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Flights of Fantasy: The Unauthorized but True Story of Radio & TV's Adventures o

Flights of Fantasy: The Unauthorized but True Story of Radio & TV’s Adventures of Superman

© 2013 Michael J. Hayde. All Rights Reserved.

“Superman” and all related indicia are trademarks of and copyright DC Entertainment, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, digital, photocopying or recording, except for the inclusion in a review, without permission in writing from the publisher.

This version of the book may be slightly abridged from the print version.

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Published in the USA by:

BearManor Media

PO Box 1129

Duncan, Oklahoma 73534-1129

www.bearmanormedia.com

ISBN 978-1-59393-344-9

Edited by Lon Davis.

Cover Design by Randy Garrett.

eBook construction by Brian Pearce  | Red Jacket Press.

Table of Contents

Introduction and Acknowledgments

Prologue: “Gentlemen, I give you…Superman!”

Act I: Radio

Chapter 1: The Making of Robert Maxwell

Chapter 2: Enter ‘Bud’ Collyer

Chapter 3: The Selling of Superman

Chapter 4: 1942-45: The American Way

Chapter 5: 1946-47: Operation Intolerance

Chapter 6: 1947-48: Superman Derailed

Chapter 7: 1949-51: Pulled from the Air

Act II: Television

Chapter 8: Superman, Where Are You?

Chapter 9: Enter George Reeves

Chapter 10: 1951: The First Season

Chapter 11: 1952-53: The Selling of Superman Redux

Chapter 12: 1953: The Rise of Whitney Ellsworth

Chapter 13: 1954-55: Becoming Super

Chapter 14: 1956-57: The Shadow of Superman

Epilogue: Truth and Justice

Appendix I: Superman: The Syndicated Transcription Series (1940-42)

Appendix II: Adventures of Superman: The Mutual Broadcasting System Serial (1942-49)

Appendix III: Adventures of Superman: The Half-Hour Episodes (1949-51)

Appendix IV: Adventures of Superman: The Television Episodes (1951-58)

Superman and The Mole Men (1951)

Season One

Season Two

Season Three

Season Four

Season Five

Season Six

Appendix V: Two Unfilmed TV Episodes

Notes on Sources

About the Author

Introduction and Acknowledgments

“So, when are you going to write a book about Superman?”

As a writer and long-time fan of television’s original Adventures of Superman, I have had this question asked of me by family, friends and associates for twenty years. And, for most of those years, my answer was, “I’m not.” Few fictional characters, after all, have received as much attention in print as Superman, including the very first book to focus on an old television series: Gary Grossman’s Superman: Serial to Cereal in 1975.

As a child, I thrilled to TV’s Superman. Having grown up during the 1960’s, my visits with the Man of Steel were daily, Monday through Friday at 4:30 p.m. Our family acquired a color set when I was eight years old; Superman aired that way on Tuesdays and Thursdays — the rest of the week he was in black & white. I would sit on the edge of my chair waiting for that moment when he would head to the Storeroom (whatever that was), removing either his hat or his glasses, then leap out of the window to rescue Lois, Jimmy or both, or to capture some nefarious criminals who were dumb enough to set up shop in Metropolis. Even as a child, I noticed that sometimes Clark Kent would leave his or Perry White’s office without his hat, yet somehow it’d magically appear on the way to the Storeroom. Or, he’d leave with a hat, but not have it during that dash down the hallway. I noticed that, whether he was coming or going, Superman nearly always flew in the same direction. And I noticed that, once in awhile, that other Lois Lane would be there, the one with the sarcastic disposition and piercing scream.

That Lois was in the older, scarier episodes, where Superman mostly scowled and threw punches that hurt. Where innocent people were tortured, women were slapped around and blackmailers were left to die on snow-capped mountains. Fortunately, those episodes didn’t appear too often in the rotation. As a child, my favorite Superman was the one who smiled and seemed to enjoy himself. The one who tricked the Wrecker and Caesar’s ghost into confessing; who subdued a boatload of pirates single-handed; who outwitted evildoers by splitting in two or becoming invisible; who helped little children regain something they’d lost, whether it be an animal, an old coat, or eyesight; who occasionally thought about revealing his secret identity in order to save his friends, and — in one glorious moment — actually did it.

By the time Grossman’s book had come out, I’d reevaluated those “scarier episodes,” which now held tremendous appeal to a teenager who’d recently discovered Dragnet and The Untouchables. Superman: Serial to Cereal answered a lot of questions, yet as I read and re-read it, I sensed there was more information to be uncovered. For all the (admittedly wonderful) anecdotes by cast and crew, the book contained very little in the way of production details, or even how the series moved over from radio. Indeed, there was almost nothing about Superman on radio, except that it had existed, was sponsored by Kellogg’s Pep and produced by the same man who brought the Man of Steel to TV. By my late twenties, I was living in Hollywood and found previously undiscovered information at local libraries: original airdates, production dates, even hiring dates. All this led to my earliest endeavors to chronicle Superman history.

Two decades later, after having contributed several articles to a George Reeves fanzine titled The Adventures Continue, as well as single pieces for Radio Recall, Filmfax and Remember, I was certain there was nothing left for me to say… until September 2007, when I made a presentation about “Superman on Radio and Television” for the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention in Aberdeen, Maryland. The research I did leading up to that presentation convinced me that the one aspect of the TV series that had been almost completely overlooked — its ties to the Superman radio show of 1940-51 — was due for appraisal. Indeed, apart from an excellent series of booklets accompanying the official release of various episode collections, the radio show itself had been almost completely ignored by historians. What little that existed was rife with misinformation.

It’s even misleading to say that there was one Superman radio series. There were, in fact, five:

1. A syndicated transcribed (recorded in advance), 15-minute children’s serial that was produced from February 1940 to February 1942, and sold to various markets (both domestically and internationally) during that timeframe. In its earliest broadcasts, it aired thrice weekly until May 1941, then resumed in August 1941 at five episodes per week.

2. A live, 15-minute children’s serial that aired Monday through Friday from August 1942 to February 1949 over the Mutual Broadcasting System (MBS).

3. A transcribed, 30-minute children’s series that aired over MBS thrice weekly for 20 weeks from February to June 1949.

4. A transcribed, 30-minute series, targeted to adults, which aired for 13 weeks on Saturday evenings from October 1949 to January 1950 over the American Broadcasting Company (ABC).

5. A transcribed, 30-minute children’s series that aired over ABC twice-weekly for 39 weeks from June 1950 to March 1951. This version mainly re-used scripts from #3 and #4, above.

All of these were produced by a company headed by Robert Maxwell, who co-produced the first season of the television series, and all but #5 starred Clayton ‘Bud’ Collyer as Clark Kent/Superman.

So I had ample reason to document Superman’s radio history, but I also wanted to cover the TV series in depth, hopefully without being redundant. At first, I figured I’d just adapt and expand the articles I’d written over the years, but while perusing a Superman internet message board, I learned something remarkable: nearly every script for the television series had been submitted to the U.S. Copyright Office for registration, separate from the registrations of the actual filmed episodes. Moreover, there were two script titles that did not correspond to any known episodes. In following up at the Library of Congress, I learned that these scripts were still there, in storage, and available for review.

Copies of approximately a dozen original scripts had circulated among collectors; I’d used one of them, The Defeat of Superman, for a “from-script-to-screen” comparison article for The Adventures Continue. With the Library of Congress find, I could take a similar perspective for a majority of episodes, and devote particular attention to those that seemed more compelling on paper than on screen. The scripts could also help me better evaluate each writer’s work prior to modification by producers and/or directors. Finally, I’d have at my fingertips dozens of scenes and dialogue exchanges that were written but either never filmed or cut for time. Since most unused Superman footage was presumably destroyed — none was included in the DVD season sets released by Warner Home Video — you hold in your hands the only source for “deleted scenes.” Most importantly, two scripts were written, but never filmed: one for the first season and one for the second. In Appendix V, you’ll find the complete synopses for these two “lost episodes.”

There are many people I wish to thank for their contributions to this endeavor. First and foremost, I must gratefully acknowledge the people who built the foundation; those whose work precedes my own. This must begin with a deep bow to writer-historian Anthony Tollin, chronicler of Superman’s audio history for Radio Spirits. Tollin pretty much stands alone in this field; without his work, the radio chapters of this book would have been a whole lot thinner. A sincere thank you as well to journalist Brian McKernan for allowing me to quote from his interviews with Superman scribe Edward Langley and actor-announcer Jackson Beck; he also proofed the radio section of my manuscript and made several excellent observations. I’m also deeply appreciative of Dave Goldin’s website, www.radiogoldindex.com, as it enabled me to glean a few plot details for episodes that I was unable to actually hear for myself. Michael Henry of the Library of American Broadcasting, University of Maryland, College Park, was enormously helpful with both photographs and guidance in navigating his library’s vast holdings. Thank you, Michael.

For the television series, as previously mentioned, Gary Grossman was the pioneer. Others who followed in his footsteps with invaluable contributions include Paul Mandell (chronicler of the special effects and music cues), Tom Weaver and Jan Alan Henderson (interviews in Starlog, Filmfax and other publications), Larry Thomas Ward (biographer of Noel Neill) and every single contributor to The Adventures Continue, with special thanks to Dr. Don Rhoden for creating it and Jim Nolt for publishing it and setting up the website. A second thank you goes to Mr. Nolt for proofing the TV section of my manuscript; a third thank you for providing some of the photos herein. Chuck Harter’s vast photographic collection is the source of many choice images in the TV section, for which I’m extremely grateful.

Those who directly helped me set the record straight for Superman on radio: Fred Berney, Mark Bush, Doug Douglass, Jack French, Martin Grams Jr., Jerry Haendiges, Elizabeth McLeod, Terry Salomonson, Fred Shay, Charlie Summers, Derek Tague and Anthony Tollin. Those who unselfishly lent a hand with information pertaining to the TV series: Jim Beaver, Serena Enger, Kerry Gammill, Chuck Harter, Lou Koza, John McElwee, David Orbach and Stephanie Shayne Parkin. I am deeply indebted to you all.

Profound thanks must go to Jeff Flannery of the Library of Congress, who coordinated the retrieval of all those TV scripts from what was apparently a very convoluted warehouse.

Thank you to Bruce Dettman, Ken Field and Randy Story, who also proofed sections of the manuscript and kept me honest, both historically and grammatically. And sincere thanks to my publisher, Ben Ohmart, for agreeing to take this on in the midst of an economic downturn.

An extra-special, super thank you to Randy Garrett, artist extraordinaire, for his wonderful cover.

Finally, I thank my mother (who watched Adventures of Superman weekly while I was in the womb!) and father for raising me; my wife and four children for believing in me; my God and Savior for loving me.

This book shatters a few long-standing myths surrounding Superman on the air and the men who put him there. Any and all errors contained in the following pages are my own; please feel free to contact me about them, or to ask any questions that I’ve inadvertently failed to answer, or (hopefully) to say, “Nice job.” I can be reached at [email protected], or by writing in care of the publisher.

Michael J. Hayde

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, about the time their creation, Superman, was debuting on radio.

Prologue

“Gentlemen, I give you…Superman!”

Superman isn’t going away anytime soon.

The Man of Steel thrives, outlasting flagging comic magazine sales, mediocre box office returns, dwindling Nielsen ratings and repeated attempts to give him a makeover. His owners kill him off, and he refuses to stay dead. He’s still the consummate superhero; the most recognizable comic book character of all time and one of American literature’s most famous creations. How did that happen? This book will answer that question.

Presumably everybody knows the Superman story: the scientist’s son sent to Earth in a test rocket minutes before his home world, Krypton, exploded into fragments; found and raised by the Kents (their first names vary in the telling), a farmer and his wife, in the heart of Middle America. The boy, taught to use his “strange powers and abilities” for the good of mankind, grows into adulthood and gets a job as reporter for a major newspaper in the biggest city of them all: Metropolis. As the newspaperman, he seems timid, nervous around women — particularly the paper’s star reporter, Lois Lane — but remains on the alert for any danger or wrongdoing. When an emergency does arise, he secretly sheds his disguise and becomes Superman: “a character like Samson, Hercules and all the strong men I ever heard tell of rolled into one. Only more so,” in the words of one of his two creators. A man of action, strength and speed with only one weakness: prolonged exposure to kryptonite, the radioactive fragments of his native planet.

Only slightly less familiar is the story of how writer Jerome Siegel, quoted above, and artist Joseph Shuster came to create the Man of Tomorrow. The two were teenagers in Glenville, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, and attended Glenville High School. Siegel was a writer and editor for the school newspaper, the Glenville Torch, while Shuster contributed artwork. Both boys were better dreamers than scholars, consumers of pulp fiction magazines and devotees of all things sci-fi. In 1932, Siegel conceived of his own “fanzine,” entitled Science Fiction; one of its subscribers was a Bronx youth who, in adulthood, would influence Superman for both comics and television: Mortimer Weisinger. Science Fiction’s third issue contained a story, illustrated by Shuster, about a bald megalomaniac whose plans to enslave the world unfold in “The Reign of the Superman.”

One summer’s evening circa 1934, Siegel had his vision of a hero above and beyond all others, and raced over to Shuster’s house the next day to work it out. Together the pair created the triad that has stood for 70 years: Superman, the costumed figure of fantastic abilities; his timid, milquetoast alter-ego whose name was derived from two of the movies’ most dashing, handsome leading men: Clark Gable and Kent Taylor; Lois Lane, the ambitious reporter bewitched by the disinterested Superman, with little or no regard for the pining Clark Kent. “Metropolis” was taken from the 1926 film of the same name, directed by Fritz Lang. (Lang would unknowingly abet Superman lore a second time some years later.)

The two young men intended Superman to be a newspaper strip: they would submit examples to syndicates, which would reject them, whereupon they would retool and try again. Meanwhile, the duo eked out a living with commercial work (mainly greeting cards and advertisements), plus one-page strips for New Fun Comics, the brainchild of National-Allied Publications’ founder, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. New Fun is considered the first wholly original comic book, although it was tabloid-sized and its pages printed in black and white. Nicholson’s plan was for National-Allied to provide a forum for new strips that could be sold to newspaper syndicates.

Siegel and Shuster had been contributing to National-Allied almost since its inception in 1935, and even submitted Superman to the Major, but the organization, perpetually on financially shaky ground, was never able to follow through. When two of Nicholson’s editors quit for lack of steady compensation, he replaced them with a pair of cartoonists: Vincent Sullivan and Frederick W. Ellsworth. Ellsworth, too, left after a few months, but Sullivan was still there when, in 1936, Major Nicholson sold National-Allied to his publisher-distributor, Harry Donenfeld, who’d made a fortune by not underestimating the public’s thirst for gory, sadistic detective tales decorated with buxom, near-naked cover girls.

Donenfeld stood five-foot-one, but what he lacked in size he made up for in sheer nerve. He entered the pulp fiction field with titles such as Hot Stories and Gay Parisienne; with the profits from these he bought-out smaller firms and acquired their titles, like Spicy Stories and a “nudie” magazine, Pep. But the sex-laden tales and images within gave his organization, Eastern News, a reputation for obscenity; Donenfeld himself was, for a time, considered a pornographer. When he set up a new business, Independent News Company, he slightly de-emphasized sex in favor of blood-and-guts. Now Spicy Stories became Spicy-Adventure Stories. But America’s self-appointed moral guardians saw little difference ‘twixt the two and they always managed to get voters stirred up at election time. Donenfeld’s business manager, a sharp accountant named Jacob S. (Jack) Liebowitz, urged his boss to find something respectable upon which to hang their hats.

When Independent News took over National-Allied, Liebowitz saw to it that debts were made good and paychecks were regular. New Adventure Comics joined New Fun on the stands. In 1937 Vin Sullivan created a third title, Detective Comics, which would be in four colors, sized at half-tabloid, with its pages stapled in place. More significantly, stories would run for thirteen pages, nearly three-times longer than those in New Adventure. Siegel and Shuster contributed a two-fisted private dick named Slam Bradley to the mix, and Detective Comics was successful enough to become National-Allied’s new business name, shortened to “DC Incorporated.”

Sales kept increasing, and late in the year Donenfeld bought the Major out entirely and let Sullivan know he wanted a fourth title. Thus was born Action Comics, and — unbeknownst to them — Siegel and Shuster’s “baby” was about to find a home.

Sullivan sent word to his friend, editor Sheldon Meyer of the McClure Newspaper Syndicate, that he needed material for his new title. McClure was run by Maxwell Charles Gaines, who’d created the earliest comic books by reprinting Sunday comic strips and selling them as premiums to companies such as Procter & Gamble and Kinney Shoes. Gaines had rejected Superman three times before, and was about to do so again when Meyer intervened and sent it to Sullivan. Meyer loved the whole concept, Sullivan was non-committal and Donenfeld thought it was “ridiculous,” but Action Comics needed action, and Superman was certainly active. Sullivan asked Jerry and Joe to rework their strips into a thirteen-page story.

What happened next has been labeled an injustice greater than any the Man of Steel ever fought, but was standard operating procedure then and for years to come. Siegel and Shuster sold their first Superman tale for $130 — ten bucks per page — and Jack Liebowitz saw to it that the deal included a release form. “It is customary for all our contributors to release all rights to us,” Liebowitz explained to the duo, which remained true up to the 1970’s. They’d signed an identical deal with Slam Bradley, but this was different: both creators already suspected that licensing prospects, should Superman prove successful, could be astronomic. Yet a brace of rejection slips reminded them they had nowhere else to turn. Siegel philosophized, “At least this way we’ll see him in print,” and with two strokes of a pen, he and his partner surrendered ownership of the concept and characters. To DC, Superman would become the mother lode: a bonanza of profits from magazine sales and licensing; a character that in fiction could destroy an army but in real life built an industry. To his creators, though, he was simply a work-for-hire.

The four years it had taken Siegel and Shuster to sell Superman were nothing compared to the forty they subsequently spent trying to get him back. After one failed litigation attempt after another, the two eventually turned to the court of public opinion. Finally, Jerry and Joe were granted a pension-for-life — $20,000 per year each, plus medical benefits — in 1978, the year of the multi-million dollar Superman: The Movie.

But we’re getting ahead of the tale. In 1939, Siegel and Shuster were DC employees, in the first of a 10-year contract, earning a fairly comfortable $15 per page, plus extra for a Superman newspaper strip that had begun in January (although Donenfeld received 10% of their earnings for this as a “commission,” on top of the 40% of the strip syndicate’s net that he’d negotiated for the rights). Thanks to overwhelming reader demand, the character continued to star in the monthly Action Comics, and in June he received his own 64-page Superman magazine. The issue, which mostly reprinted the previous year’s Action stories, sold a million-and-a-quarter copies, and went from a quarterly to bi-monthly title within a year.

Donenfeld’s “ridiculous” character was rapidly commanding attention from other media, and he created a separate entity to license ancillary rights, christened “Superman, Incorporated.” This action would eventually do more for the Man of Steel than any Action comic. While ostensibly created for merchandising purposes, Superman Inc. would ultimately bring a flat, four-color, pen-and-ink creation to vivid life in the ears and eyes of America, changing forever the lives of four men in the process: two writers and two actors.

Three of these men were born in 1908 and raised in New York; two in Brooklyn, one in Manhattan. The fourth was born in 1914 and raised in Pasadena, a suburb of Los Angeles County. The two writers were 10 months apart in age and grew up within five miles of each other. Both came to DC straight from the pulp fiction field, and both achieved career milestones in 1940 — one as editorial director of all the company’s titles, the other as the writer-producer of a thrice-weekly radio program starring Superman. One would succeed the other as producer of a Superman television series.

The two actors would each portray the characters of Superman and Clark Kent for about a decade; one audibly on radio and for cartoons in over 2,000 separate performances, the other visibly in a feature film, a public service short, a few television guest appearances and 104 Superman TV episodes. Neither man particularly desired the job, but each was considered the best among all who auditioned for it. Both died young, but one lived just long enough to understand and appreciate the American cultural icon he’d portrayed and the millions of lives he’d touched… and one, tragically, did not.

All things being equal, Superman likely owes his existence today to these four men, for they operated in the most universal of media: radio and television. At their peak, comic magazines never reached an audience equal to the lowest-rated radio series, and the only 1930’s comic strip characters you’ll find in 21st-century newspapers are those that, like Superman, successfully transitioned to other media: Dick Tracy, Blondie, Popeye. Phrases that characterize the Man of Steel — “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands,” etc. — either originated or were popularized on the Superman radio show and carried over to a television version that would define the character for over a quarter-century. Had Superman on radio failed to capture a mass audience, there would have been no Superman cartoons, no Superman movie serials, no novels, no TV series, no feature film franchise… and the Superman comic books would probably have perished.

This book, then, is dedicated to those four gentlemen, who were each given Superman and instructed to make him real, and whose names were Robert Maxwell Joffe, Frederick Whitney Ellsworth, Clayton Johnson Heermance, Jr. and George Keefer Brewer.

In the words of Superman radio announcer George Lowther: “And now to our story!” For there’s action, adventure and mystery ahead!

Act I

Radio

Chapter 1

The Making of Robert Maxwell

For those of the Jewish faith in 1886, Russia was about the worst possible place to live.

Throughout the previous five years, Tsar Alexander III portrayed Jews as “Christ-Killers” who’d masterminded the death of Alexander II; in 1882 he enacted what would be known as the “May Laws,” supposedly temporary restrictions for Russian Jews that ended up lasting until the 1917 Marxist revolution. Jews were banned from any town with a population of less than ten thousand, and had to adhere to strict quotas, severely limiting their education and employment opportunities. Elliot Rosenberg, in his book But Were They Good for the Jews? wrote, “Alexander III did not simply seek to make life more difficult for Jews in his domain; he intended to make it impossible. (His) regime expected one-third of Russia’s Jews to emigrate, one-third to accept (Christian) baptism, and one-third to perish.” During the years the May Laws were in effect, two million Jews left the Russian Empire; over half of them settling in America.

Among the 1886 wave was a seven-year-old who would be known in the United States as Maxwell Samuel Joffe. Along with older brother David and younger sister Hattie, Maxwell settled in Pennsylvania. In 1892, David married and within four years had moved to Washington Township, Missouri, where he ran a dry goods business. By 1900, Maxwell and Hattie had joined him there, both working as clerks in their brother’s store. But Maxwell set his sights higher than his elder brother. America had its own issues with anti-Semitism, but there were cities where Jewish enclaves were large, where success could be measured by how far your talents and ambition would take you.

Not long after turning 21, Maxwell Joffe moved to New York City, enrolled in the Hebrew Technical Institute, followed by the New York College of Dentistry. He then set up practice in Brooklyn. Married in 1906, that same year he and his bride Anna Jaffe — a Russian Jew of German extraction who’d emigrated in 1895 — became naturalized citizens and took up residence in the Willamsburg district of Brooklyn. On January 31, 1908 their eldest child, Robert Maxwell Joffe, was born.

The man who would reverse his middle- and surnames for professional life grew up in fairly opulent surroundings; the Joffe family even had a live-in servant by 1910. Shortly thereafter, with the Williamsburg Bridge making their neighborhood more congested and lower class, the family moved southward into Bedford-Stuyvesant. In 1913, Dr. Joffe co-chaired a medical-dental committee that brought about free clinics in Brooklyn public schools, and was also a founder of the Kings County Dental Society; his wife became president of the Society’s Women’s League. With both parents feted for their accomplishments, young Robert learned early that with social activism comes recognition. He also acquired the sense of entitlement that often curses children of the affluent, especially the eldest (siblings Seymour and Rose were born in 1910 and 1916, respectively).

As Dr. Joffe’s practice grew, so did his family’s homes; between 1918-30, Maxwell, Anna and their three offspring moved to two successively larger structures in upscale Flatbush, always making room for his brother’s and sister’s children and their families when needed. In 1930, 22-year-old Robert was still living with his parents; employed by a music publisher, the Federal Census shows his occupation as “songwriter.” By the following year, however, he was contributing short, risqué stories, with such titles as “Bought and Paid For” and “He Had Push,” to the lurid pulps under the pen name “Bob Maxwell.” The Brooklyn Business Directory of 1933 lists him as an “author,” obscuring the specifics of his literary interests — although his music contacts reportedly helped get his foot in the door as a radio scribe. Compiling additional pseudonyms such as “Jack Keene” and even “Claire Kennedy,” Robert eventually wound up contributing to Harry Donenfeld’s dubious line. Donenfeld clearly enjoyed the young man’s work, and was especially impressed that he handled the blood-and-guts as capably as the sex stuff. ‘Bob Maxwell’ was invited along when Donenfeld established his “brain trust” for Superman, Incorporated.

Superman historians have showered Robert J. Maxwell with accolades through the years. Posterity has miraculously credited him for single-handedly envisioning the “gritty greatness” of the Man of Steel’s first TV season. They are called “the Maxwell episodes,” with a built-in assumption that writers and directors, not to mention a co-producer, were merely doing his bidding. Set the cheers aside, though, and you won’t find much detail about the man. Query enough colleagues, and one might conclude Maxwell was a superior businessman who was in over his head; a solid story constructionist incapable of communicating to his writers; a good friend who could be pushy, egomaniacal, stubborn, sadistic — even dishonest. Probably all of these were true at one time or another, but — when combined — they are less than a whole.

His personal life was as enigmatic as himself; we don’t know when or how he met his three brides, nor when or why the first two marriages ended (although one co-worker believed Maxwell’s “catting around” cost him at least one marriage). His first wife, Jessica Fielding (daughter of a Russian-Jewish immigrant), became his collaborator and business partner in both radio and television production. He had no children until he was in his late fifties, when he became stepfather to two boys upon his final marriage. Yet he’d worked exclusively on radio and TV shows directed toward children and their families for over two decades.

Maxwell had all the right qualifications to be a success: a loving, supportive family, his father’s example of hard work and dedication, the exposure to social justice from both parents. By leaving their respective homelands, in which they could not likely survive, his parents gave him an opportunity to thrive. No doubt he saw himself in Siegel & Shuster’s creation, which in turn fueled Donenfeld’s trust. As the saying goes, he was the right man, in the right place, at the right time. For all the acclaim he has received for his work on the TV series, his greatest contribution to Superman lore isn’t limited to producing twenty-six films. Robert Maxwell’s legacy is that, for both radio and television, he assembled the best available talent and provided them with the tools needed to produce work that gave Superman an immediate yet lasting impact upon millions who would never so much as glance at a comic book.

Producer Robert Maxwell (left) and DC Comics President Harry Donenfeld (right), July 1951.

One of the homes in which Robert Maxwell Joffe spent his boyhood: 755 Kenmore Street (now E. 21st Street), Brooklyn NY. Photo courtesy of Doug Douglass.

Chapter 2

“The Whole Idea Embarrassed Me.” — Enter ‘Bud’ Collyer

Maxwell’s initial responsibility was to oversee the licensing of ancillary rights to the new comic hero. Toys and other children’s products were inevitable, but Donenfeld suspected there were bigger fish to fry and had engaged the George Evans publicity organization. They, in turn, assigned Allen B. Ducovny to work with Maxwell.

Ducovny, born in 1911 and raised in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, originally thought he would become a doctor. While in high school, he discovered he had a gift for public speaking, and considered a career in law. That proved no more obtainable than the medical profession, “so I did the next best thing to cutting my throat,” he recalled in 1947. “I became a press agent.” Ducovny also tried his hand as newspaper reporter, actor and ad agency copywriter before settling on a career as freelance publicist five years prior to his assignment at Superman, Inc.

With a daily newspaper strip already in place, Maxwell and Ducovny realized the next logical outlet for mass saturation was radio. The two pooled their talents and wrote up at least four scripts for audition purposes. The first dealt with “The Baby from Krypton” (whose parents, Jor-L and Lara, had been introduced in the first newspaper strip continuity) being placed in an experimental rocket and sent toward Earth. To introduce their star, Maxwell and Ducovny collaborated on a special opening:

Narrator: Boys and girls, your attention please! The ‘Blank Corporation’ presents a brand-new radio program, featuring the thrilling adventures of an amazing and incredible personality! Faster than an airplane! More powerful than a locomotive! Impervious to bullets!

Male: Up in the sky — look!

Female: It’s a giant bird!

Male: It’s an airplane!

Male: It’s Superman!

Narrator: Superman! A being no larger than an ordinary man, but possessed of powers and abilities never before realized on Earth. Able to leap into the air an eighth of a mile in a single bound, hurdle a twenty-story building with ease, race a high-powered bullet to its target, lift tremendous weights, and rend solid steel in his bare hands as though it were paper. Superman! Strange visitor from a distant planet. Champion of the oppressed! Physical marvel extraordinare, who has sworn to devote his existence on Earth to helping those in need.

“We had a lot of fun writing that opening,” Ducovny recalled years later. “It was a typical radio action piece that fully utilized sound effects.” Actually, a strikingly similar narrative had appeared in the daily newspaper strip written by Jerry Siegel. The introduction would be reworked several times over the years. On the other hand, the dialogue contained in Jor-L’s speech to Krypton’s Governing Council would be used again and again throughout the run of the radio show, whenever Maxwell felt the origin story needed retelling, and much of it would turn up in the first television episode, “Superman on Earth”:

“Members of the Council: I’ve completed my solar calculations. And, much as I dread uttering these words, I have come to the conclusion that Krypton is doomed! The sun is gradually drawing Krypton closer to it! Within a month — possibly only a week — the gravitational pull will be so tremendous, that Krypton will not be able to weather the strain. And then, our planet will explode like a giant bubble, destroying every living thing on it!”

The Council, whose members are alternately amused or annoyed, loudly rejects Jor-L’s assertion. But Krypton’s brilliant young scientist is not cowed: “Laugh if you might, Ro-Zan! And you, members of the Council! I have no time to laugh! My wife Lara and my infant son are dear to me. It is not my wish to stand by and see them destroyed. Laugh, all of you! But a time will come — and that time is perhaps very close at hand — when you will wish you had heeded the words of Jor-L. Now, you think me a fool. But remember what I have said, gentlemen, when Krypton is shattered into a thousand million stars! When the glorious civilization we have built is no more! When you, and your families, are swept from the face of Krypton like dust!”

The planet’s final fate comes only moments later, just after Jor-L and Lara send their son on his way to Earth. The second episode picks up the story as a fully-grown (and costumed) Kal-L emerges from the rocket and rescues a kindly doctor and his son trapped on a runaway trolley. In turn, they advise him to pose as an ordinary man and get a reporter’s job at “a great metropolitan daily,” where he can observe the best — and worst — of humanity. Two additional scripts introduced a second storyline: Clark Kent (working for “Paris White” of the Daily Flash) is sent to a Virginia Navy Yard to investigate threatened sabotage of a new submarine by a mysterious figure known as “The Shark.”

The next problem facing Maxwell and Ducovny was in concocting a sound effect that sounded like a man soaring through the air (Superman couldn’t yet fly — he could only leap — but an audience still needed to hear it). Reportedly this kept them scratching their heads for several months, until in desperation they resorted to a hand-operated — and not very convincing — metal wind machine.

At some point during the latter half of 1939, all four scripts were performed and transcribed (pre-recorded radio programs were called “transcriptions” in the industry). The studios of World Broadcasting System were booked, and actors signed. Julian Noa, a 30-year stage veteran who’d been on various radio soap operas since 1934, played Paris White, Ro-Zan (leader of Krypton’s Governing Council) and a few secondary parts. The remaining performers were culled from the cast of Terry & the Pirates, another comic strip series transcribed at World Broadcasting: Ned Wever (Jor-L and “The Shark”), Agnes Moorehead (Lara), Frances Chaney (“Miss Lane,” a switchboard operator!) and Clayton Collyer as Superman and Kent.

