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Don Medford, Who Directed the Historic Last Episode of ‘The Fugitive,’ Dies

Don Medford Obit - H 2012

The series’ climax attracted a then-record 78 million viewers in 1967. "Midnight Medford" also helmed episodes of “Dynasty” and “The Twilight Zone” and the Sidney Poitier film “The Organization.”

Don Medford, a prolific TV director who helmed the final installment of the landmark 1960s ABC drama The Fugitive -- at the time the most-watched series episode in history -- has died. He was 95.

Medford died Dec. 12 at West Hills (Calif.) Hospital and Medical Center, his wife Lynn told The Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday. Medford had been a resident of the Motion Picture & Television Fund’s retirement home in Woodland Hills since 2001, she said.

In a career that spanned nearly a half-century, Medford also directed The Organization (1971), the third film in which Sidney Poitier played Detective Virgil Tibbs, and the Western The Hunting Party, also released in 1971, starring Oliver Reed, Gene Hackman and Candice Bergen.

But Medford made his mark in television. He helmed 26 episodes of the 1980s primetime soap Dynasty; 32 episodes of The F.B.I., which ran from 1965-74; 19 episodes of the ’70s crime drama Baretta (he also wrote a pair); and 13 episodes of The Detectives, another cop series that starred Robert Taylor and Tige Andrews and aired from 1959-62. He also did five episodes of The Twilight Zone, including “A Passage for Trumpet,” starring Jack Klugman, who died Dec. 24.

A native of Detroit who moved to New York in 1946 to work on such live TV shows as the sci-fi anthology Tales of Tomorrow and Medallion Theatre, Medford was brought to Hollywood by director Alfred Hitchcock and helmed two installments of the anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents in 1955.

Earlier, he directed Ronald Reagan and James Dean in a live installment of G.E. True Theater titled “The Dark, Dark Hours,” which aired live in December 1954. Reagan played a doctor whose home was invaded and family threatened by Dean and another young punk.

One of Medford’s trademarks in the early days was shooting a scene during the day and then "underdeveloping" the film in postproduction to make it appear as if it were shot in darkness (it was called "day for night" shooting; the shadows were a dead giveaway for anyone paying attention). For that he earned the nickname “Midnight Medford.”

In all, Medford directed six episodes of The Fugitive, including the two-parter -- Episodes Nos. 119 and 120 -- that closed the series in August 1967. “The Judgment Part II,” in which accused killer Richard Kimble (David Janssen) clears his name and finally catches up with the one-armed man (Bill Raisch) who had murdered his wife, was viewed in 25.7 million households. More than 78 million people, or 45.9 percent of American households with a television set, tuned in.

That viewership record held until the Nov. 21, 1980, episode of Dallas that revealed who shot J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman). 

Medford’s TV career also includes work on such series as 12 O’Clock High, Dr. Kildare, The Rifleman, The Untouchables, The Fall Guy, The Streets of San Francisco, Cannon, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Police Story, The Colbys, Jake and the Fatman and his last credit, True Blue, in 1989.

He also directed the telefilms Hell Town (1985), starring Robert Blake (it later became a TV series), and 1973’s The Fuzz Brothers, starring Louis Gossett Jr. and Felton Perry.