Ralph Meeker

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Ralph Meeker
Ralph Meeker 1953.png
Meeker in a 1953 publicity photo
Born Ralph Rathgeber
(1920-11-21)November 21, 1920
Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.
Died August 5, 1988(1988-08-05) (aged 67)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death Heart attack
Resting place Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation Actor
Years active 1951–1980
Spouse(s) Salome Jens (m. 1964–1966)
Millicent Meeker (?–1988)

Ralph Meeker (born Ralph Rathgeber; November 21, 1920 – August 5, 1988)[1] was an American film, stage, and television actor. He first rose to prominence for his roles in the Broadway productions of Mister Roberts (1948–1951) and Picnic (1953),[1] the former of which earned him a Theatre World Award for his performance. In film, Meeker is perhaps best known for his portrayal of Mike Hammer in Robert Aldrich's 1955 film noir cult classic Kiss Me Deadly.

Meeker went on to play a series of roles that used his husky and macho screen presence, including a lead role in Stanley Kubrick's military courtroom drama Paths of Glory (1957), as a troubled mechanic opposite Carroll Baker in Something Wild (1961), as a World War II captain in The Dirty Dozen (1967), and in the gangster film The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (1967). Other credits include supporting roles in I Walk the Line (1970) and Sidney Lumet's The Anderson Tapes (1971).

He also had a prolific career in television, appearing as Sergeant Steve Dekker on the series Not for Hire (1959–1960), and in the television horror film The Night Stalker (1972). After suffering a stroke in 1980, Meeker was forced to retire from acting, and died eight years later of a heart attack in Los Angeles, California.

Early life[edit]

Meeker was born Ralph Rathgeber in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on November 21, 1920,[1][2] the son of Ralph and Magnhild Senovia Haavig Meeker Rathgeber. He spent his early life in Michigan and Chicago, Illinois.[3] Meeker attended the Leelanau School in Glen Arbor Township, Michigan, and later was made a member of its hall of fame. He graduated from Northwestern University in 1942, where he majored in music.[1]

Meeker served in the United States Navy during World War II, but was discharged after a few months with a neck injury.[3]


Stage work and early films[edit]

Meeker began his career on stage, appearing in minor roles in the Broadway productions of Strange Fruit and Cyrano de Bergerac in 1946.[4] Beginning in December 1947, Meeker took over the role of Stanley Kowalski in the original Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire, playing the role until December 1949.[4] He also starred on Broadway in Mister Roberts from 1948 to 1951, earning a Theatre World Award for his performance.[2]

Meeker in a stage production of Picnic, 1954

Meeker 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.[5] In 1953, he was cast as a misfit ex-cavalryman in the classic Western The Naked Spur directed by Anthony Mann, and also appeared opposite Betty Hutton in the musical biopic Somebody Loves Me (1953).[2] The following year, he was cast in a Broadway production of William Inge's Picnic, which was a critical and commercial success.[6] 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.[3]

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. He played an escaped killer who terrorizes Barbara Stanwyck in the 1953 thriller Jeopardy[7] and a cold-blooded convict in Big House, U.S.A. (1955).

Breakthrough and television[edit]

In perhaps his most-remembered role, 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.[8] On television, Meeker starred in the 1955 premiere episode, "Revenge", of CBS's Alfred Hitchcock Presents, along with Vera Miles. He later appeared in three other Alfred Hitchcock segments. He starred in the 1958 episode "A Man Called Horse" of NBC's Wagon Train.

In 1957, he portrayed an ex-convict who kidnaps and then falls for Jane Russell in the romantic comedy, The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown,[9] which failed at the box office; he also appeared in the noir A Woman's Devotion (1957). That same year, he appeared in Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory, playing a soldier, Corporal Paris, accused of cowardice during battle in World War I. Meeker was cast with Dorothy Provine in the 1959 episode, "Blood Money", of the CBS Western series The Texan, starring Rory Calhoun.[10] From 1959–1960, Meeker had the leading role as United States Army Sergeant Steve Dekker in the 39-episode television series Not for Hire.

In 1961, he starred in the political story Ada with Dean Martin, and in Jack Garfein's experimental drama Something Wild, in which he portrayed a mechanic who saves a young woman (Carroll Baker) from committing suicide, but then holds her captive in his apartment.[11]

Later career[edit]

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.

He later appeared in the 1967 crime drama The St. Valentine's Day Massacre, in which he played gangster George "Bugs" Moran. 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.[12]

Meeker was also in the 1967 war 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. In 1971, he appeared on television 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 also 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"), The Men from Shiloh (episode "Experiment At New Life"), and The Eddie Capra Mysteries.

