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Jack Webb as Joe Friday in Dragnet
|First appearance||Dragnet (1949)|
|Last appearance||Dragnet (2003)|
|Created by||Jack Webb|
|Portrayed by||Jack Webb (1949–59, 1967–70)|
Ed O'Neill (2003–04)
|Occupation||Los Angeles police officer|
Joe Friday is a fictional character created (and portrayed) by Jack Webb as the lead for his series Dragnet. Friday is portrayed as a detective in the Los Angeles Police Department. The character first appeared on June 3, 1949 in the premiere of the NBC radio drama that launched the series. Webb played the character on radio and later television from 1949–1959 and again from 1967–1970, also appearing as Friday in a 1954 theatrical release and a 1966 made-for-TV film.
Over the earlier run of the series, Friday was partnered with Sgt. Ben Romero (Barton Yarborough), Sgt. Ed Jacobs (Barney Phillips), and then (for the rest of the radio run as well as the 1954 film and the 1951 television series) Officer Frank Smith (first Herbert Ellis, then Ben Alexander). For the 1960s revival, Friday's partner was Officer Bill Gannon (Harry Morgan).
During the 1958–59 season, Friday was promoted to Lieutenant, but when the show was revived in 1967, he was again a Sergeant without any on-screen explanation; Webb later explained that in the real LAPD, the Lieutenant rank is a supervisory position and involved less investigatory time in the field, which would change the structure of the show.
Friday narrated every story, providing details in voiceover of what happened and where. He had several bits of consistent dialogue that remained throughout the series.
The opening narration in the original 1951–59 TV series remained brief and straightforward: "This is the city, Los Angeles, California... I work here... I'm a cop." What followed was the introduction of the story's plot: "It was [day of the week and date], it was [weather conditions] in Los Angeles; we were working the [day|night] watch out of [police division]. The boss is [name]. My partner's [Ben Romero|Frank Smith|Bill Gannon]. My name's Friday." In many openings from episodes of the 1967–70 revival series Friday would add assorted details about Los Angeles ranging from its geography and history to its landmarks and population, the latter of which would often lead to observations about how most of the people are good while some go bad, leading to the phrase "That's when I go to work; I carry a badge".
"Just the facts, ma'am" is a common catchphrase often attributed to Friday, or less often, to Stan Freberg's works parodying Dragnet. But neither used the exact phrase. While Friday typically used the phrase "All we want are the facts, ma'am" when questioning women in the course of police investigations, Freberg's spoof changed the line slightly to "I just want to get the facts, ma'am".
Friday carried a regulation .38 snub-nose version Smith & Wesson Model 10 revolver while Gannon had a four-inch .38 Smith & Wesson Model 15 revolver. In the 1968 episode "The Shooting Board", Joe Friday states that in his 12-year career as a police officer he had only had to unholster his service gun three times, and had to "drop the hammer on a man" twice, including in that episode; he had stopped off at an all-night laundromat to purchase a pack of cigarettes when he caught someone attempting to slip-wire a change machine and exchanged gunfire with him, killing him (and falling under investigation as there were no other witnesses in the laundromat to corroborate his story that he had been fired upon and returned fire). However, this contradicts the original TV series, and the radio series, several episodes of which depicted Friday getting involved in shootouts, including at least one, "The Big Break," first broadcast on March 19, 1953, which took place over the course of a year, and included two shootouts in the same episode.
In his private life, Friday mostly kept to himself and maintained a low social profile. Like Webb, Friday was an Army veteran and a chain smoker, but in contrast Friday was a confirmed bachelor which often did not go unnoticed by his partners who regularly but futilely advised Friday to marry and settle down. In the original series Friday lived with his mother, but later lived alone in a small apartment. In contrast, two of his most prominent partners, Frank Smith and Bill Gannon, were married with children.
Friday's birth date was given as April 2 (the same as Webb's) in the 1969 episode "Community Relations", but this is in conflict with that given in the 1954 radio episode "Big Shock", where his partner attempts to give Joe a birthday present of fleece-lined slippers, when Friday informs him that his birthday is August 30, not March 30.
When the original Dragnet went into syndication, the show was renamed "Badge 714", so named for Joe Friday's police badge. A recurring myth was that Jack Webb chose the number 714 because he was a fan of Babe Ruth, who slugged 714 home runs during his career, but it was later asserted in TV commentator Michael J. Hayde's book My Name's Friday that Webb originally wanted the badge number to be "777", tripling the lucky number 7, but decided instead to add the last two digits together to get "14", thus making the badge number "714".
The badge that Friday carried as a lieutenant during the final season of the 1951–59 series was ultimately used in real life by LAPD officer Dan Cooke. As a sergeant, Cooke had been assigned to be the LAPD's liaison with Webb during the production of the 1967–70 series. Just before filming started on the TV-movie that became the pilot for the revived series, Cooke found the badge that the LAPD had lent to Webb in 1958–59 season. However, Webb informed Cooke that he wanted Friday to be a sergeant in the revived series, and, consequently, would not need the lieutenant's badge from the original show. Cooke put the unused badge in a desk drawer and forgot about it. Years later, after being promoted to lieutenant himself, Cooke found the badge and asked for permission to use it.
When Jack Webb died in 1982, LAPD Chief Darryl Gates officially retired Badge 714; Webb was also buried with full police honors, a rarity for a non-policeman.
Dragnet and spinoff Adam-12 were the only television shows to use actual LAPD badges.
In the show's heyday, people would regularly visit the LAPD asking to speak to Sgt. Friday. The official response given by the front desk was, "Sorry, it's Joe's day off."
Three Stooges parody
The Three Stooges, (Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Shemp Howard) performed a 28 minute parody of Dragnet entitled the “Blunder Boys”. After graduating with the lowest honors at criminology school, the stooges join the police force, and they track down a wanted criminal known as the Eel.
Dan Aykroyd starred as Joe Friday, namesake and nephew of the original, in the 1987 comedy adaptation film Dragnet. Harry Morgan reprised his television role as Bill Gannon, now Captain, and Tom Hanks appeared as Friday's partner Pep Streebek.
Ed O'Neill starred as Joe Friday in Wolf Films' 2003 revival of Dragnet. Since LAPD had discontinued the rank of Detective Sergeant, replacing it with the rank of Detective Three, or D-3, the rank banner on Friday's badge now said "Detective" instead of "Sergeant," and Friday was referred to as "Detective Friday" instead of "Sergeant Friday." During the first season of the series, Friday's partner was named "Frank Smith," but unlike the character played by Alexander and Ellis on the original series, this Frank Smith, as played by Ethan Embry, was not an experienced, veteran officer, but a young detective being mentored by Friday. On one episode of this show, Friday actually spoke the phrase, "Just the facts."
Sgt. Ben Romero (Barton Yarborough) (Radio & Television)
Sgt. Ed Jacobs (Barney Phillips) (Radio & Television)
Det. Bill Lockwood (Martin Milner/Ken Peters) (Radio)
Off. Frank Smith (Ben Alexander, Ethan Embry, Harry Bartell, Herb Ellis, Vic Perrin) (Radio, Television & Film)
Off. Bill Gannon (Harry Morgan) (Television & Film)
Det. Pep Streebeck (Tom Hanks) (Film)