Containing Multitudes Since 2004
"How's your Mom, Ed?"
Jacks Webbs' techinal advisor for Dragnet.
"You're pretty high and far out, Rex...what kind of trip are you on?"
"Hows that?"...."is that right!?"
"Just the facts, ma'am. Just the facts."
Just the facts, Ma'am...
Dumm da dum dum.
"you need to get out more Joe...Come by tonight and see the Wife and me..I'll put on some STEAKS"
Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.
This is the city: Los Angeles, California. I work here. I'm a cop.
If the only "Dragnet" you're aware of is the late-sixties revival -- where Joe Friday has the sensibility of an old man telling kids to keep off his lawn -- it's easy to mock. (And let me emphasize that I'm not saying the previous commentators here are in that mode.) But listen to the original radio version to realize just how good "Dragnet" was as the first real police procedure program. The writing, the sound effects, the atmosphere -- yes, it could be easily parodied (as Stan Freberg did), but at its best "Dragnet" was a quantum leap ahead of previous, hackneyed police shows.The radio "Dragnet" is like the early Bing Crosby records: to current ears, it sounds quaint, but you have to compare it to what came before to comprehend just how revulutionary it was.
Webb is no joke. The late '60s/early '70s revival show lapsed into self-parody (although the full-length pilot film was solid), but both the radio show and the black-and-white 1950s TV series are gritty docu-noir, stylish and tough and often exhibiting deadpan humor. Webb brought film technique to early TV, discovered and cultivated Lee Marvin and Richard Boone (among many other actors), and explored many taboo topics in the most whitebread of eras -- one episode depicted the kidnapping, rape and murders of two little girls. He had chops as a director, as evidenced by his films PETE KELLY'S BLUES, the original DRAGNET film and THE D.I. That he has become an object of derision is sad, and reflective less of him than of those who smirk at him out of ignorance.
I'd like to echo what Max has said about Webb. The 1960s Dragnet is, for the most part, watchable only for laughs, but the 1950s shows - in the early episodes adapted from the original radio plays - are taut and brilliantly realized. What's more amazing is that they were often done on budgets that made shoestrings look fat, and yet they hold up today in ways that many shows of the period simply can't. The show dealt with tough issues that would get parents groups like the Parents Television Council on his tail PDQ if he were around today. It's unfortunate that the show has not been released on DVD except a handfull of episodes in often crappy public domain sets. The 1950s Dragnet deserves the sort of treatment that the 1960s travesty received.He also had a great sense of humour. Stan Freberg said that Webb loved "Saint George and the Dragonet," but where you can really see it is in the piece he did with Johnny Carson about Claude Cooper and the Copper Clapper Caper. Carson comes close to breaking once or twice, but Webb is dead solid right to the end, because he knew what made it funny.And he loved jazz (had a huge record collection and had been a DJ before he started acting)... and a certain jazz singer well known to this blog.
Actually, I love his little role in "He Walked By Night", the proto Dragnet, AND the proto CSI. He was a very important influence on TV. even today. His early partner, played by Ben Alexander, was the best one - less didactic and a good foil.
His early partner, played by Ben Alexander, was the best one - less didactic and a good foil.Au contraire, my dear Vanwall. Webb's first partner was Barton Yarborough (as Sergeant Ben Romero) and he was clearly superior to Alexander. Yarborough was only in the first two TV episodes before his tragic death in 1951 but listening to him on the radio broadcasts will make anyone saddened that he left us too soon (the Romero character's death was written into both a radio and TV script).
I miss the old early 70s line up of back to back Dragnet and Adam 12! :o(
Ivan - I was speaking of the TV show, where Yarborough wasn't really a factor - I preferred Alexander to the later robotic Morgan. The radio show was actually superior to the TV show in a lot of ways, and leaving a lot to personal imagination was an advantage. The radio shows are perfect for listening to on long car trips.
Vanwall:Apologies for my quick error-filled response. And I couldn't agree more--the radio version was a thing of beauty.
Love the radio version as well, in the days before the Internet we were lucky enough to have a local radio station that ran a couple of hours of OTR on Sunday nights, including The Shadow, The Adventures of Harry Lime and The Lone Ranger, along with Dragnet. Sadly, when the CRTC (our FCC) got rid of commercial radio's spoken word content commitments, those airings went out the window, but I managed to catch my fair share of them. Highly entertaining and engrossing.
