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How Each Dragnet Cast Member Died

It’s a series that presented a strikingly realistic depiction of police work without all of the thrills, spills, gunfights, and car chases that typically featured in cop shows of it’s day.

Dragnet introduced as a radio drama in 1949. And in 1951, it succesfully made the leap to television. Police departments across the nation showered the series with praise for it’s relentless attention to detail and it’s realistic depiction of law enforcement procedures and investigative practices.

Dragnet ran for 8 seasons from 1951 to 1959. In 1967, the series revive and stuck around for another 3 seasons before getting canceled in 1970. Since then, there have been a number of Dragnet reboots, books, television films, and even a full-fledged Hollywood feature starring Tom Hanks and Dan Aykroyd. But for this video, we’ll be focusing on the original two series that featured Webb as showrunner.

It’s been 52 years since Jack Webb’s Dragnet went off the air. As such, sadly, the majority of the show’s original cast members have since passed away. Join Facts Verse as we take a look at how each of Dragnet cast member died.

Barton Yarborough

Born on October 2, 1900, Yarborough was an actor who first got his start in show businesses appearing in radio dramas. He perhaps best known for his roles as Doc Long on Carlton E Morse’s I Love A Mystery productions and Clifford Barbour on One Man’s Family.

On Dragnet, Yarborough played Sgt. Ben Romero. Barton was a cast member of the radio drama for three years, but the day after he first appeared on the Dragnet television series in 1951, he suffered a massive heart attack and passed away just four days later at the age of 51. Following his sudden, tragic death, it explained on the show that Ben Romero also died of a heart attack in the episode entitled ‘The Big Sorrow’.

Barney Phillips

Born Bernard Phillip Ofner in St. Louis, Missouri, on October 20, 1913, Phillips known for his prominent roles in shows such as The Twilight Zone and The Betty White Show. His biggest role, however, was that of Sgt. Ed Jacobs on the 1950s incarnation of Dragnet.

Phillips got his start acting after graduating from college in 1935. In 1937, he appeared in a Western B-film titled Black Aces. Then in 1940, he performed in the Broadway production of Meet The People.

After serving in the Army in World War II, Phillips appeared in several films between 1949 and 1952. He then landed the role of Sgt. Jacobs on Dragnet as a series regular. After Dragnet, Phillips enjoyed a prolific career in film and television, appearing in dozens of movies and series until 1982, when he died of cancer at age 68.

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Olan Soule

This American actor amassed close to 7,000 radio, television, film, and commercial credits throughout his decades-spanning career. He was born in 1909 in La Harpe, Illinois. At the age of 17, he launched his acting career when he joined Jack Brook’s tent Show in Sabula, Iowa.

From there, he went on to secure work on the radio by 1933. Some of his notable radio acting credits include stints on shows such as Chandu the Magician, Bachelor’s Children, and The First Nighter Program.

After moving to Hollywood, Soule began appearing in films and television shows. Soon enough, he had developed a reputation for being a reliable character actor. For the next several years, He appeared on series like I Love Lucy, The Andy Griffith Show, and The Donald O’Connor Show.

On the original Dragnet series, Soule played LAPD criminalist, Ray Pinker. On the 1967 reboot series, he played a slightly altered but altogether similar character named Ray Murray. Following the conclusion of that series, Soule remained very active in the entertainment industry, making appearances in more television series and films than we can count. He also spent 15 years, from 1968 to 1983, providing the voice of Batman on various animated series that featured the iconic Dark Knight.

Soule passed away of lung cancer at 84 on February 1, 1994.

Clark Howat

This American television and film actor was born in California in 1918. A bit of a late-bloomer, Howat started his acting career in 1947, appearing in the Broadway production The Wanhope Building. That same year, he landed a minor role in the film Miracle on 34th Street.

That opened up the door for him to appear in numerous films, often with uncredited or supporting roles. Some of his biggest film roles include parts in flicks like Airport, Customs Agent, The Doctor and the Girl, California Passage, and My Blue Heaven. On television, he appeared in series like Highway Patrol, Navy Logs, tales of Wells Fargo, and most memorably Dragnet as a cast member, in which he played Capt AL Trembly during the show’s second run in the late 1960s.

