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Ralph Meeker (21 November 1920 – 5 August 1988) was a stage and film actor best-known for starring in the 1953 Broadway production of Picnic, and in the 1955 film noir cult classic Kiss Me Deadly.

He was born Ralph Rathgeber in Minneapolis, Minnesotamarker, 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, directed by Leopold Lindtberg.

For his performance in William Inge's Picnic, Meeker was awarded the New York Critic's Circle Award in 1954. Picnic became a classic film in 1956, with William Holden and Kim Novak starring in the roles originated by Meeker and Janice Rule.

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. 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 did co-star in Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory, playing one of the condemned soldiers. Later films included 1961's Ada with Dean Martin and the 1967 drama The St. Valentine's Day Massacremarker, in which he played gangster George "Bugs" Moran. He also appeared in 1967's hit The Dirty Dozen as Captain Kinder, a military psychologist who attempts to analyze the men.

On television, Meeker starred in the 1958 episode "A Man Called Horse" of NBC's Wagon Train, with the Hopi Indian boy Anthony Numkena appearing in the role of Little Hunter. In 1963, he appeared in "The Bull Roarer" on ABC's medical drama about psychiatry, Breaking Point starring Paul Richards. He guest-starred in the 1964 episode "Swing for the Moon" of ABC's Channing, set on a fictitious college campus and costarring Jason Evers and Henry Jones.

In 1967, he starred on ABC's military-western Custer, with Wayne Maunder in the title role. Meeker portrayed police officers in 1969's The Detective with Frank Sinatra and The Anderson Tapes (1970) with Sean Connery.

He was producer of the movie My Boys Are Good Boys (1978) and made guest appearances on numerous TV shows, including Ironside, CHiPs, Toast of the Town, The Outer Limits and Studio One. In 1955, Meeker starred in the premiere episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "Revenge", with Vera Miies, as well as in three other episodes of the Hitchcock series.

Personal life

He was a graduate of the Leelanau School in Glen Arbor Township, Michiganmarker, and a member of their Hall of Fame. Meeker married twice. His first wife was actress Salome Jens. The marriage lasted from 1964 to 1966. His second marriage was to Colleen Meeker. Major success continually eluded him. He died of a heart attack on August 5, 1988, in Woodland Hills, Californiamarker.


  1. Hoberman, J., Review of Kiss Me Deadly in The Village Voice Film Guide, New York: John Wiley and Sons, 2007.

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