Collyer was talked into auditioning for the role, then turned it down after reading the scripts. Playing Terry’s sidekick, Pat Ryan, was one thing; portraying a fantastic space alien was quite another. “He was afraid it would hurt his career as a serious actor,” Ducovny told writer Anthony Tollin. “There was no question in our minds that he was the only actor for the job. No one else’s audition even came close. Collyer’s reading perfectly created the essence of Superman’s dual identity.” Without him, Ducovny and Maxwell reasoned, they might have to hire two actors for the job.

Collyer later recalled, “I fought with Bob Maxwell… I said, ‘This is not for me.’ The whole idea embarrassed me.” To keep the actor he wanted, Maxwell — not for the only time in his career — lied. “He said, ‘Well, just audition and we’ll use you all in some parts if it goes on the air,’” remembered Collyer. “Well it did… and we came in and he said (to me), ‘You’re Superman!’ I again took the scripts, handed them to him and tried to walk out and get out of the show. I really fought to unload it right then and there!”

Somehow Maxwell convinced Collyer to stick around. A few historians have speculated that the actor insisted on not being billed as a condition for accepting the job, but this is untrue. To begin with, Collyer was named in publicity and trade reviews, which meant his peers knew he was Superman from the start. Additionally, TIME magazine ran an article about the series in its February 26 issue and identified him as the titular star, so the general public was equally aware. Finally, despite not receiving billing on the program itself (no one did, throughout the transcribed series), Collyer never denied his part in the proceedings.

So why did he capitulate? Collyer never gave a reason, but perhaps he simply looked back at his heritage, dwelled on a decision he’d made four years earlier, and reluctantly concluded that “the show must go on.”

“The very first thing that I ever did (on radio) was in 1932,” recalled Clayton ‘Bud’ Collyer thirty-four years after the fact. “The work I was doing then [was] singing and acting, to pay my way through law school.” The choice of education came from the young man’s decision to follow in his father’s footsteps; the choice of work was in his blood, dating back to the mid-nineteenth century when his grandfather, Dan Collyer, trod the boards in Washington D.C. and New York City.

Daniel Collyer was born in Ireland in 1853, came to America the following year, eventually settled in Baltimore, Maryland, pursued the actor’s trade in childhood and in the early 1870’s became a blackface comedian, as did so many others during that era. According to historian Elizabeth McLeod, “Blackface was sort of a default clown mask for telegraphing to an audience that the performer was supposed to be funny, regardless of the type of material he did.” The fledging comic actor married a Maryland girl, Amelia Thompson, around the same time, and in 1875 their eldest daughter, Carolina, was born.

By 1883, Collyer and his family were living in New York City, where theatres seemingly grew on trees (and where two more children, Amelia and Daniel Jr., would be born). Impresario Edward Harrigan booked Collyer for his stock company in August 1885; the comedian also joined up with famed Lew Dockstader’s Minstrels. He also found time to write sketches, one of which was reviewed in the New York Times in 1888: “One of the funniest things of the minstrel season is the sketch, ‘Our Watch Dog’s Thanksgiving Dinner,’ in which Dan Collyer, the author, puts on a bulldog mask, a collar and chain, gets into a kennel and performs extraordinary antics.”

Within the next decade, Collyer would find a niche in the legitimate theatre, essaying character roles (albeit still in blackface) in several dramatic plays and drawing-room comedies. In 1896, Carolina — calling herself Carrie Collyer — would join her father on stage in one, A Florida Enchantment, which the New York Times labeled “a silly and vulgar play.” By 1900, Carrie would be working as an artist’s model and continue to dabble in acting, while her father dealt with the decline of blackface at the turn of the century. “The playwrights won’t provide burnt-cork characters as in the old days,” he lamented in early 1904; luckily Collyer continued working, with or without the makeup.

The previous year, Carolina had married a young lawyer, Clayton Johnson Heermance. He and his partner, Stephen Brooks, had set up practice in 1898 and were counsel for the American Fur Merchants Association. Upon her marriage, Carrie immediately left show business for life among New York’s elite society.

But show business didn’t remain outside the Heermance household for long. For one thing, Carrie’s father was still plying his wares on Broadway and in road companies, until he very nearly dropped dead on stage. Toward the end of March 1918, while appearing in Chicago, Dan Collyer was “stricken” (likely a heart attack) but, according to Variety, insisted on continuing in the play Leave it to Jane. He died there within a week, a sad ending to a 54-year career.

For another, there were the Heermance children. Born in August 1904, Clayton and Carrie’s eldest, Dorothea (named after Dorothea Brooks, Clayton’s partner’s wife), naturally became a prominent Manhattan debutante during the 1920’s. Motion picture director Allan Dwan, seeking a debutante type for his film East Side, West Side, convinced her father to allow her to audition. The dimpled 23-year-old Dorothea handily won the role, and in 1928 began a screen career under the name June Collyer, moving to Hollywood the following year. Youngest child Richard Heermance was also bitten by the movie bug, but found his niche behind the camera as an assistant director and editor. He too went to the West Coast; the 1930 census shows the 20-year-old rooming with his sister and her Swiss servant in Beverly Hills.

That left middle child and eldest son, Clayton Johnson Heermance Jr., born on June 18, 1908, who remained in New York, determined to emulate his father and practice law. From the exclusive Horace Mann High School for Boys, young Clayton progressed to Williams College, and then enrolled in Fordham University Law School. Having led a dance band while at Williams, he took a part-time singing job with CBS radio, which paid $85 per week.

Graduating from Fordham in 1933, Clayton rewarded himself with a European vacation, sailing to and from France on the U.S.S. Europa. Then he settled down to life as a clerk in a Manhattan law office, but grew bored — not to mention discouraged — by a salary that was a mere fraction of his earning power on the air. “I was working for a fast $15 a week and desk space,” Collyer recalled in a 1960 interview. By 1935, he’d made a decision to pursue a radio career, and Fox Movietone fashion editor Helen Claire recommended him for a series at NBC. As his sister had done, Clayton took his mother’s maiden name for professional life. When fellow performers began referring to the affable, outgoing Collyer as “Bud,” the nickname stuck.

“I figured I could always fall back on the law if my luck ran out,” he said in 1958, “so I did soap operas. As I became known as an actor, the singing jobs dropped off.” His early soap credits include Just Plain Bill (as Edgar Hudson), Life Can Be Beautiful (as Logan Smith), Pretty Kitty Kelly (as Michael Conway) The Man I Married (as Adam Waring) and Young Widder Brown (as Peter Turner). Collyer was also announcing Cavalcade of America and The Guiding Light, as well as playing Renfrew of the Mounted and Pat Ryan on Terry and the Pirates. There were varied roles in The March of Time, and even local programs such as Battle of the Boroughs. By the time of his 1939 Superman audition, Bud Collyer was pulling down close to $1,000 per week from steady jobs on all four networks.

Between broadcasts he’d managed, in April 1936, to marry model Heloise Law Green of Manhattan, with whom he fathered three children: Patricia, Cynthia and Michael. Off-mike, Collyer taught Sunday school at the High Ridge Methodist Church near his home in Pound Ridge, NY — but he wasn’t off-mike too frequently. Tune In magazine once detailed Collyer’s weekly routine in September 1946, a dizzying account of announcing, acting and recording, interspersed with mad dashes up and down network corridors, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. five days per week, with additional jobs on Friday and Saturday nights, plus an occasional Sunday.

As his grandfather had a half-century earlier, Bud made his way to the New York stage, but never forsook — nor even postponed — his radio career. When Collyer starred in George Abbott’s Angel Island at the National Theatre, he kept up his mike chores, prompting the producer to comment: “He’s energetic, I’ll say that for him. He never seems to be out of breath or tired; not a hair out of place. Maybe he’s solved the secret of perpetual motion without effort.” Fellow Superman regular Jackson Beck told Anthony Tollin, “I’m convinced he was damn near a genius. He had a marvelous facility: when he wasn’t on for three, four or five pages, he’d get up on the piano and… go into a deep sleep that lasted four or five minutes; somehow he always knew when his next cue was coming up. He always came back full of energy. That’s what Superman was supposed to do, I guess.”

It’s a cinch Collyer didn’t need Superman, and he certainly could get by without the sixty dollar ($20 per episode for three episodes, recorded back-to-back) weekly paycheck. Something compelled him to sign with Superman, Inc. Just possibly it was a small but persistent presence inside him — the ghost of old Dan Collyer, complete with bulldog mask, collar and chain, urging his grandson to lighten up and have a little fun.

It wasn’t too long before Collyer was doing just that, submitting his co-stars to “all the usual radio pranks, like setting your script on fire while you were on the air,” according to Jack Grimes, who worked with him on various shows, including Superman. Jackie Kelk, who portrayed Jimmy Olsen, recalled, “One time while I was reading my lines live on the air, he unbuckled my belt and let my pants down.” Poor Kelk: Collyer’s gag came at a moment when the observation room was packed with spectators from a studio tour.

Collyer was fully aware that Maxwell and Ducovny had considered using separate actors for Kent and Superman. Experience as a vocalist gave him the edge, recalling, “I played Clark Kent just a little bit higher to give myself somewhere to go with the ‘up, up and away!’” In the earliest episodes, Kent almost sounds like he’s speaking tenor; eventually the actor adjusted this to a believable level without sacrificing dramatic impact. When Collyer shifted registers between “This looks like a job… for Superman,” anyone sitting in front of their console whose eyes didn’t widen and skin didn’t break into gooseflesh was not paying attention. Broadcasting historian Jim Harmon summed it up in his book Radio Mystery and Adventure: “The difference between Kent and the Man of Steel was unmistakable, yet there was no doubt both voices came from one man. None of the many other people who have portrayed Superman in various media could duplicate this vocal duality.”

“[Superman] was great fun, and a great way to get out all your inhibitions real fast,” concluded Bud Collyer in 1966, adding, “Of course, it grew into a magnificent career-within-a-career.”

Clayton ‘Bud’ Collyer, enjoying the adventures of his comic-book counterpart, 1946. Photo courtesy of the Library of American Broadcasting, College Park, MD.

Chapter 3

The Selling of Superman

Maxwell and Ducovny peddled their recordings to the four networks: NBC Red and Blue, CBS and Mutual. All rejected the show almost instantaneously. The scripts were deemed too fantastic and horror-laced even for adolescents, much less grade-schoolers. The networks were also wary of the “Shark” storyline; its focus on military espionage and sophisticated weaponry was unsuitable for a nation officially neutral on what was then called the War in Europe.

With typical publicity-man know-how, Ducovny called on his advertising contacts and found an interested buyer: the Erwin, Wasey & Company ad agency, which was looking for a juvenile program for their client, Hecker’s Oat Cereal (interestingly, the first audition recording includes a mock promo for “Blank-O, that extra-rich, full-flavored breakfast food with a new taste thrill”). The agency shopped it to the networks, and got the same response as with Maxwell & Ducovny’s own pitch.

Undaunted, Erwin, Wasey decided to pay for transcriptions and purchase the time outright, if need be. Maxwell engaged George Ludlam to write additional episodes with himself and Ducovny, and Frank Chase — up to now an Erwin, Wasey sales representative — to direct. All parties agreed to drop the Navy submarine tale and to avoid war and espionage plots. The three writers expanded on a storyline that was only hinted at in audition #2: the disappearance of a western passenger locomotive by a saboteur known as “The Wolf” (although he was called simply “McCrea” in the original). The Child Study Association of America okayed the new scripts, and Hecker’s bought time on ten East Coast stations.

In the interim, Maxwell and his crew tinkered with Superman’s leap effect, combining the wind machine with two recordings: one of a 50-mph gale, the other (lifted from a newsreel soundtrack) of a bomb falling in the Spanish war. “The result was a gratifying ‘Who-o-o-sh,’ ” declared The Saturday Evening Post. In addition to renaming the villainous McCrea, editor “Paris White” became Perry White; his paper, the Daily Flash was now the Daily Planet, and “Miss Lane,” the switchboard girl, became Miss Smith. When Lois Lane made her first appearance, it would be as a full-fledged reporter, just as in Action Comics #1.

To draw attention to the premiere among the trade press, Hecker’s had a special Dunhill table flameless lighter made up, featuring a small statue of the Man of Steel. A limited number were produced and arrived without further advertising copy — the statue itself served as Hecker’s message.

Finally, Superman made its debut the week of Monday, February 12, 1940, over the following stations: WOR, New York City; WJAR, Providence; WBZ-WBZA, Boston-Springfield; WTIC, Hartford; WFBL, Syracuse; WGY, Schenectady; WGR, Buffalo; WGBI, Scranton; WCAU, Philadelphia, and the aptly named WHAM, Rochester. KFI in Los Angeles also began the series that week, albeit under different sponsorship. It aired on a thrice-weekly basis, usually Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Harry Donenfeld, in Cuba on premiere day, paid $230 to have the broadcast piped to Havana by special wire, a distance of 1,600 miles. Either Donenfeld wanted to hear for himself that the program aired without a hitch, or else nobody told him it was pre-recorded on disk and that he could listen anytime he wanted.

Variety’s “Odec” tuned in the first week: “Superman defies all measurements of realism, sanity or sense, but it is this very quality that’s likely to gather a goodly sized and staunch audience from among the very young kid listeners… The first three episodes are chock-full of inconsistencies and absurdities… but all this won’t have an untoward effect on the adolescent appetite. Frank Chase… does a capable job. George Ludlum (sic), the scriptist, seems overly afflicted with gangsteritis.”

Billboard’s reviewer, “Franken,” was overly afflicted with adverbitis: “It’s an utterly, completely, totally and absolutely incredible affair, making Tarzan, Orson Welles, The Shadow, Jimmie Valentine and Frank Merriwell look like absolute small-timers. Superman flies through the air, tears up battleships, stops airplanes in flight, drives through the walls of mines and stuff. It’s produced with tremendous sound effects, and every time Superman turns up the wind-tunnel gets a terrific workout.”

“The only thing that all concerned have to worry about,” opined Variety, “is whether the serial’s plots and hard-hitting level of excitement won’t incur a kickback from parent-teachers association or kindred groups. The chances are pretty much in the affirmative.” The article in TIME concurred: “Superman or no superman, he has to watch his step on the radio. Mothers’ clubs have their eyes on him…” On the other hand, Radio Daily called it “adventure and romance galore for the juvenile listener. Good stuff and not too much blood-and-thunder, although there is plenty of action.”

There was indeed. In these earliest episodes, Superman is a mysterious figure; an angel of might who seemingly appears out of nowhere, uses speed and brute strength to avert a tragedy or stop nefarious villains with names like “The Wolf” and “The Yellow Mask,” then vanishes without a trace. Clark Kent, mild-mannered but not excessively so, keeps trying to offer a logical explanation for his alter-ego’s fantastic feats; several weeks pass before anyone at the Daily Planet can even confirm the Man of Steel’s existence.

Lois Lane made her debut in the seventh episode, first in the “Yellow Mask” story arc. Concerned about what he believes is a bomb threat, Perry White introduces her to Clark, then quickly leaves the room. Lois wastes no time in setting the tone for their relationship:

Lois: The Boy Wonder, huh?

Clark: Why, Miss Lane, what do you mean?

Lois: They tell me you talked yourself into a job, went out west, and came back with the biggest story of the month — all in less than a week!

Clark: Well, I-I guess I was pretty lucky.

Lois: Huh! I’ll say you were lucky! Now you’re the white-haired boy, eh?

Clark: I’m afraid I don’t quite understand.

Lois: You’ve got the old man hypnotized. He thinks you’re Horace Greeley.

Clark: I’m afraid I don’t…

Lois: (sharply) Oh, don’t act so dumb! All this nonsense about a time bomb in the cellar! What’s the big idea?

Clark: Miss Lane, I only wish I knew.

Lois: You mean to tell me you didn’t make it up out of your head?

Clark: I certainly did not!

Lois: (sneering) I don’t believe it!

Rollie Bester, wife of Green Lantern writer Alfred Bester, portrayed Lois but only for three episodes. After a couple of weeks’ absence, Lois returned, voiced by Helen Choate, but this too didn’t last, and newcomer Joan Alexander took over the role. Alexander had studied acting with European instructor Benno Schneider, toured the continent, and was actually appearing in Vienna in 1938 when Hitler’s troops invaded. She returned to the United States and found work on Broadway in Jeremiah, Mr. Hamlet and Merrily We Roll Along. A brief Hollywood fling proved disappointing, and before 1939 was out, Alexander was back in New York. Her first radio job was in 1940, only weeks before her Superman debut.

But Maxwell didn’t care for Alexander and opted to hold auditions. “I was fired from the part about three months after I got it,” she recalled in 1966. “And Bud said, ‘If you’re going to audition other girls, let Joan audition back for her part.’” Maxwell dismissed the idea, so Alexander “auditioned blind and won it again.” After that, it was hers for the duration.

One surprising aspect of the early serial is Superman’s cavalier attitude toward the lives of his foes. To cite one example: in “Airplane Disasters at Bridger Field,” the evil Professor Hagen creates a machine which, by high-powered electric charge, causes planes to burst into flame while in flight. When Superman finally catches up to him, Hagen has directed his machine toward another aircraft — but the Man of Steel grabs it and aims it toward the professor and his frightened henchman, causing the cabin they’re in to crumble. Both Hagen and the henchman perish in the debris.

Nor does Superman think twice about grabbing a two-bit gunman and coercing an airborne confession. Take “Donelli’s Protection Racket,” the storyline that introduced a new character: 15-year-old copy boy Jimmy Olsen. While Perry, Lois and Jimmy are speeding toward a dynamite ambush in Perry’s car, Superman overpowers ‘Gyp’ Donelli’s trigger-happy sidekick, Spike:

Superman: Where’s Donelli?

Spike: I don’ know! I…!

Superman: All right, then, you’ll take a ride — up in the air! Up! Up!

Spike: Hey! Hey, put me down! What’re you doin’? He’s takin’ me up in the air! He ain’t human!

Superman: Two hundred feet up already, Spike. It’s a long way down! Where’s Donelli? Quick, or I’ll drop you!

Spike: No! No! He’s back down the road! He’s waitin’ for the car!

Superman: Whose car? White’s?

Spike: Yeah! Yeah! Look out!

Superman: I won’t let you go. What’s he gonna do? Quick!

Spike: I dunno! Honest I don’t!

Superman: All right, if that’s how you feel about it, so long, Spike!

Spike: (Screams)

Superman: There! How’d you like that?

Spike: Oh, please, please, don’t! Don’t!

Superman: You’re all right. I caught you — but I may not catch you the next time! It depends on how I feel. Now, what’s Donelli going to do? Last chance, Spike! Here you go!

Spike: No! No! I’ll talk! I’ll tell ya!

Whatever concerns Maxwell had about PTA “kickbacks” against Superman went unexpressed. In the end, he knew that his boss, Harry Donenfeld, ate this stuff up.

Hecker’s began shopping for a Baltimore-Washington DC outlet in early March; the Mutual station, WOL, became available on April 15. As the months became warmer, Hecker’s swapped out their hot oat cereal with Force Wheat Flakes, a distant third in popularity to General Mills’ Wheaties and Kellogg’s Pep. For a brief time, Superman helped close that gap in the East.

By early May, Superman had been purchased by other Erwin, Wasey clients outside of Hecker’s market. The Martin Gas & Oil Company bought it for station KOY in Phoenix Arizona, for 13 weeks. Other regional sponsors included White Belt Dairy (Miami), Rosefield Packing Company (San Francisco) and Dairyland Products (Fort Worth). Nor was the buying limited to the U.S. Cyma Watches in the Philippine Islands booked Superman, as did a group of 28 stations controlled by the All-Canada Radio Federation. On May 9, Ducovny resigned from the Evans publicity firm to work directly for Superman, Inc., overseeing regional sponsorship.

Ten weeks into the original run, the show was pulling an impressive 5.8 Crossley rating — the highest-rated thrice-weekly kid’s series on the air. In June, Superman was overtaking the five-times-daily programs in a few cities. The newspaper strip included a plug urging readers to “write your station to put Superman on in your city,” and the Erwin, Wasey Agency was agreeable to the idea of nationwide saturation on a daily basis — but Hecker’s, which had optioned the show for two years, was unwilling to give up the exposure Superman was bringing their products, even though they had no hope of expanding distribution enough to cover daily network sponsorship. In July, the cereal firm exercised their option to continue in the fall.

It was an irony that mirrored Siegel and Shuster’s situation. After being turned down by the networks, Superman, Inc. took the best possible deal to get the show on the air. Now that Superman was blowing away all comers, they were stuck with an agreement that wasn’t nearly as profitable as it could have been. Jerry and Joe would’ve been laughing up their sleeves, had they not been enduring repeated congratulations from friends and family for the successful show that must be making them filthy rich. By then they were earning $35 per page, plus 5% of all other Superman revenues, which included the radio series. It brought the two men a combined $75,000 per year — impressive, yet still a fraction of the $250,000 that Donenfeld alone was pocketing annually on their creation.

On July 24, Maxwell brought in veteran director Jack Johnstone to replace Frank Chase, who returned to regional sales. Johnstone was well equipped to write for and direct the Man of Tomorrow, having handled those chores for CBS’s Buck Rogers in the 25th Century during the 1930’s. He took the job concurrent with his duties as writer, producer and director of Who Knows, a ghost story series for Mutual, and Crime Doctor, a mystery series on CBS. Maxwell also beefed up the writers’ pool around this time, taking some of the burden off George Ludlam.

One of Donenfeld’s “spicy” scribes, Howard Wandrei, was approached to join the radio team, but had serious misgivings, related in a letter to his father: “This is a bad prospect, because Maxwell Joffe is hard to get along with, besides which he wants rewrite after rewrite and doesn’t know what he wants…. I know someone who tried working with him and gave up in disgust.” Wandrei went for an interview to an office littered with Superman merchandise (“funny toy guns, candy, gum, gadgets like cigar lighters…”), listened to one of the episodes (“Maxwell put a transcription on… and all the gentlemen departed in haste, leaving me to suffer alone”), thumbed through a few scripts and comic books (“the most depressing swindle of pure corn and hackneying in my experience”), and decided he could do better elsewhere.

The dramatics continued. Somehow Lois always seemed to encounter Superman just after she’d passed out, waking only to find Clark watching over her. But Jimmy Olsen, in a clear case of wish fulfillment for the target audience, gets a face-to-face encounter with the Man of Steel at the close of “Professor Thorpe’s Bathysphere.” Superman rescues Jimmy from a cave-in after an earthquake, just as an aftershock hits. When they emerge, the young copy boy is clearly stunned:

Superman: Jimmy… what’s the matter?

Jimmy: I’m the luckiest boy in the world!

Superman: What makes you say that?

Jimmy: Me — Jimmy Olsen, standing here talking to Superman! Gee! Do you always wear that red cape and the blue costume?

Superman: No, Jimmy — not always.

Jimmy: You mean sometimes you wear ordinary clothes, like other men?

Superman: That’s right.

Jimmy: Then who are you? What’s your real name?

Superman: I can’t tell you that now, Jimmy. But someday you may find out.

In this series, his real name is Superman. The narration constantly reminds us that Clark Kent is the disguise, and when the inevitable need for action arrives, he will quickly assume “his true identity.” Several narrators had been employed — usually from the pool of character actors portraying the heavies — but in October 1940, George Lowther, who also doubled as a staff writer, assumed the role and handled both responsibilities through the end of the syndicated series… and beyond, as we shall see.

Born in 1913, Lowther holds the distinction of being the very first page boy (at age 14) hired by NBC studios in New York, and thus one of the first to parlay the job into a broadcasting career. His flair for words led him to the network’s continuity department where he submitted scripts, and eventually joined the staffs of Dick Tracy and Terry and the Pirates. As narrator, Lowther had a voice of authority; as writer, his scripts were usually sharper than those of his colleagues, and he would eventually take charge of the Superman writing team. Not long after that, he would be entrusted with telling Superman’s life story in novel form. Edward Langley, who joined the writing staff in 1942, recalled that by then, “Lowther basically was Superman Incorporated.”

Erwin, Wasey kept tallying up regional sales, sometimes with outlandish promotions. When the Pittsburgh Milk Company bought the series for station KQV beginning October 6, station manager G.S. Wasser hired an airplane to drop 4,000 Superman balloons on the grounds of neighborhood schools on premiere day. In Los Angeles, Mutual’s KFI had dropped the show in May after 13 weeks, but NBC-Blue’s KECA picked up Superman and ran it 5-times a week, starting with episode #1 on October 21.

Meanwhile, Superman, Inc. scored a real coup: they sold Radio-Television Mirror magazine on publishing short-story versions of selected serial arcs. Each tale included two or three illustrations of key plot points, provided by DC Comics artists. Along with the obvious benefit of spurring listener demand for the program, the Mirror — a monthly periodical aimed directly at Mrs. American Housewife — helped create a distaff audience for the Man of Tomorrow. The novelizations appeared for 16 consecutive months, beginning with the January 1941 issue.

In February, Erwin, Wasey finally got Superman on in Chicago, courtesy of WGN and Horlick’s Malted Milk. But that didn’t stop Donenfeld’s brain trust from seeking a national sponsor, and they began discussions in earnest with the Ralston Company. It took Ralston about a month to opt for continuing their association with Tom Mix’s Straight Shooters on the Blue Network, and the search began anew.

By spring of 1941, Superman, Inc. possessed 195 transcribed episodes, representing two dozen story arcs and 65 weeks of thrice-weekly programming — or 39 weeks for those who wanted a Monday-through-Friday show. Cast and crew went on hiatus for about three months, while the home office stepped up its sales efforts. Placing full-page ads in the major trades that touted the Man of Steel as “TNT with a Crossley Rating,” the company went all-out to saturate the airwaves with Superman; if not with a national sponsor than for any regional buyer with the right offer.

In addition to listing the obvious benefits — cross-promotion with the comic books and newspaper strips, merchandising tie-ins, etc. — the ads pointed out that Superman would be appearing in “monthly Technicolor screen shorts by Paramount.” Superman, Inc. had been seeking a motion picture outlet for its hero about as long as the radio series had been airing. In 1940, Republic Pictures offered to produce a Superman live-action serial; the optimistic company even wrote a script and announced the production in its 1940-41 pressbook. But when Paramount — a more prestigious studio with wider distribution — proposed a monthly series of color cartoons to be produced by their renowned animation contractor Max Fleischer over a two-year period, Republic found itself handily outbid and outclassed. The B-factory hastily revised their serial script: it would become Mysterious Doctor Satan (1940), released in December.

Paramount literally handed Superman over to Fleischer Studios; producer Max and his director brother Dave had no say in the matter, although Dave managed to get Paramount to agree to a $65,000 budget per cartoon — an unheard-of figure at a time when even Walt Disney was spending half that on animated shorts. Almost immediately, the Fleischers faced up to the same challenges as the radio crew: how to make the sound effects realistic. In her syndicated “Star Dust” column, Virginia Vale wrote, “What kind of noise does a planet make when it explodes? Max Fleischer thinks it ought to be very, very loud; Dave Fleischer thinks it ought to be a combination of heavy gunfire, earthquake — and an apple breaking in two, much multiplied. Unless somebody thinks up something more satisfactory, the apple wins.”

At least they didn’t have to worry about voice talent: Collyer and Alexander agreed to perform the two leads, and Lowther would narrate an expository prologue. Jack Mercer, voice of the Fleischers’ Popeye, took the part of the villain in the initial stanza. Julian Noa was not called upon to enact the unnamed editor in the film, the role going instead to a relative newcomer, Jackson Beck, who would be taking over as Popeye’s chief nemesis, Bluto, in a couple of years. The cartoon series was Beck’s initial Superman assignment; there would be a much more important one to come.

In mid-August, recording began on a new series of transcriptions, designed to air on a Monday-through-Friday schedule. Although a national sponsor hadn’t yet been found, a few stations, such as KECA, were already airing Superman that way. The Los Angeles station would be among the first to run the new episodes, debuting on August 25. Meanwhile, other markets continued to sign up for the original series, “Superman Clubs” were formed around the show, and one local sponsor — the Liberty Baking Company in Pennsylvania — created Superman Bread, “the Modern Method of giving Your Family Additional Vitamins, plus Minerals, and Roughage.”

The first arc of the new season, “The Grayson Submarine,” was a rehash of the “Shark” storyline that had been rejected some 18 months earlier, and it transitioned into a second plot involving a mysterious German agent called “Dr. Deutch” and his attempts to obtain radium for the Fatherland. With Great Britain pounded by the Nazi blitz over the past year, the United States was officially compromising its neutrality by sending weapons and aid to our devastated ally. Anti-Hitler storytelling began creeping into film and radio earlier in the year. Maxwell, naturally, was eager for Superman to take on Nazism, especially since, according to the Saturday Evening Post, the Man of Steel was “banned wherever the swastika waves. Das Schwarze Korps, official newspaper of Hitler’s Elite Guards, took note of (Siegel and Shuster’s) Jewish blood.” No doubt Maxwell knew from his socially aware parents exactly what was happening to Jews in Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia.

The new episodes opened with:

Female: Look! Up in the sky!

Male: It’s a bird!

Male: It’s a plane!

Male: It’s Superman!

Narrator: Yes, it’s Superman! Strange visitor from the planet Krypton, who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman, who can leap tall buildings in a single bound, race a speeding bullet to its target, 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 and justice!

Max and Dave Fleischer, putting the finishing touches on their first Superman cartoon, took pieces of the new intro, tightened up the wording and added dramatic visuals. Superman would fly through space during the “Up in the sky” sequence; then after the titles, we’d see and hear the following:

A gun firing: “Faster than a speeding bullet!”

A train running along the track: “More powerful than a locomotive!”

Superman vaulting over a skyscraper: “Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!”

Fleischer house composer Sammy Timberg composed a winning theme for the cartoons, which he titled “Superman March.” Unlike Timberg’s previous success, “I’m Popeye the Sailor Man,” this piece did not have lyrics — but it didn’t need them; there was only one word that could possibly be sung to the triumphant melody.

The Fleischers’ first production, titled simply Superman, was released in mid-September; a handsomely animated ten minutes that recapped Superman’s origin, established Lois and Clark’s journalistic rivalry — as well as the girl reporter’s headstrong penchant for getting into trouble — and highlighted the Man of Steel’s superhuman strength in dramatic fashion. The short electrified audiences and exhibitors; one enterprising Kansas theater-owner advised his peers: “Wonderful cartooning and sure-fire box office for kids. Play up weak dates with this extra. It’s worth the extra dough.” The ultimate of kudos, an Oscar nomination, would follow. Although not everyone was thrilled with the subsequent series [, it was, for a time, Paramount’s most profitable short subject, even out-grossing _Popeye, and achieved that rarified (for cartoons, anyway) mark of box-office success: promotion space on theatre marquees.

The radio cast also moonlighted for a special holiday recording: “Superman’s Christmas Adventure,” released by Decca Records in November, in an album consisting of three 78-rpm disks (which, combined, would have roughly equaled the length of a single radio episode). The recording was credited to the “SUPERMAN PLAYERS, Under Direction of Jack Johnstone.”

Around this time, Maxwell dipped back to his songwriter past and composed with Freddie Fisher a little novelty ditty entitled “Superman.” The tune was recorded by Fisher and the Schnickelfritz Band on November 11, 1941. Released by Decca the following year, disk and sheet music did modest business (strangely, the disk label claims the song is “From Paramount’s Cartoon ‘Superman’” — which it certainly isn’t). Fisher’s group was something of a second-tier version of Spike Jones’ City Slickers, and Fisher himself would leave the music business in 1952. His recording of “Superman” would receive its greatest exposure as a staple of the Dr. Demento radio show of the 1970’s and ‘80’s, included whenever the Doctor assembled a set of superhero tunes. A sample verse:

Su-per-man, Su-per-man, the guy with the ter-rif-ic muscle;

Su-per-man, Su-per-man, his blood is one big red cor-puscle;

Su-per-man, Su-per-man, he’s always in per-fect con-dition;

No sniffles, no sneezes, no germs, no diseases;

What a man! What a man! What a man!

