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Just the Facts, Man: the Complicated Genesis of Television’s Dragnet




By Wheeler Winston Dixon.

“All I want to do is make a million dollars.”

(Jack Webb, 1953 [as qtd. in Hayde 2001: 59])

Jack Webb had a lot of help when he created the hit series Dragnet. The series marked a significant departure from existing models of “crime and punishment” police and detective shows, which had in the past existed only in exaggerated versions. With Dragnet, the quotidian, and everyday aspect of police work came to the fore, portrayed in minute detail. But the origins of Dragnet are shrouded in a good deal of contentious disputation, and it’s clear that series creator Jack Webb had a great deal of help in establishing the format for the show. Born in Santa Monica, CA on April 2, 1920, Webb never knew his father, Samuel Webb, who deserted Jack’s mother and filed for divorce shortly before Jack’s birth (Hayde 2001: 9). Samuel Webb then vanished completely from Jack’s life, swallowed up by the Depression, leaving Jack, his mother Margaret, and her mother Emma to get by as best they could (Hayde 2001: 9-10).

As a child, Jack Webb was plagued by a variety of debilitating illnesses, and thus forced to spend many hours in bed, where he compensated for his incapacity by becoming an omnivorous reader of books borrowed from the Public Library, or magazines scavenged from trash cans outside the family’s cramped apartment (Hayde 2001: 10). Indeed, Webb was so ill during his childhood that he was unable to walk up a flight of stairs, and had to be carried up by his mother; he didn’t start attending school until he was nine years old, simply because his health was so precarious (Hayde 2001: 10). After graduating from Belmont High School, where he put on variety shows and got his first exposure to the technical aspects of radio production, Webb then tried his hand at stand-up comedy, amazingly enough, and later worked as a disc jockey on The Coffee Club, assembling a voluminous record collection in the process, as well as creating and starring in a now-forgotten series entitled One Out of Seven, which was written by the future Dragnet co-creator Jim Moser, whom Webb met while working as a staff announcer at radio station KGO, San Francisco, (Hayde 2001: 11-12).

Indeed, in his early years, Webb’s career focus seemed scattered, yet his drive and determination were never in doubt. Growing up during the Depression, like many others, Webb found escape at the movies, and at one point became so enamored with Walt Disney’s production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) that he parlayed his nascent skill as an amateur cartoonist into a scholarship at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, and even applied to the Disney Studios for work as an animator. Webb dropped off his portfolio at Disney’s personally, convinced that his future lay in animation, yet amazingly forgot to include his return address. Predictably, Disney never got back to him (Hayde 2001: 11).

After that, Webb attended Los Angeles City College, creating the radio series A Half-Hour to Kill for the college’s radio station, an early attempt at a murder mystery. He also began spending his nights at jazz joints, where he met his future wife, singer Julie London, then worked in a steel mill before impulsively joining the Army Air Force, where he was assigned to a desk job as a clerk typist while directing USO variety shows on the side, eventually earning a dependency discharge in 1945, so he could work to support his ailing mother (Hayde 2001: 11). Desperate for cash, Webb worked as a bit actor in a variety of film roles in the late 1940s and early 1950s, in addition to playing the wise-cracking lead in Pat Novak, For Hire, a private eye radio series that ran for one season in 1946-1947.

Most notably during this period, Webb appeared in the role of an assistant director in Billy Wilder’s classic drama Sunset Boulevard (1950), but when he got the chance to play a bit role as a forensic crime lab technician in Alfred L. Werker and Anthony Mann’s noir classic, He Walked By Night (1948), he saw that the gritty style the film embraced offered a new approach to the detective genre – a new angle he had been looking for. Webb promptly appropriated the no-nonsense, documentary style of He Walked By Night to create the hit radio series Dragnet, right down to the “this is the city, Los Angeles, California” opening narration, and used the same deadpan, procedural approach in Dragnet that had worked so well in He Walked By Night. Dragnet was an immediate hit on radio, but Webb, who had been angling for a shot at the big time for decades, saw that radio was a dying medium.

