Hey, it’s Superman!
By Bob Pakes
“Faster than a speeding bullet!
More powerful than a locomotive!
Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!
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 American way!”
In this article we will take a look at the Superman phenomenon that reached new hights in the 50’s when the TV-set became part of daily American life. We will especially focus on the man who fit those tights better than any other actor of his generation and all generations to come: George Reeves. Next to him there will be plenty of room in this topic for the flood of cool merchandise and worldwide poster artwork that accompanied the real man of steel during these wonderful years.
Best known for the title-role in Adventures Of Superman in the 1950’s TV-show, George Reeves is also remembered for the mystery that surrounds his death in 1959: was it murder or suicide?
Reeves had made his acting debut, though only in a minor role, in the 1939 blockbuster Gone With The Wind. He continued to play small (mainly uncredited) parts while under contract at Warner Bros. opposite big names like James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan, but he failed to make it as an A-actor.
After his contract had ended, Reeves signed with 20th Century Fox, and he played a bit-part in the Tyrone Power adventure Blood And Sand. However, after a short while also this contract ended and Reeves became a freelance actor. He eventually continued to co-star in five Hopalong Cassidy westerns before he was given a major role in Paramount’s war drama So Proudly We Hail in 1942 for which he received critical acclaim. But this time George Reeves’ career was put on hold when he was drafted into the army in 1943.
After the war Reeves’ chances of making it big in Holywood were even slimmer and he had to settle for B-movies once more.
1951: Reeves finally struck gold when he was asked to play the part of Superman in a new TV series. Or did he?
George Reeves in a 1947 publicity shot for Paramount.
In the early 50’s TV was still seen as inferior by serious actors, and Reeves was also afraid to get stuck to TV-work once he would move away from the big screen. But because he also believed the series would probably die an early death anyway, he took the job.
Superman And The Mole Men (1951) was the title of the pilot for the series. The production was a rush job, the budget was very low, and Reeves’ salary was even lower. But the audience loved it, and a few months later George Reeves was a nationwide celebrity!
The TV series would run for 6 seasons, from 1952 to 1958, totalling 104 episodes. The first two seasons were shot in black and white, the final four in color.
The original Tarzan meets the future Superman: in 1948 Reeves co-starred with Johnny Weissmuller in the first of many Jungle Jim movies.
Beautiful Phyllis Coates portrayed Lois Lane in the first season.
From season two onwards Noel Neill was asked to play Lois Lane once again since Phyllis had already commited herself to other projects, after Neill had already done so in the two earlier serials (starring Kirk Alyn as Superman).
Here we have the USA artwork for the theatrical version of Superman And The Mole Men (1951): from left to right: the 3-sheet, the insert, and the 1-sheet.
Below that we see the complete set of USA lobby cards. Followed by some lobby cards for this movie from South-America.
The cast of the series for season two, with Noel Neill as the ‘new’ Lois Lane.
Seen by many as the defintive Lois Lane, Noel was a very experienced actress by the time she reprised her role as the raging reporter.
After the series ended in the late 50’s she practically retired from showbusiness, only to make cameo appearances in both Superman (1978) and Superman Returns (2006). Till this day Noel is still active making public appearances on collector’s shows and moviefestivals around the USA.
In 1953 Reeves landed a small part in the star-studded From Here To Eternity. According to 2006’s Hollywoodland (a dramatized biopic, starring Ben Affleck as George Reeves) the preview-audience responded with ‘Hey, it’s Superman!’ during the scenes with Reeves, and apparently because of this Columbia Pictures decided to cut nearly all of his scenes from the movie, which devastated Reeves. The movie went on to win the Oscar for best film of the year, making it the second Oscar-winner he appeared in.
That same year (1953) George Reeves made the cover of TV Guide while Superman-madness went into an even higher gear.
To cash in on the huge succes of Superman, five ‘new’ movies were released theatrically in 1954. In reality each movie consisted of three standalone episodes from the series. The studio did not hide this fact since the individual episode-titles were printed on the posters.
The 1-sheet artwork for three of these movies can be seen here to the right.
Ever since the first Superman comic had seen the light of day in 1938 (and also thanks to a radio show and two movie serials released in the late 40’s), Superman had become a well established name.
But it was not until the TV show that Superman had achieved the ‘household-status’. The brandname became so extremely succesful that Superman-merchandise was now available in all different sizes and colors.
To the right we can see one of the very popular kid’s costumes from the 1950’s.
The Superman comics were extremely succesful. So succesful Jimmy Olsen got his own series: Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. 163 issues were published between 1954 – 1974.
Pictured here are:
No. 1 (1954)
No. 25 (1957)
No. 50 (1961)
No. 75 (1964)
And if that wasn’t enough, also Mrs. Lane was awarded her own series: Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane. A total of 137 issues were published between 1958 – 1974.
Pictured here are:
No. 1 (1958)
No. 25 (1961)
No. 50 (1964)
No. 75 (1967)