Jack Webb

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This article is about the actor, producer and writer. For the mystery writer, see John Alfred "Jack" Webb.
Jack Webb
Jackwebbbbigseptemberman.jpg
Jack Webb in his signature role of Joe Friday on Dragnet.
Born (1920-04-02)April 2, 1920
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
Died December 22, 1982(1982-12-22) (aged 62)
West Hollywood, California
Resting place
Forest Lawn Memorial Park – Hollywood Hills,
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
34°08′54″N 118°19′38″W / 34.14840°N 118.32718°W / 34.14840; -118.32718
Other names
  • John Randolph
  • Preston Wood
Occupation Actor, producer, director, screenwriter
Years active 1946–1979
Spouse(s)

Julie London (m. 1947–53)
Dorothy Towne (m. 1955–57)
Jackie Loughery (m. 1958–64)

Opal Wright (m. 1980–82)

John Randolph Webb, or Jack Webb (April 2, 1920 – December 22, 1982), also known by the pen names John Randolph and Preston Wood,[1] was an American actor, television producer, director, and screenwriter, who is most famous for his role as Sergeant Joe Friday in the radio and television series, Dragnet. He was also the founder of his own production company, Mark VII Limited.[2][3]

Early life[edit]

Webb was born in Santa Monica, California, the son of Margaret (née Smith) and Samuel Chester Webb.[4] He grew up in the Bunker Hill section of Los Angeles. His father left home before Webb was born, and Webb never knew him.[5] He was raised a Roman Catholic by his Irish/Native American mother. One of the tenants in his mother's rooming house was an ex-jazzman who began Webb's lifelong interest in jazz by giving him a recording of Bix Beiderbecke's "At the Jazz Band Ball."

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Webb lived in the parish of Our Lady of Loretto Church and attended Our Lady of Loretto Elementary School in Echo Park, where he served as an altar boy.[6] He then attended Belmont High School, near downtown Los Angeles and later, St. John's University, Minnesota, where he studied art. In high school, Webb was a student body president. He wrote to the student body in the yearbook: ".. you who showed me the magnificent warmth of friendship which I know, and you know, I will carry with me forever."[7] During World War II, Webb enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces, but he "washed out" of flight training. After that happened, he applied for and received a hardship discharge, being the primary financial support for his mother and grandmother.[8]

Career[edit]

Acting[edit]

Following his discharge, he moved to San Francisco, where a wartime shortage of announcers led to a temporary appointment to his own radio show on ABC's KGO Radio. The Jack Webb Show was a half-hour comedy that had a limited run on ABC radio in 1946. By 1949, he had abandoned comedy for drama, and starred in Pat Novak for Hire, a radio show originating from KFRC about a man who worked as an unlicensed private detective. The program co-starred Raymond Burr. Pat Novak was notable for writing that imitated the hard-boiled style of such writers as Raymond Chandler, with lines such as: "She drifted into the room like 98 pounds of warm smoke. Her voice was hot and sticky—like a furnace full of marshmallows."[citation needed]

Webb's radio shows included Johnny Modero, Pier 23; Jeff Regan, Investigator; Murder and Mr. Malone; Pete Kelly's Blues and One Out of Seven. Webb provided all of the voices on One Out of Seven, often vigorously attacking racial prejudice.

His most famous motion picture role was as the combat-hardened Marine Corps drill instructor at Parris Island in the 1957 film The D.I., with Don Dubbins as a callow Marine private. Webb's hard-nosed approach to this role, that of Drill Instructor Technical Sergeant James Moore, would be reflected in much of his later acting.

Webb was approached to play the role of Vernon Wormer, the dean of Faber College, in National Lampoon's Animal House, but he turned it down as crazy.[citation needed]

Dragnet and stardom[edit]

Webb had a featured role as a crime lab technician in the 1948 film He Walked by Night, based on the real-life murder of a California Highway Patrolman by Erwin Walker.[9] The film was produced in semidocumentary style with technical assistance provided by Detective Sergeant Marty Wynn of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). He Walked By Night's thinly veiled fictionalized recounting of the 1946 Walker crime spree gave Webb the idea for Dragnet: a recurring series based on real cases from LAPD police files, featuring authentic depictions of the modern police detective, including methods, mannerisms, and technical language.[10]

With much assistance from Sgt. Marty Wynn and legendary LAPD chief William H. Parker, Dragnet premiered on NBC Radio in 1949 and ran till 1957. It was also picked up as a television series by NBC, which aired episodes each season from 1952 to 1959. Webb played Sgt. Joe Friday, and Barton Yarborough co-starred as Sgt. Ben Romero. After Yarborough's death, Ben Alexander joined the cast as Officer Frank Smith.

