Ralph Meeker
Ralph Meeker was an American stage and film actor best-known for starring in the 1953 Broadway production of Picnic
Picnic (play)
Picnic is a 1953 play by William Inge. The play premiered at the Music Box Theatre, Broadway on 19 February 1953 in a Theatre Guild production, directed by Joshua Logan, which ran for 477 performances....

, and in the 1955 film noir
Film noir
Film noir is a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize cynical attitudes and sexual motivations. Hollywood's classic film noir period is generally regarded as extending from the early 1940s to the late 1950s...

 cult classic Kiss Me Deadly
Kiss Me Deadly
Kiss Me Deadly is a 1955 film noir drama produced and directed by Robert Aldrich starring Ralph Meeker. The screenplay was written by A.I. Bezzerides, based on the Mickey Spillane Mike Hammer mystery novel Kiss Me, Deadly. Kiss Me Deadly is often considered a classic of the noir genre. The film...



He was born Ralph Rathgeber in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Minneapolis , nicknamed "City of Lakes" and the "Mill City," is the county seat of Hennepin County, the largest city in the U.S. state of Minnesota, and the 48th largest in the United States...

, the son of Ralph and Magnhild Senovia Haavig Meeker Rathgeber. 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
Four in a Jeep
Four in a Jeep is a 1951 Swiss drama film directed by Leopold Lindtberg.-Cast:* Ralph Meeker - Sergeant William Long* Viveca Lindfors - Franziska Idinger* Yossi Yadin - Sergeant Vassilij Voroshenko...

, directed by Leopold Lindtberg
Leopold Lindtberg
Leopold Lindtberg was an Austrian Swiss film and theatre director...

. In 1953 he was cast as a misfit ex-cavalryman in the classic western The Naked Spur
The Naked Spur
The Naked Spur is a 1953 American western movie directed by Anthony Mann and starring James Stewart in their third collaboration. The screenplay was written by Sam Rolfe and Harold Jack Bloom, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay - a rare honor for a Western. The...

directed by Anthony Mann
Anthony Mann
Anthony Mann was an American actor and film director, most notably of film noirs and Westerns. As a director, he often collaborated with the cinematographer John Alton and with James Stewart in his Westerns.-Biography:...


For his performance in William Inge
William Inge
William Motter Inge was an American playwright and novelist, whose works typically feature solitary protagonists encumbered with strained sexual relations. In the early 1950s, he had a string of memorable Broadway productions, and one of these, Picnic, earned him a Pulitzer Prize...

's Picnic, Meeker was awarded the New York Critic's Circle Award in 1954. Picnic became a classic film in 1955, with William Holden
William Holden
William Holden was an American actor. Holden won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1954 and the Emmy Award for Best Actor in 1974...

 and Kim Novak
Kim Novak
Kim Novak is an American film and television actress. She began her career with her roles in Pushover and Phffft! but achieved greater prominence in the 1955 film Picnic...

 starring in the roles originated by Meeker and Janice Rule
Janice Rule
-Early life and career:Born in Norwood, Ohio, her career included stage, screen and television work. Rule studied ballet and began dancing in Chicago nightclubs in her teens. She soon attracted attention in Hollywood and made her film debut in 1951...

. 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
Keenan Wynn
Keenan Wynn was an American character actor. His bristling mustache and expressive face were his stock in trade, and though he rarely had a lead role, he got prominent billing in most of his film and TV parts....

, in which Meeker portrayed a brash young rookie cop in Los Angeles.

Meeker starred as private detective Mike Hammer
Mike Hammer
Michael "Mike" Hammer is a fictional detective created by the American author Mickey Spillane in the 1947 book I, the Jury .-Description:...

 in the 1955 Robert Aldrich
Robert Aldrich
Robert Aldrich was an American film director, writer and producer, notable for such films as Kiss Me Deadly , The Big Knife , What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? , Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte , The Flight of the Phoenix , The Dirty Dozen , and The Longest Yard .-Biography:Robert...

 film of Mickey Spillane
Mickey Spillane
Frank Morrison Spillane , better known as Mickey Spillane, was an American author of crime novels, many featuring his signature detective character, Mike Hammer. More than 225 million copies of his books have sold internationally...

's Kiss Me Deadly
Kiss Me Deadly
Kiss Me Deadly is a 1955 film noir drama produced and directed by Robert Aldrich starring Ralph Meeker. The screenplay was written by A.I. Bezzerides, based on the Mickey Spillane Mike Hammer mystery novel Kiss Me, Deadly. Kiss Me Deadly is often considered a classic of the noir genre. The film...

. Many years later, this film acquired cult status and was seen as an influence on French New Wave
French New Wave
The New Wave was a blanket term coined by critics for a group of French filmmakers of the late 1950s and 1960s, influenced by Italian Neorealism and classical Hollywood cinema. Although never a formally organized movement, the New Wave filmmakers were linked by their self-conscious rejection of...

 directors such as Jean-Luc Godard
Jean-Luc Godard
Jean-Luc Godard is a French-Swiss film director, screenwriter and film critic. He is often identified with the 1960s French film movement, French Nouvelle Vague, or "New Wave"....

