Saturday, May 18, 2019

THE COPS BLOG-A-THON: Dragnet, 1954


The entertaining and thought-provoking site Dubsism is giving us The Cops Blog-a-Thon in honour of National Police Week. Our host, J-Dub says "This one is all about your favorite fictional cops." Click here to enjoy the contributions.


The story you about to see is true.
The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

The character of Sgt. Joe Friday is surely the most famous and influential fictional law enforcement officer in an entertainment history filled with such characters. One look at the 1948 film He Walked by Night with 28-year-old Jack Webb as police lab technician Lee Whitey, let's the audience in on the inspiration for Dragnet. Technical advisor Sgt. Marty Wynn, L.A.P.D. encouraged Webb's interest in creating a radio program focusing on a realistic look at police work and paved the way for use of real case files in the recreations.

"Jack Webb supervised every aspect of the show, from its writing to its sound effects to its hiring of actors. He insisted on a naturalistic by-play in both the dialogue and the acting, striving for something sounded "as real as a guy pouring a cup of coffee."
- Ivan G. Shreve, Jr.
Program Guide to Radio Spirits CD release, Dragnet, Crime to Punishment


Dragnet became a phenomenon on the radio from 1949-1957, and on television from 1951-1959, with a 1967-1970  reboot. It inspired homages, spoofs, knock-offs, novelizations, and merchandise.

Such was the popularity of the program that Warner Brothers produced a feature film version, the first for a television show, in 1954. Would an audience spend money on something they can watch or listen to for free at home? Dragnet on the big screen? All those familiar faces and voices from the unofficial Webb Stock Company in WarnerColor? There was indeed an audience.

Richard Boone, Dennis Weaver
Captain Hamilton of Intelligence and Captain Lohrman of Homicide

The murder of a low-level mob collector, Miller Starkie played by Dub Taylor brings five members of the local syndicate under suspicion. Max Troy played by Stacy Harris and Chester Davitt played by Willard Sage top the list. The combined departments of Intelligence, which investigates organized crime, and Homicide are brought to bear on the case. Sgt. Joe Friday and his partner Officer Frank Smith are just some of the officers assigned to the investigation.

Olan Soule
Ray Pinker, Forensics

The gathering of evidence begins with the Forensics team's extensive search of the crime scene. The technicians are able to provide solid information in the way of ballistics, footprints, etc. It will take many more man hours and legwork to build a case sufficient for the District Attorney played by Vic Perrin to take to a Grand Jury.

Stacy Harris, Ben Alexander, Jack Webb
Max Troy, Officer Frank Smith, Sergeant Joe Friday

The suspects are brought in quickly and separately for questioning. In this instance, the entire floor of a hotel is rented with multiple interrogations occurring at the same time. It is a long and arduous process for both sides of the law. In this pre-Miranda era, no lawyers are present but are used by the crooks as a constant threat.

Jack Webb, Ben Alexander, Dick Cathcart
Sergeant Joe Friday, Officer Frank Smith, Roy Cleaver, first trumpet 

Acquaintances and family members of those involved in the crime are interviewed. Many are reluctant to talk to the cops. Some will change their mind. You have to listen to a lot of people say a lot of things in the hopes that something useful will slip. Virginia Gregg plays Starkie's widow. Her help in the form of written records leads circuitously to the motive for the murder. Informants are contacted in the off chance that gossip or happenstance may lead to a break in the case. Friday's informant is a trumpet player played by trumpeter Dick Cathcart. Cue the musical interlude.

Note: I am aware that not all cops are jazz fans, but appreciate that cops played by Jack Webb are tuned that way.

Jack Webb, Ann Robinson, Ben Alexander
Sergeant Joe Friday, Officer Grace Downey, Officer Frank Smith

A restaurant/club partly owned by the main suspect is where the police hope they will find definitive information. It is a place where the syndicate boys can let their hair down and talk freely. A policewoman is wired for sound and sent undercover. The ploy leads to a solid lead and a brief but tense standoff between the cops and the crooks. I like Joe's early version of the Hill Street Blues admonishment to  "Be careful out there." to Officer Grace Downey played by Ann Robinson, "I just want to see you make sergeant."


William Boyett as the Grand Jury bailiff
Future Sgt. MacDonald, Adam 12

A strong circumstantial and evidence-based case has been built against the mob and ready to go to the Grand Jury. There is even an "eyeball witness" who can testify as to the time and whereabouts of a key figure. This witness played by James Griffith is frightened by the publicity the mobsters have received and decides to revoke his good citizenship honours.

