Superman postsThursday June 13, 2013
Who Wants to Play Superman? Anyone? Bueller?
“The whole idea embarrassed me.”
--Clayton “Bud” Collyer, on playing Superman on the radio in 1940.
“Well, babe, this is it: the bottom of the barrel.”
-- George Reeves, toasting Phyllis Coates, after the two have been cast as Superman/Clark Kent and Lois Lane in the TV show “Adventures of Superman” in 1951.
“Sometimes ... when you're not even really sure that you want [the part], that's when you get it.”
-- Christopher Reeve, on trying out for, and getting, the role of Superman/Clark Kent in “Superman: The Movie.”
SLIDESHOW: Extra Extra! A History of Daily Planet Headlines!
SLIDESHOW: Updating Superman in the new movie, “Man of Steel,” shouldn't just be about getting rid of the 19th-century strongman undies. What do you do about his job? The medium that employed Clark Kent for most of the 20th century is in more peril than Lois Lane ever was. It's also the medium that often informed us about the story we were watching. What follows is a compendium of headlines, mostly Daily Planet headlines, that appeared in various Superman incarnations over the years. Consider it an extra. Read all about it.
FIRST SIGHTINGS: We first got Superman's origin on the big screen in the 1948 serial, Superman, starring Kirk Alyn, and these are the first headlines about the caped figured who saved people, then left before we had a chance to thank him. He was like the Lone Ranger, but, you know, super.
1948: Oddly, none of these early headlines are Daily Planet headlines. Those would come later.
1948: I love this period before Superman is named and everyone is struggling to figure it all out. “Mystery Bird Man.” “Man from Sky.” What do we call this thing? Once it's named, and known, it becomes a little less exciting.
1953: As here. This is from the George Reeves reboot in the “Adventures of Superman” TV show. Not only is he already named but the feat itself, —his first, saving a man hanging from a dirigible—was redone, to much better effect, in the ‘78 blockbuster. Dirigible simply became helicopter and airport mechanic morphed into Lois Lane.
1978: By the ’70s, the heyday of journalism, we knew the story wasn't that she was saved; the story was that he existed.
1978: Love this. Biggest story of the century but they keep their sense of humor.
1978: Here, too. As Kevin Costner's Jonathan Kent says in “Man of Steel,” “You‘re the answer, son. You’re the answer to ‘Are we alone in the universe?’” That should‘ve the hed in ’78. But nothing sells like sex.
SUPERMAN'S EXPLOITS: Besides telling us Superman's origins, the headlines also detailed the Man of Steel's exploits. They provided a coda to the story we'd just seen. This is from one of the early 1940s Max Fleischer cartoons.
1941: Someone at the Planet needs to work on their subheds. Check out the previous slide. How often can Superman save the city from destruction—total or not? Work with me here, Jimmy.
1966: Another favorite, from the 1966 Filmation cartoon, “The New Adventures of Superman.” Mathematically: Steel > Iron.
1996: For some reason, the 1996 cartoon, “Last Son of Krypton,” used quotes in its headlines. Not sure why. Had they never seen a newspaper before? Or did they just love irony?
1948: That's Perry White reading his own paper. Feel free to forward to anyone you know named Ray.
FURTHERING THE PLOT: Many of the newspaper headlines were designed to move the story along. Lex Luthor looks at this headline and sees all of his schemes coming true. “Bye-bye, California. Hello, new west coast, my west coast.” How do you not love Gene Hackman in this role?
1950: From “Atom Man vs. Superman.” Two exclamation points seems excessive, Perry.
1988: Imagine what it's worth now.
2011: Hardly seems worthy of a headline this size. At the same time, in this day and age when mainstream media tends to prevaricate about the misdeeds of the rich and powerful, it's nice to see.
1981: Let's see. Superpowered beings, like Superman but evil, arrive and take over the world. And this is your headline, Daily Planet?
2006: This one, from “Superman Returns,” also worked in the trailers and TV spots. It announced the movie.
1987: The best part of a bad movie: “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.” It's a parody of the Daily News' famous hed on Pres. Ford's refusal to bail out New York City in 1975.
