problem with the dates and time line. However re-visiting the memories from the beginning, and checking some very old notes, the dates and time fell into place. This was the most difficult because there were periods I did not hear from David for several weeks at a time.
RW: It’s fortunate you were involved with the My Fugitive biography some 20 years ago. How did you organize what we see in the books and were there topics that you decided were off limits?
MIKE: I began with our second meeting, the first we had at The Formosa and the conversations we had at that time and date came to me. There was a lot going on in his life, most notably discord in his marriage, the grueling schedule of making “The Fugitive”.
There were far too many conversations to have included in the two volumes. There were conversations about politics and politicians, Viet Nam, the economy, the Six Day War between Israel and Palestinians that I could have included. I decided to concentrate on our conversations that revolved around his failing marriage, the ups and downs of his career, the women he really loved (and lost), topics I felt would be of real interest to his fans. I included one conversation (which Ellie had also) involving he and John Wayne during the filming of “The Green Berets“, which I felt would interest his fans while showing how Dave always stood up for the ‘underdog’. Other conversations of some of the actors, directors and writers he admired and enjoyed working with. I included very little about his Mother Berniece and other family members. I deliberately left out some conversations we had where he expressed dislike for specific, well known people.
RW: Mike, you told me that the memoir with Ellie Janssen “was the most difficult project I have ever been involved with.” would you explain a little about that?
MIKE: I never had any doubt that Ellie loved David deeply. She still loved him after their divorce and after his death. She never remarried, and there were no other men in her life. However, early in our working together I could see how bitter she remained over their divorce. As she related her recollections of incidents, other people and friends in their lives, I would recall David having mentioned the same, but with a totally different perspective. Ellie made it sound as if David was promiscuous, a “womanizer” and a ‘drunk’. On one occasion, as I was typing on my keyboard, I stopped and made the comment; “Ellie . . . that isn’t what Dave told me.” she erupted into a rage I had never seen. I knew then what Dave had expressed to me on many occasions . . . her temper! I decided then to just keep my mouth shut and write what she dictated; after all, it was HER story.
RW: There are a lot of tell-all sensationalist books out there about ‘friendships’ with celebrities but there is nothing of that feel in David Janssen-Our Conversations. But with names appearing I imagine some people might have been a little apprehensive when word got out you finally gave in and were writing. Did you feel a need to let any certain persons know ahead of time what you were going to write?
MIKE: The only person who knew David intimately, that I have discussed the book with is Carol Connors. Funny thing was, when I told her that David truly loved her and using his exact words, she broke into tears and said that Sidney Korshak (a close friend of Dave’s) had told her exactly the same thing.
RW: Mike, what has been a couple of reactions to the book so far?
MIKE: Since the release one gentleman stated; “The book is all about booze, women, lawyers and dogs.” Well, I don’t know what he was expecting . . . but, during the fifteen years I knew David Janssen that is what took up the space in HIS world, as well as HIS work, which the gentleman failed to mention. Just today, I had a telephone call from Mr. LES LANNOM, who guest starred on “HARRY O” episodes. We have had many conversations, but today he called to tell me had finished reading the books; and I quote: “Mike, you really caught the way David spoke . . . the way he treated people.” David liked Les Lannom; liked working with him, liked him as a friend. Les, who is about my age, looked upon David as a friend and a mentor.
RW: Were there any push backs from people when they heard you were writing Our Conversations? If so, how did you handle those? You seem very professional so I can’t see people really concerned with what you would say.
MIKE: There were only a few people who knew I was working on this project. Aside from Carol Connors, just Moises Raudez and a few devoted fans of David’s that I met through “THE-FUGITIVE-VIEWS-AND-REVIEWS” on Yahoo Groups. There are a few that I mention in the Dedication page who were very supportive of me and inspiring me as I worked. It has been a four and one half years journey into the past with my friend, and I hope I did it right. I encountered a few health issues along the way, so my writing was interrupted a couple of times.
RW: Our Conversations have kept me glued while reading. The information you share, the writing, the flat out honesty. I’m not saying this so our readers will go buy the book. I know readers will buy what they want to, but I have to say this: these would be one great holiday gift for a TV/film buff. Have you given thought to writing a movie script based on them?
MIKE: No, I have not even considered this would make a good movie . . . maybe it would, I don’t know. I will say that I believe a movie, perhaps a Made-for-Television Movie about David Janssen’s LIFE would be excellent, and is long overdue. I’ve seen some Biography movies of celebrities on the A & E channel, and most are of celebrities of far lesser importance as to the individual’s contributions to the entertainment industry.
RW: Mike, you knew him probably as well as any living person, the inside of him, who would you pick to play David Janssen in that movie?
MIKE: Were such a prospect of a film based on David’s life come to be, were I to have anything to say about it, JON HAMM (“Mad Men” fame) would be the only actor I feel could BE David Janssen. DAVID JANSSEN had a charisma, a magnetic personality that just drew people to him. He was so dedicated to his craft, and it was so important that he performed every single line or every single scene to PERFECTION! David had an amazing photographic memory. He could and did MEMORIZE an entire one hundred + page script, not only his lines, but the dialogue of every single actor involved. He was not seeking entertainment industry awards, he was just determined to provide his fans with the best he could do, to make certain they were “getting their monies worth.” There are many Hollywood Stars who have long ago passed away, yet they made such an impact on their fans, they will forever be remembered. David is at the top of the list.
To say today has been one of the best for this fan is an understatement. ‘Mike’ is author Michael Phelps, who happened to have been friends with a TV Icon. There is more to Michael Phelps than what you’ve seen so far and more about his friendship with ‘Dave’ as well. Come back for part two tomorrow. You won’t be disappointed. But go ahead and grab his books now.