With television rapidly draining away radio audiences, Webb saw that he had to make the jump to TV, and with the aid of director/editor Herbert L. Strock, Webb did just that. Strock helmed the prescient science-fiction feature Gog (1954), as well as numerous episodes of the early television series Highway Patrol, starring Academy Award winner Broderick Crawford. Strock was also a pioneer in the TV medium, directing the early teleseries The Cases of Eddie Drake, produced for CBS in 1949, but never aired until 1952, when the now-defunct Dumont Television Network picked up the series.

Yet if Strock had one personal failing, it was his inability to stand up for himself in the face of opposition, and so his credits as both director and editor fall into two distinct groups: projects on which he had a sympathetic and/or supportive producer, who left him alone to get the job done; and other projects, where he received little or no credit at all, despite significant contributions, because of his naturally self-effacing nature. Thus, on his credited directorial assignments, one can count television episodes of Bonanza, Maverick, Colt. 45, 77 Sunset Strip, Cheyenne, The Alaskans, Sky King, Sea Hunt, The Veil, Science Fiction Theater, I Led Three Lives, and other series; the Internet Movie Database credits Strock as Associate Producer on no fewer than three episodes of Dragnet, ending with the 11th installment in the series, “The Big September Man,” first broadcast on May 8, 1952.

Another significant uncredited assist Strock notched up was as the editor of Herk Harvey’s mesmeric fantasy film Carnival of Souls in 1962, along with work (credited or uncredited) on numerous other projects such as Curt Siodmak’s The Magnetic Monster (1953), Richard Carlson’s Riders to the Stars (1954), and as late as 1992, post-production supervisor on Wade Williams’ remake of Edgar G. Ulmer’s 1945 noir classic Detour (1992). So Strock certainly knew his way around a sound stage.

Webb, on the other hand, had never directed film or television before, and though he knew what he wanted, Webb needed Strock’s technical expertise to help bring his vision to life, and hired Strock to direct the pilot for the TV version of Dragnet. Shooting on sets that matched the interior of the Los Angeles Police Department down to the last detail, Webb and Strock’s Dragnet had a distinctive visual look (tight close-ups on the faces of the actors as they delivered their lines; mechanical, repetitive editing which cut on each line, waiting for the response from the other actor; the use of drab locations and equally utilitarian sets; flat, harsh lighting to give the series a documentary feel) that set it apart from other television series of the era.

Webb also insisted that all the actors in the series read their lines off TelePrompTers, thus eliminating rehearsals, and forcing the actors to read their lines with the robotic air that Webb wanted. Yet the collaboration between Strock and Webb was an uneasy one. When Webb felt confident enough to take over after watching Strock direct the pilot for the series – on which Strock received only an editorial credit – Webb summarily fired Strock in 1952 and directed the series himself, although the visual and editorial style the two men had co-created remained intact.

While Dragnet’s social and cultural vision is largely attributable to Jack Webb, Strock’s influence on the visual stylization of the series cannot be discounted. And indeed, Strock was there at the very beginning of the series, working alongside the demanding and deeply insecure Webb, who saw Dragnet as his one “make it or break it” shot at the big time. As Strock recounted in his autobiography, Picture Perfect,

“I was introduced to Jack Webb and Homer Canfield, the Dragnet radio producer at NBC, and was eventually employed as director and editor on the pilot of the original Dragnet television series. Because I had plunged into television with a smattering of knowledge of TV production, actors’ deals, photography, and techniques of the day, and because I had helped to form the Television Producers Association and aided in getting the Television Academy off to a start, I was hired by Jack Webb […]. I hired some of my crew from the Eddie Drake series and from feature productions, and we were off and running with Dragnet, which was a tremendous success.” (Strock 2000: 16)

However, the two men soon clashed; Webb was, in Strock’s view, “a lonely man, in constant search of someone to intimidate […] he would call me at all hours of the night, and demand that I meet him at the studio to discuss a problem that often did not really exist” (Strock 2000: 18). Webb’s shooting schedule was Draconian; as Strock notes, “we were virtually shooting around the clock and over […] holiday weekend[s]” (Strock 2000: 17). It was Strock who showed Webb how to give Dragnet its individual visual look that set it apart from other television series of the era. Surprisingly, despite the fact that the actors were simply reading their lines from TelePrompTers on the set during shooting rather than memorizing them, which should have saved time, the production pressure was relentless:

