|John Randolph 'Jack' Webb
Radio, Stage, Screen and Television Actor, Radio Disc Jockey, Recording Artist, Producer, Director, and Writer
Birthplace: Santa Monica, CA
Education: Belmont High School, Los Angeles, CA
1945 The Little Man Inside
1946 Spotlight Playhouse
1946 The Jack Webb Show
1946 Are These Our Children?
1946 One Out of Seven
1947 The New Adventures Of Michael Shayne
1947 Johnny Madero, Pier 23
1948 Murder and Mr Malone
1948 The Whistler
1948 Ellery Queen
1948 Jeff Regan, Investigator
1948 Errand Of Mercy
1948 Guest Star
1948 The Anacin Hollywood Star Theatre
1949 Three For Adventure
1949 Pat Novak For Hire
1949 The Adventures Of Sam Spade
1950 Family Theatre
1950 Night Beat
1950 The Story Of Dr Kildare
1951 Pete Kelly's Blues
1953 The Martin and Lewis Show
1953 The Bob Hope Show
1959 Hollywood Salutes the National Guard
1963 Weekend Sound Flights
1969 The Charlie Greer Show
1969 Special Delivery: Vietnam
Three For Adventure
Mark VII, Limited Productions:
1956-1957 Noah's Ark
1959 The D.A.'s Man
1959 Pete Kelly's Blues
1962-1963 General Electric 'TRUE'
1971-1972 The D.A.
1971-1972 O'Hara, U.S. Treasury
1972-1974 Hec Ramsey
1975 Mobile One
1978-1979 Project UFO
August 16, 1951 Article on Jack Webb's Work Ethic
Jack Webb ca. 1955
Jack Webb (lower right) at Belmont High School ca. 1938
Jack Webb ca. 1948
Jack Webb as Joe Friday ca. 1951
Jack Webb, providing direction to Ella Fitzgerald, ca 1954
Jack Webb and first wife famed Jazz songstress, Julie London ca 1955
Jack Webb at home with his first daughter, Stacey ca. 1953
Jack Webb, reading a script on set, ca. 1953
Webb, with Peggy Lee and George Jessel at 1953 Cerebral Palsy Fund Raiser
Ben Alexander and Jack Webb confer in the Radio studio for Dragnet, ca. 1953
Jack Webb, resting on a lighting board for the production set of Pete Kelly's Blues, ca. 1955
Jack Webb, ca. 1965
|Born in Santa Monica, California, on April 2, 1920, Jack Webb's father had already left home before his birth and Jack Webb would never know him. John Randolph Webb was raised by his mother and maternal grandmother amidst the poverty immediately preceding the Great Depression.
To make matters worse, Webb suffered from acute asthma from the age of six until his death, despite a cigarette intake that often reached three packs a day throughout his adulthood. Even as a young man, Jack Webb's great passion was movies, and he dreamed of one day directing them. His other passion--Jazz, was the gift of an ex-jazz performer who lived in Webb's Bunker Hill, L.A. apartment building. He gave Webb an LP of the legendary Bix Beiderbecke, the first of over 6,000 jazz recordings Jack Webb would collect over his lifetime.
Jack Webb served in the U.S. Army Air Forces as a crewmember of a B-26 Marauder medium bomber during World War II. Upon receiving his discharge, he relocated to San Francisco, working first as a late night disc jockey, then starring in his own radio show, The Jack Webb Show (1946), a half-hour comedy that aired on the West Coast over ABC Radio.
His first acting roles in Radio were in San Francisco-based Monte Masters' Spotlight Playhouse (1946) performing with Masters' wife Natalie Park (later of Candy Matson fame), 1947's The New Adventures of Michael Shayne, and his own Johnny Madero, Pier 23. He would later spin off his Johnny Madero character into Pat Novak for Hire and Jeff Regan, Detective before he refined his crime drama sights to the more realistic and subdued Joe Friday character in Dragnet. Most notable--and personal--of his early projects was One Out of Seven (1946) in which Webb performed all the voices, attacking many social ills of the era, including race prejudice, corrupt politicians, and Red-baiting.
