Jack Webb — an actor, producer and director in film, radio and television — left a distinctive stamp on every project he touched. His signature style was characterized by a stark sense of realism that dispensed with distracting flourishes. His visual approach was direct and the acting restrained and understated to accentuate urgency. His was an especially appropriate method for examining life’s mundane routines as a means of gaining insight into the human condition.
This unique talent was born in Santa Monica, California on April 2, 1920. In 1946, after serving as a bomber pilot in World War II, Webb launched a career as a radio actor in San Francisco, where he portrayed a succession of private eyes including Pat Novak, Johnny Madero and Jeff Regan. In 1949, Webb came up with a concept to dramatize real-life criminal investigations without the standard romantic trappings of the genre. The program, called Dragnet, would be based on actual police files. When he persuaded NBC to put Dragnet on the radio, it became hugely successful, running for seven years.
Three years into its run, Dragnet was spun off as a television series that featured Webb as its star and director. That series also ran for seven years in its original black-and-white format. Dragnet launched Webb’s career as a film director and movie star in 1954, when the show was adapted into a feature film. Webb followed this with four more motion pictures for which he served as director and star, as well as producing three of them.
Beginning in 1959 and continuing throughout the ’60s, Webb was executive producer for his own company, Mark VII Productions (a name which didn’t stand for anything). He produced television dramas such as The D.A.’s Man, Pete Kelly’s Blues, O’Hara, U.S. Treasury, Emergency! and Adam-12. In 1967, Webb resurrected Dragnet for four years of episodes produced in color. This series marked his last acting work, though he continued to produce for television with shows such as Mobile One and Project U.F.O.
Webb died of a heart attack in 1982.