Photographer Unknown, “Jack Larson as Jimmy Olsen”, circa 1950s, Studio Publicity Photo, “Adventures of Superman”, Warner Brothers / International Movie Data Base
Born in Los Angeles, California in February of 1928, Jack Edward Larson was an American actor, screenwriter, producer and librettist; he wrote the libretto to American composer Virgil Thomson’s 1972 three-act opera “Lord Byron”. Larson’s acting career spanned a period of sixty years, during which he appeared in both film and television productions.
The son of George Larson and Anita Calicoff, Jack Larson was raised in Pasedena, California, and attended its Junior College. Encouraged by his teachers to study the works of Shakespeare, he began writing and directing plays at the college. Larson’s productions caught the attention of a talent scout from the Warner Brothers film studio. After signing with Warner Brothers, he was given his first role, as Lieutenant ‘Shorty’ Kirk, in director Raoul Walsh’s 1947 aviation film “Fighter Squadron”. Three uncredited roles followed: the boy role in R. G. Springsteen’s 1949 drama “Flame of Youth”; the role of Dusty in Philip Ford’s 1950 western “Redwood Forest Trail”; and the role of Tommy in Ford’s mystery film of the same year “Trial Without Jury”.
In early 1951, Larson was presented with the film role of an energetic but naive young reporter. Encouraged by his agent, he agreed to portray Jimmy Olsen in Robert L. Lippert’s black and white film “ Superman and the Mole Men”. This film, shot in the month of July, served as the pilot for the “Adventures of Superman” television series. The initial filming and production for the first season was accomplished in August/September of 1951. There were one hundred-four episodes in the series which was filmed in black and white until 1954 after which it was filmed in color until the series’ end in April of 1958. While Larson’s character of Jimmy Olsen gave him wide recognition, it also limited his development as an actor by typecasting him in his future roles.
During his film work on “Adventures of Superman”, Jack Larson continued to appear, both credited and uncredited, in fourteen films produced through different production companies. Among these were Joseph Kane’s 1951 adventure film for Republic Pictures “Fighting Coast Guard”; Harry Levin’s 1952 family comedy “Belles on Their Toes” for 20th Century Fox; Thomas Carr’s 1953 western for Allied Artists “Star of Texas”; and John H. Auer’s 1957 drama for Warner Brothers “Johnny Trouble” which starred Ethel Barrymore in her final role.
Larson made cameo appearances in two films of the Superman series. He played a train passenger in Richard Donner’s 1978 “Superman”. In Bryan Singer’s 2006 “Superman Returns”, Larson was given the role of Bo, the Metropolis bartender and loyal friend of Superman. In addition to his film roles, Larson also acted in several television series: the 1955 “Navy Log” with roles in four episodes; “The Millionaire” in 1960; “Gomer Pyle” in 1965; “Superboy” in 1991; “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” in 1996 as old Jimmy Olsen; and “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” in 2010.
Jack Larson was a longtime friend of Gore Vidal whom he first met in 1954 at a Santa Monica party. His social circle included other literary figures such as Christopher Isherwood and expatriate writer and composer Paul Bowles, author of “The Sheltering Sky”. In 1958, Larson met his life partner, the director and screenwriter James Bridges. Listed among Bridges’s many films are “The Paper Chase”, “Urban Cowboy” and “The China Syndrome”. Larson and Bridges resided together at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed George Sturges House in Brentwood, Los Angeles, until Bridge’s death in June of 1993.
Prior to his meeting Bridges, Larson had been the companion of actor Montgomery Clift. When Larson was feeling typecast by his Jimmy Olsen character, it was Clift who advised him to stop putting himself in those casting positions, advice which Larson followed by writing plays and librettos. Due to his long association with Clift, Larson was interviewed extensively for the 2018 biographical documentary “Making Montgomery Clift”. Directed by Hillary Demmon and Montgomery Clift’s nephew Robert Clift, the film presented a different side to Montgomery Clift’s life than previous biographies. Told through interviews with family and friends, it presented Clift as a man who enjoyed life and was comfortable with himself as a gay man.
Jack Larson died on September 20th in 2015 at the age of eighty-seven. On both plays and films, he had often collaborated with his longtime partner, James Bridges. Larson’s interment was at the Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier, California.
Notes: As part of its “The Interviews: Twenty Five Years” series, the Television Academy has a two-chapter video interview with Jack Larson on its site. I highly recommend this interview; click on full interview to see the lissted sections. The interview can be located at: https://interviews.televisionacademy.com/interviews/jack-larson#interview-clips
Top Insert Image: William Claxton, “Jack Larson”, Jack Larson and James Bridges Photo Shoot, 26.7 x 34.3 cm, Gelatin Silver Print, Private Collection
Second Insert Photo: Photographer Unknown, “Jack Larson (Jimmy Olsen) and Steve Reeves (Clark Kent)”, circa 1950s, “Adventures of Superman”, Film Clip Photo, Everett Collection
Third Insert Photo: William Claxton, “Jack Larson”, Jack Larson and James Bridges Photo Shoot, 26.7 x 34.3 cm, Gelatin Silver Print, Private Collection
Bottom Insert Photo: William Claxton, “Jack Larson and Jame Bridges”, Photo Shoot, Gelatin Silver Print, Private Collection