Maybe so in the comics, but by the time the song was released, radio listeners had discovered Superman could contract laryngitis.

American neutrality officially ended on December 8. The day President Roosevelt committed the U.S. to the war, the Superman cast and crew were recording the first five installments of the “Pan-American Highway” arc. Poor Bud Collyer had gone to the transcription sessions almost completely hoarse, having broadcast news about Pearl Harbor and its aftermath almost non-stop during the previous 24 hours. The same task was hastily added to the scripts to explain Clark Kent’s raspy condition.

The radio series officially made its own way into popular culture with a reference in the Humphrey Bogart film All Through the Night (1942), filmed the previous autumn and released in January. Bogart plays ‘Gloves’ Donahue, leader of a New York City gambling ring with a doting Irish mother (Jane Darwell) and a heart of gold, who stumbles across “a nest of fifth-columnists… spies to you!” They’re Nazis, of course, led by Franz Ebbing (Conrad Veidt), and they frame Donahue for murder. At one point, as Donahue tries to convince a skeptical police lieutenant (James Burke) of the gang and its plans for sabotage, he gets a sarcastic retort: “You’re scarin’ me. Sounds like the next installment of Superman. My kids’ll enjoy this!”

The final arc, “A Mystery for Superman,” began with Lois Lane’s disappearance from a train, followed by mysterious phone calls from her and Perry White, each demanding that Clark bring money to a certain address. After the second request, Kent checks out the location and finds only a theatrical boarding house. Then Lois turns up at the office innocently claiming to have never made such a call and professing ignorance to Kent’s questions. When Kent double-checks the drop-point for the money and finds the interior changed and a completely different party living there, he’s almost convinced he’s going crazy. When he returns to the office, Lois is now claiming that she was kidnapped, had escaped only a half-hour before, and was now seeing him for the first time in two days! It all turns out to be an elaborate, five-part practical joke: in order to “celebrate” the end of Kent’s second year with the Daily Planet, Lois and Perry created a mystery so convoluted that even he couldn’t figure it out. The episodes aired during the final week of February 1942 — almost exactly the two-year anniversary of the series.

With that, production ceased. Superman, Inc. had 325 episodes — a minimum of sixty-five weeks’ worth — to peddle to various markets/sponsors, who kept signing on; by this time they were airing on 85 stations. As late as June 1942, Procter & Gamble bought the series for Atlanta, Georgia and Tulsa, Oklahoma. But Maxwell was certain a network would want Superman in its lineup; to him the transcriptions were simply proof-of-concept.

Then, in mid-year, the Mutual Broadcasting System found itself minus two of its prime properties, The Lone Ranger and Jack Armstrong. Both programs were sponsored by General Mills, and when the Blue Network (which would become the American Broadcasting Company two years later) outbid Mutual on both, the cereal company readily accepted. The masked man departed suddenly in May; fortunately MBS had Red Ryder standing by. Armstrong would be switching stations in August, and Mutual decided it would counter the All-American Boy with the Man of Steel; to be broadcast live, Monday through Friday, originating from the New York studios of WOR.

Maxwell had successfully guided Superman into big-time radio. Now he intended to do it for himself.

The earliest newspaper advertisement for the Superman radio series, February 1940.

A trade ad for the first 65 transcriptions, mid-1940. The Republic serial referenced was cancelled in favor of a better deal with Paramount-Max Fleischer.

Throughout 1940-42, Superman was sold to various sponsors, including eastern Pennsylvania’s Stroehmann’s Bread in November 1941 (and still in business as of 2009).

Upon completion of the first season of transcriptions, Superman Inc. published this dynamic trade ad, which spurred additional sale

Voiced by members of the radio cast, the first Max Fleischer cartoon, Superman (1941), was considered a bigger draw than the feature!

Chapter 4

1942-45: The American Way

Maxwell had been trying for over a year to sell another radio series; in mid-1942, he succeeded. Along with acquiring The Lone Ranger and Jack Armstrong, the ambitious Blue Network, determined to challenge Mutual’s supremacy in daily children’s radio, purchased Maxwell’s Hop Harrigan, “America’s Ace of the Airways.” With two shows on the air, the producer was no longer a “one-hit wonder” and officially formed his own company: Robert Maxwell Associates — which must have surprised Jack Liebowitz, considering Maxwell was still a Superman, Inc. employee.

Hop Harrigan, a young adventurous pilot, was the star of All-American Comics, the flagship title of the same-named publishing company that Maxwell Gaines formed with a little financial help from Donenfeld. All-American Publishers would eventually give birth to Wonder Woman, The Flash and The Green Lantern before merging with DC in 1946. Harrigan appeared in All-American’s first issue dated April 1939, and the young aviator and his mechanic, Tank Tinker, appeared regularly in this and in support of The Flash until 1948.

There was precedent for aviation heroes on radio: The Air Adventures of Jimmie Allen had been on since 1933, Captain Midnight scored a major success from its debut in 1938, and Kellogg’s cereals enjoyed a two-season run with Howie Wing. All were created, whole or in part, by aviation ace Willfred Moore, who teamed with his Jimmie Allen/Captain Midnight collaborator, Robert Burtt, to work on Hop Harrigan. In June 1941, Maxwell had advertised a transcribed version in the trades, but there had been no takers and it’s unlikely that production ever took place save for a couple of auditions.

With the sale to the Blue, Maxwell engaged Chester Stratton for the lead, Ken Lynch as Tank, Mitzi Gould as Hop’s girlfriend Gail Nolan and Glenn Riggs as the announcer. The network scheduled Hop Harrigan for 5:15 p.m. as a lead-in for Jack Armstrong, which would be going head-to-head with the Man of Steel on Mutual. Both series started the same day: Monday, August 31.

A new series with a new title — it was now the Adventures of Superman — needed a new opening. Lifted from the Fleischer cartoons was the prelude:

Narrator: Faster than a speeding bullet! (Sound of gunshot)

More powerful than a locomotive! (Sound of train)

Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! (Flying sound)

Male: Look! Up in the sky!

Male: It’s a bird!

Female: It’s a plane!

Male: It’s Superman!

Narrator: Yes, it’s Superman! Strange visitor from another world, 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!

This wasn’t too far removed from the previous version, but it’s the one that took; the one to which Maxwell would return when writing his first television script. One of the key contributors was a writer that came aboard near the end of the transcribed series, Olga Druce. A theatre major who attended the Max Reinhardt School of Theatre in pre-war Germany, Druce appeared on Broadway in Judgement Day and Moon Over Mulberry Street in 1934-35. She also took up child psychology at the New York School of Social Research and the Washington School of Psychiatry. After the U.S. entered the war, she became co-chairman of the American Theatre Wing Committee for Youth in War-Time, and turned to writing.

Maxwell gave Druce her entry into radio. “I was hired originally by the Superman people to clean it up, because it was too racist, too violent, and parents were objecting,” Druce told editor Jeff Kisseloff for his book The Box: An Oral History of Television. “I was the one who wrote: ‘fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way.’” With a laugh, she added, “I’m not proud of that!” Then again, how often does one make a lasting contribution to the pop culture lexicon?

Writer-announcer George Lowther took over as director, replacing Jack Johnstone, who couldn’t commit to a live daily show. Lowther, who’d written the Adventures of Superman novel during the down time between the two series, continued to pen scripts but needed all the help he could get. Toward the end of 1942, he’d taken on another new scribe: Edward Langley. In an interview with journalist Brian McKernan, Langley recalled, “Bud Collyer was an old family friend and we’d get together once in a while for lunch. I was an actor, doing jobs on Broadway, and I asked, ‘What’s with Superman? Is there anything I can do over there?’ And Collyer said, ‘Not as an actor, but you could write it; they’re desperate for writers.’ And I asked, ‘Who do I see?’ and he said, ‘George Lowther.’

“George was a very funny guy, about five-foot-ten with a big black moustache, which was unusual in those days. And George said, ‘Can you think of a ten-day — that’s a two-week — installment of Superman?’ And I said, ‘I think so.’ He said, ‘Can you come back sometime fairly soon with an outline for a ten-installment script?’ And I said ‘I think I can.’ And he said, ‘Well, get it back to me as soon as you can.’

“I went home and I had a hot flash. I was 19 or 20 years old — you’re creative at that age — and I had remembered a thing I’d read somewhere that there is supposed to be a place in the South Pacific ‘way down below Australia called the ‘Dead Low.’ It’s an island of lost ships where ships that lose their power are driven by currents that culminate and form in this place and they can’t get out. My first adventure is about Superman getting on a ship that is carrying armaments to Hawaii that gets caught in a typhoon and drifts helplessly into the Dead Low. That went on for ten days.

“When Lowther said it to me, I went right home and I wrote it and I got back to him just as he was getting on the elevator at WOR and I said, ‘Here’s the outline.’ And he said, ‘By Christ, that’s the fastest outline I’ve ever seen!’ So I got the job. The salary was $60 a day in an era when people lived on $25 a week. I was a wealthy man.” Langley’s story arc, “Island of Lost Ships,” aired the following February.

Rescuing an armaments shipment wasn’t Superman’s only contribution to the war effort. From day one, in its press releases, MBS made known what its 202 affiliates could expect each weekday afternoon: “The Man of Steel, who outleaps and outfights Tarzan; outsleuths Nick Carter and whose gallantry outshines Sir Galahad’s will be primarily concerned with putting his ‘super-strength’ to work to beat the Axis as he gives his ‘live’ broadcasts over Mutual Network Stations.”

Indeed, as with practically every other radio drama, the War provided plenty of nefarious activity on Adventures of Superman. After the first two episodes re-told the origin story (with the significant addition of young Kal-El being raised by farm couple Sarah and Eben Kent), the Man of Steel’s first serial challenge, locating and thwarting “the Wolfe,” scourge of the railroad, was retold. But this time, the Wolfe is a Nazi and the trains he sabotages are carrying U.S. troops.

And after that? The Planet staffers head to Europe and Africa, where they deal with Hitler’s disciples head-on. Back home, Japanese spies steal a secret formula for a deadly explosive. After Superman dispatches that threat, he thwarts a Nazi plan to disrupt the U.S. Merchant Marines with a “haunted” ship. Wrapped around all of this intrigue were public service announcements imploring listeners to purchase U.S. War Stamps and Bonds, Mutual having given the commercial spots over to the Treasury Department. “Buy a stamp every time you have a dime” was the motto, which must have caused some consternation among Superman’s publishers, as they had eyes on a few dimes themselves.

But the worry was short-lived: it took less than four months for the Adventures of Superman to line up a sponsor. The Kenyon & Eckhardt advertising agency introduced Kellogg’s cereals to the Man of Tomorrow, beginning with the first episode of the New Year. The deal was signed during the second week of December. Company and agency moved slowly; opting to sponsor the first thirteen weeks over 33 stations of the Don Lee Pacific network, then — assuming everyone was happy — extending to the full Mutual base.

Founded in 1906, the W.K. Kellogg Company of Battle Creek, Michigan, pretty much invented the concept of breakfast cereal produced from whole grains such as corn, wheat and rice, and served with cold milk, sugar and/or fruit. Toasted Corn Flakes came first, followed by All Bran in 1916, Pep Wheat Flakes in 1923 and Rice Krispies in 1928, among many others. The company debuted as a radio advertiser in 1930, with its Kellogg’s Slumber Hour program, but soon discovered the benefits of children’s fare. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century was first, in 1932, followed by Howie Wing and Don Winslow of the Navy in 1938 and Tom Mix in 1939. The latter had switched to Hot Ralston by the time Kellogg’s Pep signed on with Superman. It was the start of a long (and occasionally stormy) relationship between Kellogg’s and Superman, Inc.

One of the first requests the company made was for a change in time slot. Evidently Kellogg’s was wary about having a Pep program compete head-on with a Wheaties program, especially one that was still number one among kids. Mutual obliged and moved Superman to 5:45 p.m., opposite the Blue’s more vulnerable Captain Midnight and its plugs for Ovaltine.

As time passed, Kellogg’s would also oversee a softening of the “blood-and-guts” approach that had defined the syndicated version. No longer would the Man of Steel observe the deaths of his enemies without at least trying to rescue them. Comedy relief would become more prevalent, particularly in the character of Perry White. As the editor dealt with his copy boy’s incompetence, or Lois Lane’s temper, or Clark Kent’s miraculous ability to appear immediately upon being asked, even if, just minutes earlier, he’d been half-a-world away, Julian Noa added a blustery stammer for comic effect, punctuated with the obligatory phrase, “Great Caesar’s Ghost!”

Most of the early story arcs under Kellogg’s have vanished; only a mere handful of individual episodes survive, barely, in such poor quality that they can be a strain on the ears. The bulk of the plots, as before, focus on wartime themes, with titles such as “The Civil Air Patrol,” “The Ghost Squadron,” “The New German Weapon” and “German Submarine Menace.” The earliest Kellogg’s arc, “The Tin Man,” introduced a new villain, The Vulture, as he plots to steal a mechanical man and sell it to Japanese saboteurs. Another new character, Perry White’s pilot nephew Chris White, debuts in “Mr. Prim and the Dragonfly Adventure.” Chris tests an experimental dive-bomber called the Dragonfly, which, according to the editor, will be “in use against the Axis in a very short time… a very short time!”

Only one arc in 1943 managed to transcend its era: “The Meteor from Krypton.” Debuting on June 3, it marked the debut of kryptonite — the radioactive element from Superman’s home world that could rob him of all strength and eventually bring about his death. As yet, kryptonite had not appeared in any of the comic books. In August 1940, Jerry Siegel wrote and submitted a 26-page story called “The K-Metal from Krypton” concerning a meteor that temporarily robbed Superman of his powers and transferred them to ordinary Earthlings. But editor Whitney Ellsworth rejected the story, because at a crucial juncture Clark Kent is forced to reveal his true identity in order to save Lois Lane, forever changing the dynamic between them. Kryptonite in its recognizable form didn’t appear in print until 1949.

The radio arc established the template for all future uses of the mysterious metal. Kent is interviewing Dr. John Whistler, head of the astrophysical division of the Metropolis Museum. Dr. Whistler is showing the reporter a strange green meteorite, when Kent suddenly collapses. “As he came within five feet of the mass of metal, which glowed like a green diamond,” Lowther told us, “he suddenly felt weak, as if all his strength had been drained from him. Several experiences of this kind convinced him that here was an enemy far more deadly than anything human.” Moreover, as Kent collapsed, he muttered the word “Krypton,” which had no meaning to him once he came to. Determined to find the answer, Superman sets up a meeting with Dr. Whistler.

The doctor explains how he had studied the planet Krypton through the museum’s giant telescope thirty years earlier. As the Man of Steel approaches the meteorite, he becomes disoriented and has visions of “a city — such a city as you would think never existed! There are great walls and tall towers, encrusted with jewels that gleam and sparkle… Doctor, it’s all coming back to me now. This city — it’s Krypton!” He also remembers his parents, and their fate — the events that sent him to Earth.

“I am in your debt, Dr. Whistler. I know now, for the first time, who I really am, where I came from.” Superman asks the scientist to destroy the meteorite, “in the name of those thousands to whom my miraculous powers have been of some help — in the name of the thousands to whom it may still be of some help.” Dr. Whistler refuses, stating his belief that this is an important discovery: “Analysis of this piece of kryptonite may lead to the discovery of how to give Earth dwellers your strength and power.” However, the doctor promises, for the duration of the war, to keep the meteorite locked in his private vault, “which will not, cannot be opened until my death — except by myself alone.”

One of the most persistent Superman legends is that kryptonite was created so Bud Collyer could take a vacation. Presumably the Man of Steel would remain exposed to the deadly element for several days, and any male voice could moan and groan while other characters carried the story. That may have turned out to be a fringe benefit much later, but this introductory arc lasted only 7 days and Collyer was present for all of them. Lowther, who scripted the tale, had been given access to the Superman reference files at DC for his novel and no doubt read the rejected “K-Metal” story. At this early stage in Superman’s career, the use of a force that could render the hero utterly powerless was consciously avoided. Since Superman’s life isn’t threatened — the meteorite never leaves the doctor’s custody — it’s likely that Lowther’s primary intent was to create a means for Superman to discover his own origin. But there’s no doubt that the writer deliberately opened a door for future peril, in Dr. Whistler’s prophetic words that his vault “will not, cannot be opened until my death.”

Collyer was now a bona-fide celebrity among Superman’s target audience. Although still not billed on the air, it was never any secret that he was radio’s Man of Tomorrow. TIME profiled him at the start of the network series, noting that, since he took over as “superintendent of an interdenominational Sunday school in Manhasset, N.Y. … attendance has increased from 700 to 1,250. At first, some children expected him to work miracles before their eyes. Now they understand that Clayton is not the real Superman — he merely plays him.” Outside of the Sunday school, Collyer was more vulnerable. Children would often ask him to lift cars and buildings; once, at a War Bond rally in Brooklyn, two young boys were eyeing him suspiciously, until one of them proclaimed, “He don’t look so super to me!” Then, loudly to Collyer, “G’waann… make like a big boid!”

One gig the actor lost during this time was that of Superman’s voice for the Fleischer cartoons. The Fleischer brothers themselves also lost the series and their animation studio. Based on some spurious contract language, Paramount simply assumed ownership of the Fleischers’ business in mid-1942, changing its name to Famous Studios. They subsequently cut the budget for the expensive Superman series; the cartoons became more formulaic (as did everything else at Famous), audiences lost interest and exhibitors refused to book them. The series was discontinued in 1943.

As the program moved into the 1943-44 season, the Man of Steel continued to aid the war effort in such tales as “Military Espionage” and “Stolen War Information.” Lowther, though, was reaching the burnout point, even as Superman, Inc. used his workload for a May 1943 publicity blurb: “Radio’s ‘master of all trades,’ George Lowther, who directs, writes, narrates and acts on Superman, is fast becoming known along radio row as the Orson Welles of the radio juvenile shows. As if doing all these things on Mutual’s Superman were not enough, Lowther also directs several shows for the U. S. Army, Marines and Red Cross. In his spare time, he writes plays.”

Finally, Maxwell took narration off Lowther’s plate and handed it to Jackson Beck, who had played a character called “Alfredo the Gaucho” on the syndicated series, and of late had been Tank Tinker on Hop Harrigan, until he was fired after a run-in with director Jessica Maxwell: “[She] had two passengers riding in a one-seater plane,” Beck told writer Anthony Tollin. “I warned her that the kids who listened to the show… would know better. She ignored my advice and went ahead with the script, then fired me when the kids’ letters started pouring in.” Beck made his debut as Superman’s narrator on October 14, 1943, the opening episode of “The New German Weapon.”

Born in 1912, the five-foot-three, 185-pound, outspoken New York elevator operator became radio’s quintessential tough guy, then one of its preeminent announcers and commercial spokesmen. Beck debuted on radio not long after radio itself: from impersonating movie gangster Edward G. Robinson as a teen, to the role of Paul Hargate on Myrt and Marge in 1931, to comedies such as The Milton Berle Show, to soaps like A Woman of America, to Josef Stalin (among others) on The March of Time, to the lead in The Cisco Kid, with practically everything in between.

Beck also helped establish AFRA, the American Federation of Radio Artists, in 1936. Eddie Cantor led the charge, along with Edward Arnold, Jean Hersholt, Lawrence Tibbett and Jay Jostyn. “Our first negotiation and settlement was with CBS, which always was a classy network,” Beck recalled. “CBS was in favor of the union because it did what a union always does: it took a chaotic business and stabilized it.” Cantor became AFRA’s first president, an office Bud Collyer would also hold one day.

Always hungering for work — he placed a trade ad every Friday in Radio Daily for years — Beck soon realized that “the character man comes and goes, but the announcer is there every day. And I figured, ‘What am I doing [acting]? Everybody knows I can do it, and if they want me to do it, I’ll do it — but I want to be there every damn day. I started insinuating myself into announcing situations and auditioning for them.” It wasn’t quite that easy, as he told author Leonard Maltin: “When I was a child and grew up in New York, I didn’t know the letter ‘r’ was in the alphabet. And when I found it was necessary to… emphasize the r, that’s when I started to make a buck.”

Lowther’s narration had been limited to the beginning and end of each episode. The characters, usually through the use of monologues, explained any transitions or plot developments. With Jackson Beck’s arrival, narration gradually became more important: Superman could stop talking about what he needed to do, and why, and just get on with it — once Beck had set the scene. As director Allan Ducovny told Anthony Tollin, “Jackson’s forceful narrative delivery blended with Collyer’s performance to bring Superman’s exciting exploits to life, perhaps even more strongly than in the original comic strips.” In addition to narration, Beck became proficient at portraying tertiary characters essential to advancing the plot — sometimes up to four per episode!

Mutual plugged the new season with the following release: “Time hasn’t dimmed the powers of Superman. The series devoted to the exploits of radio’s most amazing miracle man is heard at 5:45 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Thriving on the excitement of the program, now devoted to ‘defeating the axis’ are the four principals, Clayton Collyer, Joan Alexander, Julian Noa, and Jackie Kelk, all of whom have chalked up long-term runs with Superman. Both Collyer, who plays Superman, and theatricalite Julian Noa, who plays newspaperman Perry White, have been in the series since it started, while Joan Alexander and Jackie Kelk remain unimpaired by the perils they meet in the respective roles of Lois Lane and the copy boy.”

As 1944 began, Alexander took on a political cause. The previous December, Congress failed to pass the Green-Lucas Bill, which would have ensured full, unrestricted federal supervision of soldier voting. The bill had been defeated by Republicans and Southern Democrats, both fearful of a fourth term for the progressive President Roosevelt, in the name of State’s Rights. A sanitized version of the bill was in the works, but Northern Democrats were sponsoring the Scanlon Bill, which was a carbon copy of the Green-Lucas original. An organization called “The Soldier Vote Committee of the Entertainment Industry,” for which Alexander was named acting chairman, was formed to push for the Scanlon Bill. On January 10, the organization published a plea to ordinary citizens to contact their senators and representatives, and “tell them to support and vote for legislation providing complete federal supervision of soldier voting. Tell them that in all fairness it MUST PASS to preserve the American Way.”

The ad was funded by over 600 personalities: Hollywood stars such as Rita Hayworth, Groucho and Harpo Marx, Orson Welles and Edward G. Robinson; theatre performers Helen Hayes, Zero Mostel and members of the Oklahoma!, Rosalinda, Ziegfeld Follies and Winged Victory companies (the latter of which included a staff sergeant named George Reeves); writers Julius and Philip Epstein, S.J. Perelmen, and Moss Hart; musicians Jerome Kern, Lyn Murray, Woody Guthrie and members of the Columbia Symphony Orchestra; and radio folk like Kenny Baker, Arlene Francis, Milton Berle, Gertrude Berg, Alan Reed, Dinah Shore and Barry Wood. Bob and Jessica Maxwell added their names, as did Jackson Beck. Unfortunately, the Scanlon Bill went nowhere as the now-gutted Green-Lucas Bill — which guaranteed federal supervision only when states failed to provide ballots, and which didn’t interfere with the south’s Jim Crow laws — passed in February. For this, and other efforts on behalf of the American Way, several celebrities named in the ad would one day have to endure the scrutiny of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

As the season progressed, a couple of storylines from the transcription era were recycled: “Lighthouse Point Smugglers” returned in February 1944, this time with Nazis in on the plot, while June’s “The North Woods Story” recalled 1941’s “The White Plague” and “Fur Smuggling.” More new characters were introduced, such as Lois Lane’s younger sister Diana, accused of theft in “The Mystery of the $10,000 Stamp.” And eventually, Jimmy Olsen worked his way up to cub reporter, necessitating a new copy boy: Beanie Martin, voiced by the ever-versatile Beck.

Actually, Beanie existed for a different reason, according to Jackie Kelk: “Jimmy… never appeared on the show more than four times a week, since I had a full day rehearsal for The Aldrich Family on Thursdays.” Kelk portrayed Henry Aldrich’s best friend, Homer Brown, for the duration of that series’ radio run. “The writers took care of my absence on Thursdays by… having other characters refer to him, or replacing him for the broadcast with Beanie Martin.”

Kelk was born in Brooklyn in 1923 and educated at the Professional Children’s School in New York. He made his stage debut at age eight in the Broadway production of Bridal Wise with Madge Kennedy. After a second show, Goodbye Again, Kelk took a flyer at Hollywood, where he was cast by 20th Century-Fox in Born to Be Bad (1934) with Cary Grant and Loretta Young. He’d already logged plenty of film experience at Vitaphone in Brooklyn, playing Georgie Bassett, the pal of Penrod Schofield (Billy Hayes) in a series of Penrod comedy shorts. But the movie capital held little appeal for Kelk; when Broadway beckoned, the youngster returned to the Big Apple for Jubliee.

Shortly after that play closed, Kelk entered radio as Fannie Brice’s son Irving (or “Oyving”) in the serial The Cohens. A few turns as the ‘child wiseacre’ with Eddie Cantor, Bert Lahr, Fred Allen and Jack Benny led to such roles as Terry in Terry and the Pirates, Ned in The Chase Twins and Bob Putnam in Wings Over America — plus, of course, The Aldrich Family’s Homer. “When I studied for the part,” he once recalled, “there were more than 100 other fellows ahead of me. It looked so hopeless, I thought I might as well have some fun.” Using a squeaky voice that, as one journalist put it, “sounds like a rusty pogo-stick,” Kelk won the part, and kept it. “I’ve gone through six Henry’s since I’ve been with the program,” he said in 1951, “four on radio and two on television. Not bad for a little guy!”

A few juvenile actors had been tried in the role, but by the second season of transcriptions, Kelk had become the permanent Jimmy Olsen. Over the radio years, the character would grow into a capable young man, intelligent yet somewhat headstrong; maybe too eager to impress his co-workers, yet accepting of the danger that comes with the territory. Jimmy’s fondness for “Mr. Kent” offsets Lois Lane’s utter disdain, but despite ascending from copy boy to cub reporter, he retains his youthful awe of Superman.

The start of the 1944-45 season saw the U.S. — and Superman — still at war with the Axis powers. A Nazi named “Der Teufel” (literally, “the Devil”) made his debut that September, threatening Lois and Jimmy with an atomic-powered weapon in “Der Teufel’s Atomic Pistol.” The villain would return the following season as a major player in the Man of Steel’s most famous — and possibly greatest — challenge on radio. By this time, Lowther had moved on to greener pastures; Maxwell handed the directorial reigns over to his original collaborator, Allen Ducovny.

Curiously, the week after the “Atomic Pistol” arc concluded, Mutual returned Superman to the 5:30 p.m. slot opposite Jack Armstrong, even though the previous season’s Hoopers showed the Man of Steel had absconded with a half-point’s worth of Captain Midnight’s audience. The move, however, was temporary; three months later, in January 1945, the show shifted again, this time to 5:15 p.m., opposite the Blue’s Tootsie Roll-funded Dick Tracy. There Superman would remain, eventually sending the venerable detective’s chewy chocolate sponsor packing.

The new season included another revival from the early days: “Dr. Roebling and the Voice Machine,” the incredible transmitting device that can receive voices of long-dead persons. The Kellogg’s version is missing, so it’s unknown if the threat against the doctor and his invention is his greedy nephew as before (and later, when the arc was again revived), or — in keeping with the changes made to other old storylines — the work of an Axis scheme.

As the war began winding down, plots leaning heavily on Nazis and “Japs” dissipated, leaving the staff scratching for new ideas. In an arc that is completely lost, Superman has an adventure on “Planet Utopia.” A recurring character, the Utopian Poco, presumably made his debut in this storyline; he would make periodic appearances over the next few years, dragging Clark and Jimmy into all sorts of cosmic — and occasionally comic — adventures.

Around this time, Maxwell created a new character, Inspector Henderson, who existed primarily so that Superman would have a liaison with the Metropolis Police Department, lest reactionary parents’ groups accuse him of being a vigilante. On radio, Henderson was usually too officious for his own good, and never seemed to accept the possibility that Clark Kent knew more about a case than he did, no matter how many times he’d been proven wrong in the past. Consequently, there was little or no friendship between them; Kent addressed Henderson as “Inspector,” as did Superman. In a late 1949 episode, Henderson’s first name is “Charles,” still later it would become “William.” The role was deemed so minor that several actors played it over the years, among them Mason Adams, Earl George and Maurice Tarplin. Not until television did Henderson become a steady and welcome presence in Superman’s life.

The week of February 26 introduced two familiar comic strip characters to the airwaves: Batman and Robin. In the story, Robin is discovered unconscious in a boat several miles to sea, suffering from a minor bullet wound. Lois and Jimmy are the first to reach him, although they are unaware of his identity. As they are about to reach his craft, they are rammed by a speedboat and left to drown. Superman rescues them, and realizes just who the costumed boy is. Eventually he learns that Batman is being held hostage by the mysterious wax men; Robin and Clark Kent work together to trace the Caped Crusader.

The Bat-Man, as he was originally known, debuted in 1939 in Detective Comics #27. Robin, the Boy Wonder came along eleven issues later; the two were eventually termed “The Dynamic Duo.” Created for DC by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, in his earliest appearances, Batman acted similar to The Shadow in that he generally emerged from the darkness intent on scaring his underworld prey half to death. For a time, he even carried a gun. But with the addition of Robin, the character became more youth-friendly and sales increased. Batman’s popularity soon approached that of the Man of Steel, and he was quickly given his own quarterly (then bi-monthly) title, followed by a daily newspaper strip. In 1941, Superman and Batman became the stars of a third DC title, World’s Finest Comics, but they appeared in separate stories until 1954. It was radio that first brought them together.

Maxwell took a few liberties with Batman and Robin for the airwaves. The pair, in their identities of Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, seems to live and operate in Metropolis, as opposed to Gotham City. In a few years, the two would turn up practically in every other story arc, and they — more so than kryptonite — would give Bud Collyer an occasional respite. Superman simply turned one aspect of an especially difficult case over to the Dynamic Duo, and the action focused on them exclusively for several days.

Based on the earliest surviving episodes, Stacy Harris — later to become the star of This is Your F.B.I. and Jack Webb’s favorite heavy — was the first to portray the Caped Crusader. Through the following year, he and Matt Crowley — radio’s former Jungle Jim and future Mark Trail — would play the role, with Crowley assuming it permanently once Harris moved to the West Coast. Ronald Liss was the one and only portrayer of Robin.

Batman and Robin never had their own radio series, despite two auditions. The first, reportedly in 1943, was for a 15-minute serial and survives today only as a pilot script, “The Case of the Drowning Seal.” Scott Douglas portrayed “the Batman” (so addressed in the script); no one remembers who played Robin. The second audition, The Batman Mystery Club, exists (the 30-minute disc is dated September 1950), with Liss as Robin opposite Richard Devon as Batman. The format mirrored Mutual’s highly acclaimed House of Mystery, with ghost and monster stories related during meetings of the titular club, all logically explained by episode’s end. By that time, though, juvenile radio was in its twilight. Attempts to bring the pair to television during the 1950’s never went past the talking stage. Not until 1966 did the Caped Crusader and his young companion hit the big time of broadcasting — and then, depending on your point of view, it was either the making or the ruin of them.

But all that was two decades down the road; for now, the Dynamic Duo were a welcome recurrence on Superman, and they would play an important role in the Man of Steel’s longest, most influential adventure, which began with the new season on Monday, September 24, 1945.

Over its first three days, Clark Kent learns that Dr. Whistler has died, and he frets about the eventual fate of the kryptonite. Needing to take someone into his confidence — not to mention the fact that they witnessed his terror-stricken reaction to the news of Whistler’s death — he decides to tell Lois and Perry the truth about Superman’s origin (including a flashback on Krypton with Jor-El, Lara and the Council), and about the kryptonite in the Doctor’s safe and the danger it poses, while skillfully avoiding the revelation of his true identity. The result, though, is a disaster: the two don’t really believe Kent, and publish what they’re sure is a fairy tale simply to sell papers. In fact, nobody believes Kent — not his co-workers, not Inspector Henderson, no one. They’re all convinced that nothing can harm Superman, and maintain this belief for several weeks — during which at one point, Lois attempts to have Kent committed for insanity — until future disastrous events prove them wrong.

