Adventures of Superman is an American
television series based on comic book characters and concepts created
in 1938 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. The show is the first
television series to feature Superman and began filming in 1951 in
California on RKO-Path stages and the RKO Forty Acres back lot. It
was sponsored by cereal manufacturer Kellogg's. The syndicated show's
first and last air dates are disputed but generally accepted as
September 19th, 1952 and April 28th, 1958.
show's first two seasons (episodes 1 to 52, 26 titles per season)
were filmed in black-and-white; seasons three through six (episodes
53 to 104, 13 titles per season) were filmed in color but originally
telecast monochromatically in first-run syndication. Television
viewers did not see Superman in color until the series was syndicated
to local stations in 1965.
George Reeves played Clark Kent/Superman,
with Jack Larson as Jimmy Olsen, John Hamilton as Perry White, and
Robert Shayne as Inspector Henderson. Phyllis Coates played Lois Lane
in the first season, with Noel Neill stepping into the role in the
second season (1953). Superman battles crooks, gangsters, and other
villains in the fictional city of Metropolis while masquerading
"off-duty" as Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent. Lois Lane
and Jimmy Olsen, Clark's colleagues at the office, often find
themselves in dangerous situations which can only be resolved with
Superman's timely intervention.
Its opening theme is known as The Superman
March. In 1987, selected episodes of the show were released to video.
In 2006, the series became available in its entirety on DVD.
Hollywoodland was released in 2006, a film dramatizing the show's
production and the death of its star George Reeves.
In 1951, California exhibitor and B-movie
producer Robert L. Lippert released a 58-minute black-and-white
feature starring George Reeves and Phyllis Coates called Superman and
the Mole Men with a script by Robert Maxwell (as Richard Fielding)
and direction by Lee Sholem. The film prompted the first television
season to go into production in August/September of the same year.
The series discontinued production, however, and remained unaired
until September 1952, when cereal manufacturer Kellogg's agreed to
sponsor the show, as the company had previously done with the
Superman radio series. The success of the series came as a complete
surprise to the cast. The initial feature film, Superman and the Mole
Men, was subsequently edited into a two-part story called "The
Unknown People" and was televised late in the first season, the
only multi-part story of the series.
the first season's filming was completed, actress Phyllis Coates
(right) made other commitments and did not return as Lois Lane for
the second season. Noel Neill (who had played the character in the
theatrical serials) stepped into the role, and remained until the
series' end. The core cast thereafter remained intact with Phillips
Tead occasionally joining the regulars in the last seasons as the
eccentric recurring character Professor Pepperwinkle. To promote and
advertise the show, cast members Reeves, Hamilton and Larson were
able to gain extra money by appearing in Kellogg's commercials during
the second season. However, Noel Neill was never approached for these
because sponsors worried that scenes of Clark Kent having breakfast
with Lois Lane would be too suggestive.
From the beginning, the series was filmed
like a movie serial with principals wearing the same costumes
throughout the show to expedite out-of-sequence shooting schedules
and save budgetary costs. For instance, all scenes that took place in
the "Perry White Office" set would be filmed back to back,
for future placement in various episodes, which was often confusing
to the actors. Money was further saved by using Clark's office as
Lois's office with a simple change of wall hangings, thus dispensing
with additional set construction. Other scenic short-cuts were
employed. In the last seasons, for example, few exterior location
shoots were conducted, with episodes being filmed almost entirely in
the studio. Reeves's red-blue-and-yellow Superman costume was
originally brown-gray-and-white so that it would photograph in
appropriate gray tones on black-and-white film.
two seasons the producers began filming the show in color, a rarity
for the time. Filming of the color episodes began in late 1954 and
were broadcast in monochrome starting in early 1955. Because of the
added cost of filming in color, the producers cut the number of
episodes per season in half. Each 26-week season would feature 13 new
episodes and 13 reruns of the older black-and-white shows. The
monochrome prints of the color episodes also had to be treated so
that there would be a somewhat similar contrast in the colors of
Reeves's new costume to the one from the earlier seasons (with the
contrast increasing each season), as the gray tones of the blue and
red colors would otherwise have been rendered nearly indistinguishable.
Throughout the last 50 episodes, a
lackadaisical attitude toward flubbed lines prevailed, ascribed to
morale deterioration among cast and crew with the added expense of
color filming and salary disputes. Producer Whitney Ellsworth later
admitted: "Sometimes there was just garbage in the rushes, but
we were often forced to use what we had, rather than relight the set
and go again."
1952 to 1954
Phyllis Coates, like George Reeves, was a
popular lead in B features of the period. For the TV series, Reeves
asked that Coates receive equal star billing. Coates created a sharp,
strong-willed Lois Lane, an enterprising reporter who tries to out-scoop
Clark Kent. Jack Larson presents Jimmy Olsen as a Daily Planet
intern always investigating the truth behind something wrong, but
being caught by the villains. He usually receives help from Superman
in the nick of time. In the noir-like early episodes, Superman
himself is seen as a semi-mysterious presence, unknown to many of the
crooks ("Who's the guy in the circus suit?" asks a villain
in "The Riddle of the Chinese Jade"). Eventually, all the
crooks knew exactly who he was (often with the bug-eyed exclamation
"SOOPAH-man!" when he first appeared). The first season's
episodes usually featured action-packed, dark, gritty, and often
violent story lines in which Superman fought gangsters and crime
lords. Many characters met their deaths in these episodes, some of
them shown on screen.
