Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A Matter of Graves Importance...

On Saturday of this week (8/19/17), yours truly will be turning "The Big 5-0!" Suddenly it seems I'll have gone from looking for a daddy to being considered one. (Actually, this transference has been taking place over time for a while now...) My hair is now probably 75% white (!) and I might be quite upset by that were it not for the fact that a) I've always loathed my natural hair color, b) I'm grateful to have hair at all and c) I've always liked tan, blue-eyed silver foxes, so hope springs eternal that I might be one myself perchance! Ha ha!  One of my chief crushes in this category was today's featured actor, Peter Graves.

Graves embarked on an acting career in the early-1950s, but really didn't hit his stride until the late-1960s when he became the face of a highly-popular and enduring television series. Then, when his time in the spotlight had passed, he found a new second-career in a sort of reality television (though not the reality television that pollutes our airwaves today.)

Peter Dueslar Aurness was born on March 18th, 1926 in Minneapolis, Minnesota to a Norwegian father Rolf and a German-English mother Ruth. Peter was the second child born to the medical supply salesman and his newspaper columnist wife, the first born being James three years prior. The strapping, athletic, Nordic boys would grow up to be remarkably tall, with Peter hitting 6' 3-1/2" and James a towering 6' 7".

When WWII broke out, James was drafted into the U.S. Army (his dreams of being a naval fighter pilot dashed because he was 5" too tall for the duty.) He suffered a severe leg injury during the Battle of Anzio, earning him a Purple Heart along with a lifetime of nagging leg pain. Peter joined the U.S. Air Force after high school and then used the G.I. Bill to attend the University of Minnesota following the war.

Both young men had an interest in radio announcing and pursued that at one time or another. Peter in high school and James after the war. In time, James hitchhiked to Hollywood and sought work as a film extra, landing a featured role in The Farmer's Daughter in 1947 that led to more acting work. Before too long, in 1951, Peter followed to sunny California and, not wanting to become confused with his brother (now known as James Arness), he took another family name and emerged as Peter Graves.

Already married in 1950 to Joan Endress, young Graves won roles in Up Front, the westerns Rogue River (as Rory Calhoun's step-brother) and Fort Defiance (as Dan Clark's blind brother) and, appropriately enough, the part of a radio announcer in Angels in the Outfield. The handsome twenty-four year-old Graves is seen here during a break in filming of Fort Defiance with Tracey Roberts.
Now starting to achieve steady work as an actor, Graves received first billing in the low-budget sci-fi oriented Red Planet Mars, playing a scientist who is getting radio transmissions from Mars with instructions on how to achieve peace on Earth! (He's seen with costar Andrea King here.)

1953 was a very busy year for Graves, though he was already working more in supporting roles rather than being granted leads, albeit in higher grade pictures such as Stalag 17 (starring William Holden in his Oscar-winning part) and Beneath the 12-Mile Reef (as antagonist to young Robert Wagner and Terry Moore.) Shown below is costar Gilbert Roland taking exception to Graves' attitude.
He also supported Robert Stack in the western War Paint and was one of several actors darting around East of Sumatra (note a young Earl Holliman in this photo), a movie which starred Jeff Chandler, Marilyn Maxwell and Anthony Quinn.

When he did earn the lead in a film, it was usually a low-rung sci-fi piece such as 1954's Killers from Space, in which he played a doctor kidnapped by aliens (and apparently operated on by them!), having to convince disbelieving authorities that there is a pending invasion of giant monsters. As you can see, his lean torso was frequently bared for the screen.

He also supported Rory Calhoun again in The Yellow Toma- hawk, worked alongside Van Heflin and Anne Bancroft in The Raid (seen here with Heflin and Lee Marvin) and costarred with Edward G. Robinson in Black Tuesday. There, the two played death row convicts who escape from prison just prior to their execution. All along, Graves was also making appearances on then-popular anthology TV series such as Chevron Theatre, Schlitz Playhouse, Fireside Theatre and The Pepsi-Cola Playhouse.

1955 continued in the same vein with featured roles in quite a few movies. Robbers' Roost was a revenge western starring George Montgomery and with Richard Boone (seen here), Wichita starred Joel McCrea and Vera Miles, The Naked Street starred Farley Granger, Anne Bancroft and Anthony Quinn and The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell starred Gary Cooper.

