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 crewmember 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