Peter Graves (1926-2010)

Peter Graves, star of Mission: Impossible on CBS, and its continuation/spin-off, ABC’s Mission: Impossible, has passed away at the age of 83 (he would have turned 84 on Thursday. According to The New York Times, Graves died of a heart attack at his home in California. Although defined by the six years he spent as leader of the Impossible Missions Force on Mission: Impossible — from 1967 to 1973 — Graves began his lengthy television career in the early 1950s, appearing in episodes of anthologies like “Gruen Guild Playhouse and Schlitz Playhouse of Stars. From 1955 to 1961 he played Jim Newton on Fury; he then starred as Christopher Cobb in Whiplash, which was syndicated in the United States beginning in 1961. Following that series he played Maj. Frank Whittaker on Court Martial from 1965 to 1966. Then, in 1967, he replaced Steven Hill as the star of Mission: Impossible and appeared in 143 episodes of the course of the next six years.

After Mission: Impossible went off the air, Graves appeared in a variety of television and movie roles, including Captain Clarence Oveur in 1980’s Airplane and its 1982 sequel, Airplane II: The Sequel. In 1988, Graves returned to the role of Peter Phelps for a new version of Mission: Impossible, initially planned as a cheap filler program during the 1988 Writers Strike. It would ultimately stay on the air for two seasons; both by Greg Morris and Lynda Day George, who had appeared in the 1960s version, had guest roles in the new series. Between 1997 and 2007, Graves appeared in eleven episodes of Seventh Heaven. According to the Internet Movie Database his last credited television role was a 2007 episode of American Dad!.

Obituaries can be found at The New York Times, CNN.com and The Los Angeles Times. I’ve always enjoyed the original Mission: Impossible (I don’t think I’ve ever seen an episode of the 1980s version) and Graves was a large part of that. And I’ve always admired the way he (and other cast members) refused to participate in the 1996 film Mission: Impossible when it became obvious the producers had very little respect for the television series.


6 Comments

  • Cee Jay says:

    Along with those roles you mentioned, my personal favorite was his portrayal of a German spy in the film ‘Stalag 17’…may he REST IN PEACE

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    “FURY” was in production during its first four seasons (1955-’59). The rest of its Saturday morning run on NBC, through 1966, were repeats.

    “COURT-MARTIAL” was a “spin-off” from a two-part October 1963 “KRAFT SUSPENSE THEATER” episode, “The Case Against Paul Ryker” [later reedited into a 1968 theatrical feature, “Sergeant Ryker”], starring Peter Graves and Bradford Dillman. The series’ producer, Perry Como’s “Roncom Films”, fashioned a co-production deal with the BBC in late 1965 to produce a full season of new episodes (again starring Graves and Dillman), filmed in England…which ABC bought as a mid-season replacement in 1966.

    And let’s not forget that Peter was also the original host (and narrator) of A&E’s “BIOGRAPHY” for over a decade.

    I’ve seen the 1988-’90 version of “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE”, filmed in Australia. It came close to the original…and it SHOULD be available on home video as well!

  • Gerald says:

    I’ve just been going through the 80s version of M:I I recorded on VHS over 20 years ago. Peter Graves was always one of my favorites.
    For some reason IMDB does not list his voice work on the PBS educational cartoon “WordGirl” which could be more recent than American Dad.

  • RGJ says:

    I forgot to mention in my write-up that Peter Graves was the younger brother of James “Matt Dillon” Arness. Their family name is Aurness but James changed it to Arness when he started acting and Peter adopted the name Graves; according to The New York Times he did so to “avoid confusion with his older brother.”

    And Gerald, Wikipedia states that the episode of WordGirl with Graves aired on December 21st, 2007 (I think) while his episode of American Dad! aired on February 11th, 2007. So it would have been his last television credit. IMDB him narrating a video game coming out this year, though.

  • pBOB says:

    I just read on TV Squad blog he was suposed to do a cameo in the next Mission Impossible movie.

    Strange since they killed off his character in the first ten minutes of the first movie.

  • DuMont says:

    Barry I. Grauman Says:
    March 15th, 2010 at 3:37PM

    I’ve seen the 1988-’90 version of “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE”, filmed in Australia. It came close to the original…and it SHOULD be available on home video as well!
    ^^^
    I agree that this second series deserves a DVD release too as it was pretty good. It was brought in by ABC as an imported during the 1988-89 season when most domestic series had their production curtailed by the WGA strike. It didn’t get the greatest Nielsens:
    season 1: 1988-89 Sunday 8pm, then Saturday 8pm = 9.6 (92nd)
    season 2: 1989-90 Thursday at 8pm, then Saturday at 8 pm = 8.2 (102nd)

    FOX got lucky that season since half of their sked was news/reality programming that was not interrupted in production, and these gave FOX some early ratings success as they were able to program originals against Big Three encores.

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