There was also that same year, The Long Gray Line with Tyrone Power and Maureen O'Hara, directed by John Ford, and The Night of the Hunter, with Robert Mitchum, very effectively directed by Charles Laughton in his only attempt at doing so in a feature film. Graves played a convict whose hidden loot causes plenty of trouble for his wife and children from the deranged Mitchum.
Graves also landed the lead in the low-budget western Fort Yuma, a cavalry versus Indians yarn with little to distinguish it from countless others like it.

In 1955, Graves began filming the TV western Fury, the title referring to a fifteen-hands high horse. Graves played a rancher with an adopted son played by Bobby Diamond who enjoyed a special bond with the horse. The youth-aimed show filmed for five seasons and ran through 1960, with reruns airing beyond that.

Also in 1955, Graves brother Arness began what would become a legendary run on Gunsmoke as Marshall Matt Dillon, enjoying a rather unspoken love for Miss Kitty, played by Amanda Blake. The western ran for twenty seasons and lives on today in reruns. Arness' unusual gait in the show - strained further by horseback mounting and riding - was a result of that old WWII injury at Anzio.

As for Graves, he also got the lead in 1956's It Conquered the World, as another scientist having to fend off an alien when disgruntled fellow doc Lee Van Cleef invites it to Earth to wreak havoc. Other roles in Hold Back the Night (with John Payne, shown here) and Canyon River (with George Montgomery) came to him that same year.

Graves is shown here with Underworld favorite Constance Ford in a 1956 episode of The Millionaire, in which he plays a struggling artist whose wife has faith in him though her mother protests otherwise.

In between the filming of Fury, Graves still managed to occasionally star in a film, such as with Bayou in 1957, in which he played a New York architect in love with a Cajun gal amid much local tension.

There was also The Beginning of the End, in which he and Peggy Castle had to fend off giant grass- hoppers (!) that were created on an experimental farm outside Chicago, Illinois. More down to earth was Death in Small Doses in which he played a U.S. agent investigating drug use and trafficking amongst long-haul truck drivers (shown here with Mala Powers.)

In 1958, he costarred with Barry Sullivan in Wolf Larsen, a remake of the earlier Edward G. Robinson film The Sea Wolf. This was followed in 1959 by a supporting part in the soapy Stranger in My Arms, starring June Allyson and Jeff Chandler. He played a deceased soldier whose story was revealed in flashback (and whose mother was played by Mary Astor.)

Graves would remain busy on television for several years after this, with no feature films on his resume until 1965. He went to Australia to film a season of the western stagecoach series Whiplash, popped up on Route 66, worked on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour with Albert Salmi, played a congressman on the TV version of The Farmer's Daughter and guest-starred on The Virginian, among others.
In 1965 came A Rage to Live, one of those sudsy Warner Brothers stories about nympho- maniacal Suzanne Pleshette dividing her time between Bradford Dillman, Ben Gazzara and Graves. You can check it all out right here! His long-suffering wife in the film was played by Bethel Leslie.
By this time he was costarring on another show, Court Martial, with one of his fellow Rage actors, Bradford Dillman. The two JAG lawyers traveled the globe investigating various crimes. The series only lasted one season. In the meantime, he guested on Run for Your Life, Daniel Boone, The F.B.I., The Invaders and other shows.
He appeared with Dean Martin and Alain Delon in the western romp Texas Across the River in 1966 and the following year was selected to play Doris Day's leading man in her latest confection, The Ballad of Josie. The cattle-rancher versus sheep-farmer frolic was among the least favorite of Day's films, though she liked the people working on it with her. (Her husband had signed her to the project without discussing it with her first!)
In what was a rarity for him, Graves directed an episode of Gunsmoke, his brother's series, though oddly enough it was one in which the focus was on Milburn Stone and Ken Curtis and not Arness. Though Graves was still making the odd feature film, he was asked to take on another lead role on television. He was somewhat reluctant to do so since he was beginning to win bigger and better roles again after a fallow period, but ultimately he said yes. It would wind up being his lifelong claim to fame.

Mission: Impossible hit the airwaves in 1966 starring Steven Hill, Greg Morris, Martin Landau, Barbara Bain and Peter Lupus. After 28 episodes the first season, Hill parted ways from the show when his religious beliefs prevented him from working the hours that were scheduled for the complicated spy program. Graves came on as his replacement (without any sort of acknowledgement in the story) and stayed for the duration.
One episode had him falling for an enemy agent played by Joan Collins. Their bit of romance was uncharacteristic for the show, which generally downplayed personal feeling in lieu of complex strategy, precise planning and mechanical marvels.