Webb with Harry Morgan in the series' second version (1968)

Webb was a stickler for attention to detail. He believed viewers wanted "realism" and tried to give it to them. Webb had tremendous respect for those in law enforcement. He often said, in interviews, that he was angry about the "ridiculous amount" of abuse to which police were subjected by the press and the public. Webb was also impressed by the long hours, low pay, and injury rate among police investigators of the day, particularly in the LAPD, which was notorious for jettisoning officers who had become ill or injured in the line of duty.[11]

In announcing his vision of Dragnet, Webb said he intended to perform a service for the police by showing them as low-key working class heroes. Dragnet moved away from earlier portrayals of the police in shows such as Jeff Regan and Pat Novak, which had often shown them as brutal and even corrupt. Dragnet became a successful television show in 1952. Barton Yarborough died of a heart attack in 1951, after filming only two episodes, and Barney Phillips (Sgt. Ed Jacobs) and Herbert Ellis (Officer Frank Smith) temporarily stepped in as partners. Veteran radio and film actor Ben Alexander soon took over the role of jovial, burly Officer Frank Smith. Alexander was popular and remained a cast member until the show's cancellation in 1959. In 1954, a full-length feature film adaptation of the series was released, starring Webb, Alexander, and Richard Boone.

The television version of Dragnet began with this narration by George Fenneman: "The story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent." Webb would intone, "This is the city—Los Angeles." He would then make a historical or topical point, describe his duties, his partner and superior on the episode. The radio series would have a similar opening, though Webb, as Friday, would not give a unique LA-themed opening. Webb would then set the plot by describing a typical day and then lead into the story. "It was Wednesday, March 19th, 9:10 a.m., I was at headquarters working narcotics..." At the end of each show, Fenneman would repeat his opening narration, revised to read: "The story you have just seen is true. The names were changed to protect the innocent." A second announcer, Hal Gibney, would then, usually, give dates when and specify courtrooms where trials were held for the suspects, announcing the trial verdicts after commercial breaks. Many suspects shown to have been found guilty at the end of Dragnet were also shown as having been confined to the California State Prison at San Quentin. Webb frequently re-created entire floors of buildings on sound stages, such as the police headquarters at Los Angeles City Hall and a floor of the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner.[citation needed]

In Dragnet's early days, Webb continued to appear in movies, notably as the best friend of William Holden's character in the 1950 Billy Wilder film Sunset Boulevard. In 1950, Webb appeared alongside future 1960s Dragnet partner Harry Morgan in the film noir Dark City. In contrast to the pair's straight-arrow image in Dragnet, here Webb played a vicious card sharp in Dark City and Morgan a punch-drunk ex-fighter.[citation needed]

In 1951, Webb introduced a short-lived radio series, Pete Kelly's Blues, in an attempt to bring the music he loved to a broader audience. That show became the basis for a 1955 movie of the same name. In 1959, a television version was made. Neither was very successful.

In 1963, Webb took over from William T. Orr as executive producer of the ABC/Warner Brothers detective series 77 Sunset Strip. He brought about wholesale changes in the program and retained only Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., in the role of private detective Stuart Bailey. Gone were co-stars Roger Smith and Edd Byrnes and the lively series set. The altered program began with Bailey quietly entering an elevator to an upper floor of a bleak office building. The story lines were far different from those of the first five years of the series. The result was a disaster; Webb would later be accused of being out of touch with the younger generation,[by whom?] a perception that Dragnet subsequently did nothing to correct. Ratings fell, and 77 Sunset Strip was cancelled before the end of the sixth season. John Gavin's Destry, a light-hearted western series, filled the remaining three months of the Friday night time slot vacated on ABC by 77 Sunset Strip.

Meanwhile, Webb teamed with actor Jeffrey Hunter to form Apollo Productions. They made the failed television series, Temple Houston, with Hunter in the title role. In the summer of 1963, Webb pushed Temple Houston to production. The series is loosely based on the life of the frontier lawyer Temple Lea Houston, the youngest son of the legendary Texan, Sam Houston. The series was added to the NBC schedule after the planned drama, The Robert Taylor Show, based on case files of the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare, was suddenly disbanded after the making of four episodes. Under orders from Webb, Temple Houston episodes were put together in two or three days each, something previously thought impossible in television production. Work began on August 7, 1963, with the initial airing set for September 19. Jimmy Lydon, a former child actor, adult actor, and a television producer with WB at the time, recalled that Webb told the staff, "Fellas, I just sold Temple Houston. We gotta be on the air in four weeks, we can't use the pilot , we have no scripts, no nothing - do it!"[12] Lydon recalled the team having worked around the clock to get Temple Houston on the air. Co-producer William Conrad directed six episodes, two scripts simultaneously on two different soundstages at WB. "We bicycled Jeff (series star Jeffrey Hunter) and Elam (supporting star Jack Elam) between the two companies, and Bill shot 'em both in four-and-a-half days. Two complete one-hour shows!," recalled Lydon.[12]

