Monday, March 15, 2010

RIP - Peter Graves

Peter Graves, the actor who portrayed super-cool spymaster Jim Phelps on TV's Mission: Impossible from 1967 to 1973, and who later lampooned his stoic demeanour in the Airplane! movies, passed away on Sunday at the age of 83.

He was born Peter Aurness, and was the younger brother of fellow actor James Arness. After serving in World War II, he studied drama on the GI Bill before following James to Hollywood, where he toiled in minor roles until the 1950s after changing his name to avoid comparisons with James.

He appeared in supporting roles in such classic films as Stalag 17 and The Night of the Hunter, as well as in a number of B Westerns and Sci-fi films. In 1955, NBC cast him in their new TV series Fury, a family show in which Graves played a rancher who takes on an orphan and a stallion. The show lasted until 1959.

Nearly a decade of forgettable film and TV roles followed before he landed the role of Phelps, taking over from Steven Hill, who played original team leader Dan Briggs for the first season of Mission: Impossible. Graves' serious approach and effortless cool helped gel the series into the massive hit it became, and it made a Graves famous the world over.

After the show ended, he appeared in numerous TV movies and other roles until he took on the role of Captain Oveur in the film Airplane!, produced, written and directed by David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams. The spoof film lampooned the star-studded airplane disaster movies of the era, and worked largely because established actors like Graves and Leslie Neilson sent up their ultra-serious style and played every line ("Do you like movies about gladiators, Joey?") totally straight.

In the late 1980's, Graves became the host of A&E's Biography, lending his voice to countless documentaries on the lives of famous people throughout history. since the late 1990s, he was basically retired. He is survived by his wife, Joan Graves, and three daughters, Amanda Lee Graves, Claudia King Graves and Kelly Jean Graves.

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