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 in a 1953 publicity photo
November 21, 1920
|Died||August 5, 1988 67) (aged|
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Los Angeles, California, U.S.|
(m. 1964; div. 1966)
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.
Meeker then starred on Broadway in Mister Roberts (1948–51), directed by Joshua Logan and produced by Leland Hayward. Theatre World said he was one of the 12 most promising actors from the 1947-48 season. He was understudy for Henry Fonda.
Meeker's big breakthrough came when he took over the role of Stanley Kowalski from Marlon Brando in the second year of the original Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Elia Kazan. Logan and Hayward had Meeker under personal contract but agreed to release him from Mister Roberts. He started appearing in June 1949. He played the role until the Broadway run ended in December and then toured on the road with it.
MGM then cast him in the leading role in Shadow in the Sky (1952), alongside Nancy Davis, later Nancy Reagan. The studio then tried him in Glory Alley (1952), billed above Leslie Caron and directed by Raoul Walsh. Both films flopped.
Meeker's next two MGM films were very popular. He had a supporting role as a misfit ex-cavalryman in the classic Western The Naked Spur (1953) directed by Anthony Mann starring James Stewart. He was ten was in a well received thriller with Barbara Stanwyck and Barry Sullivan, Jeopardy (1953). His final film for MGM was a crime movie, Code Two (1953), which made a small loss.
In 1954 Meeker was cast in a Broadway production of William Inge's Picnic, directed by Logan and also starring Paul Newman and Janice Rule. The play was a critical and commercial success, running for 477 performances. 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.
Meeker returned to films playing a cold-blooded convict in Big House, U.S.A. (1955).
Kiss Me Deadly
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.
He then played a member of the French Foreign Legion in Desert Sands (1955). He was discussed to star in a Spillane sequel My Gun is Quick but it was not made. He was in a thriller, A Woman's Devotion (1957) co-starring Rule.
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 also guest starred on shows like Studio One in Hollywood, Star Stage, The Alcoa Hour, Goodyear Playhouse, Jane Wyman Presents The Fireside Theatre, Studio 57, Zane Grey Theater, Playhouse 90, and The 20th Century-Fox Hour.
Paths of Glory
Meeker returned to Broadway in 1958 to appear in Cloud 7 but it only ran 11 performances.
He continued to work heavily in TV on such shows as Climax!, Wagon Train, Kraft Theatre, Pursuit, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Schlitz Playhouse, The Loretta Young Show and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Meeker was cast with Dorothy Provine in the 1959 episode, "Blood Money", of the CBS Western series The Texan, starring Rory Calhoun. He had the title role in the TV movie Dillinger (1960).
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.
Meeker went back to Broadway to replace Eli Wallach in the production of Rhinoceros starring Zero Mostel. He was then in Something About a Soldier (1962) with Sal Mineo directed by Dore Schary; it ran 12 performances.
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. He was also in episodes of The United States Steel Hour, Route 66.
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. He was in the feature film Wall of Noise (1963) at Warners.
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 was also in The Outer Limits, The Defenders, Suspense, The Doctors and the Nurses, and Kraft Suspense Theatre.
Repertory on Broadway
He returned to Broadway in 1964 for After The Fall by Arthur Miller, directed by Kazan and starring Jason Robards Jr and Barbara Loden. It ran for 208 performances. The play was done in repertory with But For Whom Charlie, also directed by Kazan with Meeker (and Faye Dunaway), but it was not as successful.
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.
Meeker worked steadily through the 1970s. He was in the TV film Lost Flight (1970), the feature I Walk the Line (1970), and episodes of The Virginian and The F.B.I., as well as the TV movie The Reluctant Heroes of Hill 656 (1971).
That year he was a replacement cast member in a stage production of The House of Blue Leaves.
Meeker was in episodes of Primus, Room 222, Faraday and Company, Ironside, Toma, The Evil Touch, Police Surgeon, Cannon,The Rookies, Movin' On, Barbary Coast, Police Story, Run, Joe, Run, Harry O, Police Woman, The Eddie Capra Mysteries, and CHiPs.
In 1971, Meeker played FBI agent Bernie Jenks in the television movie The Night Stalker. He was in TV movies The Mind Snatchers (1972), Birds of Prey (1973), You'll Never See Me Again (1973), Cry Panic (1974), Night Games (1974), The Girl on the Late, Late Show (1974), and The Dead Don't Die (1975).
