It’s been 20 years since the last time I was in Los Angeles. I was a pretty regular visitor for a while, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when my friend Brian had recently moved from Indiana to work in the movie business.
But by the time I visited L.A. the first time, I felt like I already knew it. Thanks to Jack Webb.
Webb, the decidedly non-flashy writer, director and actor best known for the police procedural radio and TV series “Dragnet,” made me feel like I knew the sprawling Southland.
“This is the city, Los Angeles, California,” Webb intoned at the opening of each episode of the late 1960s “Dragnet” revival. From watching “Dragnet” I knew not only that L.A. had three million residents — a number that boggled the mind of a kid living on a farm between Muncie and Cowan — but I also picked up the names and some of the geography of the show.
During a typical episode, Webb would salt his narration and dialogue with the names of southern California communities like Reseda and streets like Wilshire and Olympic boulevards.
Webb, who strived for no-frills, matter-of-fact acting as well as straightforward directing, tantalized me with his look at Los Angeles. “Dragnet” — along with “Adam-12” and “Emergency” — portrayed a city where anything could happen, thanks to those three million people.
Webb gets some ribbing now for his at-times over-the-top endorsement of authority over non-comformity, but he filled out the cast of his shows with an offbeat repertory company of actors and actresses playing the equally offbeat denizens of the city.
With its sunny front yards, wide streets and hills on the horizon, Webb’s Los Angeles created a vision of the city in my mind that was comforting when I visited years later. From Olvera Street — the city’s oldest neighborhood — to the Farmer’s Market to the hills where the Hollywood sign looms, L.A. seemed like a second home to me.