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Peter Graves

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Peter Graves
Graves in 1967
Peter Duesler Aurness

(1926-03-18)March 18, 1926
DiedMarch 14, 2010(2010-03-14) (aged 83)
Alma materUniversity of Minnesota
Years active1951–2010
Joan Endress
(m. 1950)
RelativesJames Arness (brother)
Military career
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Army Air Forces
Years of service1944–1945[1][2]
Rank Corporal
Battles/warsWorld War II
Awards American Campaign Medal
World War II Victory Medal

Peter Graves (born Peter Duesler Aurness; March 18, 1926 – March 14, 2010) was an American actor who portrayed Jim Phelps in the television series Mission: Impossible from 1967 to 1973 and in its revival from 1988 to 1990. His elder brother was actor James Arness. Graves also played airline pilot Captain Clarence Oveur in the 1980 comedy film Airplane! and its 1982 sequel Airplane II: The Sequel.

Early life and education[edit]

Peter Graves was born Peter Duesler Aurness on March 18, 1926, in Minneapolis, Minnesota,[3][4] the younger son of Rolf Cirkler Aurness (1894–1982), a businessman, and his wife, Ruth (née Duesler, died 1986), a journalist.

Graves's ancestry was Norwegian, German, and English. He used the stage name Graves, a maternal family name,[5] to honor his mother's family, and also so as to not be confused with the stage name of his elder brother James Arness, star of the television series Gunsmoke.

Graves graduated from Southwest High School in 1944.[6] He served in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II from 1944 to 1945,[1] reaching the rank of corporal, and was awarded the American Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.[2] After demobilization, Graves enrolled at the University of Minnesota on the G.I. Bill, and was a member of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.


Graves on a lobby card for the 1957 film Beginning of the End

Graves appeared in more than 70 films, television shows, and television movies during his career. He was featured in a key role in the 1953 World War II film, Stalag 17.[7] In 1955, Graves joined the NBC television series Fury, as the rancher and adoptive single father, Jim Newton.[8]

From 1960 to 1961, Graves starred as Christopher Cobb in 34 episodes of the British/Australian TV series Whiplash.[7] In the storyline, Cobb is an American who arrives in Australia in the 1850s to establish the country's first stagecoach line, using a bullwhip rather than a gun to fight the crooks he encounters. The series also starred Anthony Wickert. Graves also starred in the British ITC series Court Martial, playing U.S. Army lawyer Major Frank Whittaker (one of the series' two American leads starring opposite Bradford Dillman's Captain David Young), as well as guest roles in such series as Alfred Hitchcock Presents,[7] Cimarron City, Route 66, and The Invaders (episode "Moonshot").

In 1967, Graves was recruited by Desilu Studios to replace Steven Hill as the lead actor on Mission: Impossible. Graves portrayed the iconic character of Jim Phelps, the sometimes-gruff director of the Impossible Missions Force, for the six following seasons of the series.[8] After the series ended in 1973, Graves played a cameo-type support role in the feature film Sidecar Racers in Australia which was released in 1975. Graves also made a guest appearance in the teen soap opera Class of 74 in mid-1974, playing himself.[7]

Graves was cast as Palmer Kirby in the 1983 ABC miniseries The Winds of War.[9] He played opposite Robert Mitchum, Jan Michael Vincent, Deborah Winters and Ali MacGraw in what became in 1983, the second-most watched miniseries of all time (after Roots).[8][10] He reprised the role for the 1988 sequel miniseries, War and Remembrance. During this time, he became the host of PBS's Discover: The World of Science,[11] based on Discover Magazine.

After playing mainly serious roles in the 1970s, he appeared as Captain Clarence Oveur in the early 1980s comedies Airplane! and Airplane II: The Sequel.[8][12]

In 1988, a Hollywood writers' strike resulted in a new Mission: Impossible series being commissioned. Graves was the only cast member from the original series to return as a regular, reprising his role as Jim Phelps, though others (most notably Greg Morris, whose son Phil was a regular in this version) made guest appearances. The series was filmed in Australia, and Graves made his third journey there for acting work. The new version of Mission: Impossible lasted for two seasons, ending in 1990. Bookending his work on Mission: Impossible, Graves starred in two pilot films, both called Call to Danger, which were attempts to create a Mission: Impossible–style series. In the first of these (1968), Graves played a government agent (the Bureau of National Resources) who recruited civilians with special talents for secret missions.[13] In the second Call To Danger, he portrayed an investigator for the Justice Department.[14]

