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Home » Actors

Peter Graves 1926-2010

Submitted by on March 15, 2010 – 1:26 am 17 Comments

One of my very first memories of TV was when I was about 5, living in Saigon. My family would gather around the tube and watch Mission: Impossible. The struck match and that pounding Lalo Schifrin score burned themselves into my brain as surely as that tape would self-destruct after 5 seconds every week.

I couldn’t understand a word of English then but loved Peter Graves as Jim Phelps—that authoritative voice and those crinkly eyes represented a reassuring solidity during chaotic times. I knew that no matter what, Phelps would lead his team out of trouble.

About a decade later, after I’d moved to the States and could speak English, Graves gave me stomach cramps from laughing at his portrayal of Captain Clarence Oveur in Airplane!, asking those inappropriate questions of little Joey in the cockpit. “Joey, have you ever seen a grown man naked?” and “Do you ever hang around a gymnasium?” (See highlights reel below.) I was delighted to see my childhood idol have such a terrific sense of humor.

So news of his passing on Sunday, just four days short of his 84th birthday, brought great sadness. But I choose to remember the laughs he gave me, and silently thank him for making a girl believe that the big mission she was about to embark on would not be an impossible one.



  • Was a huge fan of Mission: Impossible when I was a kid, too. And his performance in AIRPLANE…classic. Ironically, and I’m not making this up, I was watching MI last night when I hopped on the web and saw the first post that Peter Graves was dead. Gave me a bit of a chill.

  • Christine says:

    Don’t remember much about the episodes of Mission: Impossible, except for Peter Graves’ voice and his eyes, as well as kind of boppin’ along to the theme. (I dare anyone to stay still or not be tempted to hum along with that theme.) I loved that he would poke fun at his persona as being kind and authoritative in AIRPLANE!

  • le0pard13 says:

    As much as he’d became known for his Mission: IMPOSSIBLE stint, I don’t think he got the acclaim as an actor he deserved. Watch his work in Wilder’s STALAG 17 and you’ll see how good he could be in a role. Even some of the hokey 50’s monster movies he was in (BEGINNING OF THE END, IT CONQUERED THE WORLD, etc.), he was the best thing in them. Still, my growing up (watching TV, of course) had him as a stalwart influence. I’ll miss the man. May he rest in peace.

  • STALAG 17…I forgot all about that. He was excellent in that! Thanks for the reminder.

  • Pop Culture Nerd says:

    Brett—That is some coincidence, your watching M:I then hearing about him dying. Similar thing happened to me with Gregory Peck, my favorite actor of all time. I was in Italy 7 years ago, giddily running around visiting all the places I’d seen in Roman Holiday. Then I went back to my hotel and heard Mr. Peck had died.

    Christine—I wouldn’t take that dare because I’d lose. How can anyone NOT hum and bop along to that theme music?

    lp13—I’ve never seen Stalag 17. Hanging head in shame. Also didn’t know he was James Arness’s brother.

    • Love Gregory Peck. I guess in a way you were doing your own tribute to him without even realizing it.

      I’ve know Peter Graves was James Arness’s brother for years, but for some reason I always forget and when I hear it again, it surprises me. Shouldn’t, though. When you look at pictures of them side-by-side there’s definitely a strong resemblance. I guess that’s my mind thinking there’s no way Mr. Phelps could be related to Marshal Dillon.

    • Christine says:

      [slaps forehead] I’d forgotten about Stalag 17, as well! [Talk about wearing the cone of shame…it’s a classic!] You should definitely put that film in your que to watch, PCN.

      And like you, I also just learned that James Arness was his brother!

      • Pop Culture Nerd says:

        Brett—I guess I was doing my tribute to Mr. Peck. When I saw his picture and the DOB-DOD dates on the Italian newspaper, I ran to the concierge, heart in my throat, and asked him to translate, hoping that the headline announced anything but Mr. Peck’s death, knowing that’s exactly what it did.

        And you’re right about the resemblance. Once I saw the all the pictures in the Graves tributes yesterday, I wondered how I could’ve missed it all this time.

        Christine & lp13—I’m gonna check out the Stalag DVD from the library! I just looked online and they have a copy. Thanks.

  • EIREGO says:

    I always liked him. MI was one of my favorite shows. And, whenever that theme song came on, my brothers and I would dramatically run around the room in our pajamas fighting injustice as international spies. We were sooooo cool.

    And Airplane…Geez! I thought it was really great he could be so silly like that.

  • READER#9 says:

    I always wanted to see Leslie Nielsen and Peter Graves as a pair of detectives playing off one another. I wonder why they never did that? I would have gone to see that. Hell, I would have stood in line overnight.

    Graves always had such a cool voice.

    Okay, time for coffee……

  • Christine says:

    O.K., so who else can’t get the MI theme music out of their heads?

  • I happened upon Flying High {the name Airplane! was released with here} on telly late the other night ~ and laughed all over again at those scenes in particular ~ those lines could have been ‘euwwwww’ in the hands of someone less talented than Peter Graves! I have to wonder if some of the laughs came instinctively from the shock factor of seeing “Jim Phelps” acting so inappropriately! And no, I can’t get Lalo Shifrin’s theme out of my head now. Surely it has to go down as one of the all time best!

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      I didn’t know Airplane! was called Flying High down there! That sounds so…different. For me, most of the laughs did come from seeing such a serious, stalwart actor be so ridiculous. It’s also why Leslie Nielsen was so funny in the same movie.

      I think we all owe Schifrin residual checks from humming the theme all day.

  • Mark Tucker says:

    Dear PCN

    Peter Graves had a great run and his voice is in the background of so many documentaries, and old shows- I had no idea he was 84! He just seemed like he would be the narrator of life forever- Probably 75% of the world sees him like a news anchor, and that is all GOOD, but what made him great was the airplane stuff, the unexpected stuff. He didn’t take himself too seriously, and got MORE respect because he could be silly- RIP


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