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Retro T.V. Reviews: Jake and the Fatman (1987) (Part 2: Actors)


In Part 2 of our review of Jake and the Fatman, we will look at the actors that brought these characters to life.

William Conrad

William Conrad in Jake and the Fatman
William Conrad in Jake and the Fatman

William Conrad (nee John William Cann Jr.) was was born in Louisville, Kentucky on September 27th, 1920. HIs father was John William Cann and his mother was Ida Mae Upchurch Cann. They owned a movie theatre and young Conrad would watch all the movies that were released at the time.

Then during his high school years the family relocated to Southern California. This is where he started his career as an announcer for KMPC in Los Angeles. Later on, Conrad was also enlisted as a pilot in World War II. When he left the army, Conrad was the producer-director of the Armed Forces Radio Service.

As you can see from the above, there seems to be a theme. He seemed to gravitate towards radio / entertainment. He had a very big career in radio before any of his TV and Film stuff. Conrad went on record where he estimated that he played about 7500 roles in radio. However, I have not been able to find the exact figure.

William Conrad - Early in Career

At least from his radio career, the roles that I remember hearing about the most was the radio version of Gunssmoke (1952 to 1961). Unfortunately, for his radio career, I was not alive. Too bad a lot of these shows cannot be found anymore. It would be cool to listen to them.

I also was not aware of much of his movie career. He starred with Burt Lancaster in The Killers (1946) and played in Sorry, Wrong Number (1948) and The Naked Jungle (1954).

He also did a lot of narration and voice work on TV. In fact, he narrated the Rocky and Bullwinkle series from 1959 to 1964. He also was narrator for the show The Fugitive starring David Janssen from 1963 to 1967.

Then in 1971, he was cast as Frank Cannon for the television show Cannon. The show ran for a total of 5 seasons from 1971 to 1976. In 1981, he was then cast in Nero Wolf which only broadcast 14 episodes. Then in 1986, he appeared in a Matlock episode called "The Don". He probably did not know this at the time, but the character that he portrayed on the show, would be the mold for another successful TV run with Jake and the Fatman.

Unfortunately, soon after Jake and the Fatman went off the air, William Conrad passed away of a heart attack on February 11th, 1994 at the age of 73.

I could have written 18 parts for William Conrad as his career spans many different mediums and decades. However, I only chose to mention the biggest snapshots of his career.

Joe Penny

Joe Penny in Jake and the Fatman

Joe Penny (née Joseph Edward Penny Jr.) was born in Uxbridge, London, England, UK on June 24th, 1956. The details of his parents are very scarce. His mother was Italian and his father was English. After his parents divorced, he moved to California with his mom.

At the beginning of his career, he had a lot of bit parts in popular TV shows such as Perry Mason: The Case of the Shooting Star, CHIPs, Vega$ and TJ Hooker. In 1984, he was cast in Riptide. He would play the character of Nick Ryder for the entirety of the series, which lasted 3 seasons. In fact, most people would remember him more from Riptide than Jake and the Fatman. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to watch Riptide.

Then in 1987 he was cast in Jake and the Fatman as Jake Styles. Of course, as you know this show lasted until 1992. However, after the show aired, Joe Penny continued to have small parts in popular TV shows, such as Touched by an Angel, Diagnosis Murder, Walker, Texas Ranger, 7th Heaven and CSI: Crime Scene Investigations.

He has mostly kept his private life away from the spotlight. We know that in 2004 he married Cindy M. Penny. It is believed that he does not have any children.

As far as we can tell, he has retired from acting as of 2016.

Alan Campbell

Alan Campbell from Jake and the Fatman

Bruce Alan Campbell was born in Homestead, Florida on April 22nd, 1957.

Alan did not really have the same level of success as both Joe Penny or William Conrad, but he has been consistently working for the last 40 years.

Campbell caught his big break when he was cast as a surfer dude in the Three's Company spin off, Three's a Crowd. Unfortunately for him the show only lasted one season (18 episodes).

However, he is proof that you never know what role can lead you to something else. Like Conrad and Penny, Campbell was cast in the Matlock episode called "The Don". He played an Assistant D.A. However, instead of being called Derek Mitchell, the character was named Palmer. This would become the basis for his roll in Jake and the Fatman.

Through the years since the show went off the air, Campbell has been mostly in theatre but you can see him from time to time in bit parts on TV. He has appeared in Homicide: Life on the Street, Law & Order and Law & Order: SVU.

Honorable Mention

Lu Leonard

Lu Leonard (née May Lou Price) was born on June 5th, 1928 in Long Beach, New York.

She is actually known for playing William Conrad's wise-cracking executive assistant in Jake and the Fatman. However, before getting this role, she played in Laverne and Shirley, Mork and Mindy and Married... with Children.

Although she is known for this character, she only played in 9 episodes of season 1 and one episode in season 3. Yet, she made her mark. Her successor played by Olga Russell, played in 44 episodes but was not as memorable. Too bad Leonard did not stay on the show. She had some good chemistry with William Conrad. The reason for her leaving the show was never really clear. In fact, I could not find any reliable reference as to why she left the show.

Unfortunately, Lu Leonard passed away on May 14th, 2004 in Los Angeles, California. She was never married or had children.

So that is it, the background of the main characters that were on Jake and the Fatman! Next, we will review the series and see if it still entertaining today.

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