Graves attending a ceremony to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in October 2009
Graves with wife Joan Endress in October 2009

The 1960s version of the pilot, according to Patrick White in The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier (which White reports was actually the second such pilot, but Graves was not involved in the first), is credited with winning Graves the role of Phelps; after Mission: Impossible ended in 1973, Graves filmed a third version of the pilot (this one structured as a made-for-TV movie), but it did not sell as a series. The concept was later used in the brief 1980s adventure series Masquerade.

During the 1990s, he hosted and narrated the documentary series Biography on A&E. He also acted in a number of films featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, which subsequently featured running jokes about Graves' Biography work and presumed sibling rivalry with Arness. The films that have been featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 include SST: Death Flight, It Conquered the World, Beginning of the End,[15] and Parts: The Clonus Horror. The film Killers from Space was featured in The Film Crew, Michael J. Nelson's follow-up to MST3K. Graves himself parodied his Biography work in the film Men in Black II, hosting an exposé television show. He also played Colonel John Camden in the television series 7th Heaven.

Graves with Mission: Impossible cast in 1970

Graves refused to reprise the role of Jim Phelps (played by Jon Voight) in the first 1996 theatrical film of Mission: Impossible, after the character was revealed to be a traitor and the villain of the film. In the film, Phelps murders three fellow IMF agents, and is killed in a helicopter crash at the end, a decision that disappointed Graves and fellow cast members, and upset many fans of the original series.[12]

On October 30, 2009, Graves was honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6667 Hollywood Blvd.[12]

AirTran Airways featured Graves in a series of web-only "Internetiquette" videos in 2009 in which Graves appeared in a pilot's uniform and references classic Airplane! lines.[16] The videos were part of an AirTran Airways campaign to promote their in-flight wireless internet access.[16]

In the summer of 2009, Graves signed on as a spokesman for reverse mortgage lender American Advisors Group.[17] Graves' final project was narrating the computer game epic Darkstar: The Interactive Movie,[18] released November 5, 2010.

Personal life[edit]

Handprints of Peter Graves in front of Hollywood Hills Amphitheater at the Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park

Graves was a devout Methodist[19] of immigrant German Lutheran descent.[20] He was married to Joan Endress Graves for 60 years from 1950 until his death.[4]

On March 6, 1984, Graves was hospitalized at Tahoe Forest Hospital for a fractured jaw among other injuries sustained from a fall on an icy Lake Tahoe road the previous weekend. He received 100 stitches to his lower lip during his stay.[21]

Graves and his wife Joan had three daughters: Amanda, Kelly, and Claudia.

Graves was a registered Republican.[19]

Controversially, Graves helped organize a Los Angeles city ban on gas-powered leaf blowers. [22]


After returning from brunch on March 14, 2010, with his wife and children, Graves collapsed and died of a heart attack just outside his home, four days before his 84th birthday.[23]


Graves was awarded a Golden Globe Award in 1971 for his role as Jim Phelps in the series Mission: Impossible.[24] In 1972, he received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement.[25] He also received nominations for an Emmy Award[26] and Golden Globe awards[27] in other seasons of that show. Graves also won a Primetime Emmy Award for outstanding informational series in 1997 as host of Biography.[24]



