Saturday, November 15, 2008

Dragnet: 1952

This was the 5th episode of Dragnet, 2/14/52. It was on the following times:
Jan. 1952 - Dec. 1955, NBC, Thursdays, 9:00-9:30 PM
Jan. 1956 - Sept. 1958, NBC, Thursdays, 8:30-9:00
Sept. 1958 - June 1959, NBC, Tuesdays, 7:30-8:00
July 1959 - Sept. 1959, NBC, Sundays, 8:30-9:00
January 1967 - Sept. 1970, NBC, Thursdays, 9:30-10:00
I didn't watch it much. For some reason the ending, A sweaty, glistening left hand appeared, holding what would turn out to be a stamp for indenting metal; a heavy hammer struck the top of the handle of the stamp, twice, loudly; the stamp was removed to reveal the result, "MK VII", referring to the production company, Mark VII Limited Productions. scared the crap of of me. Calling Dr. Freud...Jack Webb was an interesting guy:
Born in Santa Monica, California, Webb grew up poor in the Bunker Hill slum section of Los Angeles to a Jewish father and a Roman Catholic mother; he was raised Roman Catholic. He was a sickly child and studied art as a young man. One of the tenants in the rooming house run by his mother was an ex-jazzman who imbued Webb with a lifelong interest in jazz when he gave him a recording of Bix Beiderbecke's "At the Jazz Band Ball." He served as a crew member of a B-26 Marauder in World War II. Webb's personal life was better defined by his love of jazz than his interest in police work. He had a collection of 6000 albums. His life-long interest in the cornet and racially tolerant attitude allowed him to move easily in the jazz culture, where Webb met singer and actress Julie London. They married in 1947 and raised two children. They later divorced, and Webb married three more times.
Another interesting fact about him, I'm not sure it is true can be found at the daily bleed where it notes Jack's birth in 1920
Dragnet from wikipedia, part 2
Friday offered voice-over narration throughout the episodes, noting the time, date and place of every scene as he and his partners went through their day investigating the crime. The events related in a given episode might occur in a few hours, or might span a few months. At least one episode unfolded in real time: in "City Hall Bombing" (July 21, 1949), Friday and Romero had less than 30 minutes to stop a man who was threatening to destroy the City Hall with a bomb.
At the end of the episode, announcer Hal Gibney would relate the fate of the suspect. They were usually convicted of a crime and sent to "the State Penitentiary" or a state mental hospital. Murderers were often "executed in the manner prescribed by law." Occasionally, police pursued the wrong suspect, and criminals sometimes avoided justice or escaped, at least on the radio version of Dragnet. In 1950, Time quoted Webb: "We don’t even try to prove that crime doesn’t pay ... sometimes it does"
Specialized terminology was mentioned in every episode but was rarely explained. Webb trusted the audience to determine the meanings of words or terms by their context, and furthermore, Dragnet tried to avoid the kinds of awkward, lengthy exposition that people would not actually use in daily speech. Several specialized terms (such as "A.P.B." for "All Points Bulletin" and "M.O." for "Modus Operandi") were rarely used in popular culture before Dragnet introduced them to everyday America.
While most radio shows used one or two sound effects experts, Dragnet needed five; a script clocking in at just under 30 minutes could require up to 300 separate effects. Accuracy was underlined: The exact number of footsteps from one room to another at Los Angeles police headquarters were imitated, and when a telephone rang at Friday's desk, the listener heard the same ring as the telephones in Los Angeles police headquarters. A single minute of ".22 Rifle for Christmas" is a representative example of the evocative sound effects featured on "Dragnet". While Friday and others investigate bloodstains in a suburban backyard, the listener hears a series of overlapping effects: a squeaking gate hinge, footsteps, a technician scraping blood into a paper envelope, the glassy chime of chemical vials, bird calls and a dog barking in the distance.
Scripts tackled a number of topics, ranging from the thrilling (murders, missing persons and armed robbery) to the mundane (check fraud and shoplifting), yet "Dragnet" made them all interesting due to fast-moving plots and behind-the-scenes realism. In "The Garbage Chute" (15 December 1949), they even had a locked room mystery.
Though rather tame by modern standards, Dragnet--especially on the radio--handled controversial subjects such as sex crimes and drug addiction with unprecedented and even startling realism. In one such example, Dragnet broke one of the unspoken (and still rarely broached) taboos of popular entertainment in the episode ".22 Rifle for Christmas" which aired December 21, 1950. The episode followed the search for young Stevie Morheim, only to discover he’d been accidentally killed while playing with a rifle that belonged to a friend; his friend told Friday that Stevie was running while holding the rifle when he tripped and fell, causing the gun to discharge, fatally wounding Morheim.
NBC received thousands of complaint letters, including a formal protest by the National Rifle Association. Webb forwarded many of the letters to police chief Parker who promised "ten more shows illustrating the folly of giving rifles to children." Another episode dealt with young women who, rather than finding Hollywood stardom, fall in with fraudulent talent scouts and end up in pornography and prostitution.
The tone was usually serious, but there were moments of comic relief: Romero was something of a hypochondriac and often seemed henpecked; though Friday dated women, he usually dodged those who tried to set him up with marriage-minded dates.