My comment wasn't 'mocking' ...merely conveying familiarity and fondness. I am 60 years old and first encountered DragNet VIA RADIO in Australia' prior to 1965; Mr Stan Freberg and Wm. S. Gaine's MAD magazine* also being a major ingredient of my cultural frame of reference.*Nobody tensed-up when I suggested on the James Dean Before And After, that 'Before' he resembled Alfred E Neuman.
I laughed at the Dean comment. I was thinking Howdy Doody, myself.
*Nobody tensed-up when I suggested on the James Dean Before And After, that 'Before' he resembled Alfred E Neuman.No, but somebody got his sphincter in an uproar because I dared to invoke the Eagles and James Dean.If you believe that the early days of Dragnet deserve to be elevated in the pantheon of remembrance, that's one thing. But Webb deserves a little mocking for the dreck he passed off in the late sixties. The lunatic right certainly had nothing to complain about in Webb's depiction of what was/was not happening to America, its cities, and its youth. It's not as though he needed the money. I liked the episode on the effects of marijuana, just to name one. To call it dangerously dated, hysterical, and shockingly ignorant is an open-minded appraisal. Outrageously irresponsible is more like it. People looked up to Jack Webb. The conservative parents of the WWII/Korea generation who let Jack Webb into their homes as a trusted old friend, even a guardian of American values. Did he believe this pap? Or was he perpetrating a big fraud to cash in on anti-drug hysteria? Doesn't matter much either way.I'm sorry that F.G. felt he had to apologize for daring to express an opinion that the booboisie couldn't tolerate. As for my "mocking" Jack Webb (which I really was not, until you all got amazingly thin-skinned), all I have to say is: NOOGIES!
Mamie Van Doren for the gossip lovers:"As the fog in my brain lifted, I looked up and saw Sgt. Joe Friday humping me with a wild look in his eyes. I remember wondering numbly if he was going to kill me. [...] He was just the kind of sick fuck who liked to have weird sex with unsuspecting young women."
Three words, gentlemen:Let's not fight.Tommy O:He may not have needed the money, but when you're as well-known as he was, you become almost manic about staying that way. Resurrecting 'Dragnet' was only inevitable for him.As for his attitudes in the late 60s incarnation of that show, I'd say he really believed that stuff, but there was another element to it as well: The kind of Police Procedural 'Dragnet' represented in its time was, by 1967, too prosaic, what with the newpapers (particularly in LA) being filled with semi-apocalyptic stories of all that social transformation supposedly going on (everything from the Watts riots to people on Haight street growing their hair past their earlobes). I'm sure, as a result, that NBC, MCA and everyone else involved had no misgivings about the idea of a 'Socially Conscious' Dragnet, particularly if it emerged from a fundamentally right wing sensibility.As I say, the late 60s 'Dragnet' more or less reflected Jack Webb's own attitudes on matters great and small, but he went overboard with it. In fact, Webb admitted as much in a later interview when he called those episodes his "Jesus shows"What I've always loved about the later 'Dragnet's was their studiously under-budgeted look. MCA was always looking to save money, and never was it more directly manifest than on that show. I mean, it didn't matter whch division Friday and Gannon were working out of on a given week, the squad room never had more than two or three detectives and a couple of perps on hand.Booze-fried he may have been, but anyone who's seen the 1954 feature 'Dragnet' knows how talented a filmmaker Jack Webb could be when he was inspired (some of his work in that film is astonishing). Trouble was, he wasn't inspired all that often.
Webb was huge in early TV, and was widely considered to be the Orson Welles of the medium. He left television to direct films at Warner Bros., where he was a serious filmmaker but his career did not take off, despite DRAGNET, PETE KELLY'S BLUES, THE D.I. and -30- having merit to varying degrees, and certainly revealing a distinctive style. He returned to TV because that was what was left to him, where he was chiefly a producer (EMERGENCY, ADAM-12) and a hugely successful one. His return to DRAGNET of course included out-of-step risible episodes like the infamous marijuana one, but probably a third of them are worthwhile (and the 1967 movie-length pilot is first-rate). He certainly became a self-parody, which happens to lots of artists when the times change around them. But you don't judge Orson Welles by wine commercials and botched unfinished projects -- you talk about CITIZEN KANE, or at least start there. Yet too many people only want to judge Webb, a key figure in our pop culture, by the most unfortunate missteps of his last years.
"Enjoy every sandwich" -- Warren Zevon"How's headcheese, baloney & pickles on sourdough bread sound?" -- Officer Bill Gannon
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