Sep 9, 2014

Keith Larsen: The Bare Chest of 1950s TV

Have you ever heard of Keith Larsen?  Me, neither.  But the first generation of Baby Boomers have fond memories of a tv series called Brave Eagle (1955-56).

Picture it: a kid in the 1950s.  No internet to go surfing for beefcake images.  No guys stripping down to their underwear in magazines.  Nothing at the movies except for an occasional Tarzan or Bomba the Jungle Boy feature. Nothing on tv.

Except, on Wednesday nights, after Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, the perfect chest of a Native American muscleman.  Tight, defined, shimmering, the male physique in glorious black-and-white.

No wonder boomer kids have fond memories of the show.

Keith Larsen was actually of Norwegian ancestry, but he had been playing Native Americans for a decade.

 Brave Eagle was notable for reasons other than his chest.  It was the first tv series with a Native American as a star, not a sidekick, and it portrayed him as intelligent and resourceful, not a "savage."

He had a best friend, a wife, and a son, Keena (Anthony Numkena), who provided an additional dose of teenage beefcake for the kids in the audience.

Anthony Numkena was a Hopi, the first Native American child actor, and much in demand as sidekicks and waifs.  Roles dried up when he entered adolescence, so he went to college and pursued a new career in medical imagining.

And Keith Larsen?  Starring roles in Northwest Passage (1958-59) and The Aquanauts (1960-61), then a mixed bag of horror and adventure movies.

He wrote and directed the sex-sleaze-horror Night of the Witches (1971).

In 1979, he starred with his son Erik Larsen son in Young and Free (1979), hoping to introduce a new generation to the joys of shirtlessness.