These events are put into motion when the Scarlet Widow, having read the Planet’s story, has her henchmen steal the kryptonite from Whistler’s safe. She has it cut into four pieces, contacts four of Superman’s greatest enemies — The Vulture, The Laugher, ‘Papa’ Rausch and Der Teufel — and offers to sell a slice to each of them. Her price: one million dollars per. They all agree to terms and set a trap for the Man of Steel, but Der Teufel double-crosses the Scarlet Widow by stealing his piece. The Nazi, whose love of atomic power was already well established, has designs on the clearly radioactive element for another fission expedition.

One of the kryptonite pieces puts Superman out of action just long enough to give Bud Collyer a four-day weekend. Once rescued, he seeks out a physicist, Dr. Milliken, and asks him to create a defense against the element. Meanwhile, the Scarlet Widow offers a $200,000 reward for Der Teufel, who is back in Germany boasting to the Nazi Underground that he “will succeed where Hitler failed” with his new idea. Certain that kryptonite is purer than uranium, once its atoms are split, he will introduce them into an ordinary German soldier, creating an Atom Man: a walking, breathing, living weapon of mass destruction.

Der Teufel’s theory proves correct, and Heinrich Milch, the young Nazi soldier, becomes the deadly creation: “You need only turn the switch on the converter, and such power will flow from your gloved fingers that Superman will be destroyed!” At Teufel’s direction, Milch assumes an American name, Henry Miller, goes to Metropolis and gets a job on the Planet. It isn’t long before Kent, encountering Miller, becomes weakened at the sight of him. Predictably, the novice Miller puts two-and-two together faster than any prize-winning journalist on the Planet staff… and the titanic battle is joined. What followed was the most gripping six weeks in Superman’s radio career.

“Henry Miller,” alias the Atom Man, was portrayed by Mason Adams, radio’s Pepper Young, who later claimed, “I had the time of my life! I’d already played interesting parts on other shows, but never had I played a part as juicy as this one. I mean, this guy was baaaaad! For sheer unadulterated acting joy, there is nothing in the world to compare with playing a carefully crafted, deeply evil, totally depraved bad guy.”

According to historian Anthony Tollin, “the Man of Steel’s battle against the deadly Atom Man remains the benchmark for thrills and epic adventure in the history of radio’s juvenile thrillers.” The storyline proved its influence when Superman finally came to movie screens in live action later in the decade. “The Scarlet Widow” arc fueled the initial serial, Superman (1948), while the subsequent “Atom Man” episodes led to 1950’s Atom Man vs. Superman.

Even after Atom Man’s demise, following a climactic battle depicted over two episodes, the threat wasn’t ended. There were still pieces of kryptonite floating around Metropolis, so Superman called on Batman and Robin for help. The only way he knew how to reach them, though, was to pay a visit as Clark Kent to Bruce Wayne and reveal his true identity. Considering he’d known theirs for nearly a year, this was only fair; even so, the information was curiously withheld from Robin. Naturally the Dynamic Duo took the case, enabling Collyer to have a few more days off. All told, the search took another five weeks, yet ended unsuccessfully as one piece — the Laugher’s — managed to slip away. But we wouldn’t find that out for more than a year, long after the last of the “Looking for Kryptonite” arc wrapped up on January 8, 1946.

Recalling the entire saga over a year later, Bud Collyer concluded, “That sure was a wild run.” The question was: how could it possibly be topped? Certainly the arc that immediately followed, a mystery in which Lois, Jimmy and Perry are tormented by a talking cat, must have been a letdown to its audience. As it turned out, though, the brains behind Superman were toiling on a new direction for the series. Their work began even before Der Teufel had split the atoms within his chunk of kryptonite, and took much longer than anticipated to complete, but what finally emerged in mid-April was a challenge eminently worthy of the Man of Tomorrow.

Harry Donenfeld (left) welcomes Bud Collyer and Joan Alexander to the Mutual Broadcasting System, 1942.

In 1941, Bob Maxwell tried to initiate a Hop Harrigan series. The concept didn’t sell for over a year.

Jackie Kelk, radio’s Jimmy Olsen (complete with bow tie). Photo courtesy of the Library of American Broadcasting, College Park, MD.

A 1945 newspaper advertisement.

Chapter 5

1946-47: Operation Intolerance

“Every bit of Pep and Rice Krispies is tolerant.” — Robert Maxwell, 1946

Radio and Television News, April 12, 1946: “In statements released by W.H. Vanderploeg, president, the Kellogg Company of Battle Creek, and W.B. Lewis, vice president and radio director, Kenyon & Eckhardt Inc., agency for the Kellogg Company, plans were revealed for an experiment in the field of children’s programs to be put into effect beginning April 16, on the Superman series, sponsored by Kellogg, via Mutual network of 194 stations, Monday through Friday, 5:15-5:30 p.m. For the first time on a sponsored show of this type, appearing to millions of juveniles, the realistic problems facing our children will be dealt with in an entertaining, exciting presentation…”

Radio Daily, April 12, 1946: “Feeling that ‘now is the time for a forward step’ in children’s radio programs, sponsor and agency execs are beaming a direct approach to the problems now facing youngsters in their schools and clubs, and often at home. Considering that radio is one of the most important mediums in education, they feel that the audience will be strongly affected by the Superman series as it exemplifies a ‘thoroughly American message of good brotherhood.’ Problems of all types will be handled ‘openly and honestly’ in an effort to impress the American viewpoint which will be espoused in the new series.”

The Billboard, April 13, 1946: “What the (series), in its revamped form is likely to determine, once and for all, is whether or not a radio program built on thrills and adventure and slanted at a vast juvenile audience, can hold that audience with scripts slanted on the educational angles of school behaviorism, democracy, tolerance, etc. Opinion differs on the matter, some of the best radio brains saying it can — and others saying it cannot — be done. Superman client-agency approach to the subject is predicated on the belief that the program, with its tremendous audience, is an ideal vehicle for such an experiment in [juvenile] education. Additionally, it is felt that with careful handling of the script the series will lose none of its excitement and youthful appeal.”

The New York Times, April 14, 1946: “Beginning this Tuesday, the format of the Superman episodes will be changed from straight ‘adventure’ into stories dealing with racial intolerance, school absenteeism and other problems of child behaviorism. The new series… is said to be of great interest to educators, religious leaders and organizations concerned with juvenile problems.”

In a May 1946 article for the trade publication Broadcasting, Kenyon & Eckhardt’s William B. Lewis described the beginnings of what he termed “Operation Intolerance”:

“When the subject… was first broached, it seemed a logical and fairly simple idea. Bob Maxwell… was most enthusiastic, for the idea was one which had long been a particular pet of his own. We brought the matter to the attention of the Kellogg Company, and recommended that the experiment — for experiment it is — be tried. W.H. Vanderploeg, president of Kellogg, concurred heartily, with the only stipulation that the program be kept as exciting as the series had been up to the time of change.

“So it was that October 1945, found Superman, Inc. and K&E looking for writers who could combine cliff-hanging technique with crusades against intolerance, state a case and a solution in terms which children could understand, keep the character of Superman alive and combine exciting entertainment with a plain spoken message.” A task not so “fairly simple” as originally thought, and one that almost derailed the project.

According to Lewis, Superman, Inc. and his agency “must have seen scores of scripts and ideas for the new story line. Some were good, others missed the point. None, however, combined the two essential factors of entertainment and educational value which we were seeking. Actually, we had almost given up the idea when a writer finally came through with the outline and scripts now riding the Mutual air.” The writer was Ben Peter Freeman.

A graduate of the University of Chicago, Freeman came to New York City in the early 1930’s, and took a reporting job for the New York Times. On the side he began selling short stories — mostly sports-related — to both pulp and mainstream magazines, including the Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s. Eventually he had enough assignments to make a career of freelancing and left the Times. Whether he found Maxwell, or vice-versa, will likely remain as much a mystery as any Freeman would pen for Superman. No doubt he was on staff by February 5, for that’s when Jackson Beck began intoning a new introductory spiel that set the stage for the experiment:

Narrator: Yes, it’s Superman! Strange visitor from another planet, who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman, defender of law and order, champion of equal rights, valiant courageous fighter against the forces of hate and prejudice!

This must have puzzled older children when the events that followed over the next two months bore no resemblance to such a fight. K&E and Superman, Inc. were taking pains to ensure that everything would go smoothly once Freeman’s scripts reached air. As Lewis noted, “The Norman Corwin technique is a vastly different concept from the slam-bang artifices needed to keep juvenile interest afire 15 minutes a day, five days a week… Our problem was to work out a way in which children who heard two or three episodes of Superman during a week wouldn’t learn about throwing stones at a church — and miss the message that such tactics are wrong.” With this in mind, the Child Study Association of America and the National Conference of Christians and Jews reviewed scripts. Each provided a ringing endorsement:

Child Study Association of America: “[P]arents and educators will applaud the positive social approach to the current Superman program. It represents a constructive use of the children’s own favorite medium to further ideals of democracy and combat the spread of race and religious bigotry.”

National Conference of Christians and Jews: “Let it be hoped that other radio producers, magazine writers and cartoonists in the juvenile field (which, incidentally, includes many adults also) will follow the good example of Superman. May commercial sponsors also see the enormous possibilities of rendering basic assistance at the building of democracy while at the same time presenting good entertainment and advertising their products.”

Despite all the publicity, this wasn’t the first time children’s radio attempted a theme with social implications. On September 30, 1940, Ralston’s Tom Mix program introduced a storyline that dealt with the hero’s “struggle to establish a western settlement for needy and deserving families, land which, as the scripts will point out, can ‘also be made productive to help feed the starving countries of war-torn Europe,’” as Variety reported it. But that turned out to be a limited-time deal, while Superman intended to keep the trend going, pending the ratings and reaction.

The first arc of the ‘new’ series, “The Hate Mongers Organization,” officially kicked off on Tuesday, April 16. Right from the start, it was evident the program had changed: for the first time, there was music. To provide it, Maxwell had engaged John Gart, who, like many radio staff organists, began his career accompanying silent films in high-end theatres. Born in 1900, Gart had entered the field rather late in the game, silents having been almost entirely overtaken by the talkie before his 29th birthday. He moved easily into radio, and is perhaps best known for his embellishments to various CBS daytime dramas. For the first three broadcasts a generic super-hero motif was used; then on Friday the 19th, Sammy Timberg’s “Superman March,” from the long-defunct Paramount cartoon series, became the principal theme until the end of the Man of Steel’s radio days.

Even Kellogg’s got into the act, changing the slogan for Pep from “the super-delicious cereal” to “the sunshine cereal,” and introducing a new ad campaign, although the excitable Dan McCullough remained the spokesperson. McCullough’s occasional tendency to trip over his tongue and pause for breath in the middle of a sentence makes for some amusing moments when listening to surviving broadcasts.

The story begins when a gang of young thugs firebomb a drug store belonging to Dave Hoffman, who is Jewish. The teenaged toughs soon discover they’ve been spotted by Danny O’Neill, an Irish-Catholic boy; O’Neill reports the crime and the gang beats him up for “squealing.” As the story progresses, we learn that the thugs have been organized by Frank Hill, who names them “the Guardians of America.” Hill’s primary target is a newly conceived interfaith youth playground and gymnasium known as Unity House, which Hoffman, among others, is sponsoring.

Early on, Father Sheehan (Stacy Harris), the young priest of the O’Neill family’s parish, speaks to Clark Kent about violence threatened against the Unity House concept. Kent immediately understands what’s happening, and enlists Jimmy to go undercover as a new member of the Guardians. “What we’re trying to do is cut out something rotten in this city,” Kent warns him. “Something that spreads like wildfire unless you kill it at its source — something called intolerance. You might suffer doing it, Jim, but believe me, it’ll be worth it.” Eventually Jimmy is discovered as a spy, and it’s up to Superman to rescue him and expose the ugly truth about Frank Hill to his followers. When it comes, the Man of Tomorrow has some words of advice for the youngsters that were taken in by Hill’s discriminatory dogma:

Superman: Remember this as long as you live: whenever you meet up with anyone who is trying to cause trouble between people… anyone who tries to tell you that a man can’t be a good American because he’s a Catholic or a Jew, a Protestant or whatever: you can be pretty sure he’s a rotten American himself. Not only a rotten American, but a rotten human being! Don’t ever forget that!

Once the episodes began airing, critical reaction was swift and certain:

Greater New York Federation of Churches: “It is encouraging to see the Superman program present for its vast audience entertainment coupled with a stimulating dramatization of the essential principles of fair play, understanding and tolerance among all races and creeds.”

United Parents Associations: “We want to express not only our pleasure but our highest commendation to you for this magnificent step forward in the presentation of radio programs. It is a distinct contribution to a better tomorrow and an auspicious augury for the future of radio entertainment.”

Calvin’s Newspaper Service: “The power wielded by radio is immeasurable and the producers of Superman are to be commended for directing it along the channels now being pursued. We applaud heartily this noble attempt to make better citizens of our children and to eradicate from their minds all thoughts of racial and religious intolerance.”

Boy Scouts of America: “Young America takes its radio serials seriously, and if enough sponsors, radio script writers and producers can be prevailed upon to present the current problems of youth in a manner that they will not consider ‘preaching,’ it cannot help but have the desired effects.”

This reaction made Variety sit up and take notice: “Superman, making the dangerous (from entertainment point of view) experiment of adding to its escapist-adventure formula the normally heavy burden of a message has made the segue successfully, and earned itself a rackfull of encomiums. Perhaps the first daytime strip to add such guts to its program, Superman has now embarked on real adventure — combating bigotry and intolerance. Judged by a session like Friday’s (19), revised format will go, no sacrifice being made in thrills or excitement.”

The New York Times went even further, with radio columnist Jack Gould devoting an entire article to the subject in its Sunday edition: “Superman was news of a rather high order in radio last week. Discarding his conventional excursions in escapism, he set out on a new series of adventures in which he proposes to combat the more mundane evils of racial and religious intolerance, adolescent gangsterism, and other related problems of the juvenile. Specifically, the sponsor of Superman has stolen a march on those pedagogues who over the years have spoken bitterly of the blood-and-thunder radio serial. He has used the same format as sugar coating for sound and constructive thoughts which any parent should want instilled in an heir…

“At no time is Superman mounting the soapbox and preaching. What he has to say is made to sound perfectly logical and appropriate to the script. The producers of Superman keep their minds on the issue, which is to entertain. By all odds, this seems the most sensible policy and one which educators could study with considerable care… If Superman holds an iota of the influence attributed to him by his critics, then his adoption of a new way of life must be regarded as an encouraging augury transcending radio itself. Certainly, everyone will wish him well on what by all odds could be his most important adventure.”

William B. Lewis took the same tack in his Broadcasting article, issuing a challenge: “It’s about time for the organizations who find enough energy to rap children’s programs and radio public service in general to put up — or shut up! That may be rude — but it’s honest. If these organizations get behind a campaign such as Superman is conducting and back it down the line in their publications, meetings and by word of mouth, they will help to get the kind of programs they want on the air. If (they) only pay lip service to the kind of ideals which they ask for in radio, they will find themselves being ignored in future radio thought.”

On May 8, as “The Hate Mongers Organization” was nearing its climax, Youthbuilders, Inc. — a group of clubs formed within New York City schools designed “to educate children for responsible citizenship in a democracy” — welcomed Bud Collyer to address its members on “juvenile delinquency, its causes and remedies.” In a letter to Collyer, Mildred F. Israel of Youthbuilders affirmed, “You, as an individual and as a human being were ‘SUPER’ and your words made a terrific impact upon the audience. Everyone has been quoting you, which means they will always remember the message for peace which you brought to them.”

When Collyer returned to work on Monday, everyone was in high spirits. The Hooper rating for the previous week named Adventures of Superman radio’s number-one juvenile program. From fourth place to first in less than a month, by anyone’s standard, was an impressive accomplishment. Ironically, it was the undercurrent of realism that made the series more accessible. It was now possible for even the youngest listeners to emulate their hero. They might not be able to fly to the moon, or even to the playground, but with Superman’s example they could certainly strike a blow for fair play.

Maxwell made sure that both the industry and the general public knew that the new theme was, after all, his pet idea. Discussing the show’s new approach in its April 29 issue, Newsweek reported, “Superman, Inc., the company that controls the Man of Tomorrow in all his media, had to sell the idea to the Kellogg Co. sponsors and Mutual — two perpetual worriers over the response of Southern and reactionary listeners. Currently, Robert Maxwell, radio director of Superman, Inc., feels he has won a strong point. ‘Tolerance is rampant in Battle Creek,’ he says.”

One month later, Radio Daily’s “Radio Main Street” columnist wrote, “Our Hat’s Off [to] Robert Maxwell, producer of Superman, who is responsible for the latter’s stand on intolerance and juve delinquency.” Maxwell placed a two-page ad in Variety asking, “What happens when you inject ‘Social Significance’ into a children’s radio program?” The ad quoted several of the endorsements and reviews, reprinted Jack Gould’s article in full, and served up the Hooperating as “the nation’s answer” to that question, making sure to note that Adventures of Superman was “Produced by Robert Maxwell Associates for Superman, Inc.”

The “Hate Mongers” arc ran a full five weeks, followed by a shorter, but no less ambitious story: “Al Vincent’s Corrupt Political Machine.” Although more overtly concerned with an “adult” topic, specifically the Metropolis mayoral election, Vincent’s “machine” includes a gang of juveniles — one of whom, Mary Hennig (in a reverse of the “Hate Mongers” situation, right down to the gender), becomes a Daily Planet employee in order to thwart the doings of Lois, Jimmy, Clark and Perry. Eventually Mary is overpowered by the sheer goodness of her new associates and helps Superman put things right.

The next storyline has its own associated legend. The tale surrounds the Unity House baseball team, which Jimmy Olsen manages. During batting practice, new player Tommy Lee — a boy of Chinese descent — accidentally beans the group’s former star pitcher, Chuck Riggs. Chuck complains to his Uncle Matt about the incident and is astonished to hear his uncle assert that Tommy was actually trying to kill him. Matt Riggs takes his nephew to a meeting of “a great secret society pledged to purify America — America for 100% Americans only — one race, one religion, one color.” Chuck, having been coached by his uncle, who is the society’s “Grand Scorpion,” relates a lopsided account of the Tommy Lee incident — and the Lee family becomes a target of the “Clan of the Fiery Cross.”

Author, folklorist and early civil rights activist Stetson Kennedy was in the midst of his infiltration of a newly revitalized Ku Klux Klan (as well as another white supremacist group, the Columbians) in Atlanta, Georgia, when he discovered the new, socially aware Superman series. Reportedly he made contact with Maxwell, offering to provide secret Klan rituals and passwords for the scripts, should the Man of Steel decide to take on the organization. Maxwell leapt at the offer.

Writing for New Republic the following year, Thomas Whiteside described what happened next: “The code words had been passed on to Superman, via the Anti-Defamation League, by Stetson Kennedy… As a result, Samuel Green, Grand Dragon of the KKK, had to spend part of his afternoon with his ear pressed against the radio. As soon as Superman used a KKK password, Green had to send out urgent orders for a new one. The Grand Dragon is said to have taken this reverse very badly,” to the point of staging a local boycott of Kellogg’s cereals, which had no effect on the sponsor’s commitment to the program.

When Kennedy’s account, I Rode with the Klan (later retitled The Klan Unmasked) was released in 1954, he recounted these events, adding, “From inside and outside the Klan I could see that a real victory had been won. Never again would the hooded hoodlums be able to face the American public with their old air of self-importance. Equally important, I knew that the millions of kids who had listened to Superman were not likely to grow up to be Klansmen.”

A story to be proud of… but is it true? Listening to “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” one is hard pressed to uncover anything that might be construed as proprietary to the KKK, with the possible exception of one — and only one — sequence, heard in episode #2:

Voice: Attention brothers! All hail the Grand Scorpion!

Riggs: Brothers in the Clan of the Fiery Cross, supreme authority vested by me as Grand Scorpion, I hereby call this secret session open. Arise now, and by the light of the flaming symbol of our creed, make the sign of piety to our sacred vows.

Narrator: Arising to their feet, the robed and hooded figures solemnly place their right hands over their hearts, and crossing the first two fingers of their left hands, extend them toward the burning wooden cross, as under their breaths they repeat the anti-democratic oath of the Clan.

Perhaps that was all it took to keep Samuel Green tuned in day after day.

Regardless of what Kennedy did (or did not) contribute, the arc was a significant milestone. There was no mistaking which organization the “Clan of the Fiery Cross” was mimicking. Moreover, radio as a whole wanted to tussle with the KKK. Drew Pearson, ABC’s news commentator, spoke out against the hooded order around that time, and when the group responded with threats, Pearson warned them he’d go directly to Georgia and broadcast their “moonlight monkey business.” On June 15, The Billboard noted, “Other dramatic shows on competitive webs also are working up scripts attacking the Klan, but have not yet been able to gain clearance. Producers of Superman, however, embarked on a campaign of tolerance and Americanism some months ago and have apparently been able to steal a march on the [competition].”

Like Pearson, Maxwell was a target of threats. Marcella Slauchert, in her “For the Love of Mike” column, reported that the producer received “a threatening letter two days after the current series of the Hooded Klan was introduced. The letter threatened bodily harm to Maxwell if mentions of the Klan were not eliminated from future Superman programs. But Maxwell is ignoring the letter — and Superman is continuing the fight.”

Jackson Beck later recalled, “The dangers were very immediate at the time. The real-life Klan had recently made strong inroads in New Jersey, just across the [Hudson] river from our studios. [They] were launching a major campaign at the time to get hold of kids and promote their narrow views of what they wanted society to be like.” A staunch human rights advocate himself, Beck was pleased that “Kellogg’s refused to back down and supported us all the way.”

Even so, after this the story arcs returned to more conventional adventures for a time. Superman stops a Latin dictator from using the Atomic Bomb on the United States, after which Batman and Robin return to help the Man of Steel protect his secret identity from a suspicious Scotland Yard detective. Even here, though, the Americanism theme wasn’t forsaken; a subplot involved Superman’s address to a “World Peace Rally.”

By the end of June, Adventures of Superman had become so important that Mutual’s New England affiliates, banded together as the Yankee Network, managed to get Kenyon & Eckhardt to allow them to delay the start time from 5:15 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., so its stations wouldn’t miss the program due to coverage of the Boston Red Sox’s pennant race.

On August 28, the episode opened with an award from the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The national commander-in-chief of the VFW, Joseph M. Stack, made the presentation for Superman’s promotion of “the American Way” through its recent storylines: “Today, we look to Superman as an enemy of prejudice and intolerance, and of other evil forces that threaten democracy. Because we feel this program makes an outstanding contribution to real American democracy, I have the pleasure of rewarding… a Citation of Merit to Superman, and to Mr. Harry Donenfeld, president of Superman DC Publications, who is responsible for putting Superman on the air, and to the Kellogg Company, whose sponsorship makes this program possible.” In a voice that must have reminded the audience of the stereotypical gangsters the Man of Steel handily dispatched each week, Donenfeld accepted the award, adding, “Credit, however, should not go to me, but to the men who produce and write the series, to the cast and to the sponsors.”

Behind the scenes at DC, Donenfeld’s right-hand man, Jack Liebowitz, was engineering the acquisition of Maxwell Gaines’ All-American Comics line. Gaines kept his Picture Stories from the Bible title, using it as the basis for a new company: Educational Comics Group, E.C. for short. Years later, after Gaines’ son had taken over, E.C. would be at the forefront of a controversy that almost sank the comic book industry. For now, with the acquisition of All-American’s heroes, DC officially changed its corporate name to National Comics in September.

On the broadcast of September 17, Charles G. Bolte, chairman of the American Veterans Committee, presented an “official commendation to honor Superman” for his fight against neighborhood bigotry. This time, Collyer, using his Superman voice, accepted the award — as he would whenever such an honor was bestowed. The Committee itself, however, could have used Superman’s intervention when infighting between anti-Communist and pro-Communist factions led to a purge of the latter in 1948 — a move which gutted both its membership and political influence, yet didn’t save it from the House Un-American Activities Committee during the “red scare” of the early 1950’s.

The 1946-47 cycle had kicked off two weeks earlier with “George Latimer, Crooked Political Boss.” ‘Big’ George Latimer, wealthy mover and shaker, owner of a rival paper, the Daily Clarion, has some dangerous ideas about what constitutes a good America. Providing employment to war veterans isn’t one of them. He’s used his money and influence to control the governor, and when the vets arrive en masse to protest discrimination in the awarding of state jobs, Governor Wheeler actually orders the police to open fire! The stage is set for Superman when Beanie Martin’s older brother, Joe, is shot and Joe’s best friend, Jewish vet Sam Robbins, is framed for it by Latimer.

Radio historian Elizabeth McLeod describes Latimer as “Superman’s most persistent enemy during the late forties, constantly proclaiming his contempt for those ‘of a different color or different faith,’ and giving Superman and his friends ample opportunity to battle the Forces Of Hatred.” Latimer not only began the season, he would end it with the longest continuing storyline of the entire series.

With the coming season, the Mutual network now had the most formidable juvenile lineup in its history, consisting of five quarter-hour serials, all fully sponsored. A new addition, slotted for 4:45 p.m., was the return of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century after an 11-year absence. General Foods picked up the show, dropping their sponsorship of Maxwell’s Hop Harrigan on the Blue Network, newly renamed the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). Fortunately Hop was picked up by MBS for the Taylor-Reed Company, makers of Cocoa Marsh chocolate syrup. After Hop came Superman, followed by Ovaltine’s Captain Midnight, which had switched networks after the summer of 1945. Lastly, Tom Mix’s Straight Shooters, still presented by Ralston cereal, took the kids up to suppertime.

Mutual had Collyer record a special promo for their afternoon, which aired prior to Hop Harrigan’s Mutual bow: “This is Superman, speaking for Kellogg’s Pep. No, I haven’t seen Hop Harrigan, but I’ll find him for you. We can’t afford to lose him now, with Cocoa Marsh ready to go on the air. With Buck, Hop, Midnight, Tom and myself, we’ve got the best hour-and-a-quarter of fast moving adventure shows on any network! Don’t worry… I’ll find him! Up! Up, and away!” And with that, Superman takes off, with about 25 seconds of flying over which a local station announcer could make his pitch.

Superman, of course, was holding down the number-one spot; in October, ABC moved Dick Tracy back a half-hour and slotted in a brand new show opposite the Man of Steel: Sky King. Tom Mix was number two, outdrawing its ABC competition, Tennessee Jed, by over a full rating point (5.3 vs. 4.2). Although Captain Midnight’s 3.8 rating was bested by competitor Jack Armstrong’s 4.4, it was a closer race than during the previous season, when Armstrong’s rating was 2.3 points greater than Midnight’s. Only Buck Rogers was a disappointment, his 2.7 equal to competing Dick Tracy for the season. Rogers would not return after a summer break.

Shortly after embarking on the new season, Collyer married a second time. In fact, their wedding was part of an episode of ABC’s audience participation program Bride and Groom. Actress Marian Shockley, who portrayed Carol Brent on Road of Life (for which Collyer was the announcer-narrator), became the second Mrs. Clayton Johnson Heermance Jr. The unanswered question: what happened to the first one?

Collyer met Shockley around 1944, when she joined the Road of Life cast. The two became friendly, then became much more than that. After their October 1946 marriage, the newlyweds moved into a fourteen-room farmhouse in Greenwich, Connecticut, accompanied by Collyer’s three children.

As late as a New York Times profile in November 1945, Collyer was described as “happily married to the former Heloise Green, a model.” But something had happened to end it and the actor/announcer/Sunday School teacher was so liked and respected by his peers and audience that no one ever spoke or wrote of what that something might have been. The fact that the children lived full-time with their father and his new bride added to the mystery. One might suppose their mother had passed away, but nobody ever wrote of Collyer as a widower; only that his children were “from a previous marriage,” and by the 1950’s even that had ceased. Heloise Law Green Heermance simply vanished off the face of the earth.

The season progressed, with straight adventure tales, such as “The Disappearance of Clark Kent,” which chronicles Superman’s journey to the Planet Apollo, interspersed with more “good Americanism” stories, such as “Drought in Freeville,” where another crooked politician, ‘Uncle’ Ed Clayton (Jackson Beck), attempts to drive veterans out of his farming town through the use of an invention that will prevent rain. In December, the American Schools and Colleges Association advised that Superman and Let’s Pretend should be “required listening” for children. In February 1947, the Council Against Intolerance in America named Collyer as one of five Americans deserving of its annual award.

Thomas Whiteside, journalist for New Republic, spent the afternoon of February 10 attending the day’s Superman rehearsal and broadcast, and chatting up Collyer, Maxwell and Kenyon & Eckhardt executives for his article in the March 3 issue. Along with hearing about Samuel Green and the KKK, Whiteside was told that Gerald L.K. Smith, founder of the original America First Party and notorious anti-Semite and Holocaust denier, “has denounced the tolerance campaign as ‘a disgrace to America.’”

One K&E exec confided, “We had been getting a lot of complaints about the blood and thunder stuff until we decided to put in these social episodes. Now all the parents’ organizations are congratulating us on the show. The psychologists tell us we’re planting a ‘thought egg’ in the kids’ minds. Anyway, the wonderful thing is that our Hooper’s actually gone up since the campaign started. Now the tolerance thing is spreading to other kids’ shows. The parents’ group started putting on the heat.”

Indeed, Tom Mix, Dick Tracy and Tennessee Jed had all added brief messages about safety and brotherhood to their programs since the start of the new season. According to the unnamed executive, “The other kids’ shows started beating on the breast and saying they’d put a lot of symbolism in their scripts, like white buffalos and black buffalos and that stuff. Symbolism doesn’t work with kids. You’ve got to come right out and say what you want to say… They’ll all come around our way. This tolerance theme is good business.”

Whiteside spoke with Collyer, who confessed that, despite his prodigious workload, even adults generally knew him only as the Man of Steel, which was “particularly embarrassing when his sacroiliac bothers him.” And some of the neighborhood kids could be merciless. “The other day,” Collyer told him, “my Great Dane got loose from the house. I started shouting after him. These little kids… start laughing and one cups his hands. ‘Why don’t you fly?’ he yells.” Whiteside also observed the sound effects crew, Allen Ducovny’s direction (“We only rehearse for an hour. Norman Corwin was amazed. He said it would take him a week”), even Dan McCullough’s commercial pitch (“I try to [sound] pretty confidential… but, if you know what I mean, not too confidential”).

Another honor was bestowed on the broadcast of February 14, when Superman introduced Doris McFerrin, editor of Radio Mirror magazine. Addressing the “fellahs and girls” of the audience, Miss McFerrin cheerfully stated, “Radio Mirror has done [something] this month that it’s never done before. Our editor’s page has come out with a special tribute to Superman, because he’s done so much to show folks how important it is to respect each other’s rights and to get along together. We think, more than any other show, Superman makes us all want to do the right thing.” The official commendation, naturally targeted to adults, appeared in the magazine’s March issue.

Four days later, the vice-president of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, Willard Johnson, told the “fellahs and girls, I’m here today to officially salute Superman, and all those who are associated in bringing you this program, for some mighty fine work in promoting fair play and good sportsmanship among Americans of different races… We of the National Conference of Christians and Jews want you, Superman, to know how grateful are all people of good will for your work in rooting out hatred, and for showing young people and their parents how to live the way of brotherhood.” Accepting the Award of Distinguished Merit, Superman replied, “I’m honored, Mr. Johnson, on behalf of all those who help make this program possible, to accept this award with sincere gratitude. And also with our assurance that we will continue our efforts to root out and expose all that is un-American.”

