Just the Facts Ma’am

Jack Webb as Joe Friday Dragnet

Face the facts. Donald Trump doesn’t like the truth.

Stop the counting! Stop the testing! Stop the presses! Trump can’t deal with reality. Let alone facts. Unless they are of the alternative variety. Last night from the podium at the White House Donald Trump in a meltdown declared war on the truth. With no evidence, he declared the Presidential election rigged,

You will never hear him utter the catchphrase “Just the facts, ma’am” like Sargent Joe Friday on Dragnet.

The fact is though, the 1950’s snub-nose Smith and Wesson carrying LA Sergeant never said those exact words.

And that dum-de-dum-dum is the fact.

“The story you are about to hear is true”

The truth is, it was a spoof of Dragnet that gave us that famous line.

Dragnet was such a popular TV show that comedians and entertainers often referenced the show imitating star Jack Webb’s familiar staccato rapid-fire delivery.

In 1953 satirist, comedian, and radio personality Stan Freberg parodied the show in a record entitled “St. George and the Dragonet”  which blended the legend of “St. George and the Dragon” with the popular show Dragnet.

Little Blue Riding Hood

The flip side of the 45 record “Little Blue Riding Hood” was also another spoof on Dragnet.  “Little Blue Riding Hood” of course was based on the fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood” in which the Little Red Riding Hood character ( voiced by the extraordinary June Foray  the voice of Rocky the flying Squirrel) is accused of trafficking in “goodies.” The introductory narration claims that “only the color has been changed to prevent an investigation” a pointed reference to the 1950’s “red scare” investigations conducted by the House of UnAmerican Activities.

It was in “Little Blue Riding Hood” that Freeberg changed Joe Friday’s famous line.

The Dragnet character typically used the phrase “All we want are the facts, ma’am” (and sometimes “All we know are the facts ma’am”) when questioning women during police investigations. Freberg’s “Little Blue Riding Hood” spoof changed the line slightly:

Little Blue Riding Hood:   Why Grandma, what big ears you’ve got!

Sgt. Wednesday:   All the better to get the facts. I just want to get the facts, ma’am

It was Freberg’s alteration — rather than anything Joe Friday said — that would enter into one of pop culture’s most popular catchphrases.

The single recorded for  Capitol was released in September 1953 and was an immediate hit selling over 1 million copies the first 3 weeks, hitting the #1 spot on Billboard and Cash Box record charts. It was such a success that Ed Sullivan invited Freberg to perform both sides of the single live on his variety show Talk of the Town.

The phrase was eventually shortened to “Just the facts ma’am” and in time even Webb began using it in interviews.

And those are the facts, ma’am.

 

4 comments

  1. Sally, good analogy to an American classic TV show. I was thinking of the analogy of the New England Patriots who were badly losing to the Atlanta Falcons late in the third quarter of the Super Bowl a couple of years ago. It would be like Trump, the QB for the winning team, going to the referee and saying why don’t you call this game at the end of the quarter. I have already tweeted we won and playing anymore would be stealing the game from us. The referee shook is head and said “you have to be kidding me.” Oh, and by the way, the opposing QB is Tom Brady, so I don’t think he would cotton to calling the game then. The Patriots came back to win. Keith

    Like

  2. one thing I loved when I first started listening to podcasts was some early radio shows that some archive had digitally saved and Dragnet was one of the ones I’d listen to. Interesting way to enjoy mysteries and cases. But I was trying to remember if I’d heard “Just the facts, ma’am.” on the few I’d listened to, and it certainly wasn’t just like that. I figured maybe it was during the tv show, but it wasn’t quite like that either.

    Good to know if it was just a short form or actually came from somewhere else.

    Like

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