On a cloudless day, contemplating a panoramic view of the ocean
from the porch of his restored 1939
Frank Lloyd Wright house in Brentwood, Jack Larson smiles thoughtfully as the ghost of his past begins enveloping him. From where he sits, the fishing boats sailing on the open sea look like swans floating on a blue lake. "I love this view," he says with a voice just above a whisper. "It's so peaceful."
Indeed, the house, situated on a populated hillside, displays an awe-inspiring view, and an imposing presence among its neighboring structures. Inside, it is dominated by books and art. And the outside, surrounded by plants, trees and snake grass, bear the unmistakable feel of success.
Inspired by the mood, Larson, a playwright, actor and film producer, admits that the ghost of his past --the one who escorted him to the hall of fame-- has a name: Jimmy Olsen, cub reporter for The Daily Planet in The Adventures of Superman television series of the 50s. Yet, almost breathlessly, he clarifies that the character of jimmy Olsen, alone, could not have transformed him into a mythical figure in the entertainment world without the knowledge edge and acting skills he developed at Pasadena Junior College (PJC), now Pasadena City College (PCC). "I probably wouldn't have acquired so much success in this competitive field," says the 65-year-old man, grinning. His words, like his laugh --open and full of joy-- seem sincere. Raised in Montebello, is the only child of a divorced couple (an East L.A. milk-truck driver and a Western Union clerk) the trim, blue-eyed man recalls his countless escapes from Montebello High School to go bowling. "I was a bad boy," be re reveals, exploding in a laugh. "I remember my parents getting so upset because I was flunking school."
Now that he scrutinizes hs adolescent behavior, he does not regret it. If anything, he takes pride in saying that at age 14, he became the California Bowling Champion for his age group. At that time, driven by his liking for the sport, he assumed he would make his living bowling. However, deep in his soul, he knew because he was a voracious reader -- that writing would eventually monopolize his youthful ideal.
Ever since he was little, Jack was interested in writing, poetry and drama, and he always excelled in those fields," states William Goldmann, PCC dean Of educational services who attended Winter Gardens elementary school and Montobello High with Larson. "He was a very talented kid.
Larson laughs It such praise. "I don't want to sound too conceited, but, yes, I was a talented kid," he agrees. And entering PJC in the fall of 1945, "my instructors discovered that had a gift for writing and motivated me to write plays, and to be in plays as well."
With a previous knowledge of the works of Shakespeare, Saroyan and Maugham, which he learned in high school, Larson sensed that he had a passion for poetry (although he claims he never liked being called a Poet).
He began writing in strict metrical -- mostly rhymed verse -- and contemporary plays with leading roles for himself to play. The fall of 1945, he starred in Charley's Aunt, a play written by Brandon Thomas, and in the spring of 1946, he also starred in Fantasy in Wonderland a musical show he wrote.
"My parents, were stunned, "he remembered, beaming. " They were very happy to see that I was doing scholastically much better at PJC than I had done at Montobello.
And Larson himself was stupefied in 1948, one year, after he wrote Tambourine, a musical operetta shown on campus, when the opportunity of a lifetime knocked on his door. Subtly, yet anxious to proclaim it, he reminisces about the time and place where his life switched gears dramatically. His voice, like the voice of a fairy tale narrator, is deep and conspiratorial.
The place: Sexson Auditorium.
The scene: Balguna Del Mar, a musical comedy Larson wrote about college students vacationing at Laguna and Balboa beach during spring break. While he was playing the starring role in the play, an agent for Warner Brothers spotted him and offered him an audition .
"It sounds like an amazing thing to happen," he admits, "but Hollywood discovered me at PJC's Sexson Auditorium. For a young stage actor like myself, movies really meant something, so you can imagine the excitement I felt."
