The Fugitive (TV series): Wife Killer
The Fugitive is an American drama series created by Roy Huggins and produced by QM Productions and United Artists Television that aired on ABC from 1963 to 1967. David Janssen stars as Richard Kimble, a doctor who is falsely convicted of his wife’s murder and given the death penalty. En route to death row, Kimble’s train derails and crashes, allowing him to escape and begin a cross-country search for the real killer, a “one-armed man” (played by Bill Raisch). At the same time, Dr. Kimble is hounded by the authorities, most notably dogged by Police Lieutenant Philip Gerard (Barry Morse).
The Fugitive aired for four seasons, and a total of 120 51-minute episodes were produced. The first three seasons were filmed in black and white; the final season was in color. As of October 2012, The Fugitive is broadcast weekly on Me-TV.
In 2002, The Fugitive was ranked No. 36 on TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.
The series premise was set up in the opening narration, but the full details about the crime were not offered in the pilot episode, which started with Kimble having been on the run for six months. In the series’ first season, the premise (heard over footage of Kimble handcuffed to Gerard on a train) was summarized in the opening title sequence of the pilot episode as follows:
|“Name: Richard Kimble. Profession: Doctor of Medicine. Destination: Death Row, state prison. Richard Kimble has been tried and convicted for the murder of his wife. But laws are made by men, carried out by men. And men are imperfect. Richard Kimble is innocent. Proved guilty, what Richard Kimble could not prove was that moments before discovering his wife’s body, he encountered a man running from the vicinity of his home. A man with one arm. A man who has not yet been found. Richard Kimble ponders his fate as he looks at the world for the last time. And sees only darkness. But in that darkness, fate moves its huge hand.”|
This title sequence was shortened for the remainder of the first season as follows:
|“The name: Dr. Richard Kimble. The destination: Death Row, State Prison. The Irony: Richard Kimble is innocent. Proved guilty, what Richard Kimble could not prove was that moments before discovering his murdered wife’s body, he saw a one-armed man running from the vicinity of his home. Richard Kimble ponders his fate as he looks at the world for the last time, and sees only darkness. But in that darkness, fate moves its huge hand.”|
The main title narration, as read by William Conrad, was changed for the first episode of the second season on through the last episode of the series:
|“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.”|
It was not until episode 14, “The Girl from Little Egypt”, that viewers were offered the full details of Richard Kimble’s plight. A series of flashbacks reveals the fateful night of Helen Kimble’s death, and for the first time offers a glimpse of “the one-armed man”.
Inspirations and influence
The series was conceived by Roy Huggins and produced by Quinn Martin. It is popularly believed that the series was based in part on the real-life story of Sam Sheppard, an Ohio doctor accused of murdering his wife. Although convicted and imprisoned, Sheppard claimed that his wife had been murdered by a “bushy-haired man.” Sheppard’s brothers hired F. Lee Bailey to appeal the conviction. Bailey defended Sheppard and won an acquittal in the second trial. Huggins denied basing the series on Sheppard, though the show’s film editor, Ken Wilhoit, was married to Susan Hayes, who had had an intimate relationship with Sheppard prior to the murder and testified during the first trial in 1954.
The plot device of an innocent man on the run from the police for a murder he did not commit while simultaneously pursuing the real killer was a popular one with audiences. It had its antecedents in the Alfred Hitchcock movies The 39 Steps, Saboteur and North by Northwest. The theme of a doctor in hiding for committing a major crime had also been depicted by James Stewart as the mysterious Buttons the Clown in The Greatest Show on Earth. Writer David Goodis claimed the series was inspired by his 1946 novel Dark Passage, about a man who escapes from prison after being wrongfully convicted of killing his wife. Goodis’ litigation over the issue continued for some time after his 1967 death.
