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Jack Larson, Jimmy Olsen From 'Superman' TV Shows, Dies

Actor Jack Larson, who played a cub reporter at <em>The Daily Planet</em>, has died at 87. He's seen here at the premiere of <em>Superman Returns</em> in 2006.
Frederick M. Brown
Getty Images
Actor Jack Larson, who played a cub reporter at The Daily Planet, has died at 87. He's seen here at the premiere of Superman Returns in 2006.

The man who made a mark in America as a cub reporter has died: Actor Jack Larson, who played a sidekick to Superman's alter-ego Clark Kent at the fictional Daily Planet newspaper, was 87.

The actor and playwright died at his home in Brentwood, Calif., according to CBS Los Angeles, Varietyand multiple news outlets. A cause of death was not mentioned.

Larson rose to prominence in the 1950s, when The Adventures of Supermansidetracked his dreams of being a stage actor on Broadway. The runaway success of that show, starring George Reeves, made it hard for Larson to find new work, and he eventually found success in writing plays and librettos.

The New York Times reports:

"Although Mr. Larson was pleased that Jimmy Olsen developed into a comic role, his fears of being typecast were realized. After a particularly upsetting encounter with the producer Mervyn LeRoy, he was advised by the actor Montgomery Clift, with whom Mr. Larson was having a romantic relationship, to stop putting himself in those casting situations. So Mr. Larson gave up acting and made a new career."

That new career saw Larson write librettos and plays, including The Candied House(1966) and Chuck (1968), as well as helping produce films such as Perfect (1985) and Bright Lights, Big City (1988). On both plays and films, he often collaborated with his longtime partner, James Bridges.

In turning to writing, Larson was also returning to the thing that had first brought him to the world of theater, when his instructors at Pasadena Junior College encouraged him to write.

Born in Los Angeles in 1928, Larson grew up in Montebello, Calif. His mother worked as a Western Union clerk, and his father drove a milk truck and bowled — something he passed along to his son.

According to the Superman Homepage:

"While he did not enjoy school, Larson did like to bowl. By the age of 14, he had become the California state champion for his age group and was good enough to think that he would eventually turn professional. But, in the fall of 1945, Larson enrolled in the Pasadena Junior College (now known as Pasadena City College), an event that would drastically change his life. Larson said, 'my instructors discovered that I had a gift for writing and motivated me to write plays, and to be in plays as well.' "

When he first started auditioning for parts in film studio projects, Larson later recounted, he lost out on one early job (portraying a kid on a bike) to a young woman who would go on to be a star.

"Marilyn Monroe got that part, it was her first part," he said in an interview for David Poland's Oral History of Hollywood series. With a laugh, he added, "We wonder how she got it. But they changed it from a boy on a bicycle to a girl on a bicycle."

In the 1990s, Larson appeared in episodes of Superboy and Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. In the latter, he portrayed an older version of Jimmy Olsen.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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