Jack Webb was a driving force in radio when it came to detective series. Him and his team came up with one of the most popular formats for detective shows at the time and made famous these lines that were never spoken, “Just the facts, ma’am.” That line was actually, “All we want are the facts, ma’am.” Although, his voice was unlike other actors because it was so monotone, it was effective for his role as an unemotional, logical detective who figured out the cases and put the bad guys away.
Jack Webb was born John Randolph Webb on April 2, 1920 and ended up being raised by his maternal grandmother and mother because his father took off before he was born. His family was very poor and young Jack suffered from asthma, beginning at the age of six. His mother rented out rooms in her home and during this time, one of the boarders gave him a jazz record and he became an avid fan of jazz for the rest of his life.
Although his family was poor, he was a gifted student and was the president of the student body. After graduating high school, he attended St. John’s University and studied art. Webb joined the Air Force during World War II, however, he asked to be discharged in order to take care of his mother.
In 1946, Jack Webb moved to San Francisco and began his career in radio. His first old time radio show was called The Jack Webb Show and was a comedy. He soon after gave up comedy for drama and played the starring role in, Pat Novak for Hire. This was the story about a private detective, who advertised his services in the want ads.
In 1948, he played a small role in the film, He Walked by Night. During this time, Webb became friends with a Los Angeles Police Department consultant and became interested in the cases that he heard. He then pitched the idea of Dragnet to NBC radio, which used real live cases from the LAPD. In 1949, Dragnet debuted on the radio and ran until 1954. It became a television series in 1952 and continued on until 1959, with Jack Webb, playing Detective Joe Friday and Barton Yarborough as Sergeant Ben Romano.
While starring in Dragnet, Jack Webb took on movie roles, as well. He starred in the movie, Sunset Boulevard and the film, Dark City. In 1951, he started the radio show, Pete Kelley’s Blues because he wanted to share his love for this music with others. Unfortunately, the show was not very successful.
In 1967, a new and color version of Dragnet was created for NBC. This was the show that most remember Jack Webb for. In 1968, Webb produced the television series, Adam-12 and then, in 1972, he produced the hugely successful television show, Emergency!
Jack Webb smoked about 3 packs of cigarettes a day and did not take very good care of himself. He would often stay up all night, playing cards and drinking. In 1982, Jack Webb died of a heart attack at the young age of 62.