Search the Cinema Head Cheese Archives!

September 17, 2015

Cape and Cowl One: Superman!

With the proliferation of the superhero movie, it is a good idea to remember our roots and see how the various media outlets have portrayed our favorite heroes and villains, that is the purpose of the Cape and Cowl series! Supes has gotten the absolute most screen time (far more than Batman, Spider-Man, Hulk, etc.). Still, with the thousands of comic book adventures, feature films, television shows and stage productions there are only a handful of people that have donned the tights and represented truth, justice and the American way in the media.

I know I say this all the time, but it is an incredible honor to be able to work in Superman’s world. Being part of that small handful of artists that populate Metropolis, Smallville and Krypton is something I will cherish for the rest of my days. How will we stack up against the following roll call of the world’s biggest Boy Scout? Join us at The Blog of Steel and watch the journey unfold. Until then… this looks like a job for, well, for me.

1930s and 1940s

Ray Middleon in 1940
Superman, the character, debuted in 1938 in National Periodical Publications Action Comics #1. Created by Joe Seigel and Jerry Shuster, Superman was not an instant hit (but eventually became part of the Sunday Funnies). The duo shopped the character around for five years, eventually finding a home at National Periodical Publications. That was all it took. Big Blue’s first foray into media was as a radio star. For over a decade, Superman would appear in radio broadcasts of his adventures. From February 1940 through February 1942 Superman aired as a fifteen minutes children’s serial that was pre-recorded. From August 1942 to February 1949, Superman went live for fifteen minutes every day, Monday through Friday. From February 1949 to June 1949, the format went to a 30 minute pre-recorded series three days a week transferring, in October of 1949 through January 1950 into a weekly series targeting adults. Finally, from June 1950 to March 1951, the format returned to a children’s serial that aired twice weekly.

Clayton 'Bud' Collyer
Superman, and his alter ego Clark Kent, was voiced by journeyman actor Clayton “Bud” Collyer. He would go on to voice Superman through the 1960s in various animated series like the groundbreaking Fleischer Superman Adventures (1941), The New Adventures of Superman (1966-67), Superman-Aquaman Hour of Adventure (1967-68) and Batman-Superman Hour of Adventure (1968-69). Bud Collyer was only replaced briefly, in the final 1951 season, by Michael Fitzmaurice who portrayed our hero for 78 episodes.
Kirk Alyn in 1948

The 1940s saw Superman make his first stage appearance as well. July 3, 1940 was “Superman Day” at the New York World’s Fair and the Man of Tomorrow thrilled audiences as he rode into the fair. Decked out in the laced boots and uniform popularized in the comics, Ray Middleton’s shock of black hair and impressive physique was the start of the quintessential Superman ‘look.’

This, of course, led into one of the greatest serials of the golden age: Superman from 1948. The fifteen chapter serial saw Kirk Alyn don the tights and save his gal pal Lois Lane (Noel Neill) and photographer buddy Jimmy Olsen (Tommy Bond).

1950s and 1960s

The success of Superman (1948) led into a serial sequel that introduced the evil Lex Luthor to the movie-going audience. Kirk Alyn, Noel Neill and Tommy Bond all reprised their roles in Atom Man vs. Superman (1950). Lex Luthor was played by a sneering Lyle Talbot. The serials proved so popular that a television show was devised to take advantage of that new medium and, thus, The Adventures of Superman was born!

George Reeves from 1956
The Adventures of Superman ran for six seasons comprised of 104 episodes and one public service episode. From 1951 to 1957, George Reeves donned the tights and was Superman to the viewing public including a single episode of I Love Lucy entitled “Lucy Meets Superman”. Spanning from a black and white show to color in seasons five and six, for a generation of people this was the definitive Superman. The last two episodes of season one was shown theatrically in 1951 as Superman vs. The Mole Men. The Metropolis Regulars figured into the series. In the first season, Phyllis Coates played Lois Lane. Seasons through six saw the girl reporter played by Noel Neill reprising her the role from the serials. Jack Larson was Jimmy Olsen and veteran character actor John Hamilton was Perry White. Inspector Henderson, a character that was picked up on in the comics, was played by Robert Shayne. The familiar rogues gallery of Superman villains didn’t appear in this low budget TV show. After the tragic death of George Reeves in 1959, the series ground to a halt.
Billy Curtis as Superpup

Using the set and production team from the TV show a talking dog version of Superman shot a pilot. Called The Adventures of Superpup the show never made it past the pilot stage. Billy Curtis woofed it up as the Canine of Steel.

