Just the facts, Ma’am

I came upon this neat story of the real-life Detective Joe Friday, courtesy of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Enjoy!

City was protected by the real Joe Friday

of the Journal Sentinel staff
Last Updated: Sept. 17, 2001

Joe Friday & Jack Webb

Little did Edmund and Hedwig Friday realize 75 years ago what a nuisance their son’s name would be for much of his life.

Joseph E. Friday grew up to be a Milwaukee police officer and detective. By the time he wore a badge, TV Detective Joe Friday had made the name famous, his deadpan “Just the facts, ma’am” a part of television history.

“That name always gave him trouble,” said Detective Jim Cler in 1986, as his partner retired after 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.’ ” Cler repeated. “Sometimes it would take a little convincing.”

The real Detective Joe Friday died of lung cancer Tuesday, going quietly in his sleep while in hospice care at his Brookfield home. He was 75.

Born in Stevens Point and raised in Milwaukee, he served with the Army in Europe and Africa during World War II.

“During the Battle of the Bulge, he and a friend got caught behind enemy lines,” said his son, Paul J. Friday of Milwaukee. “They were hidden by civilians and made it back to our side.”

Also memorable for Friday, something of an amateur musician, was performing with the USO.

“He played guitar with Jack Benny,” said another son, Mark J. Friday of New Berlin.

After the war, Friday worked as a tool and die maker until switching to police work in 1954.

By then, “Dragnet” was one of the biggest hits of early television. The show began as a radio program in 1949, moving to television in 1951. Jack Webb continued acting in his Joe Friday role until 1959, later returning to the program in 1967 for two more years.

Soon after Friday was hired, he received a telegram from Webb.

“Very best wishes on your new job from both of us, Joe Friday and me,” the actor wrote.

In 1955, the two met when Webb stopped in Milwaukee to promote his movie, “Pete Kelly’s Blues.”

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,” Friday later recalled. “He apologized, and we went out to dinner. I enjoyed his company.”

The name also necessitated the unusual step of getting an unlisted phone number in the 1950s.

“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.”

Friday’s police career included patrol duties and work with the department’s vice squad. He became an expert in investigating auto theft, and, in 1971, broke one of the largest rings in the Midwest, which led to the recovery of a cache of stolen Corvettes hidden in a wooded area of Waukesha County.

“He was a hell of an asset for us,” said police Inspector Ken Hagopian as Friday retired. “He’s been instrumental in breaking and investigating auto thefts. Few people have his expertise.”

In 1959, Friday was involved in a highly publicized shooting, which occurred the night after the murder of a west side woman. A man matching the suspect’s description shot and killed Sgt. Raymond Nencki. Friday fatally shot the suspect.

More than for the accident of his name, Joe Friday probably would want to be remembered as a devoted husband and father and grandfather, said Mary Friday, his wife of 53 years.

He also loved hunting, fishing and training Irish setters, including an especially beloved dog known as Rocky. At one point, Rocky was one of the top 10 dogs in the country in competitive training events, Paul said.

“And, if you know anything about Irish setters, they are not the most obedient dogs in the world,” he said.

In addition to his wife and two sons, other survivors include three sisters, Lillian Peterson, Eleanor Yenter and Doris Sucik, all of the Milwaukee area; a brother, Edmund, of Conway, S.C., and grandchildren.

Officers from the Milwaukee and Brookfield police departments will provide an honor guard for services. Visitation will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. today at St. Dominic Catholic Church, 18255 W. Capitol Drive, Brookfield. The funeral service will follow at 7 p.m., also at the church.

Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Sept. 18, 2001.