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,” starring Kirk Alyn. White is gruff, impatient, but he's also the man everyone in Metropolis turns to when trouble brews. I mean, everyone. 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, in almost every episode, 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: 1930s icon Jackie Cooper was tapped to play Perry White in the 1978 movie “Superman” when Keenan Wynn, the original choice, developed heart trouble. Cooper made the transatlantic trip to England in a day to land the part. Lesson: Always have your passport up-to-date. Up, up and away, baby.
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 more like Superman's mother than his girlfriend, and Perry White has shrunk even as his glasses got huge.
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. Perry also lost the cigar. Damn political correctness.
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. Meanwhile, Perry's son, Richard, winds up married to Lois Lane. It creates complications. (Trivia: Both Langella and Lane Smith have portrayed Richard Nixon, too.)
Larry Fishburne steps into the role in 2013's “Man of Steel,” out this week. He's the first black actor to play the role. 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'sa job for Superman.