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Jack Webb as Joe Friday in Dragnet
|First appearance||Dragnet (1949)|
|Last appearance||Dragnet (2003)|
|Created by||Jack Webb|
|Portrayed by||Jack Webb (1949-59, 1967-70)
Ed O'Neill (2003-04)
|Occupation||Los Angeles police officer|
Detective Sergeant Joseph "Joe" Friday is a fictional character created (and portrayed) by Jack Webb as the lead for his series Dragnet. Friday is portrayed as a detective in the Los Angeles Police Department. The character first appeared on June 3, 1949 in the premiere of the NBC radio drama that launched the series. Webb played the character on radio and later television from 1949-1959 and again from 1967-1970, also appearing as Friday in a 1954 theatrical release and a 1966 made-for-TV film that aired three years later.
Over the earlier run of the series, Friday was partnered with Sgt. Ben Romero (Barton Yarborough), Sgt. Ed Jacobs (Barney Phillips), and then (for the rest of the radio run as well as the 1954 film and the 1951 television series) Officer Frank Smith (first Herbert Ellis, then Ben Alexander). For the 1960s revival, Friday's partner was Officer Bill Gannon (Harry Morgan).
During the 1958–59 season, Friday was promoted to Lieutenant. However, when the show returned in 1967, he was again a Sergeant without any on-screen explanation; Webb later explained that in the real LAPD, the Lieutenant rank is a supervisory position and involved less investigatory time in the field, which would change the structure of the show.
Friday narrated every story, providing details of what went down and where. He had several bits of consistent dialogue that remained throughout the series: the opening narration, "This is the city, Los Angeles, California, I work here. I'm a cop" (or, in later series, "I carry a badge") and the introduction of the story's plot ("It was (date), it was (weather) in Los Angeles; we were working (shift) out of (police division). The boss is (name). My partner's (Ben Romero/Frank Smith/Bill Gannon). My name's Friday."
A common misattributed catchphrase to Friday is "Just the facts, ma'am". In fact, Friday never actually said this in an episode, but it was featured in Stan Freberg's works parodying Dragnet.
In the 1968 episode "The Shooting Board", Joe Friday states that in his 12-year career as a police officer he had only had to take his pistol out of his holster three times. He had to "drop the hammer on a man" twice, including in that episode; he had stopped off at an all-night laundromat to purchase a pack of cigarettes when he caught someone stealing coins from a change machine and exchanged gunfire with him, killing him (and falling under investigation as there were no other witnesses in the laundromat to corroborate his story that he had been fired upon and returned fire). However, this contradicts the original TV series, and the radio series, several episodes of which depicted Friday getting involved in shootouts, including at least one, "The Big Break," first broadcast on March 19, 1953, which took place over the course of a year, and included two shootouts in the same episode.
Friday's personal life was simple: he was an Army veteran (as was Webb in real life), a bachelor, and a chain smoker (much like Webb was), and lived with his mother at 4656 Collis Avenue, Los Angeles. Later, he lived by himself in an apartment. His partner Bill Gannon was a member of the American Legion (and thus a veteran), his wife's name was Eileen and they had children. He also had pets, including a dog, a cat, and a parakeet (even though he is allergic to bird feathers, which no doubt contribute to his hay fever). Unlike Friday, who had a regulation .38 snub-nose version Smith & Wesson Model 10 revolver, Gannon carried a four-inch .38 Smith & Wesson Model 15 revolver.
Joe Friday's birth date was given as April 2 (the same as Jack Webb's) in the 1969 episode "Community Relations" However, this is in conflict with that given in the 1954 radio episode "Big Shock", where his partner attempts to give Joe a birthday present of fleece-lined slippers, when Friday informs him that his birthday is August 30, not March 30.
Dragnet used Joe Friday's police badge, with the numbers "714", as its title logo. It has been suggested that Jack Webb wanted badge 714 because he was a big fan of Babe Ruth, who slugged 714 home runs in his career; however, this is a myth. In My Name's Friday, the book-length history of Dragnet by TV commentator Michael J. Hayde, it was asserted that Friday originally wanted the badge number to be "777", tripling the lucky number 7, but decided instead to add the last two digits together to get "14", thus making the badge number "714".
The 714 badge that Friday carried as a lieutenant during the final season of the 1951-59 series was ultimately used in real life by LAPD officer Dan Cooke. As a sergeant, Cooke had been assigned to be the LAPD's liaison with Webb during the production of the 1967-70 series. Just before filming started on the TV-movie that became the pilot for the revived series, Cooke found the badge that the LAPD had lent to Webb in 1958-59 season. However, Webb informed Cooke that he wanted Friday to be a sergeant in the revived series, and, consequently, would not need the lieutenant's badge from the original show. Cooke put the unused badge in a desk drawer and forgot about it. Years later, after being promoted to lieutenant himself, Cooke found the badge and asked for permission to use it.
When Webb died in 1982, LAPD Chief Darryl Gates officially retired shield number 714 (Webb was also buried with full police honors, a rarity for a non-policeman).
Dragnet and spinoff Adam-12 were the only television shows to use real LAPD badges.
In the show's heyday, people would regularly visit the LAPD asking to speak to Sgt. Friday. The official response given by the front desk was, "Sorry, it's Joe's day off."
In 1987, actor Dan Aykroyd starred as Joe Friday, the original's nephew, in the comedy film Dragnet. Harry Morgan reprised his television role as Bill Gannon, now Captain, and Tom Hanks appeared as Friday's partner Pep Streebek.
Ed O'Neill starred as Joe Friday in Wolf Films' 2003 revival of Dragnet. Since LAPD had discontinued the rank of Detective Sergeant, replacing it with the rank of Detective Three, or D-3, the rank banner on Friday's badge now said "Detective" instead of "Sergeant," and Friday was referred to as "Detective Friday" instead of "Sergeant Friday." During the first season of the series, Friday's partner was named "Frank Smith," but unlike the character played by Alexander and Ellis on the original series, this Frank Smith, as played by Ethan Embry, was not an experienced, veteran officer, but a young detective being mentored by Friday. On one episode of this show, Friday actually spoke the phrase, "Just the facts."
Sgt. Ben Romero (Barton Yarborough) (Radio & Television)
Sgt. Ed Jacobs (Barney Phillips) (Radio & Television)
Det. Bill Lockwood (Martin Milner/Ken Peters) (Radio)
Off. Frank Smith (Ben Alexander, Ethan Embry, Harry Bartell, Herb Ellis, Vic Perrin) (Radio, Television & Film)
Off. Bill Gannon (Harry Morgan) (Television & Film)