Howat died of natural causes in Arroyo Grande, California, at 91 on October 30, 2009.

Harry Morgan

This film and television star was yet another who enjoyed a career that spanned several decades. Morgan was born Harry Bratsburg on April 10, 1915, in Detroit, Michigan. He started acting in 1935 while attending the University of Chicago. His first stage appearance was in 1937 when he joined the Group Theatre in New York City. He went on to appear in a number of successful Broadway productions before making his screen debut in the 1942 film To The Shores of Tripoli.

Some of Morgan’s most significant roles throughout his career included that of Pete Porter in the television series December Bride and Pete and Gladys, Amos Coogan on Hec Remsey, Colonel Sherman T. Potter on MAS*H and AfterMASH, and Officer Bill Gannon on Dragnet as a cast member.

In total, Morgan appeared in more than 100 films and television shows throughout his career.

Morgan died in his sleep on December 7, 2011, at his home in Los Angeles. He was 96.

Ben Alexander

Starting out as a child actor in 1916 at the age of 5, Alexander would appear in a number of silent films before taking a step away from Hollywood to pursue other interests. He returned to the screen, however, in 1930 when he appeared in the World War I film All Quiet on the Western Front.

For the remainder of the decade, he appeared in many leading and supporting roles in several low-budget films. In the 1940s, he found success as a radon announcer. In 1952, Jack Webb hired him on to replace Barton Yarborough, who had played Friday’s partner, Detective Romero. Alexander was given the role of Officer Frank Smith, whom he played until the series ended in 1959. When the show was revived in 1967, Webb wanted Alexander to rejoin the cast, but he had already signed a contract to play the role of Sergeant Dan Briggs on ABC’s Felony Squad.

Tragically in 1969, Alexander was found dead in his home in Los Angeles after his family returned home from a camping trip. It was determined that he had suffered a heart attack. He was just 58 years old.

Jack Webb

Born John Randolph Webb on April 2, 1920, in Santa Monica, California, Webb moved to San Francisco after being discharged from the military during World War II. He never actually got to serve, as he received a hardship discharge because he was the primary financial provider for his mother and grandmother. He also reportedly failed his flight training.

In San Francisco, he appointed as a radio show announcer on ABC’s KGO Radio. He had given his own half-hour comedy program called The Jack Webb Show In 1946. Jack Webb moved on from comedy to do drama. His first dramatic radio role was in a series called Pat Novak, for Hire, which co-starred Raymond Burr In 1949.

After the success of that series, Webb worked on several other radio programs, including Johnny Madero, Pier 24, Murder and Mr. Malone and Pete Kelly’s Blues.

In 1948, Webb given a featured role in the 1948 film He Walked By Night, in which he played a crime-lab technician investigating the death of California Highway Patrolman Erwin Walker. The real-life story behind that film inspired Webb to develop Dragnet.

Dragnet premiered on NBC Radio in 1949 and ran until 1957. In 1950, Webb appeared the Academy-Award-winning film Sunset Boulevard. Riding on the success of that film, Webb became interested in taking Dragnet to the television screen. In 1952, it developed into a series which ran from 1952 to 1959. Webb played the show’s lead, Sergeant Joe Friday.

Dragnet adapted into a feature film but the television series began to decline in the ratings and eventually got canceled In 1954. Webb’s not discouraged by what he saw as a minor setback and became resolved to bring the series back. He managed to accomplish this in 1967 when he reprised his role in the second incarnation of the series which ran until 1970.

After Dragnet, Webb continued to appear in dramatic television series with his production company Mark VII Productions. Some of his most successful series included Adam-12 and Emergency!

Webb was trying to develop another adaptation of Dragnet when he suffered a heart attack on December 23, 1982. After being rushed to the hospital, he passed away at the age of 62.

Who was your favorite character on Dragnet cast member? And would you be interested in seeing a new adaptation of the franchise either as a film or television show? Share your thoughts on this iconic series in the comments.

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