Sunday, March 14, 2010

Remembering Peter Graves

The Flaming Nose is sad to hear of the death tonight of Peter Graves, one of the most iconic of television personalities. Those of us who thrilled to his adventures as Jim Phelps on Mission: Impossible will never forget his cool determination as he received his orders via dissolving reel-to-reel tape recordings each week. Graves became most famous and an outstanding pop culture god for his role as Phelps, but of course he had been a working actor since 1942, appearing in many motion pictures of all kinds, but eventually settling into a more successful career primarily in television.

Several series preceded his fame in Mission: Impossible, including the family horse drama Fury as the father to young Bobby Diamond, the Australian-set Western Whiplash, and the WW II military legal drama Court Martial, opposite Bradford Dillman. He was also a frequent guest star of nearly every popular series of the time before landing the role of Jim Phelps in the second season of M:I, replacing the departing team leader played by Steven Hill.
There was never a more smoothly-oiled machine than those early years with the Impossible Missions Force, when Barbara Bain, Martin Landau, Greg Rollins and Peter Lupus merged into the coolest ensemble cast on television, thanks in part to Lalo Schifrin's theme, probably the best ever written for TV. Graves continued to work in features throughout the series' 1967 - 1973 run, but television was his forte, his likeable, low-key charm and grace best suited to the small screen, and he knew it.

In later years, Peter Graves' presence as host of the A&E Network series Biography pretty much created that network and propelled the program to such popularity that the series was spun off into an entire network of its own. (I'm not forgetting about Jack Perkins, who actually hosted more segments than Graves and is also responsible for Biography's great success.) We can't forget his hilarious big-screen turn as the airline captain in 1980's Airplane, a change-of-pace for him that gained him new fans and showed off his versatility and good humor about himself.

Graves received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame last October, and more importantly had continued working and had a reputation as one of Hollywood's good guys, a modest and a devoted family man. Peter Graves will live on as the dauntless leader of the Mission: Impossible force as long as people are watching television, which basically makes him immortal, doesn't it? I think he can handle that last mission, don't you?

We'll leave you with one version of the unforgettable Mission: Impossible opening credits, and then the trailer for one of my all-time favorite monster movies of the 1950s, the giant cicada SF thriller Beginning of the End from 1957. Snicker if you will -- though you shouldn't -- but this is a creepy insect invasion movie that certainly had a lasting and wonderful effect on me!

R.I.P. Peter Graves, 1926 - 2010.

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