“For dramatic reasons, lines would sometimes be rewritten and have to be changed on all the various prompter sheets with large, permanent brush pens, which made reading more difficult. It was time consuming, but radio actors read lines, they don’t learn them, and most of the cast, in the earlier shows, came from radio. The tension on these shows was unbearable, and not just because of tight schedules and prompters. Webb was tough on everyone. […] I recognized his innate acting ability and quick mind. He was in his element when he was giving orders. In spite of his posturing, he was an extremely energetic and brilliant man and a fast learner. It didn’t take him long to decide to be star, producer, and director of the show, and he did it very well. In fact, when I finally decided I’d reached the end of my rope with him, he told me I was a damn good teacher who taught him too fast how to direct, and he would now direct his own shows.” (Strock 2000: 18)

The situation was ultimately untenable for Strock, who was essentially a gentle man, and no match for Webb’s authoritarian abrasiveness. The Dragnet saga had an ironic coda for Strock. As he recalls, “years later, when we accidentally met on a plane, [Webb] surprised me by saying he owed his success to me – praise that came a little late!” (Strock 2000: 18). Bleak, unrelenting, and highly stylized for all of its embrace of skid row realism, Dragnet mirrored the dark side of the Eisenhower era, and became an iconic milestone in television history.

Before the series went off the air in its first incarnation – it would be revamped by Webb in a desperate attempt to salvage his flagging career in 1966 with a TV movie that spanned a short lived, tone deaf revival of Dragnet from 1967 to 1970, 98 more episodes, this time in color – the original television series of Dragnet racked up no fewer than 276 half-hour episodes, effectively spanning the entire decade of the 1950s, from December 16, 1951 to August 23, 1959. At the same time, to wring every last possible dollar out of the franchise, Dragnet continued as a radio show from its original airdate of June 3, 1949 to February 26, 1957, even as the television series took firm hold of the nation’s consciousness.

The 1950s version of Dragnet was in many ways an “outlier” in the contemporary televisual landscape; easily burlesqued and imitated, there was still nothing else like it in terms of hard-nosed stylization, grimly procedural story lines, and, for the period, grimy authenticity. Just a look at some of the plot lines demonstrates just how out of sync Dragnet was in a world populated by the likes of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Donna Reed Show, Leave It to Beaver, and other enormously popular, family-oriented series of the era. Dragnet, in contrast, concentrated almost entirely on the downside of 1950s American existence; the misfits, psychos, drifters, conmen, and ne’er do wells who collectively comprised the series’ world. Dragnet’s world was the netherworld of American society; and every episode made it clear that only the LAPD was holding back the tide of scum that threatened to engulf Los Angeles, and by extension, the entire nation.

In “The Big Death” (January 17, 1952), an unsuspecting husband hires Joe Friday as a hit man to kill his wife; in “The Big Mother” (January 31, 1952), a newborn infant is abducted from a hospital by an unstable young woman, who is unable to have children herself; in “The Big Speech” (February 28, 1952), Friday delivers a lecture warning on the evils of drug addiction at his former high school, even as he tracks down a teenage hoodlum, who, seeking his next fix, beats up and robs a friendly druggist; in “The Big Blast” (April 10, 1952), which Webb both wrote and directed, a young mother is killed in her bed by a shotgun blast, as her infant son slumbers next to her; in “The Big September Man” (May 8, 1952), an unbalanced sociopath feels divinely inspired to kill “a sinner,” and his former fiancée is his most recent victim; in the justly infamous “.22 Rifle for Christmas” (December 18, 1952, Dragnet’s first “Christmas episode”), co-written by Moser and Webb, a young boy prematurely opens a Christmas gift – a .22 rifle – and accidentally kills one of his friends while playing with the rifle, subsequently hiding the young victim’s body in the brush on Christmas Eve.

