Peter Duesler Aurness (1926-2010) 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 (original) and from 1988 to 1990 (revival). His elder brother was actor James Arness. On House, M.D. he portrayed Myron, the paramour of Ramona in the Season 1 episode Love Hurts.

Early lifeEdit

Graves was born Peter Duesler Aurness in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a son of Methodist parents 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 Norwegian father, Peter Aursnes, immigrated to New York City in 1887, he changed the spelling. Peter used the stage name "Graves", a maternal family name. He used the name Graves to honor his mother's family, and also so as to not be confused with his older brother, James Arness, who was the star of the television series Gunsmoke.

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


468px-Peter Graves - 1967

Graves in 1967, via Wikipedia

Throughout Graves' career he appeared in more than seventy films, television shows, and television movies. In the 1950s, Graves joined the NBC television series Fury, as the rancher and adoptive single father, Jim Newton. Graves also was featured in the 1953 World War II film, Stalag 17. From 1960-61 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 the British made ITC series Court Martial playing U.S. Army Lawyer Major Frank Whittaker (one of the series two American Leads starring opposite Bradford Dillman's Captain David Young ) as well as guest roles in such series as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Cimarron City, Route 66 and The Invaders, (episode; 'Moonshot'). In 1967, Graves was recruited by Desilu Studios to replace Steven Hill as the lead actor on Mission: Impossible. Graves played the character James Phelps, the sometimes-gruff director 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. Graves was cast as Palmer Kirby in the 1983 ABC miniseries, The Winds of War. He played opposite Robert Mitchum, Jan Michael Vincent, Deborah Winters and Ali MacGraw in what became in 1983, the second most watched miniseries of all time (after Roots). After playing mainly serious roles in the 1970s, he appeared as Captain Clarence Oveur in the early 80s comedies Airplane! and Airplane II: The Sequel.

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, reprising his role as James Phelps, though other original cast members (most notably Greg Morris, whose son Phil Morris was a regular in this version) 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 television pilots 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.

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.


Peter Graves' handprints at the Hollywood Hills Ampitheatre, courtesy Neelix, via Wikipedia

During the 1990s, he hosted and narrated 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's 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 The Eye Creatures. The film 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. He also played Colonel John Camden on the television series 7th Heaven. In 1995, Graves starred with Charlton Heston, Mickey Rooney and Deborah Winters in the Warren

Chaney docudrama, America: A Call to Greatness.

800px-Peter Graves America A Call To Greatness

Graves in America: A Call to Greatness (1995), courtesy Paige-Brace Cinema, Ltd., via Wikipedia

In the 1996 film update of Mission: Impossible, the character of Phelps (played by Jon Voight as Graves had refused to play the role) was re-imagined as a traitor who murders three fellow IMF agents only to be killed himself at the end of the film, a decision that disappointed Graves, as well as many fans of the original series. Some of these fans refused to believe that Voight's "Phelps" was the real James Phelps, and instead considered him an impostor who had deceptively assumed—and hence stolen—the real Phelps's identity.

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

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

In the summer of 2009 Graves signed on as a spokesman for reverse mortgage lender American Advisors Group. Graves appeared in a national commercial in which he marketed reverse mortgages.

Graves' final project was narrating the computer game epic Darkstar: The Interactive Movie, released November 5, 2010.

Personal lifeEdit


Graves and his wife Joan in 2009, courtesy Angela George, via Wikipedia

Graves was a devout Christian and registered Republican. He was married to Joan Endress Graves from 1950 until his death. They had three children together.  His daughter Amanda was also an actor, as were the children of his brother James, his nephew Rolf Aurness, a documentary film maker, and his niece Jenny Lee Arness, an actress who tragically passed away at the age of 25.


After returning from a brunch on March 14, 2010, Graves collapsed and died of a heart attack at the age of 83, four days before his 84th birthday. It was reported that one of his daughters attempted to revive him, but was unsuccessful.


