SUPERMAN, in 2 Movie Serials ("Superman", 1948, and "Atom Man vs. Superman", 1950)

Kirk Alyn (First 'live' Superman, in 1948 and 1950 Serials) On the right, my portrait sketch of Alyn...

Released by Columbia Pictures, the two black and white, 15-weekly-chapter Superman serials quickly became the most popular Saturday Matinee features, ever, with 'B'-movie veteran Kirk Alyn (1910-1999) bringing Superman/Clark Kent to life...

Alyn based his interpretation largely on Bud Collyer's vocal performances in both the radio and animated productions, deepening his voice and taking on a commanding tone when becoming Superman, and changing his posture to indicate Superman's invincibility (a gimmick that would become a trademark in later portrayals of the Man of Steel). What set Alyn's portrayal apart from the other actors in the role was the sheer joy he exhibited, in strutting his stuff...He'd often flash a huge grin as bullets bounced off his chest, and he honestly seemed to hope that criminals would try to resist him...

For a generation entranced by the radio and cartoon adventures, seeing Kirk Alyn in the familiar costume (even if only in black and white), and hearing him solemnly proclaim the famous taglines, "This is a job for Superman!", and "Up, up, and AWAY!" was an incredible rush!

Costarring Noel Neill as Lois Lane, Tommy "Butch" Bond as Jimmy Olsen, and Pierre Watkin as Perry White, what the serials lacked in 'Special Effects' budget, it made up for in sheer energy! Youthful fans from coast-to-coast lined up to see Superman rescue Lois and Jimmy from a neverending series of cliffhangers, each more desperate than the week before...

So what if cartoon animation provided Alyn's flying scenes (although a few 'wired' flying sequences would be attempted in the second serial)...From the destruction of Krypton to bald-pated evil genius Luthor (Lyle Talbot), hatching his nefarious plans, Kirk Alyn's serials were a sensation!

When the "Superman" serials ended, and producers moved to the new medium of television, with new faces, Kirk Alyn starred in the last of the major adventure serials, "Blackhawk: Fearless Champion of Freedom" (1952), another adaptation of a DC title. Into his forties, with acting jobs limited, he retired to Arizona, occasionally taking a small role on TV or film. But serious Superman fans never forgot the first live-action 'Man of Steel', and director Richard Donner included a scene with Alyn and Noel Neill (as young Lois Lane's parents), in his blockbuster, "Superman: the Movie" (1978). While his appearance would be edited down to only a cameo, public interest was renewed, and Alyn enjoyed new respect and fan recognition, the rest of his life. (Ilya Salkind planned to cast him in a featured role as 'Pa Kent' in his "Superboy" TV series of the late 1980s, but declining health prevented the comeback).

Kirk Alyn passed away in The Woodlands, Texas, March 14, 1999, at age 88, after a long illness...

Noel Neill ('Lois Lane', in both 1948 and 1950 Serials,
and in 'The Adventures of Superman', 1953-1957)

Tommy "Butch" Bond ('Jimmy Olsen' in both 1948 and 1950 Serials)

Tommy "Butch" Bond ('Jimmy Olsen' in both 1948 and 1950 Serials)
and Noel Neill ('Lois Lane', in both 1948 and 1950 Serials,
and in 'The Adventures of Superman',

Lyle Talbott ('Luthor' in 1950 Serial)

First 'Feature Film' SUPERMAN ("Superman and the Mole-Men", 1951) and Television's first 'Man of Steel' in The Adventures of SUPERMAN (1951-1957)

"Faster than a speeding bullet...
More powerful than a locomotive...
Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound..."

"Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird...It's a's SUPERMAN!"

"Yes, it's SUPERMAN ...strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men...

SUPERMAN ...who can change the course of mighty rivers...bend steel in his bare hands...

and who, disguised as CLARK KENT,
mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper,
fights a neverending battle for
Truth, Justice, and the American Way!"

George Reeves (Superman/Clark Kent in "Superman and the Mole-Men", 1951, and TV's first Superman, in 'The Adventures of Superman', 1951-1957; sadly, I DON'T have the autograph)
On the right, my portrait sketch of Reeves...

Despite the success of the Superman movie serials, the 'Saturday Matinee' was dying, victim of the rise of a new medium, Television, and Superman would soon conquer it, as well!

Introduced in the low-budget feature film, "Superman and the Mole-Men" (1951), which served as a 'pilot' for a new television series, a new actor would don the cape for the small screen, and George Reeves (1914-1959) would forever be identified in the role...

Kirk Alyn, while interested in continuing as Superman, was making salary and creative demands that worried National Periodical, which produced the film and first season of "The Adventures of Superman" on a very tight budget. It was decided to recast the part, and 36-year-old Reeves impressed everyone immediately. A veteran screen actor, with major film credits (including "Gone With the Wind"), Reeves had suffered the same fate as many other actors at the close of World War II; the combination of the return of the major male stars from military service, and budget cutbacks in a peacetime economy, dried up opportunities at the big studios, reducing gifted actors to bit parts or micro-budget features at far lesser studios. The situation made even the pariah medium of television seem attractive! Six feet tall, lantern-jawed and barrel-chested, Reeves brought power, charisma, and charm to the Man of Steel, and equally important, courage and integrity to Clark Kent (as the limited effects budget would necessitate more screen time, and a far more active, less wimpy role for Superman's alter ego). Joined by film co-star Phyllis Coates (in Season One) as Lois Lane, Jack Larson as Jimmy Olsen, John Hamilton as Perry White, and Robert Shayne as Inspector Henderson, the series offered vastly improved Special Effects, including very believable pole-and-wire flying sequences against projected backgrounds, and spectacular, springboard-created 'takeoffs' (begun after a wire broke during an early liftoff, dropping Reeves, unceremoniously, to the ground), tough, fast-paced film noir-influenced plotlines, and an overall quality that belied it's low budget.