As the IMF (Impossible Missions Force) leader, it fell upon Graves each week to discretely locate the a tape recording of his instructions along with an envelope containing photos of key players. Thereafter the tape would "self-destruct in five seconds" and he would select the team for the job (though there was usually precious little variance in who was brought on board the mission.)
The second and third seasons of Mission contain the most iconic collection of performers on the show: Graves, Bain, Landau, Morris and Lupus. At the close of this season, Bain and Landau departed and the core team was all-male. Graves, Morris and Lupus were joined by Leonard Nimoy and an assortment of female agents made appearances along the way.
The fifth season went in an entirely new direction with young Lesley Ann Warren being brought in as the regular female component of the IMF. Despite her doing good work on the show, the fit was never really right and she was soon off the series as well. (Humpy Sam Elliott, who had also joined the show during this time, but was never properly utilized, also hit the road rather quickly.) Nimoy also departed at the end of this season. (Somehow he looks better than ever in these pics with Warren! Love that waxy, tan face! LOL)
For the sixth and seventh seasons (the last), Lynda Day George was brought in as the female agent, though pregnancy required her to be replaced for a time with Barbara Anderson. During all these incarnations of the show, Graves, Morris (and to a lesser degree, thanks to the producers having attempted to write him out) Lupus remained a constant. Graves directed one episode in season seven, marking the second and final time he took on that duty.
In its day, Mission: Impossible was "must see TV" and was considered one of the most stylish and intelligent of drama programs then airing. It was helped in no small part by the exhilarating theme music of Lalo Schifrin. In 1969, Graves was nominated for an Emmy in the role of Jim Phelps, but lost to Carl Betz of Judd for the Defense. Twice he was nominated for, but lost, Golden Globe awards for Mission (losing to Betz in Judd for the Defense again and Mike Connors in Mannix), but finally won one in 1971.
The very buttoned-up show generally provided little in the way of beefcake (even though Lupus had been a bikini-clad bodybuilder prior to his hiring!), but every great once in a while there might be a brief flash of skin such as in the 1971 season six episode "Underwater" in which the forty-five year old Graves rocked a blue and white-striped Speedo!
The show having ended in 1973, Graves would proceed to a variety of TV-movies to stay active. The President's Plane is Missing (with Buddy Ebsen), Scream of the Wolf (opposite Clint Walker), the detective show pilot The Underground Man and Where Have All the People Gone? kept him in the public eye. He'd also done things as "himself" such as hosting the 1971 CBS Thanksgiving Day Parade with Julie Sommars, as seen here.

He returned to Australia, a favorite locale of his, for the low-budget Sidecar Racers (starring Ben Murphy) with more of the same TV fare back home like Dead Man on the Run (with Pernell Roberts) and SST: Death Flight (with everyone and his grandpa!) The highly unlikely The Gift of the Magi, a TV musical, cast him as O. Henry while John Rubinstein and and Debby Boone played the young marrieds of the famed story.

By now, Graves was solidified as a stalwart, very-straight male lead in many TV-movies or low-budget features, often playing fathers, doctors, secret agents and the like with only an occasional variance (such as the highly-obscure Spree, 1979, in which he was a coolly vicious drug peddler tormenting a group of teens) or the 1979 miniseries The Rebel, in which he portrayed George Washington.

As the decade drew to a close, he was still working in low-budget fare like The Clonus Horror, taking part in showy telefilms such as The Memory of Eva Ryker (with Natalie Wood) and guest-starring on TV in shows such as Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. But his reputation as a rather stone-faced, all-purpose leading man was about to be tossed on its side.

In 1980, Graves was handed a script which he felt was the worst piece of junk he'd ever read (and that was saying something!) However, after meeting with the young filmmakers who had devised the project, he realized how stupidly brilliant the movie could be. Airplane! was a wild spoof of all the jetliner disaster movies that had begun back in the 1950s (Zero Hour, 1956, being the particular target) and had proliferated all during the '70s with Airport and its sequels.

Graves, with pretty much the same genial, straight-laced demeanor he'd brought to so many other programs, played an airline pilot who is, in fact, a not very discreet pedophile! As a young boy visits the cockpit (something that was once a staple of luxury air travel, often resulting in a souvenir plane to take home), Graves asks him a series of hysterical leading questions like, "Joey, have you ever been in a Turkish prison?," "You ever seen a grown man naked?" or "Do you like movies about gladiators?"

