Late actor Peter Graves broke the mold between the “handsome leading man”and the “male character actor” type because he was both. With his light-colored eyes contrasting his dark hair, strong facial structure, and athletic poised body in combination with his talent and skill as an actor, Graves was able to make diverse, memorable performances. Most notably, to many classic film fans, as a German spy in the wartime drama “Stalag 17" (1953); in television he was “Jim Phelps in “Mission: Impossible” and as “Captain Clarence Oveur” in the comedy “Airplane” (1980).
In “Stalag 17" (1953), a twenty-seven year-old Graves portrayed “Price,” an American soldier amongst many who is imprisoned in a German prison camp. While taking upon the position of Stalag 17's security, “Price” has to find out who killed the two comrades the Stalag was trying to help escape from the camp. But there’s a catch, “Price” cannot let anyone in the barracks know he is really a German spy himself. With “Price”’s careful persuasion, all suspicions point toward the equally charismatic “Sgt. J.J Sefton” (played by William Holden). Graves portrayal of “Price” is as charismatic as he is lethal; like Christoph Waltz’s “Commander Landau” in “Inglourious Basterds” (2009), Graves made “Price” one character you love to hate.
In the realm of television, Graves appeared on many shows throughout his career including “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” Graves was successful during the 1950s with the hit television series “Fury” but Graves was made famous for his character “James Phelps” in the series “Mission: Impossible” (1967 - 1973). In the second season of the series, Graves was put on board to replace former star Steven Hill and Graves played a newly introduced character, “James Phelps.” As “Phelps”, Graves portrayed the character as calm and cool; the glue which held the team together. With “Phelps,” every mission was possible. As a result, in 1969, Graves was nominated and won an Emmy for his performance as “Jim Phelps” for “Mission: Impossible.”
Another character of Graves’ was “Captain Clarence Oveur” in classic comedy films “Airplane” (1980). Graves’ appearance as the captain of the ill-fated flight is brief but it is iconic. In one of the many highlights of the film, a twelve-year old passenger named “Joey” is invited into the cockpit while in-flight and Captain Oveur first asks him, “Have you ever been in a cockpit before?” Then the questions get steadily more hilariously bizarre - “Joey, have you ever been in a Turkish prison?”; “Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?” Graves reprised his role in the sequel, “Airplane II: The Sequel” (1982).
In 1990s and 2000s, Graves continued to actively pursue his career into his golden age. He made cameos in films such as “Men In Black II”(2002) and guest appearances on tv such as in the series “House” in 2005. Graves final onscreen performance was as “John ‘The Colonel’ Camden” on the television series “7th Heaven.” On March 14, 2010, Graves passed away at the age of 83. He will surely be missed.