. 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.

In 1957, he appeared in Stanley Kubrick's
Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick was an American film director, writer, producer, and photographer who lived in England during most of the last four decades of his career...

 Paths of Glory
Paths of Glory
Paths of Glory is a 1957 American anti-war film by Stanley Kubrick based on the novel of the same name by Humphrey Cobb. Set during World War I, the film stars Kirk Douglas as Colonel Dax, the commanding officer of French soldiers who refused to continue a suicidal attack...

, playing the convicted soldier, Corporal Paris. Later films included 1961's Ada
Ada (film)
Ada is a 1961 political drama film made by Avon Productions and distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It was directed by Daniel Mann and produced by...

with Dean Martin
Dean Martin
Dean Martin was an American singer, film actor, television star and comedian. Martin's hit singles included "Memories Are Made of This", "That's Amore", "Everybody Loves Somebody", "You're Nobody till Somebody Loves You", "Sway", "Volare" and "Ain't That a Kick in the Head?"...

 and the 1967 drama The St. Valentine's Day Massacre, in which he played gangster George "Bugs" Moran. He was also in the 1967 box office hit The Dirty Dozen
The Dirty Dozen
The Dirty Dozen is a 1967 film directed by Robert Aldrich and released by MGM. It was filmed in England and features an ensemble cast, including Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Telly Savalas, and Robert Webber. The film is based on E. M...

as Captain Kinder, a military psychologist who attempts to analyze the men. Meeker portrayed police officers in 1969's The Detective
The Detective (1968 film)
The Detective is a 1968 film directed by Gordon Douglas, produced by Aaron Rosenberg and starring Frank Sinatra, based on the 1966 novel of the same name by Roderick Thorp.Co-stars include Lee Remick, Jacqueline Bisset, Jack Klugman and Robert Duvall....

with Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra
Francis Albert "Frank" Sinatra was an American singer and actor.Beginning his musical career in the swing era with Harry James and Tommy Dorsey, Sinatra became an unprecedentedly successful solo artist in the early to mid-1940s, after being signed to Columbia Records in 1943. Being the idol of the...

 and The Anderson Tapes
The Anderson Tapes
The Anderson Tapes is a 1971 crime film. It was directed by Sidney Lumet and stars Sean Connery, Dyan Cannon, Martin Balsam, and comedian Alan King. The screenplay was written by Frank Pierson, based upon a best-selling 1970 novel of the same name by Lawrence Sanders...

(1970) with Sean Connery
Sean Connery
Sir Thomas Sean Connery , better known as Sean Connery, is a Scottish actor and producer who has won an Academy Award, two BAFTA Awards and three Golden Globes Sir Thomas Sean Connery (born 25 August 1930), better known as Sean Connery, is a Scottish actor and producer who has won an Academy...

. He was producer of the movie My Boys Are Good Boys (1978).

During the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

, he appeared in a 1963 U.S. Department of Defense informational film Town of the Times, which encouraged the construction of public fallout shelter
Fallout shelter
A fallout shelter is an enclosed space specially designed to protect occupants from radioactive debris or fallout resulting from a nuclear explosion. Many such shelters were constructed as civil defense measures during the Cold War....


On television, Meeker starred in 1955 in the premiere episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Alfred Hitchcock Presents is an American television anthology series hosted by Alfred Hitchcock. The series featured dramas, thrillers, and mysteries. By the premiere of the show on October 2, 1955, Hitchcock had been directing films for over three decades...

, "Revenge", with Vera Miles
Vera Miles
Vera Miles is an American film actress who gained popularity for starring in films such as The Searchers, The Wrong Man, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Psycho and Psycho II.-Early life:...

, as well as in three other episodes of the Hitchcock series. He starred in the 1958 episode "A Man Called Horse" of NBC
The National Broadcasting Company is an American commercial broadcasting television network and former radio network headquartered in the GE Building in New York City's Rockefeller Center with additional major offices near Los Angeles and in Chicago...

's Wagon Train
Wagon Train
Wagon Train is an American Western series that ran on NBC from 1957–62 and then on ABC from 1962–65...

. In 1959 and 1960, Meeker starred as U.S. Army Sergeant Steve Dekker in the TV series Not for Hire. In 1963, he appeared in "The Bull Roarer" on ABC
American Broadcasting Company
The American Broadcasting Company is an American commercial broadcasting television network. Created in 1943 from the former NBC Blue radio network, ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Company and is part of Disney-ABC Television Group. Its first broadcast on television was in 1948...