The phrase “un-American,” as defined on Superman, was synonymous with bigotry, racism, and religious persecution. In a few short months, however, the term would come to define those suspected of socialist or communist political leanings, stretched to include any organization with a liberal or “leftist” agenda. In 1949, Collyer would be at the forefront of this new interpretation when, as president of the American Federation of Radio Artists, he would attempt a purge similar to that which doomed the American Veterans Committee. Moreover, forcing alleged “commies” from the AFRA rolls put him in direct conflict with Jackson Beck, who held firm that the Bill of Rights included one of political affiliation. From that point on, Collyer and Beck maintained a solely professional relationship, although co-workers recalled a few spirited arguments between them during rehearsals.

On February 24, 1947, a new Robert Maxwell Associates show debuted on Mutual: Adventure Parade, joining Hop Harrigan and Superman. The new show aired at 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, just before Buck Rogers, expanding the network’s afternoon lineup another 15 minutes. Hosted by John Griggs, Adventure Parade serialized classic children’s stories, such as Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty and Dickens’ Great Expectations, over the course of the week. The format provided Mutual with some prestige, if not a sponsor.

Yet another hate-mongering organization reared its ugly head two days after Adventure Parade’s premiere. The “Knights of the White Carnation,” a secret society of Metropolis businessmen organized by Vincent Kirby (Bernard Lenrow), has taken issue with certain members of Metropolis High School’s basketball team, which is poised to enter the State Championships. Kirby deplores the inclusion of students named Casimir Pulaski, Michael Kelly, Tony Rizzuti and Phil Kaplan on the team, adding: “Doesn’t it seem odd to you that in a great American city like Metropolis, four out of the five members of our championship team should be foreigners?” Building up to a fury, Kirby asserts, “I, for one, refuse to stand by and permit our boys — our American boys — to suffer by comparison with foreigners! If necessary, we’ll get rid of the foreigners — not only off the team, but out of the school!”

That’s too much for businessman Charles Canfield (Jackson Beck), who promptly renounces his membership in the Knights: “I see it now as a group of narrow, bigoted men, attempting to create intolerance, prejudice and hatred among different races and creeds! And I see you, Mr. Kirby, as an individual fully as dangerous as Hitler or Mussolini!” Tossing his white carnation on the table — “which I’m ashamed to say I wore even for a moment” — Canfield departs, vowing, “I’m going to fight you tooth and nail, and expose you on the front page of every decent newspaper in America!” But before Canfield has time for anything other than setting a lunch date with Perry White, he’s killed in what appears to be a random mugging. White, naturally, suspects something more sinister and puts Clark Kent on the trail. It’s up to Superman to avenge Canfield and to clear the “foreigners” on the basketball team, who are smeared and disqualified by a manufactured gambling charge.

Inspiration for “Knights of the White Carnation” came from the Knights of the White Camellia, a white supremacist society founded in New Orleans in 1867 by Confederate veterans opposed to Reconstruction. According to the Handbook of Texas Online website, “Their membership, which was generally from a higher social stratum (than that of the Ku Klux Klan), included newspaper editors, physicians, lawyers, law-enforcement officials, public figures, and even a few members of the Union army living in the region.” As with the Klan, there were membership rituals and passwords, but the group formally opposed militant tactics — a decision that, ironically, led to most of its members departing and the organization dissolving just three years after its formation. (In the 1990’s, a KKK splinter group calling itself “The White Camellia Knights of the Ku Klux Klan” organized in Texas.)

Superman received yet another award at the start of the April 17 broadcast, courtesy of Rear Admiral Reginald Rowan Belknap, USN retired — the officer who, during the First World War, organized and commanded the North Sea Mine Barrage from June to October 1918. Now he was Chairman of the Layman’s National Committee, which was, as he told the “boys and girls” listening, “a non-sectarian religious organization that tries to make sure that children of all races and creeds get the wonderful advantages offered by our churches. This is National Sunday School Week, a very good time to recognize all the good the Superman show does to promote the principles of right living.” Admiral Belknap then presented the Committee’s Citation to Superman as “the best children’s program of the year.”

‘Big’ George Latimer returned to Superman during the second half of the May 13 broadcast. We learn the political boss had been sentenced to a year in prison; surprising since Superman had expected him to “get the chair” for his murderous mayhem, but without benefit of reruns, no doubt most listeners had forgotten all about that. Nearing the end of his sentence, Latimer, an orderly for the prison hospital, stands beside the bed of one of the Man of Steel’s strangest foes: The Laugher, first encountered back in October 1942. The once thrice-chinned obese counterpart to Batman’s Joker is now emaciated and at death’s door, and with his last ounce of strength, tells Latimer the secret of kryptonite, including where to find some.

Upon his release less than a week later, Latimer, now armed with the deadly metal, holds a town hall meeting and brazenly accuses Superman of having framed him with false evidence because he refused to provide the Man of Steel with “one hundred-thousand dollars of blackmail money!” Meanwhile, Superman has sought out Batman and Robin to get the kryptonite away from Latimer… and the resulting conflict would take over six weeks to tell; the longest single storyline in the Superman canon. (Although the “Atom Man” saga was technically longer, it had consisted of five individually titled and plotted arcs. “Superman vs. Kryptonite” was one story and the sole title for 33 episodes.)

Latimer eventually figures out that kryptonite alone won’t kill Superman, only weaken him; his plan then is to starve the Man of Steel to death. When the Dynamic Duo interferes with this, he figures out something even more gruesome. With the help of Dr. Marsh, a renegade Nazi brain specialist, Latimer converts the radiant metal into liquid form and twice administers it to Superman, who develops amnesia. Latimer aids the deception by replacing his costume with a pair of worn overalls. While they’re away, a freak bolt of lightning strikes the old barn where Latimer and Marsh have hidden the dazed hero, sending the chuck of kryptonite out of Superman’s danger zone. In a plot twist that must have given Freeman a lot of joy to write, the dazed Superman comes to believe he is “Bud Smith,” the greatest baseball pitcher in history, and hooks up with the Metropolis Titans!

Latimer, having retrieved his kryptonite piece, knows who “Bud Smith” really is and tries again to subdue him. But “Smith” manages to arrive in Metropolis safely with his team and actually meets Lois and Jimmy, after which the Daily Planet’s two star dumbbells strive to remember where they’ve heard his voice before. Batman and Robin figure out “Smith’s” true identity, but before they can act, Latimer captures the super-human strikeout machine and once more has Dr. Marsh serving him kryptonite-laced milk. With just moments before the final dose can permanently rob Superman of his true identity, the Dynamic Duo race to the rescue… and everything is happily resolved by Friday, June 27, the final episode of the 1946-47 season. Beginning the following week, both Superman and Captain Midnight took a summer hiatus.

Kellogg’s for one was grateful for Superman’s break: a worldwide, post-war wheat shortage was playing havoc with their production costs. Pep being a whole wheat cereal, the company welcomed time to sort out its ad strategy. Mutual cut back its juvenile programming to the hour between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m., moving Adventure Parade into Superman’s slot and Hop Harrigan into Midnight’s. Variety reported that the 5:00 p.m. slot “will be built around recordings from operettas, interspersed with narration and dramatic sketches taken from them.” The show was titled Melody Theatre, and MBS was hoping that it and Adventure Parade, would at least “win some kudos from P.T.A.’s.”

For reasons never explained or publicized, on September 26 — three days before Adventures of Superman returned — Bret Morrison, who was then starring in The Shadow Sunday nights on Mutual, made a brief audition as the Man of Steel. The two-and-a-half minute recording has Morrison as Kent discovering an unconscious and barely breathing Lois Lane, changing to Superman and flying her up into the atmosphere where she resumes regular inhalation and begins to regain consciousness (thereby defying all logic regarding oxygen levels); he then brings her down to land and switches back to Kent. There are no other actors present, nor are there sound effects; it is simply Morrison’s voice.

Listening to the surviving recording, it’s clear that Morrison — brilliant though he was in The Shadow — could not effectively duplicate the transition from Kent to Superman that came so easily to Collyer. What’s unclear is why there was an audition in the first place. The two most likely possibilities: first, that Collyer was making unreasonable salary demands over the summer. There’s no documentation to support that conclusion, and the fact that the audition was held on the final weekday of the show’s hiatus renders it unlikely. There’s no documentation to support the second possibility either: that Superman’s new director didn’t want to work with Collyer.

In mid-August, Mitchell Grayson, the producer-director who did the highly acclaimed New World a-Comin’ — a ground-breaking civil rights series aired over New York’s WMCA — joined the Kenyon & Eckhardt agency and was promptly assigned to Superman… much to the surprise of Maxwell, who was more than satisfied with the job Ducovny was doing. Variety reported on August 27: “Grayson is currently engaged in devising new script ideas for the show and an expression of the writing staff is in the works.” Two issues later, Variety’s “From the Production Centres” offered an addendum: “Bob Maxwell says Superman situation has resolved itself thusly: With Mitchell Grayson engaged to secure additional script material under Allen Ducovny’s direction, latter has been appointed executive producer of show. When and if Grayson takes over direction of show, Ducovny will be free to supervise production on program as well as other shows originating from Maxwell office.”

That there was a “situation” that needed resolving, it’s obvious Maxwell wasn’t thrilled with being told who would direct his program. Read carefully, his resolution makes Grayson’s role sound like that of head writer; even “when and if” he becomes the director, Ducovny was expected to “supervise production.” Whatever words were exchanged between Maxwell and K&E’s V.P. of radio, William Lewis, over this blurb, the upshot is that when Superman returned on September 29, Grayson was at the helm. An agency’s word was law, and Maxwell was expected to live with it.

But that didn’t mean he had to like it. Lewis and Grayson didn’t know it yet, but — rather than a new world — there was a showdown a-comin’.

With the “Hate Mongers Organization” storyline, Adventures of Superman’s rating jumped from fourth to first place.

Bud Collyer at the mic. He later took Superman’s tolerance campaign to schools and other civic organizations.

Chapter 6

1947-48: Superman Derailed

In April 1946, around the time the Man of Tomorrow made his initial stand against religious bigotry, a U.S. Justice Department employee named William Coblenz was reading Adolf Hitler’s last will and testament, temporarily housed at the National Archives. Figuring that few Americans would ever get to see such a thing, he conceived the idea of the Freedom Train: a rolling exhibit of America’s most precious historical documents, from the Declaration of Independence to the Articles of Surrender for Germany and Japan that ended the Second World War. Coblenz’s idea was forwarded all the way to President Truman; everyone was in favor.

While Superman battled the “Knights of the White Carnation,” the American Heritage Foundation was formed to handle the financial and operational logistics of the traveling exhibit. The president of the Foundation was Thomas D. Brophy, who was also president of the Kenyon & Eckhardt agency. It was Brophy’s idea to limit the exhibit to documents tied directly to American liberties. He naturally got his agency and Kellogg’s involved; the cereal firm created several special premiums to spur interest among young people. The Freedom Train began its 48-state journey on September 17, 1947.

One of the Foundation’s provisions was that the Train would not stop at any city that attempted to segregate visitors by race, creed or color. This caught the attention of Bob Maxwell, who was seeking a new ‘intolerance’ story arc for the Man of Steel. He conceived a plotline where the Train, visiting a mythical small town called Meadville, would be imperiled by yet another hate-mongering group, necessitating Superman’s involvement. Maxwell planned to have Arnold Perl — later known for adapting the stories of Russian-Jewish humorist Sholem Alecheim into plays — write the serial. The story was to incorporate a race riot, an attempted lynching, and a town holocaust reminiscent of the Texas City Disaster of April 1947 (in which 8,500 tons of ammonium nitrate detonated aboard the French vessel SS Grandcamp, destroying 500 homes, killing 581 people and injuring more than 5,000 others).

Whether or not Maxwell expected smooth sailing with this submission — or even if its conception was primarily designed as a slap to Kenyon & Eckhardt over the Mitchell Grayson “situation” — is subject to conjecture, but the end result is a matter of record. Variety reported that K&E “flatly opposed it on the ground that it was explosive and inappropriate.” William B. Lewis, who, we may recall, got “Operation Intolerance” rolling in the first place, proclaimed his agency’s primary objection was that the Freedom Train was “a living thing” and the story might give listeners the impression that the events were actually occurring. Lewis was speaking from experience: he’d been a CBS Programming executive on a certain night in October 1938, when Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre on the Air managed to convince a few thousand East Coast listeners that New Jersey was being invaded by Martians. Lewis emphatically stated, “I want no part of another ‘War of the Worlds!’ ”

In retrospect, Maxwell, if so inclined, may have been able to charm or cajole K&E — who hadn’t yet submitted the storyline to Kellogg’s — had he not made another tactical blunder. On November 6, he gave a talk at a children’s show seminar held at the Radio Writers’ Guild in New York, in which he stated that kids were emphatically turning away from cliffhangers. He cited private research that showed 80% of the juvenile audience preferred programs other than adventure serials - whereas when Superman began, 80% chose the serial format as their favorite.

Maxwell’s figures also revealed that children were staying up an average of one hour, fifty minutes longer at night than they did 10 years earlier – thus they were hearing (and enjoying) more adult fare like Gangbusters and Mr. District Attorney. Reported Variety: “(Maxwell) thinks the war was a factor in the changing trend.” The trade paper would later opine that the producer “raised industry eyebrows” with his presentation.

To be sure, the evidence was not limited to Maxwell’s research. Five weeks before Superman returned for the fall, ABC altered the formats of two of their children’s shows, stalwart Jack Armstrong and newcomer Sky King. Both went from daily 15-minute chapter plays to self-contained half-hour programs airing on alternate weekdays. General Mills made the first move with Armstrong; Sponsor magazine reported their decision “is said to have been based upon what they discovered through their sponsorship of The Lone Ranger,” which at that time aired thrice weekly at 7:30 p.m. Derby Foods followed suit with Sky King, and no doubt Maxwell was pushing Mutual and Kellogg’s to do likewise with Superman.

Alas, Kellogg’s was still looking to cut back on radio advertising; in October, they had requested a six-month release from The Breakfast Club, but ABC had refused. Now Maxwell solved their problem. The week after his speech, Kellogg’s announced it would discontinue its support of Adventures of Superman as of December 26, and shift the Pep account to less expensive “magazine and comic strip insertions,” according to The Billboard.

The news took some industry analysts by surprise. Only weeks earlier, Sponsor’s own research had determined “there is a growing feeling among sponsors that unless a children’s program reaches the mothers at the same time as the youngsters advertising doesn’t pay off…. Superman frequently has the highest percentage of women listening to a juvenile program and it’s also noted that Superman generally has a very high percentage of children per listening set.” A few radio columnists speculated that the wheat shortage was to blame, but Maxwell believed he knew the real reason.

Consequently, he scheduled “Freedom Train” for Thanksgiving Day, November 27, upon conclusion of “The Ruler of Darkness” storyline (another exposé of crooked politics in which Perry White runs for mayor and eventually wins). In a move clearly designed as a kick-in-the-pants to K&E, he intended to replace Grayson with Allen Ducovny. It was to be the final Kellogg’s-sponsored arc, but both K&E and MBS raised alarms. In mid-November, the network’s president, Edgar Kobak, told Variety he planned to read the story line while en route to Chicago by train, but wasn’t optimistic: “From what little I know about it at this point, I don’t like the idea very much.”

Maxwell obviously knew what would happen if the network objected but even if Mutual said nothing, K&E’s stance no doubt meant that the American Heritage Foundation would not permit their exhibit to be used in this way. (As if to emphasize the point, the Foundation approved a special issue of Captain Marvel involving the Freedom Train. Fawcett Publications’ superhero, which was the subject of copyright infringement litigation by National Comics, would not be rescuing the Train, but — via time-travel — the actual liberty documents it contained.) The producer reluctantly threw in the towel. The final Kellogg’s arc would involve an illegal gambling operation, titled “Pennies for Plunder.” It proved to be another success, according to Inez Gerhard’s Star Dust column: “An avalanche of mail descended on the producers of Mutual’s Superman series from grateful parents and storekeepers, heaping praise on the Man of Steel for exposing the punchboard racket that has victimized so many children.”

The final week of sponsorship, Hooper announced that Superman remained Mutual’s highest-rated juvenile program, but had fallen to #2 in overall popularity behind ABC’s Jack Armstrong. Adding insult to injury, Maxwell’s Hop Harrigan lost its sponsor soon after, and left the air entirely the following February.

Although Star Dust reported, “as soon as it was known that the sponsor was relinquishing it, four others put in bids,” this was evidently another example of Maxwell’s tendency to lie when it was in his best interests. Certainly nothing was finalized in time for the December 29 broadcast. Hooper notwithstanding, Maxwell turned to radio’s time-honored method of measuring listenership: a mail-in promotion.

“The Superman Hidden Word Contest” was announced during the first week of sustaining broadcasts. The rules were simple: beginning with the broadcast of January 2, over five consecutive episodes, the Man of Steel gave a short speech in which he used the day’s hidden word, which began with a specified letter, three times. Listeners were expected to write down the mystery word each day until they had all five, which when combined, formed a prominent phrase found in the Declaration of Independence. To ensure no one guessed an incorrect word, in addition to providing the starting letter, announcer Ralph Paul (who had replaced Dan McCullough upon Kellogg’s hasty exit) gave its definition after Superman’s speech. Listeners then mailed in the completed phrase along with a brief description of what the phrase meant to them. A panel of judges would read all entries and select 1,000 winners.

The list of prizes was impressive, to say the least:

250 boxes of Fleer’s Double-Bubble Gum (each box containing 100 pieces),

250 boxes of Baby Ruth candy bars (each box containing 24 bars),

250 one-year subscriptions to Superman magazine,

50 Superman Acme movie viewers,

25 Superman phonograph record albums,

25 Superman wrist-watches,

25 Superman corduroy jackets,

25 Superman sweaters,

25 Superman waterproof jackets,

25 Superman leather belts,

25 Superman school bags,

25 Superman sweat shirts.

The “Superman phonograph record albums” referred to storybook/record combos released by Musette Records of New York in 1947, starring the radio cast. Two were produced: “The Flying Train” and “The Magic Ring” — both presenting “Superman in song and adventure.” Each consisted of two 7-inch 78 rpm records (pressed on blue, red and yellow vinyl, no less), and a 12-page illustrated storybook with which the story, and its accompanying songs, could be followed. Both “The Flying Train” and “The Magic Ring” are generally circulated with episodes of the show among old-time radio hobbyists. In addition to their value among Superman collectors, the records most likely contain the final professional singing done by Bud Collyer.

The “Hidden Word” phrase, of course, was “All men are created equal,” in keeping with the program’s pro-tolerance theme. With a promise to name all 1,000 winners on the air, Maxwell and his staff were determined to demonstrate the quality as well as quantity of Superman’s listenership. The contest was plugged during a story arc involving food shipments intended for starving European children that were being diverted to the black market.

All during the succeeding arc, “Dead Man’s Secret” — a rather fantastic tale about a four-inch tall man who served a professor that perfected a solar-powered weapon, now in the hands of a ruthless killer known as “The Boot” — Ralph Paul would assure listeners that the contest entries were being read as quickly as possible, but that “sacks and sacks” of them were arriving at Superman headquarters each day.

The first one hundred contest winners were named on the broadcast of February 2nd — the final installment for “Dead Man’s Secret.” Fifty were named before the day’s performance and fifty afterward. So it would be for the next nine broadcasts, while Superman helped Robin solve “Batman’s Great Mystery,” another tale of anti-Americanism as a double for the Caped Crusader kidnaps the real Batman and makes bigoted speeches denouncing the Marshall Plan and all U.S. aid to “foreigners.” Care was taken to ensure the winners represented all geographic areas and, not surprisingly, were pretty much equally male and female.

Armed with these results, not to mention the previous year’s brace of awards, Superman, Inc. went shopping for another sponsor, hoping to land one by the fall season, if not for summer. Meanwhile, the commercial spots were given over to public service messages for charities like the March of Dimes, humanitarian relief efforts, and especially against racial and religious bigotry. (As it happened, Superman’s first script writer, George Ludlam, was then heading up the National Advertising Council — admin of all public service spots — in New York City.) In some cases, the Man of Steel himself delivered the message. “I’m sure that Robert Maxwell, Superman producer, would rather have a sponsor than give up his plug-time to the preachment of essentially sound Americanism,” wrote Saul Carson in his “Report to the Listeners Column” for Radio & Television Best magazine, “but his loss is the listener’s gain.”

True to form, Collyer didn’t limit Superman’s anti-bigotry stance to the MBS microphone. When the actor received 53 invitations from various public-spirited organizations during one week in February, he arranged with the American Lecture Bureau to speak about tolerance to children at various New York public schools. The “tour” was so successful, the Bureau immediately made plans to expand it nationwide. These events were also publicized to potential buyers.

Maxwell, though, had a new project to play with: his company was producing a weekly prime-time series, Criminal Casebook, which replaced Ellery Queen for the summer on ABC’s Thursday night schedule. In truth, it was a rehash of a previous show, I Was a Convict, which had aired on Mutual for a season-and-a-half during 1946-47. Both series were the brainchild of criminologist Edwin J. Lukas, executive director of New York’s Society for the Prevention of Crime (who provided some paid consultation on Superman’s recent “Pennies for Plunder” scripts).

Produced by Carl Eastman, I Was a Convict began as a series of 15-minute interviews with former prisoners about their upbringing and subsequent turn to crime, each episode ending with a brief soliloquy by Lukas that addressed the specific ways in which society had failed to identify and curb the criminal tendencies of the week’s subject. In the fall of 1946, Mutual’s educational director Elsie Dick took over production, expanding it to a half-hour and including a brief dramatic recreation of the crime, as well as a secondary interview between Lukas and a noted criminal psychologist. But despite plaudits from radio critics, the changes brought no new listeners and the show departed in June 1947. In a letter to critic John Crosby a few months later, Lukas admitted, “because of a somewhat pedantic approach and a woeful lack of dramatic values, [I Was a Convict] failed to reach a large enough audience. The Society now realizes that in order to effectively ‘sell’ crime prevention via radio, the program… must first equal or surpass the dramatic appeal of its competition.”

Somehow, that realization led Lukas to Maxwell. Almost as soon as I Was a Convict ended, the two were shaping what would become Criminal Casebook. In this new program, the emphasis would be on a dramatization of the ex-convict’s upbringing, along with the actual crime, then Lukas conducted a brief interview with the actual criminal, prior to his summarization. A pilot was produced in November, and ABC agreed to underwrite it for the summer of 1948. Lukas brought his I Was a Convict writer, Bud Fischel, with him, and Jessica Maxwell directed. Several of the ex-convicts from the former series returned for the latter.

Wrote Saul Carson in his review, “It wasn’t a bad show, when it was on Mutual, but it lacked real interest and excitement. Now, under Maxwell’s production, it is a top show. When the [criminal’s] career has been relived — by a cast of actors as good as any on the air — [announcer Nelson] Case switches the doings over to Lukas. The picture becomes whole. Lukas does not preach; he does not scold; he merely assembles the pieces of the human puzzle, lets it underscore the moral.”

John Crosby, in the New York Tribune, gave Criminal Casebook a qualified thumbs-up: “It’s a rather unusual whodunit with the emphasis on the psychological motives of crime rather than on gunfire between cops and robbers…. Criminal Casebook is not, I’m afraid, destined for wide popularity. Good is not rewarded and evil punished as is customary in most whodunits. In fact, the two are hopelessly intermingled.

“In the first of these dramatizations of the lives and crimes of actual people, a boy with an excessive love for his mother got into trouble when he tried to procure five dollars for her. His method for doing this, highly illegal in this state, was to pry open the coin box of a pay telephone. Later, still trying to get money for his mother, he got involved in a stickup, got caught and served four years in prison.

“It was a sordid and rather pitiful tale, not much different in outline from many another whodunit, but wholly different in tone. Following the dramatization, the actual ex-con was interviewed by Lukas. He spoke wistfully of his early ambitions to be a doctor, thwarted by lack of money. He had learned ‘exactly nothing’ behind bars and was still, I gathered, in pretty much of an emotional mess. Lukas wound up the broadcast by blaming the boy’s plight on his Oedipus complex. That sounds dangerously over-simplified, but I think Lukas and the program deserve an A for honest effort.”

Despite praise from Crosby and others, Criminal Casebook didn’t find enough of an audience to warrant extending into the fall, and ABC, looking to channel its meager finances into television, told Maxwell and Lukas in mid-August they intended to cancel. The pair offered to cut the production cost by half (from $1,500 per week to $750) in order to keep the show on, but they couldn’t make it work beyond three weeks, and Criminal Casebook faded away in September. If nothing else, the series demonstrated that Maxwell could handle adult fare on a budget. ABC would remember that the following year.

Meanwhile, Superman, Inc. finally accomplished what it had set out to do as early as 1939: get a live-action Man of Steel on the silver screen. Columbia Pictures worked out a deal for a Superman serial, which would be shot during April and May and released in time for summer vacation. Both Maxwell and National Comics editor-in-chief Whitney Ellsworth would check in on the production from time-to-time.

Five writers — George H. Plympton and Joseph F. Poland (credited with “Adaptation”), Arthur Hoerl, Lewis Clay and Royal Cole (who wrote the screenplay) — took Superman’s origin story, seasoned it with 1943’s “The Meteor from Krypton” and a generous helping of 1945’s “The Scarlet Widow,” and cooked up a 15-chapter extravaganza that ended up costing $350,000 — more than any other serial in movie history. Producer Sam Katzman handed the directing chores to two men: veteran Spencer Gordon Bennett, who’d been helming pictures since 1921, and Thomas Carr, an actor-turned-script clerk who’d only been directing for three years, but had the flair for churning out engrossing footage on time and on budget.

Playing the Man of Tomorrow and his meek alter ego was New Jersey’s Kirk Alyn, who’d been doing a lot of uncredited roles in a lot of B-pictures up to that time. Alyn brought his broad physique (Superman “looks slightly flabby in the flesh,” wrote TIME) and ballet training to the part, but lacked Bud Collyer’s vocal prowess. Perky Noel Neill, late of Monogram’s “Teenagers” musicals, handled the Lois Lane role, while Tommy Bond — best remembered as “Butch” in the Our Gang (Little Rascals) comedies — portrayed Jimmy Olsen. Stalwart veteran Pierre Watkin served ably as editor Perry White, although he made no attempt to match the bluster of Julian Noa’s portrayal.

Special effects were primarily animated, including flight. Attempts to “fly” Alyn using wires failed miserably and Katzman had neither the budget nor the inclination to solve such technical challenges. Consequently, whenever flight is required, Superman merely dashes behind some handy object to emerge seconds later, airborne, as a pen-and-ink creation. Remembered Carr, “We’d dry pan up to the sky, then they’d take the dry pan and cartoon him in. They’d bring him down the same way.” On the plus side, the cartooning is fluid, well-executed; former Disney animator Howard Swift deserves the plaudits for his fine uncredited work. On the minus side, it’s still animation; obvious on theater screens in 1948, doubly so on HDTV today.

Advertising and credits for Superman, as the serial was titled, sourced not only Action Comics and Superman magazine, but also “the Superman Radio Program Broadcast on the Mutual Network.” The trade press was enthusiastic. Motion Picture Herald’s reviewer asserted Superman “is solid entertainment of which the exploitation value is readily evident. If the formula action and excitement of the first three chapters previewed are carried out in the remaining 12, few fans are likely to want to miss a single installment.”

And few fans did: the whole shebang went on to gross over one million dollars — again, more than any serial ever made. Minneapolis, Noel Neill’s hometown, booked Superman for its main downtown showcase, the Orpheum theatre chain, which Motion Picture Herald noted with glee: “Out in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Superman is running full weeks at the downtown Orpheum theatres, and getting a big play from both adults and children. [T]he news that the leading lady is a Minneapolis girl and her father a local newspaper man… doesn’t alter the fact that the serial is doing business, in top-bracket theatres with all the subsequent runs to follow.” South American theatres ran all 15 chapters in a five-hour marathon. It was only a matter of time before Columbia and Katzman lined up a sequel.

Presumably, it was all this attention that finally led to a buyer for the radio show, albeit a cautious one. E.J. Brach’s Confections bought the series entering the 1948-49 season — but only for 13 weeks and only over twelve Midwest stations. By this time, Jessica Maxwell had succeeded Allen Ducovny as director; the latter moved over to Kenyon & Eckhardt, who were beginning to dip their toes into television.

Why Brach’s hesitation? No explanation was ever provided, but Superman’s rating would decline ever so gradually over the autumn months, as would those of the other kid serials — much as Maxwell had predicted the previous year, but not for the reason he originally thought. As he’d learned from Criminal Casebook, television was beginning its march into American homes, luring audiences of all ages away from the Crossley and Philco. At the same time, comic books were under attack as never before, led by a German-born psychologist who, he said, possessed research data linking comics with juvenile delinquency, and who had it in for Superman in particular.

There had been criticism of comic books almost since their debut; certainly since their monthly circulation reached the tens of millions. A 1945 TIME article asked “Are Comics Fascist?” and quoted an English Professor, Walter J. Ong, who likened the Man of Steel and his ilk to the Nazis: “The civilization of the new order is in great part a herdist phenomenon. Everything is centered on one man — the leader, the hero, the duce, the Führer. The Superman of the cartoons is true to his sources. He is not another Horatio Alger hero or a Nick Carter; he is a super state type of hero, with definite interest in the ideologies of herdist politics.”

Jack Liebowitz took steps to counter any censure fairly early on, if only to keep the parent company’s pornographic past dead and buried. In 1940, he and Ellsworth created an editorial code of ethics for all DC writers; the following year, he asked the Child Study Association of America to review its publications in order to make them “safe for young readers.” The Association’s board of directors responded by assigning a part-time staff member, Josette Frank, the task of working directly with the company, and agreed to “assume a supervisory relationship to this project.” For the latter, the Association received $50 monthly; Miss Frank was free to negotiate her own fee for her services. Liebowitz also sought the input of Dr. Laurette Bender, a psychiatrist for Bellevue Hospital.

Miss Frank and Dr. Bender thus became the most visible defenders of comic books. For a 1945 article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Frank suggested that combating excess comic book reading should not be by “forbidding or confiscating, not in bargaining or cajoling, but rather in broadening the child’s real [life] experiences.” In the same article, Bender proclaimed that comic books were “like the folklore of other times;” in the TIME piece, she asserted, “The comics may be said to offer the same type of mental catharsis to their readers that Aristotle claimed was an attribute of the drama.” But they would soon find themselves countered by a formidable, and highly influential, foe.

Born in Munich in 1895, Dr. Frederic Wertheimer came to the U.S. after obtaining his medical degree from the University of Würzburg. He lived, practiced and taught in Baltimore, Maryland, where he became fascinated with African-American culture; soon he was known for being the only psychologist in the city who would treat black patients. He became naturalized in 1929, changing his name to the less Germanic-sounding Frederic Wertham. The doctor was also a prolific writer, publishing books on brain function, murder, domestic violence and juvenile delinquency beginning in 1926.

An unabashed love of Negro culture and a fervent desire to combat discrimination took Wertham to Harlem in the mid-1940’s; there, in March 1946, he almost single-handedly established a mental health clinic in the basement of the parish house of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church. The Lafargue Clinic (named for Paul Lafargue, a black physician from Cuba) was one of the first free psychiatric clinics for Black Americans in the United States. Based on anecdotal evidence from younger patients and their parents, Wertham almost immediately began a research study ostensibly on the role of comic books among juveniles at the clinic. The results were published in an article by Judith Crist in the March 27, 1948 issue of Collier’s. The article was titled “Horror in the Nursery.”

