Wednesday, December 22, 2021

"My Name Is Friday..."

      Joe Friday, that is.  I'm back to lulling myself to sleep with episodes of the original Dragnet radio drama, created by Jack Webb, who starred as Sergeant Friday throughout the various incarnations of the series.

      The fictional detective's career spanned twenty-one years.  Webb was working on bringing Dragnet and Joe Friday back to TV when he was killed by a heart attack at the age of 62.

      The character was criticized as being a bit wooden and old-fashioned, especially in the final incarnation of the series in the late 1960s.  But Webb was a stickler for realism and the serious, chain-smoking WW II veteran, whose deadpan observations often skirted humor, is very like some of the engineers I worked with early in my career: focused on facts, emotionally a bit distant, diligently intent on getting things to work out.

      With the sound of competent adults on the job, I can begin an episode and nod off, confident that Joe and his partner will bring the case to a successful conclusion.  It can take me two or three nights to get all the way through a half-hour, even though they're often action-packed or suspenseful.  This probably goes back to childhood, when my parents would send the children to bed and stay up to watch Perry Mason or Chrysler Theatre,* and I'd fall asleep to the sound of distant voices.

      The first few radio dramas use complex storytelling techniques -- flashback, fading from narration to fully acted scene, and so on -- and a much more expanded version of the introduction.  Jack Webb wanted a starker, more realistic drama, and the style he would be known for emerges over the first year, a little at a time.  It's interesting to observe; paring away excess to leave only the essentials may look simple but it is not as easy as layering on more and more.

      Recording quality varies considerably and the subtler nuances of background are often lost, but the stories and acting hold up well and Friday's personality comes through strongly.

      In a world gone a bit mad, it's a breath of sanity; grim, perhaps, but sane nevertheless.
* Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, complete with a rolling Pentastar logo in the opening. It was an anthology series with a very wide range of material, from comedy to a dramatization of "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich."  I don't think I ever saw an entire show.


RHT447 said...

Thought you might enjoy this--Leonard Nimoy discusses appearing on Dragnet.

markshere2 said...

"My Name Is Friday..."

I flashed on a Heinlein novel..

Dragnet was Ok, but only about 5% as good as Heinlein.

New Jovian Thunderbolt said...

I need to start queuing up the Pod with those myself, soon. After all the Jimmy Stewart Six Shooter, Bogie and Bacall Bold Venture, and Rathbone and Bruce Holmes eps are burned through.

Anonymous said...

CBS radio's 'Mystery Theater' in the mid-70s got me hooked. 10 PM showtime meant I could drift off to sleep listening to it...