Johnny Rockwell from 1961
1961 saw the demand for Superman wane a bit. A pilot for a live-action Superboy television series (Superboy comics told the adventures of young Clark Kent in Smallville… long before Metropolis). Superboy was played by Johnny Rockwell and small town gal pal, Lana Lang, was played by Bunny Henning. Supes took a break for a bit and then debuted on Broadway!

Bob Holiday in 1966
It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman! debuted on Broadway in 1966 with Bob Holiday donning the cape for 129 performances. The show was written as a campy romantic comedy in the vein of the popular Batman television series starring Adam West. Only Lois Lane played by Patricia Marand and Perry White in a bit part constituted the cast of Superman characters used. The evil villain was very Luthor-like, though. Called Professor Sedgwick, some historians believe he was really patterned after the Captain Marvel villain Professor Sivana. Bob Holiday reprised the role in a revival in 1967 as well as in an Aqua Velva commercial from 1967. The musical was received poorly when it opened, although one of the songs, “You’ve Got Possibilities” would achieve some acclaim as a hit.

1970s and 1980s

Donny Dark
The early 1970s were pretty Superman-free until the Superfriends cartoon beginning in 1973. The Hanna-Barbera equivalent of The Justice League had various incarnations through the 1970s and 1980s. In all of these, Danny Dark voiced our favorite alien. The various series included: Super Friends (1973), The All-New Super Friends Hour (1977), Challenge of the Super Friends (1978), The World’s Greatest Super Friends (1979), SuperFriends: The Legendary Super Powers Show (1984) and The SuperPowers Team: Galactic Guardians (1985). Aside from the cartoons, and prior to what many people perceive to be the iconic version of Superman, the world had to suffer a bit.

David Wilson in 1975
A series of commercials designed to recruit enlistees in the 1970s were produced by The United States Air Force and the The United States Army featuring Superman. Two actors portrayed the big guy: Denny Miller and Peter Lupus for their respective branches of the armed services.

The 1966 musical was poorly adapted and filmed in three days as a late night, one hour ABC special in 1975. David Wilson donned the tights in a lackluster song and dance revue with Leslie Anne Warren playing the role of Lois Lane. Warren would actually get the chance to screen test for the Richard Donner film but that role eventually went to Margot Kidder. After cleansing the palette of the poorly-singing Crooner of Steel, the world was ready for a big budget and a larger than life Kryptonian.

1978 saw Christopher Reeve soar across the silver screen in Superman the Movie. The entire mythos played out including the Fortress of Solitude, a modern incarnation of Lois Lane in Margot Kidder and the entire cast of Superman regulars. Marlon Brando as Jor-El and Glenn Ford as Jonathan Kent (not Eben Kent like other incarnations) fathered the boy. Phantom Zone villain General Zod (Terence Stamp) makes a cameo and sets up the sequel. Gene Hackman plays Lex Luthor, Jackie Coogan is Perry White and Marc McClure is intrepid photographer, Jimmy Olsen. Now there are a couple of unsung Supermen in this particular film. Aaron Smolinksi plays the baby Kal-El (and appeared in Man of Steel) and Jeff East played a young Clark Kent discovering his powers. The film was a huge success and spawned multiple sequels.

Christopher Reeve in 1978
Superman II reunites the original cast with the threats even greater! Zod, Ursa and Non attack Earth and there is only one man that can stop them. Released in 1980, many filmgoers believe this to be superior to the original. Unfortunately, the quality ends there.

1983 gave us Superman III. An intentionally comedic film, Reeve teamed up with Richard Pryor. Lois Lane figures into a small part, but the romantic foil is now Lana Lang, former Smallville resident, played by Annette O’Toole. Notable for very little, Superman III actually gives us a look at an ‘evil’ Superman. Maybe a little Bizzaro-esque?

