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Peter Graves

Peter Graves

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Also Known As: Peter Aurness Died:
Born: March 18, 1926 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA Profession: actor, TV host, narrator, band musician, radio announcer

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Few actors were able to convey a sense of gravitas like the tall, dignified Peter Graves. Brother of actor James Arness, Graves was readily remembered as one of the hosts on "Biography" (A&E, 1987-2006), where he solemnly intoned about the lives of public figures for over a decade. Prior to "Biography," Graves was a film and television star whose heyday came in the late-1960s with the hip Cold War spy drama, "Mission: Impossible" (CBS, 1966-1973). Before stardom, the actor struggled to make a name for himself by starring in a series of schlock horror films, some of which were lampooned on the cult series, "Mystery Science Theater 3000" (KTMA-Comedy Central-Sci Fi Channel, 1988-1999). Regardless of such inauspicious beginnings, Graves was unafraid to poke fun of his persona, which he did to hilarious effect as the captain of a doomed passenger jet in "Airplane" (1980) and "Airplane II: The Sequel" (1982). Though not known for any award-worthy performances, Graves became engrained in pop culture - both as an understated comedic actor as well as a gifted dramatic performer. Born Mar. 18, 1926 in Minneapolis, MN, Graves was raised by his businessman father, Rolf, and journalist mother, Ruth. As a...