Due in part to Webb's fondness for radio drama, Dragnet persisted on radio until 1957 as one of the last old time radio shows to give way to television's increasing popularity. In fact, the TV show would prove to be effectively a visual version of the radio show, as the style was virtually the same. The TV show could be listened to without watching it, with no loss of understanding of the storyline.
When television was interested in Dragnet, Webb bucked the prevailing wisdom which argued that radio staff couldn’t adapt to the new medium. He insisted on hiring radio staff (from actors to writers and production staff) as much as was feasible to work on the television version. This loyalty would endear Webb to many of his Dragnet colleagues for decades to come.
He also insisted that Friday and his partner use badges in the then-unique shield shape used by LAPD. This led to the loan of actual LAPD badges, brought in every morning from the Office of the Chief of Police in the care of an officer who acted as technical advisor.
Television offered Webb the opportunity to increase the realism to a point unmatched by any other program for years. Many early episodes involved cases which had been handled by the Robbery or Homicide Divisions, which was at that time located in the ground floor of the Los Angeles City Hall. Webb had his set designers duplicate the "feel" of the office, including details such as the remnant of a notice which had been torn from the bulletin board, leaving only one corner.
Webb, uncomfortable with firearms, mentioned this to the technical advisor. When an early script called for Friday to use a shotgun, LAPD detailed Jesse Littlejohn, a member of the Robbery Division's elite "Hat Squad", to teach Webb how to handle the riot gun. In the episode, Friday carries the shotgun using proper technique, but passes it to his partner rather than fire it himself. In thanks for this and assistance by other officers, Webb dropped their names into scripts, beginning a tradition which continued through the end of production of Dragnet and Adam-12—all officers' names are real (except for recurring characters and officers suspected of wrongdoing, in which cases the names were changed to protect the innocent).
Dragnet first aired on television in December 1951 on a special presentation of the NBC program Sound-Off Time. The regular series debuted in January 1952. Friday's original partner in the TV episodes (as on the radio) was Sgt. Ben Romero, played by Barton Yarborough, who died after only three episodes were filmed. The Romero character was replaced by first by Detective Sergeant Ed Jacobs (Barney Phillips), and then by Officer Frank Smith. Smith was first played by Webb crony Herb Ellis. After four episodes, Ben Alexander took over the role on both television and radio.
Jack Webb thought Ben Alexander made an ideal partner. The dramatic scripts of the 1950s usually feature at least one comic interlude with Alexander to lighten the tone. Thus Frank offhandedly chats with Joe about his latest enthusiasm (favorite foods, fad diets, hobbies, home life, etc.). Alexander stayed with Dragnet through its original run, which ended in 1959. While Dragnet was still on the air, reruns began to air in syndication as Badge 714.
When Webb remounted Dragnet in 1966, he tried to get Ben Alexander to rejoin him as Frank. Alexander was then committed to an ABC police series, Felony Squad, and its producers would not release him. Webb reluctantly recast the role of Joe Friday's partner: Bill Gannon, played by movie and TV veteran Harry Morgan. Bill Gannon, like Frank Smith, was businesslike on duty but chatty in informal situations. Ben Alexander's light-comedy dialogues now fell to Harry Morgan, who played some of it more broadly; in "The Big Neighbor" his ad libs cause Jack Webb to openly burst out laughing, and in "The Weekend," Gannon's step-by-step preparation of a "garlic-nut-butter sandwich" is greeted with incredulous reactions from his friends.
Two other hallmarks of the TV show came at the end of each episode:
* The arrested criminal stands uncomfortably, presumably for the mug shot and the fate of the perpetrators is stated, as a verdict of a court "in and for the City and County of Los Angeles" on an appropriate date.
* A sweaty, glistening left hand appeared, holding what would turn out to be a stamp for indenting metal; a heavy hammer struck the top of the handle of the stamp, twice, loudly; the stamp was removed to reveal the result, "MK VII", referring to the production company, Mark VII Limited Productions.
In 1954, a theatrical feature film adaptation of the series was released, with Webb, Alexander, and Richard Boone.
In 1958, Webb authored a book titled "The Badge." The book was a series of true stories told from the view of a patrolman, sergeant, lieutenant and others. It had a number of photographs and recently was reissued with a foreword by James Ellroy, the author of "LA Confidential."
In 1966, a TV movie, also called Dragnet, was produced, although it did not air until 1969. Starring Jack Webb and Harry Morgan as his partner Officer Bill Gannon, it spawned a new series, Dragnet 1967, which aired on NBC until 1970, the title year changing with each season. The success of the remake prompted Webb to develop new shows under the Mark VII banner over the next decade, the most notable of which were Adam-12 and Emergency!
Jack Webb had begun the process of bringing Dragnet back to television yet again in 1982, writing and producing five scripts and even picking Kent McCord to play his new partner in "Dragnet '83" before suddenly dying of a heart attack two days before Christmas 1982.
After Webb's death, the Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department announced that badge number 714—Webb's number on the television show—had been retired, and Los Angeles city offices lowered their flags to half-staff. At Webb's funeral, the LAPD provided an honor guard and the Chief of Police commented on Webb's connection with the LAPD. An LAPD Auditorium was named in his honor.

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