Ralph Meeker

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Ralph Meeker
Meeker in a photo for the MGM film Code Two (1953)
Ralph Rathgeber

(1920-11-21)November 21, 1920
Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.
DiedAugust 5, 1988(1988-08-05) (aged 67)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Years active1945–1980
  • (m. 1964; div. 1966)
  • Colleen Meeker
    (m. 1970; div. 1981)
  • Millicent Meeker
    (before 1988)
Meeker in 1952
With Barbara Stanwyck in Jeopardy (1953)
Meeker in a stage production of Picnic, 1954
Meeker replaces Brando in the stage version of A Streetcar Named Desire

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 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.[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[edit]

Meeker began his career on stage, appearing in minor roles in the Broadway production of Strange Fruit (1946) directed by José Ferrer, which ran for 60 performances.

He followed it with a minor part in Cyrano de Bergerac (1946), starring Ferrer and directed by Mel Ferrer which went for 163 performances.[4]

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.[5][2][6] 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.[7] He played the role until the Broadway run ended in December and then toured on the road with it.

MGM Films[edit]

Meeker made his film debut in the Swiss-made Four in a Jeep (1951), directed by Leopold Lindtberg. He played a starring role alongside Viveca Lindfors.[8]

Meeker was then signed to a term contract by MGM. which put him in Teresa (1951), directed by Fred Zinnemann. Meeker played a support role, a sergeant, and the film was very popular.[9]

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.[9]

Paramount borrowed him to play Betty Hutton's leading man in Somebody Loves Me (1952), a musical. It was a minor hit.

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 then in Jeopardy (1953), a well-received thriller with Barbara Stanwyck and Barry Sullivan. His final film for MGM was the crime movie Code Two (1953), which made a small loss.[2][10]

Meeker also appeared on TV shows like The Revlon Mirror Theater and Lux Video Theatre.


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.[11] Meeker was awarded the New York Critic's Circle Award in 1954.[citation needed]

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]

Meeker returned to films playing a cold-blooded convict in Big House, U.S.A. (1955).

Kiss Me Deadly[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.[12]

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[13]

On television, Meeker starred in the 1955 premiere episode, "Revenge", of 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.

In 1957, he portrayed an ex-convict who kidnaps and then falls for Jane Russell in the romantic comedy The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown,[14] which failed at the box office.[citation needed]

More popular was the Sam Fuller Western Run of the Arrow (1957), with Meeker in a supporting role.[citation needed]

He produced the film Kindergarten in Germany.[15]

Paths of Glory[edit]

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 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 Western series The Texan, starring Rory Calhoun.[citation needed] He had the title role in the TV movie Dillinger (1960).[16]

Not for Hire[edit]

From 1959 to 1960, Meeker had the leading role as Army Sergeant Steve Dekker in the 39-episode television series Not for Hire.[17]

For Disney TV, he did Texas John Slaughter: Frank Clell's in Town (1961) with Tom Tryon. He also was seen in Tallahassee 7000.

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.[18]

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.[19]

In 1962, Meeker portrayed Jack Slade in the episode "The Crooked Angel" of thee drama series Going My Way, starring Gene Kelly as a Catholic priest in New York City and loosely based on 1944 film of the same name. He was also cast in 1962 as Barney Swanton in the episode "Walk Like a King" of the Western series Empire, starring Richard Egan. He was also in episodes of The United States Steel Hour, and Route 66.[20]

In 1963, he appeared as Murray Knopf in "The Bull Roarer" on Breaking Point, starring Paul Richards and Eduard Franz.

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.[21] 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 Channing, 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[edit]

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.

In 1965 Meeker was in Mrs. Dally Had a Lover on Broadway, which ran 53 performances.[22] He guest-starred on The Long, Hot Summer, Seaway, The Green Hornet, and Tarzan.

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

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 also starred in Gentle Giant (1967), A Punt, a Pass, and a Prayer (1968), and The Devil's 8 (1968) and guest starred on Dundee and the Culhane, The High Chaparral, The Name of the Game,


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).[23]

In 1971, he appeared on television as Kermit Teller in the episode "Glory Rider" of the Western Custer, with Wayne Maunder in the title role.

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 & 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 TV 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).

He made Love Comes Quietly (1973) in Holland and worked in the John Wayne film Brannigan (1974). He was second-billed in Johnny Firecloud (1975) and had a part in The Food of the Gods (1976).

He was also in Hi-Riders (1978) and starred in The Alpha Incident (1978).

Final years[edit]

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).[24]

Meeker's final screen role was in the independent science-fiction-horror film Without Warning (1980), about an alien landing.[25] The film received negative reviews from critics, with Tom Buckley of The New York Times calling the film "illogical and predictable."[26]

Personal life[edit]

Meeker was married three times: his first wife (1964–1966) was actress Salome Jens, and his third 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.[27] He is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles.[citation needed]