1988: As with today, the headlines, sadly, sometimes feed us misinformation. Because he doesn't really.
2006: And he isn‘t, really.
2011: And he still isn’t, really.
1948: “Man of Tomorrow” will never replace “Man of Steel” as a Superman monicker because it's a little too yesterday. It's from a period when the future was full of whiz-bang excitement. But it's also the perfect nickname for Superman. Because in 1938, we were tomorrow. And where's Superman? Still with us. *FIN*
SLIDESHOW: Got it Bad for Little Miss Lois Lane
SLIDESHOW: The above panel details the first meeting between Lois and Superman way back in Action Comics #1. From then on, in what unofficial Superman biographer Glen Weldon calls the most toxic relationship in history, it's about 50 years of stagnation. She wants marriage with Superman; he wants her to like him as Clark, which is odd, since it's his pose rather than his true personality. (Until John Byrne switched the order in 1986.) But if you're a fan of superheroes, make sure you thank Miss Lane. Superman only sprang to life in the imagination of Jerry Siegel because he couldn't get the Lois Lanes of the world. He was a Clark Kent wondering what it would be like to be a Superman. Which is why he invented Superman, whose success led to Batman, Spider-Man, et al. Without Lois Lane, you wouldn't have any of them.
1941: The Max Fleischer cartoons made the most of Lois' gumption and her gams. She was always going the extra mile for a story, getting in trouble as a result, and needing rescue from the Man of Tomorrow. One wonders how she managed before he came along. One wonders if she ever wonders it. Does she take greater risks now? Knowing that Superman is there to catch her if she falls?
1941: She isn't even averse to wielding a machine gun now and again. Fleischer's Lois was voiced by Joan Alexander, of St. Paul, Minn., who also voiced Lois in the long-running and influential “Adventures of Superman” radio series (1940-51). Trivia: In 2008, the year before she died, Alexander would be bilked out of most of her fortune by Ponzi schemer Kenneth Starr, who is currently serving a 7 1/2-year sentence in a federal correctional facility in Otisville, NY. Too bad it's not Otisberg.
1948: In the 1948 serial, “Superman,” another Minnesotan, Noel Neill of Minneapolis, became the first actress to portray Lois Lane on screen. A few years later, Neill played the third-year girl who gripes Gene Kelly’s liver in “An American in Paris,” and, unfortunately, she's a bit of that here: pouty and unclever, without a hint of sex. She’s like a Shirley Temple character who grew into her late 20s less cute, less smart, and more annoying. She barely even smiles. Which is why two years later ...
1950: ... yes, in “Atom Man vs. Superman,” she smiles as often as a Miss America contestant. Neill would go on to play Lois throughout most of the 1950s in the second through sixth seasons of “Adventures of Superman.” Later in life, she played Lois' mom in the extended cut of “Superman: The Movie” (1978), and even turns up as Gertrude Vanderworth, the wealthy widow bilked of her money by Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor in “Superman Returns” (2006). Too bad Joan Alexander wasn't paying attention.
1951: Phyllis Coates of Wichita Falls, Texas, finally breaks the Minnesota monopoly on everyone's favorite girl reporter. In the short film, “Superman and the Mole Men,” as well as the first season of TV's “Adventures of Superman,” she plays Lois opposite George Reeves. She would eventually play Lois' mom, Ellen this time, in an episode of “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” in 1994. Apparently old Loises never fade away; they just play Lois' mom.
1966: Filmation's Saturday morning cartoon, “The New Adventures of Superman,” brought back a lot of the radio actors for the voices, including Joan Alexander for Lois Lane. This, to me, is the classic Lois. Maybe because she was drawn like the Lois Lane in the 1950s and '60s comic books. Or maybe because it's the first Lois Lane I encountered. Oddly, we don't even see her until the third episode. She gets upstaged by Jimmy Olsen and his Superman signal watch. Every boy wanted one of those before they realized they really wanted Lois Lane.