Helen Slater in 1984

The final film in the Reeve series would make Superman III look like Casablanca. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace saw the return of Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor in 1987, but slashed budgets and a poor story combined to throttle this one from the start. As always, though, Reeve was stellar and many people consider him to be the iconic film Superman.

John Newton in 1988
In-between Superman III and IV, the production Salkind production team attempted a spin off to the franchise. Supergirl (1984), starring Helen Slater in the titular role, and featuring an extended cameo by Peter O’Toole soared onto screens and flopped miserably, even though it was a fun adventure. In ’84, Reeve had tired of the role and would not appear and, thus, Supergirl was born. She did not return for a sequel.

Gerard Christopher in 1991

The subsequent flops at the box office meant that the Salkinds, the licensors of the Superman properties, needed a new outlet. The small screen had been Superman-free for many years and the Superboy concept was brought back. The show ran for four seasons featuring John Newton as the Boy of Steel in season one and Gerard Christopher in seasons two through four. The production values of the show were, admittedly, quite low but the simplistic charm harkened back to the days of George Reeves. Clark Kent attended college with Lana Lang (Stacy Haiduk), a young Lex Luthor (Scott Wells) and T.J. White, the nephew of Perry White, who was adopted into the comic series (Jim Calvert). For completists, in season three, Robert Ely played a retired Superman from another dimension that encountered Superboy.

1990s and 2000s

Dean Cain in 1992
The 1990s saw a resurgence in Superman-related television. The Superboy series ended in 1992 and, hot on the heels of that, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman debuted. This was a distinctly different approach and took the hour drama in the direction of Lois and Clark’s relationship. Dean Cain donned the tights while Teri Hatcher portrayed our favorite girl reporter. The show was a hit for ABC and won several Emmies before the four seasons of the show ran their course. The show expanded on the Superman universe and included some iconic characters like Lex Luthor (John Shea), Perry White (Lane Smith) and Jimmy Olsen (Michael Landes).

1992 saw one of the first revivals of Superman on stage. The Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT ran the show from June 1992 through July 1992 with Gary Jackson playing Superman.

Nicholas Cage & Tim Burton in 1998
The late 1990s saw Kevin Smith pen a Superman script called Superman Lives. The project was green lit and Tim Burton signed on as director. The story delved farther into the comic world of Superman than the studio felt comfortable with, but not before shooting some test footage including testing out Nicolas Cage as the big guy. There is a documentary set for release in late 2014 or early 2015 entitled The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? directed by John Schnepp and features the footage of Cage suited up.

Tom Welling in 2012
The media world was fairly Superman-free until 2001 when Smallville debuted. It would go on to be the most successful Superman episodic television show yet, running for ten seasons. Tom Welling played Clark Kent, prior to the Superman identity, and the show avoided using the name Superboy, but it was a huge success. In a fun moment, Annette O’Toole took the role of Martha Kent some years after playing Lana Lang in Superman III. The ten years of broadcasting excellence featured a litany of regular Supes villains and supporting cast and even delved into the greater DC Universe giving us Green Lantern, Flash, Green Arrow, Aquaman and many more. This show, obviously, falls outside the continuity of the regular Superman universe, but we wouldn’t have to wait long.

Scott Cranford in 2002
Now, we all know that there is a Metropolis, IL and, in said Metropolis, there is a Superman museum. Each year, the town throws a Superman celebration complete with bank robbery and rescue by a Man of Steel. In 2000, though, a distinct lack of super performers was ready to take on the mantle. In the nick of time, Scott Cranford swooped in and played the town’s hero from 2000 through 2007.

Seinfeld and Patrick Warburton
Superman wasn’t above doing a little product sponsorship. In 2004, an animated Superman, voiced by Patrick Warburton (The Tick), joined a live-action Jerry Seinfeld in a series of commercials for American Express.

