from jack webb
jack webb was born in santa monica, california, on april 2, 1920. his
parents were samuel chester webb and margaret webb. " i never knew my father.... i
never had any real curiosity about my father..."
as a boy, he suffered from asthma. "perhaps this is what kept
me from joining a street gang... i had a buster brown hair cut, which the tougher boys...
considered a sissy labile... fans are curious about the crew haircut i have now... this is
a rebellion against the long bangs i had as a boy."
as a student jack was talked into taking part in a variety show the
school was putting on. as a result the unpopular kid was elected class president over the
captain of the football team "if i live to be a hundred, make a million dollars and
win an academy award, i will never be as proud as i was after that victory."
he didn't always want to be an actor, however, his first interest
was drawing. he and a few friends once drew a few comic strips "about a handsome
swashbuckler named clark collins... we didn't have the nerve to submit it to a
syndicate." jack got a scholarship at the chouinard art institute in los angeles.
"i was a bit cocky about my drawings, and i was convince that walt disney was combing
the country for a fellow like me." he sent a portfolio of ink drawings and
watercolors, but never heard back on them. years later when webb leased studios at disney
to film dragnet, "i had lunch with walt and told him of my frustrated boyhood dreams,
and said i wanted my drawings back..."
jack got a job at "silverwoods, a men's clothing store in los
angeles. "i was a third rate salesman..." after five years and becoming an
assistant manager, jack was in a small time play called " the light keeper's
daughter". his other theatrical experience was in "hiawatha". "it was
easy. i stuck some feathers into a headband, took a bath in body make-up and played a
cigar store indian. years later, reviewing my role in pete kelly's blues, time magazine
said i played that part like a cigar store indian, and if they were right, i can blame it
during wwII, webb worked "a swing shift at the byron jackson
steel mill " as an electric hacksaw operator. he eventually joined the air force.
" i spent three and a half years as a pilot trainee... " but he never got his
wings. newspapers somehow got the idea he was a war hero, and later was blamed of faking
stories of glory, but he never claimed to see any more war action than "the saturday
night crap game at the post".
after being discharge, he got a job as a radio announcer "at
station kog in san francisco". "my early radio career was as romantic as playing
'post office' in an old maids' club. i got to the station every day at 4:30 a.m.... pushed
a button and said 'and now back to new york' ".
webb met a writer named dick breen came up with a radio show called
"pat novak for hire" about a wise cracking detective. "i got the lead role
and played it for twenty-three weeks" dick breen then took novak to hollywood and
jack followed "for eight or nine weeks i was everybody's hot cake. i played cops,
gangsters, burglars and assorted villains on all the major radio shows... the future
looked so good that i married julie london" they were separated nine months later as
jack was suddenly forgotten by hollywood. "we stayed apart for a year, then went back
together for five years and had two children. and it still wouldn't work."
after a "drought" of no work, jack got the role of lt.
lee jones in the excellent film : he walked by night. after filming one day, sgt. marty
wynn, a technical adviser for the film, came to jack offering him access to all the cases
in the police files. jack turned his down saying there were enough radio shows about
police cases and wynn pointed out how they were all overly dramatized... it was months
later until webb realized what a good idea a realistic detective show was... it was to be
his most remembered work : dragnet.
columbia broadcasting turned jack down saying people would loose
interest since they did not even see the crime committed, and that there was not enough
action. webb then went to nbc who let him go for four weeks and then let him continue, but
they could pull the show at any time since it had no sponsor. after eighteen weeks, they
got a sponsor that stayed with him for seven years (the liggett & myers tobacco
eventual the radio program made it's way to television. "on
our second show, i rewrote the plot so that officer ben roomer ( sergeant friday's partner
through all of the radio shows and in the first television show) died of a heart
attack.... the fact is that barton yarborough... died of a heart attack just as we began
filming the story..." jack allowed no make up on any of the actors besides normal
face make up to add to the realism of the radio program and painfully put together
realistic sets, walking around police stations listing to the way the policemen talked and
collecting things such as ash try contents for the sets.
the show became a frenzy all over the country. the theme song was
being sold in great quantities on records. (jack owned the rights to it- he paid walter
schumann to write it- and used the money he made from it to fill in gaps left from the
show's small budget from time to time). "lawyers were using some of joe friday's
monologs in their closing arguments, high schools and colleges (used the scripts)... in
sociology classes." the show spanned merchandising: a toy gun, squad car, finger
print kit and board game. (there were also many other items i have found such as a small
714 badge and a dragnet whistle i have, but i am not sure if they were give aways or
jack earned a bad reputation as a result of refusing to hire a
press agent and not commenting to the press when a rumor appeared about him. no doubt this
is why he could be so popular at one point and then be so looked down upon today. once
jack was eating in a restraint when a reporter sat down net to him. "after some
aimless chit chat, o'brain suddenly said, 'jack are you going to mary this girl?' "
jack didn't know he was a reporter and joked "yeah, just as soon as my divorce is
final". he hardly knew the girl and the next day the story was in the papers. such
things happened to him all the time... he had horrid luck in the press and never tried to
fix it. funny thing is that webb married dorthy towne, the woman he was with that night,
soon after. the fact he called the emmy show "amateur night at the local high
school" didn't help his image either.
jack started the production studio, "mark VII limited"
and made four films: dragnet, pete kelly's blues, the d.i. and -30- . he later went on to
produce television shows in the 60's and 70's such as emergency, adam 12, escape, chase,
hec ramsey, mobile one and the d.a.'s man as well as what most people today know him for,
dragnet 1970, a revamp of the old show.
webb and dorthy towne were divorced and in 1958 he married jack
loughery, who he met while filming -30-.
there have been a hell of a lot of misprinted information on jack
webb, so i am hesitant to go on (my information in his own words ends here) such as a gun
magazine once saying how jack had a huge gun collection. in fact, he collected jazz
records (he had well over 6000). the truth is, he gave talks condemning guns and only used
them a few times in dragnet.
here's a good quote: "hollywood is full of guys who are
experts at riding on your back and putting their hands in your pockets." no wonder he
was later black listed in hollywood.
in my opinion jack webb was the best director i have ever seen. his
quick camera changes and fast paced dialog are excellently excited and would seem pathetic
if not filmed right, and they were. as an actor i can't deny he had a strange, cold meth
of acting, but this appeals to me as well. there is something about the power in it.
© 1996 arton this is written by me and it took over
a year of research. please don't steal anything.
We'd like to thank Arton for allowing
us to use his biography.
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