it came time to reassemble the cast and crew for filming the second
season, and Phyllis Coates had committed herself to another project,
Noel Neill was brought in as the new Lois and was given secondary
billing with Larson, Hamilton, and Shayne. Neill's portrayal was more
accessible to the younger television audience, sweeter and more
sympathetic than the efficient, hard-as-nails Coates
characterization. Bob Maxwell, whose episodes in the first season
verged on the macabre, left the show (going on to produce Lassie in
1954). Whitney Ellsworth, already working on the show as an
uncredited associate producer and story editor during the initial
season, became Superman producer in 1953 and would remain so for the
duration of the series. The second-season shows were still fairly
serious in nature, retaining the film-noir/crime drama qualities
while steering more in a science fiction direction, with Ellsworth
tempering the violence significantly. With most of the villains
becoming comic bunglers less likely to frighten the show's juvenile
viewers and only some occasional deaths, usually off-screen,
Kellogg's gave its full approval to Ellsworth's approach and the show
remained a success. Sentimental or humorous stories were more in
evidence than in the first season. A large portion of the stories,
however, dealt with Superman's personal issues, such as his memory
loss in "Panic in the Sky".
1954 to 1958
With the color seasons, the show began to
take on the lighthearted, whimsical tone of the Superman comic books
of the 1950s. The villains were often caricatured, Runyonesque
gangsters played with tongue in cheek. Violence on the show was toned
down further. The only gunfire that occurred was aimed at Superman,
and of course the bullets bounced off. Superman was less likely to
engage in fisticuffs with the villains. On occasions when Superman
did use physical force, he would take crooks out in a single
karate-style chop or, if he happened to have two criminals in hand,
banging their heads together. More often than not, the villains were
likely to knock themselves out fleeing Superman. Now very popular
with viewers, Jimmy was being played as the show's comic foil to
Superman. Many of these plots had Jimmy and Lois being captured, only
to get rescued at the last minute by Superman.
Scripts for the final, sixth season
re-established a bit of the seriousness of the show, often with
science fiction elements like a Kryptonite-powered robot, atomic
explosions, and impregnable metal cubes. In one of the last episodes,
"The Perils of Superman" (a takeoff on The Perils of
Pauline), there was indeed deadly peril straight out of the movie
serials: Lois tied to a set of railroad tracks with a speeding train
bearing down on her, Perry White nearly sawed in half while tied to a
log, Jimmy in a runaway car headed for a cliff, and Clark Kent
immersed in a vat of acid. This was one of three episodes directed by
George Reeves himself. Noel Neill's hair was dyed a bright red for
this season, though the color change was not apparent in the initial
black-and-white broadcasts. ABC-TV aired episodes in its "Fun At
Five" series during the 1957-58 season.
appeared as Superman on an episode of I Love Lucy which aired on
January 14, 1957. In the episode, his character is only called
"Superman". No mention of George Reeves's real name is ever
made until the credit roll. The announcement "Our guest star
tonight was George Reeves, star of the Superman series" was
deleted from the episode after its first network broadcast. The film
was later colorized and rebroadcast as part of an hour long Lucy
special on the CBS network on May 17, 2015.
At the request of the US Treasury
Department, the production company made a special truncated film
(17m, 32s) to promote school savings-stamp plans to children. Shown
in grade schools during the 1950s, this is the only
"episode" of the series that has entered the public domain.
It features Clark Kent/Superman, Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane and plays
like a normal black-and-white episode of the second season, with
series semi-regulars Tristram Coffin (as a government spokesman) and
Billy Nelson (as a criminal). It was directed by Thomas Carr. The
episode was released on the Season Two DVD box set of The Adventures
George Reeves as
Kent/Kal-El, a being from the planet Krypton, is rocketed to Earth
in his infancy. He grows to manhood under the foster care of Eben and
Sarah Kent. As an adult, he works as a Daily Planet reporter under
his human name of Clark Kent. Despite the show's introduction
describing Kent as "mild-mannered" and colleagues
constantly calling him "timid" and even
"spineless", Clark Kent is mildly assertive and
authoritative during situations when he is not Superman. He
frequently takes charge in emergencies and is not afraid to take
reasonable risks. He puts his superpowers to work battling crime in
Metropolis and is often called upon to rescue his associates Jimmy
Olsen and Lois Lane. The Superman of the television series developed
superpowers beyond his precursors in radio, cartoons, comics, and
theatrical serials. On occasion, he separated his molecules to walk
through walls, isolating a particular voice over multiple telephone
lines long distance while flying, became invisible, and split in two
while retaining his traditional powers of X-ray vision, microscopic
vision, super-speed, super-hearing, super-breath, super-strength,
flying, and a mastery of foreign languages. Both Superman's
Kryptonian parents, Jor-El and Lara, and his adoptive Earth parents,
the Kents, appear only in the premiere episode, "Superman on Earth".
George Reeves was born George Keefer
Brewer in Woolstock, Iowa, to Helen Roberta (Lescher) and Donald C.
Brewer. He was of German, English, and Scottish descent. Reeves was
raised in Pasadena, California, and educated at Pasadena Junior
College. He was a skilled amateur boxer and musician. He interned as
an actor at the famed Pasadena Playhouse, and was discovered there.
He was cast as Stuart Tarleton in Gone with the Wind (1939) and over
the next ten years he was contracted to Warners, Fox and Paramount.
Reeves achieved near-stardom as the male lead in So Proudly We Hail!
