Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Jack Larson R.I.P.

Jack Larson, best known for playing Jimmy Olsen in the Fifties TV series, The Adventures of Superman, died on September 20 2015 at the age of 87.

Jack Larson was born on February 8 1928 in Los Angeles, California. He grew up in Montebello, California. It was in junior high that he began writing and acting in his own plays. He attended Montebello High School, but dropped out with plans of becoming a professional bowler. It was while he was earning a high school diploma in a programme at Pasadena Junior College that a Warner Bros. scout saw him in a play and signed him to the studio.

Jack Larson made his film debut in Fighter Squadron in 1948. Over the next few years he appeared in the films Flame of Youth (1949), Trial Without Jury (1950), A Wonderful Life (1950), Redwood Forest Trail (1950), Fighting Coast Guard (1951), On the Loose (1951), and Starlift (1951). It was in 1951 that he was offered the role of Jimmy Olsen in the TV series The Adventures of Superman. He was hesitant to take the role for fear of being typecast. His agent informed him that the show had no sponsor as of yet and would not last. He then signed to appear in 26 episodes of the new show. As it turned out, The Adventures of Superman ran for six season and 104 episodes.

While Jack Larson was playing Jimmy Olsen in The Adventures of Superman he continued to appear in films. In the Fifties he appeared in such films as Battle Zone (1952), Star of Texas (1953), Man Crazy (1953), About Mrs. Leslie (1954), and Johnny Trouble (1957). He also guest starred on the TV show Navy Log. Sadly, following his stint as Jimmy Olsen on The Adventures of Superman, Jack Larson found himself typecast. He guest starred on episodes of Tales of the Vikings, The Millionaire, and Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. before giving up on acting.

No longer acting, Jack Larson found a new career as playwright and a librettist . Over the years he wrote such plays as The Candied House (1966),  Chuck (1968), The Hyacinth From Apollo (1997), and The Astronaut’s Tale (1998). He wrote the  the libretto for Virgil Thomson’s opera Lord Byron, which made its debut in 1972 at the Juilliard Theatre in New York City.

Jack Larson eventually returned to acting. He guest starred in a 1991 episode of Superboy and a 1996 episode of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (once more playing Jimmy Olsen, who had been unnaturally aged). He appeared in a role in Superman Returns (2006). In 2006 he guest starred in an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. His last appearance on screen was is in the 2011 feature Bob's New Suit.

Jack Larson was perfect as Jimmy Olsen, the cub reporter for the Daily Planet who was constantly finding himself in trouble. Mr. Larson's Jimmy Olsen was good natured and well intentioned, but also slightly naive and at times foolish. More often than not Jimmy would start working on a story only to find himself captured by criminals in the process. Serving primarily as comic relief on the show, Jimmy Olson proved to a very popular character. In fact, it was largely because of the success of Jack Larson's portrayal of Jimmy Olsen that National Periodical Publications (as DC Comics was officially known at the time) gave Jimmy his own title in 1954, Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen.

Given the strength of Jack Larson's performance as Jimmy Olsen, it seems quite likely that he was capable of playing many other roles. It is a shame that he found himself typecast due to the role. I could have easily seen Jack Larson being very successful in sitcoms in the Sixties if he had only been given a chance. I could  see him as the befuddled father of a family or the room mate to some supernatural entity (a very popular format during the decade). From The Adventures of Superman it would appear he had a gift for comedy. He was also quite capable at drama, as his guest shot on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit proved.

While he was typecast as Jimmy Olsen, Jack Larson held no ill will for the character or The Adventures of Superman. He was always eager to talk about the show and in later years became one of the best sources for history on the programme. He appeared more than once in retrospectives on the series. While Jack Larson may not have had the acting career he wanted (or his fans, for that matter), he will always be remembered for his great work as Jimmy Olsen.

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