's medical drama
Medical drama
A medical drama is a television program, in which events center upon a hospital, an ambulance staff, or any medical environment.In the United States, most medical episodes are one hour long and, more often than not, are set in a hospital. Most current medical Dramatic programming go beyond the...

 about psychiatry
Psychiatry is the medical specialty devoted to the study and treatment of mental disorders. These mental disorders include various affective, behavioural, cognitive and perceptual abnormalities...

, Breaking Point, starring Paul Richards
Paul Richards (actor)
Paul Richards was a Jewish American actor who appeared in films and on television in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s until his death from cancer at the age of fifty. He married actress Monica Keating in 1953.Richards guest-starred in a number of classic television western series, including Gunsmoke...

. He guest-starred in the 1964 episode "Swing for the Moon" of ABC's Channing
Channing (TV series)
Channing is an American drama series that aired on American Broadcasting Company from September 18, 1963 to April 8, 1964...

, set on a fictitious college
A college is an educational institution or a constituent part of an educational institution. Usage varies in English-speaking nations...

 campus and costarring Jason Evers
Jason Evers
Jason Evers was an American actor.Evers was born Herb Evers in New York City, New York. After quitting high school to join the United States Army, Evers was so inspired by stars like John Wayne that he decided to try acting...

 and Henry Jones
Henry Jones (actor)
Henry Burk Jones was an American actor of stage, film and television.Jones was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Helen and John Francis Xavier Jones. He was the grandson of Pennsylvania Representative Henry Burk...

. In 1967, he appeared in ABC's military-western Custer
Custer (TV series)
Custer, also known as The Legend of Custer, is a 17-episode military-western television series which ran on ABC from September 6 to December 27, 1967, with Wayne Maunder in the starring role of then Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer. During the American Civil War, Custer had risen to the...

, with Wayne Maunder
Wayne Maunder
Wayne E. Maunder is a retired actor, originally from Canada, who starred in three American television series between 1967 and 1974.-Three television series:...

 in the title role. In 1971 he played FBI agent Bernie Jenks in the highly successful TV movie The Night Stalker.

He made guest appearances on numerous other TV series, including Ironside
Ironside (TV series)
Ironside is a Universal television series which ran on NBC from September 14, 1967 to January 16, 1975. The show starred Raymond Burr as the wheelchair-using Chief of Detectives, Robert T. Ironside. The character's debut was in a TV-movie on March 28, 1967. The original title of the show in the...

, CHiPs
CHiPs is an American television drama series produced by MGM Studios that originally aired on NBC from September 15, 1977, to July 17, 1983. CHiPs followed the lives of two motorcycle police officers of the California Highway Patrol...

, Toast of the Town, The Outer Limits
The Outer Limits (1963 TV series)
The Outer Limits is an American television series that aired on ABC from 1963 to 1965. The series is similar in style to the earlier The Twilight Zone, but with a greater emphasis on science fiction, rather than fantasy stories...

"The Green Hornet
The Green Hornet
The Green Hornet is an American radio and television masked vigilante created by George W. Trendle and Fran Striker, with input from radio director James Jewell, in 1936. Since his radio debut in the 1930s, the Green Hornet has appeared in numerous serialized dramas in a wide variety of media...

" and Studio One
Studio One (TV series)
Studio One is a long-running American radio–television anthology series, created in 1947 by the 26-year-old Canadian director Fletcher Markle, who came to CBS from the CBC.-Radio:...

"The High Chaparral" (episode: 'The Price of Revenge'), "The Men From Shiloh' (episode: 'Experiment At New Life')

Personal life

He was a graduate of the Leelanau School in Glen Arbor Township, Michigan
Glen Arbor Township, Michigan
Glen Arbor Township is a civil township of Leelanau County in the U.S. state of Michigan. The population was 788 at the 2000 census.-Geography:...

, and a member of their Hall of Fame.

Meeker married three times: his first wife (1964–66) was actress Salome Jens
Salome Jens
Salome Jens is an American stage, film and television actress. She is perhaps best-known for portraying the Female Changeling on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.-Life and career:...

. His second marriage was to Colleen Meeker.

In 1980, Meeker 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 and Television Hospital in Woodland Hills
Woodland Hills
Woodland Hills is the name of various communities in the United States, including:*Woodland Hills, Cleveland, a neighborhood on the east side of Cleveland, Ohio.* Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, a neighborhood in Los Angeles, California...

, California, and died there of a heart attack
Myocardial infarction
Myocardial infarction or acute myocardial infarction , commonly known as a heart attack, results from the interruption of blood supply to a part of the heart, causing heart cells to die...

 on August 5, 1988. He was survived by his third wife, Millicent.

External links

  • Town of the Times, 1963 United States Department of Defense
    United States Department of Defense
    The United States Department of Defense is the U.S...

     informational film at Internet Archive
    Internet Archive
    The Internet Archive is a non-profit digital library with the stated mission of "universal access to all knowledge". It offers permanent storage and access to collections of digitized materials, including websites, music, moving images, and nearly 3 million public domain books. The Internet Archive...

     starring Ralph Meeker
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