(1943, though listed in the credits as Brent Tarleton), but war
service interrupted his career, and after he returned it never
regained the same level of leading man status. While in the Army Air
Corps he appeared on Broadway in "Winged Victory", and made
training films. Career difficulties after the war led him to move to
New York for live television. It was television where he achieved the
kind of fame that had eluded him in films, as he was cast in the lead
of the now-iconic Adventures of Superman (1952).
his Superman costume was padded, Reeves himself was actually very
athletic and did most of his own stunts for his role in the
Adventures of Superman. Episodes routinely required him to jump from
significant heights to simulate Superman landing in frame or hitting
a springboard with enough force to propel him out of frame. A
frequent stunt required Reeves to grab a bar (outside of camera
range) and swing in through a window, clearing his own height (over
six foot) and landing on his feet. Reeves had mastered this gymnastic
move so well that he could perform the stunt and immediately deliver
his dialog without the need to cut to another angle.
Reeves personally defended Noel Neill when
she replaced Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane in the second season of the
Superman TV series when he felt the director was being too harsh with
her. He also defended Robert Shayne, who played Inspector Henderson,
when Shayne was accused of being a radical during the 1950s witch
hunt and was in danger of losing his job. Producer Whitney Ellsworth
also defended Shayne along with Reeves.
He was cautious in his interaction with
the young children who were fans of Adventures of Superman (1952)
because they often tried to test his "invulnerability" by
assaulting him. Reeves related the story that at one appearance a
young boy came up to Reeves, pulled out a pistol and pointed it at
him. The boy had taken the weapon, a Luger that his father had
brought home from World War II, to see if "Superman" really
was invulnerable. Reeves convinced the boy to give him the gun by
saying that someone else would get hurt when the bullets bounced off
of "Superman". Although the incident was used in the film
Hollywoodland (with Ben Affleck as George Reeves), researchers have
never been able to find anything to corroborate the story.
Although some said that he was depressed
over being labeled Superman, because he felt that it prevented him
from being able to take on more challenging roles, he took the part
of "role model" seriously, even to the extent of quitting
smoking and not making appearances around children with his
girlfriends. When the series ended in 1957 he did land a few other
film roles, but he was mostly typecast as Superman, and other acting
jobs soon dried up.
this slump in his career he was even considering an attempt at
exhibition wrestling. Then in 1959, the producers of Adventures of
Superman decided to film another season's worth of shows in 1960. In
addtion to another season of Superman, he was hoping to shoot a film
in Spain, and was to be married to Leonore Lemmon (right). The
wedding date set for June 19th, 1959. Three days before the wedding
Reeves and Lemmon were having a party at his home that lasted past 1
am. Reeves had been drinking and was on pain killers for injuries he
suffered in a car accident. He left the party and went up to bed, a
shot rang out, and he was found dead, sprawled nude on his bed, with
a bullet hole in his right temple. The death was ruled suicide.
However, Reeves' mother and a few others
thought the whole thing was suspicious and claimed Reeves was a
victim of foul play. Controversy still surrounds his death, due
mainly to the his longtime affair with Toni Lanier (aka Toni Mannix),
the wife of MGM executive E.J. Mannix. Many of Reeves' friends and
colleagues didn't believe that he had committed suicide but that his
death was related to the Mannix situation. However, no credible
evidence has ever been produced to support that contention.
Hollywoodland is a 2006 American period
mystery film directed by Allen Coulter and written by Paul Bernbaum.
The story presents a fictionalized account of the circumstances
surrounding the death of George Reeves. Joining Ben Affleck as Reeves
is Adrien Brody as a fictional character, Louis Simo, a private
detective investigating Toni Mannix (played by Diane Lane, who would
later play Superman's adoptive mother in Man of Steel). Mannix was
involved in a long romantic relationship with Reeves and was the
common-law wife of MGM studio executive Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins).
Reeves had ended the affair and had become engaged to a younger
woman, aspiring actress Leonore Lemmon (Robin Tunney). Pictured above
left: Toni Mannix and George Reeves, above right: Affleck and Lane as
Reeves and Mannix in Hollywoodland.
Phyllis Coates and Noel
Neill as Lois Lane
Lois Lane is a reporter with the Daily
Planet and Clark Kent's associate. She is a well-dressed, competent
professional woman. She suspects Kent is Superman and awaits an
opportunity to confirm her suspicions. In the Noel Neill episodes,
Lois is infatuated with the Man of Steel and dreams of being united
in marriage with him. Lois returns to her hometown in one early
episode. Played by Phyllis Coates in the first season and thereafter
by Noel Neill. She is stated as being 26 years old in the 1957
episode "The Tomb Of Zaharan".
Adventures of Superman came to television in 1951, veteran movie
actors George Reeves and Phyllis Coates (left) took the leading roles
for the first season. By the time the series found a sponsor and a
network time slot, Coates had committed herself to another
production, so the producers called on Noel Neill, who had played
Lois Lane in the movies. She continued in the role for five seasons
until the series went off the air in 1958. She was scheduled to
appear in the seventh season with co-star Jack Larson in 1960, but
after Reeves's tragic and sudden death, the seventh season was
canceled, officially ending the show. While Phyllis Coates generally
distanced herself from the role, Neill embraced her association with
Lois Lane, giving frequent talks on college campuses during the
1970s, when interest in the series was revived, endearing herself to
audiences with her warmth and humor.
In her teens, Neill (below) was a popular
photographic model. While Betty Grable's pin-up was number one among
GIs during World War II, Neill's was ranked number two. After she
signed a contract with Paramount Pictures, it led to appearances in
many of the studio's feature films and short subjects. In the
mid-1940s, Noel had a leading role in one of Monogram Pictures'
wayward-youth melodramas, and she became a familiar face in Monogram
features for the next several years, especially in the recurring role
of Betty Rogers. She appeared in the last of the original Charlie
Chan movies, Sky Dragon (1949), and also played damsels in distress
in Monogram Westerns and Republic Pictures serials. Neill sang with
Bob Crosby and his orchestra. She also sang at the Del Mar Turf Club,
which was owned by Bing Crosby.
