Ralph Meeker

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Ralph Meeker
Barbara Stanwyck - 1953.JPG
Barbara Stanwyck and Meeker in 1953
Born Ralph Rathgeber
(1920-11-21)November 21, 1920
Minneapolis, U.S.
Died August 5, 1988(1988-08-05) (aged 67)
Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, U.S.
Cause of death
Heart attack
Resting place
Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles, United States
Occupation Actor
Years active 1951–1980

(1)Salome Jens (1964–1966; divorced)
(2) Missing

(3) Colleen Meeker (?–1988; his death)

Ralph Meeker (November 21, 1920 – August 5, 1988)[1] was an American film, stage and television actor best known for starring in the 1953 Broadway production of Picnic,[1] and in the 1955 film noir cult classic Kiss Me Deadly.

Early life and education[edit]

He was born Ralph Rathgeber in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the son of Ralph and Magnhild Senovia Haavig Meeker Rathgeber.[2]

He was a graduate of the Leelanau School in Glen Arbor Township, Michigan, and would later be made a member of its Hall of Fame.[citation needed] Meeker served in the United States Navy during World War II.


He made his film debut in 1951 with a small role in MGM's Teresa, followed by a starring role in the Swiss-made Four in a Jeep (1951), directed by Leopold Lindtberg. In 1953, he was cast as a misfit ex-cavalryman in the classic western The Naked Spur directed by Anthony Mann.

For his performance in William Inge's Picnic, Meeker was awarded the New York Critic's Circle Award in 1954. Picnic became a classic film in 1955, with William Holden and Kim Novak starring in the roles originated by Meeker and Janice Rule. According to Turner Classic Movies, Meeker turned down the lead role because he did not wish to sign a long-term contract with the production company, and he never was offered a role of similar stature again.[citation needed] Around the same time, Meeker was cast in several low-budget films, including Code Two (1953), co-starring Keenan Wynn, in which Meeker portrayed a brash young rookie cop in Los Angeles, California.

Meeker starred as private detective Mike Hammer in the 1955 Robert Aldrich film of Mickey Spillane's Kiss Me Deadly. Many years later, this film acquired cult status and was seen as an influence on French New Wave directors such as Jean-Luc Godard.[3] Meeker's portrayal of Hammer came to be lauded as one of the definitive "tough guy" performances. At the time, however, Meeker was unable to parlay the role into further starring film roles.[citation needed]

In 1957, he appeared in Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory, playing the convicted soldier, Corporal Paris. Later films included 1961's Ada with Dean Martin, Something Wild (1961 film) that same year, in which Meeker portrayed a mechanic who saves a young woman (Carroll Baker) from committing suicide but then holds her captive in his apartment, and the 1967 drama The St. Valentine's Day Massacre, in which he played gangster George "Bugs" Moran. He was also in the 1967 film The Dirty Dozen as Captain Stuart Kinder, a military psychologist who attempts to analyze the men. Meeker portrayed police officers in The Detective (1969) with Frank Sinatra and The Anderson Tapes (1970) with Sean Connery. He was producer of the film My Boys Are Good Boys (1978).

During the Cold War, he appeared in a 1963 U.S. Department of Defense informational film Town of the Times, which encouraged the construction of public fallout shelters.[citation needed]


On television, Meeker starred in the 1955 premiere episode, "Revenge," of CBS's Alfred Hitchcock Presents, along with Vera Miles. He later appeared on three other Alfred Hitchcock segments. He starred in the 1958 episode "A Man Called Horse" of NBC's Wagon Train.

From 1959-1960, Meeker had the leading role as United States Army Sergeant Steve Dekker in the 39-episode television series Not for Hire. Dekker is an investigator in the Army Criminal Investigations Division; the series was somewhat a precursor 40 years earlier of the 21st century hit NCIS, with Mark Harmon in a Navy role akin to Meeker's Army screen assignment in 1959.

Meeker was cast with Dorothy Provine in the 1959 episode, "Blood Money", of the CBS western series The Texan, starring Rory Calhoun.[4]

In 1962, Meeker portrayed Jack Slade in the episode "The Crooked Angel" of ABC's drama series Going My Way, starring Gene Kelly as a Roman Catholic priest in New York City and loosely based on the Bing Crosby 1944 film of the same name. He was also cast in 1962 as Barney Swanton in the episode "Walk Like a King" of the NBC modern western series Empire, starring Richard Egan.

In 1963, he appeared as Murray Knopf in "The Bull Roarer" on ABC's medical drama about psychiatry, Breaking Point, starring Paul Richards and Eduard Franz. Meeker guest-starred as Frank Marin in the 1964 episode "Swing for the Moon" of ABC's Channing, set on a fictitious college campus and co-starring Jason Evers and Henry Jones. In 1967, he appeared as Kermit Teller in the episode "Glory Rider" of the ABC military-western Custer, with Wayne Maunder in the title role. In 1971, Meeker played FBI agent Bernie Jenks in the television movie The Night Stalker.

He made guest appearances on numerous other television series, including Ironside, CHiPs, Dundee and the Culhane, Toast of the Town, The Outer Limits, The Green Hornet, Studio One, The High Chaparral (episode "The Price of Revenge"), and The Men from Shiloh (episode "Experiment At New Life").


Personal life[edit]

Meeker married three times: his first wife (1964–1966) was actress Salome Jens. His second marriage was to Colleen Meeker.[citation needed]

In 1980, he suffered a severe stroke, which ended his career. His health steadily declined, punctuated by several more strokes. He spent the last year of his life in the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in the Woodland Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, and died there, age 67, of a heart attack[1][2] He was survived by his third wife, Millicent.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b c Rothstein, Mervyn (August 6, 1988). "Ralph Meeker, 67, Star of 'Picnic' And Featured Actor in Films, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved October 12, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b [dead link] Stalnaker, Jack (2004). "Ralph Meeker: Biography". The Meeker Museum. Retrieved November 6, 2008. 
  3. ^ Hoberman, J. (2007). "Review of Kiss Me Deadly". In Lim, Dennis. The Village Voice Film Guide – 50 Years of Movies from Classics to Cult Hits. New York City: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0-471-78781-5. 
  4. ^ "The Texan". Classic Television Archive. Retrieved February 1, 2013. 

External links[edit]