Remembering Jan-Michael Vincent

Jan-Michael Vincent took ‘Airwolf’ high into
home-screen action

He was largely a movie star, but Jan-Michael Vincent had his moments on television, too.

Though he had a quietness that bordered on shyness, the actor who died on Feb. 10 (though the news became known only late last week) knew how to deliver the goods when it literally was time for action.

Proof could be found in his mid-1980s “Airwolf” role as super-helicopter pilot Stringfellow Hawke, who liked to sit by a lake peacefully playing a cello, but who often had to speak with his fists as he and boisterous cohort Dominic Santini (Ernest Borgnine) fought evildoers. CBS gave “Airwolf” the post-Super Bowl slot for its 1984 launch, and Vincent reportedly drew the biggest per-episode paycheck for any American TV actor at the time.

Another home-screen high point for Vincent was “The Winds of War,” the epic 1983 adaptation of Herman Wouk’s World War II novel. Vincent was teamed romantically with Ali MacGraw in the saga of a Navy family‘s encounters with figures both factual — President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, etc. — and fictional. (In the 1988-89 sequel “War and Remembrance,” Vincent’s role was assumed by Hart Bochner.)

As it happened, TV was instrumental in Vincent’s career from the start. “Lassie,” “Bonanza” and (we aren’t kidding about this) “The Banana Splits Adventure Hour” were among the series that helped Vincent establish himself. So was the costly and star-packed primetime serial “Harold Robbins’ The Survivors,” in which Vincent played the son of Lana Turner’s character.

Television’s “Movie of the Week” era also gave Vincent work in such attractions as “Tribes” (a military drama that earned solid reviews for him and fellow star Darren McGavin) and the supernatural romance “Sandcastles,” the latter notable because it was shot on videotape rather than film.

Those set Vincent up for big-screen jobs that ranged from Charles Bronson and Burt Reynolds vehicles (“The Mechanic,” “Hooper”) to Disney comedies (“The World’s Greatest Athlete”) and surfing dramas

TV occasionally would continue to factor into Vincent’s plans later, through his appearances on series including “Hotel” and “Nash Bridges,” and in movies such as “Six Against the Rock” and “Tarzan in Manhattan.”(“Big Wednesday), with modestly budgeted small-town-brawler parts along the way as well (“White Line Fever,” “Hard Country”).

However, when many at-home viewers remember watching Jan-Michael Vincent, it’s mainly for “Airwolf” … which only flew for three seasons while he was at the controls, but did much to help cement his action-star image.

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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