R.I.P. Conrad Janis, Mork & Mindy actor and accomplished musician
His career started on Broadway at 13 and continued for the next seven decades.
Though he is best known for his acting, Conrad Janis was a man of many talents. He played Fred McConnell, the father of Pam Dawber’s title character in Mork & Mindy, but also performed trombone at Carnegie Hall, on The Tonight Show and in the Beverly Hills Unlisted Jazz Band with fellow actor George Segal on banjo.
Born on February 11, 1928, in New York City, it didn’t take Janis long to get into show business. He debuted on Broadway at 13 years old in Junior Miss. The play ran for two years in Manhattan before touring the country. Janis stayed in the role until he was 16 when he made the leap to feature films.
His first movie was the 1945 film Snafu, about a young teenager who lies about his age and enlists in the Marines. After his next role in the Jeanne Crain movie Margie, he signed a contract with 20th Century Fox that paid him $750 a week, ten times the usual starting rate. His Broadway experience gave him a higher value.
Janis appeared alongside Ronald Reagan and Shirley Temple in the drama That Hagen Girl followed by a part in Beyond Glory with Alan Ladd and Donna Reed.
After five movies in three years (he was also in 1947’s The Brasher Dubloon), Janis joined the brand-new medium of television. He utilized his live theater talents in programs like Starlight Theatre and The Philco Television Playhouse.
“It was an exciting time because everything was live,” Janis noted in a 2015 interview. “You had to memorize the entire show for the night of broadcast. We’d do one-hour shows six or seven nights a week, with very little time for rehearsal. If people forgot their lines or a prop gun didn’t fire, you just had to ad-lib your way out of it.”
In the Sixties, Janis guest starred in shows like The Untouchables, Get Smart and, in a precursor to his later success in an alien sitcom, My Favorite Martian.
Before contending with Robin Williams’ kooky alien, Janis appeared in other Seventies shows like Cannon, The Waltons, The Jeffersons and Maude. He also played the father of Richie’s love interest in an episode of Happy Days and a train conductor in Laverne & Shirley, though the latter role was halfway into his run on Mork & Mindy.
In the 1980s, Janis could be seen in Mama’s Family, St. Elsewhere, Remington Steele, Highway to Heavenand The Golden Girls. He had a cameo as himself in Garry Marshall’s 1986 film Nothing in Common starring Tom Hanks and Jackie Gleason.
Janis continued to appear on screens big and small for years, popping up in Diagnosis Murder, Frasier and the Jim Carrey movie The Cable Guy.
He passed away this month at the age of 94.