In 1945, producer Sam Katzman gave Neill
the recurring role of Betty Rogers, aggressive reporter for a
high-school newspaper, in his series of "Teen Agers"
musical comedies, beginning with Junior Prom in 1946. When Katzman
was casting his Superman serial for Columbia Pictures, he remembered
Noel Neill's newshawk portrayals and signed her to play Lois Lane.
She played the role in the film serials Superman (1948) and Atom Man
vs. Superman (1950), with Kirk Alyn portraying Superman/Clark Kent (below).
Neill and her original 1948 Superman
serial co-star, Kirk Alyn, enjoyed cameos in the 1978 film Superman
as Lois Lane's parents (above right). Their dialog scene was cut for
theatrical release, but played in its entirety when the film was
broadcast on TV, and later in the 2000 director's cut restoration.
Neill and Jack Larson both made guest appearance on the TV series
Superboy in the episode "Paranoia" during the show's fourth
season. In 2006 Neill played the multi-millionaire dying wife of Lex
Luthor (played by Kevin Spacey) in Superman Returns.
Neill was married three times but had no
children. Following an extended illness, she died in Tucson on July
3rd, 2016, at age 95.
Born in Wichita Falls, Texas, Phyllis
Coates moved to Hollywood as a teenager with intentions of enrolling
at UCLA. A chance encounter with Ken Murray in a Hollywood & Vine
restaurant landed her in the comedian's vaudeville show, then billed
as Gypsy Stell. She started out as a chorus girl and worked her way
up to doing skits before moving on to work for veteran showman Earl
Carroll and later touring with the USO. In 1944, she receiving a
seven year contract with 20th Century Fox. Coates then signed a movie
contract with Warner Brothers extending from 1948 to 1956, and she
co-starred with George O'Hanlon in the studio's popular Joe McDoakes
short-subject comedies in what can be considered the first sitcom.
played a strong-willed Lois Lane in the first twenty-six episodes of
Adventures of Superman, in which she was given equal billing with
George Reeves (insisted upon by Reeves), even for episodes in which
she did not appear. Her powerful "damsel in distress"
scream was used to good effect in several episodes. After shooting
wrapped on the first season, the Superman producers suspended
production until they found a national sponsor. When in 1953 it was
possible to film more Superman episodes, Coates was already committed
to another series, so Noel Neill replaced Coates.
Coates' Superman fame has obscured the
fact that she was one of Hollywood's most consistently employed
actresses of the 1950s and '60s. She freelanced steadily, appearing
in numerous low-budget features, many of them Westerns, as well as
serials and a steady stream of TV appearances, both as a regular in
several series and as a guest cast member in others. All this was in
addition to the "McDoakes" shorts, in which she continued
to appear until Warner Brothers discontinued the series in 1956.
Arguably, her best-remembered films of the 1950s are Blues Busters
with The Bowery Boys (in which she has a musical number); Panther
Girl of the Kongo, a jungle serial in which she starred; and I Was a
Teenage Frankenstein. She also had television appearances on The Lone
Ranger, Perry Mason, Rawhide, Gunsmoke and Richard Diamond, Private Detective.
the 1960s, when it became clear that Adventures of Superman would
continue to enjoy great popularity in syndicated reruns, far beyond
the end of its production in 1957, Coates like many of the
other supporting cast members such as Jack Larson (Jimmy Olsen)
tried to distance herself from the Superman series, fearing it might
limit her opportunities. By the mid '60s, however, she had settled
into a comfortable semi-retirement as a wife and homemaker after
wedding Los Angeles family physician Howard Press in 1962. She
resumed her career after their divorce in 1986, but in the period
immediately prior to that divorce, her film and television
appearances were infrequent. One notable role was that of the mother
of the female lead in The Baby Maker in 1970 a film directed
by James Bridges, the lover and production partner of Jack Larson,
who had remained a good friend of Coates' since their work together
on Adventures of Superman.
Despite her stated misgivings about being
remembered only as Lois Lane, after relaunching her career Coates
agreed to appear as Lois Lane's mother (right) in a 1993 episode of
Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman at the suggestion of
Lois & Clark guest star (and George Reeves biographer) Jim
Beaver. The Coates Orphanage in Metropolis, which appears in the Lois
and Clark episode "Season's Greedings", is also named for her.
Since Noel Neill had played Lois' mother
in the 1978 film Superman, it has become a tradition in Superman
adaptations for actresses who have previously played Lois Lane to
later play Lois' mother. Teri Hatcher, who played Lois in Lois &
Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, made an appearance in the
tenth season of the series Smallville as Lois' mother, Ella Lane.
Jack Larson as Jimmy Olsen
Olsen is a cub reporter and photographer with the Daily Planet and
an associate of Kent and Lane. Jimmy's mother makes an appearance in
an early episode. Though boyish in his tastes and sense of humor,
Jimmy would occasionally display mature astuteness, courage, and keen judgment.
Jack Larson was born on February 8th, 1928
in Los Angeles, the son of Anita (Calicoff), a Western Union clerk,
and George Larson, a milk truck driver. His father was of Swedish and
English descent, and his mother was from a Jewish family (from Russia
and Germany). He was reared in Pasadena and graduated from Montebello
High School in 1945, aged 17, and at times claimed 1933 as his birth year.
