Jack Larson died, and a little piece of my childhood died with him.
Larson, in case you missed the news, was the guy who played cub reporter Jimmy Olsen in the “Superman” TV show back in the 1950s. He passed away at the age of 87 on Sept. 20 at his Southern California home.
My heart felt a little pang of grief when I heard the news. Jeepers, as Jimmy might have said.
“The Adventures of Superman” was my favorite TV show when I was a kid — even more than “The Roy Rogers Show,” which is saying something. You really had to have something special to top ol’ Roy in my book. And “Superman” did.
It had action and suspense and excitement but most importantly it had The Man himself, the same superpowered character I loved from the comic books I had lucked into. I say lucked into because I got a pile of them when my cousin Bobby finished reading them and his mom shipped them my way. I was indeed a fortunate kid. Can’t say the same for Bobby.
To this day, Superman occupies a place in my heart that no other superhero can claim — not Batman, not Green Lantern, not the Flash, and certainly not those upstarts from Marvel comics. In addition to being the character most represented in my comic book collection — I mean library — he’s also the most represented in my office, which is festooned with super doodads from a cereal bowl and mug to a lamp.
But back to the TV show. I can still recite the introduction word-for-word:
Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!
Yes, it’s Superman, strange visitor from another planet who came to earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman, who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands. And who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way. And now another exciting episode in the adventures of Superman!
I remember watching the show and then running outside with a towel around my neck, ready to fly around the neighborhood and do battle with whatever bad guys I might encounter. I was so super-besotted that Mom even made a cape to replace the towel, one that snapped around my neck and, I might add, snapped heroically in the wind. I didn’t mind a bit that it was green-and-brown tattersall instead of Superman red. I thought it looked magnificent.
As for Jimmy — well, I don’t recall ever running outside pretending to be Jimmy Olsen. And truth be told the role typecast Jack Larson, although you could call it a blessing in disguise. He turned his attention to writing and became a highly regarded playwright and producer. And he made his peace with the character:
“Everywhere I go, I get the warmest feelings from people about Jimmy,” Larson told The New York Times in 2006. “They love him, and I grew to feel that I could never have done anything more special than be Jimmy Olsen.”
Godspeed, Mr. Larson. Thanks for the fun. I’ll see you in reruns.