Actor Peter Graves, best known for his role as Jim Phelps on the classic series Mission: Impossible, passed yesterday at the age of 83.
Peter Graves was born Peter Aurness in Minneapolis on March 18, 1926. His older brother James Arness, best known as Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke, preceded him into acting. To avoid confusion with his brother, He adopted his grandfather's last name. Graves served for two years in the United States Air Force before studying drama at the University of Minnesota. He worked in summer stock before he moved to Hollywood to pursue acting there. Having appeared in an uncredtied role in Winning Your Wings, his first credited role was in Rouge River in 1951.
Peter Graves appeared in roles in such films as Up Front (1951), Fort Defiance (1951), The Congregation (1952), and Red Planet Mars (1952). He made his television debut in Gruen Guild Playhouse in 1952. It was in 1953 that he appeared in one of his most famous roles, as Price in Stalag 17. He appeared in the films War Paint (1953) and East of Sumatra (1953). In 1953 he was a regular on the short lived show Where's Raymond, starring Ray Bolger.
For much of the Fifties Peter Graves appeared frequently on television, guest starring on such shows as Schlitz Playhouse of the Stars, The Pepsi-Cola Playhouse, Biff Baker U.S.A., Studio 57, Hallmark Hall of Fame, Fireside Theatre, Studio One, The Millionaire, Lux Video Theatre, and Climax. In 1955 Graves was cast in the role of Jim Newton on the series Fury. The show ran for five years and 116 episodes. He also appeared in such films as The Raid (1954), Black Tuesday (1954), The Long Grey Line (1955), Wichita (1955), The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955), It Conquered the World (1956), and Wolf Larsen (1958). He had a significant role in the classic Night of the Hunter.
As the Sixties opened Peter Graves was cast as the lead in the short lived series Whiplash. He guest starred on such shows as Route 66, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Virginian, Branded, Run For Your Life, and Daniel Boone. In 1965 he was cast as the lead in the short lived series Court Martial. It was in 1967 that he was cast as Jim Phelps, head of the Impossible Missions Force, on the series Mission: Impossible. He replaced Steven Hill, the original lead on the show who played Impossible Missions Force leader Dan Briggs. Graves became the one constant on the series, appearing in it until its run ended in 1973. He also appeared in such films as A Rage to Live (1965), The Ballad of Josie (1967), and Sergeant Ryker (1968). He made his only appearance on Broadway in 1962 in The Captains and the Kings.
The Seventies saw Peter Graves appearing in several television movies, including The President's Plane is Missing, Scream of the Wolf, The Underground Man, Dead Man on the Run, SST: Death Flight, and The Gift of the Magi. He appeared in such films as Sidecar Racers (1975) and The Clonus Horror (1979). In 1980 he appeared in one of his best known roles, as the pilot in the film Airplane. The Eighties saw Graves appear in the films The Guns and the Fury (1981), Savannah Smiles (1982), Airplane II: The Sequel (1982), and Number One with a Bullet (1987). On television he appeared in the mini-series The Winds of War. He guest starred on Simon & Simon, Fantasy Island, Murder She Wrote, and Life with Lucy. In 1988 he returned to the role of Jim Phelps in a revival of Mission: Impossible. It lasted until 1990. The Nineties saw Graves guest star on The Golden Girls, Burke's Law, and Diagnosis Murder. He appeared in the film Addams Family Values (1993). The Naughts saw Peter Graves guest star on House and American Dad. He had a recurring role on the show Seventh Heaven. From 1994 to 2006 he was the host of the A&E series Biography. He had a cameo in the movie Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003).
The image most have of Peter Graves is that of the strong, straight arrow hero. And this comprised most of the roles he played in his career. But Graves could play other sorts of roles, as shown by two of his most famous films. In Stalag 17 Graves played the slightly shady barrack security chief Price. In Airplane he played the bumbling pilot Clarence Oveur, who uttered non sequiturs and one liners. Peter Graves was very good at playing the straight shooting hero, but he was capable of other roles as well. If Mission: Impossible became a hit, it was largely because of Peter Graves' talent.