JACK WEBB: HAPPY 100TH BIRTHDAY TRIBUTE!

Jack Webb, the legendary TV icon who created Dragnet, Adam-12, Emergency! and more, would have been 100 years old today.  Known mostly of course for his groundbreaking radio and TV series Dragnet in which played Detective Joe Friday, his deadpan delivery and ping-pong patter became the stuff of both legend and great parody.
What’s less known about the versatile Webb was his offbeat film career. Small parts as the goateed paraplegic buddy in Marlon Brando’s film debut, The Men (1950), as well as the high-energy buddy Artie Green to William Holden’s Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard (also 1950) lead to even bigger roles in film and eventually his own cinematic pet projects. One  such bigger role before major success was You’re in the Navy Now (1951) in which he costarred with Gary Cooper in the naval comedy that marked the film debuts of such New York actors as Harvey Lembeck, Jack Warden, Charles Bronson and, wait for it…Lee Marvin.

(L-R) Gary Cooper, Lee Marvin and Jack Webb in YOU’RE IN THE NAVY NOW, aka U.S.S. TEAKETTLE.

Webb’s versatility went beyond the shows and films he created (as well as wrote, directed and starred in). He had a specifically good eye for spotting young and emerging talent that may have come from his previous film work. In Lee Marvin Point Blank, Lee’s agent Meyer Mishkin recounted to me how Webb not only went out of his way to cast Marvin in an early Dragnet episode, but what he did to ensure the episode got Marvin more work. It was an effort that at the time, may not have even been allowed by the powers that be. Such was Webb’s belief in young talent.
Best of all, was an anecdote I was able to uncover by viewing an exclusive interview Webb gave in a rare late 1960’s interview in which he describes Marvin’s hysterical professionalism during the episode’s key scene. Gotta read the book to find that out!

Lee Marvin and Jack Webb tangle in “The Big Cast” episode of DRAGNET.

Webb’s love of jazz (he was reported to have one of the greatest rare jazz record collections) was something he also shared with Lee Marvin. It made Marvin an easy choice to play clarinetist Al Gannaway in Webb’s loving tribute to 1920’s jazz, Pete Kelly’s Blues (1955). According to costar Martin Milner, Lee Marvin was the only one who avoided Webb’s direction by telling Webb he’d do a scene the way he described it, then, Marvin would perform it the way he intended all along. Milner was amazed at Marvin’s manipulative powers. Might also be the reason Marvin never appeared in any other Webb productions, like The D.I. (1957) and -30- (1957).
All in all, I think Jack Webb’s output, versatility and impressive legacy deservers remembrance. Even if you think his canon of work was campy (“You’re pretty high and far out, aren’t you? What kind of kick are you on, son?”) it was certainly ground breaking and I for one was always a fan. Anything Webb did, in my opinion, was infinitely more entertaining than what came after him in the years that followed.

“This is the city…my name is Friday. I carry a badge.”

So, to Jack Webb. Happy centennial! Thanks for all the years of wonderful entertainment…intentional or not.
– Dwayne Epstein

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PILLARS OF THE SKY W/ JEFF CHANDLER & LEE ‘WARD BOND’ MARVIN

Universal Pictures’ 1956 release, Pillars of the Sky, starred Jeff Chandler (Ira Grossel) and Dorothy Malone (Dorothy Maloney) but way down the cast list, fifth biilled, as a matter of fact, was Lee Marvin. Of course, it’s mentioned in Lee Marvin Point Blank as I was lucky enough to interview one of its stars, Martin Milner. As a side note, he told me a great anecdote that wasn’t in the book but did make a great blog entry.

One of two ad campaigns for PILLARS OF THE SKY.

