Jack Larson, television's first Jimmy Olsen, dies at 87

In 1951, Superman made his first appearance in a full-length movie, Superman and the Mole Men. The black and white flick features Clark and Lois and the hero's signature costume. It was missing one major element from the comic books—Jimmy Olsen. When the producers turned the movie into the start of a television series, Adventures of Superman, they fixed that problem and cast 23-year-old Jack Larson as the young Daily Planet photographer. Larson received $250 an episode and like most of the cast assumed the show would fizzle. He aspired to film a season then fly off to Broadway.

Unlike modern depictions of the Kryptonian hero, Jimmy Olsen was more than a small side character. The series clicked. Over six seasons, Larson's Olsen would become a major character of the series, often taking the lead in episodes. Larson was so linked with the cub reporter from 1952 to 1958, he became typecast. While that may have hindered his career outside of the DC Comics universe, the actor did continue to appear in Superman tales throughout his life. In the 1990s, he has cameos in both the Superboy and Lois and Clark television shows. Jerry Seinfeld, a devout Superman fan, had Larson in a Superman-centric American Express commercial. In Superman Returns, the 2006 big screen reboot, Larson popped up as a bartender. 

At the age of 14, he became the state bowling champion of California, and in college delevoped a passion for playwriting. Yesterday, Larson passed away in his home in Los Angeles, the city of his birth.

Tommy Bond was the first to assume the role of Jimmy Olsen onscreen, in a 1948 serial. Next month, a new Supergirl television series will premiere and feature a Jimmy Olsen — well, "James" Olsen. That will bring the total to seven live-action Jimmies. Let's salute the man who made Olsen a major character.

Catch Jack Larson in two episodes of Adventures of Superman every Saturday at 6PM | 5C on MeTV.

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