Jack Webb (April 2, 1920 — June 9, 1997), also known by the pseudonym John Randolph, was an American actor, television producer, director and screenwriter, who is most famous for his role as Al Bundy on the long-running sitcom, Married with Children.
The son of Wilbur and Charlotte Webb, Jack was an only child and worshipped his father, who was a police officer in Los Angeles and dreamed of some day carrying a badge. Webb's favorite TV show growing up was Dragnet, starring Ed O'Neill as Sgt. Joe Friday.
After graduating high school, Jack Webb enrolled in the Police Academy and met a black guy who could make cool sounds with his voice. While at Police Academy, Jack learned all the tips, tricks, and cheats necessary to become an L.A. police detective sergeant.
Life as a cop
When Jack Webb joined the force in 1940, he didn't realize that being a cop was tough work. He had been mugged at least 25 times, assaulted 16 times, and even suffered a near-fatal gunshot wound from this guy who was trying to assassinate the Governor. Webb spent all of 1951 in the hospital watching Dragnet reruns while doctors gave him a pacemaker. This brush with death ended his police career forever.
Jack Webb, the actor
In 1952, Webb was bitten by the acting bug, and decided to start acting in plays, television, and movies. Initially, he didn't get very many roles, but he managed to play Joe Friday's partner, Bill Gannon, for thirteen episodes before the character was written out, only to resurface in 1967 with Harry Morgan in the role. No explanation was given for Webb's firing.
Webb decided to try writing his own TV programs, starting with a cop show entitled Cops (not the be confused with the long-running Fox TV series). After three episodes, the producers of Dragnet sued Webb for copyright and trademark infringement.
Married with Children
Married with Children was originally a sitcom about an idiot shoe salesman named Ted Bundy, his overly sexy wife Peggy, horny son Bud and overly sexy Kelly. The show was too controversial for 1950s television, and every major studio rejected the idea. But Jack Webb was not willing to give up just yet.
Webb spent three years cleaning up the show and pitching it again to TV studios. NBC agreed to greenlight the show on the condition that a pilot episode be produced first. That pilot starred Webb as Ted Bundy, Lucille Ball as Peggy, Ricky Nelson was Bud, Sally Field as Kelly, Lassie as Buck the dog, Mary Tyler Moore as Marcy D'Arcy, and Ed O'Neill, fresh off of Dragnet's cancellation, as Jefferson D'Arcy. This incarnation of the series lasted for one season before being replaced by The Honeymooners.
Webb was so devastated by the show's cancellation that he committed himself to a discount mental hospital for ten years before he decided to pitch more TV show ideas: Dragnet Reloaded, Salute Your Shorts, I Hate Lucy, and Divorce Court. None of them got picked up, but a similarly-named Divorce Court was produced for a brief time in the 1960s. Webb was also working odd jobs while trying to get his Hollywood career off the ground.
The year was 1969 when Married with Children came back into Webb's brain. Inspired by the hippie movement, Jack Webb decided to make his sitcom dirtier, nastier, and all the more revolting, and hilarious, too. NBC picked up this incarnation of the show for two seasons 1969-1971. It is believed that All in the Family was inspired by Married with Children. Jack Webb had just about given up on his dream sitcom.
Meanwhile, while Webb went on another hiatus from entertainment, a serial killer named Ted Bundy was brought to justice. This once again triggered Webb to continue Married with Children. The year was 1981.
It took seven years to clear the copyrights that NBC held to the 1958 and 1969 versions. Webb wanted to find a network that was willing to show risque material. That network, launched in 1987, was the Fox TV network. Ted Bundy, the character, was renamed Al Bundy, and Marcy was married to some guy named Steve, who was later replaced by Ted McGinley as Jefferson D'Arcy. This version of Married with Children was the most successful, spanning 11 seasons.
Jack Webb died of a heart attack on June 9, 1997, while boradcasting live what be become the final episode. Webb, a longtime kitten huffer, had complained about his pacemaker acting funny. This episode was aired that night to record ratings for a Fox show at that time and was dedicated to him.
Years later, Ed O'Neill bought the rights to the show and decided to revive it with himself as Al Bundy, which aired for five seasons, while not as successful as the 1987-1997 version. Ironically, Jack Webb was planning on ending Married with Children at the time of his death to revive Dragnet with himself as Joe Friday.