“We do not maintain that comic books automatically cause delinquency in every child reader,” said Wertham, “but we found that comic-book reading was a distinct influencing factor in the case of every single delinquent or disturbed child we studied. And that factor must be curbed as it steadily increases.” The doctor also maintained that no comic book could truly be considered harmless, even the ‘funny animal’ variety: “All too frequently, if you analyze individual books of this group, you find that what all the little animals are doing involves undue amounts of socking over the head and banging in the jaw…. Even if the tiny percentage of so-called ‘good’ comic books could be used, that hardly justifies the existence of comic books per se.”

He especially had little patience for the Josette Franks and Laurette Benders of the world: “One must distinguish between those psychiatrists who actually work with children in clinics, and the psycho-prima donnas who sit on committees and decide the fate of children from a distance. The fact that some child psychiatrists endorse comic books does not prove the healthy state of the comic books. It only proves the unhealthy state of child psychiatry.” Summing up, Wertham said, “If those responsible refuse to clean up the comic-book market — and to all appearances most of them do — the time has come to legislate these books off the newsstands and out of the candy stores.”

Two months later, Dr. Wertham followed up with his own article in the May 29 issue of The Saturday Review of Literature: “The Comics — Very Funny!” After describing several instances of juvenile violence among the comic book junkies in his patient pool, Wertham sounded off: “[Comic books] stimulate unhealthy sexual attitudes: sadism, masochism, frigidity.” “The increase of violence in juvenile delinquency has gone hand-in-hand with the increase in the distribution of comic books.” “All the emphasis is on pictures and not on printed matter, and good teachers know that they have to get rid of comic books to make their children read real books.” “Many children whose confidence I have gained have told me that when they have to make a book report in school they use the comic-book version for their report so that they won’t have to read the book.” “It is pretty well established that 75 percent of parents are against comic books. (The other 25 percent are either indifferent or misled by propaganda or ‘research.’)”

The article (which, in condensed form, appeared in the August 1948 issue of Reader’s Digest), touched off a firestorm in the press; suddenly Wertham-sympathizers were everywhere. “I wish parents of all growing boys and girls might read ‘The Comics — Very Funny!’ by Frederic Wertham, M.D.,” wrote Calvin A. Byers in his “Farmer’s Diary” column; one of several writers to hop on Wertham’s bandwagon. But Byers went even further: “Here is a challenge to young people’s pride: Why not a high school-age group to clean up the town? Why not make the confounded comic books so unpopular that no shop will dare handle them? Why not condemn their use as radio fare for unwitting listeners who may turn out to be gunmen or sadistic citizens if their minds are constantly fed upon violence?” An editorial in the Waukesha Daily Freeman concurred: “The fight upon comic books should have been waged long ago in the home — but it has found altogether too favorable a reception there…. Three American cities — Indianapolis, Detroit and Hillsdale Michigan, have acted against the sale of comic books deemed harmful to youth. Others ought to follow suit with the hope that the crusade will spread so that one day it will blanket the land. What are we in Waukesha waiting for?”

The next step for Wertham, naturally, was radio: on August 8, he appeared on a panel discussion program, Author Meets Critics, in which he discussed his Saturday Review article with Maxwell client Edwin J. Lukas (who, based on a letter written around the time of the broadcast, took the point of view that comic books — along with radio and movies — were simply “straw men” latched onto by parents, teachers and doctors trying to sidestep their own responsibilities). Presumably Wertham was as outspoken on the air as he was in print.

Wertham’s target was ostensibly “crime comic books,” those that lavishly depicted lawlessness and violence for twelve pages, saving the triumph of good over evil for a quick wrap-up on page 13. Yet he not only lumped Superman in the same category, he held him in special contempt. Like Professor Ong, Wertham considered him a Nazi in thought, word and deed — the hero’s Jewish parentage notwithstanding. As a native German-Jew who naturally despised the Third Reich and all it stood for, he reminded audiences that “Superman” meant “Übermensch” — a key word in Hitler’s concept of a master race. Wertham was perfectly willing to blame the Man of Steel for the whole delinquency crisis: “If I were asked to express in a single sentence what has happened mentally to many American children, I would say they were conquered by Superman.”

In October, Liebowitz placed a full-page ad in at least one national magazine asserting that their product was “a major moral force” and “highly salutary recreation” for juvenile readers: “National Comics considers publishing a public franchise… with the corresponding obligation to publish nothing harmful to the sensibilities and moral values of young readers.” Wertham’s response was to label the ad “an all-time low in misleading advertising,” in a write-up for the Christian Science Monitor.

Wertham didn’t have much to say about the radio series, or even about the potential effect radio might have had on his sample of juveniles. But that didn’t matter in the long run: Adventures of Superman existed because of the comic book, and it existed in part to help sell the comic book. Without Action Comics and Superman magazine, Maxwell, Collyer and company might just as well take their armfuls of civic awards and go home. In December, Brach’s decided not to renew, and no other national or regional sponsor stepped up.

If their decision was based on anti-comic book furor, it was shortsighted. If anything, the sterling reputation of radio’s Superman likely rescued its four-color counterpart from oblivion. The criticism was coming from pundits who disdained comic books, and aimed at parents who might otherwise have not cared one way or another. But those parents all had radios, and they all read newspapers and magazines, and even those that didn’t listen themselves were well aware that educators, sociologists and journalists had praised the Superman show as a positive influence on American youth. How could the comic book version possibly be that much different?

Local legislation took the more salacious books off the stands — for a time. Fourteen publishers (National Comics not among them) established the Association of Comics Magazines Publishers, which drew up a code of ethics, based on National’s own, that was adhered to — for a time. Josette Frank issued a pamphlet titled “Comics, Radio, Movies — and Children” through the New York City Public Affairs Committee, in which she wrote, “The fact that all of the action (in comic books) is of the biff-bang variety, with everybody and everything being battered about, is especially pleasing to youngsters to whom physical encounters are always fascinating and forbidden.” Dr. Laurette Bender chimed in; comics, she said, “give the child a sense of release rather than fear.”

The furor dissipated, and Dr. Frederic Wertham returned to his work, fading from the national scene — for a time.

A script page from the August 7, 1946 broadcast… and a typical Lois & Clark conversation.

One of the two “Superman Record Albums” from 1947 for which the radio cast not only acted, but sang in character.

An apprehensive Kirk Alyn researches his role for the Columbia Pictures serial, Superman (1948).

Chapter 7

1949-51: Pulled from the Air

Breakfast foods pretty much ruled the juvenile radio roost during its heyday. Even though such products as Ovaltine, Tip-Top Bread, Peter Pan peanut butter and Tootsie Roll had entries in the sweepstakes — and many of their shows were quite popular with kids — it was the dominant presence of Kellogg’s, General Mills, Post (General Foods), Ralston and Quaker that led Newsweek magazine in July 1946 to refer to the entire juvenile programming block as “The Cereal Hour.”

A scant two-and-a-half years later, the format was dying on the vine. Kellogg’s had pulled up stakes and moved on, although they would briefly return in September 1950 with Mark Trail. General Mills and Post, both with the foresight to own their shows [, were hanging on, but only by a thread; in any case, none of the programs were serials anymore. Television began its rush to eventual dominance in 1949; owner George W. Trendle and sponsor Cheerios were talking about bringing _The Lone Ranger to the new medium, which already had a juvenile hit all of its own: Captain Video on the DuMont network.

It seems odd that Nabisco chose this moment to enter radio with a show designed to sell their Shredded Wheat cereal: Straight Arrow. The series, which Nabisco had test-marketed over the Don Lee network during the latter half of 1948, was sort of a combination of The Lone Ranger and Superman. The titular hero administered cowboy justice astride his gallant steed, Fury (so named by listeners via a “mail-your-entry-on-a-box-top” contest); horse and weapons were kept in a secret gold cave. Yet Straight Arrow was more than an anonymous western hero: he was in fact a full-blooded Comanche that had been orphaned and raised by white parents, and he maintained a secret identity: respectable (and presumed Caucasian) cattle ranch owner Steve Adams.

Straight Arrow was conceived as a 30-minute program, and in January 1949, when Nabisco and Mutual were preparing to take it to the full network, they decided it would air three times per week: Monday evenings at 8:00 p.m. EST, and Tuesdays and Thursdays during the 5:00-5:30 p.m. kid’s slot. That meant Mutual needed a half-hour program for Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons. After conferring with Maxwell they chose Adventures of Superman; it was, after all, still an audience favorite, if no longer the blockbuster it had been. The daily serial signed off on Friday, February 4, and the self-contained episodic version debuted the following Monday. In order to make things easier on cast and crew, the half-hours were transcribed in advance.

A new format meant a new approach to script writing. The one taken may sound familiar to viewers of the subsequent TV series, but clearly disappointed ardent followers of the serial. The new series placed the emphasis on Clark Kent, who — either with or without his coworkers — would investigate a mystery, which led to some sort of peril that ultimately required the timely appearance of his invulnerable alter ego, usually during the final minutes of the program. Consequently, Batman and Robin were banished; there was no point in calling on others when Superman needed only a few climactic moments to resolve a crisis. For much the same reason, kryptonite, too, disappeared.

In the daily version, Superman was undoubtedly the star. He’d appear several times during the course of a single story arc, and occasionally dominate entire episodes. The audience decline for the half-hour version was precipitous; consequently, the new Superman did not acquire a sponsor. A do-it-yourself greeting card kit, called “Make-a-Card,” was plugged in the early episodes, but this was a product owned by one of National Comics’ sister companies.

By the end of May, Mutual served notice that Superman would not be renewed past June 24. The network had Ted Drake, Guardian of the Big Top waiting in the wings, a brand new show with no legacy to live up to. The format change Maxwell had coveted nearly two years earlier lasted only 20 weeks. Worse, his production company now had nothing on the air, Adventure Parade having been dropped the previous November.

For seven years, Robert Maxwell Associates had been its namesake’s primary concern, even though it technically existed with the permission of National Comics’ Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz. Maxwell was, after all, a National employee and his business address was theirs: 480 Lexington Avenue. He was welcome to produce such things as Criminal Casebook so long as he didn’t neglect Superman, Hop Harrigan or broadcast opportunities for his employer’s other properties. If children’s radio was entering its death throes, then perhaps it was time to think about television. A few weeks before Superman departed MBS for good, Variety reported that the producer was considering a move to TV, but “is confronted with the poser of finding someone for the lead role who will emerge as a believable Superman.” Apparently even at this early stage, Kirk Alyn wasn’t on Maxwell’s radar.

The article speculated that “Maxwell may come up with an animated character along [the] lines of Paramount’s ‘Superman’ cartoon series,” but if true, the idea wasn’t taken very seriously. The Alyn serial, after all, proved that a live-action Man of Steel was not impossible… although Columbia had to resort to animation in lieu of higher production costs. Could a flesh-and-blood Superman fly on television — literally as well as figuratively? How much would it cost? Who would play the lead? How do we get the right actor and the right effects for the right cost? The conundrum fairly paralyzed the company for a time.

Eventually Maxwell figured out that, in order to make the kind of program that wouldn’t harm the integrity of the character and would justify the expense, Superman needed to appeal to more than just kids. At present, there was precious little for children on TV that wasn’t performed live in a cramped studio and which didn’t involve puppets, and those options were unacceptable. He’d long known that parents were listening beside their kids during the program’s heyday, but he didn’t know if adults could be persuaded to tune in without them. He decided to find out, and proposed an Adventures of Superman radio show as an evening entry. Intrigued, the ABC network agreed to a 13-week trial on Saturday nights. The budget was sufficient to bring all the regulars back on board, and as before, episodes were transcribed in advance.

Superman, originally slanted at young listeners, will emerge as a mystery-and crime-detection show aimed at adults when it bows on ABC October 29, 8:30-9:00 p.m.,” the network announced in a press release three days before the premiere. Each program began with an introduction presumably directed at listeners unfamiliar with the character:

Narrator: When the planet Krypton, home of a race of supermen, exploded into dust, the sole survivor was an infant boy, who had been shot to earth in a sealed rocket. Today that boy, grown to manhood, is known as Superman: sworn enemy of the forces of evil. To aid him in his never-ending fight for truth and justice, he masquerades as Clark Kent, crime reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper. His secret is carefully guarded. No one is aware that Kent is Superman… no one but you. Join with us now on ABC as we embark on one of Superman’s transcribed adventures…

The premiere, “The Mystery of the Walking Dead,” showcased the kind of macabre plot that would characterize the most memorable episodes of Maxwell’s TV Superman. Krishna, a murderous con artist on death row, demands to see Lois Lane three hours before his execution. Meanwhile, Lois is discussing the sentence with Clark Kent. It was she who provided the story and court testimony that convicted the pseudo-prophet, who used his self-constructed religion as “a license to prey on the superstitious fears of helpless women: to steal from them, to pauperize them, to murder them,” as Kent terms it. Yet Lois is unusually agitated. In fact, she seems not to favor execution at all: “If they chained him to a wall or kept him in a dungeon for the rest of his natural life, I wouldn’t give it another thought,” she tells Clark. “But whatever he’s done, he’s still a human being: a creature of flesh and blood, and they’re going to kill him!

“I sat in that courtroom for three weeks, watching him get tangled in his own web,” Lois continues. “Asking myself why a cultured, intelligent, religious man…” Her colleague immediately objects: “Krishna used his kind of phony black magic religion as a means to an end… How can you possibly call him religious when you know he has human blood on his hands?” At that moment the warden calls with Krishna’s request, to which Lois promptly, albeit nervously, agrees — over Kent’s vehement objection.

During their brief face-to-face meeting, Krishna doesn’t make it any easier for Lois’s conscience or her nerves. He is seemingly forgiving: “I do not desire that you forever carry within your heart the knowledge that you bore false witness against me… I bear you no malice for what you have done to me. The body is but the dwelling place of the soul…” As he continues speaking, however, his words take on the characteristics of a threat: “I, Krishna, will return in spirit, in voice… yes, even in substance! I will rise like a phoenix… like a new messiah, and you will hear my voice. You will look upon my countenance, and then you will know…” “Stop it!” screams Lois, and the warden escorts her out. But Krishna continues to shout out his own scripture: “As it is spoken in the Kabala: ‘And it shall come to pass that he will rise from the grave! And he shall be the walking dead! And there shall be no escape from him!’”

Indeed, there is no escape for Miss Lane. She hears Krishna’s voice on the radio, on the telephone… and when she learns that Krishna “cheated the chair” — found dead in his cell of a heart attack almost an hour before his scheduled execution — she’s beside herself with anxiety, certain that the killer faked his “death” and is alive and stalking her. Kent is no less certain that Lois is losing her grip on reality… until he answers her phone and hears Krishna’s voice once more warning, “It shall come to pass that he will rise from the grave…”

To solve the mystery once and for all, Lois and Clark head to the mortuary where Krishna lies in state. There, both again hear the mysterious voice — and witness Krishna’s body rise from its casket. This is too much for Kent, who slips away from Lois to assume his true identity. But when Superman returns, Lois is gone. She’s in the basement, about to be strangled by her tormentor: “I will choke the breath of life from your body! Can you feel the blood pounding in your temple? Can you feel your lungs bursting?” With mere seconds remaining before Lois succumbs, the Man of Steel bursts into the room to save her and resolve the mystery:

Superman: Tell Miss Lane who you are! Tell her you’re not Krishna! Tell her!

Krishna: My arm… you’re breaking it!

Superman: I’ll break every bone in your body unless you talk! Who are you?

Krishna: I’m Krishna’s… brother…!

After the tag, in which Lois and Clark discuss the resolution (with Clark admitting, “I missed the boat — the warden told me his brother claimed the body. I should have put two-and-two together”), Jackson Beck introduces a device that would become perhaps the most memorable feature of Superman’s sole television season under Maxwell: a preview: “Listen again next week, when Superman solves a murder and a mystery in ‘The Case of the Courageous Cobbler.’ Superman is a copyrighted transcribed feature appearing in Superman — DC Comics magazines, and brings you radio’s most fabulous character, in exciting stories of action, adventure and mystery!”

Reviewing the episode for Variety, ‘Gilb’ wrote, “While this transcribed airer was well acted and shone with production polish, there was nothing particularly ‘adult’ about the plot or its solution. For as the story unfolded, it was easy to visualize the entire yarn projected on the panels of a color comic book… Success of the show obviously boils down to whether a more mature audience will accept the fantastic character of ‘Superman’ himself. There’s little question of that for every grownup still has a smattering of the juvenile in him. But the new pattern is still a long way from being ‘adult’ despite the shift to sherlocking.” Perhaps in response to parents’ complaints, after seven weeks ABC shifted the program from 8:30 to 8:00 p.m.

Maxwell certainly wasn’t afraid to experiment with the “new pattern.” At least one episode, “The Puzzle of the Poisonous Pomegranate,” doesn’t even feature the Man of Steel! Clark Kent and Inspector Henderson are the stars here as they try to figure out how a noted scientist and creator of a new antibiotic, Dr. Benson King, died in a locked room with only laboratory animals present. At first, they find only a syringe that had contained poison and was injected into four pomegranates, but eventually discover that King’s thermos of milk was poisoned as well. They end up cornering the killer, the jealous and opportunistic Dr. Willis, after he forces Dr. King’s assistant from a fourth-story window. When the girl turns up at his door alive and well just moments later, along with Kent and Henderson, we’re told Superman caught her as she fell — but we don’t hear this happen; there’s not even a telltale “whoosh!”

What unexpectedly turned out to be Bud Collyer’s final radio performance as Superman — and one of his last dramatic performances before settling permanently into the role of panel and game show host — aired on January 21, 1950. “Dead Men Tell No Tales” is less a reworking of 1948’s “Mystery of the Stolen Costume” arc than it is precursor to one of the most memorable Superman TV episodes, “The Stolen Costume.” Although both used the same basic plot — a burglar lifts Superman’s costume from Kent’s apartment and, wounded, brings it to a fellow hoodlum — the serial version, naturally, embellished the situation. There, suspense was built as the hoodlum gradually narrowed down the apartment’s residents to the three most likely prospects, then systematically worked his way through them. Superman, meanwhile, enlisted his comrades-in-arms, Batman and Robin, to aid his search for the would-be blackmailers.

A much darker yarn, “Dead Men Tell No Tales” begins, of course, with the theft and a nervous Clark Kent calling in his detective pal, Candy Meyers. Kent wants Meyers to find the burglar, only he can’t reveal what was taken. “It doesn’t matter,” Kent explains with a stutter, “All I want to do is to get the thief… you know what I mean…” “I don’t know what you mean, but I sure know what you need,” Meyers retorts. “You need a swami with a crystal ball, not a detective!”

Meyers: You know as well as I do that whatever the guy took, he’s gonna try to sell or hock. The only way to put the finger on him is to check every fence and hockshop in the city. But we can’t do that, unless we know what we’re lookin’ for, can we?

Kent: B-but he won’t try to sell or hock this, Candy … it-it-it… has no value!

Meyers: Well then, what’re you all hot and bothered about?

Kent: Well, it-it has value to me! In fact, it’s everything…

Meyers: Oh, brother!

Meyers agrees to dust the closet for fingerprints. “If there are prints on the door, I’ll get ‘em. After that, pal, you’re on your own!” Meanwhile, the burglar arrives at the home of Nick Morelli, and before dying, he hands over the costume and checks out the apartment that it came from.

One of the variations between this version and “The Stolen Costume” is that this costume is a spare; Kent’s primary concern is his identity. Once Meyers informs him that the thief is dead, the reporter is relieved and delighted: “Well, that’s that! Thanks a million, Candy… you don’t know what this has done for me — in fact, you’ll never know!”

“What about that stuff from your closet?” Candy asks him. “Don’t you wanna know if the cops recovered it?” Only when he learns they didn’t does Kent realize his secret is still at risk — and it’s confirmed when he’s called at three a.m. by Morelli’s girlfriend.

Kent tells them to come to his apartment, then asks Meyers to leave. But the stubborn detective hangs around outside the building and, posing as Kent, presumably to protect his impulsive pal, rides off with the couple to their place — where Morelli, naturally, wants proof that he’s dealing with the genuine Man of Steel. At that moment, Kent, tired of waiting, goes into action. Superman crashes into Morelli’s apartment, knocks out Meyers, intercepts the bullet Morelli had just fired at Meyers, and warns the would-be killer that he’s not interested in “doing business.”

Morelli: If you don’t, I’m gonna do a little talkin’, and that’s gonna put you out of the Superman racket, but quick!

Superman: What if I see to it that you can’t do any talking? You know, dead men tell no tales.

Girlfriend: (Gasps!)

Morelli: You ain’t gonna knock us off! That ain’t your way!

Superman: Right now, I wish it were!

Eventually the Man of Steel tires of Morelli’s smug attitude, and grabs him, literally twisting his arm, demanding the costume. Hurling Morelli to the floor, he decides, “There’s only one answer to this — I’ve got to put both of you someplace where it won’t matter how much talking you do!”

Morelli: (in pain) Whaddaya gotta act like this for? We can make a deal…!

Superman: I don’t make deals!

Girlfriend: He’s a straight shooter…

Superman: The ‘shooter’ part I’ll accept. You’ve made your bed, now you’re gonna sleep in it!

Ordering the pair to get their coats, Superman gives them “a little ride… to your new home” — a mountain top four thousand feet above ground. Warning them against attempting to escape, Superman assures them he’ll return with “everything you need… you won’t freeze or starve,” then flies off. Beck’s narration takes it from there:

Narrator: Superman hovers in curious flight above the mountaintop, watching the tiny figures of the gangster and his girl. Then, just as he is about to turn in mid-air and head for Metropolis, he notices with horror that, hand-in-hand, they’re attempting to make their way down a steep slope.

Superman: Wha —? The stupid fools!

Narrator: Arching his powerful body, Superman prepares to swoop down after them, but he is too late. Loose sand and gravel rolls under their feet, and losing their balance, they pitch forward headlong, their bodies striking the ledge and bouncing off like sawdust dummies, falling to the valley four thousand feet below.

Considering that just minutes earlier Superman intercepted a bullet that had been fired before he even entered the room, it’s more than a little surprising that he couldn’t get to Morelli and his moll the moment they took their first step. Such is the law of scriptwriting when villains discover your hero’s secret identity. The problem created a similar controversy for the TV adaptation, which remains to this day.

ABC chose not to renew the prime-time Superman beyond the initial 13 weeks. They were, however, interested in reviving it in the juvenile slot, twice weekly for 14 weeks in the coming summer as a replacement for, of all things, Jack Armstrong. The budget they submitted was considerably less than desirable, but the network was frantically trying to climb out of fourth place in the TV hierarchy and funneling most of its resources into that medium. In order to pull it off, Maxwell would have to reuse scripts from the MBS and “adult” runs, and could afford to pay only scale for the performers — which immediately resulted in the loss of Collyer, Beck and Jackie Kelk. All three were well beyond receiving scale for their work, and were simultaneously discovering television’s greater earning potential.

While Maxwell sought a new Superman, Columbia Pictures came to terms with their Man of Steel, Kirk Alyn, who demanded and received “twice the money” from Sam Katzman for a sequel to their 1948 success. Having already drawn on the prelude to the Atom Man saga for the first serial, Katzman decided to go for the gusto with the second. Atom Man vs. Superman (1950) took the basic premise of the radio arc — an atomic-powered foe — and replaced both Der Teufel and Henry Miller with the Man of Steel’s arch enemy from the comic books, the dastardly Luthor (who as yet didn’t have a first name). Along with the star, all the supporting players from the original chapter play returned, while Lyle Talbot portrayed Luthor. Some progress was made in the effects: by tilting the camera and shooting close-up in process, Alyn appeared to be airborne, even speaking dialogue while in “flight,” though cartooning was still necessary for takeoffs and landings. Having paid Alyn double the salary, 15 chapters later Columbia wound up with about half the grosses — still profitable, but not enough to risk a third try.

In May, Maxwell found his new Superman in Michael Fitzmaurice. The actor, born Michael Fitzmaurice Kelly in Chicago, Illinois, on April 28, 1908, had entered radio in the mid-1930’s, as had his predecessor. Fitzmaurice started out on the west coast, handling a few utility roles on Lux Radio Theatre until late in the decade. By 1942 he was in New York working in various daytime dramas, picking up parts from time-to-time in such shows as CBS Is There and Nick Carter, and handling commercial spot announcements for WOR during such transcribed shows as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Superman was very likely his first starring role. Al Markim portrayed Jimmy Olsen, while Ross Martin — later to achieve television fame opposite Robert Conrad in [The Wild Wild West _]— assumed Jackson Beck’s job of narrator and all-purpose character guy. The _New York Times reported that Joan Alexander would continue as Lois Lane for the new series; it’s unclear whether Julian Noa returned, as only one complete episode has survived, which doesn’t include Perry or Lois.

The episode, “The Story of Marina Baum,” was the remake of a script that had aired on MBS in 1949. The plot centers on Jimmy’s new girlfriend, Marina, who is a Polish Jew — something that troubles the cub reporter’s mother. When Jimmy thrashes a friend from his church over the relationship, Mrs. Olsen is more convinced than ever that Marina is not right for her boy. Clark Kent gently but firmly demonstrates how wrong she is by telling Marina’s story: the young girl is a Nazi concentration camp escapee, who successfully found refuge in a convent. There she overcomes her own fear of those who “do not believe as we do,” when the Mother Superior encourages her to “pray in your own manner, child.”

Having been adopted by a Polish family in Metropolis, Clark tells Mrs. Olsen, “She’s learned one thing… that no one is different. Now, don’t you think you could learn the same?” Before she can answer, Jimmy bursts in: Marina is missing, having not returned home. “I’ve been looking all over for her — but she’s gone!” It’s a job for Superman, who quickly discovers that Marina is in the company of a good friend, who also happens to be a priest at the Olsens’ parish.

It’s probably unfair to judge an actor by one surviving example, and it’s definitely unfair to compare him to a fellow actor. But based on this episode, Fitzmaurice was unsuited for the role. His Clark Kent voice is too deep, too cultured; as he tells Marina’s story, one half expects him to start extolling the virtues of the countryside on behalf of some tourist bureau. As Superman, his voice changes very little, except that it takes on an air of bravado. Even Bret Morrison, who was hardly convincing at all, at least tried to create separate personalities; Fitzmaurice just doesn’t seem to have it in him. He’s Clark Kent, and he’s Clark Kent with an attitude.

As summer drew to a close, Maxwell and National were still pondering a future on television, but had to postpone for a few more months. During the break, General Mills had reworked Jack Armstrong into a twice-weekly prime time entry, like their venerable Lone Ranger. “The All-American Boy” was now grown up and working for the “Scientific Bureau of Investigation” in the newly retitled Armstrong of the SBI. In his book, On the Air, John Dunning observed, “Here [Armstrong] was just another faceless agent in the Counterspy ilk, one among many. Predictably [the show] disappeared after a single season.” ABC planned to move Space Patrol, a hit TV property that spawned a radio adaptation, into the afternoon timeslot that Superman was holding down, expecting Sky King to round out the week.

But in a surprise move, Mutual made Derby Foods an offer they couldn’t refuse (“a very favorable spot in the so-called kid band,” according to a Derby spokesman), and Sky King switched networks for the fall. ABC was more than surprised — they were furious; when Derby had opted not to fund the summer weeks, the network aired Sky King sustaining as a goodwill measure for both audience and client. Upon hearing about the switch, ABC promptly yanked Sky King and slotted in Space Patrol. Now Superman had to stick around in the fall. Moreover, the network needed a third show, since both Space Patrol and Superman were twice weekly. Maxwell was happy to oblige.

Effective September 11, Space Patrol ran on Monday and Friday, while Superman shifted to a Tuesday and Thursday schedule. It’s unclear if Maxwell submitted the Batman Mystery Club audition for the Wednesday program; if so, ABC turned it down in favor of a less expensive alternative: Blackhawk — yet another comic book character, with Fitzmaurice again in the title role. All the 5:30 p.m. shows were cut back to 25 minutes, as ABC had a sponsored mini-program for 5:55 p.m.: Falstaff’s Fables, courtesy of Mars Candy.

Blackhawk debuted in 1941 in Military Comics #1, published by Quality Comics, a company that was later acquired by, and folded into, National. Blackhawk was the leader of a special flying squadron called, appropriately enough, the Blackhawks. The troupe undertook special assignments both during and after World War II. Its members were of varying nationalities: Frenchman André, Norwegian Olaf, Chinese “Chop-Chop,” among others.

No recordings circulate, and Variety didn’t bother to review it — such was its perceived lack of importance — so it’s nearly impossible to determine what Blackhawk was like, or how closely it mirrored Hop Harrigan, Terry and the Pirates, Captain Midnight or any other aviation-themed shows. Radio historian Jim Harmon recently recalled that, rather than the entire squadron, radio’s Blackhawk “had one different companion each episode — sometimes André, sometimes Olaf, etc. But it was the same actor, just changing his accent” — and was probably Ross Martin. In 1952, Columbia produced a Blackhawk serial, with Alyn in the title role.

In tandem, Superman and Blackhawk each logged 25 weeks for ABC’s afternoon schedule, and a sad 25 weeks it was. Faced with rising costs and declining audiences, flagship station WJZ in New York City dumped all the network’s kid shows in early January 1951, in favor of a homegrown creation, Big Jon and Sparkie, a cheaper alternative that attracted more listeners. Washington DC affiliate WMAL dropped the juvenile lineup on February 5, replacing it with A New Way of Life, in which Carleton Fredericks offered “tips on healthy eating” to interested housewives. Chicago’s WENR held out until the bitter end: the final Blackhawk on February 28, the final Superman on March 1, and Space Patrol on March 2. The following week, the station opted for New York’s Big Jon and Sparkie, as did affiliates in Portland, Maine; Cumberland, Maryland; Corpus Christi, Texas; Madison, Wisconsin and likely several others. Only Space Patrol — and its sponsor, Ralston — would return to ABC radio in the fall, as a Saturday morning entry that would last until 1955, yet never match the popularity of its video counterpart.

In its 11 years as radio fare for children, Superman had outlasted all its predecessors — Challenge of the Yukon, Captain Midnight and Tom Mix left the airwaves the year before — and had subdued most of its competition. Yet Superman, who could change the course of mighty rivers and bend steel in his bare hands, couldn’t defeat the clock. An alarm had sounded for juvenile radio, and a Man of Tomorrow couldn’t abide in yesterday.

If his “never-ending battle” was to continue outside the comics pages, Superman would have to bring it to television.

Act II

Television

Chapter 8

Superman, Where Are You?

Robert Maxwell had known since 1949 that finding a suitable Superman for the home screen wasn’t going to be easy. But with television gaining significant inroads in American life almost on a daily basis, he at least expected to find a talent pool eager to be part of the boom, and wasted no time testing his theory.

One of the earliest trade magazine blurbs appeared on January 12, 1951 — even before the radio series ended. According to The Hollywood Reporter, “Robert Maxwell Associates has hired Betty Sinclair, formerly with Lippert, to produce 13 half-hour segments of Superman. Filming to begin February 15.” Why Sinclair’s involvement ended before it began is lost to history; a former actress, she had served as Production Manager on several of Lippert’s 1950 releases. Maxwell would deal with Lippert Pictures in the near future, while Sinclair seems to have returned to acting once her stint there ended. In any case the article was a false alarm, unless the intent was to serve notice to the acting community that a new show was in the works, with a highly visible role for the male lead.

Maxwell began by handing out assignments to the remnants of his writing staff. Ben Peter Freeman naturally wrote more episodes than anyone else; in some cases he merely had to dust off a few time-tested radio scripts. Another staff writer, Dick Hamilton, penned three, as did experienced screenwriter Dennis Cooper, while veteran radio scribe Peter Dixon did one. Newcomers Doris Gilbert, Eugene Solow and Monroe Manning also contributed. Maxwell’s next move was to ask the home office for the services of Whitney Ellsworth. National’s editor-in-chief was no stranger to Hollywood, having met his wife and made a home there during the late 1930’s. Not surprisingly, he would prove to be indispensable as story editor, co-writer and re-writer, and he also put Maxwell in touch with an old friend, editor Harry Gerstad, who remembered, “Maxwell asked me to join the project, but I was at RKO, doing some of their better pictures. I did line up a lot of expensive technical talent for him because he told me he wanted to make a first-class series.”