As for Marvin in the film, I was able to include one of my favorite stories about him in the book that took place during the film’s production concerning veteran actor, Ward Bond. It’s a wonderfully telling tale that p.r. veteran Peter Levinson passed on to me. Gotta read the book to find that out as it’s a hoot!
As for Marvin’s contribution to the over produced film, it consisted of several early scenes playing what he did best, a swaggering, veteran calvary officer clearly based on Ward Bond himself, as he affected a poorly rendered Irish brogue, for reasons known only to Marvin. My guess is, he did it out of boredom and wanted to have some fun with the part. He was never very accomplished when it came to attempting accents, however: A Mexican bandit on an episode of “Wagon Train,”  an Armenian grape grower on the short-lived “Great Adventure” series, and a slight southern twang in Attack!, are the handful that come to mind.
The film itself is typical of its time. A forthright attempt to show good white folks trying to help native Americans, hampered by the bigotry of other white folks, all the while barely attempting to show the native Americans point of view, who go on a rampage that endanger good and bad white folks alike. Oh, and sexual innuendo is thrown in for good measure in the form of Dorothy Malone and Jeff Chandler’s ongoing love-hate relationship on the open plains. When or if it ever shows up n TCM or any other movie channel, check it out…but keep your expectations low to enjoy it more.
-Dwayne Epstein

Alternate ad for the film in typical ballyhoo style that hints at the film’s original title: THE TOMAHAWK AND THE CROSS.

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UNTOLD MARTIN MILNER STORY ABOUT LEE MARVIN

pillars

Pillars of the Sky ad, with Lee Marvin, Jeff Chandler & a very young Martin Milner.

 

Veteran actor Martin Milner may not seem like a likely candidate for a wealth of great anecdotes concerning Lee Marvin but when I interviewed him he proved to be just that! He worked with Marvin several times in his career in both film and television, with each project providing great fodder for useable stories. In fact, he had such a miniscule role in the above advertised film, 1957’s Pillars of The Sky (Lee Marvin Point Blank, pp. 102-103) he didn’t even receive billing. Nevertheless, his short stint on the project provided the following anecdote not used in the the book but still worth telling here….

Martin Milner:

We were doing Pillars of The Sky (1956). We were on location in Oregon. I was only going to be up there like 10 days. I had a small part in the film. Lee was there for the duration. I was there over one weekend, or two. Lee and I both decided we wanted to go fishing because we both love to fish.
One of the guys, the location manager, or somebody, made arrangements with the local Lincoln dealer to loan us a car and some fishing equipment. We didn’t have anything with us. The fishing equipment was supposed to be in the car. I don’t remember if it was from a sporting goods store but somehow or other, the package was in the car and the car was in the hotel garage. The instructions was for us to go down there Sunday morning. There’ll be a Lincoln. It’ll be unlocked. The keys will be in it and the fishing equipment will be in the car. Sunday comes, Lee and I go down there. Somebody else went with us but I don’t remember who. We go up to this lake and we spend the day fishing. We find this nice brand new Lincoln with fishing equipment and that’s pretty nice. We got in, we drove to this lake which was about two hours away. We got back that night about 8:00. I was finished in the movie. I had stayed over a day to go fishing. I got on a plane at 8:00 the next morning and flew home. Lee stayed there.
I got home and my agent called. he said, “You are in a world of trouble.” I said, “What happened?” He said, that whoever this head of Universal was, his brother had driven this brand new Lincoln to Oregon to go fishing. Lee and I gone down and stolen the car out of the garage and gone for the day. I guess that guy only had like one day up there to go fishing. He’d chosen that place obviously because he could get comped because the movie company was there. We took his car. I laughed like hell when my agent told me this.
We made an honest mistake. There was another old Lincoln there full of fishing stuff that we were supposed to take. We took the wrong car. We took the wrong Lincoln. We took the brand new one that belonged to the head of production’s brother. So when my agent told me the story, I laughed. he said, “Don’t laugh. You’re going in to see the head of the studio this afternoon to explain what happened.” I said, “What about Lee?” He said, “Lee’s not there. He’s back on location and he can’t come. You gotta go in and explain this thing.” So I went in and I went into to this guy’s office and explained what happened. It wasn’t life altering. He understood how the mistake was made. The car was fine but his brother had lost a day of fishing. That was one funny story that happened when Lee and I were together.
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