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December 6, 2005 > My Name's Friday:

My Name's Friday:

Book Review

by Robert A. Garfinkle

By Michael J. Hayde

Cumberland House; 305 pages; $18.95

Anyone who ever enjoyed watching the long-running old television shows "Dragnet" or "Badge 714" will certainly be taken for a nice journey down memory lane by the author Michael J. Hayde. Hayde is a freelance writer specializing in entertainment history. As you read some of the dialogue given in the book, you can hear Jack Webb's distinctive monotone voice and of course his most famous line, "Just the facts." The title of the book is Webb's other famous line said in the introductory voice-over at the start of each "Dragnet" episode. Hayde has skillfully weaved the personal and professional lives of Jack Webb and his principal co-actors into a fascinating look at this popular classic of radio drama and early television. The book also covers the films starring and or produced by Jack Webb.

Reproduced throughout the book are dozens of publicity photos from the shows and Webb's films, along with copies of product and show advertisements featuring Webb. These advertisements give you a feel for the times and remind us that Hollywood stars used to promote cigarettes and that many of their shows were sponsored by the tobacco industry. One interesting photo shows Webb sitting at the hospital bedside of an ill Marlon Brando in Brando's screen debut in "The Men" (1950). Both men are holding cigarettes.

Jack Webb was an innovator in television show production. As an example, I did not realize that the "Dragnet" episode "The Big Little Jesus" was the first TV show filmed in color. The show first aired on December 24, 1953.

John (Jack) Randolph Webb (1920-1982) is known primarily to the public for his role as Sergeant Friday in "Dragnet," but he had an incredible career that included being either the producer or executive producer of about 32 different movies or television programs (whole series not just individual episodes). He acted in 24 films and/or television series, beginning with an uncredited role at the age of 12 in "Three on a Match" (1932). Webb wrote the screenplay for eleven different televisions programs (he co-wrote various individual episodes that add to his writing credits total). He directed almost every "Dragnet" show along with other television shows that he produced or acted in including the 5 movies that he produced.

I was very impressed by the first three of the book's five appendices. The author was given the opportunity to review all of the actual "Dragnet" radio and TV scripts. The first appendix lists all of the "Dragnet" radio shows from the first live broadcast on June 3, 1949 to the last original taped broadcast on September 20, 1955. Several shows were rebroadcast, until the final radio show on February 26, 1957. The second appendix lists all 276 episodes of the first series of TV "Dragnet" episodes that ran from 1951 to 1959. Bill Alexander played Officer Frank Smith for most of these shows. The listing includes the original airdate and a synopsis of the programs. The third appendix lists the TV shows that ran from 1967 to 1970 and featured Webb's new partner Harry Morgan as Officer Bill Gannon.

Hayde has done an outstanding job researching this important piece of television and film history and to bring into full focus the personal life and career of Jack Webb. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in television or movie history or just wants to recall memories of a time when police shows contained very little onscreen violence.

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