In “The Big Lay Out” (April 16, 1953), a high school honor student becomes strung out on heroin; in “The Big Hands” (May 21, 1953), a young woman is found strangled to death in a cheap hotel room; in “The Big Nazi” (November 25, 1958), Friday uncovers a high school neo-Nazi ring; and on and on it goes, a parade of beatings, stabbings, murders, rapes, robberies, and wanton brutality that seems to have no end in sight, an unstoppable tidal wave of human greed, violence, and corruption (see Hayde 2001: 264-287). Compared to the 1960s version of the series, which kicked off with an unintentionally risible episode on the dangers of LSD – the “Blue Boy” episode, actually titled “The LSD Story,” first broadcast on January 12, 1967 – the 1950s version of Dragnet bristles with menace, energy, and simmering social disruption; no one even thinks of “Mirandizing” suspects, because, of course, no such law existed.

Instead, Joe Friday and his partner Frank Smith (Ben Alexander) sweat out an assortment of lowlifes, stoolies, drug addicts and convicted felons, quickly resorting to physical violence when even the slightest excuse to do so presents itself. Of course, in this, the original TV version of Dragnet effectively mirrors the racist, homophobic, and right-wing Los Angeles Police Department of the period, then under the direction of Chief W. H. Parker, who was similarly adrift in the 1960s, oblivious to the demands and concerns of a new generation, who were better educated, more independent, not afraid to challenge authority, and, as the decade progressed, almost universally opposed to the war in Vietnam.

For all intents and purposes, however, Strock’s work on the series seems to have been conscientiously erased, in one manner or another, but an assiduous search of the archives at the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences reveals two tantalizing pieces of information. Originally shot at Republic Studios, Daily Variety for January 7, 1952, lists Strock as the film editor for the series, as he is credited in “The Human Bomb” pilot episode, yet by February 11, 1952 – just one month later – Daily Variety records that Strock has been dropped from the series, and replaced by Robert Leeds. In addition, in their review of “The Human Bomb” printed on December 19, 1951, Weekly Variety failed, in a departure from their usually scrupulously complete credits for all the films and television shots they covered, to assign any editorial credit at all to the series, while writer Jim Moser and Webb are both prominently credited (“Jose” 1951: 27).

What makes all of this even more suspect – at least in my eyes – is that only two days earlier, in Daily Variety, on December 17, 1951, in another, unsigned review, Strock is given credit as “Associate Producer” on the pilot, which is certainly a few notches up from merely being the editor. Thus, having spoken personally with Strock at great length in a detailed telephone interview before his death on November 30, 2005, and also having reviewed not only the materials in the Margaret Herrick Library, but also in the Jack Webb Papers at UCLA, and taking into account Strock’s career path as a whole, I, for one, am inclined to believe his version of events. Strock was far from the only person whom Webb used and then summarily disposed in his march to the top of the Nielsen ratings.

Webb’s politics – he always insisted that Dragnet was entertainment, and not social engineering – leaned resolutely to the far right, and his impatience and intolerance with any differing points of view was shared equally by the character he played, and by the actor in real life. On the set, Webb was a classic bully, threatening actors and technicians, and, once the yoke of Joe Friday had been indelibly placed upon him, increasingly consumed by a desire to get the day’s shooting over as fast as possible, with episodes of the second iteration of Dragnet, such as “The Big Prophet” (January 11, 1968), essentially a half-hour tirade on the evils of drugs, being knocked off in less than one day of shooting, as Friday and Joe Gannon, his new partner (Harry Morgan), interrogate a Timothy Leary-esque messiah figure who espouses the “mind-expanding” use of LSD.

Where the black and white Dragnet episodes of the 1950s would often take three to four days to film, and involve numerous camera set ups and carefully designed lighting, camera movement, and narrative structures, “The Big Prophet” in fact was shot using only five camera setups for the entire half hour, in which the camera gazes in somnolent stupefaction as Friday delivers yet another of his patented “Jesus Speeches,” intended to set miscreants firmly on the path to law-abiding righteousness.