He was perfect in the part and was joined by other actors of a similar ilk such as Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges and Leslie Nielsen (the latter two, in particular, capitalizing to a great degree on this newfound aspect of their lengthy careers.) When a slapdash sequel was produced within two years, he was back in the pilot's seat. The jokes were a tad cruder ("Jimmy, do you like it when Scraps holds onto your leg and rubs up and down?") and the concept even more lunatic (the "airplane" of the title ends up in space!)
After this, Graves worked in the epic 1983 miniseries The Winds of War (returning briefly for its 1988 sequel War and Remembrance), did time on the usual havens for actors of a certain vintage such as The Love Boat, Fantasy Island (as seen below with a wheelchair-bound Eve Plumb!) and Murder, She Wrote, and then found himself presented with a most unique proposal.
A serious writer's strike fell in the mid-'80s and left the TV landscape filled with reruns and non-scripted programming. As a way around it, a new rendition of Mission: Impossible was created, to be filmed in Australia, where Graves had spent many a day. The series used scripts from the original series, updated somewhat for a more modern time, and employed a raft of actors who fit the archetypes from the early days of the show. Terry Markwell as the femme fatale, Anthony Hamilton as the strongman, Phil Morris (son of original cast member Greg) as the gadgetry expert and Thaao Penglis as master of disguise.

Soon enough, the strike was over and new scripts could be commissioned for the redux. However, Markwell departed the show when she felt her role wasn't prominent or fulfilling enough. (Her character's death was the only time in the show's history that an agent was killed and disavowed.) More widely-known (thanks to the miniseries V) Jane Badler was brought in to take her place. The new rendition of the venerable series never really caught on and it was cancelled after 35 episodes.
After working as a guest on The Golden Girls, Burke's Law and Diagnosis Murder, Graves found a way to put his old skills as a radio announcer to good use. In 1994, he came on board to host some of the installments of the wonderful A&E series Biography. The utterly classy program which spent an hour relaying the life story of a prominent celebrity or historical figure earned Graves an Emmy (for hosting the one devoted to Judy Garland.) Graves continued to share hosting duties on the series with Jack Perkins until 2001.

In 1996, he was approached once more to revive his Mission: Impossible character Jim Phelps in the big-budget Tom Cruise remake, but recoiled when it was determined that the character would turn out to be a traitor, heavily tarnishing the incredibly loyal and stalwart image that he'd created over time. He turned the part down, though Jon Voight took it over and had no compunctions about shitting on the iconic character. Many of the series' fans, including this one, were turned off at the move (and I've never seen any further installments beyond this one), though a new and jaded generation couldn't have cared less about such things.

In 2001, he also acted in the highly-anticipated TV-movie These Old Broads, featuring Debbie Reynolds, Elizabeth Taylor, Shirley MacLaine and Joan Collins, but which promised more than it delivered in the final analysis.

He wasn't completely done acting, though. He made eleven appearances on the popular show Seventh Heaven as Stephen Collins' imposing father (with Barbara Rush playing his wife) over the course of a decade's time. Reruns of the long-running show ran into serious trouble, however, when Collins was revealed to have molested a number of minors in real life over a span of time...

Graves and his old Mission costar Barbara Bain reunited briefly in order to act as presenters at the Screen Actors Guild annual awards ceremony in 2006.

In 2010, at the age of eighty-three, lifelong smoker Peter Graves was felled by a heart attack, ending a sixty year career before the camera. His lifelong best friend and brother James Arness died the very next year at age eighty-eight. (The two never acted together during their long years as performers.) When he died, Graves left his wife Joan a widow just six months shy of their 60th wedding anniversary. They raised three children together during their long, successful union.

We salute Peter Graves for his sure-handed work on Mission: Impossible, his outrageous contribution to Airplane! and his tasteful narration of Biography along with admiring his continued desire to seek out roles that challenged him as an actor even as Hollywood pressed hard to keep him in his shellacked, straight-arrow, grey-haired mold. (What a head of hair it was, too, lasting thickly up to the end!) And, of course, we always love seeing his icy blue eyes and salt 'n pepper locks in anything.


Scooter said...

Great post about an omnipresent actor! Also, happy (early) birthday!

Gingerguy said...