Shortly after the audition, Larson signed with Warner Brothers for a part in the movie Fighter Squadron, a post-World War II film directed by Raoul Walsh, Which also featured Rock Hudson, another newcomer. 'Tile mo- he Signed with Warner Brothers, marked for him the initiation into his professional acting career in Hollywood's movieland.
It Blew me away," he avows firmly.
Imbued with satisfaction and stimulated by his achievements, he felt more compelled to carry on with his life's most profound dream a Career On Broadway. Without hesitation, he auditioned for Superman. And although he wavered about accepting the role of Jimmy, he acceded the instant the show's casting director advised him to "take the money and run." Besides he believed because the show did not have a sponsor, nobody was ever going to set, it, "it was for kids only."
"I had nothing to lose," Larson says, emphatically.
With this in mind, he, filmed 26 Superman episodes, at $250 Per show, and left for Manhattan, never suspecting the show would succeed. Two years later, in 1953 to he exact, the series aired on television, and became an instant success.
Larson was spooked. he didn't know what to do. Everywhere he went, his fans cornered him. He "acted like a nut," and refused to do publicity because he feared that his reputation as a serious playwright would be damaged, and his future roles as an actor would be typecast forever.
"I got so famous as Jimmy that people did not want to hire me to do anything else," he says." "And I thought, well, everybody will quickly forget about Jimmy, and they will hire me as a more mature actor."
But that didn't happen. Nobody ever forgot about Jimmy, and Larson had to cope with it. Accepting the reality of the situation, he agreed to film six more Superman seasons before the show was interrupted by the suicide of Superman's star George Reeves in 1959. (By then, Larson was making $350 per show and the program was as popular as I Love Lucy)
After The Series concluded, Larson, unable to obtain good roles that would satisfy his expectations, decided to submerge himself into the world of writing. He wrote The candid House, a retelling of the Hansel and Gretel story for the opening of the Bing Center Theater; Chuck an off- Broadway hit play about an epileptic magazine salesman Cherry, Larry, Sandy , Doris, Jean, Paul, a romp in verse comedy about gayness; and Lord Byron I libretto for the Virgil Thomson opera, which has recently been released on CD.
Yet, impatient to explore new adventures in the entertainment Industry, Larson resolved to launch his career in film production. He became an associate producer for many successful films including The Paper Chase, Mike's Murder, The China Syndrome, Urban Cowboy and Bright Lights, Big City.
Last year, before Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman television series aired on ABC, Larson was asked to contribute to the show. But just as he chose not to ever get married (although he had the opportunity he preferred not to do it.
"The one thing I would never consider is doing another television series," he declares. "I believe that you only have to do it once in a lifetime I did mine in Superman, and feel very to be remembered as Jimmy."
In retrospect, he adds, his life has been "very rewarding." From everything he's done -- bowling, acting, writing and producing -- he has no regrets. (He doesn't even complain about the fact that the Superman series is still making hundreds of millions of dollars in syndication and lie is not receiving residuals).
"There isn't anything I Would change," he claims proudly. "I never strived for anything but the best."
Often, When Larson looks around his house and evaluates the things he has accomplished; when he hears somebody calling him Jimmy instead of Jack; and when he's asked to reveal the secret of his success, he cannot help but think that without his education at PCC, Hollywood probably wouldn't have known he existed.
"Anything I ever learned, except later when life beat me up, I learned it at PJC," he affirms philosophically. .
And the most important thing he learned there is that anyone can Succeed.
"You just have to work your hardest, do your very best and never blow an opportunity because you never know what you might be remembered for," he warns. "Take my example, I was given an opportunity in Sexson Auditorium and that was enough for me to succeed."
Looking at the sea, with his 13 year-old dog Max sitting next to him, Larson smiles meditatively as he argues that more than his Success itself, the best thing that could have ever happened to him was to be born in L. A.
"I love the ocean," lie whispers.
Guillermo Duarte is a Features Writer intern for L.A.'s leading spanish news paper La Opinión and was Features Editor of the Courier in Fall of 1993