Sure enough, the 1967-1970 incarnation of Dragnet lasted only 3 years and 98 episodes; shot in garish, cheap color on garish, cheap sets, with “hotspots” abounding on the walls and doors, the series lacks both care and conviction – any attempt at authenticity has vanished. In the 1960s Dragnet, we’re left with a threadbare scold who doesn’t understand what’s going on in the world, doesn’t want to know, and much like Mitt Romney, would love to return to the 1950s forever, when gays were “sexual deviants” and women fit only to be fashion accessories or baby machines. Perhaps this is why the 1960s shows, which only marginally scraped by in their original network turn, found their largest and most enthusiastic audience when they were run as camp artifacts in the late 1980s on Nick at Nite. While the 1960s version of Dragnet was the product of a tired, irascible, out-of-touch reactionary, the 1950s version brought home the reality of American life in the 1950s like no other show before or since.

But Webb’s interaction with Herbert L. Strock in the early days of Dragnet is far from an isolated instance. For Jack Webb, having come up the hard way, and having appropriated so many ideas from others on his way to small-screen stardom, was well known to use people in the most brutally ruthless fashion as long as they could help him, and then discard them, without a backward glance. Not only was he tough on his crews and actors in Dragnet; he was equally rough on his business partners. To get Dragnet off the ground as a radio series, Webb had required the assistance of agent Robert Rosenberg, who, in fact, owned the series outright, while Webb was merely a salaried employee.

Needless to say, Webb wasn’t happy about this, and he refused to sign any contracts to bring Dragnet to television with NBC until he gained full ownership of the series. Rosenberg, erroneously reasoning that Webb needed Dragnet more than Dragnet needed Webb – in short, that Webb could be replaced with another actor/director – refused to sell out. Thus began an intricate game of brinksmanship, the details of which are still somewhat obscure to this day, in which series producer Michael Meshekoff somehow talked Rosenberg into signing over ownership to Webb, who then promptly fired Rosenberg, who immediately sued him for $300,000 in damages (Hayde 2001: 40-41).

With NBC and sponsor Liggett & Myers on his side, Webb now had the upper hand, and Rosenberg settled out of court, while Mike Meshekoff, who had worked for the agency headed by Rosenberg, resigned to become Dragnet’s new producer (Hayde 2001: 41). As payback for Meshekoff’s help in pulling off this coup, Webb offered the erstwhile agent 25% of the show, which Meshekoff accepted, while Rosenberg was reduced to a mere $625 per week of the series’ net profits – now he, not Webb, was the salaried employee (Hayde 2001: 41). But manifestations of Webb’s inherent insecurity continued to pop up. When Webb was in final negotiations with NBC for the Dragnet television pilot, he suddenly insisted that he was wrong for the leading role of Joe Friday, and suggested that veteran actor Lloyd Nolan play the role. NBC wouldn’t hear of it; Webb was Joe Friday, whether he liked it or not; and if he wanted to direct the series, they’d give him a shot, but only if he also took on the leading role. Reluctantly, Webb, who was afraid he was spreading himself too thin, acquiesced to the network’s demands (Hayde 2001: 41).

This was not the end of the off-screen turmoil. In 1954, as Lucanio and Coville recount, Webb now moved against Meshekoff, whom he now regarded as a “moneyman,” not a creative person, as Webb thought himself to be, replacing him with Stanley Meyer, who immediately began negotiations for a big-screen feature version of Dragnet, which came out in 1954 (Lucanio and Coville 1993b: 80). Nor was this the only legal or personal battle Webb faced in 1954; on November 25th, his divorce from Julie London became final, with Webb being required to pay alimony, child support of the couple’s two daughters, as well as $500,000 in a property settlement.

Significantly, not only did Webb not contest the ruling; he wasn’t even present in court, as he was busy wrapping up shooting on the Dragnet episode “The Big Gangster” at the time, and obviously work came first (Hayde 2001: 75). During the same period, Webb gave an uncharacteristically unvarnished interview on the split with both Rosenberg and Meshekoff, in which he griped “what the hell have they [Rosenberg and Meshekoff] done since they left me? You just show me their track records […] some of these money men even tell me they create, too. They don’t create as much as the worst bit actor in the show” (as qtd. in Lucanio and Coville 1993b: 80).