While shows like Route 66 had employed the same anthology-like premise of wanderers finding adventure in each new place they came to, The Fugitive answered two questions that had bedeviled many similar series: “Why doesn’t the protagonist settle down somewhere?” and “Why is the protagonist trying to solve these problems himself instead of calling in the police?” Casting a doctor as the protagonist also provided the series a wider “range of entry” into local stories, as Kimble’s medical knowledge would allow him alone to recognize essential elements of the episode (e.g. subtle medical symptoms or an abused medicine) and the commonplace doctor’s ethic (e.g. to provide aid in emergencies) would naturally lead him into dangerous situations. Several television series have imitated the formula, with the twists being mostly in the nature of the fugitives: a German Shepherd dog (Run, Joe, Run, 1974); a scientist with a monstrous alter ego (The Incredible Hulk, 1978); a group of ex-US Army Special Forces accused of a war crime they committed under orders (The A-Team, 1983); a husband and wife (Hot Pursuit, 1984); a young man afflicted with lycanthropy (Werewolf, 1987) and a reinstated detective (Life, 2007).
In its debut season, The Fugitive was the 28th highest rated show in the US (with a 21.7 Rating), and it jumped to 5th in its second season (27.9). It fell out of the top 30 during the last two seasons, but the show’s finale in 1967, in which Dr. Kimble’s fate was shown, held the record at that time for the highest share of American homes with television sets to watch the finale of a series, 72%.
The show also came away with other honors. In 1965, Alan Armer, the producer and head writer of the series, received an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for his work. And in a 1993 ranking, TV Guide named The Fugitive the best dramatic series of the 1960’s.
Characters – Dr. Richard Kimble
The series lead, and the only character seen in all 120 episodes, was Dr. Richard David Kimble (Janssen).
Janssen as Richard Kimble with Clint Howard, 1965.
Though Kimble was a respected pediatrician in the fictional small town of Stafford, Indiana, it was generally known that he and his wife Helen had been having arguments prior to her death. Helen’s pregnancy had ended in a stillborn birth of a son, and surgery to save her life had also rendered her infertile. The couple was devastated, but Helen refused to consider adopting children as Richard wanted. The night of Helen’s murder, the Kimbles were heard arguing heatedly over this topic by their neighbors. Richard later went out for a drive to cool off; as he was returning home, he nearly struck with his car a one-armed man who was fleeing from the house. Richard then found that Helen had been killed. No one had seen or heard Richard go out for his drive, or seen him while he was out, and he was convicted of Helen’s murder. This story was enlarged upon in a first-season episode titled “The Girl from Little Egypt”.
After his escape from custody, Kimble moves from town to town, always trying to remain unobtrusive and unnoticed as he searches for the one-armed man while also trying to evade police capture. He usually adopts a nondescript alias and toils at low-paying menial jobs (i.e. those that required no ID or security checks) in order to survive. Though Kimble tries to keep a low profile, circumstances often conspire to place him in positions where he would be recognized or forced to risk capture in order to help a deserving person he has met in his travels.
The doctor is unusually skilled and is usually able to perform well any job he takes. He also displays considerable prowess in hand to hand combat; in the episode “Nemesis”, he distracts and then knocks out a forest ranger, then quickly unloads the man’s rifle to ensure he cannot shoot him if pursued.
Lt. Philip Gerard
Kimble is pursued by the relentless police detective Lt. Philip Gerard (Morse), a formidably intelligent family man and dedicated public servant.
Morse portrayed Gerard as a man duty-bound to capture Kimble, but who also appeared to have some doubts as to his guilt. In one episode, when a woman witness remarks that Kimble killed his wife, Gerard simply replies, “The law says he did”, with a tone of doubt in his voice; in the episode “Nemesis”, the local sheriff (John Doucette) states, “You said he’s a killer”, to which Gerard sharply replies, “The jury said that!” However, in “Wife Killer” he states with certainty that the one-armed man does not exist and that Kimble is guilty.