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


  • Rogue River (1951)
  • Up Front (1951)
  • Angels in the Outfield (1951)
  • Fort Defiance (1951)
  • The Congregation (1952)
  • Gruen Guild Theater, 1 episode Victim: Ann Norville
  • Red Planet Mars (1952)
  • Stalag 17 (1953)
  • War Paint (1953)
  • East of Sumatra (1953)
  • Where's Raymond? (TV Series) (unknown episodes, 1953-1955)
  • Beneath the 12-Mile Reef (1953)
  • Schlitz Playhouse, 1 episode Part of the Game (1953)
  • The Pepsi-Cola Playhouse, 2 episodes Melody in Black (1953) and Miss Darkness (1954)
  • Fireside Theatre, 4 episodes The Suitors (1953), Beyond the Cross (1954), Bread Upon the Waters (1954) and Bitter Grapes (1955)
  • Biff Baker, U.S.A., 1 episode The Jewel (1954)
  • "Killers from Space" (Peter Graves) 1954

    "Killers from Space" (Peter Graves) 1954

    Killers from Space
  • The Yellow Tomahawk (1954)
  • The Raid (1954)
  • A Man of Many Ideas (1954)
  • Studio 57, 1 episode Sauce for the Gander (1954)
  • Black Tuesday (1954)
  • TV Reader's Digest, 1 Episode Trouble on the Double (1955)
  • The Man Who Tore Down the Wall (1955)
  • Wichita (1955) 
  • The Night of the Hunter (1955)
  • The Naked Street (1955)
  • Fort Yuma (1955) Peter Graves, Joan Vohs, John Hudson WESTERN

    Fort Yuma (1955) Peter Graves, Joan Vohs, John Hudson WESTERN

    Fort Yuma
  • The Long Gray Line (1955)
  • Robbers' Roost (1955)
  • Fury (TV series) (1955 - 1960), 116 Episodes
  • The Naked Street (1955)
  • The Night of the Hunter (1955)
  • The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955)
  • IT Conquered The World (1956)

    IT Conquered The World (1956)

    It Conquered the World
  • Hold Back the Night (1956)
  • Canyon River (1956)
  • Studio One in Hollywood, 1 episode Circle of Guilt (1956)
  • Celebrity Playhouse, 1 episode East of Nowhere (1956)
  • Matinee Theatre, 1 episode The American (1956)
  • Cavalcade of America, 1 episode The Major of St. Lo (1956) 
  • The Millionaire, 1 episode The Anna Hartley Story (1956) 
  • Lux Video Theatre, 1 episode The Armed Venus (1957)
  • Climax!, 2 episodes Carnival at Midnight (1957) and The Deadly Tattoo (1958)
  • Beginning of the End (1957)
  • Bayou (1957)
  • Death in Small Doses (1957)
  • Wolf Larsen (1958)
  • Cimarron City, 1 episode The Unaccepted (1959) 
  • A Stranger in My Arms (1959)
  • Whiplash (TV series) (1959–60)
  • Las Vegas Beat (1961)
  • Whiplash (Produced,1960, released in U.S. 1961), 34 episodes
  • Route 66, 2 episodes (1962)
  • The Alfred Hitchcock Hour "I'll Be Judge - I'll Be Jury" (1963)

    The Alfred Hitchcock Hour "I'll Be Judge - I'll Be Jury" (1963)