1975: Case in point. Lesley Ann Warren ratcheted up the sex quotient, as she is wont to do, in a godawful version of the so-so Broadway musical, “It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman!,” which was broadcast on February 1, 1975. I was 12. I remember staying up late to watch it. I remember “Scoop! Scoop! Stop the presses!” I remember waiting and waiting for Superman to appear. When he did, well, I kinda wanted him to disappear. Warren was in the running to portray Lois again in “Superman: The Movie,” but lost the part to ...
1978: ... Margot Kidder. Why does Kidder's Lois Lane in “Superman: The Movie” still define the role? Because there's a difficulty dichotomy to thread in portraying Lois. She's supposed to scoop Clark and get rescued by Superman, but often within this dynamic they make her either too tough (and unlikeable) or too agreeable (and thus hardly a scoop-worthy reporter). Margot was able to inhabit both aspects of Lois. She held the two opposing ideas of Lois in her mind and was still able to function. Her toughness (at work) was never annoying, her vulnerability (around Superman) was always endearing. Plus I just like the way she says “Peter Pan.” Not to mention, “Blaghhh.”
1981: And in “Superman II” Lois finally gets her man. Unfortunately he had to lose his powers first. Did she waver then? Say, “Hey, wait a minute, that's not part of the deal,” or are we to assume that Lois was never that shallow, that she liked the Man of Steel for himself and not his powers? But if she liked him without his powers, why didn't she just go for Clark? Right, right, the milksop persona. OK, but how about in those incarnations, such as the '50s TV show, where he's not a milksop? Something to ponder anyway.
1987: But it can get tiring playing Lois. This is Kidder only nine years later in the godawful, Golan & Globus “Superman IV.” In a movie full of bad scenes, one of the worst, surely, is where Clark reveals himself to be Superman by jumping off the roof with Lois, then flies the two around the U.S. (via horrible special effects), then drops her, ha ha, only to rescue her. Afterwards, back on his terrace, he asks her advice. When she gives it, he does what he did in “Superman II”: He kisses her to make her forget. Did he do this all the time? Have fun with her, then make her forget? No wonder poor Lois looks so old. A sad last hurrah for our great '78 team.
1988: The Ruby-Spears Superman cartoon, which appeared in 1988, couldn't get past the Reeve/Kidder movies. It's got the same John Williams theme music, Clark flies Lois around Metropolis, and Clark even looks like Reeve. Then there's the helicopter rescue in an early episode. Right out of “Superman: The Movie.”
1993: Top billing! Finally! In “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” Teri Hatcher, everyone's favorite “Seinfeld” guest, gets to play everyone's favorite girl reporter; and while one look at Hatcher makes you think she would bring the sex, what she really brought was the funny. How underrated is Hatcher as a comedic actress? I admit I never watched the show much but I did recently see the 90-minute premiere and was pleasantly surprised at Hatcher's light-comedic skills. She would've been great in a romantic comedy. Why did she not get the chance? Her funny bone is real and it's fabulous.
1996: For “Last Son of Krypton” and “Superman: The Animated Series,” the Supes/Lois relationship gets a reboot and winds up recalling ... the Max Fleisher cartoons. Meaning we've traveled 55 years, through a world war, a cold war, and a feminist revolution, only to wind up back where we started. Voiced by Dana Delany.
2004: What's wrong with this picture? Seeing it now? Right? Since when was Lois ever a dirty blonde? I'm talking hair here, not the pole-dancing thing. But sure, that, too. The woman in the patriotic bikini is Erica Durance, of TV's “Smallville,” which never shied from selling the bodies of its young stars to attract viewers. Hell, the first time Lois and Clark meet on the show, he's butt naked. We scoff, and shake our heads at the cynicism, but it worked. The show lasted 10 years.
2006: Sorry, honey. Kate Bosworth was 22 when they filmed “Superman Returns” and ... it just didn't work. Lois looks 22 and she has a 5-year-old? From a consummation six years earlier? That’s some awkward math. Plus that dichotomy Lois is supposed to thread between tough and vulnerable? Bosworth doesn't thread it. Plus there's the hair again. Does everyone in the 21st century have something against brunettes except me?