Larson found the role of cub reporter
Jimmy Olsen on The Adventures of Superman to be a handicap, because
he became typecast as a naive young man. This caused him to do little
acting after the show ended in 1958, and instead he focused on behind-the-scenes
work, such as writing and production. Larson was always willing to
sit for interviews about the Superman series and his connection to
it, and in recent years had a number of cameos that paid subtle
tribute to his character and the series, including a 1991 episode of
the TV series Superboy, alongside Noel Neill, who played Lois Lane in
Adventures of Superman, and an episode of Lois & Clark: The New
Adventures of Superman as an aged Jimmy Olsen in the episode
"Brutal Youth", first telecast on October 20th, 1996.
Larson had a cameo in a late-1990s
American Express card commercial with Jerry Seinfeld and an animated
Superman, directed by David Kellogg. He and Neill provided commentary
on several Adventures of Superman episodes for the January 2006 DVD
release of the 1953 season, and in 2006, he appeared in Bryan
Singer's film Superman Returns in a cameo role as "Bo the
Bartender". His Adventures of Superman co-star, Noel Neill, also
had a cameo as Lex Luthor's elderly wife Gertrude Vanderworth. Both
Neill and Larson are pictured below at the at the Warner Bros.
premiere of Superman Returns in June 2006.
Larson's last appearence was in an episode
of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, which aired on the NBC
network on January 6th, 2010.
Larson was the life partner of director
James Bridges from 1958 until Bridges' death in 1993. Bridges
directed such films as, The Paper Chase, The China Syndrome, Urban
Cowboy and Bright Lights, Big City. Larson died on September 20th,
2015 at the age of 87.
John Hamilton as Perry White
White is the blustering, impatient editor and publisher of the Daily
Planet. He is sometimes a participant in the dangerous exploits of
Lois and Jimmy as they pursue news stories. He treats crooks and
thugs with disdain and lofty contempt (in one episode, he mentions
that he was once a crime reporter). Perry's sister Kate appears in
the first season episode "Drums of Death"; he has a nephew,
Chris, who appears in the second season episode "Jet Ace".
John Hamilton was born in Shippensburg,
Pennsylvania to John M. Hamilton and his wife Cornelia J. Hamilton.
Hamilton was the youngest of four children, and his mother died eight
days after his birth. His father remarried and Rosa, his stepmother,
was the only mother the young Hamilton knew. Hamilton grew up in
neighboring Southampton Township Pennsylvania, where his father
worked as a store clerk.
Hamilton's father was also appointed
Shippensburg's trustee for the State Superintendent of Public
Education, so it was a foregone conclusion that Hamilton would
receive extensive schooling. Unlike most others of his generation and
background (Southampton being a farming community), Hamilton attended
college-- Dickinson College and Shippensburg State Teacher's College.
However, he opted to forego teaching for a stage career.
After becoming an actor, he worked for
Broadway plays and in touring theatrical companies for many years
prior to his 1930 movie debut. He was in the original Broadway
company of the 1922 play Seventh Heaven and would appear in the movie
remake. He was featured with Donald Meek in a series of short
mysteries based on S.S. Van Dine stories for Warner Bros. He was
often typecast in the role of an authority figure; to wit, prison
warden, judge, politician or police chief, but played various types
of characters, appearing in more than three hundred movies, movie
serials or television programs from the 1930s through the 1950s.
Modern-day serial fans can see Hamilton's iconic persona already
developing as Professor Gordon, the outwardly no-nonsense but
secretly compassionate father of young, man-of-action Flash Gordon in
Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940). He became much more widely
known when he was cast as the irascible Daily Planet newspaper editor
Perry White for the 1950s TV classic Adventures of Superman (1951).
Hamilton died on October 15th, 1958 in Glendale, California of heart
failure at the age of 71
Robert Shayne as
Henderson of the Metropolis Police is a friend of the Daily Planet
staff and often works in conjunction with them on crime
investigations. Henderson has a teenage son named Ray who appears in
one episode. The Henderson character was the creation of the radio
Robert Shayne originally worked as a
journalist before becoming an actor, and his first stage appearances
were with repertory companies in Alabama. By 1931, he had established
the first of many Broadway credits in The Rap. His other Broadway
shows include Yellow Jack (1934), The Cat and the Canary (1935),
Whiteoaks (1938), with Ethel Barrymore, and Without Love (1942), with
Shayne played many character roles in
movies and television, including a film series of Warner Bros.
Featurettes called the "Santa Fe Trail" series such as
Wagon Wheels West, and as a mad scientist in the 1953 horror film The
Neanderthal Man, but he is best remembered for his portrayal of the
recurring character Police Inspector William "Bill"
Henderson on the 1950s TV series Adventures of Superman. He appeared
sporadically in the early episodes of the series, in part because he
came under HUAC scrutiny and was briefly blacklisted on unproven and
unspecific charges of association with Communism. As the program
evolved, especially in the color episodes, he was brought into more
and more of them, to the point where he was a regular on the series.
He appears briefly in Alfred Hitchcock's
North by Northwest, seated at a booth in a hotel bar, where his
character meets Cary Grant's character, just as the latter is about
to be kidnapped. He also had a small but pivotal role in the 1953
sci-fi classic Invaders From Mars as a scientist. Shayne also enjoyed
a brief rebirth in his career when he was cast as the blind newspaper
vendor in 1990 CBS TV series The Flash. He was by this time actually
blind and learned his lines by having his wife read them to him and
then rehearse until he memorized them. Shayne died of lung cancer at
the Motion Picture Hospital in Woodland Hills, California on November
Other recurring characters included:
Professor Pepperwinkle, played by Phillips
Tead (above left) who is an elderly, absent-minded inventor whose
gadgets cause Superman much trouble and concern in five episodes
during the last three color seasons.