A co-producer to handle budget matters was brought on board. Formerly an attorney with Paramount, Bernard Luber had recently been a producer at Republic, a B-picture factory noted for exciting, inexpensive films. In addition to earning $500 per episode, Luber was given 10% of Maxwell’s 40% of the show. Luber, in turn, hired his friend Barney Sarecky as production (or unit) manager. Soon the two producers began discussing the need for a director, and Luber mentioned a bright guy he’d known at Republic (who was now actively working in television), named Thomas Carr. Luber quickly discovered Maxwell would need no convincing.

Carr, of course, had assisted Spencer Bennett with the 1948 serial Superman, but working for producer Sam Katzman had proven to be a less than enchanting experience. Seeking more satisfying challenges, Carr couldn’t help noticing that television was mushrooming. “This is the biggest thing that’s ever hit the entertainment world so far as those of us who make pictures are concerned,” he would say to anyone listening and then quietly went on to become one of the pioneers that proved it. One of his earliest assignments for the tube was to helm the first seven episodes of a new western series, The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok, sponsored by Kellogg’s. Having spent a few days observing the serial crew, Maxwell had seen Carr at work and knew he’d be a terrific asset. He could shoot fast and cheap, and he already knew the characters.

Once Carr signed on, Maxwell eagerly sought his opinion on casting, where he needed all the help he could get. Finding the right Superman would, as he’d suspected, turn into a super-headache. Nevertheless, by early May pre-production was humming. On the twelfth, Flamingo Films, a firm whose partners were all in their twenties, had acquired the exclusive rights to distribute the upcoming series for 31 years. At this stage, plans were to produce 52 episodes, just as The Lone Ranger had done in 1949. What was good enough for the Masked Rider of the Plains was good enough for the Man of Steel.

What Maxwell didn’t realize was that the 52 Ranger episodes had cost over a million dollars. With money from over 15 years of licensing (and with no publishing overhead), the Ranger producers could afford to give their television project a motion picture’s budget. Maxwell was soon to discover that National, while determined to retain ownership, could not provide that kind of bankroll. Within two weeks of the announcement, Jack Liebowitz halved the schedule.

Fortunately there was an added savings in signing with Flamingo; they had just acquired TV rights to the entire Eagle-Lion film library. This provided Maxwell and Luber with a wealth of free stock footage that would turn up in episodes like “The Runaway Robot,” “Czar of the Underworld” and “Crime Wave.” But first things first: the company needed studio space. At the time of the Flamingo deal, they were negotiating with the Samuel Goldwyn lot; ironically situated next door to Eagle-Lion. Those talks went nowhere, so they set up shop at General Service Studios, home of Lone Ranger soundstages.

With scripts coming in, and an occupant for the director’s chair on salary, Maxwell and Luber officially formed their TV company, Superman Productions, a subsidiary of Superman, Inc. This was announced on May 21, along with the news that filming would begin in the middle of June. Whatever date Maxwell and Luber had in mind would come and go for want of a Superman.

Reviewing scripts, Maxwell realized that Metropolis, Peru, a Haitian jungle, a Pennsylvania coal mine, Seattle timberland, a seaside village, an amusement park, and an island in Maine could not be had at claustrophobic General Service, situated in the heart of Hollywood. Carr knew exactly where the company should go: “Forty Acres,” the pet name for the old David O. Selznick studio, where Gone With the Wind had been shot. Nearly everything required was right there, and when they’d need a major city street, there was a perfect one next door at Hal Roach studios. By the last day of May, Superman had moved to the RKO Pathé lot in Culver City.

Another problem looming in the wings was how to make Superman super. The very first script, “By Hook or Crook” — released under the title “The Runaway Robot” — includes this description of Superman in flight:

85. MED LONG SHOT (STOCK) — NIGHT — AERIAL VIEW OF CITY

As Superman passes over it (Under crank)

86. MED CLOSE SHOT (PROCESS) — SUPERMAN

As he looks down and reacts

87. MED LONG SHOT — HIGH ANGLE (STOCK)

Of lot of fire equipment stopped at street intersection

88. MED SHOT — SUPERMAN (PROCESS) — NIGHT

As he changes his horizontal axis as he plunges down and out of sight

It was going to take a lot of talent — and compromise — to bring these scenes acceptably to life.

Certainly Liebowitz was fast learning how much “a first-class series” would cost. Not long after cutting the schedule to 26 episodes, he handed Maxwell another idea: a theatrical feature film. Since Superman had twice proven himself a box-office champion, he reasoned, why not also shoot a movie for which National could at least earn back their investment? The film could be re-used as two episodes, and then they’d only have to do 24 half-hours. Maxwell and Luber, already toying with the idea of a full-time partnership to include features, agreed. Prior to leaving Connecticut for Culver City — a trip he would make by car, with family in tow — Ellsworth was tasked with conceiving the story line and writing the first draft screenplay. He arrived in Los Angeles on June 1 with a script about creatures from the center of the earth frightening the populace of a small town. It’s title: “Nightmare.”

Speaking of nightmares, an acceptable Superman had yet to smash through Maxwell’s door. Nearly two hundred applicants and one trip to the Mr. America Contest later, he and Carr apparently decided to give Kirk Alyn a call. Alyn later claimed to have been offered the job, but after hearing the salary vs. the schedule, he quickly passed.

If Maxwell had ever entertained the notion that TV production would be comparable to radio, he was soon educated. He’d been handed a $400,000 budget, which amounted to about $15,000 per half-hour; to keep from going bankrupt, filming would have to be fast and furious. And so it would be, to the tune of five episodes every two weeks. It was also obvious that Carr couldn’t go it alone: a second director would be needed. By June 20, Lee Sholem had taken the job. Sholem later told Superman historian Jan Alan Henderson, “I was up for six pictures at Universal. I was told I’d have a better crack with the series than I would at Universal, and I said, ‘All right, I’ll take it.’”

The feature would be shot first. Only Lois Lane from the regular cast would be needed along with Superman/Kent. While Sholem filmed it, Carr would finalize the remaining co-stars with Maxwell. Phyllis Coates had already been selected to play Lois Lane. Her agent sent her down to RKO Pathé, she recalled, and “they (Maxwell and Carr) auditioned a lot of people. I read for it, then was called back a second time. They felt that I had the quality — it was that simple.” It’s likely “the quality” Maxwell noticed was a timbre remarkably similar to that of Joan Alexander.

Coates was born Gypsie Ann Evarts Stell on January 15, 1925, in Wichita Falls, Texas — a heritage that served her in good stead, given the large number of westerns in which she appeared for both movies and television. In 1943, she came to California to attend UCLA. Spotted by impresario Ken Murray at a local hamburger joint, she was asked to join his “Blackouts” stage program; from there she toured with The Earl Carroll Revue.

In 1947, Warner Bros. put her under contract, and she became George O’Hanlon’s leading lady in his series of “Joe McDoakes” movie shorts. “After that, I played everything — mostly westerns,” she recalled in 1953. “Spent half my life either on a horse or facing the wrong end of a gun or dodging Apache arrows.” Cowboys and Indians would be her bread-and-butter for several years. While waiting for Superman to appear, Coates kept busy in a Wild Bill Elliot “seven-day” (a reference to the shooting schedule) western at Monogram called The Longhorn (1951).

In fact, by the time Sholem started going over the script for “Nightmare,” Maxwell, Luber and Carr already knew for certain the actor they wanted to play the Man of Tomorrow. The only one who wasn’t certain was the actor himself.

Gearing up for television, from left to right: Bob Maxwell, Harry and Gussie Donenfeld and Whitney Ellsworth, July 1951.

Chapter 9

“This is it: the Bottom of the Barrel.” — Enter George Reeves

Around the time scripts were being compiled, an actor’s agent named Gus Dembling had sealed a movie deal for a client who was then doing live television drama in New York City. Director Fritz Lang, whose film Metropolis (1926) had inspired Superman’s base of operation, wanted Dembling’s man for a choice supporting role in his new film, “Chuck-a-Luck” — later retitled Rancho Notorious (1952). On April 11, 1951, George Reeves returned to Hollywood, which he’d left nearly two years before. His stint in the Big Apple had been a calculated risk, born of a desire to escape film roles that were rapidly declining in quality and wipe the slate clean. With a chance to work with a director of Lang’s stature, Reeves clearly felt his gamble had paid off.

The man who would be TV’s Superman was born George Keefer Brewer in Woolstock, Iowa on January 5, 1914, and would be well into his twenties before he found out he’d been conceived out-of-wedlock by a father he’d never heard of. George’s parents — pharmacist Don Brewer and a rebellious Illinois girl named Helen Lescher — married less than five months before he was born. Throughout childhood and adolescence, their son celebrated his birthday on April 6 — three months after the fact. The date was designed to obscure Helen’s “impropriety” and she kept to it, even unto Reeves’ certificate of death.

The Brewers attempted settling down to domestic life, but an already uneasy relationship rapidly deteriorated. When the marriage fell apart, Helen and the baby headed for her hometown of Galesburg, then moved on to Whittier, California, where they stayed with one of Helen’s sisters.

Within three years the young mother met Frank J. Bessolo, a handsome bank clerk in his mid-twenties, whose Catholic parents had emigrated from Italy and settled in Los Angeles. The two married around 1918 and moved to Pasadena. George and his step-dad took to each other instantly, and as the boy grew older, Helen saw no reason for him to know he’d ever had another father. Thus did George K. Brewer become George Lescher Bessolo before he could write his name, and in 1927 Mr. Bessolo made it official with the court.

Researcher Serena Enger writes, “They [George and Frank] appear to have shared a love for good food and liquor, were both good cooks, had a zest for life and dressing, a soft spot for dogs, and a quiet but lively personality.” If Helen took comfort that she’d found a husband who loved her son almost as much as she did, it did not help weather the strain when the stock market crashed and Frank found himself out of the banking world. At the time of the 1930 Census, Bessolo was working as a cashier for a brokerage house, but this couldn’t have been too lucrative or secure during the Depression. Eventually Frank would find work in liquor sales; first for L.A. Brewery, then by owning a liquor store in Manhattan Beach. But this career change wouldn’t take place until after Prohibition was lifted in 1933. By then, he and Helen had been divorced for a year.

While the Bessolos’ marriage foundered, their son was enrolled at Pasadena Junior College, where he promptly took up sports of all kinds, including amateur boxing. It’s never been clear what drew him to the ring, although impressing the lovely coeds surely had something to do with it. Alas, boxing didn’t suit Helen, especially when her beautiful boy got knocked around by those who were taking the sport more seriously than he. When his nose had been broken a few times too often, George saw things her way. Nevertheless, the extrovert in him would win out as he discovered acting. Here was an ideal life: on stage he could smile, say all the right things and be charming, and still impress the fair sex without damage to his physique. Before long he discovered that merely being himself was enough to score a success.

Helen encouraged George’s theatrical pursuits so aggressively that she may have served as a role model for the stereotypical stage mother. Moving quickly from college shows to local productions, young Bessolo joined the prestigious Pasadena Playhouse in 1935. There he became fast friends with many fellow thespians, and also served as a personal secretary to headmaster Gilmor Brown. The two even traveled to Europe together two summers in a row; in 1937, they returned to the U.S. from Cherbourg on the Europa. We might recall this is the same ship on which Bud Collyer had sailed four years earlier; apparently visits to France were de rigueur for future Supermen in their twenties.

It was during this period that a relative told George the truth about his parentage, igniting a hot-and-cold attitude toward Helen — and possibly toward women in general — that would last the rest of his life. For her part, Helen worshipped her son as one would a deity, and whatever effect that had on his psyche only adds to the mystery to come.

As contemporaries Victor Mature and Robert Preston had discovered, Pasadena Playhouse performances often led to a call from Hollywood. In George’s case, they led to two. First, he was courted for a small but key role in Gone With the Wind (1939): Stuart Tarleton — one of the Tarleton Twins, young suitors of Scarlett O’Hara. Years later, Reeves told a reporter that he’d originally been cast to play both twins, but the trick photography needed to pull it off wouldn’t work in Technicolor. Considering he was signed the day before shooting began on his first scene sheds some doubt upon this tale; in any case, Fred Crane played Brent Tarleton, and the finished film never refers to the brothers as twins.

Returning to the Playhouse, George was spotted by a talent scout for Warner Bros. and given a deal. Allegedly Jack Warner himself renamed his young contract player just in time for ‘George Reeves’ to appear in the Gone With the Wind credit roll, although in the confusion he was billed as Brent, not Stuart. Warner promptly put Reeves through his paces in a series of shorts, B-pictures and even a few of the A’s, albeit in supporting roles. What the studio honchos beheld was a likeable, handsome young man with a pleasant talent… but who needed that when you had Humphrey Bogart and Jimmy Cagney burning up the screen?

Reeves went from Warner Bros. to 20th Century-Fox (where he couldn’t outshine Tyrone Power or Don Ameche), to cheesy Hopalong Cassidy westerns in the space of two years. Ironically, it was the latter that led to his next break. Cassidy producer Harry ‘Pop’ Sherman needed to submit a test of his daughter Teddi to director Mark Sandrich of Paramount Pictures, and asked Reeves to play the scene with her as a favor. Once Sandrich saw Reeves on screen, he knew he’d found the right man to romance Claudette Colbert in his homage to the Army Nurses Corps during World War II, So Proudly We Hail! (1942). Hail! is a curious film; definitely of its time. Released during the most uncertain period of the conflict, the trio of Army nurses that are its focus face tremendous hardship and trial, first in Hawaii during and after the Pearl Harbor attack, then under unceasing bombardment in Bataan and Corrigidor. Yet they constantly remind us that Americans will do what is necessary to preserve freedom, a point amply illustrated when Veronica Lake’s character tucks a live grenade into her blouse and walks into an enemy camp.

As a wounded soldier, Lt. John Summers, Reeves tries for the tough male image then in vogue, but lacks the gravitas to pull it off. Once he begins romancing Colbert’s Lt. Janet Davidson, he’s more in his element. The Man of Steel, by the way, is also in the film by proxy: Lt. Joan O’Doul (Paulette Goddard) is shown reading a Superman comic book to a group of refugee children. Goddard, alone among her co-stars, received an Oscar nomination for her role, while trade and newspaper critics were more entranced with Sonny Tufts’ comedic turn than with Reeves’ romantic charms.

Before Reeves could discover if Hail would assure his box-office future, the war had beckoned for real. Back in 1940 he’d wed a charming young actress named Ellanora Needles, but with no children he enlisted just before his number came up. Luckily he didn’t have it very rough, dividing his time between Fort Roach (a.k.a. the Hal Roach lot) in Culver City making training films, and on Broadway appearing in Moss Hart’s Winged Victory, an Army Air Forces production. When his hitch ended, Reeves was unable to re-establish himself, mostly because he’d hardly been established in the first place. Paramount took him back, but didn’t have much for him to do. Worse, Mark Sandrich had died while Reeves was away. Still, he toiled without a gripe, gladly doing screen tests with prospective leading ladies, knowing that all he needed was another top director to see him on screen and want him.

But no new Sandriches were forthcoming, and in due course Reeves exited Paramount and freelanced, dropping down the food chain to Columbia and Lippert. By mid-1949, he was forced to supplement his income by digging cesspools for $100 a pop. “I can live on what I make, if I work regularly,” Reeves told columnist Virginia MacPherson. “But when five months go by and no movie job comes up you begin to worry a little.” He finished the decade in a dreadful Katzman serial, The Adventures of Sir Galahad (1949), took stock of what he was (and wasn’t) being offered, not to mention a marriage that was foundering, and decided New York had to be better than this. Reeves bolted California, divorcing Ellanora in the process.

Now at age 37, and with 18 months of radio and live TV under his belt, Reeves was anxious to try Hollywood again, hoping that Fritz Lang would be his next Mark Sandrich. Had Dembling’s call not come through, it’s likely he would have remained in New York at least a while longer, missing his bid for the role that would assure him a lasting — if not necessarily cherished — stardom.

Reeves and Lang apparently did hit it off during shooting, but the director was at least six months away from his next picture. No matter. Reeves soon landed another good role in Bugles in the Afternoon (1952), which was filmed during late May. The idea was to keep working, but studio activity always slowed to a crawl during summer months in those pre-central air conditioning days. By mid-June, Reeves was out of work and getting hungry. With no exclusive contract or live television to fall back on, he would need something to pay the bills until the studios resumed active production — preferably something other than ditch-digging.

Reeves was mulling over this problem at Scandia restaurant one evening when Luber spotted him. The producer remembered Reeves from joint days at Paramount; now here he was, in Luber’s words, “looking rather forlorn.” Luber told Reeves about the new series and encouraged him to interview for the lead. Reeves contacted Dembling the next morning, and together they strolled into Maxwell’s office.

All Reeves had to do was turn his head sideways and Tommy Carr knew the search was over. “From that moment on, he was my first choice,” Carr told Gary Grossman for the book Superman: Serial to Cereal. “He looked like Superman, with that jaw of his.” Reeves wasn’t as convinced this was the right fit for him and became less so as Maxwell and Carr explained the part. Listening, he no doubt envisioned Sir Galahad all over again, in woolen long johns instead of cardboard armor. Carr assured Reeves that Bob Maxwell was no Sam Katzman, and that this would be a class operation. Half the crew, Carr pointed out, had come from the “A” list at RKO. No doubt Maxwell pointed to a wall plastered with awards his radio show had garnered and stressed the feature’s anti-bigotry theme.

After a reading and a brief screen test, Reeves requested a few days to think it over and he and his agent departed. Once outside, Dembling went to work on him. Maybe the money (approximately $600 per week) wasn’t great, but over thirteen weeks it would amount to more than he’d earned for his last two pictures combined. Dembling also assured him that, artistically, he had nothing to worry about: the feature, like Galahad, would never be seen in Los Angeles, and the TV show would never get on the air.

Dembling wasn’t whistling in the dark, either. In 1951, the major studios had all the LA theaters sewn up tight. The Superman feature would be viewed as a Saturday matinee programmer, and those never stood a chance in the movie capital. And New York was still the capital of television and determined not to lose control as they had for radio. In those pre-I Love Lucy days, anything produced on film in Hollywood was castigated by both network executives and television critics. “Do it, George,” said Dembling. “Take the money and run.”

Reeves thought it over, talked it over, slept on it. No doubt he dwelt upon a lifetime of previous screen performances, in Oscar-worthy films and two-reel time fillers and everything in between. Roles? Bandito and bushwacker. Soldier and spy. Lover and lumberjack. Co-stars? Everyone from Merle Oberon to Merlin the Magician. Emerging from this reverie, he recognized that nothing of greater value — financial or aesthetic — would be coming down the pike until September at the earliest and he needed income now. After perusing the “Nightmare” screenplay, Reeves made his decision: “I’ve played about every type of part you can think of. Why not Superman?” By the end of the third week in June, the contract was signed and all systems were go. The search had ended. On June 25, The Hollywood Reporter summed it up with a headline that was at once cryptic and prophetic: “REEVES NOW SUPERMAN.”

The deal he signed was for seven years. Only copies that might exist somewhere in the depths of DC Comics’ archive show the exact terms to which he affixed his signature, but before filming ended that year he would call his contract into question. Coates remembered meeting Reeves for the first time during preproduction. Perhaps it had been a long day of fitting for the wool costume and rubber muscles; perhaps it was a touch of clairvoyance. In any case, the two co-stars hooked up in the afternoon, and, according to Coates, “we toasted each other, and he said, ‘Well, babe, this is it: the bottom of the barrel,’ and I felt the same way myself.” For Reeves, it was a feeling that would not dissipate anytime soon.

The script for “Nightmare” would be finalized by Ellsworth, Maxwell and director Sholem. The story concerned a race of small, hairy creatures that emerge from “the world’s deepest oil well” in Silsby (no state named). Clark Kent and Lois Lane, there to do a feature story on the well’s reputation, find themselves in a town succumbing to fear and intolerance as led by rabble-rouser Luke Benson (Jeff Corey). As he had done countless times on radio, Superman steps in to rescue the disenfranchised and save the residents — including Benson — from themselves.

On Tuesday, July 10, shooting began on the feature that would eventually be titled Superman and the Mole Men (1951). Scenes not involving mole men went first before the cameras. Apparently there were second thoughts regarding the casting of the diminutive beings from Earth’s center. Makeup man Harry Thomas recalled, “Originally, they wanted children to play them, but I thought that their skin wasn’t porous enough, so we debated over it and ended up getting three or four little people for the parts.” Coates believed that “every midget who belonged to the Screen Actor’s Guild was canvassed for a job as a Mole Man.” By July 13, the final four candidates had been engaged.

Thomas knew the mole men had to appear frightening to the people of Silsby, but sympathetic to the audience. Counting on an enlarged head and fur covering to take care of the fright, Thomas concentrated on the sympathy factor. “I tried to get that in the make-up,” he recalled. “I drooped their eyes down and made them look soulful, so that the sympathetic feeling that [Superman] had for them had a reason.” Some foreign distributors felt the creatures looked too sympathetic; posters for other countries exist that depict mole men with vampire fangs.

As for Superman, Thomas would never forget his earliest encounter with Reeves at the makeup table. “When I began making him up, because we were so pressed for time in those days, I may have been a little rough,” Thomas remembered. “George let me know that his nose was a bit sensitive. He was an amateur fighter in his college days, and he’d had his nose broken several times. For the rest of the shoot, I used a sable brush on him.” Additionally, Thomas had to contend with Reeves’ hair: “It was gray prematurely (a condition he’d inherited from Helen). He would dye it every two weeks. We would touch it up every day [with] food coloring.”

Aline Mosby, UPI’s Hollywood columnist, observed the first day’s proceedings. She spoke with an unnamed “associate producer” (probably Sarecky) about the special effects, and learned that Reeves would “be suspended by wires (for flying scenes). The bullets that bounce off his foam rubber chest are blanks. And when he leaps up to nail a hurtling safe in mid-air, it’s on a wire, too.” Describing a scene in the feature where the caped hero catches someone falling off a dam, the producer told Mosby, “We’ll shoot Superman and the other man on wires in front of a black backdrop. That will be superimposed over a shot of the dam site.” The finished film reflects the eternal outcome of a producer’s intent vs. his budget: Superman actually catches a dummy in front of the undoctored backdrop.

Mosby watched the crew film, in one take, the scene where the Man of Steel confronts Benson and a lynch mob outside Silsby’s lone hospital. She then spoke with the star. “Our idea is to give the children good entertainment without all the guts and blood and gore,” Reeves told her. “We think the series should teach them something, too. That’s why I decided to do this.” If Reeves was at all persuaded to take the role by the strong pro-tolerance theme and relative non-violence of “Nightmare,” he was in for a surprise once he started reading the TV scripts.

Sholem kept up the expected pace with unexpected enthusiasm. At one point, Carr went down to the set to watch: “And I heard this awful yelling, ‘C-U-U-U-T!!!’ I thought, ‘What the hell is that?’ It was Lee Sholem cutting a scene. Oh, God, it actually made me jump!” Carr lent a hand by taking on some of the second-unit shots, such as those of the mole men emerging from the drill shaft.

Ray Mercer was contracted to handle the lab work for the feature — which, based on existing footage, consisted of: a) the film’s titles; b) the pulsating rays that emanated from the creatures’ ad-hoc, Electrolux-built weapon; and c) a horrendous cartoon of Superman flying across the dam toward a wounded, falling mole man. There was more fluid animation to be found in a child’s flip-book. Maxwell must have blown a gasket; the cartooning of Kirk Alyn in flight for the serials, which had looked far better than this, was still embarrassing to a company trying to bring Superman to life. Little wonder that Mercer would not be called back for the television episodes. Meanwhile, Danny Hays (whose name was misspelled “Hayes” on the closing credits) was responsible for the non-lab FX.

If Reeves hadn’t already gone gray, he might have done so after his first flying scene. Hays, reportedly at the suggestion of Mercer, rigged a pulley system to literally hoist the actor into the air via harness and piano wire. This device made its debut in the production when Superman departs Luke Benson’s home (where the creatures encountered Benson’s daughter and wife) and flies to the town’s reservoir dam to head off a lynch mob. A photograph exists showing Reeves being hooked in for his initial take-off, the harness replacing the belt around his waist. He smiles nervously at someone, but his eyes convey genuine fear. Even so, the take-off is magnificent. Reeves raises his arms, bends his knees and suddenly, majestically, leaps into the air with a whoosh.

And just when Sholem called “C-U-U-U-T!!!” the wire broke and Reeves fell. Carr wasn’t on the set that day but he’d heard about what happened, telling author Chuck Harter, “They had him up on a crane, to fly him [and] he fell the first time they ever got him up there.” Fortunately there were no serious injuries, but the malfunction did little to improve Reeves’ attitude. He would long remember Maxwell’s knee-jerk reaction to his crashing descent, telling a reporter, “Maxwell didn’t ask, ‘Are you hurt George?’ All he said was, ‘My God – the star!’”

Perhaps the moment sounded more callous than intended. At the time Maxwell’s attention was split between the filming, pacifying Harry Donenfeld — who’d come west to observe how his money was being spent — and working with Carr to cast his personal contributions to Superman lore: Jimmy Olsen, Perry White and Inspector Henderson.

First to arrive was the cub reporter. Among the auditioned was a young actor named Jack Larson, whose two-year deal with Warner Bros. had ended in 1950. He’d been encouraged to try out by his agent, but after winning the part he wasn’t sure he wanted it. MGM and Fox were also interested in him, but Larson, a budding playwright, was feeling the pull of the New York stage. The only problem was he didn’t have the money to get there. The agent spelled it out: “Look, Jack, you’ll get more money doing this show than at the studios. No one will ever see this ‘Superman.’ Take the money and run.” It was the same well-intentioned song that Dembling had crooned to Reeves.

TV’s James Bartholomew Olsen was born Jack Edward Larson in Montebello, California. As with the character he brought to prominence, Larson was of Norwegian descent, the family surname having been ‘Americanized’ from Larsson years earlier. An only child, he discovered fairly early a penchant for the written word. “I was editor of the school newspaper at Eastmont Junior High School,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “I thought I might want to be a newspaperman.” He may have been influenced in part by his devotion to Superman — born in 1928, Larson was among the first generation of fans. “I must have kept [my dad] broke from buying all those comic books when I was a kid!” The young man soon discovered that creative writing, not journalism, was his forte.

A talent scout from Warners happened to find Larson at Pasadena Junior College rehearsing with the cast of a musical play he’d written and would direct. He brought the 19-year-old to the studio for a screen test; director Raoul Walsh immediately cast him for the seriocomic role of Lieutenant “Shorty” Kirk in Fighter Squadron (1948). However, after that auspicious beginning, he found himself loaned to Republic for quickies like Redwood Forest Trail and Trial Without Jury (both 1950, and helmed by future Superman director Phil Ford). As his next role at Warners was an unbilled bit in a plotless all-star musical called Starlift (1951), Superman must not have seemed to Larson as that big a step down.

Next came Henderson. Robert Shayne’s agent contacted Maxwell and said, “I have just the man for the part.” Shayne, born Robert Shaen Dawe in 1900, began his acting career on Broadway; when the Depression hit, he was instrumental in forming the first actor’s union in New York. Shayne had been placed under contract to Warner Bros. not long after Reeves departed, and soon found himself in the same predicament: important roles in minor films and vice-versa. He’d been freelancing since 1946 and Carr had worked with him in a Wild Bill Hickok episode. At first glance, Maxwell agreed that Shayne looked the part. He asked Shayne a few questions; one of them was “Will you gray your temples so you’ll look a little older than Superman?” “Fine,” said Shayne, and Maxwell’s second pet character had been cast. That left Perry White to go, and another Warner alumnus answered the call.

Born in 1877, raised in Southampton Township, Pennsylvania, John Rummel Hamilton had trod the boards from vaudeville to Broadway, and his commanding vocal presence made him a natural during the early years of talking pictures. Between stage performances, Hamilton could be found either at Vitaphone in Brooklyn or Paramount in Long Island. Heading west in 1937, he eventually became every studio’s favorite chief of police, sheriff, judge, district attorney, and all-around authority figure. Sadly, not much is known about the circumstances that brought this beloved character actor to his most famous role. He came aboard around the time Shayne became Henderson; both signings were announced to the trades at the same time, and both started work on the same day.

Meanwhile, the filming of Mole Men progressed at a steady clip, but after viewing the rushes, Maxwell decided that giving Luke Benson a wife and daughter diluted his effectiveness as the villain who at one point actually threatens the sheriff. Margia Dean and little Beverly Washburn thus became a nondescript mother and child. Reeves’ line “Your family’s all right, Benson. They were just scared,” was looped to become a reference to “the little girl,” and Jeff Corey saw his lines about his “wife and kid” snipped entirely. This had the desired effect of dehumanizing Luke Benson, but it didn’t explain how Benson could enter the little girl’s home unchallenged by Superman, close the door, then emerge less than a minute later with a pistol tucked in his belt.

As the film wound down, a golden opportunity emerged for Maxwell and Luber, which they seized. On July 19, The Hollywood Reporter announced that the pair had successfully acquired the rights to George Orwell’s futuristic novel, 1984. The plan was to produce the film in England in early 1952, once Superman had wrapped up.

Filming for Superman and the Mole Men, a 58-minute feature, ended on Saturday, July 21. As rapid as the eleven-day shoot had been, on the following Monday the real workout began.

George Reeves and Claudette Colbert in So Proudly We Hail! (1942), a film in which Superman is referenced.

Reeves’ “Lexington Card,” a postcard-sized résumé used when applying for jobs in New York City’s radio and TV industries (1949-51).

Superman (George Reeves) gives Luke Benson (Jeff Corey) a painful lesson in tolerance, in Superman and the Mole Men (1951).

Off-camera, Lois Lane (Phyllis Coates) is not so frightened by the Mole Men.

Superman (George Reeves) helps the creatures return to their home.

Chapter 10

1951: The First Season

From Monday, July 23 through Saturday, August 4, five half-hour episodes were put before the camera: “The Case of the Talkative Dummy,” “The Mystery of the Broken Statues,” “The Secret of Superman,” “Double Trouble,” and “The Runaway Robot.” To say any one of them was shot first or last is folly; elements of all five were worked off and on throughout the twelve-day window. The procedure would be followed for the remaining 19 segments as well.

Monday was Jack Larson’s first day, and it found him on the Hal Roach lot. He would work nine days out of the twelve, but day one was an auspicious debut for his Jimmy Olsen. The bright sunny day meant that backlot scenes would be shot first, and that meant Larson’s first task would be a dazed exit from a combination safe that had been dropped from a skyscraper window and caught by Superman. While Danny Hays and crew rigged the safe for the stunt, Larson chatted with the costumed actor portraying his rescuer. To his delight, Reeves recognized him from his first film. “He told me how ‘fresh and funny’ I’d been in Fighter Squadron (1948),” Larson would recall. “My dad was a great worshipper of Claudette Colbert, and I told him I loved So Proudly We Hail! (1942).” Larson didn’t know it then, of course, but he’d touched a nerve. “Mark Sandrich co-starred me in that picture,” Reeves replied, “and if he hadn’t died, I wouldn’t be sitting here today in this monkey suit!”

The crew had already named the Superman uniform “the underwear.” The two-piece costume – colored gray and brown for black & white film – was made of heavy wool and had to be sewn into place, which usually took about an hour. The cape consisted of raw silk. Combined with rubber muscles, the whole thing weighed twenty pounds. Factor in the leaping, running and fighting done under hot lights in a soundstage with no air-conditioning during the height of a Los Angeles summer, and Reeves’ attitude is easily understood.

