John Randolph "Jack" Webb born April 2, 1920 to December 23, 1982 actor, television producer, director, and writer who is most
famous for his role as Detective Joe Friday in the radio and television series Dragnet. Born in Santa Monica, California, Jack Webb grew
up poor in the Bunker Hill slum section of Los Angeles.
He was a sickly child and studied art as a young man. One of the tenants in the rooming house run by his mother was an ex-jazzman who
started Jack Webb with a lifelong interest in jazz when he gave him a recording of Bix Beiderbecke's "At the Jazz Band Ball." After
serving as a crew member of a B-26 Marauder in World War II he starred in a radio show about a private detective, Pat Novak for Hire.
Other radio shows include Johnny Modero Pier 23, Jeff Regan Investigator, Murder and Mr. Malone, and One Out of Seven. Jack Webb
had a role in the 1948 film He Walked by Night about the murder of a California Highway Patrolman. The film was made in docudrama
style with technical advisors Capt. Harry Didion and Detective Marty Wynn of the Los Angeles Police Department. It was this film that
gave Jack Webb the idea for Dragnet. After getting assistance from, and riding along with, Los Angeles police personnel, Jack Webb
produced Dragnet which premiered in 1949 on the NBC radio network. Sponsored by Fatima cigarettes, Dragnet starred Jack Webb as
Joe Friday and Barton Yarborough as Ben Romero. Walter Schumann composed the theme music for the show. Jack Webb narrated the
show in first person as the character Joe Friday and maintained almost fanatical attention to detail. He often mentioned in interviews that
he was angry about the "ridiculous" amount of abuse that they were often subjected to. He said that he wanted to perform a service for the
police by showing them as heroes and perhaps "make their life a little easier".
During the run of the Dragnet on Radio, Sergeant Joe Friday had a variety of partners. His first partner was Ben Romero played by
Barton Yarborough. After Yarborough's death in 1951, Friday's received a new partner, Ed Jacobs, played by Barney Phillips. After
Jacobs, Friday's was partnered with Officer Frank Smith who was played by a string of actors including Harry Bartell, Herb Ellis, Vic
Perrin and Ben Alexander. Alexander took over the role of Frank Smith in 1952, and retained this role for the remainder to the radio
run of the show. Alexander also played Officer Frank Smith on the Dragnet Television series. At the end of each show, the results of
the trial of the suspect and severity of sentence were announced by Hal Gibney.
Jack 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 raised two children. They later divorced and Webb married three more times. Jack Webb died of a heart attack in 1982 at
the age of 62. He was interred in the Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles. Jack Webb was given a funeral with full
police honors (including the chief of police 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 him.
|William Barton Yarborough and Jack Webb
Jack Webb's Dragnet