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Actor Peter Graves Remembered
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Actor Peter Graves Remembered

Remembrances

Actor Peter Graves Remembered

Actor Peter Graves Remembered
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Actor Peter Graves has died. The star of Mission Impossible and Airplane was 83. He appeared in hundreds of TV episodes and movies.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Actor Peter Graves is best known to two different generations for two very different roles, first as the star of the "Mission Impossible" TV show and later as the straight man in the movie comedy "Airplane!" Graves died yesterday of a heart attack outside his home in Los Angeles. He was 83. NPR's Elizabeth Blair has this appreciation.

(Soundbite of television program, "Mission Impossible")

Unidentified Male (Actor): (As character) Good morning, Mr. Phelps. On Wednesday morning, Adolfo Rojas(ph) addresses a joint session of Congress.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: That killer theme music, that tape recorder and the handsome, unflappable Jim Phelps. In the late 1960s and early '70s, it was another suspenseful hour of TV drama.

(Soundbite of television program, "Mission Impossible")

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) This tape will self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck, Jim.

Mr. PETER GRAVES (Actor): One of the things people always wanted to know is how we got that smoke to come out of the tape recorder.

BLAIR: Peter Graves from an NPR interview in 1985.

Mr. GRAVES: Well, there were a lot of ways that we did it, but one of them was that a prop man was down underneath the table with a rubber tube leading up into the bottom of the tape recorder, and he had a cigarette, and he just blew smoke up there.

BLAIR: Peter Graves played the head of the Impossible Missions Force, a team of very cool, covert agents. The show was seen in dozens of countries around the world.

Mr. GRAVES: It's funny. The Japanese don't have that F sound of our PH, like in Phelps. So the voice on the tape recorder at the beginning of the Japanese version, first of all, says: Ohio, Helps.

BLAIR: Peter Arness was born and raised in Minnesota. He changed his name to Graves in the early 1950s to avoid confusion with his brother, actor James Arness. His father was a salesman and his mother a journalist. After serving two years in the Air Force, he went to the University of Minnesota. Dignified and dashing even as a Nazi spy in the 1953 movie, "Stalag 17," Peter Graves looks trustworthy.

(Soundbite of "Stalag 17")

Mr. GRAVES: (As Price) You guys elected me security. The way things have been going in this barracks, I guess I've done a poor job, and I want to make up for it.

BLAIR: But later in his career, Peter Graves turned that rock steady image on its head when he played Captain Clarence Oveur in the spoof "Airplane!"

(Soundbite of "Airplane!")

Mr. GRAVES: (As Captain Clarence Oveur) Roger, Roger. What's our vector, Victor?

BLAIR: Peter Graves almost didn't take the part because Captain Oveur likes little boys, but somehow by playing it straight, Peter Graves made it funny.

(Soundbite of "Airplane!")

Mr. GRAVES: (As Oveur) You ever been in a cockpit before?

Unidentified Child #1 (Actor): (As character) No, sir, I've never been up in a plane before.

Mr. GRAVES: (As Over) You ever seen a grown man naked?

KAREEM ABDUL JABBAR (Actor): (As character) Do you want me to check the weather, Clarence?

Mr. GRAVES: (As Oveur) No, why don't you take care of it. Joey, did you ever hang around a gymnasium?

BLAIR: Online tributes to Peter Graves are calling him an old-school good guy and a childhood hero. And for a career that spanned some 60 years, Peter Graves entertained more than one generation of fans. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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