Jul 30, 2018

Jack Larson and other TV Jimmy Olsens

In an April 1940 episode of the radio Adventures of Superman, the Man of Steel helped a young boy named Jimmy Olsen protect his mother's shop from racketeers.  Sensing audience identification, the producers soon gave Jimmy a part-time job at the Daily Planet so he could follow leads on his own, snoop around abandoned warehouses, get into trouble, and require lots of nick-of-time rescues.

Jimmy arrived in Superman comics in November 1941, somewhat older, perhaps seventeen.  He was a redhead, like the cliche sidekick in boys' adventure novels of the period, and his v-shaped torso suggested muscleman potential.  But he was never a sidekick, like Robin to Batman, or Bucky to Captain America.  Jimmy never lived with Superman, he never learned Superman's secret identity, he only participated in the adventures by accident.  Was he homoromantic partner, or merely a coworker and pal?  

In Jimmy Olsen's comic book series, which began in 1954, it doesn't take a lot to find the romantic subtext beneath the boy pal text.  But in the tv and movie versions of the mythos, things are a little different.

TV first:

1. In The Adventures of Superman (1952-58), Jimmy Olsen (former teen idol Jack Larson, top photo ) seems mostly a coworker to Superman (George Reeves). We rarely see the two together, except on the job, and even then, Lois (Noel Neill) usually forms the third.  Jimmy requires rescue alone (without Lois or Perry present) just once, when he is kidnapped by a transvestite in "Double Trouble" (1953).  He bonds with editor Perry White (John Hamilton) more often.

 Jack Larson is gay, and even states that he was out on the set during the period; maybe that explains why he kept Jimmy carefully free of any romantic feelings for Superman.

2. Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993-97) starred Dean Cain and Terri Hatcher as the famous couple (yes, now a couple), with the standard antipathy turning into romance ("He's so...arrogant!").

Jimmy was played by Justin Whalin, a former child star (the child of lesbian parents in a 1993 School Break special). Given the hetero-romantic story arc, it would seem that Jimmy would be a third wheel, but he actually has an unrequited crush on the hunky Clark. And there are a few Jimmy-rescues.

3. Smallville (2001-2011) was about Superboy, the teenage Clark Kent, so Jimmy (Aaron Ashmore, left, with an unidentified hunk) was not introduced until Season Six, when Clark arrived in Metropolis.

Jimmy had at least two girlfriends during his three years on the program, and expressed any romantic interest in Clark or Superman.

Clark Kent (Tom Welling) did have a homoerotic bond with a young Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum), but not with Jimmy.

4. Supergirl.  Mehcad Brooks plays a grown-up James Olson, with no Superman around.

Not a very good record.  Where there is a gay subtext at all, it is between Clark Kent and someone else. Why has one of the most substantial and overt homoromances in all of comics failed to make it on the small screen?


  1. What about the Jimmy Olsens in the movies?

  2. It's funny you should mention Robin. The first Nightwing was Superman, with his partner Flamebird, a.k.a. Jimmy Olsen. It was a Barman parody in Superman's little Krypton in a bottle. So even canon has parallels to Barman and Robin.

    I was surprised to learn Jimmy was introduced in the radio show. I know characters like that in the Bat books. (Batgirl, Harley Quinn) Now I'm wondering if that robot batarang, stereo, actual robin, Silkie, the demon, the wolf, and Pain Bot will be canon.


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