Jesse Quinn: "...Besides, I don't see what all the fuss is. The papers all say the fella was a criminal. It don't seem worth the trouble."

Joe Friday: "Yeah. Well, I'm sorry you'd like a dead archbishop. We don't have one. We got a smalltime hoodlum."

Under the circumstances, the Grand Jury doesn't feel they can bring the case to trial. Captain Hamilton of Intelligence is angered by the result, and by the tactic of the mob relying on the Fifth Amendment while under oath, and orders his staff to go after them.

James Hamilton: "All right. Bumper to bumper tail. Put 'em to bed at night and get 'em up in the morning."


Jack Webb, Stacy Harris, Ben Alexander
Sergeant Joe Friday, Max Troy, Officer Frank Smith

Perhaps I should be shocked and outraged as Joe and Frank follow and harass Max Troy. I'm not. We know Troy is guilty and it is not as if the cops are doing anything more than making a nuisance of themselves. One big, pain-in-the-neck nuisance, to be sure, but it rather tickles the snarky side of my personality.

Note: I like to watch Stacy Harris keeping his temper bottled up.

Jack Webb, Ben Alexander
Sergeant Joe Friday, Officer Frank Smith

Joe and Frank let off a little steam by indulging in a bit of fisticuffs with some card playing thugs. Director Jack Webb had fun with this scene. A fist comes right for the camera and the WarnerColor blood is splashed about judiciously. Joe sports a dandy bruise for the rest of the picture. The punch-up made our boys happy. What's a chewing out from the Captain worth?

Note: Don't ask Joe what anything is worth. He's liable to tell you.

The murder and the investigation take its toll as the mob starts to turn on itself. A second out-of-state murder cracks the case. It leads to an irate widow played by Georgia Ellis giving the cops just the evidence needed. It is time for Friday and Smith to arrest Max Troy.


Note: Every case comes to an end, one way or another.












35 comments:

  1. I was pleasantly surprised to see Jack Webb in HE WALKED BY NIGHT when I watched that last fall, and a little bit of digging revealed to me how big DRAGNET was in its day. The original radio incarnation was a hit at around the same time crime comic books were popular. I’m reminded of the ones from EC Comics I’ve read (in reprints, of course), but comics weren’t as respectable a medium as radio back then.

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    1. Have you ever heard Stan Freberg's Dragnet spoof St. George and the Dragonet?" If you know Dragnet it is as funny today as it was in the 1950s. Stan was getting grief from some of the folks he spoofed, so Capitol Records asked him to get permission from Webb. In his autobiography Stan said that Jack Webb loved it, gave him some tips that made it even more funny, and let him use the original musicians so it would sound authentic.

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  2. I love this movie. My intro to Dragnet came via the 60's TV series, and I've been hooked ever since. As the sports/movies guy, I think it's safe to say Joe Friday is the "Babe Ruth" of fictional cops!

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  3. Great write up of a great show. I loved Jack Webb in this one, although i miss Harry Morgan - he's the sidekick I grew up with - but Ben Alexander has some low key charm. Joe Friday always had a snappy comeback Like "You've got the Cadillac - drive over and get it!" when the rich Gangster asks him for the ashtray.

    Dragnet 1967, is good too. Although, Jack in so longer razor thin, and the movie is a little darker except when Morgan livens it up with some humor.

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    1. I checked out the Dragnet TV movie from 1966 on YouTube a while back. I hadn't seen it in ages; dark indeed. I grew up with Joe and Bill Gannon as well, but I've become a huge fan of the earlier show on TV and radio.

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  4. I remember when I was a kid a local station reran the shows that had HARRY MORGAN.( I didn't know about the earlier ones then.) They showed them every weeknight at six-thirty. Later after they hadn't shown them in a few years a different channel started showing them-USA-every weeknight also at six-thirty. I remember I mentioned on the SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF page that I liked Harry Morgan on DRAGNET and MASH. Im sure a lot of people have read that on MASH when it showed COLONEL SHERMAN POTTERS picture of his wife on his desk that it was Harry Morgans real-life wife. On the show her name was MILDRED.

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    1. Harry Morgan was quite a busy actor. Anyone who watched movies and television would have dozens of memories. In Dan Aykroyd's Dragnet spoof Harry played the Chief of Police. It was quite funny.