Meeker's final screen role was in the independent science-fiction horror film Without Warning (1980), about an alien landing.[13] The film received negative reviews from critics, with Tom Buckley of The New York Times calling the film "illogical and predictable."[14]

Personal life[edit]

Meeker married twice: his first wife (1964–1966) was actress Salome Jens, and his second was Millicent Meeker.[3]

In 1980, he suffered a severe stroke, which forced him to retire from acting. 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 Los Angeles, and died there, age 67, of a heart attack.[15] He was survived by his second wife, Millicent.[1][3] He is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles.[16]



Year Title Role Notes
1951 4 Num Jeep Sergeant William Long
1951 Teresa Sgt. Dobbs
1952 Shadow in the Sky Burt
1952 Glory Alley Socks Barbarrosa
1953 Somebody Loves Me Ben 'Benny' Fields
1953 Naked Spur, TheThe Naked Spur Roy Anderson
1953 Jeopardy Lawson
1953 Code Two Chuck O'Flair
1955 Big House, U.S.A. Jerry Barker
1955 Kiss Me Deadly Mike Hammer
1955 Desert Sands Captain David Malcolm
1956 A Woman's Devotion Trevor Stevenson
1957 The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown Mike Vala
1957 Run of the Arrow Lieutenant Driscoll
1957 Paths of Glory Cpl. Philippe Paris
1960 Dillinger John Dillinger Television film
1961 Ada Colonel Yancey
1961 Something Wild Mike
1963 Wall of Noise Matt Rubio
1967 The Dirty Dozen Capt. Stuart Kinder
1967 St. Valentine's Day Massacre, TheThe St. Valentine's Day Massacre George Clarence 'Bugs' Moran
1967 Gentle Giant Fog Hanson
1968 Detective, TheThe Detective Curran
1968 A Punt, a Pass, and a Prayer Wally Walters Television film
1969 The Devil's 8 Burl
1969 Lost Flight Glenn Walkup Television film
1970 I Walk the Line Carl McCain
1971 Anderson Tapes, TheThe Anderson Tapes 'Iron Balls' Delaney
1971 The Reluctant Heroes Captain Luke Danvers Television film
1972 The Night Stalker Bernie Jenks Television film
1972 The Happiness Cage The Major Also known as: The Mind Snatchers and The Demon
1973 Birds of Prey Jim McAndrew Television film
1973 You'll Never See Me Again Will Alden Television film
1973 Love Comes Quietly Ben Hoeksema
1974 Cry Panic Chuck Brunswell Television film
1974 Night Games Dutch Armbreck Television film
1974 The Girl on the Late, Late Show Inspector DeBiesse Television film
1975 The Dead Don't Die Police Lt. Reardon Television film
1975 Brannigan Capt. Moretti
1975 Johnny Firecloud Colby
1976 The Food of the Gods Bensington
1978 Hi-Riders Mike
1978 Alpha Incident, TheThe Alpha Incident Charlie
1978 My Boys Are Good Boys Bert Morton
1979 Winter Kills Gameboy Baker
1980 Without Warning Dave (final film role)