Few actors were able to convey a sense of gravitas like the tall, dignified Peter Graves. Brother of actor James Arness, Graves was readily remembered as one of the hosts on "Biography" (A&E, 1987-2006), where he solemnly intoned about the lives of public figures for over a decade. Prior to "Biography," Graves was a film and television star whose heyday came in the late-1960s with the hip Cold War spy drama, "Mission: Impossible" (CBS, 1966-1973). Before stardom, the actor struggled to make a name for himself by starring in a series of schlock horror films, some of which were lampooned on the cult series, "Mystery Science Theater 3000" (KTMA-Comedy Central-Sci Fi Channel, 1988-1999). Regardless of such inauspicious beginnings, Graves was unafraid to poke fun of his persona, which he did to hilarious effect as the captain of a doomed passenger jet in "Airplane" (1980) and "Airplane II: The Sequel" (1982). Though not known for any award-worthy performances, Graves became engrained in pop culture - both as an understated comedic actor as well as a gifted dramatic performer. Born Mar. 18, 1926 in Minneapolis, MN, Graves was raised by his businessman father, Rolf, and journalist mother, Ruth. As a lad, he excelled in running track and playing the clarinet while attending Southwest High School, for whom he won the state high hurdles junior year. After graduation, Graves enlisted in the U.S. Air Force for two years, then studied drama at the University of Minnesota on the G.I. Bill before heading out to Hollywood to make his mark as an actor. His early years in the movie business were studded with fairly infamous low-budget stinkers, making him a minor trash-movie icon. He appeared in the communist-baiting "Red Planet Mars" (1952), followed by "Killers from Space" (1954), directed by Billy Wilder's younger brother W. Lee, which featured googly-eyed aliens in hooded sweatshirts and oven mitts. Graves had a pivotal role in the Roger Corman quickie "It Conquered The World" (1956), featuring a bizarre zucchini-shaped monster threatening the Earth, as well as a turn in the grasshopper-turned-mutated monster flick, "The Beginning Of The End" (1957). Both films later had the dubious distinction of being featured on "Mystery Science Theater 3000." Also in 1957, Graves was also seen as a well-meaning Yankee opposite an out-of-control Timothy Carey in "Poor White Trash." At the same time that Graves was appearing in such sci-fi hokum, he was also tackling roles with more dramatic heft, including various appearances on "Fireside Theater" (CBS, 1949-1955) and the wholesome children's series "Fury" (NBC, 1955-1960), on which he played a rancher and the adoptive father of a young boy (Bobby Diamond) who rescues and befriends a wild horse. Upping his profile, Graves made notable appearances throughout the 1950s, playing the German mole Price in "Stalag 17" (1953) and Capt. Elliot in Otto Preminger's somewhat heavy-handed courtroom drama, "The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell" (1955). One of his most interesting roles, though, was playing the flawed, weak-willed father Ben Harper in Charles Laughton's "Night of the Hunter" (1955). The film was a huge flop upon its release, resulting in Laughton never being allowed to direct another one. But its formal, lyrical tone and fable-like storytelling have made it a must-see in film studies ever since. In the film, Graves' character Harper was hauled off by the sheriff early in the movie, ruining his kids' innocence and leaving them $10,000 and a terrible secret to keep. Though his screen time was brief, Graves was searing and intense as the doomed Harper. Graves started the 1960s with a performances as Christopher Cobb in the Australian television series, "Whiplash" (ATV, 1960-61). This Aussie take on the Western depicted Cobb using a bullwhip rather than a pistol and taking on all comers in his efforts to establish the first stagecoach line in the country. But it was "Mission: Impossible" that gave Graves his breakthrough role. Wildly popular, "M:I" became ensconced in the pop-culture fabric of the decade, from Lalo Schifrin's theme music to the phrase "Your mission, should you choose to accept it." to the tape recorder whose reels would go up in a puff of smoke "in five seconds." In the Cold War-era spy series, Graves played Jim Phelps, the cool-headed leader of the Impossible Mission Force, which pulled together various specialists to carry out top secret missions for the U.S. government. Creator Bruce Geller made it a point to keep the show's characters rather shallow and mysterious, in keeping with the spy-who-came-in-from-the-cold culture of the time. Graves' performance brought him a Golden Globe award for Best Actor in 1971. The show proved memorable enough to warrant a revival series (ABC, 1988-1990), with only Graves returning from the original cast, and four feature films. Fans of the original show criticized the movie franchise for its reliance on Tom Cruise's star power, and rampant explosions and gunplay. Notably, none of the show's original cast members have shown up in cameos in the feature films, though Graves was reportedly asked to play Phelps, which he turned down because the first feature depicted him as a villain. In 1980, Graves was approached with what he regarded as "the worst piece of junk he had ever seen" - which turned out to be the script for "Airplane." He changed his mind, however, after a meeting with the movie's creators, Jerry and David Zucker, and came onboard as Capt. Oveur, the stolid airline pilot who has to ride herd on all sorts of airborne emergencies in the ridiculous spoof of 1970s disaster movies. The movie's mile-a-minute gags, puns and double entendres proved to be a huge hit, enough to warrant the equally funny "Airplane II: The Sequel." It also showed that the normally stony Graves had some comedic chops and was far from being too proud to poke fun at himself. Meanwhile, aside from a role in the spoof "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka" (1998), Graves began to keep away from features. In 1989, Graves began his long stint as host of "Biography," a documentary television series that featured long, in-depth looks at celebrities, politicians and other iconic figures. In Graves' 12 years as host, he delved into numerous lives, including Ronald Reagan, Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, Groucho Marx, Madonna, Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop, Mel "The Velvet Fog" Torme, Mia Farrow and Tom Hanks, to name a few. As the new millennium came into being, the aging Graves began to slow down his career, putting in occasional television appearances while holding down his "Biography" gig. He did become a regular on the feel-good family drama, "7th Heaven" (CBS, 1997-2007), playing John "The Colonel" Camden, the Marine father of the Reverend Eric Camden (Stephen Collins), whose brood of seven deals with a moral or controversial issue each week. After appearing in the uneven "Men In Black II" (2002), playing the host of a "Biography"-style expose' program, Graves returned to the small screen for guest shots on "House" (Fox, 2004-), "Cold Case" (CBS, 2003- ) and "American Dad" (Fox, 2004- ). Meanwhile, Graves left "Biography" in 2001, and five years later, the show was effectively canceled by A&E, although it lived on exclusively on The Biography Channel with new hosts and voiceover talent.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
2.
 Men in Black II (2002) Himself
3.
 These Old Broads (2001) Bill
4.
 House on Haunted Hill (1999) Himself
5.
 Jack Lemmon: America's Everyman (1996) Host ("Biography")
6.
 Fred Macmurray: The Guy Next Door (1996) Host ("Biography")
7.
 Burt Lancaster: Daring To Reach (1996) Host ("Biography")
8.
 Charlton Heston: For All Seasons (1995) Host ("Biography")
9.
 Roger Moore: A Matter of Class (1995) Host ("Biography")
10.
 Addams Family Values (1993) Host
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Played with bands
:
Worked as a radio announcer while in college
:
Acted in summer stock
1950:
Film acting debut, "Rogue River"
1952:
First starring role in a film, "Red Planet Mars"
1953:
Had a memorable supporting role as a German spy in Billy Wilder's "Stalag 17"
1955:
Played a father on the run from the law in Charles Laughton's "The Night of the Hunter"
1955:
Debut as a TV series regular, played the rancher and adoptive single father in NBC's Western series, "Fury" (retitled Brave Stallion in syndication runs)
1960:
Starred in the syndicated Australia adventure series, "Whiplash," as a pioneering stage coach company owner
1963:
Co-starred as Maj. Frank Whittaker in "Court-Martial," the pilot for a military legal series (aired as two episodes of NBC's "Kraft Suspense Theater")
1965:
Reprised role as Maj. Frank Whittaker in "Court-Martial," a mid-season replacement series on ABC
1967:
Joined the cast of the popular espionage series "Mission: Impossible" (CBS) during its second season as special agent Jim Phelps; earned Golden Globe (1969, 1970) and Emmy (1969) nominations for Best Actor
1968:
Starred as Jim Kingsley in "Call to Danger," the initially unaired pilot for "Mission: Impossible," which aired as part of the summer replacement series "Premiere"
1969:
Reprised the role of Jim Phelps in the feature "Mission: Impossible vs. the Mob"
1973:
Hosted and narrated "Strange Places," a syndicated documentary series
1973:
Starred as Douglas Warfield, an undercover federal agent, in the CBS TV-movie pilot, "Call to Danger"
1974:
Miscast as private eye Lew Archer in the pilot, "The Underground Man" (Brian Keith as cast in the subsequent series)
1975:
Starred in the ABC TV-movie, "Dead Man on the Run," as a special government agent
1979:
Appeared as Major Noah Cooper, commander of the Fighting 69th squadron, in the NBC TV series "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century"
1980:
Starred as Captain Oveur in the hit feature comedy, "Airplane!"
1982:
Reprised the role of Captain Oveur for "Airplane II: The Sequel"
1983:
Appeared as Palmer Kirby in the ABC blockbuster miniseries, "The Winds of War"
1988:
Reprised the role of Palmer Kirby for the ABC sequel miniseries, "War and Remembrance"
1988:
Reprised the role of Jim Phelps for the ABC revival of "Mission: Impossible"
:
Hosted "Discover: The World of Science," a series of documentary specials on PBS
1989:
Hosted the revival of "Biography," a documentary profile series on A&E
1992:
Narrated the documentary feature, "The Rise & Fall of the Soviet Union"
1994:
Hosted the NBC documentary special, "The Unexplained: Witches, Werewolves & Vampires... Are They Real?"
1994:
Provided the voices of General Sherman and General McClellan for "Smithsonian's Great Battles of the Civil War," a miniseries on The Learning Channel
1997:
Had a recurring role as Colonel John Camden on the WB series, "7th Heaven"
2002:
Parodied his Biography work in the film "Men in Black II," hosting an exposé television show
2009:
Received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Southwest High School: Minneapolis , Minnesota - 1944
University of Minnesota: Minneapolis , Minnesota - 1949

Notes

Not to be confused with British actor Peter Graves who died in 1994 or the marketing executive of the same name.

Graves was the recipient of the Outstanding Achievement Award for 1968 from the University of Minnesota

Graves was nominated for an Emmy for Best Actor in a Drama for the 1968/69 season of "Mission: Impossible".

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Joan E Endress. Married on December 16, 1950.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Rolf C Aurness.
mother:
Ruth E Aurness.
brother:
James Arness. Actor. Older; best known as the star of the long-running TV Western "Gunsmoke" (CBS, 1955-75).
daughter:
Kelly Jean Graves.
daughter:
Claudia King Graves.
daughter:
Amanda Lee Graves.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

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