    The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, 
    1 episode (1963)
  • Kraft Suspense Theatre, 1 episode (1963) 
  • The Farmer's Daughter (1964) 
  • The Great Adventure, 2 episodes (1964)
  • A Rage to Live (1965)
  • The Eye Creatures (1965)
  • Court Martial, 26 episodes (1965)
  • Laredo, 1 episode (1966)
  • Branded, 1 episode (1966)
  • Daniel Boone, 1 episode (1966)
  • Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, 2 episodes Gallegher Goes West (1966)
  • 12 O'Clock High, 1 episode (1967)
  • Texas Across the River (1966)
  • The Ballad of Josie (1967)
  • The F.B.I., 1 episode (1967) 
  • The Invaders, 1 episode (1967)
  • Mission: Impossible, 143 episodes (1967-1973)
  • Valley of Mystery (1967)
  • Mission: Impossible vs. the Mob (1968) (compilation of both parts of the two-part Mission: Impossible episode "The Council" re-edited and released to European theaters)
  • Sergeant Ryker (1968)
  • Premiere, 1 episode (1968)
  • Call to Danger (1968)
  • The Red Skelton Hour, 1 episode (1969)
  • The Five Man Army (1969)
  • The Tim Conway Comedy Hour, 1 episode (1970)
  • Call to Danger (TV pilot) (1973) (TV movie)
  • The President's Plane is Missing (1973) (TV movie)
  • Fantasy Island, 5 episodes (1973-1978)
  • Where Have All The People Gone? (1974) (TV movie) with Kathleen Quinlan
  • Scream of the Wolf (1974)
  • The Underground Man (1974) (TV movie) with Kay Lenz
  • Sidecar Racers (1975)
  • Dead Man on the Run (1975) (TV movie)
  • The Mysterious Monsters (1976) (documentary) (narrator)
  • High Seas Hijack (1978) (in English version)
  • SST: Death Flight (1977) (TV movie) 
  • Missile X: The Neutron Bomb Incident (1978) (also known as Teheran Incident and Cruise Missile)
  • The Gift of the Magi (1978) (TV movie) with John Rubinstein
  • The Love Boat, 4 episodes (1978-1987)
    • with John Rubinstein in "Who Killed Maxwell Thorn?"
  • Spree (1979) 
  • The Rebels (1979) (TV Movie) 
  • Parts: The Clonus Horror (1979)
  • Death Car on the Freeway (1979) 
  • Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, 1 episode (1979)
  • Steve Martin: Comedy Is Not Pretty (1980) with Carl Reiner
  • Matt and Jenny, 1 episode (1980) with Megan Follows
  • The Memory of Eva Ryker (1980)
  • Survival Run (1980)
  • Airplane! (1980)
  • Three Hundred Miles for Stephanie (TV Movie) (1981)
  • Best of Friends (TV Movie) (1981)
  • Simon & Simon, 1 episode (1981) 
  • The Guns and the Fury (1981)
  • Savannah Smiles (1982)
  • Airplane II: The Sequel (1982)
  • The Winds of War (1983)
  • Part III, Mad Mission: Our Man from Bond Street (1984)
  • Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense, 1 episode (1984)
  • Aces Go Places 3 (1984)
  • Murder, She Wrote 1 episode (1984)
  • Life with Lucy, 1 episode (1986)
  • Number One with a Bullet (1987)
  • If It's Tuesday, It Still Must Be Belgium (TV Movie) (1987)
  • War and Remembrance (1988)
  • Mission: Impossible (revival), 35 episodes (1988-1990)
  • The Golden Girls 1 episode Mother Load (1991)
  • Addams Family Values (1993)
  • The Unexplained: Witches, Werewolves & Vampires (1994) (documentary) (narrator)
  • Biography (host 1994-2001)
  • Burke's Law, 1 episode (1995) 
  • 7th Heaven (TV series) 11 episodes (1996–2007)
  • The Angry Beavers, 1 episode (1998)
  • Diagnosis: Murder, 1 episode (1999)
  • House on Haunted Hill (1999)
  • These Old Broads (TV movie) (2001) with Nestor Carbonell
  • House of Mouse, 1 episode (2001) with Pat Musick 
  • Men in Black II (2002) with Michael Bailey Smith
  • Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003) with Matthew Lillard
  • House (TV series) 1 episode Love Hurts (2005)
  • Minoriteam, 1 episodes (2006) with Nick Puga
  • Cold Case (TV series) 1 episode The Hen House (2006)
  • American Dad! 1 episode (2007)
  • WordGirl (2007)
  • Jack's Family Adventure (2009)
  • Darkstar: The Interactive Movie Game (2010)


  • Almost turned down the role of Captain Clarence Oveur in Airplane! after reading the script, but changed his mind after meeting with the Zucker brothers.
  • In 1966, he directed an episode of Gunsmoke, "Which Dr." starring his brother James Arness.

External linksEdit

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