Here’s What Happened to Jack Webb Before, During and After Creating TV’s First Procedural, ‘Dragnet’

Looking to have your mind blown? It seems that Jack Webb, the star and creator of TV’s first police procedural, Dragnet (on which he played Sgt. Joe Friday), has a background that includes hosting his own self-titled comedy radio series. Now it’s difficult enough to imagine Jack smiling, let alone actually being funny.

“Not funny?” asks an incredulous Michael J. Hayde, author of My Name’s Friday: The Unauthorized but True Story of Dragnet and the Films of Jack Webb, in an exclusive interview. “Have you ever seen those TV skits where he sends up Friday and Dragnet? He was actually very funny and a multifaceted creator; the first triple threat guy — producer, director and star — in television history, and the guy who invented the police procedural as seen on TV. There isn’t a procedural show since that does not in some way incorporate elements that were viewed on Dragnet. That would be enough for some people, but there was much more to Jack Webb.”

Jack Webb's Daughter Lisa Breen Says 'Dragnet' Star Was a 'Good Dad'
Universal Tv/Dragnet Prod/Mark Vii/Kobal/Shutterstock

He was born John Randolph Webb on April 2, 1920 (just a little over a century ago) in Santa Monica, California and actually had a lot to overcome, beginning with a father who took off shortly after he was born, resulting in his being raised by his mother and grandmother in Bunker Hill, a slum area of Los Angeles. “He went without a lot of things,” says Michael. “He learned to read by getting fishing magazines out of the trash. His grandmother and mother would sit him down and help him to learn to read. Occasionally he was able to beg or borrow a nickel to go to the movies, which is where he really got his escape. He would just sit there all day until somebody came and fished him out of the theater and brought him home for the evening.”

He attended Belmont High School, where he became a part of the radio club and, pursuing his interest in art, provided cartoons for the school yearbook. He attended St. John’s University, Minnesota, where he studied art. “He actually applied to Walt Disney as an artist,” Michael says, “but was turned down. For a time, he worked at his uncle’s clothing store in San Francisco. From there, he went into the United States Army Air Corps, but wasn’t good enough to become a pilot, so he ended up basically becoming a clerk and typist. But he also helped out with USO shows, staging them and acting as an emcee, where he developed more of a vocal presence.

Jack Webb Dragnet 1951-1959
Universal Tv/Dragnet Prod/Mark Vii/Kobal/Shutterstock

“This,” he adds, “enabled him to find a job in radio after he got out of the service, again in San Francisco. And that’s really where his show business career began around 1945. His first radio success was with a show called Pat Novak for Hire. And if you think Jack Webb couldn’t do comedy … holy cow!”

For much more on Jack Webb, please scroll down.