Saturday, January 29, 2011

JACK "JIMMY OLSEN" LARSON DIDN'T SING "ROACHES"


For TV fans, there's only one Jack Larson, the personable actor who played Jimmy Olsen on "Superman" in the 50's.

But what about those dusty 45's that say "Jack Larson" on the label? Haven't record stores jacked the price to $20 or $30 because "It's the guy from "Superman?" Didn't the album notes for the CD "Hollywood Hi-Fi" include "Roaches" and state it was sung by the actor from the "Superman" show?? Yes! Yes! Which only proves that the average record seller is a dope, and not everyone who writes album notes does research.

Illfolks exposes the truth. There are TWO guys named Jack Larson, a robust young singer and a mildly husky-voiced actor. While people often talk one way and sing another (Jim Nabors comes to mind), anyone hearing "Jack Larson" sing would instantly have to doubt if it was the same guy who played Jimmy Olsen. Here's the facts...

In 1959, Fraternity Records released a single by Jack Larson, a year after "Superman" left the air. Larson the actor was born in 1928 and was 30 when the show ended its run in 1958. So how could Jack Larson be marketed as a teen idol? He couldn't and wasn't. You can bet if actor Larson suddenly began singing, he would've capitalized on his "Jimmy Olsen" fame, and all the books about Superman and George Reeves would've mentioned his foray into music. They don't.

Let's check Billboard, August 24, 1959. There's an article about "the signing of Jack Larson singer-impressionist of the U.S. Army's "Rollin' Along" show, to a six-year management and recording pact." No mention of "Superman." The article continues: "Larson, who for two years in a row was voted the No. 1 talent in the Army show, had his initial release on the Frat label last week, a novelty tune titled "Roaches." Flip is "Little Miss Starry Eyes." He opens for Lee Zeiger at the Casino Royal in Washington, Monday night…Larson is also set for a spot on Ed Sullivans' all-Army show August 30. He winds up his Army hitch Tuesday…"

The singing Larson was given many a chance at Fraternity. Following Roaches/Little Miss Starry Eyes, there was the 1960 release Autumn Hurt/Drifting Down the River, and in 1961 two attempts. First came "Hammer Bell Song" (a variation on "If I Had a Hammer") backed with the novelty "The Way She Laughs," which has the lines: "I don’t know what’s the matter with this heart of mine, I’m in love with a girl that looks like Frankenstein”

Jack's second single for 1961 was "Back to School Blues" (b/w Lonely Part of Town) which was the number he sang in the 1961 movie "Teenage Millionaire." After one more single for Fraternity in 1962 ("The Beauty"), Jack got a brief major label deal with Dot, issuing Do Yourself a Favor/We're Goin' Back. My research leads me to the Billboard issue of April 7th, 1962, when the deal was announced:

Article title: "Dot to Release some Fraternity Album and Singles Record Product." And the details: "Fraternity's president, Harry Carlson, announced his deal with Randy Wood of Dot. The idea was for the indie label to get better distribution…Carlson, whose Fraternity label began operation in 1954, will retain his rights to the Fraternity tag, but two of his top artists, comedian-singer Jack Larson and the Charmaines, femme trio, will also appear on the Dot label. Two singles, one by Larson…and another by the Charmaines….will be released by Dot around mid-April…The lot of the smaller independent record firm is becoming increasingly difficult and the sale of the album catalog to Dot is the only thing that made it possible for the Fraternity label to continue in business….Some Fraternity titles, including a few of Larson's, were released in the UK on the Top Rank label…."

Young Larson's last memorable show biz moment came in November of 1963, when he deliberately sang off key and did hack comic impressions on a "Dick Van Dyke Show" episode called "Big Max Calvada."



Sheldon Leonard played the title character, a gangster who is seeking a nightclub booking for his nephew, talent-challenged entertainer Kenny Dexter (played by Jack Larson, Illfolks screen captures to your right).

So there you have it. You read it here first, at Illfolks. The "Hollywood Hi-Fi" CD issued a few years ago, with liner notes claiming Jack "Jimmy Olsen" Larson sang "Roaches" is wrong. So is the 1994 book "Celebrity Vocals" from Goldmine. Pretty sad that two authors didn't think to question what they were hearing, or wonder if there were two guys named "Jack Larson." Back in the late 90's the actor Jack Larson was very easy to reach (I have a few autographed photos to prove it) and he would've written back if asked a question intended for publication. Sadder that a CD company and Goldmine failed to catch the error and neither had an editor or proofreader good at fact-checking. And most surprising of all: this is one of the few times that information you find on an Internet blog actually has the correct information! Illfolks is RIGHT and the other two are WRONG. Jeepers, do yourself a favor and hear the singing "Jack Larson" sing "Do Yourself a Favor."

JACK LARSON - DO YOURSELF A FAVOR

Update: Thanks to Fred, for letting me know that Jack is alive and well, and working as LARRS JACKSON, doing voiceovers, commercials, and film work. Here's LARRS today.

11 comments:

Jenn said...

Thank you for the article, and for giving the credit for this amazing voice back to my father, Jack Larson the singer. And thanks for sharing the song, I haven't heard it since I was a little girl.