2011: This Lois, from “All-Star Superman,” is like Lois reimagined as Jenanine Garofalo. At one point, after Clark reveals he's Superman, and flies her to his Fortress of Solitude, and confesses his love, she gets out her laptop and types up how pissed she still is. It's Carrie Bradshaw stuff. I dont know how many of these direct-to-video or Cartoon Network Superman stories there are, but the 21st century is crawling with them. I only made it halfway through this one.
2013: Oh, Lois. Will you ever be a brunette again? And is that an i-Pad? And you're how much older than the Man of Steel? Eight years? I guess that's not so bad. At least you're an adult this time around. See you Friday.
SLIDESHOW: LOOK, UP IN THE SKY! A History of Superman Flying Onscreen
SLIDESHOW: Look, Up in the Sky! Near the end of his life, Christopher Reeve said, “The appeal of flight. I mean … Batman’s got a cool car. But flight is what really captures people’s imaginations. To take two or three running steps and soar into the air. That’s everybody’s dream.” On the screen, of course, it took a while for that dream to take hold. In the beginning, which is to say June 1938, with the publication of Action Comics #1, Superman couldn't fly; he could only leap 1/8 of a mile. It took adventures in other media for the dream of flight to take hold.
1941: In the early Max Fleischer cartoons, Superman is merely, as they say, “able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.” But all that bouncing from spot to spot made him look a bit like a Mexican jumping bean, and it just became easier, and cooler, to show him, you know, flying. The Fleischer cartoons immediately subbed out that “tall buildings” line for “Able to soar higher than any plane!” but it didn't stick. As late as 1988, the opening intro (to Ruby-Spears Superman) nonsensically trumpeted Superman as a dude “able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!”
1948: Kirk Alyn was the first live-action, onscreen Superman, and this was the moment he finally took flight. Did kids in theaters in 1948 hold their breath? If so...
1948 (cont.)... they were probably disappointed since as soon as he lifted off he turned into a cartoon. This was true in all 15 chapters of the '48 serial. On the other hand ...
1948 (cont.) ... there's something to be said for the cartoon. It ain't bad. Dude could move. When they switched to flying of the live-action variety, it had the same effect on Superman that sound had on early talkies: a tendency toward stiffness. It would take half a century before Superman, in flight, could move as well as he could above.
1950: Here we go. This is the first time we see Superman, as a man, in the air. It's Kirk Alyn again from the 1950 serial, “Atom Man vs. Superman.” Most of the flying, though, is still done with animation.
1953: In the 1950s TV show “Adventures of Superman,” George Reeves' flight has a kind of lying-on-a-table effect. In episode after episode: 1) Clark Kent went into the Daily Planet storeroom; 2) Superman bounced out a window to whooshing wind effects; and 3) we saw Supes, against a cloud backdrop, flying rather straight. But then it was an era of flying straight.
1975: But it beat this. It's a screenshot from the TV adaptation of the short-lived 1966 Broadway musical, “It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman,” starring David Wilson as Superman and Lesley Ann Warren (rahr) as Lois Lane, which aired On Feb. 1, 1975 at, I think, 11:30 PM. Why so late? I guess they didn't want little kids to see it. I was 12 but wasn’t going to let that stop me. I stayed up late. Unfortunately, I kept nodding off. I kept thinking, “This is painful,” without realizing why. Even Ms. Warren didn't help. Much.
1978: So when “Superman: The Movie” was released in 1978, and Christopher Reeve takes to the air to save Lois Lane dangling from the Daily Planet helicopter, it looked breathtakingly real. Because it was. It wasn’t a cartoon, it wasn’t a man against a blue screen, it wasn’t CGI (yet). It was a man, in a bright blue suit, with big red boots, flying. We never believed, as the tagline counseled, that a man could in fact fly. But we knew it looked real. It had … what’s that word? Verisimilitude. Guess what? Still does.
