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Jack Larson, TV icon Jimmy Olsen of 'Superman,' dies at 87

Jack Larson as Jimmy Olsen, in bow tie,

Jack Larson as Jimmy Olsen, in bow tie, is pictured with George Reeves, Noel Neill as Lois Lane and John Hamilton as Perry White.

(TNS) -- In the early 1950s, when Jack Larson was offered a role in a new Superman TV series, he was loath to accept. Playing the hapless sidekick of a caped superhero on a kids' show had no appeal for an actor with dreams of Broadway stardom.

But his agent prevailed, largely by arguing that the show would probably never be broadcast.

"No one may ever know you've done it. So just take the money and run," Larson, recalling the agent's words, told the Indianapolis Star decades later.

He took the money but, to his chagrin, "The Adventures of Superman" became a tremendous hit after its 1952 debut. 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.

Larson, who turned to writing plays when he realized that he could not escape the character remembered for lines like "Golly, Mr. Kent" and "Jeepers," died Sunday at his home in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles. He was 87.

His death was confirmed by writer-director Alan Howard, a longtime friend. The cause was not immediately known, but Howard said Larson had not been ill and "died peacefully with his beloved dog Charlie" nearby.

Larson was born in Los Angeles on Feb. 8, 1928, and grew up in Montebello, east of L.A. His father drove a milk truck and his mother worked for Western Union; they divorced when their son was a child.

He was interested in journalism as a career but was not a stellar student, often ditching class to go bowling. Encouraged by teachers to read Shakespeare, he began writing and directing plays at Pasadena City College. Discovered there by talent scouts from Warner Bros., he was cast in the 1948 film "Fighter Squadron," directed by Raoul Walsh.

A few years later, he was offered the role of Olsen, the energetic cub reporter and magnet for evil-doers who truss him up, kidnap him and lock him in vaults until Kent as the Man of Steel comes to his rescue.

"The Adventures of Superman," which originally aired from 1952 to 1957, cast Larson into the pop culture pantheon. The bow tie he wore as Jimmy Olsen later went to the Smithsonian, preserved along with Archie Bunker's armchair, the Fonz's leather jacket and a pair of Dorothy's ruby slippers.

At the time, however, being Jimmy Olsen felt like a trap.

"I was really bitter for years, about being typed, and it absolutely wrecked my acting career," Larson told the New York Daily News in 1996. "I quit acting and wrote because I just couldn't get a job. They didn't want Jimmy Olsen walking through their films."

© 2015, Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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