Year Title Role Notes
1951 Die Vier im 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 The 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 Corporal 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 The St. Valentine's Day Massacre George Clarence 'Bugs' Moran
1967 Gentle Giant Fog Hanson
1968 The 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 TV movie
1970 I Walk the Line Carl McCain
1971 The Anderson Tapes 'Iron Balls' Delaney
1971 The Reluctant Heroes Captain Luke Danvers TV movie
1972 The Night Stalker Bernie Jenks TV movie
1972 The Happiness Cage The Major also known as The Mind Snatchers and The Demon
1973 Birds of Prey Jim McAndrew TV movie
1973 You'll Never See Me Again Will Alden TV movie
1973 Love Comes Quietly Ben Hoeksema
1974 Cry Panic Chuck Brunswell TV movie
1974 Night Games Dutch Armbreck TV movie
1974 The Girl on the Late, Late Show Inspector DeBiesse TV movie
1975 The Dead Don't Die Police Lt. Reardon TV movie
1975 Brannigan Capt. Moretti
1975 Johnny Firecloud Colby
1976 The Food of the Gods Bensington
1978 Hi-Riders Mike
1978 The Alpha Incident Charlie
1978 My Boys Are Good Boys Bert Morton
1979 Winter Kills Gameboy Baker
1980 Without Warning Dave


Year Title Role Notes
1952–1956 Goodyear Television Playhouse 2 episodes
1952–1956 Lux Video Theatre Mike / Nicky Hanks 2 episodes
1953 The Revlon Mirror Theater 2 episodes
1953 The Alcoa Hour Billy Hepburn 1 episode
1955–1956 Studio One in Hollywood Mr. Sheridan / Steve 2 episodes
1955 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Carl Spann Season 1 Episode 1: "Revenge"
1956 Star Stage 1 episode
1956 Jane Wyman Presents The Fireside Theatre Joe Novak 1 episode
1956 Studio 57 Ranson 1 episode
1957 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Carl Borden Season 2 Episode 20: "Malice Domestic"
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 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 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Mel Reeves Season 4 Episode 17: "Total Loss"
1959 Alfred Hitchcock Presents John Forbes Season 4 Episode 23: "I'll Take Care of You"
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 Suspense 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
1972–1974 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 & 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 Had a Lover Sam [4]


  1. ^ a b c d 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 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 "Ralph Meeker Credits". The Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved March 8, 2017.
  5. ^ "MOST PROMISING PLAYERS: Theatre World Selects Twelve for the 1947–48 season". The New York Times. May 18, 1948. p. 27.
  6. ^ BROOKS ATKINSON (February 19, 1948). "AT THE THEATRE". The New York Times. p. 27.
  7. ^ SAM ZOLOTOW (April 15, 1949). "CAROL STONE EYES LEAD IN A MUSICAL: Expected to Take Over Joan Roberts Role in 'Shoes' -Latter Leaves April 23". The New York Times. p. 31.
  8. ^ "(United Artists) Four in a Jeep". Screen World. Biblo & Tannen. 3: 65. 1952. ISBN 9780819602589.
  9. ^ a b Mannix, Eddie. The Eddie Mannix Ledger. Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  10. ^ Schallert, Edwin (March 3, 1952). "Ralph Meeker to Clash With Stewart; Barbara Britton in 'Riding Kid'". Los Angeles Times. p. B9.
  11. ^ "'Picnic' tells conquest of Kansas Casanova". Life. March 16, 1953. p. 136.
  12. ^ Hoberman 2007, p. 155.
  13. ^ Schallert, Edwin (April 17, 1956). "Hammer Role to Haunt Meeker, O'Connor Plans Independent Film Abroad". Los Angeles Times. p. B6.
  14. ^ "'The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown' on View". The New York Times. October 31, 1957. Retrieved December 26, 2016.
  15. ^ "Ralph Meeker to Make Movie". Los Angeles Times. September 1, 1957. p. D3.
  16. ^ Meeker to Be Dillinger in New Thriller Series by Bob Salmaggi. The Washington Post and Times-Herald 25 July 1959: D8.
  17. ^ "Not for Hire Packs Powerful Wallop and Scorns Taboos: Not for Hire Packs Hard Wallop and Scorns Taboos Page, Don". Los Angeles Times. January 10, 1960. p. G2.
  18. ^ Maltin 1994, p. 1288.
  19. ^ SAM ZOLOTOW (October 30, 1961). "TWO STARS ADDED TO MILITARY PLAY". The New York Times. p. 36.
  20. ^ "OBITUARIES Played Tough Guys and Villains Ralph Meeker; Stage, Screen, TV Actor". Los Angeles Times. August 6, 1988. p. 28.
  21. ^ "Town of the Times".
  22. ^ Sam Zolotow (August 23, 1965). "SEASON'S OPENER A FAMILY AFFAIR: The Gabels Will Bring 'Mrs. Dally' to Stage Sept. 22". The New York Times. p. 21.
  23. ^ "TV's 'Lost Flight' Stars Ralph Meeker". Los Angeles Times. November 14, 1968. p. h26.
  24. ^ "Actor Ralph Meeker, 67". Newsday. August 6, 1988. p. 17.
  25. ^ Muir 2012, p. 142.
  26. ^ Buckley, Tom (September 26, 1980). "Movie Review -- 'WITHOUT WARNING'". The New York Times. Retrieved February 22, 2017.
  27. ^ Folkart, Burt A. (August 6, 1988). "OBITUARIES : Played Tough Guys and Villains : Ralph Meeker; Stage, Screen, TV Actor". The Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on February 27, 2015. Retrieved February 21, 2017.

Works cited[edit]

External links[edit]