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  5. I remember that you had a page about his MURDER, SHE WROTE episode with MARTHA SCOTT and JEFFREY LYNN. Also we mentioned the 3 TV-Movies that he did with WALTER MATTHAU. Did you see him in MASH? It was on for 3 seasons then Harry joined the show and was on it the remaining 8 seasons. I mentioned one time that COLONEL POTTER(HARRY), FATHER MULCAHY(WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER) & KLINGER(JAMIE FARR) were my favorite characters on MASH. Did you see the DIAGNOSIS MURDER episode with some of the MASH cast-from the movie and the show? Besides WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER and JAMIE FARR there was ELLIOTT GOULD(from the movie). Both actresses who played MARGARET aka HOT LIPS were on it-SALLY KELLERMAN and LORETTA SWIT. Plus CHRISTOPHER NORRIS who played GLORIA on TRAPPER JOHN, MD was also there. Christopher was a very pretty blonde and a good actress. She was in the MURDER, SHE WROTE ep that you liked DEAN STOCKWELL in.

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    1. You've certainly taken me back. I remember Christopher Norris when she was on The Edge of Night!

      Diagnosis Murder is indeed a program I enjoyed very much. After the first couple of seasons it developed a nice, breezy humour and all those stunt guest casts were fabulous. I remember Peter Graves as an actor playing Dr. Sloane on television.

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  6. A very entertaining post about the influential DRAGNET. I vaguely remember the original TV version, but it was the 1967-1970 reboot that I watched regularly. It's one of those shows that could be revived again!

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    1. The influence of Dragnet has certainly reached out to this very day and you may be right about a revival. I rather enjoyed the 2003 series, but it didn't seem to catch on.

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  7. DIAGNOSIS MURDER had some great stunt guest casts. There was the episode about cops where the guest stars were known for playing cops. There was ANGIE DICKINSON(PEPPER ANDERSON on POLICE WOMAN), JAMES DARREN(JIM CORRIGAN on TJ HOOKER), FRED DRYER(who played the title role on HUNTER), and MARTIN MILNER & KENT MCCORD-the two guys from ADAM-12. That show goes back to the subject of DRAGNET being that was one of the shows that JACK WEBB was the boss of in real-life.

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    1. You may have missed the picture of William Boyett in this post. He was in this 1954 Dragnet movie, and he played Sgt. MacDonald on Adam-12. I loved that show.

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  8. Stacy Harris is great in this! I always crack up when he says, "That's all the evidence you got! You take it downtown and they won't let you in the wash room with it. Now get off my back and hand me that ash tray!"

    Great write up!!!

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    1. Thanks so much. I enjoy watching Stacy Harris and proud to claim him as a fellow Canuck as he was born in Quebec.

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  9. I looked up WILLIAM BOYETT on imdb and he has over 200 credits! He guest starred on the black & white episodes of DRAGNET and also some color ones. He also did some episodes of EMERGENCY that was produced by JACK WEBB. I saw EMERGENCY in reruns in the late 70s and maybe the early 80s on a local station every weekday. I liked the entire cast of that show including ROBERT FULLER that we are both fans of-he guest starred on MURDER, SHE WROTE like I mentioned one time. He was a regular on WAGON TRAIN as you know. I remember he was on the page about BETTE DAVIS when they both did an episode of that show before he played COOPER SMITH.

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    1. Also on EMERGENCY there was nurse DIXIE MCCALL played by torch singer JULIE LONDON, the ex-wife of Jack Webb. Not only did Jack hire Julie for the show he also hired her husband BOBBY TROUP as DR. JOE EARLY. Jack & Julie had 2 children. Bobby & Julie had 3 including twin sons. Also Bobby had 2 children (I think) from his first marriage. One of his daughters is RONNE TROUP who played POLLY WILLIAMS DOUGLAS, the wife of CHIP DOUGLAS on MY THREE SONS that I remember you said you are a big fan of, as I am too. I just thought of something. JULIE was married to JACK & BOBBY(like the KENNEDYS).

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    2. One of my favourite of Bill Boyett's guest roles was on Murphy Brown. Murphy was called up before a Congressional Committee and he spoofed Ted Kennedy playing the lecherous Senator Ned Dennehy. Great fun!

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    3. Julie and Bobby are two of my favourite musicians. I listen to their albums all the time. Jack Webb was certainly loyal to the people in his life.

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  10. I remember I saw the DRAGNET TV Movie (made in 1966 but not shown until 1969) in the mid 80s. It had BOBBY TROUP as the brother of a missing woman. It also had character actor GENE EVANS who was known for westerns including guest starring on GUNSMOKE & BONANZA.

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    1. I always enjoy Gene Evans, but especially his variety of performances guesting on Gunsmoke.