Brandon Routh in 2006

Superman Returns hit screens in 2006 featuring Brandon Routh as the Man of Steel. This was a direct sequel to Superman II (ignoring Superman III and IV) with Kevin Spacey taking over the mantle of Lex Luthor. The film itself was a bit slow and fans rejected the idea of replacing Christopher Reeve (since the franchise did not opt for a reboot like the Nolan Batman films did).
Now, a future Batman cheated a little in 2006, too. The film Hollywoodland recounted the details behind George Reeves infamous suicide and potential cover up. George, played by current Dark Knight Ben Affleck, donned the suit briefly in the film.
Ben Affleck in 2007

Cheyenne Jackson in 2007
The year after, 2007, other stage revivals of It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman dotted major markets. Cheyenne Jackson played Superman in Reprise! Marvelous Musical Mondays in Los Angeles and at the York Theatre in New York.

Christopher Dennis in 2007
Playing Supes in real life took another bizarre turn in 2007 as the documentary Confessions of a Super Hero hit shelves. Detailing the lives of costumed actors that made their living pandering on Hollywood Boulevard, the film focused on Christopher Dennis, The Hollywood Boulevard Superman. Based on his appearance in the film, Christopher has gone on to be Superman Dennis on Screen Junkies, The Daily Show, Screen Junkies, Jimmy Kimmel and many more.

Throughout the 2000s, Superman appeared in multiple animated feature films and television shows including:
2001 in Justice League for four seasons featuring George Newbern as the Voice of Steel
2005 in Krypto the Super Dog for two seasons featuring Michael Dangefield as Supes
2006 in Legion of Superheroes for two seasons with Yuri Lowenthal as Young Superman
2008 in Justice League: New Frontier featuring Kyle McLachlan as Big Blue
2009 in Superman: Doomsday featuring Alec Baldwin as Superman
2010 in Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths with Mark Harmon from NCIS
2010 in Superman/Shazam! The Return of Black Adam with George Newbern reprising
2010 in Young Justice for two seasons with Nolan North as both Superboy and Superman
2011 in All-Star Superman with James Denton from Desperate Housewives
2012 in Superman vs. The Elite with George Newbern taking another shot at the cape
2013 in Superman: Unbound with Matt Bomer taking his first stab at the Man of Steel
2014 in Justice League: War featuring Alan Tudyk in the New 52 version of Superman

Tim Daly
Lest we forget, Tim Daly (Wings, The Shining) became the iconic voice of Superman in the modern animated adventures. Although not coming near the level of Bud Collyer, his run is very impressive. He has been the voice of the Last Man from Krypton in: Superman for four seasons (1996-2000), Batman/Superman: World’s Finest (1997), Superman: Brainiac Attacks (2006), Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009), Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010) and Justice League: Doom (2012).

Matt Cavanaugh in 2010
If the animated series weren’t enough, 2010 saw another stage revival of It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman at the Dallas Theater Center from June 18 through July 25 with Matt Cavanaugh as Superman and Zakiya Young as Lois Lane.

Edward Watts in 2013

Still taking flight after nearly 50 years, 2013 saw New York’s Encore’s Series staged the show from March 20 through March 24 with Edward Watts as Superman and Jenny Powers as Lois Lane.

Lucas Coleman in 2013
Not to be outdone, the San Francisco 42nd Street Moon Theatre revived the show with Lucas Coleman as Superman and Jen Brooks as Lois Lane.

This, of course, leads to the newest incarnation of our cinematic super pal. Henry Cavill played Superman in Man of Steel, directed by Zack Snyder, in 2013. This film signaled a reboot to the entire DC Universe where integrated storylines and heroes will be the norm (like the current Marvel model). Man of Steel was a darker take on the classic story and, by all accounts, a massive box office success. Looking more and more like a new generation’s Superman, Cavill will be reprising the role in 2016’s Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Henry Cavill in 2013
Snuggled in-between there? The Community Theatre of Howell in Michigan will staged It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman in May of 2015. With Batman vs. Superman shooting just down the street in Detroit, what better way to celebrate the Man of Steel’s 76th Birthday (by the time we get to it)? Joe Aeschilmann donned the tights and Tori Rogers played Lois Lane. Not to be outdone, Superman's cousin, Supergirl, is making the small screen debut in 2015 with Melissa Benoist in the title role. More capes, yes!

Melissa Benoist in 2015

No comments:

Post a Comment