Professor Oscar Quinn is an eccentric
inventor making two appearances in the second season. Played by
Sterling Holloway (above center), who played a similar character,
Professor Twiddle, in the third season episode, "Through the
Time Barrier". Holloway appeared in over 100 films (Blonde
Venus, Gold Diggers of 1933, Varsity Show, Meet John Doe) and 40
television shows. He was also a voice actor for The Walt Disney
Company, well known for his distinctive tenor voice and is perhaps
best remembered as the original voice of Mr. Stork in Dumbo, Adult
Flower in Bambi, the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, the title
character in Winnie the Pooh, Kaa in The Jungle Book, and Roquefort
in The Aristocats.
Miss Bacharach is a nervous, easily
excited, and easily fooled receptionist at the Daily Planet who
appears in three first-season episodes and is mentioned in two
others. Played by Dani Nolan, veteran character actress Almira
Sessions (Monsieur Verdoux, It's a Wonderful Life, Rebel Without a
Cause, Rosemary's Baby), and Aline Towne (above right), who did not
portray Miss Bacharach as nervous. Towne also guest starred in the
episode, The Big Squeeze (1953) as Peg Grayson, and played Superman's
Kryptonian mother Lara in the first episode, Superman on Earth
(1952). Towne appeared in five Republic serials in the 1950's
including: The Invisible Monster, Don Daredevils Rides Again, Radar
Men from the Moon, Zombies of the Stratosphere and Trader Tom of the
China Seas. Towne also appeared in dozens of TV shows including:
Lassie, Leave It to Beaver, Sea Hunt, Wagon Train, The Donna Reed
Show and The Incredible Hulk.
Professor Lucerne is an old friend of
Superman's who advises him in matters scientific. Lucerne appeared in
two consecutive episodes in the final season. Played by Everett
Glass. Glass appeared in episodes of dozens of television shows in
the 1950s and early 1960s, from The Twilight Zone to Rawhide. usually
playing a scientist, judge, elder, or some equally distinguished
character role. He retired from acting in 1962 following an
appearance on Perry Mason as Carlton Gage in "The Case of the
The "bad guys" on the show were
usually generic thugs, gangsters, evil scientists, crooked
businessmen, or spies of fictitious foreign countries. Superman's
colorful comic book enemies such as Lex Luthor, The Prankster,
Toyman, and Mister Mxyzptlk were absent in this series. Tris Coffin
(above left), John Eldredge, best known as Harry Archer on Meet
Corliss Archer (1954), Herb Vigran (above center), Philip Van Zandt,
and Ben Welden (above right) made multiple appearances over the
course of the show, always as different villains.
Actors who landed Superman guest
appearances early in their careers include: Claude Akins (above left)
as Ace Miller, criminal in "Peril by Sea"; (Akins
previously appeared with George Reeves two years earlier in the movie
From Here To Eternity); John Banner played a butler to a wealthy
individual (Banner later became famous as "Sgt Schultz" on
Hogan's Heroes, above center); Hugh Beaumont (The Beaver's Dad, above
right) as Dan Grayson, an ex-convict wanting to reform his life, in
"The Big Squeeze"; Paul Burke as Ace, a criminal, in
"My Friend Superman"; Matthew Tips in "Superman
Week"; and Rosy in "The Phantom Ring" (he would later
star in Naked City and Twelve O'Clock High).
Chuck Connors (above left) as Sylvester
Superman in "Flight to the North"; his later The Rifleman
supporting player Paul Fix (above center) had appeared in "Czar
of the Underworld" and "Semi-Private Eye" (Fix also
appeared in the second Star Trek pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone
Before" as Doctor Mark Piper); Dabbs Greer, in "Superman on
Earth", the premiere episode, as a man falling from a dirigible;
as a man falsely convicted of murder in "Five Minutes to
Doom"; and in the dual roles of Mr. Pebble/Dan Dobey in "The
Superman Silver Mine", (Greer would become well known years
later as Reverend Alden on the television series Little House on the Prairie).
Russell Johnson as Chopper in "The
Runaway Robot", (best known as The Professor on Gilligan's
Island, above left); Eve McVeagh as Mrs Wilson in "The Stolen
Elephant"; Vic Perrin as a sailor called "Scurvy".
Perrin's facility with voices, the result of his radio background,
earned him a number of voice-only roles, including multiple
appearances on the original Star Trek (Arena, The Changeling and
Mirror, Mirror (above right)). Fans of the 1960s cartoon Jonny Quest
may remember him as the voice of the evil Dr. Zin. His most famous
voice-over role was as the Control Voice on both seasons of The Outer
Limits (1963 1965), for which he provided the opening and
closing commentary on each episode.
Joi Lansing (above) guest starred as
Sergeant Helen J. O'Hara, a beautiful policewoman who is asked to
pose as Superman's wife in order to help him break up a gang of bank
robbers in the episode "Superman's Wife"; Other veteran
film and television actors making appearances on the show included
Ann Tyrrell, George E. Stone, James Craven, Dan Seymour, Victor Sen
Yung, Maudie Prickett, John Doucette, Norma Varden, Roy Barcroft, and
Director Tommy Carr's brother Steve
appeared as an unbilled extra in nearly every one of the first 26
shows, and frequently in more substantial character roles. He was
also the show's dialog director, and was the man pointing "up in
the sky" in the introductions of the black-and-white shows.
