LAMA BLOG

The Life, Love and Art of Two Hollywood Connoisseurs

February 3, 2016

The actor and playwright Jack Larson and film director and writer James Bridges were gentlemen of the old school–talented, creative, cultured, thoughtful, generous, and supportive of each other and of their friends. They found each other and made a life together in a different Hollywood era–a much mythologized time and place. Although Larson and Bridges entered that world from different paths, each in his own way embodied a striking story of personal transformation.

Claxton Jack Larson    Claxton James Bridges

Lot 124A, Jack Larson (left) and James Bridges (right), photographed by William Claxton
February 21, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

Jack Larson (1928–2015) will forever be best remembered–as he often predicted with rueful good cheer–as the eager and earnest cub reporter Jimmy Olsen in the early television series Adventures of Superman. The young son of a working class family in suburban Los Angeles, Larson contemplated dropping out of high school in the late 1940s to pursue, if he’d had his way, a career as a professional bowler. But his father insisted, forcefully, that he return to his studies, and Larson ultimately completed high school and graduated from Pasadena Junior College.

There Larson discovered a talent for writing and performing in theatrical skits. He was spotted by talent scouts and won a part in the 1948 Warner Bros. Technicolor war drama Fighter Squadron. Roles on the stage and on live television followed, and Larson began to dream of working on Broadway. Reluctantly, and for the sake of the money, in 1951 he signed on for 26 filmed episodes of Adventures of Superman– assured that the show would likely never air. Larson was living in New York when the program debuted the following year–and was an instant hit. “To me, it was a nightmare,” Larson recalled in a 2006 interview with The New York Times. “Everywhere I went, it was, ‘Jimmy! Jimmy! Hey, Jimmy, where’s Superman?’ Suddenly, I couldn’t take the bus or the subway anymore. It absolutely freaked me out.”

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Lot 124A, Contact sheet featuring Jack Larson in costume as Jimmy Olsen in Adventures of Superman
Photographed by William Claxton
February 21, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

Though Larson enjoyed his work during the eight-year run of Adventures of Superman– and was particularly proud to have turned Jimmy Olsen into a deft comedic character–the role fulfilled his worst fears of becoming typecast. After a humiliating encounter with movie producer Mervyn LeRoy in a 1961 pre-production meeting for a part (“He started castigating the casting director right in front of me, saying, ‘I can’t have him in my film! He’s Jimmy Olsen!'” Larson told the New York Times), he sought guidance from a former boyfriend, Montgomery Clift. “Monty said, ‘This is going to continue, ‘” Larson recalled. “‘Don’t put yourself in these situations anymore. You need to leave this behind.’ And that’s when I decided to quit acting.”

Larson returned to writing. Advised by Bridges and friends such as the famed theatrical and film producer John Houseman, Larson found a successful second career as a playwright. One specialty was the verse play, and his efforts in the genre included The Candied House–a retelling of the Hansel and Gretel story–and Cherry, Larry, Sandy, Doris, Jean, Paul, a comedy about being gay (both were directed by Bridges). He went on to write lyrics and narratives for composers such as Jerome Robbins and Ned Rorem. Larson wrote the libretto for Virgil Thomson’s third and last opera, 1972’s Lord Byron. His later works included a new text for Hector Berlioz’s Lélio in 1997 and 1998’s The Astronaut’s Tale, an updated and Americanized version of Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat. Larson was the first playwright to be awarded a grant by the Rockefeller Foundation.

While Jack Larson was winning fans on Adventures of Superman, James Bridges (1936–1993) was scheming about leaving Arkansas. Bridges grew up in a small town in the western part of the state and was studying drama at Arkansas State Teachers College when he left for Los Angeles in 1956–prompted by a carpe diem epiphany on the day his idol James Dean died in a car crash, a moment Bridges later explored in his 1977 movie September 30, 1955. In Hollywood, Bridges acted in small roles on television shows such as Dragnet, sometimes selling ice cream to make ends meet. In 1957 he met Larson on the set of the movie Johnny Trouble. Within a year the two had formed a lasting relationship.

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Lot 124A, James Bridges photographed by William Claxton
February 21, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

Bridges took a job as a stage manager for John Houseman at the UCLA Theatre Group and wrote scripts in his spare time. His 1961 play The Days of the Dancing, staged at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, caught the attention of Norman Lloyd, producer of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, who invited Bridges to write for the show. The Appaloosa, a 1966 film starring Marlon Brando, was Bridges’ first produced screenplay; that same year he took his first job as a director, on Larson’s The Candied House.

