Meeker in a 1953 publicity photo
November 21, 1920
Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.
|Died||August 5, 1988
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Heart attack|
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Los Angeles, California, U.S.|
|Spouse(s)||Salome Jens (m. 1964–1966)
Millicent Meeker (?–1988)
Ralph Meeker (born Ralph Rathgeber; November 21, 1920 – August 5, 1988) 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), 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.
Meeker was born Ralph Rathgeber in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on November 21, 1920, the son of Ralph and Magnhild Senovia Haavig Meeker Rathgeber. He spent his early life in Michigan and Chicago, Illinois. 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.
Stage work and early films
Meeker began his career on stage, appearing in minor roles in the Broadway productions of Strange Fruit and Cyrano de Bergerac in 1946. 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. He also starred on Broadway in Mister Roberts from 1948 to 1951, earning a Theatre World Award for his performance.
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. 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). The following year, he was cast in a Broadway production of William Inge's Picnic, which was a critical and commercial success. 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.
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 and a cold-blooded convict in Big House, U.S.A. (1955).
Breakthrough and television
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. 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, 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. 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.
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.
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. The film received negative reviews from critics, with Tom Buckley of The New York Times calling the film "illogical and predictable."
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. He was survived by his second wife, Millicent. He is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles.
|1952||4 Num Jeep||Sergeant William Long|
|1952||Glory Alley||Socks Barbarrosa|
|1952||Shadow in the Sky||Burt|
|1953||Somebody Loves Me||Ben 'Benny' Fields|
|1953||Naked Spur, TheThe Naked Spur||Roy Anderson|
|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||Run of the Arrow||Lieutenant Driscoll|
|1957||The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown||Mike Vala|
|1957||Paths of Glory||Cpl. Philippe Paris|
|1960||Dillinger||John Dillinger||Television film|
|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|
|1973||Love Comes Quietly||Ben Hoeksema|
|1973||Birds of Prey||Jim McAndrew||Television film|
|1973||You'll Never See Me Again||Will Alden||Television film|
|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|
|1976||The Food of the Gods||Bensington|
|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 appearance|
|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||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||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||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|
|1946–47||Cyrano de Bergerac||Lackey|||
|1947–49||A Streetcar Named Desire||Stanley Kowalski|||
|1948–1951||Mister Roberts||Mannion||Theatre World Award|
|1958||Cloud 7||Newton Reece|||
|1962||Something About a Soldier||Toat|||
|1964||But For Whom Charlie||Charles Taney|||
|1964–65||After the Fall||Mickey|||
- 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.
- Monush 2003, p. 493.
- LoBianco, Lorraine. "Ralph Meeker Profile". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved March 7, 2017.
- "Ralph Meeker Credits". The Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved March 8, 2017.
- "(United Artists) Four in a Jeep". Screen World. Biblo & Tannen. 3: 65. 1952.
- "'Picnic' tells conquest of Kansas Casanova". Life: 136. March 16, 1953.
- Keaney 2010, p. 220.
- Hoberman 2007, p. 155.
- "'The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown' on View". The New York Times. October 31, 1957. Retrieved December 26, 2016.
- "The Texan". Classic Television Archive. Retrieved February 1, 2013.
- Maltin 1994, p. 1288.
- "Town of the Times".
- Muir 2012, p. 142.
- Buckley, Tom (September 26, 1980). "Movie Review -- 'WITHOUT WARNING'". The New York Times. Retrieved February 22, 2017.
- 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.
- "Ralph Meeker (1920 - 1988) - Find A Grave Memorial". www.findagrave.com. Retrieved March 15, 2016.
- 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.
- Ralph Meeker at the American Film Institute
- Ralph Meeker at the British Film Institute
- Ralph Meeker at Find a Grave
- Ralph Meeker at the Internet Broadway Database
- Ralph Meeker on IMDb
- Ralph Meeker at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
- Ralph Meeker at the TCM Movie Database
- Ralph Meeker papers, donated by Meeker in 1983 to the Margaret Herrick Library
- Town of the Times, 1963 United States Department of Defense informational film at Internet Archive starring Ralph Meeker