John Randolph "Jack" Webb (April 2 1920 – December 23 1982) was an Emmy-nominated American actor, television producer, director, and writer 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 Productions.
After getting much assistance from Sgt. Wynn and legendary LAPD chief William H. Parker, Dragnet hit radio the airwaves in 1949 (running until 1954) and then television in 1951 on the NBC network. Webb starred as Sgt. Joe Friday, and Barton Yarborough co-starred as Sgt. Ben Romero.
Webb was a stickler for attention to detail. He believed that viewers wanted "realism" and strove to give it to them. Webb had tremendous respect for the people in law enforcement. He often mentioned in interviews that he was angry about the "ridiculous" amount of abuse to which police were often subjected by the press and the public. He said that he wanted to perform a service for the police by showing them as low-key working class heroes. In 'Dragnet' he moved away from earlier portrayals of the police in shows such as 'Jeff Regan' and 'Pat Novak,' which often showed them as brutal and even corrupt.
Despite his reputation for accuracy, he wasn't above bending the rules. According to one Dragnet technical advisor, when he (the advisor) pointed out that several circumstances in one episode were extremely unlikely in real life, Webb responded, "You know that, and now I know that. But that little old lady in Kansas will never know the difference."
The year 1952 saw Dragnet become a successful television show. Unfortunately, Barton Yarborough died suddenly of a heart attack, and Barney Phillips (Sgt. Ed Jacobs) and Herbert Ellis (Officer Frank Smith) temporarily stepped in as partners. In 1952, veteran radio and film actor Ben Alexander debuted as the second incarnation of jovial, burly Officer Frank Smith. Alexander proved to be a popular addition to the series as Webb's detective partner and remained a cast member until the show's cancellation in 1959.
Dragnet began with the narration "The story you are about to see is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent." At the end of each show, the results of the trial of the suspect and severity of sentence were announced by Hal Gibney. Webb frequently re-created entire floors of buildings on soundstages, such as the police headquarters at Los Angeles City Hall for Dragnet and a floor of the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner Building for the 1954 film.
Webb's personal life was better defined by his love of jazz than his interest in police work. His life-long interest in the cornet and racially tolerant attitude allowed him to move easily in the jazz culture, where Webb met singer and actress Julie London. They married in 1947 and reared two children. They later divorced; Webb married three more times.
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 radio series became the basis for a 1955 movie of the same name. However, neither the radio series nor the movie resonated with the audiences of the time.
In 1963, Webb took over from William T. Orr as executive producer of the ABC detective series 77 Sunset Strip. He brought about wholesale changes in the program and retained only Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., in the role of Stuart Bailey. The outcome was a disaster. The ratings sank, and the series was canceled just past midway in its sixth season.
In early 1967 Webb produced and starred in a new color version of Dragnet for NBC. This version co-starred Harry Morgan as Officer Bill Gannon. (Ben Alexander was unavailable, as he was co-starring in Felony Squad on ABC.) The show's pilot, originally produced as a made-for-TV movie in 1966, did not air until 1969. The series itself ran through 1970. To distinguish it from the original series the year of production was added to the title--thus Dragnet 1967, Dragnet 1968, etc. The revival also emphasized crime prevention and outreach to the public. Its attempts to address the contemporary youth-drug culture (such as the Blue Boy episode 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 Friday grilling Blue Boy by asking him "You're pretty high and far out. What kind of kick are you on, son?".
Beginning in 1968, in concert with Robert A. Cinader, Webb produced NBC's popular Adam-12, which focused on LAPD uniform officers Pete Malloy (Martin Milner) and Jim Reed (Kent McCord), which ran until 1975.
In 1968 Webb performed, in Joe Friday character, the classic "Copper Clappers" sketch during an appearance on The Tonight Show where a pokerfaced Webb echoed Johnny Carson's equally-deadpan robbery report where all the details started with "Cl" or least the letter C.
In the early 1970s, Webb produced The DA with Robert Conrad and O'Hara: US Treasury with David Janssen. These were short-lived, but another show, Emergency!, which portrayed the fledgling paramedic program of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, proved to be a huge success, running from 1972 to 1979, with ratings occasionally even topping its timeslot 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, respectively, nurse Dixie McCall and Dr. Joe Early. "Emergency!" was so successful, there was a cartoon spin-off, "Emergency+4," as well as two other series, "Sierra" (about the National Park Service in Yosemite National Park), and one pilot show about Los Angeles County animal control officers, which aired as the "Emergency!" episode, "905-Wild."
He was interred in the Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles. Webb was given a funeral with full police honors (including Police Chief Darryl Gates announcing that the badge number 714 that Webb used in Dragnet would be retired) although he had never actually served on the force.
Not only did the LAPD use Dragnet episodes as training films for a time, they also named a police academy auditorium after Webb.
Universal has released several of Webb's series on DVD, including Dragnet 1967, Emergency! and Adam-12. In addition a number of episodes of the 1950s Dragnet series are now in the public domain and as such are widely available on non-Universal DVD releases.
His daughter Stacy Webb authorized the book Just the Facts, Ma'am; The Authorized Biography of Jack Webb, Creator of Dragnet, Adam-12, and Emergency, by Daniel Moyer and Eugene Alvarez, published in 1999. Unfortunately, Stacy didn't get the chance to see the book, for she was killed in a car accident.
However, Laurie (Dragnet advisor and LAPD Sergeant Dan Cooke's daughter) also writes: "Although plausible, these are not quite right. Sgt. Dan Cooke was closely associated with Jack Webb. He originated some of the script concepts and was the technical director for a number of the Dragnet episodes. Badge 714 was Sgt. Cooke's badge and was retired from the LAPD when Sgt. Cooke arranged for the use of his badge for the series." http://www.badge714.com/dragfaq.htm Episodes of the original series were syndicated under the title Badge 714 to distinguish them from first-run network episodes still being broadcast when the show began being syndicated.
"Is it worth it " 1970's US Postal Service training film (narrator)