Jack Webb Stiff Dick with Deadpan Delivery The FIRST annual Dull Tool Dim Bulb Lifetime Achievement Award™
It was fashionable among my peers growing up to lambaste Jack Webb. At the time, he was busting happy hippy hedonists on TV but they looked like the GOOD guys to me. Of course, this was the second incarnantion of Dragnet, the one with the future Sherman Potter of M.A.S.H, one Harry Morgan, who was raised in Muskegon Michigan just 12 miles north of here. ( By coincidence, so was young James Osterberg, nee Iggy Pop, who just might be the winner of the second Dull Tool Dim Bulb Lifetime Achievement Award™ but that is another story or two) In retrospect, it turns out Jack Webb was not only a cool dude, the fellow you saw walking around on TV stiffer than a cast-iron Viagra pole was exactly the same fellow in real life, and how many actors can you say that about?
Big Jack was born in 1920 and suffered from asthma his whole life. A trait I identify with, but you never saw jack turn from the camera and take a puff of albuterol. He was born in a slum in L.A, so he comes to his toughness through authenticity. He was a crew member of a B-26 bomber during the big one, and that assignment had just about the highest mortality rate in the war. So Jack was tough as nails as well as stiff as one. After the war he commenced his lifetime advocacy for the rule of law and hatred of the nefarious. He first played hard-boiled detective Pat Novak on the radio, where he delivered with sound waves as flat as his crewcut. Later, he played a character in "One out of Seven" who stood up against racial discrimination long before it was fashionable.
Of course, Dragnet is the stiff stuff of legend. There were two, the first black and white from 1951 to 1959. From this came "The story you are about to see is true, the names have been changed to protect the innocent." The second, the one I grew up laughing at, started in 1967, in glorious anti-psychedelic color, and ran 3 more years. How many actors can you think of who starred in two TV series, both with the same name...with virtually no acting talent?
Jack spread his dragnet over some serious tail as well! He loved Jazz and played the cornet, so he romanced and married the most luscious MOR jazz dame of all time, Julie London. It was the first of FOUR marriages (including another hot score not of a musical scale, Miss USA Jackie Loughery)
At the time of his passing, Jack was working on another revival of Dragnet. Remaining true to his tight moral standards, he turned down the role of Dean Wormer in Animal House. When he hung up Badge number 714 for good, the flags of Los Angeles were ordered flown at half-mast.
So how can you get close to the now dead legend? First, read his book The Badge, fabulous true crime stories he wrote in 1958. Tough as shoe leather but easy to find on Amazon. Second, see if your hands measure up to his on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Third, listen to Jack's silver chords on the Rhino records compilation of singing actors. Fourth, watch his 1962 short subject The Commies are Coming, The Commies are Coming. (which features hot little minx Billie Jo from Petticoat Junction) also available on Rhino. 30 minutes of red-baiting bliss. Finally? The stunning minute long tirade below. Take THAT Hippie!
Illustrations hand-embellished additions to Jack Webb's Safety Squad Coloring Book, 1956. Collection Jim Linderman