Year Title Role Notes
1951 Rogue River Pete Dandridge
1951 Up Front Military Policeman Uncredited
1951 Angels in the Outfield Radio Announcer Uncredited
1951 Fort Defiance Ned Tallon
1952 The Congregation Produced by the Protestant Film Commission.
1952 Red Planet Mars Chris Cronyn
1953 Stalag 17 Sgt. Frank Price
1953 War Paint Trooper Tolson
1953 East of Sumatra Cowboy
1953 Beneath the 12-Mile Reef Arnold Dix
1954 Killers from Space Doug Paul Martin
1954 The Yellow Tomahawk Walt Sawyer
1954 The Raid Capt. Frank Dwyer
1954 A Man of Many Ideas John Wanamaker TV movie
1954 Black Tuesday Peter Manning
1955 The Long Gray Line Cpl. Rudolph Heinz
1955 The Man Who Tore Down the Wall James Ewing TV movie
1955 Robbers' Roost Heesman
1955 Wichita Morgan Earp
1955 The Night of the Hunter Ben Harper
1955 The Naked Street Joe McFarland
1955 Fort Yuma Lt. Ben Keegan
1955 The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell Capt. Bob Elliott
1956 It Conquered the World Paul Nelson
1956 Hold Back the Night Lt. Lee Couzens
1956 Canyon River Bob Andrews
1957 Bayou Martin Davis
1957 Beginning of the End Ed Wainwright
1957 Death in Small Doses Agent / Tom Kaylor
1958 Wolf Larsen Van Weyden
1959 A Stranger in My Arms Donald Ashton Beasley
1961 Las Vegas Beat Bill Ballin TV movie
1964 Mr. Kingston TV movie
1965 A Rage to Live Jack Hollister
1965 Attack of the Eye Creatures Narrator of USAF Briefing Film TV movie, Uncredited
1966 Texas Across the River Capt. Stimpson
1967 Valley of Mystery Ben Barstow TV movie
1967 The Ballad of Josie Jason Meredith
1968 Sergeant Ryker Maj. Whitaker Uses archive footage. The film was first shown as a two-part episode of NBC's Kraft Suspense Theatre, which spawned the series Court Martial. It was then recut and shown in cinemas
1968 Call to Danger Jim Kingsley TV movie
1969 The Five Man Army Dutchman
1969 Mission: Impossible vs. the Mob Jim Phelps Compilation of both parts of the two-part Mission: Impossible episode "The Council" re-edited and released to European theaters
1973 Call to Danger Doug Warfield TV movie
1973 The President's Plane Is Missing Mark Jones TV movie
1974 Scream of the Wolf John Wetherby TV movie
1974 The Underground Man Lew Archer TV movie
1974 Where Have All The People Gone? Steven Anders TV movie
1975 Sidecar Racers Carson
1975 Dead Man on the Run Jim Gideon TV movie
1976 The Mysterious Monsters Himself Documentary narrator
1977 SST: Death Flight Paul Whitley TV movie
1977 High Seas Hijack Elliott Rhoades English Version
1978 The Gift of the Magi O. Henry TV movie
1979 Missile X – Geheimauftrag Neutronenbombe Alec Franklin Also known as Teheran Incident and Cruise Missile
1979 Spree Kandaris Also known as Survival Run
1979 The Rebels George Washington
1979 Parts: The Clonus Horror Jeff Knight
1979 Death Car on the Freeway Lieutenant Haller TV movie
1980 The Memory of Eva Ryker Mike Rogers
1980 Airplane! Captain Clarence Oveur
1981 300 Miles for Stephanie Captain McIntyre TV movie
1981 Best of Friends Nick Adams TV movie
1981 The Guns and the Fury Mark Janser
1982 Savannah Smiles Harland Dobbs
1982 Airplane II: The Sequel Captain Clarence Oveur
1984 Aces Go Places 3 Tom Collins Cameo role in a Hong Kong movie
1987 Number One with a Bullet Capt. Ferris
1987 If It's Tuesday, It Still Must Be Belgium Mr. Wainwright TV movie
1993 Addams Family Values Host
1999 House on Haunted Hill Himself
2001 These Old Broads Bill TV movie
2002 Men in Black II Himself
2003 Looney Tunes: Back in Action Host of Civil Defense Film Uncredited
2003 With You in Spirit Hal Whitman TV movie
2010 Jack's Family Adventure Uncle George Vickery TV movie

