Monday, March 15, 2010

Peter Graves

I know, I know -- everyone remembers him from "Mission: Impossible," as Jim Phelps, who replaced Dan Briggs (played by Steven Hill).

Fair enough.

But I first knew him from "Fury" -- "the story of a horse and a boy who loved him."

Or something like that.

Whatever it was, NBC used to run it at 11 a.m. Saturdays when I was a kid.

I don't remember any specific episodes of the show. I do recall that besides Graves it featured an older kid played by Bobby Diamond, a younger kid played by Roger Mobley and an old geezer played by old geezer William Fawcett. (I'm guessing the first-string old geezer of all time, William Demarest, was unavailable.)

Graves also played a key role in "Stalag 17," which I bought some months ago on DVD but have yet to get around to watching.

And, of course, all the obits are mentioning his role in "Airplane" and his Geico commercial, and rightly so.

But I also remember him as Lew Archer in a TV adaptation of Ross Macdonald's "The Underground Man."

As I recall, it was a pretty faithful adaptation of the book, though somehow it didn't quite come off, though Graves did his best, which at the time I thought was pretty damn good.

Lew Archer later had his own series, titled, oddly enough, "Archer," and starring Brian Keith. That didn't quite come off either. Most of the episodes didn't seem to be in the spirit of the books, but even if they had been, I'm not sure that would have helped, because after a point (the late 1950s, I think) the Archer books became quite similar, usually involving a present-day murder with links -- physical and psychological -- to a past crime.

That's not to put the books down -- I read all the Archer books, and if Macdonald were still alive and still active, I'd still be buying them in hardcover, because even though he kept plowing the same field, nobody plowed it better, and besides, I'm a sucker for stories of current crimes that are rooted in past ones.

But you can't make a weekly TV series out of that sort of thing. Not only would it be repetitive, but the Archer books didn't tend to have endings that would make you jump for joy at the wonderfulness of the world and its inhabitants.

Oh -- I'm supposed to be talking about Peter Graves? Oh, all right.

Let's just say (at least I'm about to say it) that Peter Graves seemed like a nice, classy guy, kind of like a friendly, helpful neighbor who also happened to be a fine actor, though you'd never hear him talk about it much, much less brag about it.

The type of guy who would always know his lines -- and always bring the lawnmower back as soon as he could after borrowing it.

Not a bad legacy.

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