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 sideki...
|The Adventures of Superman||Actor||Jimmy Olsen; reporter-photographer||7|
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|Debbie Reynolds||1995 1994 - 1995||Actor||Interviewee||19957|
|Rock Hudson: The E! True Hollywood Story||1998 1997 - 1998||Actor||Interviewee||19987|
|Superman's 50th Anniversary: A Celebration of the Man of Steel||1987 1986 - 1987||Actor||n/a||19877|
|Superman Returns||2006||Actor||Bo the Bartender||20067|
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|Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman||1996 1992 - 1996||Actor||Old Jimmy Olsen||19967|
|Mike's Murder||1983||Associate Producer||n/a||1|
|Bright Lights, Big City||1988||Associate Producer||n/a||1|
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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 1951 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 - but 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 along 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 1960's, Larson faced a career crossroads. At the advice of his then-boyfriend, Montgomery Clift, Larson finally decided to quit acting in 1966 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 1970's and 1980's, Larson reinvented himself as a successful movie producer. Together with his longtime companion, the late director James Bridges, Larson wrote and/or co-produced such high-profile features as "The Paper Chase" (1973), "The China Syndrome" (1979) "Urban Cowboy" (1980), 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). Cast in the summer blockbuster as Bibbo Bibkowski, a supporting character from the modern Superman comics, Larson, appropriately enough, shared his scene with actor Sam Huntington, who played Jimmy Olsen in the movie. 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.
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