Peter Graves: Goodbye Mr. Phelps

On our first date I took my wife to see the movie “Airplane.” We were embarrassed by the fact that we were laughing so hard and hardly knew one another. It was a great first date because we gained an understanding of each other’s sense of humor. It has helped us through 29 years of marriage.

“Airplane!” is on so many people list of funniest movies of all time. It is always in the top ten lists and even ranked at number two in the British 50 Greatest Comedy Films poll on Channel 4. (Monty Python’s The Life of Brian was the first place spot for that poll.) This was due to the great cast of which many were not known for their comedic roles. This included Robert Stack, Leslie Nielsen, Lloyd Bridges, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Barbara Billingsley and Peter Graves.

It is Peter Graves who took his Final Taxi at the age of 83.

In Airplane Graves played the part of the pilot of the airplane, Captain Clarence Oveur. There were many funny lines about the character’s last name but the funniest for me was when a boy asked to visit the cockpit. ( Yes, this is pre-9-11.) Graves asks the boys questions like “Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?” “ Have you ever seen a grown man naked?” or “Have you ever been in a Turkish prison?” The humor came from the deadpan seriousness that Graves delivered. What also blew me away was this was coming from a man who I grew up watch on the TV show “Mission Impossible.”

Graves played the government secret agent Jim Phelps, the leader of the Impossible Missions Force from 1967 to 1973 and then reprised the role in 1988-1990. The show started during the “spy” craze started by the James Bond movies. Graves lead this super-secret government organization that preformed dangerous undercover assignments given to him by audio tape that self-destructed once he heard the message. This was my father’s favorite show to watch so I got to watch Graves every week.

I also remember watching old westerns with Peter Graves in them. These were movies like “The Yellow Tomahawk” from 1954 and “Texas Across the River” from 1966 but his first movie was with Rory Calhoun in 1950’s “Rogue River.” The western part really hit home for me when I found out Grave’s real name is Peter Aurness and that he has a brother named James Aurness. This is the man who played Marshal Matt Dillon for 20 years in the TV show “Gunsmoke. “

In later years Peter Graves was host on A&E TV’s “Biography” program. He narrated the lives of many of the rich and famous. He also in one of the funniest commercials from Geico insurance where he helps a “real Geico customer” narrating her story. In it he tells about putting on tangerine lip gloss and how he was one “lucky woman.”


One Response

  1. Wonderfull story about your first date.
    I’ve been similarly attached for a long while,
    and both enjoy many of the same.

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