by Bob Siler
(Photo sent in by Raul Moreno.)
From the time DRAGNET first aired on radio in 1949 until its final episode on television in 1970, Jack Webb would enlist a handful of actors to fill in as Joe Friday’s partner, though only three of them would be remembered for that role.
Jack Webb’s first sidekick was William Barton Yarborough. Yarborough was born in Texas to Patrick D. and Mollie Ardena Yarborough on October 2,1900.
Yarborough began his acting career in the theater, where he studied with the EVA LE GALLIENNE COMPANY, and though he would go on to work in all four areas of show business, Theatre, Film, Radio and Television, it would be his work in radio that would be best remembered. He starred in several long-running programs as well as guest starred on many others, and it wasn’t long before Barton Yarborough became one of radio’s busiest character actors.
On Friday, April 29,1932 NBC aired its newest soap opera from 9:30 to 10:00pm. It told the story of Henry and Fanny Barbour and their five children, Paul, Hazel, Claudia, Clifford and Jack. The show was “ONE MAN’S FAMILY” and in the role of Clifford was Barton Yarborough. He would remain with the series until his death in 1951. The show ran until May 8, 1959, leaving behind 3256 episodes (and that’s not counting repeats), making it the longest-running series on American radio.
Throughout its 27 years on the air, actors came and left. Some went on to become famous, like Richard Crenna, Hans Conreid, Rosemary DeCamp and Howard (Floyd the barber) McNeer, while others, such as silent star Francis X. Bushman, had already learned the price of fame and were happy to still be working.
And then there are the actors who would go on to become a part of the Jack Webb Stable. Besides Barton Yarborough, there was Bill Bouchey, Janet Waldo, Virginia Gregg, Vic Perrin (who is best remembered as the voice on THE OUTER LIMITS), and Herb Butterfield, who would fill in as Friday’s partner after Bart’s death.
In the role of Beth Holly was a young actress named Barbara Jo Allen. She became Barton’s first wife. They were later divorced. Using the name Vera Vague, Barbara Jo became a comedienne on The Bob Hope Show, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy Show and The Jimmy Durante Show. She worked in B movies, many of them comedies, from 1938 to 1959. She worked in television throughout the ’50’s either as a game show host or emcee. She died in Santa Barbara on Sept. 14,1974.
“I LOVE A MYSTERY” first aired on Monday, January 16, 1939 on NBC. The show was produced by ONE MAN FAMILY producer Carlton Morse and starred three of FAMILY’S cast members. Pulling double duty was Michael Raffetto as Jack, Barton as Doc Long (or Young) and Walter Paterson as Reggie. Joan Blondell’s sister, Gloria, joined the three adventurers as Gerry Booker. It aired Monday through Friday as a fifteen-minute show, but later became a weekly half-hour show. Each adventure would run between 12 and 25 shows.
The first episode was “THE CASE OF THE ROXY MOB”. It ran from January 16 1939 to February 2, 1939. 14 shows in all. In 1945 Columbia Pictures brought the radio show to the screen for three films, but with only two actors. Jim Bannon was Jack and Barton was Doc. (Note from website visitor Robert Yarber: Jim Bannon was the brother of Father John Francis Bannon S.J., professor of history at St. Louis U. Jim also was Red Ryder. )
1945 – I LOVE A MYSTERY
1946 – THE DEVIL’S MASK
1946 – THE UNKNOWN
In 1941 Yarborough made his film debut in “THEY MEET AGAIN”, starring Gene Hersholt as Dr. Christian. He plays an innocent bank teller who is accused of stealing $3,000. In the end Dr. Christian comes to his aide. He could also been seen in “LET’S GO COLLEGIATE”. In 1942 he took on the role of the ill-fated Dr. Kettering, the unlucky assistant to Lionel Atwell and the first person to die at the hands of “THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN.” He also had a small role in Hitchcock’s “SABOTEUR”. Both were filmed for Universal.
Yarborough continued appearing on radio shows and making films, as well as making his regular appearances on “ONE MAN’S FAMILY” and “I LOVE A MYSTERY“. But in 1948 he added a new title to his credits- Playwright. His play, “THESE TENDER MERCIES,” centered around a lynching and was presented in Los Angeles at the “Experimental” Theater . On July 31, 1948, Barton guest-starred with Hans Conreid on the radio crime drama, “JEFF REGAN“. The star of the show was a 28-year-old named Jack Webb.
In 1949, Barton Yarborough found himself cast in yet another radio series. He was still working on “ONE MAN’S FAMILY” and “I LOVE A MYSTERY”. The new show was going to be a real-life cop show. It would be about two Los Angeles detectives and the stories would come straight from the files of the L.A.P.D. Chief William Parker offered his and his department’s help. The creator, writer, producer, director and star was Jack Webb. This was his dream and he wanted Bart to be a part of it. The show would be called “DRAGNET” and Webb would star as Sgt. Joe Friday and Bart would co-star as Sgt. Ben Romero. Of all the partners Friday had, Romero was to be the only one to be equal in rank with Friday.
“HOMICIDE”, the pilot episode, aired on June 2, 1949. Friday and Romero are working Homicide division when two officers are gunned down. Frank Lovejoy guest-starred. On December 29,1949, Bart’s last adventure on “I LOVE A MYSTERY” aired. It was called “FIND ELSA HOLBERG – DEAD OR ALIVE”.
In 1951 Webb decided to make “DRAGNET” a weekly TV series with himself and Yarborough, while they continued doing the radio series. The TV pilot was filmed in late 1951 and was set to be shown in December.
December 13,1951 – the radio episode was “BIG OVERTIME”. Friday and Romero are working Homicide when a banker’s daughter is kidnapped. This was to be Barton Yarborough’s 133rd appearance as Sgt. Ben Romero. It was also his last. They started in Homicide and they ended in Homicide. The show that aired the following week, on December 20, was a repeat of their Christmas show -“22 RIFLE FOR CHRISTMAS”. They would be back with a new program on December 27,1951. There would also be a new partner.
The pilot episode, “THE HUMAN BOMB” aired on December 16, 1951 with guest stars Stacy Harris, Herb Butterfield, Jack Kruchen, Sam Edwards, Barney Philips as Officer Sam Erickson and Raymond Burr as The Chief- Thad Brown. The pilot was a hit and the series was set for January 3, 1952. The second episode, “THE BIG ACTOR” was already in the can.
Filming had already begun on the third episode when on the evening of December 19,1951 at 8:55pm, Barton Yarborough died of a heart attack at his home at 122 South Valley Street in Burbank, Califorina. He was 51. He left his second wife, Janet, and daughter, Joan. His ashes were interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California in a very remote section called RESURRECTION SLOPE in grave 243, near the curb.
December 27, 1951, eight days after Bart’s death, Webb remembered his friend in a new radio episode that was dedicated to Barton Yarborough called “THE BIG SORROW”. Friday is working Homicide when he gets the news that his partner, Ben Romero, has died at his home from a heart attack. The show centers around the search and capture of two escaped convicts. Barney Philips stepped in as Sgt. Ed Jacobs. He’d be Friday’s partner until April 10, 1952.
On January 3, 1952, the first episode of the season aired. “THE BIG ACTOR” was the last screen appearance of Barton Yarborough.