Year Title Role Notes
1952–56 Goodyear Playhouse N/A 2 episodes
1952–56 Lux Video Theatre Mike / Nicky Hanks 2 episodes
1953 The Revlon Mirror Theater N/A 2 episodes
1953 The Alcoa Hour Billy Hepburn 1 episode
1955–56 Studio One in Hollywood Mr. Sheridan / Steve 2 episodes
1955–59 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Various 4 episodes
1956 Star Stage N/A 1 episode
1956 Jane Wyman Presents The Fireside Theatre Joe Novak 1 episode
1956 Studio 57 Ranson 1 episode
1957 Zane Grey Theater Steve Elkins 1 episode
1957 Playhouse 90 Carbine Webb 1 episode
1957 The 20th Century-Fox Hour Commander John Lawrence 1 episode
1957–1958 Climax! 'Griff' Griffith / Alex Hill 2 episodes
1958 Pursuit N/A 1 episode
1958 Wagon Train Horse 1 episode
1958–59 Schlitz Playhouse of Stars Barry Brannon / Rich Adams 2 episodes
1958–1961 The Loretta Young Show Various 4 episodes
1959 Wanted: Dead or Alive Martin Ash 1 episode
1959 The Texas Sam Kerrigan 1 episode
1959–1960 Not for Hire Sergeant Steve Dekker 39 episodes
1961 Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color Franc Clell 1 episode
1961 Tallahassee 7000 Harry Griffold 1 episode
1962 Going My Way Jack Slade 1 episode
1962 Empire Barney Swanton 1 episode
1962–63 The United States Steel Hour Charlie Williams 2 episodes
1962–63 Route 66 Parker Smith / Willard McIntyre 2 episodes
1963 Breaking Point Murray Knopf 1 episode
1963 The Outer Limits John Dexter 1 episode
1964 The Defenders Floyd Cooper 1 episode
1964 Channing Frank Martin 1 episode
1964 The Doctors and the Nurses Sheffer 1 episode
1964 Suspense N/A 1 episode
1964 Kraft Suspense Theatre Harly Clay 1 episode
1966 The Long, Hot Summer Jess Corbett 1 episode
1966 Seaway Roy Burke 1 episode
1966–1971 The F.B.I. Graham Newcomb / Scott Martin / King Hogan 3 episodes
1967 The Green Hornet Earl Evans 1 episode
1967 Tarzan Karnak 1 episode
1967 Custer Kermit Teller 1 episode
1967 Dundee and the Culhane Maximus Tobin 1 episode
1967 The High Chaparral Tracy Conlin 1 episode
1968 The Name of the Game Senator Goddard 1 episode
1968–1974 Ironside Wescott / Ex-Detective 2 episodes
1970 The Virginian August Gruber 1 episode
1972–74 Police Surgeoun James Blinn 2 episodes
1973–75 Police Story Alfred Attles / Sergeant Emit Howard / Chief Harry Stahlgaher 3 episodes
1974 Room 222 Mr. Jones 1 episode
1974 Faraday and Company Ed Kelso 1 episode
1974 Toma Frank Beecher 1 episode
1974 The Evil Touch Frank Drake 2 episodes
1975 Cannon Phil Dexter 1 episode
1975 The Rookies Officer Menteer 1 episode
1975 Movin' On Dave Bennet 1 episode
1975 Barbary Coast Big Lou Hobart 1 episode
1975 Run, Joe, Run Gant 1 episode
1975 Harry O Sergeant Frank Brannen 1 episode
1977 Police Woman Bellwood 1 episode
1979 CHiPs Jerry Borgman 1 episode

Stage credits[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1945–46 Strange Fruit Chuck [4]
1946–47 Cyrano de Bergerac Lackey [4]
1947–49 A Streetcar Named Desire Stanley Kowalski [4]
1948–1951 Mister Roberts Mannion Theatre World Award[2][4]
1953–54 Picnic Hal Carter [4]
1958 Cloud 7 Newton Reece [4]
1961 Rhinoceros Berrenger [4]
1962 Something About a Soldier Toat [4]
1964 But For Whom Charlie Charles Taney [4]
1964–65 After the Fall Mickey [4]
1965 Mrs. Dally Sam [4]


  1. ^ a b c d e 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 c d Monush 2003, p. 493.
  3. ^ a b c d e LoBianco, Lorraine. "Ralph Meeker Profile". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved March 7, 2017. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Ralph Meeker Credits". The Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved March 8, 2017. 
  5. ^ "(United Artists) Four in a Jeep". Screen World. Biblo & Tannen. 3: 65. 1952. 
  6. ^ "'Picnic' tells conquest of Kansas Casanova". Life: 136. March 16, 1953. 
  7. ^ Keaney 2010, p. 220.
  8. ^ Hoberman 2007, p. 155.
  9. ^ "'The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown' on View". The New York Times. October 31, 1957. Retrieved December 26, 2016. 
  10. ^ "The Texan". Classic Television Archive. Retrieved February 1, 2013. 
  11. ^ Maltin 1994, p. 1288.
  12. ^ "Town of the Times". 
  13. ^ Muir 2012, p. 142.
  14. ^ Buckley, Tom (September 26, 1980). "Movie Review -- 'WITHOUT WARNING'". The New York Times. Retrieved February 22, 2017. 
  15. ^ Folkart, Burt A. (August 6, 1988). "OBITUARIES : Played Tough Guys and Villains : Ralph Meeker; Stage, Screen, TV Actor". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 21, 2017. 
  16. ^ "Ralph Meeker (1920 - 1988) - Find A Grave Memorial". www.findagrave.com. Retrieved March 15, 2016. 

Works cited[edit]

  • 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. 
  • Maltin, Leonard (1994). Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide: 1990 Edition. Plume. ISBN 978-0-452-26316-1. 
  • Keaney, Michael F. (2010). Film Noir Guide: 745 Films of the Classic Era, 1940-1959. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-786-46366-4. 
  • Monush, Barry (2003). Screen World Presents the Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors: From the Silent Era to 1965. 1. Applause. ISBN 978-1-557-83551-2. 
  • Muir, Kenneth (2012). Horror Films of the 1980s. 1. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-786-47298-7. 

External links[edit]