Four years later, Bridges made his film directorial debut with The Baby Maker, starring Barbara Hershey as a surrogate mother. That movie revealed a consistent theme in Bridges’ work: a sensitive, character-driven attunement to new social currents and the people caught up in them. He would go on to examine first-year Harvard law students’ desperation to succeed (in 1973’s The Paper Chase, for which Bridges received the first of his two Academy Award nominations for screenwriting); rudderless city-dwellers seeking to identify themselves with the trappings of bronco-busters ( Urban Cowboy, 1980); the anxiety underlying the quest for physical beauty ( Perfect, 1985); and the empty lives of coke-sniffing yuppies ( Bright Lights, Big City, 1988). His best known film, 1979’s The China Syndrome, a thriller starring Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon, and Michael Douglas, centers on the inherent dangers of nuclear energy. It is a mark of Bridges’ integrity that, when the Three Mile Island nuclear accident occurred twelve days after the film’s opening, the director refused to exploit the incident as a marketing opportunity.

Another hallmark of Bridges’ directorial work was the skill and understanding with which he worked with actors–a fellow feeling engendered by his own days on the stage and set. According to Larson, Bridges often advised aspiring movie directors to study theater rather than film in order to become more in tune with performers. He would defend his stars at all costs, though a forceful manner went against his polite and gracious nature. When the producer Robert Evans resisted his choice of the then little-known Debra Winger to star in Urban Cowboy, Bridges threatened to walk off the production. “He could get in there and fight with the best of them,” Winger recalled. “Although I fear he suffered later, because he really was not that kind of a person.”

Bridges finished his final movie project in 1990–the screenplay for Clint Eastwood’s White Hunter, Black Heart–the same year he was diagnosed with intestinal cancer. He died of complications from the disease three years later.

Though each knew fame and success in his own right, together Jack Larson and James Bridges formed a remarkably seamless personal and professional union.

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Lot 124A, Jack Larson (left) and James Bridges (right), photographed by William Claxton 
February 21, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

On the stage Bridges brought Larson’s first theatrical works as a professional writer to life, but it was that work–and raves he received from critics when the pieces were performed in Los Angeles, London, and Edinburgh–that gave Bridges the bonafides that earned him directorial control of The Baby Maker. On that film and in several later ones, Larson worked as a producer–acting as a sounding board on scripts, giving his opinion about daily rushes and editing choices, carrying messages, and generally running interference against the impositions of executive producers and others who would have tried to push Bridges into artistic compromises.

Their extraordinary circle of friends included the writer Christopher Isherwood, the composer Virgil Thomson, the philanthropist, patron, and photographer Betty Freeman, the portrait artist Don Bachardy, the actress Leslie Caron, the actor and director John Cassavetes, the artist David Hockney, the poet and critic Frank O’Hara, the artist and photographer Peter Schlesinger, the artist and writer Joe Brainard, the actress Salka Viertel, the artist and filmmaker Andy Warhol (Bridges had performed in his 1964 film Tarzan and Jane Regained…Sort Of), and many others. Larson and Bridges were generous and supportive friends. “My career has been dependent on drawing recognizable people–meaning many actors,” says Bachardy. “Jack and Jim were always helpful. So many of my sitters were introduced through them.” The two collected art out of friendship as much as connoisseurship. “Jack bought my artwork to help me because I was broke,” says Schlesinger. “They mostly bought from friends, or were given things by friends. There was a personal connection to everything they had.”

He adds: “I adored Jack and Jim.” Many–even those who did not know them–would say the same.

On February 21, 2016, LAMA will auction over 75 lots from this special collection, with proceeds going to The Bridges/Larson Foundation, founded by James Bridges and Jack Larson, to be used for charitable, scientific, literary, and educational purposes.

Jack Larson. Dir. Karen Herman. Archives of American Television. Television Academy Foundation, 2003. Web. Tonguette, Peter Prescott. The Films of James Bridges. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011. Print. King, Susan. “Adventures with Bridges.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 06 July 2011. Web. 10 Jan. 2016. Rhodes, Joe. “The Continuing Adventures and Movie Cameos of Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 13 July 2006. Web. 10 Jan. 2016. Gates, Anita. “Jack Larson, a TV Jimmy Olsen Turned Playwright, Dies at 87.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 21 Sept. 2015. Web. 10 Jan. 2016.

