1 9 5 2 – 1 9 5 8 (USA)
104 x 30 minute episodes
Originally invented as an Action comic character by Ohio duo Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1938, Superman was transferred to US syndicated television in 1952, becoming one of the fledgeling medium’s first hits.
Episode one, ‘Superman On Earth’, provided a helpful genealogy: Born on the planet Krypton, the baby Kar-El was rocketed to Earth by his father Jor-El and mother, Lara, moments before the planet exploded.
Landing outside Smallville, USA, the baby was adopted by the Kent family, christened Clark, gradually discovered his amazing powers (x-ray vision, the strength of a locomotive, the ability to fly like a bird) and moved to Metropolis at the age of 25.
There he worked as a reporter for The Daily Planet under blustering editor Perry White an alongside scoop-hungry hackette, Lois Lane.
At the merest hint of trouble, bespectacled Clark Kent changed into his caped, blue and red Superman costume and flew off to fight for “truth, justice and the American way”.
He did, however, have an alien Achilles heel – he was vulnerable to Kryptonite, green fragments of his home planet, a commodity much prized by the show’s bad guys.
Initially, Superman’s adventures were all about jaw-socking action, but at the behest of copyright owners National Comics and sponsors Kelloggs, the show became suitable family fare, verging on pantomime comedy (thus Noel Neill’s soft-centred Lois replaced Phyllis Coates’ hard-boiled version of the Planet reporter).
Production was strictly low budget, and special effects limited. The sequences of Superman ‘flying’ were achieved by the use of invisible (ahem!) wires, or by actor George Reeves laying outstretched on a glass table then matted over an aerial view of Metropolis (in fact, Hollywood).
George Reeves became very cautious about appearing in public in his Superman suit after, in 1953, a youngster in Detroit borrowed his father’s loaded pistol and aimed it at “Superman”.
George calmly got the gun away from the kid but refused to put himself in that position again.
Forever typecast, Reeves was not able to find work after the show’s cancellation in 1957 – although some have since claimed that he was entertaining several offers at the time of his death in the summer of 1959 of a gunshot wound to the head in an apparent suicide.
There has also been speculation that his shooting death was due to foul play – since he left no note, no fingerprints were found on the weapon and he was said to be having an affair with the wife of a top Hollywood executive. His death remains a mystery.
The fictional Man of Steel, however, has proved immortal. Aside from a tranche of movies starring Christopher Reeve, TV itself has seen CBS cartoons Superman and New Adventures of Superman together with the 90s live romantic makeover The New Adventures of Superman featuring Dean Cain as the hero in tights.
Each episode of The Adventures Of Superman cost only $15,000 to make. Four of them were filmed every ten days.
Phyllis Coates (1)
Noel Neill (2)