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Old TV Shows From The Beginning Through 1969

The Adventures of Superman

Science Fiction Adventure 1952-1957

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Background:
The plethora of inventions and technical advances of the early 1900's - such as powered flight and electricity - fuelled the imaginations of the American people, especially the younger generation. Authors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs and H.G. Wells added to this movement.

Schoolboys were particularly engrossed with anything to do with modern science. By mixing science with adventure, the result was a perfect blend, especially for kids like Jerry Siegel from Cleveland, Ohio. His enthusiasm led him to publish the fanzine Science Fiction with drawings by school buddy Joe Shuster. In January 1933 Siegel and Schuster produced a story called The Reign of the Superman and included it in Science Fiction. In this very first appearance of (the) superman, he was actually a baddie! His superhuman powers were due to the work of a demented professor and superman was mainly concerned with making some fast dollars!

Siegel never forgot the superman character and was determined to find him a bigger stage. After being turned down by various publishers, DC Comics took on the strip for the new Action Comics in 1939. Superman's re-launch was accompanied by a re-write of his origins. It was decided that he was now from alien stock. As a baby, he was sent by his father in a rocket from Krypton - a distant planet that was in the process of destruction. The rocket was pointed to Earth. When it landed he was found and placed in an orphanage where his carers marveled at his superhuman strength. He was then adopted by a kindly old couple, the Kents, who said he should keep his powers a secret for fear of frightening people. As he matured he decided he would dedicate his powers to the benefit of mankind and he became the champion of the oppressed.

The comic strip proved a tremendous success and there soon followed a Superman comic with the Superman strip as the title feature and lucrative newspaper spots. The Man of Steel, as he was also known, was set for a meteoric rise to stardom.

In 1940 DC Comics knew they were on to a winner. They asked freelancer Robert Maxwell and Frank Chase to get to work setting up licensing for merchandising rights. They were also charged with bringing Superman to a wider audience. Maxwell and Chase produced sample radio segments in order to attract sponsorship for a radio show. Once the sponsorship had been secured, the national radio show hit the airwaves in 1940 with Clayton Collyer playing the title role (and Clark Kent's role). This show became the birthplace of the famous opening lines:

"Faster than an airplane, more powerful than a locomotive, impervious to bullets!"
"Up in the sky—look!"
"It's a giant bird!"
"It's a plane!"
"It's SUPERMAN!"

It was the radio show - broadcast three times a week - that bedded down the superman character and his background. New characters such as arch genius criminal Lex Luthor were introduced as well as innovations such as Kryptonite and the Daily Planet newspaper. These developments were taken up by the comic strips which would find themselves in the wake of the radio show. As well as the famous opening lines, the character would often signal his transformation from Clark Kent to superman by stating: "This looks like a job for" [pause] "Superman!!", with the emphasis on the word "Superman".

Clayton Collyer (also known as Bud) also provided the voice for Superman in the cartoons that were released in 1941. Movie theater audiences marveled at the lavish productions by the Fleischer Studios using this relatively new medium and one of the cartoons was even nominated for an Oscar. In 1948 the first live action movie was produced starring Kirk Alien. This movie and the subsequent release of 1950 consisted of 15 segments (or chapters), forming a serial.

Bob Maxwell decided the time was right to bring Superman to the television, just as he and Frank Chase had done on the radio. He and Bernard Lubber, a film producer, started putting together the Image: Superman flies through a windowingredients for a pilot show. Plans were made to release the pilot as a movie as a way of funding the tv project. If the tv series took off, the movie would be used as 2 (2 -part) episodes.

Maxwell asked long established DC Comics editor, script-writer and illustrator Whitney Ellsworth to produce the script. RKO Pathé's Culver City Studios and their production staff were booked and the actors cast. Maxwell decided to rely on experienced actors and booked George Reeves, a movie veteran who came to prominence as Stuart Tarleton in Gone with the Wind, in the title role as both Superman and Clark Kent. Phyllis Coates was cast as reporter Lois Lane. Coates was better known as a comedy actress, having featured in several "So You're..." movie shorts.

The idea for the movie was conceived entirely by Whitney Ellsworth and the script was fine-tuned between Ellsworth and Maxwell (jointly credited under pen-name Richard Fielding). Superman and the Mole Men was released as a movie in 1951. The following year, the first tv episode, Superman on Earth, was aired. 

The Format:
Superman's self-appointed role is to protect the human race from all manner of threats, usually from criminal masterminds, but occasionally from alien forces or from natural disasters using his superhuman powers.

The first episode Superman on Earth, recounts the story of how Superman came to exist on earth. He becomes a newspaper hack -under the guise of mild, almost timid Clark Kent - so that he can hear about impending disasters or criminal acts as early as possible. When the time comes for Superman to act, Clark secretly switches to the Man of Steel and saves the day. He is careful to avoid letting out the secret of his dual identity, even to his close friend and work mate Lois Lane.

Postscript:
George Reeves died of apparent suicide in 1959. Phyllis Coates left the show after the first show and was replaced as Lois Lane by Noel Neill.

Superman's creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had sold the rights to Superman to DC Comics in 1939. Once they realized how big Superman would become, they tried unsuccessfully to sue DC Comics for a cut of the millions of dollars of income. It was only in 1975 that DC Comics made a settlement with the creators, allowing both to receive a generous pension. Joe Shuster died in 1992 and Jerry Siegel died in 1996

Superman is the byword for the iconic image that ad men dream of. From "It's a giant bird!", to the S motif, to the blue and red clothing, Superman is to entertainment what Coca-Cola is to soft drinks. The built-in tension as Superman strives to keep his secret identity and the inevitable wonder as he fights a deadly foe and saves the day has made this show a sure-fire success.