Temple Houston ended after its 26-week run. Jeffrey Hunter in a 1965 interview with The Milwaukee Journal described the situation:

In the first place, we had no time to prepare for [the series]. I was notified on July 17 to be ready to start August 7 for an October air date. When we reached the screen we did not have a single segment ready. It was done so fast the writers never got a chance to know what it was all about. We all wanted to follow the line indicated by the pilot film, which we thought would make a charming series. NBC, however, favored making it serious.[13]

Beginning in early 1967, Webb, no longer with Warner Brothers, produced and starred in a new color version of Dragnet for NBC, this time for Universal Television, which packaged all but one of his subsequent shows. Harry Morgan co-starred as Officer Bill Gannon. (Alexander was unavailable, as he was co-starring in Felony Squad on ABC.)

The program pilot, originally produced as a made-for-TV movie in 1966, did not air until 1969. The television film was based on the Harvey Glatman serial killings. The TV series ran through 1970. To distinguish it from the original series, the year of production was added to the title (Dragnet 1967, Dragnet 1968, etc.). The revival emphasized crime prevention and outreach to the public. Its attempts to address the contemporary youth-drug culture (such as the "The LSD Story" episode, guest-starring Michael Burns as Benjamin John "Blue Boy" Carver, voted 85th-best TV episode of all time by TV Guide and TV Land) have led certain episodes on the topic to achieve cult status due to their strained attempts to be "with-it," such as Joe Friday grilling "Blue Boy" by asking him, "You're pretty high and far out, aren't you? What kind of kick are you on, son?" Don Dubbins, who had acted alongside Webb in The D.I. in 1957, was another featured actor in Mark VII Limited programs beginning in the 1960s.

In 1968, in concert with Robert A. Cinader, Webb produced NBC's popular Adam-12, which ran until 1975. Webb also performed the classic "Copper Clappers" sketch during an appearance on The Tonight Show where a pokerfaced Joe Friday echoed Johnny Carson's equally-deadpan robbery report in which all the details started with "Cl" or least the k consonant sound.

In the 1970s, Webb began to expand his Mark VII Limited into other shows. The most successful of his 1970s efforts was Emergency!, which portrayed the fledgling paramedic program of the L.A. County Fire Department. The show became a huge success, running from 1972 to 1979, with ratings occasionally even topping its time slot competitor, All in the Family. Webb cast his ex-wife, Julie London, as well as her second husband and Dragnet ensemble player Bobby Troup, as nurse Dixie McCall and Dr. Joseph Early, respectively. There was even a cartoon spin-off, Emergency +4.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Webb's personal life was better defined by his love of jazz than his interest in police work. His lifelong interest in the cornet allowed him to move easily in the jazz culture, where he met singer and actress Julie London. They married in 1947, had daughters Stacy (1950–1996) and Lisa (born 1952), and divorced in 1954. Subsequently, he married Dorothy Towne in 1955, divorcing in 1957, former Miss USA Jackie Loughery (to whom he was married from 1958 to 1964), and Opal Wright, who married him in 1980 and was widowed by his death in 1982.

Stacy Webb authorized and collaborated on a book, Just the Facts, Ma'am; The Authorized Biography of Jack Webb, Creator of Dragnet, Adam-12, and Emergency!, of which Daniel Moyer and Eugene Alvarez were the primary authors. It was published in 1999. Stacy did not live to see the publication of the book, having been killed in a car accident three years earlier.

Death[edit]

Jack Webb began working on scripts for a revival of Dragnet with Kent McCord as his partner, but before production could begin, he died of a heart attack on December 23, 1982 at the age of 62.[14]

He is interred at Sheltering Hills Plot 1999, Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles (34°08′54″N 118°19′38″W / 34.14840°N 118.32718°W / 34.14840; -118.32718), and was given a funeral with full police honors. On Webb's death, Chief Daryl Gates announced that badge number 714, which was used by Joe Friday in Dragnet, would be retired. Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley ordered all flags lowered to half-staff in Webb's honor for a day, and Webb was buried with a replica LAPD badge bearing the rank of Sergeant, and the number 714.

Jack Webb has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for radio at 7040 Hollywood Boulevard, and for television at 6728 Hollywood Boulevard. In 1992 Webb (posthumously) earned induction into the Television Hall of Fame.