Jack Webb had an extraordinary ear for the 'throwaway line' most often associated with the work of Raymond Chandler. But it was Webb's genius for drolly and cynically delivering those Chandleresque lines, that made every radio program he recorded during that era some of the most often revisited recordings among Golden Age Radio collectors. Nevermind the fact that he was bouncing those memorable, hard-boiled retorts off of the likes of Raymond Burr, William Conrad, Wilms Herbert, Tudor Owen, Herb Butterfield--and yes, even the famous Carlisle Bibbers. Webb's influence continued throughout most of the radio noir genre detective and crime dramas that followed, even though Webb's own Joe Friday character never uttered a Chandleresque line himself during any of the iterations of Dragnet that followed.
Indeed it was a small role as a crime lab technician in the film noir classic He Walked by Night (1948) that led him to the creation of "Dragnet." Dragnet first aired over NBC radio on June 3, 1949, and moved to TV ("Dragnet" (1951)) on December 16, 1951, where it ran until September 1959. Webb also appeared in the famous Billy Wilder film, Sunset Boulevard (1950) as William Holden's energetic best friend. But it was the influence of the gritty, hyper-realistic He Walked By Night, that linked Webb to Detective Sergeant Marty Wynn of the Los Angeles Police Department. Wynn was a technical consultant for He Walked By Night, and with Wynn's assistance--and entre to legendary LAPD Chief William H. Parker--that Webb mapped out the pains-taking, hyper-realistic model for Dragnet.
Dragnet's ground-breaking influence was being felt in both Radio and Television. Webb's star continued rising fast, and the 1950s saw him become a film director, directing (and starring in) five features: Dragnet (1954), Pete Kelly's Blues (1955), The D.I. (1957), -30- (1959), and The Last Time I Saw Archie (1961). Webb's famous--or infamous--attention to the minutest details made him a natural behind the camera, but his last two directorial outings were box office flops.
Jack Webb's personal life was also arcing from the mid-1940s through the 1950s. He met and married beautiful Jazz songstress and actress Julie London, in 1947. The couple had two daughters, Stacey (1950) and Alisa (1952) and Webb was a doting father, albeit greatly compromised for quality time throughout what came to be the most active and demanding years of his professional life.
The compromises inevitably took their toll, and the couple divorced in 1953. Webb would marry three more times during his life; to Dorothy Towne (2 years), Jackie Loughery (6 years), and Opal Wright (2 years). After his divorce from Jackie Loughery in 1964, Webb would remain single until he married Opal Wright in 1980, just two years before his sudden heart attack just before Christmas of 1982.
Webb's return to Television in 1962 led to his appointment as Head of Production for Warner Bros. Television in February 1963. Webb had taken over from William T. Orr as executive producer of the hit ABC detective series 77 Sunset Strip (1958). Webb demanded wholesale changes in the program, retaining only Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., in the role of Stuart Bailey from the previous rotating ensemble cast of Zimbalist, Ed Byrnes, Roger Smith, Louis Quinn, Jaqueline Beer, and Richard Long. The result was a predictable disaster. Its ratings plummeted, and Warner Bros. canceled the Webb-helmed series midway into its sixth season. Apart from the poor box office showing of Webb's two previous films, Webb's reputation as one of Hollywood's wunderkind had continued to rise. The loss of his position with Warner Bros. was the first significant stumble of Webb's career
Following two years of unemployment--and reflection, Universal Studios invited Webb to do a new Dragnet as a TV movie. The result so pleased NBC and Universal that they offered Webb a new Dragnet series--Dragnet 1967. The new, updated series was an almost instant hit, and Dragnet 1967 ran for three seasons, followed by over ten years in syndication. Webb leveraged Dragnet 1967's success into a second hit, Adam-12 (1968), which gave both Jack Webb and his Mark VII, Limited production company a new lease on life. Webb's success developing new television programs with Mark VII continued through the 1970s, right up until the time of his unexpected passing in 1982. Webb's daughter Stacy tragically died in an automobile accident in 1996.
Jack Webb was a tireless champion of both social justice and the peace officers he so respected throughout his adult life. Jack Webb's mark in Radio influenced hundreds of other productions throughout the 1940s and 1950s. His influence on Television is felt to this day.
But for his Radio fans, his body of work--and its far-reaching influence--carries on, generation after generation through the magic of The Golden Age of Radio and the wonderful recordings we've managed to preserve from the era.