Pat Reeder said...

Thank you for the excellent info, although I don't appreciate the snark about us not doing research for "Hollywood Hi-Fi." That book represented years of work in what was at the time (over 16 years ago) an incredibly difficult to research field, done long before there was an Internet for easily hunting up obscure trivia and before most libraries had digitized their old periodicals.

In fact, we were concerned about whether it was the same Jack Larson, even though the few reputable sources at the time insisted that it was. We attempted to interview Jack "Superman" Larson, but he never got back to us. We made herculean efforts to track down the founders of the original record labels, but those also came to dead ends. Finally, after the book came out, Jack Larson contacted us to tell us he loved the book, but it wasn't him on those records, even though everyone gave him credit for them. Unfortunately, by then, it was too late to correct. It was a mistake that's aggravated me ever since the book came out.

There was also another problem with researching this that you might not be aware of. The Screen Actors Guild union recognizes only one actor by any specific name. As Jack "Superman" Larson explained it to us, this other Jack Larson worked as an actor, but his credits were mistakenly but officially ascribed by SAG to the first, better-known Jack Larson, who was still the only J.L. registered with the union. So even the "Dick Van Dyke Show" episode that he appeared on was credited by SAG to the original Jack Larson (although with the DVD release of that series, that might have finally been corrected by now). That added yet another layer of official confusion.

If we ever bring out a volume 2 of "HH-F," we intend to tell the whole story. But if you could see the mountain of books with titles like "Growing Up Brady" that we subjected our brains to, or knew the countless hours spent combing through old library stacks and finagling to get celebrities to talk to us about projects they'd hoped were long dead and buried, you might not be not be so dismissive of the research that went into the first volume.

Ill Folks said...

Thanks Pat, for the background on the Larson problem. Weird that Jack never contacted you, when it was probably clear that a) you were doing real research and b) it would go a long way toward clearing up the "Roach" problem.

Doubly strange that SAG had that glitch where Larson on the Van Dyke Show could get by with an acting role, yet not be differentiated from the earlier Larson.

I also understand that research is a very, very time-consuming job. Even the best of us eventually have to say, especially with a deadline approaching, "I'm not getting paid enough to be wasting my life on trivia..." There's certainly a ton of good information in the CD booklet to Hollywood Hi-Fi.

Hope to see HH Volume 2 one day, or the revised first book (yeah, gone are the days when a lot of publishers jumped at fun "pop culture" ideas...now it's self-publishing and selling through a website or through a bootleg-friendly Kindle edition).

Cindi Graham said...

I'm glad I found this article. I'm sitting with my mom, sorting through photos from days past. I asked her who that young man was in her wedding photo. She told me it was Jack Larson and he sang at her wedding in 1955. He was a friend of her younger brother Bill. She went on to say Jack later became a singer and comedian. So I looked him up and found this article and photo. It was really great for her to read this account!

Ill Folks said...

Thanks, Cindi...very much appreciated...being able to share information about performers, and not just download their stuff...is the real reward.

Bill Bartlett said...

Thanks for doing a good job giving credit to Jack Larson. Jack deserves to get the credit for his work. I have fond memories of Jack and our early years performing together. I was there the day he sang at my sister Charmaine's wedding. Cindi Graham is my niece.
If you're able to get me in contact with Jack, I'd really appreciate it. Bill Bartlett

Robert Sieger said...

Is Jack Larson the singer still alive? When and where was he born??

Just curious. I just saw the Dick Van Dyke episode and that is how I landed here trying to find out about this Larson who was not Jimmy Olsen. IMDb does disambiguate the two and gives Olsen his props but has little info about him.

Thanks.

Ill Folks said...

Hopefully someone will eventually find this piece, and have some information on what happened to Jack Larson, the singer.

There are approximately 5,000 guys named Jack Larson who were born between 1935-1940 and are now deceased, so it's hard to narrow them down and guess if one might be him. If he's alive, he's been keeping a very low profile.

Fred Clemens said...

You've likely found this out by now, but just in case you didn't...

Jack Larson (the singer) is still around. He's currently an actor (registered with SAG as Larrs Jackson) and also does commercials and voice-over work. You may have seen him about a year ago and didn't know it, where he played the part of Old McDonald in a GEICO commercial, whereas he was a very bad speller. His word was COW, ....C-O-W-E-I-E-I-O.

Larson continued making appearances around the country doing comedy bits of impressions and singing. In late 1967, a private LP was released of a performance Jack did in Oregon where he had lived at the time. The lp was titled FROM WITHIN.

Ill Folks said...

Fred, thanks! Thanks! It's great when folks like you can add to an Ill Folks post, and keep the ball rolling. Nice to know the singing Jack is with us, and doing a GEICO commercial would be a very, very good payday!

Dan said...

Jack Larson the singer also appeared as a comedian/emcee at a teen nightclub/coffee-house in an early 1960s movie titled The Young Swingers. Viewers of this movie are often surprised to learn that the "Jimmy Olsen" guy is NOT the Jack Larson in this movie.