Selected Lot Information:

Lot 86
SOLD TO BENEFIT THE BRIDGES/LARSON FOUNDATION
Frank Lloyd Wright
George D. Sturges Residence
Designed and completed in 1939
Registered as Historic Cultural Monument No. 577 by the City of Los Angeles in 1993
A single-story structure comprised of two bedrooms, one bathroom, kitchen, living/dining area, a large wrap-around cantilevered patio, basement, and rooftop observation deck
Approximately 1,200 square feet
Located at 449 North Skyewiay Road in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, CaliforniaLand totals approximately 17,000 square feet
Sold together with two original dining chairs by Frank Lloyd Wright designed and constructed for the house in 1939, various built-ins and permanent modifications executed by John Lautner, all books and literature listed in “Illustrated” column, and a rare historical archive of vintage photographic prints, ephemera, copies of blueprints, and other items related to the history of the house from the collection of Jack Larson and James Bridges
Provenance: George D. and Selma Sturges
(acquired the land on September 1, 1938);
Edward Scofield (aka: Henry Schwartz)
(acquired from the above on September 11, 1951);
Elaine Pike
(acquired from the above on July 23, 1962);
Paul L. and Madeleine M. Garvin
(acquired from the above on January 16, 1964);
Jack Larson and James Bridges
(acquired from the above in November 1967)
Illustrated: California Arts & Architecture, April 1940. Cover, 14-15. Los Angeles Times, Home and Garden section (K), December 26, 1993. “Living in a Legend” by D. Sutro. Los Angeles Times, February 4, 1940, “Frank Lloyd Wright Expresses Himself.” Frank Lloyd Wright: American Master. K. Smith. 2009. 224-227. Book dedicated to Jack Larson and signed by Alan Weintraub, photographer. Frank Lloyd Wright: The Natural House. 1954. 92-95. Global Interior, vol #10. Futagawa. 1976. 66-71. Frank Lloyd Wright Monograph: 1937-1941. B. Pfeiffer. 1986. 215-227. Frank Lloyd Wright: The Houses. A. Hess. 2005. Cover, 330-333. Book dedicated to Jack Larson and signed by Alan Weintraub, photographer. Wright-Sized Houses. D. Maddex. 2003. 4, 6-7, 17, 63, 116-119, 128. Signed by the author. Just Wright: An Architectural Memoir. B. Gregson and P. Swanson. 2010. 58-65. The Drawings of Frank Lloyd Wright. A. Drexler. Bramhall House. 1962. 164-165.

Estimate: $2,500,000 – $3,000,000

Lot 87
SOLD TO BENEFIT THE BRIDGES/LARSON FOUNDATION
Frank Lloyd Wright
Origami lounge chair
Commissioned c. 1965 for the George D. Sturges Residence, Los Angeles
Custom
34.5″ x 37″ x 40″
Executed under the supervision of John Lautner based on a model originally conceived by Frank Lloyd Wright
Provenance: Paul L. and Madeleine M. Garvin;
Jack Larson and James Bridges, Los Angeles, California
Literature: Frank Lloyd Wright: Interiors and Furniture. T. Heinz. 1994. 198.
Estimate: $10,000 – $15,000

Lot 90
SOLD TO BENEFIT THE BRIDGES/LARSON FOUNDATION
John Lautner
Floor lamps (2)
Commissioned c. 1965 for the George D. Sturges Residence, Los Angeles
Custom
Each: 50″ x 16″ x 33.25″
Provenance: Paul L. and Madeleine M. Garvin;
Jack Larson and James Bridges, Los Angeles, California
Estimate: $10,000 – $15,000

Lot 94
SOLD TO BENEFIT THE BRIDGES/LARSON FOUNDATION
Frank Lloyd Wright
Imperial Hotel dinner service (84)
Designed c. 1922; these examples manufactured 1968
Noritake, Japan
Various dimensions
Comprised of seven-piece service for twelve; twelve each dinner plates, tea cups, saucers, bowls, bread plates, salad plates
Together with four original shipping boxes dated 1968
Provenance: Jack Larson and James Bridges, Los Angeles, California
Estimate: $15,000 – $20,000

Lot 104
SOLD TO BENEFIT THE BRIDGES/LARSON FOUNDATION
David Hockney
Portrait of Jack Larson
1967
Ink on paper
Signed, dated, and inscribed “for Jack + Jim/from David/Feb 67″
Sheet: 17.875″ x 13.875”
Together with two books, one signed and inscribed to Jack Larson and James Bridges by the artist, and exhibition catalogue
Provenance: Jack Larson and James Bridges, Los Angeles, California (acquired directly from the artist)
Estimate: $30,000 – $40,000

