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June 16, 2020

Inside Jack Webb's Life Before, during and after 'Dragnet'

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Iconic movie star Jack Webb was famous for his hit TV series, "Dragnet." Although the show was his most successful project, the actor was involved in several other remarkable projects.

Legendary actor Jack Webb was born John Randolph Webb, on April 2, 1920, to Margaret Smith and Samuel Chester. However, before his death, Samuel left home and so Webb never knew his father.

Raised by his mother and maternal grandmother in Bunker Hill, Los Angeles, Webb's childhood was characterized by dire poverty that preceded The Great Depression.

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In an exclusive interview with Closer Weekly, Michael J Hayde, author of "My Name's Friday: The Unauthorized but True Story of Dragnet and the Films of Jack Webb," explained that Webb had lacked a lot of essential things as a child.

According to Hayde, Webb learned how to read by getting fishing magazines out of the trash. In addition to that, his mother and grandmother sometimes helped him to learn how to read. Hayde also added:

"Occasionally, he was able to beg or borrow a nickel to go to the movies, which is where he really got his escape."

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For his high school education, Webb attended the Belmont High School, where he was a member of a radio club. Asides that, he pursued his interest in art and provided cartoons for the school's yearbook.

After completing his higher education at St.John's University, Minnesota, where he studied art, Webb applied to Walt Disney as an artist, but his application was turned down.

A chain smoker, Jack died of a heart attack on December 23, 1982, at the age of 62.

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Following his rejection by Disney, Webb enrolled in the United States Army Air Corps, where he worked as a clerk and a typist. 

However, this did not stop his interest in entertainment as he worked with the United Service Organization, where he helped stage shows and sometimes acted as an emcee. According to Hayde, this was what launched Webb into the world of entertainment. He said:

"This enabled him to find a job in radio after he got out of the service, again in San Francisco…."

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After a few years on radio, Webb left for Los Angeles, where he started a career as an actor. After playing in some uncredited roles, he finally appeared in movies like "Sunset Boulevard," "The Men," and "Appointment with Danger."

The inspiration for Webb's most popular show, 'Dragnet,'' came in 1949 after TV shows and radio shows, went on a break, and Webb was left unemployed.

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After gathering enough material and resources, Webb took his project to NBC radio, where the show was accepted as a summer replacement. The show became a success, and as a result, Webb became a success as well.

"Dragnet" aired on radio for eight years between 1949 to 1957. Before the end of its run on radio, the show was converted to a television series, and it aired from 1952 to 1959.

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In the years that followed the end of "Dragnet," Webb struggled to keep up with his career on television, and by 1967, "Dragnet'"was back, with the new series running for three years. It, however, wasn't as successful as the original version because it lacked youth appeal.

Later on, Webb's company developed another show, "Adam-12," which ran from 1968 to 1975 and recorded success as one of the top 10 series of its time.

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Also, Webb created "O'Hara, U.S. Treasury," which aired in 1971. He also co-created "Emergency!" which ran from 1972 to 1977. Webb's final creation was the series, "Project U.F.O." which aired for 26 episodes from 1978 to 1979.

While he might have recorded success in the movie industry, his love life was a different narrative. Webb was married four times, first to actress Julie London from 1947 to 1954. The couple had two daughters, Stacy and Lisa. 

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While speaking about her father in May, Lisa described her father as a good father who was always there for her whenever she needed him.

Barely one year after the end of his marriage to London, Webb tied the knot with Dorothy Towne, and they were together for two years before getting a divorce in 1957.

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Webb was also married to actress Jackie Loughery between 1958 and 1964. In 1980, he tied the knot with Opal Wright whom he was with up until he died in 1982.

A chain smoker, Jack died of a heart attack on December 23, 1982, at the age of 62, and according to reports, the legendary actor was planning a 1980s Dragnet reboot right before his death. 

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