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Peter Graves

Graves in October 2009
Born Peter Aurness
March 18, 1926(1926-03-18)
Minneapolis, Minnesota,
United States
Died March 14, 2010 (aged 83)
Los Angeles, California,
United States
Occupation Actor
Years active 1942–2010
Spouse(s) Joan Endress
(m. 1950–2010)

Peter Aurness (March 18, 1926 – March 14, 2010),[1][2][3][4] known professionally as Peter Graves, was an American film and television actor. He was best known for his starring role in the CBS television series Mission: Impossible from 1967 to 1973. His brother is actor James Arness (born 1923).


Early life

Graves was born Peter Aurness in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a son of Rolf Cirkler Aurness (1894–1982), a businessman, and his wife Ruth (née Duesler, died 1986), a journalist. Graves' ancestry was Norwegian and German. The family name originally was "Aursnes," but when Rolf's father, Peter Aursnes, immigrated to New York City in 1887, he changed the spelling.[5]

Graves graduated from Southwest High School in 1944, and spent two years in the United States Army Air Force near the end of World War II. He then enrolled at the University of Minnesota[6] on the G.I. Bill, and was a member of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.


Graves appeared in more than seventy films, TV shows and TV movies.[7] He was featured as:

From 1960 to 1961, Graves starred as leading character Christopher Cobb in 34 episodes of the TV series Whiplash. In the story line, Cobb is an American who arrives in Australia in the 1850s to establish the country's first stagecoach line, using a bullwhip rather than a gun to fight the crooks that he encounters. The series also starred Anthony Wickert. Graves also starred in Court Martial as well as guest roles in such series as Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Route 66.

In 1967, Graves was recruited by Desilu Studios to replace Steven Hill as the lead actor on Mission: Impossible. Graves played Jim Phelps, the sometimes gruff leader of the Impossible Missions Force or IMF, for the remaining six seasons of the series.

After the series ended in 1973, Graves played a cameo-type support role in the feature film Sidecar Racers in Australia which was released in 1975. Graves also made a guest appearance in the teen soap opera Class of '74 in mid-1974, playing himself.

In 1988, a Hollywood writers' strike resulted in a new Mission: Impossible series being commissioned. Graves was the only original cast member to return as a regular (although others made guest appearances). The series was filmed in Australia, and Graves made his third journey there for acting work. The new version of Mission: Impossible lasted for two seasons, ending in 1990. Bookending his work on Mission: Impossible, Graves starred in two pilot films called Call to Danger, which were an attempt to create a Mission: Impossible-style series in which Graves played a government agent (the Bureau of National Resources) who recruited civilians with special talents for secret missions.[9][10] The 1960s version of the pilot, according to Patrick White in The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier (which White reports was actually the second such pilot, but Graves was not involved in the first), is credited with winning Graves the role of Phelps; after Mission: Impossible ended in 1973, Graves filmed a third version of the pilot (this one structured as a made-for-TV movie), but it did not sell as a series. The concept was later used in the brief 1980s adventure series Masquerade.

Handprints of Peter Graves in front of Hollywood Hills Amphitheater at the Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park

During the 1990s, he hosted the documentary series Biography on A&E. He also acted in a number of films featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, which subsequently featured running jokes about Graves' Biography work and presumed sibling rivalry with Arness. The films that have been featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 include SST: Death Flight, It Conquered the World, Beginning of the End, Parts: The Clonus Horror, and an uncredited voiceover in Attack of the the Eye Creatures. The movie Killers from Space was featured in The Film Crew, Michael J. Nelson's follow-up to MST3K. Graves himself parodied his Biography work in the film Men in Black II, hosting an exposé television show.

In the 1996 film update of Mission: Impossible, the character of Phelps was reimagined as a traitor who murders three fellow IMF agents, a decision that disappointed Graves. Jon Voight was cast as Phelps.[8]

On October 30, 2009 Graves was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[8]

In 2009, AirTran Airways featured Graves in a series of web-only "Internetiquette" videos in which Graves appeared in a pilot's uniform and references classic Airplane! lines.[11] The videos were part of an AirTran Airways campaign to promote their in-flight wireless Internet access.[11]

In the summer of 2009, Graves signed on as a spokesperson for reverse mortgage lender American Advisors Group (AAG).[12] Graves appeared in a national commercial in which he educated seniors about the benefits of reverse mortgages.[13]

Personal life

Graves was a devout Christian.[14] He was married to Joan Endress from 1950[2] until his death. Their marriage produced three daughters: Kelly Jean, Claudia King and Amanda Lee,[15] all of whom survive him. Graves had six grandchildren.[citation needed]


Graves died of a heart attack on March 14, 2010,[3] four days prior to his 84th birthday. The actor had just returned from brunch with his wife and children, collapsing before he could enter the house. Although one of his daughters administered CPR, she could not revive him.[citation needed]


Graves was awarded a Golden Globe Award in 1971 for his role as Jim Phelps in the series Mission: Impossible.[4] He also received nominations for an Emmy Award[16] and Golden Globe awards[17] in other seasons of that show. Graves also won a Primetime Emmy Award for outstanding informational series in 1997 as host of Biography.[4]



  1. ^ ""Peter Graves: Biography"". Yahoo! Movies. Retrieved 2008-02-06. 
  2. ^ a b "Peter Graves Biography". Film Reference. Retrieved 2008-02-06. 
  3. ^ a b My-Thuan Tran (Monday, March 15, 2010). "Peter Graves dies at 83; star of TV's 'Mission: Impossible". Los Angeles Times.,0,836018.story. Retrieved 2010-03-15. 
  4. ^ a b c Michael Pollak (March 15, 2010). "Peter Graves, 'Mission: Impossible' Star, Dies at 83". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-03-14. 
  5. ^ Ancestry of James Arness
  6. ^ Crow T. Robot (Original air date November 25, 1993). "Peter Graves at the University of Minnesota". Mystery Science Theater 3000. Retrieved 2010-03-16. 
  7. ^ Peter Graves at the Internet Movie Database
  8. ^ a b c "'Mission: Impossible' actor Peter Graves dead at 83". CNN. 15 March 2010. Retrieved 2010-03-15. 
  9. ^ Call to Danger (1968) (TV) at the Internet Movie Database
  10. ^ Call to Danger (1973) (TV) at the Internet Movie Database
  11. ^ a b "Internetiquette" AirTran Airways. Retrieved 2010-03-15.
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ Guardian obituary
  15. ^ TCM biography.
  16. ^ ""IMDB: Emmy Awards 1969"". Retrieved 2010-03-15. 
  17. ^ ""HFPA Awards List"". Retrieved 2010-03-15. 

External links



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