Monday, April 02, 2007

Just the Facts

Jack Webb was born on this day in 1920 in Santa Monica, California.

Webb began his career as a radio announcer in San Francisco, but very shortly thereafter he was producing and starring in his own radio police-drama series, Dragnet (1949-52). Although he appeared in movies from time to time (in Dark City, 1950, he was a giddy, pencil-necked jazz fiend named "Augie"), Webb was a bona fide law enforcement groupie, and he made Dragnet his life's franchise, debuting it on television in 1952.

As the laconic "Sgt. Joe Friday" Webb wore gray suits with white shirts and narrow ties, trundling (almost marching) down the corridors of the L.A.P.D., his arms stiff at his sides. "Casual clothes" meant a white shirt with the top button open, revealing a white crewneck T-shirt underneath, and "being casual" meant listening to the hi-fi and grilling steaks at his spartan bachelor flat. Friday did not give the impression of being a master of detection or psychological gamesmanship, as Peter Falk would be as "Columbo"; rather, Joe Friday was an average Joe, pursuing "just the facts" without distraction, getting the job done. He's so square, he's cool.

During the first incarnation of the TV series, Ben Alexander played Friday's main partner, "Officer Frank Smith" (1953-59); after 8 years on hiatus, Webb revived the series in what became its better remembered version (1967-70), co-starring Harry Morgan as his quirky partner "Bill Gannon." Webb also produced Emergency (1972-77), a series about Los Angeles paramedics (co-starring his ex-wife Julie London and her husband Bobby Troup) and Adam-12 (1968-75), a show about L.A. patrol cops (with Martin Milner and Kent McCord).

Webb passed away on December 23, 1982 in West Hollywood.

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