Gerard’s doubts are augmented after Kimble rescues Gerard in episodes such as “Never Wave Goodbye”, “Corner of Hell”, “Ill Wind”, “The Evil Men Do”, and “Stroke of Genius”. “The Evil Men Do” in particular played on the respect that develops between the two men when Gerard is pursued by former Mob hitman Arthur Brame (James Daly), who is rescued from a runaway horse by Kimble; Kimble rescues Gerard from Brame. When Kimble escapes from Gerard, the lieutenant does not pursue Kimble, but instead goes after and kills Brame. In the epilogue, Gerard explains his decision to Brame’s wife Sharon (Elizabeth Allen) by noting Arthur is a career killer while “Kimble, he’s done the one murder he’ll probably ever do”. “Until I find him, and I will, he’s no menace to anyone, but himself.”
In “Nemesis”, Kimble unintentionally kidnaps Gerard’s young son Philip Junior (played by 12-year-old Kurt Russell). Though as concerned as any father should be, Gerard is confident that Kimble will not do his boy any real harm. After his experience with Kimble, Philip Junior questions whether or not he is guilty and his father openly admits that he could be wrong, though it does not change his duty.
There are parallels to be seen between Gerard’s pursuit of Kimble and the pursuit of Jean Valjean by Inspector Javert in Les Miserables, though Javert never lets go of his obsession to follow the letter of the law and hunts down his fugitive, even killing himself when he could not reconcile his tenets with the mercy Valjean shows him. Gerard, on the other hand, was portrayed externally as a man like Javert, but internally as more of a thinking man who could balance justice and duty. According to some of those who worked on the show, these parallels were not coincidental. Stanford Whitmore, who wrote the pilot episode “Fear in a Desert City,” says that he deliberately gave Kimble’s nemesis a similar-sounding name to see if anyone would recognize the similarity between ‘Gerard’ and ‘Javert’. One who recognized the similarity was Morse; he pointed out the connection to Quinn Martin, who admitted that The Fugitive was a “sort of modern rendition of the outline of Les Misérables.” Morse accordingly went back to the Victor Hugo novel and studied the portrayal of Javert, to find ways to make the character more complex than the “conventional ‘Hollywood dick'” Gerard had originally been conceived as. “I’ve always thought that we in the arts … are all ‘shoplifters’“, Morse said. “Everybody, from Shakespeare onwards and downwards … But once you’ve acknowledged that … when you set out on a shoplifting expedition, you go always to Cartier’s, and never to Woolworth’s!”
The One-armed Man
A shadowy figure, the one-armed man (Bill Raisch) is seen fleeing Kimble’s house by Kimble after the murder of Helen. In the series, not much is revealed about the man’s personal life, and how or when he lost his right arm.
The one-armed man was rarely seen on The Fugitive, appearing in person in only ten episodes—and also in a photograph in the episode “The Breaking of the Habit” with Eileen Heckart. Aside from a few ad libs, he also has no actual dialogue until the episodes in season four, as his character takes a more prominent part in the plotline. Aware that Kimble is after him, the one-armed man frequently tips the police off as to Kimble’s whereabouts, most notably in “Nobody Loses All The Time” when he telephones his girlfriend (Barbara Baxley) at a hospital and orders her to call the police—even though Kimble risked arrest to save her life.
Like Kimble, he used a variety of aliases while on the run—in the episode “A Clean And Quiet Town”, he is credited as “Steve Cramer”, and in “The Ivy Maze”, he poses as “Carl Stoker”. He goes by the name “Fred Johnson” in several episodes, notably “Escape Into Black” and “Wife Killer”, as well as the two-part series finale “The Judgement”. He is also referred to as Johnson in “The Ivy Maze”, and at one point Fritz Simpson (William Windom) addresses him as “Fred” (in that episode, Kimble, Gerard, and the one-armed man all appear in the same scene for the first time). However, when interrogated by Lt. Gerard in “The Judgement”, he denies that Fred Johnson is his real name. Although Fred Johnson is generally regarded as his “real” identity, a case could be made for his actual name being “Gus Evans” — as revealed in “The Judgement”, that was the name the one-armed man used before he killed Helen Kimble, when he would presumably have had no need to adopt an alias.