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  11. Gene Evans did two eps of MURDER, SHE WROTE and was on the first ep of IRONSIDE. Speaking of Ironside DON GALLAWAY (ED BROWN) also did a MSW ep. MICHAEL LEARNED played his sister. STEVE FORREST played a sheriff whose first name was HANK. PLUS EVANS and GALLAWAY were both guest-stars on DALLAS. Gene played the brother of MISS ELLIE. His name was GARRISON and he had been presumed dead for a long time. Don played a therapist that Callie went to see. Callie(CATHY PODEWELL) was the second wife of J.R. EWING. She was trying to save her marriage but the therapist was being paid by J.R. to get her to end the marriage.

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    1. Also I remember Gene from an ep of HERE COME THE BRIDES where he had a daughter who was blind and an operation may enable her to see. The daughter was played by MEG FOSTER, a fine actress with the most unusual eyes I have ever seen. Like Gene, Meg also did two eps of MSW and was a guest star on BONANZA. Meg was the original CAGNEY on the show CAGNEY & LACEY. (LORETTA SWIT was the original CAGNEY in the TV-Movie.) Meg only got to do the first 6 episodes and then was replaced by SHARON GLESS. One more thing about Meg-she was once married to actor STEPHEN MCHATTIE who is a fellow CANADIAN of yours. He was born in ANTIGONISH, NOVA SCOTTIA. According to imdb one of his very early credits was an episode of ADAM-12. It goes back to JACK WEBB!

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    2. Aha! I like how you brought everything back around to Jack Webb.

      It is a comforting feeling to see folks like Don Galloway and Gene Evans, the familiar favourites on Murder, She Wrote. I recognize more classic character actors on Perry Mason; people I wasn't aware of when I was a kid.

      Have you ever seen Burke's Law? Quite a fun early Aaron Spelling series with "name" guest stars.

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  12. Do you know the work of Meg Foster and Stephen McHattie? Stephen was on the first 8 JESSE STONE TV-Movies as Captain Healy. It is a series of TV-Movies starring Tom Selleck. The first 8 were for CBS and there has only been one more since then on the HALLMARK CHANNEL and it was also on HALLMARK MOVIES AND MYSTERIES. I have only seen a little of BURKES LAW. They did have some really good guest stars.

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    1. I forgot to mention that I am indeed familiar with both Meg Foster and Stephen McHattie. If you watch any TV series, and there are a lot of them, filmed in Canada you are bound to see the talented Mr. McHattie.

      I watched the first few Jesse Stone movies and while I did enjoy them, I haven't caught up with the bulk of them.

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  13. Paddy Lee, another wonderful write-up that really brings back Classic TV memories. I was first introduced to DRAGNET(1951-59) in syndicated reruns in the early and mid 1960's. I didn't see the movie DRAGNET(1954) until the early 1970's on the LATE MOVIE. Also, watched the reboot series from 1967-70.


    DRAGNET set the standard for police procedural shows and never fell into soap opera. "Just the facts." It was the case that mattered and nothing else. As I'm writing this I can hear the theme song followed by Sgt. Joe Friday's voice over. At the end of the show the hammer and stamp of MARK VII LIMITED. Good memories of Classic TV.

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    1. When I was a youngster the Mark VII hammer frightened me, but nonetheless I was always intrigued and a big fan of Dragnet, and anything Webb-related.

      PS: My dad used to tease me and say I walked like Jack Webb. Not something a young lady wants to hear!

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  14. Just wanted to say " St.George & the Dragon"that its available on You-tube for your listening pleasure. And i love it too. "What's a 412? Overacting" Ha.

    BTW, "Seinfeld" does an quasi-Dragnet parody in an episode called "Bookman", where Lt Bookman is a library Cop. Not only does he give "The Speech" (Seinfeld version) but at one point he does the same thing Dragnet always did, which is one person makes a point. Then Friday says something cryptic or ambiguous. Then other person says "what?" or "HuH?" and then we get the zinger.

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    1. Ah yes, the inestimable YouTube!

      Thanks for telling me about the Seinfeld episode. I didn't watch past the first season although I did find it an amusing show (Jerry's voice gets on my nerves). I like it when folks go for a joke that not everyone will get, but those that do will be really tickled.

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  15. Nice tribute to an absolute classic. Bruce Willis pays homage to it in Die Hard: "Just The Fax Ma'am, Just The Fax”. Yeah, he actually said that.

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    1. Hee-hee. Yes, he did. The long reach of the Dragnet influence is still being felt.

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  16. Well, I DEFINITELY want my own Official Dragnet Whistle - no blogger should be without one!

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    1. I agree. Keep your diamonds and yachts, we've got our priorities right.

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