1987: Nine years later, we'd taken a big step backward. Blame Sylvester Stallone. His film, “Over the Top,” produced by Golan and Globus, who were leasing the rights to make a Superman movie, did poorly at the box office, and as a result the “Superman: IV” budget was slashed from $40 million to below $20 million. It shows in every sad frame—including this one, where Superman returns the Statue of Liberty to its proper station. Irony? Stallone was one of the few big-name Hollywood actors in 1976 who wanted to play Superman. Mostly, though, blame Golan and Globus. They made you believe that a man really couldn't fly after all.
1993: Even in the title, “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” the Man of Steel gets third billing. And in terms of screentime, he was probably further down than that. But some flying scenes, like this, from the premiere episode in the Daily Planet offices, aren't bad.
2001: The creators of “Smallville” promised “No flights and no tights” and pretty much adhered to that principle through its 10-season run. Unfortunately, the closer it go to the birth of Superman, the worse it became. I mean, the red-and-blue blur? Somebody save me.
2006: “Superman Returns” is the first big-deal, CGI-infected Superman movie, but it’s still disappointing, probably because it has one foot and three toes in the past. It can’t get over Christopher Reeve. But who can?
2013: Well, David S. Goyer and Zack Snyder, that's who. Their new movie, “Man of Steel,” promises mind-bending flying effects and special effects. Let's just hope it's smart. Let's just hope we haven't been sucker-punched.
Great Caesar's Ghost! It's the Perry White Slideshow!
We won't call him “Chief” in this slideshow, but we will call out the changes to Perry White in his various cinematic and TV incarnations over the years. Shall we begin, Chief? I mean, Sugar? I mean, Paris? Enough. Let's get started ...
1941: In the Max Fleischer cartoons, he's an unnamed “Chief Editor,” but we all know who that is: George Taylor. Sorry, Paris White. Sorry, Perry White. George was the original comic book incarnation, Paris was the original radio incarnation, but they quickly changed “Paris” to “Perry.” Because Paris? I mean, c'mon.
1948: The first live-action actor to portray Perry White was Pierre Watkin in the 1948 serial “Superman.” White is gruff, impatient, and the man everyone in Metropolis turns to when trouble brews. When Superman captures a crook, he brings him to Perry rather than the cops. When the villainous Spider-Lady contacts the cops, it's so they can forward a message to Perry White. He's BMOC: Big Man of Metropolis.
1950: Two years later, it was the reverse. Perry White got everything wrong in “Atom Man vs. Superman.” He thinks Lex Luthor has gone legit, accuses both Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane of being hypnotized, pressures Lois into writing a “Is Clark Kent Superman?” story without evidence, and can't even find a match with which to light his cigar.
1953: For the 1950s TV show, the role was taken over by another no-nonsense, gruff persona: John Hamilton.
1966: Here's how Perry was portrayed in the 1966 Filmation cartoon, “The New Adventures of Superman.” The cigar is still in place.
1978: As here. 1930s icon Jackie Cooper was tapped to play Perry White in the 1978 movie “Superman” after Keenan Wynn, the original choice, developed heart trouble. He rocked the role.
1987: By the last, sad chapter of the Christopher Reeve movies, “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace,” Jimmy Olsen's going bald, Lois Lane looks like Superman's mother, and Perry White has shrunk and lost his cigar.
1988: A year later, for the Ruby-Sears Superman Saturday-morning cartoon, he's gained the weight back. In fact, he looks more like a villain than the avuncular city editor. He's like Edward G. Robinson here, see? Hey, Robby would've made a good Perry, wouldn't he?
1993: In 1948, Perry White had Abraham Lincoln on his wall; in 1993, he has Elvis Presley. Veteran actor Lane Smith is both gruff and comic-relief in the “Lois & Clark” television series.
2006: Frank Langella, a towering presence, played Perry White a bit softer in “Superman Returns.” His one “Great Caesar's Ghost!” was spoken sotto voce, in amazement, as Superman catches and places gently on the ground, as if he were Atlas, the Daily Planet icon from the roof of the building.
2015: Larry Fishburne steps into the role in “Man of Steel,” out this week. The question remains whether he'll say “Great Caesar's Ghost!” (doubtful) or smoke a cigar (even more doubtful). Hell, it remains to be seen whether The Daily Planet will survive the digital age. Now that's a job for Superman. *FIN*