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 police were
often subjected to. He said that he wanted to perform a service for 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