Conrad Janis, Trombonist and ‘Mork & Mindy’ Actor, Dies at 94
BY MIKE BARNES
Conrad Janis, the Dixieland trombonist and actor best known for playing the father of Pam Dawber’s character on the Robin Williams sitcom Mork & Mindy, has died. He was 94.
Janis died March 1 of organ failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, his business manager Dean Avedon told The Hollywood Reporter.
Though just a youngster, Janis already was a Broadway veteran when he appeared in the 20th Century Fox film noir The Brasher Doubloon (1947) opposite George Montgomery (then-husband of Dinah Shore) in the Philip Marlowe movie.
On Frasier, Janis portrayed a character named Albert who lives in the same condo building as Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) and his dad (John Mahoney). He also was a KAOS agent on Get Smart and a space station resident on Quark (Buck Henry had a hand in both of those series).
Janis played trombone in several appearances on The Tonight Show and at Carnegie Hall, and he recorded several albums with his group, the Tailgate Five. He also performed with actor George Segal on banjo in the Beverly Hills Unlimited Jazz Band.
Janis had a recurring role as Mindy’s dad, Fred McConnell — the owner of a music store, in a nice touch — on all four seasons (1978-82) of ABC’s Mork & Mindy. The bald-headed actor often was on the receiving end of Mork’s (Williams) barbs.
He was born in Manhattan on Feb. 11, 1928. His mother, Harriet, was a writer who co-authored the 1950 book They All Played Ragtime, and his father, Sidney, was an art dealer who in 1967 donated his private collection of 103 works, then valued at $2 million and including a Picasso, to New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
Janis made his Broadway debut when he was 13 in Junior Miss and stuck with the comedy through its lengthy New York run and then on a tour until he was 16. “I wanted to get out of school all my life,” he told film historian Alan K. Rode in 2012. “I never went to high school. It worked out perfectly.”
He came to California to make his movie debut, starring as a 16-year-old who enters the U.S. Army in Snafu (1945).
After co-starring with Jeanne Crain in Margie (1946), he landed a contract at Fox for $750 a week; most everyone got $75 a week to start, but he commanded the much higher salary because he had been on Broadway, he noted.
He then appeared in Warner Bros.’ That Hagen Girl (1947) in a much-derided drama that featured Ronald Reagan and Shirley Temple. (Spoiler alert: Those two presumably get married at the end of the movie.)
Fox didn’t give him much to do, and he was eventually replaced on the lot by Robert Wagner, he said. Janis then worked a great deal in television, appearing on such programs as Suspense, Starlight Theatre and Studio One in Hollywood.
“It was an exciting time because everything was live,” he said in 2015. “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.”
He also kept busy on Broadway, appearing in The Brass Ring, Time Out for Ginger and Sunday in New York, among other productions.
Later, Janis showed up on The Untouchables and My Favorite Martian and in such films as Airport ’75 (1974), The Happy Hooker (1975), The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox (1976),The Buddy Holly Story (1978), Oh, God! Book II (1980), Brewster’s Millions (1985), Sonny Boy (1989), Mr. Saturday Night (1992) and The Cable Guy (1996).
He also produced, directed and starred opposite Piper Laurie in Bad Blood (2012), written by his third wife, actress Maria Grimm.
Survivors include his children, Christopher and Carin, and two grandchildren.
In the late 1940s, Janis said he spent endless hours listening to famed trombonist Kid Ory and his New Orleans jazz band at the Beverly Cavern nightclub in L.A.
“In the course of going eight or nine months and listening to him every night, I inadvertently memorized every one of his solos,” he told Rode. “When I finally got hold of a trombone [some time later], I started playing and could play — very badly and stumbling — but I had it in my ear.”