Lot 105
SOLD TO BENEFIT THE BRIDGES/LARSON FOUNDATION
David Hockney
Portrait of James Bridges
1967
Ink on paper
Signed, dated, and inscribed in ink “For Jack + Jim/from David, Feb 67″
Sheet: 16.875″ x 13.875”
Together with two books, one signed and inscribed to Jack Larson and James Bridges by the artist, and exhibition catalogue
Provenance: Jack Larson and James Bridges, Los Angeles, California (acquired directly from the artist)
Estimate: $30,000 – $40,000

Lot 107
SOLD TO BENEFIT THE BRIDGES/LARSON FOUNDATION
David Hockney
Picture of a still life that has an elaborate silver frame, 1
1965
Color lithograph on paper with unique hand-painted additions
Inscribed “For Jack and Jim from David” in graphite lower right
Image/sheet: 29.75″ x 21.75″; Frame: 30.5″ x 22.75″
Together with two exhibition catalogues, one signed and dedicated to Jack Larson by the artist
Provenance: Jack Larson and James Bridges, Los Angeles, California (acquired directly from the artist)
Estimate: $25,000 – $35,000

Lot 125
SOLD TO BENEFIT THE BRIDGES/LARSON FOUNDATION
Andy Warhol
Jane Fonda
1982
Screenprint on Lenox Museum Board
#20 of 100
Published by Friends of Tom Hayden, New York; printed by Rupert Jasen Smith, New York
Signed lower left with edition in graphite; inscribed “Peace, Jane Fonda” by Jane Fonda lower center; printer blind stamp lower right sheet
Image/sheet: 39.5″ x 31″; Frame: 41.5″ x 33.5″
F/S #II.268
Together with two copies of Andy Warhol: Portraits of the 70s (each signed and dedicated to James Bridges and Jack Larson by Andy Warhol), POPism: The Warhol 60s, Warhol Initiative, The Andy Warhol Diaries, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts: 1987-2007, photograph of Jane Fonda, Henry Fonda, and Katharine Hepburn dedicated and signed to Jack Larson by Jane Fonda, and photograph of Jane Fonda and James Bridges, signed and dedicated to James Bridges by Jane Fonda
Provenance: Jack Larson and James Bridges, Los Angeles, California (acquired directly from Penelope Milford, 1986)
Literature: Andy Warhol Prints: A Catalogue Raisonné. 4th ed. F. Feldman and J. Schellmann. 2003. #II.268.
Estimate: $25,000 – $35,000

Lot 142
SOLD TO BENEFIT THE BRIDGES/LARSON FOUNDATION
Alex Katz
Here’s to You
1962
Oil on Masonite panel
Signed and dated upper right; retains Thibaut Gallery label verso; retains “In Memory of My Feelings: Frank O’Hara and American Art” and “Alex Katz: Small Paintings” exhibition labels verso; bears the inscription “#12″ in red ink verso
Masonite: 23.875″ x 32″; Frame: 24.5″ x 32.5”
The subject of this painting is Joe LeSueur, friend and on-and-off lover to Frank O’Hara. Both LeSueur and O’Hara were close friends of Jack Larson and James Bridges
Together with two books
Provenance: Jack Larson and James Bridges, Los Angeles, California
Exhibited: “Alex Katz,” Thibaut Gallery, New York, February 12-March 9, 1963; “In Memory of My Feelings: Frank O’Hara and American Art,” traveling exhibition, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, July 11-November 14, 1999; the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, January 28-April 16, 2000; the Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, June 11-July 30, 2000; “Alex Katz: Small Paintings,” traveling exhibition, Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, April 7-July 31, 2001; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, September 21, 2001-January 4, 2002; Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, March 22-June 2, 2002
Illustrated: In Memory of My Feelings: Frank O’Hara and American Art. R. Ferguson. 1999. 95.; Alex Katz: Small Paintings. A. Weinberg, et al. 2001. 82.
Estimate: $80,000 – $120,000

Lot 146
SOLD TO BENEFIT THE BRIDGES/LARSON FOUNDATION
Ferdinand Porsche
Beetle
Designed in 1934; this example produced 1971
Ravenna Green
Sedan 111
Volkswagen
VIN number 1112441515
52,777 miles
Provenance: Jack Larson and James Bridges, Los Angeles, California
Estimate: $3,000 – $5,000

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