Adventures of Superman began filming at
the RKO-Pathe Studios (later, Desilu Studios) in Culver City,
California, in August - September 1951. Episodes cost roughly $15,000
apiece, a low-budget program by the standards of the day. In 1953 -
54, the show was filmed at California Studios and, in 1955, at
Chaplin Studios. In 1956 - 57, the show was filmed at Ziv Studios.
establishing shot of The Daily Planet building in the first season
was the E. Clem Wilson Building in Los Angeles, California, on
Wilshire Boulevard, for decades famous as the headquarters of Mutual
of Omaha, its brilliant white globe atop a tall pillar a familiar
landmark to local residents, while the Carnation Milk Company
Building a few blocks east on Wilshire served as The Daily Planet's
front door. From the second season onward, stock shots of the
32-story Los Angeles City Hall were used as the Planet building and
the sidewalk entrance to the Planet was a studio-bound "exterior."
Many exteriors in the first season were
shot at the RKO Pictures backlot (called "Forty Acres"), a
site that later became famous as the fictional, idealized small town
of Mayberry, North Carolina, on The Andy Griffith Show. Hillsides in
Culver City, city streets of downtown Los Angeles, or residential
areas of the San Fernando Valley were sometimes used for exteriors
during all six seasons. In later seasons, filming occurred on
soundstages, with exterior shots, such as cars driving along
roadways, shot as second-unit material, often with doubles at the
wheel. Establishing shots of Queen of Angels Hospital in the Echo
Park section of Los Angeles were often used in episodes (such as
"The Face and the Voice") during the second season although
the hospital was identified as "Mercy General". Another Los
Angeles stock-footage landmark was the Griffith Observatory, which
had several different "cameos" in the series, first serving
as Jor-El's home/laboratory. Aside from a few clips of New York City
in "Superman on Earth", most, if not all, of the stock
clips used to depict Metropolis are of the Los Angeles area.
The show's title card imitated the
three-dimensional lettering of the comic book covers. Occasional
confusion arises about the article "the," since it was
spoken by narrators in voice-overs. Some references title the show
"The Adventures of Superman"; other books (as well as TV
Guide listings) simply label the show "Superman". The
onscreen title of the show is Adventures of Superman with no THE
The opening narration of the show,
expanded from that of the 1940s radio show and the Superman cartoons,
was voiced by Bill Kennedy, framed by the show's theme music, and set
the stage for each program:
Kellogg, 'The Greatest Name In Cereals',
presents the Adventures of Superman!
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 plane!" "It'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 never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the
And now, another exciting episode in the
Adventures of Superman!
From the second season onward, the final
sentence ("another exciting episode") was dropped.
Kellogg's originally requested to have it's name in the opening line
on every single episode of the series, as well as (from second season
onward) the company's logo on the intro and the end of the closing
credits. When Kellogg's ceased being the show's sponsor, the logo and
the intro line were removed from some prints, especially when Warner
Bros. Television received distribution rights. The characters from
the TV series (except Superman himself) made a number of TV
commercials promoting Kellogg's products (usually shown as
"integrated commercials" at the end of the program), some
of which are preserved in the DVD series.
The score for the series was taken from
stock music libraries, often adaptations of music from B-movies. For
example, one cue used in the episode "Peril by Sea" also
appears in Plan 9 from Outer Space. Apparently the only original
music written for the series was the March heard primarily during the
credits. The theme is ascribed to studio music arranger Leon
Klatzkin, although it may have been adapted from an earlier unrelated
(and now lost) theme. The main theme, based on a triad, matched the
three syllables in the character's name, as has been the case with
nearly all Superman music. With the exception of the title theme,
musical cues ranged from the serious to the light-hearted and were
different for each of the seasons, except for the third season, where
some cues from the previous season would be reused in a number of
episodes. Each season's cues tended to be used repeatedly from
episode to episode, in similarly appropriate "mood" moments
such as apprehension, humor or fast action. The opening credits
theme, Superman's "leitmotif", was often (though not
always) used whenever Superman was depicted flying or taking action.
"Look... up in the sky!" While
considered simple by today's standards, the "flying"
effects on Adventures of Superman were advanced for the period,
although during season one it was apparent that, for distance flight
shots, Superman was lying on a flat surface, his torso and thighs
noticeably flattened between elbows and knees. Beginning with season
two, Superman's "flying" involved three phases: take-off,
flight, and landing. Cables and wires were used for Superman's
take-offs early in filming. In early episodes, stuntmen sometimes
replaced Reeves for Superman's wire-assisted take-offs. When Reeves
came close to suffering a concussion in the episode "Ghost
Wolf" (the supporting wires snapped and he fell to the studio
floor), cables and wires were discarded and a springboard was brought
in, designed by Thol "Si" Simonson, who remained with the
series until its end. Reeves would run into frame and hit the
out-of-frame springboard, which would boost him out of frame
(sometimes over the camera) and onto padding. The springboard had
enough force, along with subtle camera manipulation, to make it look
as though he was actually taking off. The flying scenes were
accomplished through a relatively few number of repeated shots. The
typical technique had footage of Reeves stretched out on a
spatula-like device formed to his torso and leg, operated on a
counterweight like a boom microphone, allowing him to bank as if in
flight. In a couple of later episodes, such as "The Atomic
Secret", Reeves simulated flying, opting to lie on the device
without the molded form to support his legs, which are seen to hang
from the waist in those episodes in marked contrast to the stock
footage of Superman in flight.
