Ben Gazzara was brilliant as the terminally ill Paul Bryan on “Run For Your Life’. Thirty-five year old attorney Paul Bryan sells his law practice and decides to “squeeze 30 years of living into one or two.” Bryan lives a life of enlightened hedonism that includes skydiving, skin diving, racecar driving, and chasing beautiful women. And of course he was a do-gooder, constantly helping his fellow man (and woman).
Elia Kazan once said that Ben Gazzara was one of the three finest American actors. (Brando had to be one, but who was the third? George C. Scott?) This must have been in the 1950's when Gazzara was a brilliant stage actor ("Cat on a Hot Tin Roof", "A Hatful of Rain" and "End as a Man").
But Ben Gazzara was also one of the greatest 1960's series leads. He was right up there with David Janssen, Patrick McGoohan, Robert Lansing, Rod Taylor, William Shatner and Peter Falk.
Roy Huggins was a legendary TV producer. He had created and produced "Cheyenne", "Colt 45", "Maverick", and "77 Sunset Strip".
Roy Huggins also created "The Fugitive". But Huggins planned to go back to college to get his Ph.D. in English. He sold "The Fugitive" concept to ABC, which assigned Quinn Martin to produce it.
Huggins Ph.D. plans fell through and Huggins wound up as a producer at Universal. In 1963 when "The Fugitive" premiered, Huggins was producing the fine anthology series "Kraft Suspense Theater".
Huggins may have been jealous of Quinn Martin's enormous success with "The Fugitive", which was making a big star of David Janssen (who had worked for Huggins on "Conflict", "Adventures in Paradise" and "Follow the Sun").
David Janssen had guest starred on "Naked City" the season before "The Fugitive" started. The episode was titled "On the Battlefront, Every Moment is Important", and it was co-written by Howard Rodman ("Harry O"). Janssen played the owner of a Manhattan advertising agency who is dying of leukemia. Janssen sets his sights on talented detective Adam Flint (Paul Burke) as a potential successor. This was one of the few times Janssen indicated the gravitas he was to show as Dr. Richard Kimble.
Huggins may have remembered this "Naked City" episode, and it may have been part of the inspiration for "Run For Your Life". Huggins gave the dying hero of "Run For Your Life" the name Paul Bryan, which is pretty close to Paul Burke. Ben Gazzara's presence, masculinity and soulfulness reminded one of David Janssen.
Many critics dismissed "Run For Your Life" as a rip-off of "The Fugitive". But "Run For Your Life" was even more compelling in many ways, and it wasn't so tied to a rigid formula. "Run For Your Life" was great TV. And to my mind, Huggins was a more resourceful storyteller than Quinn Martin.
I remember a young college student telling me in 1969 how he wished he had a terminal illness so he could really live life intensely and fully. A really stupid comment, but I knew what he was saying. And I knew which series hero had embedded himself in this young man's unconscious.