Jack Webb turned Barney Phillips into one of classic TV's most memorable faces

The Dragnet creator's innovative use of extreme closeups led to Barney's "startling" overnight success.

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Fans of the classic crime drama Dragnet know actor Barney Phillips best as Sergeant Ed Jacobs, a character introduced after original cast member Bart Yarborough suddenly passed away.

For Phillips, Dragnet became "a wonderful showcase" for his talents as an actor after spending years trying to make it in Hollywood, mainly because he said Webb’s innovative use of the closeup transformed Phillips into a "face actor" overnight.

Where celebrities like Jack Webb and Harry Morgan become "name actors," Phillips became the kind of face that TV audiences came to know and love.

"Jack Webb did many things in Dragnet that were innovations, and daring ones, by the standards of television in the early 1950s," Phillips told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1964. "One was the super closeup, a screen full of nothing except the actor’s face, being expressive. I knew the camera was close when a shot was being made for one of the first shows, but I didn’t realize just how close it was until I saw my face on the screen, 17 inches square. Startling."

Phillips appeared across 11 episodes of Dragnet, and after that, he never had to use that distinctive mug to look for work ever again. The roles instead started coming to him.

"It was as though a big curtain went up," Phillips told The Post-Dispatch in 1952. "I’d been in motion pictures only once or twice and then only for a day’s work at a time. Now it became apparent I photographed without two heads, and overnight the picture offers were for leading roles. It’s a little ridiculous because I’m the same person I’ve always been, neither a better nor worse actor, just a little more experienced."

Through the Fifites, Phillips appeared on hit family shows like I Love Lucy and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, but mainly he got typecast as a detective on crime dramas and Westerns.

Then in 1960, Rod Serling pulled him into his Twilight Zone for several episodes, including most notably as the titular alien in the fan favorite episode "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" This classic episode ends with another closeup of Phillips, this time memorably with a third eye sunk into his forehead.

The same year we saw Phillips portray the Martian on The Twilight Zone, he also showed up in Mayberry as an escaped felon in The Andy Griffith Show episode "Barney Gets His Man."

By 1964, Phillips had turned from doing bit roles that were fewer and further between to finding a very profitable place for himself as a character actor in TV and movies.

He continued acting until he died of cancer in 1982.

It was a fine career for the face actor who was so desperate for his very first onscreen role in 1937 that he committed an acting faux pas.

"I got my first part through a breach of form," Phillips said. "Remember the cowboy actor Buck Jones? I stopped him one day and asked if he could find a part for me in his next picture. That wasn’t done, but I didn’t know the etiquette. He was surprised, but he said, 'Uh, sure, kid,' and he got a part for me."

When his first movie Black Aces was screened in 1937, Phillips was so excited, he gathered his mom, dad and cousins and packed the theater full of his biggest supporters. He expected them to cheer when he appeared, but a kid in the back row beat his family to the punch by delightfully screeching the second the "face actor" Phillips appeared, "Look at that funny-looking man."

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FloridaTopCat 13 months ago
Barney Phillips also did a Columbo, during the first year, 1971, an episode with Ross Martin, Don Ameche, Kim Hunter, and Vic Tayback - "Suitable for Framing"
Chrislongski 31 months ago
Barney Phillips was a regular on the war drama 12 O'Clock High. Ran three seasons.
Mark Chrislongski 9 months ago
Yep, as Doc Kaiser. Then he was on Felony Squad for one season as Captain Franks, opposite Ben Alexander, another of Joe's partners on Dragnet. A couple of years later, he was the coroner, Mike Golden, on Dan August, and after that, another coroner, Dr. Granby, on Cade's County. He kept himself very busy!
Nala92129 32 months ago
Jack Webb and Barney Phillips resembled each other. Both died in 1982. Not only do I love Dragnet, but so does my young caretaker and my very young visitors from Church!
Muleskinner 32 months ago
I will always remember that Twilight Zone episode.
Runeshaper 32 months ago
Barney Phillips was GREAT! His role in Twilight Zone was EPIC! (-:
kkvegas 32 months ago
Sadly and coincidently, Barney Phillips and Jack Webb both died in 1982.
Peter_Falk_Fan 32 months ago
I remember him best as the Venusian on TZ (I like good twists in shows/movies). I liked him in the movie "The Sand Pebbles", my second favorite Steve McQueen movie ("Bullitt" being my favorite). And yes, he was in a "Columbo" episode ('Suitable for Framing').
Zip Peter_Falk_Fan 32 months ago
My son gets on my case about watching Steve McQueen in Wanted: Dead or Alive. He says I am "addicted to old stuff".
I showed him a clip of the car chase on Bullitt. He was riveted to the screen the whole time.
jj_metv_3792 32 months ago
Barney Phillips was NOT "the titular alien in the fan favorite episode 'Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?'" John Hoyt was in that role. Phillips played a Venusian, not a Martian.
Andybandit 32 months ago
I meant thank you Jack Webb for Making Adam-12.
Nala92129 Andybandit 32 months ago
Love Martin Milner & Kent McCord, but HATE that LOUD, cacaphonous, ear splitting "music" on Adam-12. Stan Kenton on crack!
Andybandit 32 months ago
Nice story, even though I didn't know who Barney Phillips was. Thank you Jack Webb is making Adam-12.
MichaelGreene Andybandit 32 months ago
Barney Phillips also appeared in an Adam-12 episode, as a desk officer, in uniform. Perhaps Jack Webb and Barney probably though it may have been too obvious had he reprised his Ed Jacobs role from the original Dragnet series, either as a Lieutenant or as a Captain.
* Jack Webb seemed to have a group of actors who did numerous roles on series he produced! ☺
Zip 32 months ago
I remember him best from The Andy Griffith Show, where he growls his ominous line to Barney, "I'm going to get you, Deputy!"

But yes, I do remember that episode of The Twilight Zone. That eye though... kind of blows the illusion by how fake it looks.
KJExpress Zip 32 months ago
I agree about the eye. John Hoyt's third arm looked a lot more convincing.

I just love watching old shows and spotting all the great character actors. Barney was certainly one of those.
MrsPhilHarris Zip 32 months ago
Yes the eye is dreadful. I guess back then it was something else. 👁
justjeff 32 months ago
Phillips was the counter man at the diner, NOT a bartender in "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up". He was also the TV repairman beign harassed by Finchley in "A Thing about Machines"...
WordsmithWorks 32 months ago
I love these kinds of articles. "Where have I seen that guy?" actors who have/had incredible careers. Phillips was a very popular guest star or recurring character on many of the 50's, 60's and 70's most popular shows. Very interesting.
KatMac WordsmithWorks 32 months ago
He's listed in the credits as Haley the Bartender. But, he was a Venusian to John Hoyt's Martian...
texasluva 32 months ago
Every time I see him I think of that great big eye in the middle of his forehead in The Twilight episode
Gerald 32 months ago
Barney Phillips did radio roles too. He voiced several characters on the Johnny Dollar show.
cperrynaples Gerald 32 months ago
Yes, and he played a cop who nearly busted Lucy for runnng a fake charity auction!
Lantern cperrynaples 32 months ago
The Ladies' Overseas Aid ("We're ladies, we want to go overseas, and boy do we need aid!").
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