Meeker was an executive producer on My Boys Are Good Boys (1978) which he also appeared in. He had a role in Winter Kills (1979).
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."
Meeker married twice: his first wife (1964–1966) was actress Salome Jens, and his second was Millicent Meeker.
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 is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles.
|1951||4 Num Jeep||Sergeant William Long|
|1952||Shadow in the Sky||Burt|
|1952||Glory Alley||Socks Barbarrosa|
|1953||Somebody Loves Me||Ben 'Benny' Fields|
|1953||The 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||The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown||Mike Vala|
|1957||Run of the Arrow||Lieutenant Driscoll|
|1957||Paths of Glory||Corporal Philippe Paris|
|1960||Dillinger||John Dillinger||Television film|
|1963||Wall of Noise||Matt Rubio|
|1967||The Dirty Dozen||Capt. Stuart Kinder|
|1967||The St. Valentine's Day Massacre||George Clarence 'Bugs' Moran|
|1967||Gentle Giant||Fog Hanson|
|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||The 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|
|1976||The Food of the Gods||Bensington|
|1978||The Alpha Incident||Charlie|
|1978||My Boys Are Good Boys||Bert Morton|
|1979||Winter Kills||Gameboy Baker|
|1980||Without Warning||Dave||(final film role)|
|1952–1956||Goodyear Playhouse||N/A||2 episodes|
|1952–1956||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|
|1955–1956||Studio One in Hollywood||Mr. Sheridan / Steve||2 episodes|
|1955–1959||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|
|1962–1963||The United States Steel Hour||Charlie Williams||2 episodes|
|1962–1963||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|
|1972–1974||Police Surgeoun||James Blinn||2 episodes|
|1973–1975||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.
- MOST PROMISING PLAYERS: Theatre World Selects Twelve for the 1947-48 Season New York Times (1923-Current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]18 May 1948: 27.
- AT THE THEATRE By BROOKS ATKINSON. New York Times 19 Feb 1948: 27.
- CAROL STONE EYES LEAD IN A MUSICAL: Expected to Take Over Joan Roberts Role in 'Shoes' -Latter Leaves April 23 By SAM ZOLOTOW. New York Times15 Apr 1949: 31.
- "(United Artists) Four in a Jeep". Screen World. Biblo & Tannen. 3: 65. 1952.
- Mannix, Eddie. The Eddie Mannix Ledger. Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
- Ralph Meeker to Clash With Stewart; Barbara Britton in 'Riding Kid' Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 3 Mar 1952: B9.
- "'Picnic' tells conquest of Kansas Casanova". Life: 136. March 16, 1953.
- Hoberman 2007, p. 155.
- Hammer Role to Haunt Meeker, O'Connor Plans Independent Film Abroad Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 5 Feb 1955: 15.
- 'Red Ryan Story' Due to Star Ralph Meeker Los Angeles Times 17 Apr 1956: B6.
- "'The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown' on View". The New York Times. October 31, 1957. Retrieved December 26, 2016.
- Ralph Meeker to Make Movie Los Angeles Times 1 Sep 1957: D3.
- "The Texan". Classic Television Archive. Retrieved February 1, 2013.
- Meeker to Be Dillinger In New Thriller Series By Bob Salmaggi. The Washington Post and Times Herald 25 July 1959: D8.
- Not for Hire Packs Powerful Wallop and Scorns Taboos: Not for Hire Packs Hard Wallop and Scorns Taboos Page, Don. Los Angeles Times 10 Jan 1960: G2.
- Maltin 1994, p. 1288.
- TWO STARS ADDED TO MILITARY PLAY By SAM ZOLOTOW. New York Times 30 Oct 1961: 36.
- OBITUARIES Played Tough Guys and Villains Ralph Meeker; Stage, Screen, TV Actor Los Angeles Times 6 Aug 1988: 28.
- "Town of the Times".
- SEASON'S OPENER A FAMILY AFFAIR: The Gabels Will Bring 'Mrs. Dally' to Stage Sept. 22 By SAM ZOLOTOW. New York Times 23 Aug 1965: 21.
- TV's 'Lost Flight' Stars Ralph Meeker Los Angeles Times 14 Nov 1968: h26.
- Actor Ralph Meeker, 67 Newsday6 Aug 1988: 17.
- 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.
- Hoberman, J. (2007). "Review of Kiss Me Deadly". In Lim, Dennis (ed.). 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