As the word began to spread of this incredible syndicated series, and it's irresistable star, more and more fledgling television stations added it to their viewing schedules, soon making "The Adventures of Superman" one of the most popular shows in the nation (much to the chagrin of Reeves and his castmates, who hoped the series would be quickly cancelled, and desperately wanted to avoid being forever typecast in their roles). By Season Two, Kellogg's signed on as a sponsor, Coates (who had scheduling conflicts), would be replaced by serial star Noel Neill, in the role of Lois Lane, and the early violence would be toned down, for family audiences. From Season Three, on, in a revolutionary, amazingly farsighted move, all episodes would be shot in color (despite the fact that most TV stations would lack the technology to even broadcast in color, for nearly a decade...)

Despite an increasing silliness in plotlines (due, in large part, to pressure placed on Kellogg's by 'watchdog' parental committees, fearing the corruption of the nation's youth), Reeves' obvious aging, onscreen (the physical demands of the role were daunting, particularly in the 'color' seasons, when he had to wear an extremely hot, uncomfortable foam rubber red and blue 'uniform' over a padded enhance his shoulders and well as a corset, all of which would leave him seriously dehydrated after just a half-hour under the broiling studio arc lamps), and an ever-tightening shooting budget, the series never lost it's loyal fans.

With the mysterious and tragic death of George Reeves, at age 45, in 1959 (Was it Suicide...or MURDER...a decades-long debate that even spawned a major motion picture, 2006's "Hollywoodland", and has never been definitively answered), a generation of children would lose their hero...and "The Adventures of Superman" would attain a near-legendary status that it continues to hold, to this day!

Phyllis Coates ('Lois Lane' in "Superman and the Mole-Men", 1951, and in 'The Adventures of Superman', 1951-1952)

Phyllis Coates ('Lois Lane' in "Superman and the Mole-Men", 1951, and in 'The Adventures of Superman', 1951-1952)

Phyllis Coates ('Lois Lane' in "Superman and the Mole-Men", 1951, and in 'The Adventures of Superman', 1951-1952)

Phyllis Coates ('Lois Lane' in "Superman and the Mole-Men", 1951, and in 'The Adventures of Superman', 1951-1952)

Noel Neill ('Lois Lane' in the 1948 and 1950 Serials,
and in 'The Adventures of Superman', 1953-1957)

Noel Neill ('Lois Lane' in the 1948 and 1950 Serials,
and in 'The Adventures of Superman', 1953-1957)

Jack Larson ('Jimmy Olsen', in 'The Adventures of Superman', 1951-1957)

Jack Larson ('Jimmy Olsen', in 'The Adventures of Superman', 1951-1957)

Robert Shayne ('Inspector Bill Henderson',
in 'The Adventures of Superman', 1951-1957)

Robert Shayne ('Inspector Bill Henderson',
in 'The Adventures of Superman', 1951-1957)

John Hamilton, George Reeves, Noel Neill, Jack Larson, and Robert Shayne
in 'The Adventures of Superman'

After 'The Adventures of Superman' was cancelled, in 1958, a truly bizarre parody of the series, targeted at the kid market, was produced; 'The Adventures of Superpup' featured 'little people' in dog masks portraying canine versions of the characters. Filmed on the same sets as AOS, the series, thankfully, never made it past the first episode. George Reeves' tragic death curtailed plans for a revival of 'The Adventures of Superman', in 1960; a prequel ('The Adventures of Superboy', starring John Rockwell) was produced, in 1961, but was never 'picked up' (as Kellogg's, learning competitor General Mills would assume the role of sponsor in the new series, threatened legal action to halt production). Superman would be relegated to the 'safer' medium of cartoons for the next two decades, with the sixties' productions again voiced by Bud Collyer (until his death, at 61, in 1969), and campy 'Superfriends' variations (offering, initially, Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and some 'Geared to Pre-Schooler Mentality' superpowered kids with a 'Scooby-Doo'-inspired dog) airing from the mid seventies until the mid eighties...

In 1966, with the twice-weekly Adam West 'Batman' series a huge, campy TV sensation on ABC, it was decided to attempt the same kind of satiric approach with Superman, in a Broadway musical, "It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman", starring 6'4" stage star, Bob Holiday (LEFT), and directed by the legendary Hal Prince. Despite clumsy 'wired' flying effects, the show enjoyed excellent reviews, novel 'comic book panel'-designed sets, a sincere, enthusiastic performance by Holiday, and a pop music hit ("You've Got Possibilities")...but quickly tanked, closing after just 129 performances (due, I suspect, by the snobbish, sophisticated New York Theater set 'writing it off' as just another 'kids' show'). Youthful, skinny David Wilson (RIGHT) was miscast in a silly, micro-budgeted 1975 TV-movie version of the musical, with lovely Lesley Ann Warren as Lois Lane...but the production treated the entire Superman mythos as a joke, and was aired late at night, long after the core audience of Superman fans would have gone to bed...broadcast only once, it flopped, as well, and has never been released on video...

Many critics were writing off 'The Man of Steel' as passe and 'out-of-touch', as DC competitor, Marvel Comics, took center stage with more complex, 'realistic' superheroes, like Spider-Man...but a SPECTACULAR screen rebirth was on the horizon...







Click on the names for info on each actor from The Internet Movie Database...


Who Was the BEST Superman?
Bud Collyer (radio/animated)
Kirk Alyn (movie serials)
George Reeves (television)
Bob Holiday (stage)
Christopher Reeve (feature film)
Dean Cain (television)
Tim Daly (animated)
Tom Welling (television)
Brandon Routh (feature film)
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