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Frederic Gadette
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Bert I. Gordon
Peter Graves
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GRAVES, PETER
(Peter Aurness 1925–2010). American actor.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Acted in: Angels in the Outfield (uncredited) (Clarence Brown 1951); Red Planet Mars (Harry Horner 1952); Killers from Space (W. Lee Wilder 1954); It Conquered the World (Roger CORMAN 1956); The Beginning of the End (Bert I. GORDON 1957); "I'll Be Judge, I'll Be Jury" (1963), episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour; The Eye Creatures (uncredited) (Larry BUCHANAN 1965); "Moonshot," episode of The Invaders (1967); Mission Impossible (tv series) (1967-1973, 1988-1990); The President's Plane Is Missing (tv movie) (1973); Where Have All the People Gone? (tv movie) (John L. Moxey 1974); Scream of the Wolf (tv movie) (Dan CURTIS 1974); The Mysterious Monsters (documentary; narrator) (Robert Guenette 1976); SST—Death Flight (tv movie) (David Lowell Rich 1977); "The Island of Lost Women/The Flight of Great Yellow Bird" (1978), "Hit Man/The Swimmer" (1979), "Nona/One Million B.C. (1980), "A Very Strange Affair/The Sailor" (1982), "Nurse's Night Out" (1983), episodes of Fantasy Island;  Death Car on the Freeway (tv movie) (Hal Needham 1979); "Return of the Fighting 69th" (1979), episode of Buck Rogers in the Twenty-Fifth Century; Parts: The Clonus Horror (Robert S. Fiveson 1979); Airplane (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker 1980); Airplane II: The Sequel (Ken Finkleman 1982); Tennis Court (tv movie) (Cyril Frankel 1984); Mad Mission 3 (Tsui Hark 1984); Addams Family Values (Barry Sonnenfeld 1993); Looney Tunes: Back in Action (uncredited) (Joe DANTE 2003).

Directed: "Kidnap" (1972), episode of Mission Impossible.

Provided voice for animated films: "The Day the Earth Got Really Screwed Up" (1998), episode of The Angry Beavers; episode of Mickey Mouse Works (animated series) (1999); "Clarabelle's Big Secret" (2002), episode of House of Mouse; "Tax Day" (2006), episode of Minoriteam; "A. T. Abused Terrestrial" (2007), episode of American Dad; Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust (video game) (2009); Darkstar (video game) (J. Allen Williams and Jeff Williams 2010).

 
Without a scintilla of biographical information, I once enjoyed imagining that, in high school, James Aurness was the star of the football team, dated all the cheerleaders, and was the center of a circle of admirers; meanwhile, his younger brother Peter, a bookish nerd, played on the chess team, studied a lot, and earned better grades, all the while burning with secret envy at his brother's accomplishments. Certainly, envy was the only possible emotion Peter Graves could have felt in the 1950s: while big brother James Arness, last name re-spelled, was becoming rich and famous killing bad guys in the television series Gunsmoke, kid brother Peter Graves, last name abandoned, was earning little money and no recognition killing giant grasshoppers in Bert I. GORDON's The Beginning of the End, along with other dubious labors in little-regarded, low-budget films. But cosmic justice sometimes prevails; though Graves sometimes seemed tentative and inadequate as a youthful science fiction hero in 1950s films like Killers from Space, a few wrinkles and premature gray hair soon imbued him with an admirable air of authority, and he was an intelligent choice to replace Steven Hill as the leader of the Mission: Impossible team, utterly plausible as the calm technician who devised all those incredibly intricate schemes and directed their execution with steady precision. Then, in the 1980s, when James Arness was having less and less success in his post-Gunsmoke endeavors, Graves was triumphantly called back to star in the revived and otherwise-recast Mission: Impossible, still the best actor for the part.

While Mission: Impossible will forever be the work that Graves is best remembered for, he had a lively and variegated career in fantastic cinema outside of that venue. Fans of 1950s science fiction films will recall his hapless efforts to salvage guilty pleasures like the inane Red Planet Mars and unintentionally laughable It Conquered the World, but his better-than-average acting improbably helped to make The Beginning of the End one of Gordon's most successful films. Between the two runs of Mission: Impossible, Graves was the uncertain center of that uncertain television movie, Where Have All the People Gone?, a film seemingly inspired by the desire to remake Panic in Year Zero (1962) while leaving out all the interesting parts; suffered through no fewer than five visits to Fantasy Island; and was effective as an aging space fighter in one of the better episodes of Buck Rogers in the Twenty-Fifth Century (not that that is saying much). But his most intriguing performances of that era, and the obvious Road Not Taken in his career, were his comic turns in the farcical Airplane and Airplane II: The Sequel. One can readily argue that his flair for deadpan comedy made him more impressive in the first film than another aging dramatic actor, Leslie NIELSEN, who would make the film his springboard for a second career as a cinematic clown. Graves might have done the same, but perhaps haunted by old insecurities, he decided that he would still prefer to be taken seriously and returned to television drama at the helm of the Mission: Impossible team.

The last decades of an actor's career are rarely a pretty sight, and Graves was luckier than most to land at least one more dignified assignment as a long-running host of A&E's Biography series, while otherwise keeping busy with the usual assortment of cameo appearances and voices for television cartoons. When he suddenly died of a heart attack, the obituaries tended to focus on Mission: Impossible and Airplane, surely his most enduring achievements. But I cherish the article that also found time to mention The Beginning of the End while celebrating a career of memorable highs, and memorable lows.

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