Following World War II, California native Jack Webb planned to renew the art studies that he'd abandoned for the military. Instead, he turned to acting, appearing on various San Francisco-based radio programs. He briefly hosted his own satirical comedy series before finding his true metier in detective melodramas. In collaboration with future Oscar-winning screenwriter Richard L. Breen (who remained a Webb associate until his death in 1967), Webb concocted a hard-boiled private eye show entitled Pat Novak for Hire. The popularity he gained from this effort enabled Webb to secure small film roles -- one of these was as a police lab technician in the 1948 film noir He Walked by Night (1948). Intrigued by the police procedure he'd learned while preparing for the role, Webb immersed himself in the subject until he felt ready to launch what many observers still consider the first realistic radio cop show: Dragnet, which premiered June 3, 1949. Webb carried over his terse characterization of L.A. police sergeant Joe Friday into the Dragnet TV series (which he also directed) beginning in 1952. Armed with a bottomless reserve of police terminology and a colorful repertoire of catchphrases, the laconic, ferret-faced Webb became one of the most successful -- and most widely imitated -- TV personalities of the 1950s; almost always in the Top Ten, Dragnet, produced by Webb's own Mark VII Productions, ran until 1959. Webb's newfound industry clout permitted him to direct for the big screen as well -- his 1950s movie credits (outside of such pre-star efforts as The Men, Sunset Boulevard, and Halls of Montezuma) include the 1954 feature version of Dragnet, 1955's Pete Kelly's Blues (based on another of Webb's radio series), 1957's The D.I., and 1959's 30. In addition, Webb's Mark VII produced such TV series as Noah's Ark, The D.A.'s Man, and the video version of Pete Kelly's Blues. Webb kicked off the 1960s with a rare attempt at directing comedy, The Last Time I Saw Archie (1961). From 1962 through 1964, he was in charge of Warner Bros.' television division, an assignment which came to an end as a result of several failed TV ventures. A 1966 TV-movie version of Dragnet kicked off Webb's second career. He went on to star in a successful weekly Dragnet revival, which ran from 1967 through 1970, while his Mark VII outfit was responsible for a score of TV series, the most successful of which were Emergency and Adam 12. Regarded as something of a relic by the "hipper" viewers, Jack Webb nonetheless remained profitably active in television until the late '70s; he might have continued into the 1980s had not his drinking and smoking habits accelerated his death at the age of 62. Married three times, Jack Webb's first wife was singing star Julie London, whom he'd first met when he was 21 and she was 15.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Served in the U.S. Army Air Force during WWII.
- Began his career on San Francisco-based radio shows.
- His work as Sgt. Joe Friday on Dragnet landed him on the March 15, 1954, cover of Time magazine.
- The inspiration for his signature series came from the documentary-like 1948 crime film He Walked by Night. Webb had one scene in the movie, in his first film role.
- Penned The Badge: True and Terrifying Crime Stories That Could Not Be Presented on TV, from the Creator and Star of Dragnet.
- Provided vocals for the easy-listening album Just the Tracks, Ma'am: The Warner Bros. Recordings.
- "Television should be a medium of infinite variety," he told TV GUIDE. "Instead, it is a medium of carbon-copying. It's much worse than it ever was in motion pictures."
- Was involved in a planned Dragnet revival at the time of his death.
- Has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (one for radio, the other for TV).