Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Tribute to Lieutenant Philip Gerard

Barry Morse as Philip Gerard.
A supporting character in The Fugitive, police Lieutenant Philip Gerard was one of the first TV detectives to portray the mundane aspects of his job. And, in two key episodes, he also showed how his job impacted his family, to the point of almost breaking up his marriage.

British actor Barry Morse played the stoic, driven Lt. Gerard in 37 of the 120 episodes. Fugitive creator Roy Huggins based the character loosely on Javert in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. Gerard gets only two lines in Huggin's original treatment of The Fugitive and isn't even given a name. In most of the episodes, Gerard's presence serves merely to move the plots along. He almost captures convicted murderer Richard Kimble on numerous occasions, but his prey always slips through his fingers--typically because law-abiding citizens aid the fugitive.

Lt. Gerard and Richard Kimble.
The source of Gerard's obsession with Kimble is established in the opening credits. Gerard, who investigated the murder of Kimble's wife in Stafford, Indiana, is shown aboard a train escorting Kimble to death row. However, their train derails and Kimble escapes. Knowing that he has failed to execute his task, Gerard becomes obsessed with recapturing the fugitive. It doesn't matter whether Kimble is innocent or not. He was found guilty in a court of law and therefore must be apprehended.

The impact on Gerard's family life is first shown in episode 35 "Nemesis," in which Gerard abandons a fishing trip with his young son (Kurt Russell) to pursue a lead on Kimble. When Phil, Jr. (that's actually his name) hides in the backseat of a car, the vehicle is stolen--by Kimble. The irony is that Kimble and the boy eventually form a bond, one strong enough to convince young Phil to help him escape. This unexpected outcome reminds Gerard how he has lost touch with his own son, something he vows to rectify.

Barbara Rush as Marie Gerard.
Likewise, in the season 3 two-part episode "Landscape with Running Figures," Gerard abandons a vacation with his wife to follow another lead on the fugitive. The "vacation" turns out to be an attempt by the Gerards to repair a marriage weakened by Philip’s obsession with bringing Kimble to justice. Tired of fighting for her husband's attention, Marie Gerard (Barbara Rush) leaves her husband. As befits a dramatic television series, she has an encounter with Kimble, too--though the results are different from the one with Gerard's son. And in the end, there is a glimmer of hope for the Gerards' marriage.

Humorless, detailed, and driven, Lt. Philip Gerard may not have succeeded as a lead character in a 1960s TV series. But as a supporting character in a popular show, he showed the less glamorous side of detective work and made a significant contribution to the classic TV detective genre.


  1. It was such a treat for me to come to the Cafe today and see a profile on Lieutenant Philip Gerard. Barry Morse gave us an excellent performance of a man for whom the word "perseverance" must have been coined. Your description of him is spot on, Rick. The episodes you cited showed the strain his relentless mission caused to his family. There is another fascinating episode I recall where Kimble happens upon an odd family who doesn't take well to outsiders. He is able to help them professionally, as a doctor. But when Gerard shows up he is considered of no value, and, therefore, expendable. So Kimble deals with the moral dilemma of what to do, and, of course, chooses to help his nemesis. I am quite a fan of "The Fugitive," which featured strong guest performances week after week as well as the remarkably believable performances of David Janssen and Barry Morse. This was a very well written and truly enjoyable review of a fascinating character from a classic slice of television. Bravo, Rick!

  2. As a fervent Fuge devotee, I have always admired at how Morse was able to make such an unsympathetic dink (in the contest of the show) a fairly decent sort (a man just doing an unpleasant job and someone whose opinion as to whether the doc is innocent or not matters bupkis) and in some instances almost as tragic a personage as the man he "relentlessly pursued." (The two-parter you cite, "Landscapes with Running Figures," is one of my absolute faves.) When they released the 1993 feature film based on the series they forgot the one inescapable fact that no one--and I mean no one--was ever able to shout "Kimble!" like Morse's Gerard. Excellent read, Rick!

  3. I'm always impressed when a series provides an audience with an antagonist (which Gerard essentially is) who ultimately garners sympathy. A character written into enough stories will eventually require an additional element (or two), and seeing the person's background often helps viewers relate to whom initially may have been perceived as the enemy. As you said, Gerard is after Kimble because the man was convicted by law. The audience may not like him because he's trailing Kimble, but the lieutenant is doing his job, and witnessing the effect his obsession has on his family makes him a sympathetic character. And deserving of a Café tribute! A thorough and splendid job, Rick!

  4. Toto, I also remember the excellent episode where Kimble has to rescue Gerard from moonshiners who don't take kindly to "the law." Ivan, you are so right...I can just hear Gerard shouting out: "Kimble!" Sark, what makes the "humanization" of Gerard so intriguing is that it takes place over several years. The pivotal episode with Mrs. Gerard doesn't appear until season 3. Wonderful comments from all!

  5. Good choice for TV detective month, Rick. Barry Morse did a good job as Gerard, and it was interesting how the character developed over time on the series. I had to laugh at myelf -- I kept thinking of Les Miserables, and was going to comment on the similarity -- then I realized I was thinking about it because you had already mentioned it! Doh!

    Good read, Rick!

  6. I think it's possible Lt. Gerard may have had doubts all along about Dr. Kimble's guilt. I recall one episode (I can't remember) it's title, in which another character says Kimble guilty, and Gerard promptly snapped, "A jury said he was guilty.". The context of the remark permits the inference that Gerard believed that the jury might have been wrong. However relentless Gerard was in his pursuit of Kimble, he was
    never brutal and never tried to use deadly force. In the final episode he gave Kimble his gun to go after the one-armed man, testified on kimble's behalf, and shook kimble's hand. Btw, in the MAD Magazine parody, Kimble wad called Thimble, and Gerard wad called, of course, Javert.

    1. Good points. Loved the info on the MAD Magazine parody!