Tuesday, 9 February 2016

A Tribute To Peter Graves

"My career had been built on the solid, straightforward, honest, hard-working guy,"

Peter Duesler Aurness 

(March 18, 1926 – March 14, 2010)

Peter Graves was an American film and television actor who was best known for his role as Jim Phelps in the CBS television series Mission: Impossible from 1967 to 1973 and from 1988 to 1990. His elder brother was actor James Arness (1923–2011) who we saw as the alien in The Thing from Another World and as the star of the television series Gunsmoke. We also know Graves for his portrayal of airplane pilot Captain Clarence Oveur in the 1980 film Airplane! (Flying High) and the 1982 sequel Airplane II: The Sequel.

Family Background

Peter Graves was the son of Rolf Cirkler Aurness, a businessman, and his wife Ruth, a journalist. Graves' ancestry was Norwegian, German, and English.

The family name originally was "Aursnes," but Rolf's Norwegian father, Peter Aursnes, changed the spelling when he immigrated to New York City in 1887.

To avoid confusion with his older brother, James Arness, Peter adopted the stage name "Graves", a maternal family name.

Education & Military Service

Graves graduated from Southwest High School in 1944.

During World War II, Peter and his brother, James Arness joined the US Army. Arness was an infantryman and was wounded in the battle of Anzio, Italy, while Graves was posted to the then Army Air Force which later became a separate branch of the US military.

Peter then enrolled at the University of Minnesota on the ‘G.I. Bill,’ or The Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, a law that provided benefits for returning World War II veterans. At University, he was a member of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.

Acting Career

Peter Graves appeared in more than seventy films, television shows, and television movies throughout his career.

In 1955, Graves appeared in the NBC television series Fury, as the rancher, Jim Newton.

Graves featured in the 1953 World War II film, Stalag 17.

From 1960-61 Graves starred as leading character, Christopher Cobb in the TV series Whiplash. His character was an American who came to Australia in the 1850s to establish the country's first stagecoach line. His trademark weapon to fight the bad guys was the bull-whip instead of a gun.

Graves went on to star in the British made ITC series Court Martial playing U.S. Army Lawyer Major Frank Whittaker. He then had guest roles in such series as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Route 66 and The Invaders.

In 1967, Graves replaced Steven Hill as the lead actor on Mission: Impossible. Graves portrayed the character of James Phelps, a role for which he is best remembered by Baby-boomers like me.

After the Mission Impossible series ended in 1973, Graves had roles in a feature film, Sidecar Racers in 1975; the soap opera Class of 74; and in the 1983 the ABC miniseries, The Winds of War as Palmer Kirby. 

Suddenly the serious, “solid, straightforward, honest, hard-working guy” transformed into the character Captain Clarence Oveur in the early 80s comedy films, Airplane! and Airplane II: The Sequel. The earnest dead-pan demeanour of his earlier characters was now used to comedic effect.

1988 saw the creation of a new Mission: Impossible series with Graves in his old role as James Phelps and being the only cast member from the original series to return as a regular. This series lasted for two seasons, ending in 1990.

During the 1990s, Peter Graves hosted and narrated the documentary series Biography. Graves later parodied his Biography work in the film Men in Black II, in which his character hosted an exposé television show. He also played Colonel John Camden on the television series 7th Heaven.

On October 30, 2009, Graves was honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

In that year he was featured in an AirTran Airways video campaign promotion appearing in what else, but a pilot's uniform topped off with Airplane! references.

In 2009 Graves signed on as a spokesman for reverse mortgage lender American Advisors Group, appearing in a national commercial in which he marketed reverse mortgages.

Graves' final project was narrating the computer game epic Darkstar: The Interactive Movie, released November 5, 2010.


After returning from a brunch on March 14, 2010, Graves collapsed and died of a heart attack at the age of 83, just four days before his 84th birthday.


Golden Globe Award in 1971 for his role as Jim Phelps in the series Mission: Impossible.

Primetime Emmy Award for outstanding informational series in 1997 as host of Biography.


Up Front (1951)
Fort Defiance (1951)
The Congregation (1952)
Red Planet Mars (1952)
Stalag 17 (1953)
War Paint (1953)
East of Sumatra (1953)
Beneath the 12-Mile Reef (1953)
Killers from Space (1954)
The Yellow Tomahawk (1954)
The Raid (1954)
Black Tuesday (1954)
Fort Yuma (1955)
The Long Gray Line (1955)
Robbers' Roost (1955)
Wichita (1955)
Fury TV Series (1955 - 1960)
The Naked Street (1955)
The Night of the Hunter (1955)
The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955)
It Conquered the World (1956)
Hold Back the Night (1956)
Canyon River (1956)
Beginning of the End (1957)
Bayou (1957)
Death in Small Doses (1957)
Wolf Larsen (1958)
A Stranger in My Arms (1959)
Whiplash (1959–60)
A Rage to Live (1965)
Texas Across the River (1966)
Branded (1966) Senator Keith Ashley in "The Assassins" (2 episodes)
The Ballad of Josie (1967)
Mission: Impossible (1967-1973)
Mission: Impossible vs. the Mob (1968) (compilation of both parts of the two-part Mission: Impossible episode "The Council" re-edited and released to European theatres)
Sergeant Ryker (1968)
The Five Man Army (1969)
The President's Plane is Missing (1973 TV movie)

Before there was a Jim Phelps, leader of the Impossible Missions Force who always chose to accept dangerous undercover assignments!

Before there were tapes that self-destructed in a matter of seconds!

Before there was a Captain Oveur who invited young boys into his plane’s cockpit and enquired, “Have you ever been in a Turkish prison?”



Graves the astronomer, Chris Cronyn in Red Planet Mars (1952), married to an eye-rolling-around-the sockets-McCarthyite-right wing-fundamentalist-Christian-crazy person wife: In this science fiction film. Graves’ character receives messages from Mars which suggest that it is from a utopian society. But is this all the work of Soviet agents who are bent on destroying the freedom of the US? Find out by reading my blog post on Red Planet Mars 

Graves the scientist, Dr. Douglas P. Martin in Killers from Space (1954) who is killed in a plane crash but is resurrected by an alien race so that they may acquire the information necessary for them to take over the Earth. Will they succeed? Find out by watching the film on this blog’s Sci-Fi Screen Gem’s Page.

Graves the scientist, Dr Nelson in It Conquered the World (1956) in which Dr. Tom Anderson (Lee Van Cleef), makes contact with Zontar, a Venusian creature whose secret aim is to take complete control of the Earth by enslaving humanity using mind control devices. Zontar claims it only wants to bring peace to the earth by eliminating all emotions. Anderson agrees to help the creature but his friend Dr. Nelson tries to persuade him that he has made a terrible mistake in placing his trust in Zontar. Will he be successful? Find out by reading my blog post on It Conquered the World

Graves as lab research director, Dr Ed Wainwright in Beginning of the End (1957). He, together with news photo journalist Audrey Ames, battle giant locusts that have been accidently enlarged by the scientist's experimenting with radioactive material at an agricultural research project run by the Department of Agriculture. What will be the outcome of this battle? Find out by reading my blog post on Beginning of the End.

Speech from It Conquered the World

(Spoiler Alert!!!)

While there's still a Peter Graves on film, it’s……

Never over, Oveur!

©Chris Christopoulos 2016

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