Happy upcoming birthday Poseidon, you gave us a gift with this tribute. 5-0 is comfy on the other side believe me, and you have great hair. I am also happy just to have anything. There was a "Dynasty" era joke about Krystle having a "silver fox" meaning Blake. He was my original Silver Daddy (what, there is a website called that?) bur Peter is up there too with the handsome silver haired types. Good looking and so different than his brother. He was so frequently cast in westerns despite (to me) his smooth city looks. There were a lot of Scandinavians in the west so it's historically accurate I guess.
The pic of him and Jeff Chandler is great. Silver sexy times two.
He is good in "Rage to Live" one of my all time tawdry faves. That wife really gets cracked in the face by Suzanne.
I was a big Mission Impossible fan, had no idea about the chronology as I watched them in syndication and they were always mixed up. Linda Day George was first for me. I recently saw something about Peter Lupus having a resort in Florida way back when. I would have wanted a Peter Lupus theme park.
Airplane was really funny, and the casting of all those serious guys made it doubly so. Was lukewarm on the sequel as with most, but he was brilliant casting.
Before the internet "Biography" was must-see-TV. If it was somebody I liked that show was just heaven. He was really good with his narration too. Thanks for this walk down memory lane with Peter, and have a great birthday.

A said...

What a great, long career.

Thanks, Poseidon

(and Happy Birthday, too!)

Forever1267 said...

Happy Early Birthday. Hope you also find your Daddy!

hsc said...

Great article! A couple of added tidbits:

"Bayou" (1957) was a flop, so producer M. A. Ripps bought it back from United Artists, shot new footage with doubles, and re-edited it into the 1961 "Adults Only!" exploitation classic "Poor White Trash". The body doubles were incredibly obvious, but the added sex and rape scenes and amped-up violence were enough to keep it on Dixie drive-in double features for decades, often paired with William Shatner's "I Hate Your Guts!" (originally shot by Roger Corman as "The Intruder", likewise picked up by Ripps).

Two standout elements of "Poor White Trash" are the banjo-plunking new title song (as infectious as the theme song to "Two Thousand Maniacs!") and a bizarre "dance" by the incomparable Timothy Carey, seen in the shot above with Graves and Lita Milan. (Carey was the original wildman actor that Nic Cage, Crispin Glover, Joaquin Phoenix and Shia LaBeouf have spent their careers trying to live up to.)

Lita Milan left movies after a couple of years and became the second wife of Ramfis Trujillo, son of the Dominican Republic dictator; from what I gather from his Wikipedia entry, the whole thing must've been a lot like "The Adventurers" minus swing accidents (they had two kids).

I haven't been able to track down "Scream of the Wolf" since it first aired to confirm how homoerotic this really was, but Mike Weldon's "Psychotronic Encyclopedia" sums it up as "Clint Walker as a macho sportsman trying to get his former best 'pal' Peter Graves to leave his girlfriend so the two of them can go live in the woods together."

And let me add my wishes for a Happy Birthday!

Johan said...

Happy birthday - hope you have a great one and thanks for all the interesting reading!

Poseidon3 said...

Thanks so much, Scooter, A, Forever1267 and Johan for the birthday wishes. It was a great day! First a long morning and afternoon by the pool, then a performance of my show, followed up by food and fun with several close friends.

Gingerguy, I agree that even though Graves was in a TON of westerns, he never seems as much a part of that genre as big brother James did. My first encounter with "M:I" was a Lesley Ann Warren ep! But I'd already known about Barbara Bain from a big TV book I had (and cherished.) I could never get enough of A&E Biography, unless it was about some dry, rather obscure, historical figure. Give me a star instead! LOL

My GOD, hsc, I had no idea about all that "Bayou" info. Unreal... I am familiar with Tim Carey, though. There were several people in Tinseltown who he truly SCARED on a movie set. I have "Scream of the Wolf" on DVD a 2-movie set (with something else starring David Janssen - "Moon of the Wolf," I think??) and intended to make caps for this post, but ran out of time to go dig it out. :-[ Thanks!

Arts and Crafts Era Collector said...

Came across your blog today and wow, what memories. I remember every one of these MEN...I was 11 when I saw my first hung, hairy, masculine man..April 1974, Playgirl centerfold Peter Lupus..Instantly I knew what I needed in my life. The light bulb went off in a "big" way that day and i was not turning it offf...Have you blogged on steve garvey..jim palmer pales in comparison..we all have our preferences. Dear Elon Musk : We need a time capsule "X" , not spacex, Keep up your devotion to the hidden members of our society...1974