One of the most famous faces of TV's golden age of the 1950s and '60s, actor/writer/producer Jack Larson enjoyed a career chock full of its share of highs and lows. As Superman's bowtie wearing sidekick, Jimmy Olsen in "The Adventures of Superman" (Syndicated, 1952-58), Larson made "Golly jeepers, Mister Kent!" a household phrase. Unfortunately, its resonant echo survived long after the show's demise and, along with the premature death of the show's superhero star, George Reeves, would haunt the rest of Larson's acting career. Later, Larson found some success as a film producer, working closely with his longtime partner, writer/director James Bridges. Lasron died of undisclosed causes on September 20, 2015 at the age of 87.
Born Jack Edward Larson on Feb. 8, 1928 (though some sources erroneously list 1933), in Los Angeles, CA, Larson's parents divorced while he was still a toddler, an uncommon event of its day that affected him deeply. A borderline juvenile delinquent by his early teens, Larson credited acting for saving his life and setting him on the straight and narrow path. His passion for acting was matched only by his prowess as a bowler (by the age of 14, Larson had become the California Bowling Champion in his age group). After just barely graduating from Montebello High School in the mid-1940's, Larson enrolled at Pasadena Junior College where he quickly earned praise for his acting and playwriting. In 1947, Larson wrote and starred in a musical called "Balguna Del Mar," which brought him to the attention of a Warner Brothers talent scout. In 1948, Larson made his screen-acting debut as Lt. 'Shorty' Kirk in Raoul Walsh's schmaltzy war epic, "Fighter Squadron." This led to a supporting role in the low-budget 1952 boxing drama, "Kid Monk Baroni" (which starred a young, pre-Spock Leonard Nimoy.) Despite his on screen showings, Larson still considered himself a stage actor, first and foremost; saying that he only accepted the roles for the money.
A year later, in 1952, the actor's career took a dramatic turn when he was offered a co-starring role on a new television adventure series called "The Adventures of Superman." In it, Larson played the bright-eyed cub newspaper photographer Jimmy Olsen, the danger-prone young sidekick to the "Man of Steel." Finding the role completely embarrassing, Larson initially passed on the part, but eventually changed his mind after his agent persuaded him. Buoyed by his assurances that no one would ever see the show, Larson finally accepted the role, for which he was paid $350 per week. "The Adventures of Superman" premiered on Sept. 19, 1952 and was an instant hit with people of all ages, but most particularly children. Blindsided by the show's enormous success, Larson feared that he might be typecast forever in the "aw shucks" role. A prescient prediction, as it would later turn out and Larson would not be alone in the stereotyping. Fearing that his reputation as a serious actor might be jeopardized, Larson immediately tried extricating himself out of his contract to no avail. Locked into his commitment, Larson would spend the next six years as the iconic Jimmy Olsen.
With an eye trained nervously toward the future, Larson tried to counter-balance his 'Jimmy Olsen' persona by taking on a number of different roles between hiatuses. Over the course of the show's six-year run, Larson appeared in such films as "Battle Zone" (1952), "Star of Texas" (1953), "About Mrs. Leslie" (1954), and "Johnny Trouble" (1957). Despite his best efforts, however, Larson was never able to shake his television image. In the summer of 1959, a resigned Larson was preparing to shoot a seventh season of "Superman" when tragedy struck. On June 19, 1959, "Superman" star and Larson's close friend George Reeves was found dead of an apparent suicide - though rumors would resound for decades that Reeves was killed by a spurned lover or the victim of a mob hit. The death resounded throughout the world, as fans, friends and co-workers had trouble reconciling the idea that the Man of Steel would kill himself, let alone be felled by the very real bullets that, on screen, bounced off the superhero's chest. Reeves' untimely demise was so shocking and mysterious, it remained one of the top unsolved celebrity deaths in the history of Hollywood.
Typecast and virtually unemployable as an actor during the 1960s, Larson faced a career crossroads. On the advice of his onetime boyfriend Montgomery Clift, Larson finally decided to quit acting to concentrate on his writing. Over the next several years, Larson gained critical praise as a playwright. In 1970, Larson received the first grant ever awarded by the Rockefeller Foundation for his play "The Candid House." During the 1970s and '80s, Larson reinvented himself as a successful movie producer. Together with his longtime companion James Bridges, Larson co-produced such high-profile features as the John Travolta/Jamie Lee Curtis vehicle "Perfect" (1985) and "Bright Lights, Big City" (1988).
Throughout the years, with each new "Superman" film or TV installment or every George Reeves death probe, Larson appeared to have long since made peace with his "Superman" history. Since giving up acting, Larson came out of retirement for occasional appearances on various Superman film and TV incarnations, including making a cameo appearance in Bryan Singer's "Superman Returns" (2006). Later that year, a film based on the highly suspicious death of actor George Reeves thrust Larson back into the limelight. Adapted from the book, "Hollywood Kryptonite" by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger, the movie, "Hollywoodland" (2006), starred Ben Affleck as George Reeves and newcomer Joseph Adam in the role of Larson. Larson died at his home in Brentwood, California on September 20, 2015. He was 87 years old.
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Made film debut in WWII drama "Fighter Squadron"
Had supporting role in western "Redwood Forest Trail"
Co-starred opposite Leonard Nimoy in boxing drama "Kid Monk Baroni"
Co-starred in WWII drama "Battle Zone"
Portrayed cub reporter Jimmy Olsen in "The Adventures of Superman"
Co-starred in western "Star of Texas"
Co-starred in Hollywood-set drama "Man Crazy"
Produced surrogate-mother drama "The Baby Maker," written and directed by James Bridges
Produced thriller "Mike's Murder," starring Debra Winger, written and directed by James Bridges
Produced aerobics drama "Perfect," starring John Travolta and Jamie Lee Curtis; co-written and directed by James Bridges
Produced "Bright Lights, Big City," starring Michael J. Fox; directed by James Bridges
Reprised role of Jimmy Olsen in an episode of "Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman"
Had cameo role as a bartender in "Superman Returns"
Played final screen role in indie drama "Bob's New Suit"