The true story of the real Officer Joe Friday
The real Joe Friday was mercilessly prank-called his entire life.
Oh, what's in a name?
For Milwaukee police officer and detective Joseph E. Friday, the answer is unwanted cultural cachet.
When Edmund and Hedwig Friday named their son in 1926, they couldn't have known the trouble it would cause him for much of his life. That's because little Joey grew up to be a real-life police officer, and his career paralleled that of the same-named TV character. By the time the real Joe Friday was wearing a badge, the TV Joe Friday, Jack Webb on Dragnet, had made his name nationally famous.
"That name always gave him trouble," Detective Jim Cler told the Milwaukee Leader-Telegram in 1986. Cler was the real Joe Friday's partner for 32 years. "I used to listen to him on the phone. He'd say 'This is Joe Friday of the Milwaukee Police. Well, my name is Joe Friday. No, I'm not putting you on. Sometimes it would take a little convincing."
The real detective Joe Friday passed away on Sept. 18, 2001. The 75-year-old died quietly in his sleep after a long struggle with lung cancer. He left behind a real-life legacy that might've rivaled that of his onscreen counterpart.
"During the Battle of the Bulge, he and a friend got caught behind enemy lines," said his son, Paul J. Friday. "They were hidden by civilians and made it back to our side."
Friday, the real Friday, was also a musician, and all and performed with the USO. "He played guitar with Jack Benny," said another son, Mark J. Friday.
By the time the real Joe Friday began police work in 1954, Dragnet was one of the biggest hits of early TV. Shortly after he was hired by the Milwaukee police force, the officer received a telegram from Jack Webb.
"Very best wishes on your new job from both of us, Joe Friday and me," the actor wrote.
Friday later recalled that Webb "told me he had looked all over the country for a name he could use, and he thought there wasn't anyone with the name Joe Friday. He apologized and we went out to dinner. I enjoyed his company."
What he didn't enjoy, though was the ceaseless telephone harassment that plagued him.
"I'd get phone calls all night long, at 3 and 4 in the morning," Friday said. "Mostly kids who would sing 'dum-de-dum-dum,' and hang up." The issue was resolved when Friday finally got an unlisted phone number.