just the facts, ma’am

For this issue, I decided to write about Jack Webb and my experience working with him on the television series Dragnet. The year was 1954 and I was cast as a little girl living with her grandfather. In the episode, they are robbed, and my character is the one who goes to the police to report the theft.

The episode was called “The Big Pair.” Interestingly, every episode was titled “The Big” something or other, and yet the TV audience never actually saw the name of the episode. They would just see the word “Dragnet” on their screen.

Jack Webb was the director of this particular episode and he was as nice as could be. So was Ben Alexander who played Sergeant Friday’s sidekick, Officer Frank Smith.

Although I have no idea what “The Big Pair” ever meant, working on that show was a dream come true for me. I also learned that each episode was based on an actual case from the Los Angeles Police Department.

My name in the episode was Ruthie Snyder, but I never knew the real name of the little girl involved in the actual LAPD case. You probably remember, the show always advised at the beginning, “The story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.”

What was fascinating to me at the time was when I arrived on the set and saw a contraption on wheels that I had never seen before. It was a teleprompter!

Because Jack Webb worked so hard every day, he really didn’t want to bother memorizing his lines, so he read from the teleprompter—which, of course, was out of the camera’s view. This is why Jack Webb had such a choppy, unemotional delivery of his lines—but it worked for his character and he became famous for his delivery of, “Just the facts, Ma’am.”

One of my fondest memories for years, and up until the time of his death, was of the Christmas cards he would send me. Each year, it was the same: closely resembling a white business card with the logo “Mark VII Limited”—the name of his production company embossed on it. It simply said “Season’s Greetings…Jack Webb.” I will treasure those cards forever.

Jack died of a heart attack in 1982 at the age of 62 while he was in the midst of negotiating a new Dragnet series. He was given full police honors and his badge—number 714—was actually retired by the police department.

Until next time, remember, “Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.”

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