Partial television credits[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1955–60 Fury Newton / Cyrus
1959–60 Whiplash Christopher Cobb
1963 The Alfred Hitchcock Hour Mark Needham Season 1 Episode 21: "I'll Be Judge - I'll Be Jury"
1964 The Virginian Eastern Financier
1965-66 Court Martial Major Frank Whittaker
1966 Branded Senator Keith Ashley
1966 Daniel Boone Logan Harris Episode "Run A Crooked Mile"
1967 The F.B.I. Manning Fryes Episode "Rope of Gold"
1967 The Invaders Gavin Lewis 1 episode
1967–73 Mission: Impossible Jim Phelps
1978 The Love Boat Reverend Gerald Whitney "Man of the Cloth" S2 E9
1979 Buck Rogers in the 25th Century Major Noah Cooper Episode "Return of the Fighting 69th"
1983 The Winds of War Palmer 'Fred' Kirby Miniseries
1984 Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense John Bray Episode "Tennis Court"
1984 Murder, She Wrote Edmund Gerard Episode "Lovers and Other Killers"
1988-90 Mission: Impossible Jim Phelps Revival of the original series
1988 War and Remembrance Palmer Kirby
1991 The Golden Girls Jerry Kennedy
1995 Burke's Law General Alexander Prescott Episode "Who Killed the Toy Maker?"
1996–2007 7th Heaven John 'The Colonel' Camden
2005 House Myron "Love Hurts" S1 E20
2006 Cold Case Anton Bikker "The Hen House" S3 E21
2007 American Dad! Mr. Pibb
2007 WordGirl Mr. Callahan Voice; Episode: "Chuck the Nice Pencil-Selling Guy"

Video games[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
2009 Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust Clark Tasslemuff
2010 Darkstar: The Interactive Movie Narrator Posthumous release


  1. ^ a b Peter Graves, ‘Mission: Impossible’ Star, Dies at 83. The New York Times via Internet Archive. Retrieved June 2, 2021.
  2. ^ a b "Graves, Peter, Cpl". www.airforce.togetherweserved.com. Retrieved February 8, 2017.
  3. ^ "Peter Graves: Biography". Yahoo! Movies. Retrieved 2008-02-06.
  4. ^ a b "Peter Graves Biography". Film Reference. Retrieved 2008-02-06.
  5. ^ James Arness, James E. Wise Jr. (2001) James Arness: an Autobiography, ISBN 0-7864-1221-6, McFarland & Company Inc., accessed March 15, 2010
  6. ^ Bawden, James; Miller, Ron (13 August 2019). Conversations with Legendary Television Stars: Interviews from the First Fifty Years. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 179–. ISBN 978-0-8131-7766-3.
  7. ^ a b c d Turner Classic Movies (Peter Graves) [1]
  8. ^ a b c d "AmericaMovie Biographies (Peter Graves)". Archived from the original on 2018-04-03. Retrieved 2018-12-25.
  9. ^ The Winds of War at the Turner Classic Movie Database [2]
  10. ^ "Top 15 Miniseries of all Time". Listverse. 28 September 2010. Retrieved 3 March 2015.
  11. ^ Profile, Chedd-Angier.com. Accessed June 16, 2023.
  12. ^ a b c "'Mission: Impossible' actor Peter Graves dead at 83". CNN. 15 March 2010. Retrieved 2010-03-15.
  13. ^ Call to Danger (1968) (TV) at IMDb Edit this at Wikidata
  14. ^ Call to Danger (1973) (TV) at IMDb Edit this at Wikidata
  15. ^ Beaulieu, Trace (1996) The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide. p.103
  16. ^ a b "Internetiquette" AirTran Airways. Retrieved 2010-03-15.
  17. ^ "aargreverse.com". aargreverse.com. Archived from the original on 2012-03-04. Retrieved 2012-08-03.
  18. ^ "Peter Graves". FamousDEAD. Archived from the original on 2012-09-08. Retrieved 2012-08-03.
  19. ^ a b An Interview with Peter Graves, Skip E. Lowe, 1996
  20. ^ Bergan, Ronald (15 March 2010). "Peter Graves obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 March 2015.
  21. ^ "Actor Peter Graves was hospitalized Tuesday in intensive care..." UPI. March 6, 1984.
  22. ^ Purdum, Todd S. (7 January 1998). "Los Angeles Journal; Ban on Leaf Blowers Is Voted, and Noise Ensues..." The New York Times. Retrieved 20 July 2023.
  23. ^ My-Thuan Tran (March 15, 2010). "Peter Graves dies at 83; star of TV's 'Mission: Impossible". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-03-15.
  24. ^ a b Pollak, Michael (March 15, 2010). "Peter Graves, 'Mission: Impossible' Star, Dies at 83". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-03-14.
  25. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
  26. ^ "Emmy Awards 1969". IMDb. Retrieved 2010-03-15.
  27. ^ "Mission: Impossible". Golden Globe awards. Archived from the original on 2010-05-07. Retrieved 2010-03-15.

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