Joe Mantegna vs. Robert Urich for Spenser

I’m a member of an e-mail list that discusses the Spenser detective novel series by Robert B. Parker.

In the 80s, Spenser was played by Robert Urich on the show Spenser for Hire. The show itself was a little on the cheesy side, but Urich had the right look and the voice, if not the entire cachet.

In the past year, the A&E cable network has made two movies based on two Spenser novels: Thin Air and Small Vices, in which the title character was played by Joe Mantegna. An excellent actor, but not quite Spenser. He lacks the physique, the accent, and the wiseass demeanor.

So, I’m gonna put it to you. Which of these two men has what it takes to play Spenser? If not these two, who?

I await with bated breath :slight_smile:


Well, I don’t know about “Spenser”, but I have met both of these men. (That’s pretty much my one claim to fame), and they were both very nice. =)
Joe Mantegna was eating at the restaurant where I worked, I was actually his waitress! (Hey, it may not sound very exciting, but when you are 15 at your first job, it’s a big deal!)

I definitely agree that Robert Urich was a better Spenser. Mantegna’s Spenser was too much a “diamond in the rough” sort. Urich’s was more appropriately polished, I thought. I very much enjoyed that series. I thought the Hawk character was right on the money. IIRC, there were two Susans and I much preferred the first one. I can’t recall the names of the actors, though.

I have to vote for Joe Mantegna. Both of them had the wise-ass demeanor and the romantic undercurrent down pretty well. I only watched the “Spenser for Hire” series sparingly when I could, but I never got the feeling that Urich was as hard-boiled enough as he should be. For all the fights that Spenser gets into, Urich looks like he’s never been scarred at all. Mantegna has a bit more of the character to his face that makes it seems like he’s taken more of a physical and emotional pounding that made Spenser what he is in the books.

I think that neither one of them is a 100% accurate depiction of Spenser. Rober Urich has the smartassed edge to him that Spenser needs, but Joe Mantegna captures the world weariness of the part. I’ve been trying to think of an actor who would be a better Spenser, but I haven’t thought of him yet. Most of the current crop of actors that could do the role are too young for the part.


FWIW, the Hawk of the TV show was written for Avery Brooks, who later had a spin-off called “A Man Called Hawk”.

I also heard Burt Reynolds read the audio version of “Chance”, and that took some getting used to. I enjoyed the story, but it took a little while to get over the fact that the voice wasn’t Urich’s. (this was a few years before the A&E movies)


Oh, pfui–neither.

Spenser is repeatedly described as looking like a “nice thug”–Robert Urich is much too pretty.

Mantegna isn’t big and wide enough to look like an aging boxer.

I think Spenser could only be properly cast by the Coen brothers.

Urich was big enuf but too pretty. He needed to run into a couple of doors before each shoot. Mantagna is too short and skinny. He should be down in the credits somewhere as “Third Thug”. Hawk was perfect.

If they really wanted to improve the books and/or the flicks Spenser should hire Hawk to give Susan a pair of concrete Nikes and drop her off a bridge. With the dog.

[aside]I always thought Brian Dennehy had the right look for Spenser.[/aside]

I thought Urich had more the look of an ex-boxer, and I liked the series, though it was a bit cheesy at times, but mostly, I thought the dialogue in the one A&E movie I saw was pathetic. Not Parkeresque at all. Montegna didn’t have a chance.

Just my opinion.