Jack Larson, gay actor tormented by ‘Jimmy Olsen’ role on TV’s ‘Superman …

22 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Adventures of Superman actor Jack Larson dies at age 87.

In the great pantheon of characters to emerge from the “Superman” universe — Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, Jor-El, General Zod — Jimmy Olsen probably ranks below even Richard Pryor’s wisecracking embezzler in the much-maligned “Superman III.” Jimmy just isn’t that cool. NEW YORK — Jack Larson, the playwright and librettist who, as he often predicted with good-natured resignation, will be remembered best as the actor who played the cub reporter Jimmy Olsen in the television series “Adventures of Superman,” died Sunday at his home in Brentwood, Calif. Playing the hapless sidekick of a caped superhero on a kids’ show had no appeal for an actor with dreams of Broadway stardom. “No one may ever know you’ve done it.

He was the producing partner and long-term romantic partner of James Bridges, and worked on Bridges’ The Baby Maker, Perfect, and Bright Lights, Big City as examples. Larson was offered the role of Olsen, an eager young reporter and photographer at The Daily Planet who idolizes his more mature, more experienced colleague Clark Kent (not even knowing that Kent is secretly Superman) and constantly gets himself and his fellow reporter Lois Lane into perilous situations that require rescue by a superhero. The show indelibly fixed Larson in the public’s mind as Jimmy Olsen, the effervescent, cub reporter in a bow tie who works alongside Clark Kent and Lois Lane at the fictional Daily Planet newspaper. Though just 18, Larson had done a few films, but was running out of work — and wanted to get to the Great White Way. “I didn’t want to do it,” Larson said, ”but my agent said, ‘Look, you want to get to New York.

Jack Larson moved into writing plays and producing movies like “The China Syndrome.” And he worked with some of the era’s leading composers as a librettist. And he was living there when the show he had dismissed became one of the most iconic in TV history — even though it was pretty bad. “Adventures Of Superman was frequently barely a superhero show — it was more like a dirt-cheap police procedural sprinkled with a few minutes of unconvincing special effects — but it still featured the most famous, popular superhero of all time,” the Onion’s A.V. Club wrote in 2013. “So what else was the nascent geek clan going to watch?” “To me, it was a nightmare,” he said in 2006. “Everywhere I went, it was, ‘Jimmy! Opportunities for George Reeves, who had appeared in dozens of films, including “Gone With the Wind,” also dried up after “The Adventures of Superman”; his 1959 death from a gunshot to the head was ruled a suicide.

And after Reeves’s death — which Larson never believed was a suicide — they tried to get him to do more. “I refused point blank,” he said. “It made me sick that George had died. Larson’s verse play “The Candied House,” a retelling of the Hansel and Gretel story, opened in Los Angeles in 1966, a critic for The Los Angeles Times wrote, “It’s a joy to hear from a man who loves and respects words and does not see language as the enemy of images.” His later works included “The Astronaut’s Tale,” a 1998 update and Americanization of “L’Histoire du Soldat,” with music by Charles Fussell; “The Hyacinth From Apollo,” a monodrama with music by Gerhard Samuel; and a new narrative text for Berlioz’s “Lélio.” Jack Edward Larson was born on Feb. 8, 1928, in Los Angeles and grew up in nearby Montebello. I felt, ‘Why go on with it?’ I decided then to quit acting.” Feeling typecast, he “took up the life of a playwright in New York,” he told the New York Times in 1976 — in a piece that identified him as a “bachelor.” Larson was far from that. While in Hollywood, he became involved with screen legend Montgomery Clift, and met his future longtime companion, director James Bridges (“The Paper Chase,” “The China Syndrome”). Larson began writing and acting in his own plays in junior high school, he became a high school dropout, convinced that his bowling talent would lead to a professional sports career.

He made his film debut in “Fighter Squadron,” a World War II action picture starring Robert Stack and directed by Raoul Walsh, and continued to appear in films while he was in the “Superman” series. Four decades ago, what some saw as an attempt to mask gay themes in the charged relationship between Daedalus and Icarus was met with controversy. “It is strange in this day of liberation movements that a homosexual pas de deux has to masquerade as a duet between father and son,” the Times wrote.

Larson became his producing partner on films, including “The Baby Maker,” “Perfect,” and “Bright Lights, Big City,” as well as his partner in private life. After Bridges died of cancer in 1993, he donated $500,000 from the Bridges/Larson Foundation to upgrade a theater at UCLA and name it after his longtime companion. And he would appear in what CNN called “winking roles” in “Superman” fare such as “Superboy,” “Lois & Clark” and the film “Superman Returns.” “Gay fans are gushing over the fact that the director of the new ‘Superman Returns’ (opening June 28) is a gay man, Bryan Singer,” the Chicago Tribune wrote in 2006, “and that, besides the fact that Superman is a real hunk, a new trading card featuring scenes from the film shows the big guy — get this! — actually emerging from a closet.” The paper, noting Larson’s sexual orientation, added: “What was fun about that show was just the ambiguity of it all. Although he swore off fan events after a 1988 incident in Cincinnati in which Sharpie-wielding autograph seekers permanently stained a white linen suit he had had made in Italy, he came to terms with and embraced the Jimmy Olsen legacy in other ways.

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