In the two black & white seasons,
Reeves was occasionally filmed in front of aerial footage on
back-projection screen, or against a neutral background which would
provide a matte which would be optically combined with a swish-pan or
aerial shot. That footage was matted onto various backgrounds
depending on the needs of the episode: clouds, buildings, the ocean,
mountain forests, etc., which he would appear to fly by. For the
color episodes, the simpler and cheaper technique of a neutral
cyclorama backing was used, usually sky-blue, or black for night
shots. Techniques for landings involved Reeves jumping off a ladder
or holding an off-camera horizontal bar and swinging down into frame.
arrived on television in 1952 with a mythology established through
comic books, a novel, a radio series, two theatrical serials, and
seventeen, now classic, Max Fleischer animated shorts (right).
None of Superman's established foes like
Lex Luthor appeared in the TV series; and the most potent element
incorporated into the show from the established mythology was the
superhero's vulnerability to green Kryptonite (the other colored
versions didn't appear (i.e. red, white, blue, gold, etc.). Several
episodes during the course of the show's run featured the substance
as a plot device.
Another element appropriated from the
mythology for the television series was Lois Lane's suspicions
regarding Clark Kent's true identity and her romantic infatuation
with Superman. Also, unlike the comic book version, Superman was
never shown to be vulnerable to magic, as real magic (as opposed to
stage or performance magic) was considered non-existent in the series.
Episodes follow Superman as he battles
gangsters, thugs, mad scientists and non-human dangers like
asteroids, robots, and malfunctioning radioactive machines. In the
first episode (the "origin" episode), Superman's infant
life on the planet Krypton, his arrival on Earth, and his nurturing
by a farm couple are dramatized.
succeeding episodes, he conceals his super-identity by posing as
mild-mannered Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent who, in times of
crisis, dashes into the Daily Planet's storeroom, or alley, sheds his
street clothes, and reappears in superhero tights and trunks (all at
super-speed) to rescue hapless folk from the clutches of evildoers.
According to Gary Grossman's "Superman: Serial To Cereal"
book, 5 movies were made in 1953 from 15 episodes. Each movie
contained two one-minute "bridges" for the transition of
episodes. These were filmed at the end of the 1953 season. This
footage can only be seen in the movies, which are: "Superman's
Peril" ("The Golden Vulture", "Semi-Private
Eye", "Defeat Of Superman"); "Superman Flies
Again" ("Jet Ace", "The Dog Who Knew
Superman", "The Clown Who Cried"); "Superman In
Exile" ("Superman In Exile", "The Face And The
Voice", "The Whistling Bird"); "Superman And
Scotland Yard" ("A Ghost For Scotland Yard", "The
Lady In Black", "Panic In The Sky"); and "Superman
And The Jungle Devil" ("Jungle Devil", "The
Machine That Could Plot Crimes", "Shot In The Dark").
The movie versions have never been released on home video, so the new
footage in them remains unseen by most fans.
In 1958, producer Whitney Ellsworth
created Superpup, a never-aired-on-TV spin-off pilot that placed the
Superman mythos in a fictional world populated by dogs. Featuring
live-action actors in dog-suits portraying canine versions of
Superman and other characters, the pilot was filmed on Adventures of
Superman sets and was intended to capitalize on the success of its
Producers planned to continue Adventures
of Superman in 1959 with two more years' worth of episodes, to begin
airing in the 1960 season. The death of actor John Hamilton (Perry
White) threw the plan into disarray. Actor Pierre Watkin was hired to
replace Hamilton as "Perry White's brother" (Watkin had
played Perry White himself in the two Columbia serials, and had
guested on the series before).
The sudden death of the show's star George
Reeves in June 1959 was not the end of the series either, in the
producers' eyes. When Jack Larson returned from Europe after the
death of Reeves, producers suggested the series could continue as
"Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen," with more focus on Larson
continuing his character, playing opposite a "Superman" who
would be a composite of stock shots of George Reeves and a look-alike
stunt double to be filmed from behind. Larson rejected the
distasteful idea out of hand, and the series was truly over.
Another spin-off idea was a pilot produced
by Whitney Ellsworth in 1961: The Adventures of Superboy. Johnny
Rockwell starred as a young Clark Kent in Smallville, and as Superboy
wore a suit similar in design to George Reeves' suit, and Bunny
Henning as Lana Lang. Although thirteen scripts had been written,
only the pilot was filmed.
In 1987 and 1988, coinciding with the 50th
anniversary celebrations of the Superman comic book character that
year, Warner Home Video released selected episodes of the series to
VHS and LaserDisc, under the TV's Best Adventures of Superman title,
with four volumes released in total. Each volume contained one
black-and-white episode and one color episode, plus a Max Fleischer
Superman animated short. These videos were later re-released during
the mid-1990s under new packaging artwork. Columbia House released 20
VHS volumes of the series under their Adventures of Superman: The
Collector's Edition series, with each videotape containing three
episodes, which was only available through mail order subscriptions
during the 1990s. Warner Home Video later released all 6 seasons of
the Adventures of Superman on DVD.
The show received a proclamation in July
2001 on its 50th Anniversary from the Los Angeles County Board of
Supervisors in a ceremony attended by Jack Larson, Noel Neill, Robert
Rockwell (Jor-El), Jeff Corey (from the pilot), Mrs. Robert Shayne
and Mrs. Jerome Siegel. The proclamation scroll was accepted by DC
Comics Vice President Paul Levitz.
In 2006, the show's first season received
a Saturn Award nomination for "Best Retro Television Release on
DVD". In 2007, the show's complete six seasons received the
Saturn Award from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror
Films for "Best Retro Television Series Release on DVD".
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