Shortly after this, Jim Moser, who had been the principal writer, and in many respects not only the narrative, but also the ideological architect of the series’ bleak worldview (only the police are competent; average citizens are either incompetent or obstructions to police work; criminals permeate every level of society, and are at constant war with the common good – in short, rampant Cold War era paranoia), got into a heated argument with Webb over Moser’s freelancing work, in particular Moser’s scripts for the new hospital drama Medic, starring Richard Boone, which Webb viewed as direct competition to Dragnet; further, Webb accused Moser of appropriating Dragnet’s flat, matter-of-fact style, in his scripts for Medic, to bring a new degree of realism to the series, which was indeed a healthy departure from the Dr. Kildare vision of the medical profession (Lucanio and Coville 1993b: 80).

What made the situation more peculiar was that Moser had pitched Medic to Webb’s Mark VII Productions as a possible series, but Webb, surprisingly, was convinced that a hospital drama would be too grim to attract a mass audience (Hayde 2001: 102). Webb was wrong; Medic, despite being slotted by NBC directly opposite I Love Lucy, lasted for two full seasons, 1954 to 1956, and was lauded by the critics, but when it folded, Moser found himself drawn back into Dragnet’s monolithic production machine, along with Medic’s producer, Frank La Tourette (Hayde 2001: 102).

Nevertheless, at the time, the feud between Webb and Moser was hot copy for the trade journals (Lucanio and Coville 1993b: 80), and relations between Webb and Moser were indeed strained; so much so that on Friday, December 18, 1954, Moser filed suit against Mark VII Productions for back pay on no fewer than 47 radio scripts that Moser had written for the radio version of Dragnet, which then had been recycled for scripts for the TV series. Moser had only been paid for the use of 19 of the 47 screenplays, and sued for $9,100. The matter was almost immediately settled out of court, but the acrimonious atmosphere between the two men persisted; Webb was simply driving Moser too hard, and jealous of any “outside” projects he might pursue (Hayde 2001: 78).

Now, with the series firmly established, Webb had a final move to make, which allowed him to cash in on Dragnet’s popularity, and make a fortune overnight. As the 89th episode, “The Big Crime,” about the abduction and sexual molestation of twin girls, age four, by an “alcoholic delivery man,” who later admits he would have killed them both had not Friday and his partner, Frank Smith (Ben Alexander) apprehended him, wrapped production on December 23, 1954, and Webb, under doctor’s orders, decamped to Hawaii for a month’s vacation to recuperate from his round-the-clock work on the series, the actor/director was preparing for his biggest coup of all: selling out all rights to the television version of Dragnet to MCA (the Music Corporation of America) for a cool $5 million in cash (Hayde 2001: 78-79).

Dragnet was now a very hot property indeed. The big-screen movie version from Warner Bros. (in color) was in the offing, and NBC further affirmed their faith in the continuing pull of the series on December 28, 1954, with an order for an unprecedented 95 additional episodes (Hayde 2001: 79). Whether he liked it or not – and there is ample evidence that Webb was growing weary of the Joe Friday straitjacket – Dragnet had become an unstoppable, seemingly endless franchise. Privately, Webb hoped that he would be able to take a hiatus from Dragnet to launch a television series based on his 1951 radio series Pete Kelly’s Blues, starring as a trumpet player in 1920s Kansas City. In what little downtime was available to him, Webb was an inveterate fan of New Orleans jazz – a holdover from his turbulent youth – and he saw this new show as a way to expand his horizons.

There had been 13 radio episodes of Pete Kelly in 1951; now, Webb wanted to translate Pete Kelly to the small screen, but the unceasing demands of Dragnet proved overwhelming. Webb directed and starred in a 1955 feature film based on the old radio scripts, also entitled Pete Kelly’s Blues, in which Lee Marvin acted Webb off the screen, and in 1959 finally brought Pete Kelly to television for a 13-episode run; both critical and audience response was tepid. Whether he wanted to accept it or not, Jack Webb was hopelessly typecast; the public wanted him as Joe Friday, or they didn’t want him at all.