Selected filmography[edit]

Film
Year Film Role Notes
1932 Three on a Match Boy in schoolyard Uncredited
1948 Hollow Triumph Bullseye Uncredited
He Walked by Night Lee
1949 Sword in the Desert Hoffman Uncredited
1950 The Men Norm Alternative title: Battle Stripe; Marlon Brando's film debut was in this production
Sunset Boulevard Artie Green
Dark City Augie
Halls of Montezuma Correspondent Dickerman
1951 You're in the Navy Now Ens. Anthony "Tony" Barbo Alternative title: U.S.S. Teakettle
Appointment with Danger Joe Regas
1954 Dragnet Sgt. Joe Friday Director
1955 Pete Kelly's Blues Pete Kelly Producer/Director
1957 The D.I. Technical Sergeant James Moore Also director
1959 -30- Sam Gatlin Director
1961 The Last Time I Saw Archie William "Bill" Bowers Producer
1962 Red Nightmare Narrator Producer
Television
Year Title Role Notes
1951–1959 Dragnet Sergeant Joe Friday 276 episodes
1956–1957 Noah's Ark Creator of the series starring Paul Burke 24 episodes
1962–1963 GE True
Producer and Narrator of series, Director of 4 episodes
1967–1970 Dragnet 1967 Sergeant Joe Friday 98 episodes
1968–1975 Adam-12
Writer, 174 episodes
1971 O'Hara, U.S. Treasury Narrator 1 episode
The Partners The Commissioner 1 episode
1972–1976 Emergency!
Director, 5 episodes
1972–1974 Hec Ramsey
Producer, 10 episodes
1978 Project UFO Announcer 1 episode

Discography[edit]

  • Songs from Pete Kelly's Blues (1955)
  • You're My Girl: Romantic Reflections by Jack Webb (1958)
  • Golden Throats volume 1 (1988)
  • Just the Tracks, Ma'am: The Warner Brothers Recordings (2000)

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Jack Webb". Celebrity Net Worth. Retrieved May 20, 2014. 
  2. ^ Robert A. Jones, Jack Webb Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Los Angeles Times, March 20, 1991
  3. ^ Barbara Thornburg, Former Palm Springs home of 'Dragnet' star Jack Webb, Los Angeles Times,
  4. ^ My Name's Friday: The Unauthorized But True Story of Dragnet and the Films of Jack Webb by Michael J. Hayde, Cumberland House Publishing
  5. ^ New York Times
  6. ^ "Our Lady of Loretto Elementary School: OLL Historic Timeline". Retrieved June 23, 2011. [dead link]
  7. ^ Campanile 1938, Belmont High School, 1938
  8. ^ Just the Facts, Ma'am; The Authorized Biography of Jack Webb, Creator of Dragnet, Adam-12, and Emergency!, written by Daniel Moyer and Eugene Alvarez.
  9. ^ Crazy Like A Fox. The Los Angeles Times, June 2, 1947; Man Continues to Fight Police Despite Wounds. The Los Angeles Times, December 21, 1946.
  10. ^ Webb, Jack, and Ellroy, James. The badge: true and terrifying crime stories that could not be presented on TV, from the creator and star of Dragnet. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, ISBN 1-56025-688-5 (2005), p. 103.
  11. ^ Webb and Ellroy, p. 103: "One of many examples of selfless service was that of LAPD detective Lt. Colin Forbes, who went to work each day carrying a .45-caliber slug next to his spine after being shot by none other than Erwin Walker. After his health was ruined from years of stakeouts and violent altercations with criminals, Lt. Forbes would be pensioned off at a mere $300 a month by the LAPD at the age of 46."
  12. ^ a b Billy Hathorn, "Roy Bean, Temple Houston, Bill Longley, Ranald Mackenzie, Buffalo Bill, Jr., and the Texas Rangers: Depictions of West Texans in Series Television, 1955 to 1967", West Texas Historical Review, Vol. 89 (2013), pp. 106-109
  13. ^ J. D. Spiro, "Happy in Hollywood", The Milwaukee Journal, July 4, 1965
  14. ^ "Jack Webb Los Angeles County Death Certificate #0190-058248". FindaDeath.com. Retrieved May 6, 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Hugh W. Binyon: Reflections in a Pig's Eye; Babcock Publishing; (paperback, 2002).
  • Michael J. Hayde: My Name's Friday: The Unauthorized but True Story of Dragnet and the Films of Jack Webb; Cumberland House Publishing; ISBN 1-58182-190-5 (paperback, 2001).
  • Jack Webb: The Badge: The Inside Story of One of America's Great Police Departments; Prentice-Hall; (hardback, 1958).
  • Jack Webb and James Ellroy: The badge: true and terrifying crime stories that could not be presented on TV, from the creator and star of Dragnet; New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, ISBN 1-56025-688-5 (2005).
  • Maurice Zolotow: The True Story of Jack Webb; The American Weekly, September 12, 19, 26, October 3, 1954.

External links[edit]