Back in Los Angeles, attorneys for Mark VII Productions and MCA hammered out a final deal for the TV rights to Dragnet on the last day of the year, December 31, 1954. The MCA deal was both straightforward and complex. For $5 million, MCA got all rights to Dragnet as a television show, both all episodes so far produced, as well as all episodes to come, with Webb receiving an additional $100,000 a year in salary and royalties, as well as retaining complete creative control over the series through Mark VII Productions, extending into perpetuity (which is why when the series was re-launched in 1967, it remained firmly in the hands of MCA/Universal, as the company later became known) (Hayde 2001: 79). Additionally, MCA set up an entirely separate arm of their television production unit, Sherry TV, exclusively to manage both Dragnet and Badge 714, as the series was known in syndication – with more than enough episodes in the can, it was time to cash in on the nationwide “network” of independent television stations with reruns as Badge 714, while the network version, Dragnet, continued on its course until 1959 (Hayde 2001: 79).

With the paperwork finalized, Meshekoff, long departed from the show, yet still the owner of 25% of Mark VII Productions, sold out to MCA, who immediately sold the 25% back to Webb as part of the overall deal. In the end, Meshekoff got roughly $2 million for his interest in Mark VII, by holding out until the MCA deal was finalized; Stanley Meyer, who had set up a deal with Warner Bros. for the Dragnet feature, got out with $1.25 million; Webb walked away with $2.5 million (Hayde 2001: 79). Webb no longer owned Dragnet, but he had fulfilled his initial ambition; he was now a millionaire. That’s all he ever wanted, and now he had achieved his goal. The rest of his life, for all intents and purposes, would be a postscript.

Wheeler Winston Dixon is the Ryan Professor of Film Studies, Coordinator of the Film Studies Program, Professor of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and Editor in Chief, with Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, of the Quarterly Review of Film and Video. His newest books are Death of the Moguls: The End of Classical Hollywood (Rutgers University Press, 2012); 21st Century Hollywood: Movies in the Era of Transformation (co-authored with Gwendolyn Audrey Foster; Rutgers University Press, 2011); A History of Horror (Rutgers University Press, 2010), Film Noir and the Cinema of Paranoia (Edinburgh University Press/Rutgers University Press, 2009), and A Short History of Film (co-authored with Gwendolyn Audrey Foster; Rutgers University Press, 2008; revised 2nd edition published 2013). His blog, Frame by Frame, can be found here and a series of videos by Dixon on film history, theory and criticism, also titled Frame by Frame, can be found here. His newest projects include the just completed Streaming: Movies, Media and Instant Access, forthcoming from University Press of Kentucky in May 2013.

Works Cited and Consulted

Anderson, Christopher (1994), Hollywood TV: The Studio System in the Fifties, Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press.

Dixon, Wheeler Winston (2005), Lost in the Fifties: Recovering Phantom Hollywood, Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP.

Dixon, Wheeler Winston (2004), Telephone interview with Herbert L. Strock, January 20.

Doherty, Thomas (2005), Cold War, Cool Medium: Television, McCarthyism, and American Culture, New York: Columbia UP.

“Dragnet” (review) (1951), Daily Variety, December 17, p. 7.

Foster, Frederick (1954), “Filming the Dragnet TV Show,” American Cinematographer, April, pp. 188-189, 198-200.

Hayde, Michael J. (2001), My Name’s Friday: The Unauthorized but True Story of Dragnet and the Films of Jack Webb, Nashville, TN: Cumberland House.

“Jose.” (pseud). (1951), “Dragnet (review),” Weekly Variety, December 19, p. 27.

Lucanio, Patrick and Gary Coville (1993a), “Behind Badge 714: The Story of Jack Webb and Dragnet (Part One),” Filmfax, August-September, pp. 51-61, 98.

Lucanio, Patrick and Gary Coville (1993b), “Behind Badge 714: The Story of Jack Webb and Dragnet (Part Two)”, Filmfax, October-November, pp. 37-42, 78-80, 82, 96-98.

Moyer, Daniel and Eugene Alvarez (2001), Just the Facts, Ma’am: The Authorized Biography of Jack Webb, Santa Ana, California: Seven Locks Press.

Strock, Herbert L. (2000), Picture Perfect, Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.

“TV-Film Production Chart,” Daily Variety, January 7, 1952, p. 9.

“TV-Film Production Chart,” Daily Variety, February 11, 1952, p. 9.

The author wishes to thank Kristine Krueger of the Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for her help in researching this article; and Yasmin Damshenas for her research in the Jack Webb Papers, housed at the UCLA Library.

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