Once in awhile, the pace of production would result in a hasty sewing job. When the suit would get baggy, Harry Thomas had to stand by. “I’d carry these wooden clothespins,” he recalled. “When everything was set up I’d be in back of him, and I’d take the clothespins and fasten them to the back of his suit, and it gave him a good fit.” Reeves was gracious enough to bring a guitar to work, which Thomas loved. “When we were waiting between takes in his dressing room, he would play guitar and sing, and I would sing along with him.”

It’s impossible for anyone to know exactly how Reeves felt in 1951. Based on his comments to Coates and Larson, one would surmise that he wasn’t thrilled to be part of this project. His time in New York notwithstanding, Reeves was foremost a motion picture actor, a child of the studio system, and he’d just come from good supporting roles in two A-pictures. It must have been difficult for him to spend thirteen weeks on the lot where he’d made his film debut, back when movie stardom seemed more than possible. Then, he was Stuart Tarleton wooing Scarlett O’Hara in what was still being called the greatest motion picture ever made. Now, he was leaping about in a pair of designer woolies. With a cape, yet.

In the earliest episodes, Reeves’ discomfort while acting in “the underwear” is palpably obvious. As Superman, he’s all hands on hips and chin out; grim determination, no nonsense. Only an occasional smile to Lois or Jimmy gives the character any kind of warmth, otherwise he exists solely to mop up the floor with the worst Metropolis has to offer. At Jessica Maxwell’s prompting, Reeves tried to speak in a lower register as the superhero, but he soon learned it wasn’t easy to duplicate that which came so naturally to Bud Collyer. After about a week, Reeves quit trying.

Jessica, who assumed the job of dialogue director, had other problems with Reeves. “George did a certain ‘thing’ — he used to swallow his words,” Larson related to writer Paul Mandell. “Jessica Maxwell used to go crazy with that! He would swallow his consonants. [The Maxwells] were from radio and they couldn’t understand what he was saying. There were moments of great contention between George and Jessica!”

Coates also had problems with Mrs. Maxwell: “I can play comedy, and I was always trying to slip some extra little touches in here and there, but she would report me! Jessica always had her eagle eye out – I always got the feeling she was the spy.” Eventually, Tommy Carr’s brother Stephen took over as dialogue director, in addition to playing secondary parts in over half the episodes. What Jessica did next is lost to history, but this probably marked the beginning of the end of her marriage.

It was clear the production team wanted Superman to dominate, even when his screen time was limited to a last-minute wrap-up. In addition to pads designed to hide his sloping shoulders, Reeves’ “monkey suit” included a rubber torso intended to duplicate the Man of Steel’s imposing chest-out posture. “They made a foam rubber cast of the upper half of my body,” he had told Aline Mosby on day one. “(They) may add some more muscles. Superman is supposed to be a grotesque figure.” Perhaps the star thought his part “grotesque,” but Harry Thomas held a different opinion about the gear Reeves was given: “He had a pretty good physique, but they exaggerated it too much and it was obvious. So I had something to say about lessening it.” Eventually, everyone would forget about accessorizing and let Reeves do what he did best: bring his own natural charm into the part. This gave the superhero something he’d lacked outside the comic pages: visible charisma.

As Clark Kent, Reeves would not — indeed, could not — portray the timid milquetoast of the comics and Columbia serials, thanks to the intimacy of the medium. “This new interpretation of the Clark Kent/Superman connection,” wrote Phillip Skerry in an essay published in Superman at Fifty. “(the) human part — the one most like us — works best on television. Perhaps it was because the Man of Steel seemed so tiny on our eight-inch Crossley. He didn’t even have the vivid colors of the comic books to give him life. Or perhaps it was easier to ‘live’ with Clark Kent because he seemed so believable. But the real reason, I think, is that Reeves’ Clark was a more interesting character than the other Clarks, more fully developed, less clutzy — a hero in his own right.”

In truth, Reeves’ Kent is no more or less heroic than Collyer’s, but the addition of visuals naturally draws attention to the interpretation. Maxwell and Luber’s desire to reach an adult audience made this attitude necessary. Luber confirmed, “The show wasn’t strictly for youngsters. We offered the dream of everyman – to fly, to be super.” In order for the dream to work, Clark Kent would have to be someone to whom everyman could relate.

If Reeves’ performance didn’t convey the idea that “the show wasn’t strictly for youngsters,” the scripts certainly did the job. The 24 episodes produced in 1951 are fantasy wrapped in film noir — a hard-boiled, violent, oft-times macabre bunch that would play havoc with the company’s search for a sponsor, and later alarm the guardians of good taste for children’s television. More than a half-century later, they are still capable of astonishing the unwary viewer.

The cast sheets for these episodes have miraculously survived, and with them we can bring the 13-week marathon to life. Of course, re-creating a shooting schedule based on cast sheets (also called “day-out-of-days” sheets in the industry) is a tricky proposition — just because it was planned to happen this way doesn’t mean it actually did. But time was of the essence, Carr and Sholem were no slouches when it came to fast shooting, and Maxwell was close at hand to keep things moving. Even if the schedule wasn’t followed to the letter, it came extremely close.

Under the guidance of Tommy Carr, Monday the 23rd was given over to shooting location and backlot elements of “Talkative Dummy” and “Broken Statues” at the Roach studios. Day players Tris Coffin and Phil Pine would enact the latter’s Paul Marden and his henchman Dorn, even though both also had roles in the former. Tuesday marked the first day of work for Robert Shayne, as all the theatre scenes from “Talkative Dummy” were lensed (on the set used by Charlie Chaplin for his Limelight [1952], shot the same year), with Pine essaying his role as the crooked usher. Later that day, the action moved to the Planet offices, and John Hamilton’s debut. Office scenes for these two episodes were thus completed. On Wednesday, Coffin and Pine got a day off as their assistants smashed statues in Wilkerson’s shop. From there, the camera moved to Inspector Henderson’s office, and related scenes for the two shows were filmed. Thursday saw Coffin and Pine return as Ed Davis and the usher for “Talkative Dummy” and all action within Harry Green’s offices was completed. Pierre Watkin (the serials’ Perry White), playing Green, worked only a day. Coffin finished the day as Paul Marden, arrested in the main branch post office by Henderson. On Friday, Coffin and Pine returned to smash the statues in Bonelli’s. Later, the sidewalk café and street scenes from “Secret of Superman” were done. Saturday, the action moved to the home of Dr. Ort (Peter Brocco); also, the scenes in Henderson’s office for this and “Double Trouble” were completed. Hamilton was present this day as well, signifying action in the Planet office set for the remaining three segments.

The following Monday was used to finish up scenes in the Planet offices, and the action at the newspaper club for “Secret of Superman.” Tuesday, the dockside scenes and all scenes involving Dr. Albrecht (Rudolph Anders) were lensed for “Double Trouble” (based on the radio episode “The Million Dollar Mystery”). Wednesday was given over to “Double Trouble” as well, with the Army base scenes and the ship interior scenes on the callboard. Thursday and Friday were set aside for “The Runaway Robot.” Scenes in Chopper’s hideout took up the first day; Professor Hinkle’s (Lucien Littlefield) place and the jail the second. Russell Johnson — best known as the Professor on Gilligan’s Island — worked only on Thursday as Chopper, which may explain why he doesn’t mention the show in his autobiography. Saturday was set aside for leftovers: Mrs. Olsen (Helen Wallace) on the phone with Kent (“Secret of Superman”), Jake (Jimmie Dodd) and Kent in the police crime lab (“Double Trouble”), and Marvin (Robert Easton) on his ham radio with Hinkle (“Runaway Robot”).

A day of rest, and it was time for the next five; Lee Sholem at the helm. For Larson, Sunday was usually only a half-day. He told author Gary Grossman, “At some point on Sunday, I had to begin lines for Monday. The weekend lasted, tops, eight hours if I woke up early.” Still, some weeks were easier than others. Larson would only be needed for three of the 12 days for the second group, which consisted of “The Mind Machine,” “The Stolen Costume,” “No Holds Barred,” “The Birthday Letter,” and “Mystery in Wax.” But once the series was airing, the Jimmy Olsen character would grow in popularity, and in future seasons Larson’s screen time would increase to the point where he wouldn’t have any bonus days away from the set.

As “The Million Dollar Mystery” begat “Double Trouble,” so did “Dead Men Tell No Tales” beget “The Stolen Costume” this time around. The dénouement of Bud Collyer’s swan song was heavily revised for its TV incarnation. No longer would Superman audibly wish he could simply murder the two would-be blackmailers in possession of his uniform, and this time he’d be well out of sight before his captives attempted their ill-fated escape. Even so, the episode was heavily criticized and fans to this day will debate Superman’s culpability in the deaths of Ace and Connie, the hoodlum and moll portrayed by Dan Seymour and Veda Ann Borg. On a more trivial note, “The Stolen Costume” marks the only TV appearance of Kent’s private eye pal, Candy Meyers (Frank Jenks).

The episode proved to be painful for Reeves, but the plot had little to do with it. Prior to “The Stolen Costume,” Superman had been making his entrances through windows and doors that were conveniently left open, which had more to do with a lack of adequate preparation time than anything else. While Carr was shooting his five, Danny Hays devised a way for Reeves to crash through a solid barrier, in this case the apartment door of the blackmailers. The crew would eventually refer to this as “the wall gag” and one day Reeves would come to love it, but not on August 9, the scheduled day for shooting this scene.

Hays had rigged a door made of balsa wood, which was held in place by a number of two-by-fours as it was attached to the apartment set. “We forgot to take out the extra lumber, and I called for the camera to roll,” Sholem told Grossman. “George came running up the stairs right into the frame… bounced off the heavy wood and fell to the floor – unconscious.” The scene would later be re-shot from inside the apartment, creating a striking visual of Reeves running into the camera, blackening the picture for an instant. Poor Sholem – this would not be the last mishap to occur on his watch.

Not that Carr came out of his workdays consistently smelling like a rose. It was probably during his first group that the director was pulled aside by Maxwell at the end of the day. “He came up to me after we’d done a lot of dialogue or something,” Carr recalled, “and he said, ‘You worked nine hours, and had sixteen or so pages to do. Do you know how much time you took actually shooting?’ I said no. He said, ‘An hour and fifteen minutes.’ That’s the way Bob Maxwell was. He was trying to make it cheaper, [and] he’d had this whole day clocked. I was so impressed with that.” Sholem’s take on Maxwell was somewhat different: “He was a character… I mean he was a character! Had quite an ego. He was good at story — a real pusher. [But he] thought he wrote the book.”

While observing the first two weeks, someone decided that they could save a ton of time (read: money) by working all the office scenes for each batch all together. Maxwell, Luber and/or Sarecky eventually realized they could finish up one batch in the Planet, then start the next batch there the following Monday, thus saving even more time (money). While this did ease some of the budget concerns, it drove the actors nuts as they bounced back-and-forth between plotlines. That it all managed to remain convincing is a testament to the talents both in front of and behind the camera.

Looking at the schedule from August 6-18: “The Mind Machine” (working title: “Engine of Death”) was very nearly shot entirely on Monday. The kidnapping of Dr. Stanton (Griff Barnett), scenes in Lou Cranek’s (Dan Seymour) Blue Mountain hideout, and scenes with Senator Taylor (James Seay) were worked. Tuesday was location/backlot day, with the school bus chase from “Mind Machine” and streets scenes from this and other episodes on the board. A few scenes in Murray’s Training Quarters (“No Holds Barred”) were apparently worked also. On Wednesday, action continued in Murray’s quarters with Ram (Tito Renaldo); all of Brannigan’s (Richard Reeves) wrestling matches were shot this day as well. Thursday, scenes in Ace and Connie’s apartment for “Stolen Costume” were slated. The day finished with Teaball (Norman Budd) breaking into Kent’s secret closet, and Ace wiring it to explode. Kent’s apartment was the focus of attention on Friday, as Candy Meyer’s scenes there were lensed. The crew remained in Kent’s apartment on Saturday, as Wayne Winchester (Malcolm Mealy) built up his defense against Brannigan’s paralyzer for No Holds Barred. Ram’s first encounter with Superman, and the Planet office scenes with Winchester were covered as well.

The following Monday was used to cover scenes in the Williams’ apartment, the Lambert Engraving Company and the cigar store for “Birthday Letter.” On Tuesday, action for this segment moved to the Duvalls’ apartment and John Doucette’s only day of work. Wednesday and Thursday were given over to “Mystery in Wax,” and all scenes involving Madame Selena (Myra McKinney) and Andrew Dawn (Lester Sharpe). Friday and early Saturday were spent in the Planet offices (White’s, then Lois’, then Kent’s) for all five episodes. Mr. Perkins (Jack Daly) came in to claim his reward for “Birthday Letter” on Saturday morning. After that, a visit to the Process Stage was made, where Ace and Connie met their icy fate (“Stolen Costume”), Kent and Hadley (Steve Carr) took to the airplane (“Mind Machine”) and Superman gave little Kathie Williams (Isa Ashdown) a ride she would never forget (“Birthday Letter”).

In fact, this was in all likelihood Reeves’ first true flying scene. Since they were already on the stage, the crew also shot a scene of Superman alone, backed with the same aerial city footage, to use as a stock shot. Production having been non-stop since the beginning of Superman and the Mole Men, it’s likely the traveling matte work that would comprise most of Reeves’ flying for 1951 hadn’t yet begun.

Mole Men had been assembled by now, editor Al Joseph having been hired by July 24. Three days later Darrell Calker, of “Woody Woodpecker” fame, signed to provide the score. On August 13, Lippert Pictures announced they would handle the theatrical release in the fall. It was probably around this time that Maxwell, forced to use Ray Mercer’s idea of a flying shot in the feature, went looking for someone else to handle the TV episodes. He and Luber hadn’t planned on making a change — the script for Rescue labels a scene where Superman uses his X-ray vision a “Mercer shot” — but they and Carr wanted to improve on the serial effects, not regress. Their choice was Studio Film Service, headed by Jack Rabin. “They phoned me … and asked me if I could make Superman fly,” Rabin remembered. “I said, ‘Yes, but it won’t be perfect.’” Fine, Maxwell probably thought, so long as it’s Reeves in the air, not a pen-and-ink facsimile. Luber closed the deal: flying effects for 24 shows at $175 each.

It was Carr’s turn to pilot another five beginning on August 20: “The Deserted Village,” “Rescue,” “The Haunted Lighthouse,” “The Monkey Mystery,” and “Treasure of the Incas.” This time the episodes shared a common thread: scenes set in a cave (or mine, in the case of “Rescue”).

“The Haunted Lighthouse,” adapted from one of the earliest serial arcs (“The Lighthouse Point Smugglers” from July 1940), is notable in that its first half is narrated by Reeves. No other episode claims this distinction, and the reason can be found in the script. Originally, the show was to open with Olsen’s telephone plea to Kent for help. As Superman flew to Moose Island, viewers were to be presented with the earlier scenes as a flashback. For some unknown reason, it wasn’t edited this way.

“Lighthouse” was a watershed episode for Jack Larson in more ways than one. It was the first to showcase Jimmy Olsen; in fact, he and Kent are the only regulars in it. Larson turns in a gripping performance as the young reporter encounters strange happenings and sinister “relatives” while on vacation. “Lighthouse” was also the first episode in which Larson found himself, in his words, “imperiled by water.” He told Grossman, “Somebody had this fixation about water. It seemed that show after show I was wet.” Larson’s aquatic experiences would resume with the next group of shows, and continue right up to episode 101 in 1957. Larson concludes, “It got to the point where I had to say I’ll hang from a cliff and let a car drag over me before I let them get me wet again.” Which is just what happened to him in episode 103.

As for Reeves, it appears he was growing more than a little frustrated with his daily ordeal. According to Luber, it was around this point when Reeves served notice, via his lawyer, that he was very unhappy with the pittance he was receiving, and if an increase was not forthcoming, this Superman would fly away. Apparently Reeves believed Maxwell and Luber were not living up to their end of the deal, but he hadn’t read his contract too carefully. Luber told Grossman, “I placed the whole thing before the Screen Actors Guild, which ultimately supported me.” Luber wasn’t completely without sympathy, however. He offered Reeves 3% of Mole Men’s theatrical release profits – only “profit” would be determined after National had recovered its outlay for the entire series, not just the feature. Reeves was also promised “a substantial chunk of the personal appearances” fees – only there are no verifiable reports of any appearances by Reeves prior to 1954. No sponsor, no network had become involved yet. The money for the whole shebang was coming from National Comics’ coffers, which weren’t overflowing to begin with. As it was, Maxwell and Luber had to climb on the phone once a week to ask for the cash needed to meet payroll. The Hollywood Reporter states that Maxwell went to New York on August 14 “to confer with National Comics about Superman,” but if easier access to production money was the primary agenda item, it was a wasted trip. The weekly phone calls would continue to be the routine, even after National’s own Whit Ellsworth took over.

Carr knew some outdoor takeoffs were necessary, and he didn’t want to set up the wire gizmo at Iverson’s Ranch. Besides, it hadn’t looked all that great in the rushes. After brainstorming, he came up with one of those “why didn’t we think of this before” ideas: have Reeves use a springboard. “We’d get him running, and we’d cut out his feet, and he’d hit the thing, go up, and land on a parallel behind the camera,” said Carr. “It doesn’t matter how high he goes, as long as he goes out of frame.” Whether it was introduced before or after Reeves’ threatened walkout is unclear, but the springboard would be a mainstay of production for the duration of the series.

Director Carr (accompanied by his all-purpose brother Steve) set out on Monday the 20th to shoot car scenes on that stretch of desert road that turns up in “Deserted Village,” “Rescue” and “Treasure of the Incas” (working title: “Secret of the Incas”). On Tuesday and Wednesday, the backlot street scenes and exteriors for “Deserted Village” and “Rescue” were filmed. (Both shows take place almost entirely outdoors.) Thursday, the action moved to Doc Jessup’s and Matilda Tazie’s homes; also, Jim Olsen encountered Mac the sailor (William Challee) and was almost knifed by Chris (Jimmy Ogg) for “Haunted Lighthouse.” Friday, it was Superman in the woods for “Lighthouse” and all the train scenes for “Monkey Mystery.” Saturday saw the mining office interiors for “Rescue” and the scenes in Crane’s apartment (for which Challee returned in the role of Max) for “Monkey Mystery” before the camera.

The following Monday was given over to Aunt Louisa’s home in “Lighthouse.” On Tuesday, action moved to the University of Peru in “Treasure of the Incas.” A second unit shot the brief telephone operator scene for “Deserted Village” on Wednesday (probably helmed by assistant director Nate Barragar, whose first name was used for an off-camera character in “Lighthouse”); while Carr and company spent the day in the coal mine for “Rescue.” Thursday, August 30, was cave day: Jan Moleska’s daughter (Allene Roberts) escaping before Moleska (Fred Essler) was caught and whipped, “Monkey Mystery.” Lois rescued, Alvin Godfrey (Malcolm Mealy) exposed, “Deserted Village.” Lois and Jimmy rescued, “Treasure of the Incas.” Jimmy saved from drowning, “Haunted Lighthouse.” Whether it happened in that exact order is unclear, but “Lighthouse” was probably saved for last, as the set had to be watered down. On Friday, the street scenes in Metropolis for “Treasure of the Incas” and “Monkey Mystery” were lensed at Roach; Reeves got to see how his “monkey suit” looked on an actual monkey. Returning to Pathé, the Lima street scenes for “Incas” were also shot. On Saturday, everyone filed back to the Planet offices to do scenes for all episodes.

It was an interesting two weeks for actor Fred Sherman, playing Doc Jessup in “Deserted Village” and mine supervisor Sims in “Rescue.” The first week, he was Jessup and Sims on Tuesday, Sims on Wednesday, Jessup on Thursday and Sims on Saturday. The following week, he was Sims on Wednesday and Jessup on Thursday. Maudie Prickett, cast as Mrs. Tazie in “Deserted Village,” was also supposed to play Mrs. Carmady — the phony Aunt Louisa — in “Haunted Lighthouse.” It would have meant one additional work day for Prickett, but for reasons unknown she was replaced with Sarah Padden. Interestingly, both women’s names appear on the end titles. The uncredited actress playing the real Aunt Louisa is Effie Laird.

September 3 was Labor Day. The cast received a week off while Maxwell, Luber, and Ellsworth went over the remaining teleplays and worked to reduce the rapidly depleting budget. One solution was for Ellsworth to write a script that would utilize a handful of existing sets for a quick, easy shoot. The resulting tale, “The Human Bomb,” meant a script already written had to be dropped; the casualty was Doris Gilbert’s “Death Rides the Sky Chaser” (based on the 1949 radio episode “Death Rides the Roller Coaster,” which was in turn based on the 1940 serial arc “Happyland Amusement Park”). Gilbert’s story would have involved a mock coaster (complete with sabotaged track), a stable and two horses, a special costume for Lois (“a white satin number right out of science fiction,” according to the script), and a “Tunnel of Terror” boat ride. (A complete synopsis appears in Appendix V.) Ellsworth’s hasty substitute was much less intricate, yet kept two of “Sky Chaser’s” highlights: Superman flying dynamite straight up into the sky then detonating it, and his capture of two goons by holding their car in place. These “gags” had already been prepared; there was no point in wasting them.

Another quick fix was to make narrative changes that would cut corners. Now that the crew had a better idea of what they could and couldn’t do, certain scenes needed alteration. A prime example is “Ghost Wolf.” In the original teleplay, someone sets fire to the timekeeper’s cabin while Lois sleeps inside; this was replaced with an appearance by the timber wolf of the title giving her a scare. Also, the script called for Superman to douse a forest fire by “seeding the clouds” with one ton of dry ice, obtained from an incredulous clerk. In the episode, Superman ignites a rainstorm by the scientifically dubious method of having lightning strike a strand of copper wire.

Only four episodes went before the camera in the next-to-last two-week marathon, which began on Monday, September 10: “Drums of Death,” “The Human Bomb,” “Night of Terror” and “Ghost Wolf.” Robert Shayne was to work the first three days; his primary job would be to sit in a chair and pretend to be Superman’s shadow for “Human Bomb.” However, there was an unexpected problem on Monday morning: Inspector Henderson was being escorted from the set by the FBI.

Shayne would tell Grossman, “I was raised in a liberal tradition where the search for truth and knowledge was justification enough for life.” But after several years of activism designed to improve working conditions for actors, Shayne was unjustly tarred with the “Communist” brush — worse, the accusation came from his ex-wife. Maxwell, Sholem and Reeves “rose hell with the arresting officers,” according to Shayne’s second wife Bette. But it was to no avail. As it turned out, the actor would be cleared almost as soon as his interrogation was over, but he still lost three days’ work; temporarily replaced by Marshall Reed (playing “Inspector Hill”). It hardly mattered to “Human Bomb,” as Reeves was providing the actual silhouette for his impersonator. But Maxwell had no intention of letting Shayne go for good; Henderson was his creation, and Shayne played it to perfection. Ellsworth, a man with ideals similar to Shayne’s, would also defend the actor once the sponsor got wind of his activism.

With “Ghost Wolf,” Reeves endured his second — and final — turbulent flight. For whatever reason, he agreed to try the wire liftoff once again. If it doesn’t seem likely that he would have wanted to risk falling a second time, it could be that weeks of watching stunt men ascending safely represented a threat to his manhood. It’s also not known why the crane and harness were needed, unless the logistics of the forest set made a springboard takeoff impossible. In any case, Hays’ crew turned the wire, and Reeves went “up in the sky.”

“Just as I called cut, the pulley gave [and] George hit the deck,” recalled Sholem. It’s more likely that Reeves hadn’t cleared the frame, as the shot was retaken with a stunt man. On a Los Angeles television special, Larson laughingly recalled that Reeves “fell on his Super-bottom, and let loose some Super-invective. He dusted himself off and said, “That’s enough of that. Peter Pan can fly with wires, but not Superman!” Phyllis Coates also found humor in the incident, telling Jan Henderson, “The visual was so funny to me. Here’s Superman crashing to the stage floor, and I couldn’t stop laughing. I thought George was going to kill me.”

Coates had her own mishap during this group. In “Night of Terror,” the script called for her to enact being knocked out by a thug named Sully (Frank Richards), armed with a blackjack. At the last minute, the scene was revised so that Sully would simply deck Lois with his fist. But during shooting, Coates was genuinely slugged and was out cold before she knew what had happened. “Richards wasn’t responsible, I was,” she remembered. “I missed my mark by about three or four inches … and he decked me!” Sholem quickly restaged the scene and reshot before Coates’ face swelled up. The furious pace was beginning to take its toll.

And the pace continued, even though shooting four episodes made for two five-day (instead of six) work weeks: Monday the 10th was Planet offices day for all episodes. Tuesday was spent on the window ledge for “Human Bomb” and in the hallway for this and “Night of Terror.” (Almira Sessions, playing Miss Bachrach in “Night of Terror,” can be glimpsed as an extra in “Human Bomb.”) The scene in the men’s club and the attempted robbery from “Human Bomb” were lensed on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday were spent at the Restwell Tourist Cabins for “Night of Terror.” Also on Friday, the Planet furnace scene for “Night of Terror” and the train sequence for “Ghost Wolf” were shot.

The following Monday, scenes at the citadel and of Kent in Port-Au-Prince were completed for “Drums of Death.” Tuesday brought the crew to the cabin scenes in “Ghost Wolf.” Wednesday was given over for the interior scenes at the hotel in Haiti for “Drums.” Backlot woods scenes for “Drums” and “Wolf” were slated for Thursday; the conclusion of “Drums” was covered as well. Friday was used for Steve Carr’s telephone scene as Quinn, and for Superman’s first two tourist cabin inquiries in “Night of Terror,” and the rainstorm scene (giving Jack Larson his second drenching) for “Ghost Wolf.”

There was another week-long break before shooting resumed on the last five episodes. At some point, Reeves reported to the Process Stage and, under Danny Hays’ supervision, was filmed in front of a white screen. Those shots were sent to Studio Film Service where Rabin created the traveling matte flying scenes. Hays (probably with Rabin’s help) created a body pan attached to a white pole, which was itself attached to a boom arm. Reeves would lie on the pan, his costume would go on over it, and stagehands would raise and lower the boom arm, as the camera moved in for close-ups, or pulled away for distance. It would be up to Rabin to “sandwich” this footage with sky film, or with backgrounds dictated by the scripts. As compared to effects for shows like Space Patrol and Captain Video (both of which were broadcast live), the flying scenes in Superman were state-of-the-art. The only noticeable problem was with the pan. It did not conform to Reeves’ chest and stomach, giving many viewers the impression that Reeves was simply lying on a glass table.

The final five segments, shot from October 1-13, were “Riddle of the Chinese Jade,” “Czar of the Underworld,” “Crime Wave,” “Superman on Earth,” and “The Evil Three.” Fortunately, Robert Shayne was able to return to work for the first three; “Czar” would become one of his favorite episodes. “Riddle” was, of course, taken from the radio play of the same name.

“Superman on Earth,” the series’ origin episode, is one of only two first season scripts with a science fiction theme; the other is Mole Men. Previous histories have identified it as the last segment produced in 1951. Untrue; as in weeks past, all five were worked off and on. (Technically speaking, “Evil Three” was the last episode to be started.) The original teleplay, begun by Maxwell shortly after he and Ellsworth completed “Nightmare,” contains a description of the opening sequence and narration that has defined Superman for subsequent generations. Rabin would create the visuals in his lab, while the wording was lifted wholesale from the 1942 Mutual series.

In the script, scenes on Krypton were lengthier as written. Jor-El’s (Robert Rockwell) speeches to the governing council are longer and angrier, just as they had been in the debut radio episode. But in a bow to the need for visuals, the teleplay adds a scene where the abusive Kogan (Stuart Randall) appears at Jor-El’s home attempting to commandeer the rocket for his own salvation. The young scientist and father will have none of it: “‘Jor-El speaks nonsense, eh? Why don’t you laugh now, Kogan?” Determined to be spared, the intruder demands access to the spaceship. “You’ll die for your mistake,” Jor-El assures him, and then the two slug it out amidst the planet’s ever more damaging internal eruptions before Kogan is dealt a knockout blow. All of it reads like Plan 9 From Krypton; thankfully, restraint won the day.

Clad in Buster Crabbe’s old Flash Gordon duds, Rockwell did an exemplary job as Jor-El. More’s the pity his performance is credited on screen to Ross Elliot, who was first choice for the role. No one knows why he didn’t play it; maybe the Flash Gordon costume didn’t fit. Whatever the reason, Elliot wouldn’t actually work for Superman, Inc. for another decade, in their 1961 pilot of the Adventures of Superboy.

When the Krypton scenes were reduced to a bare minimum, they were replaced with a vignette set in the Kent’s farmhouse, one that has “Whitney Ellsworth” written all over it. Twelve-year-old Clark (Joel Nestler) returns home from school wondering why he is “different from all the other boys,” and his mother gently explains his fantastic origin. This dialogue does not appear in the script; it’s unknown whether Frances (Sarah Kent) Morris had to be called back or if it was ready by October 6, the day all other Kent homestead scenes were shot.

Another script missing a scene is “Murder on Stage 13,” the working title for “Czar of the Underworld.” A telephone conversation between Perry White and Inspector Henderson is absent. “Czar” was one of approximately six shows that came up short. According to Grossman, “Maxwell worked with Carr typing out a half-dozen scenes to expand the programs.” In “Czar,” John Hamilton’s script masquerades as “a news teletype report.” “Ghost Wolf” from the previous group was also in need of more footage. Two separate telephone conversations between White and lumber boss Garvin (Stanley Andrews) were created to complete the episode. Fortunately, Sholem had filmed some reaction shots of Andrews holding the receiver for protection. These were cut into Hamilton’s new scenes, which were directed by Carr. “I was sick as a dog,” Carr remembered. “I had gotten the flu. And I spent two days shooting to fill out those pictures.”

So it came down to the final production slate: Monday the 1st brought the camera inside Lu Sung’s (Paul Burns) curio shop for “Riddle of the Chinese Jade;” also the two gunmen at the window in “Czar of the Underworld” took a shot at Kent. On Tuesday, the street and tunnel scenes for “Riddle” were lensed, as was Alan Dexter’s murder for “Czar” and Sally’s (Barbara Fuller) camera-pointing in “Crime Wave.” “Superman on Earth’s” Tom Fadden and Frances Morris were on hand as well, but they didn’t work together. A second unit crew watched Eben Kent pull baby Kal-El out of the burning rocket, while Carr directed Sarah Kent seeing her grown son off from the Smallville Bus Depot. Wednesday was spent inside Lu Sung’s and Harry Wong’s (Victor Sen Yung) apartments for “Riddle,” plus Kent and Henderson were chauffeured to a locked garage in “Czar.” On Thursday, the real chauffeur was knocked out; also, Dinelli’s penthouse scenes for “Czar,” and the action in Mr. Big’s home in “Crime Wave” were filmed. Friday was spent entirely on “Czar:” in Dexter’s trailer, the Mark Stevens Hotel and the empty soundstage where Frank Dinelli (John Maxwell) met his end. Saturday saw filming in Sarah and Eben Kent’s rustic farmhouse for “Superman on Earth.” Reeves would wear farm duds to speak his one line (“And a good father!”); he would also don “the underwear” to endure and conquer Mr. Big’s (John Eldridge) death trap in “Crime Wave.”

Monday the 8th was spent filming silent grilling sequences with Henderson, Superman, Nick Marone (Phil Van Zandt) and Big Ed Bullock (Al Eben) for “Crime Wave.” The rest of the day, and all of Tuesday, was spent in the Daily Planet offices for all shows. Dabbs Greer came in on Tuesday for the final scene of “Superman on Earth.” Wednesday and Thursday were given over to the Bayou Hotel and “The Evil Three.” George Reeves was on call to work Friday, but the entire day was spent on Krypton for “Superman on Earth.” Perhaps he did his “flying” on this day. Saturday was spent on the Process Stage: the Colonel (Jonathan Hale) breaking his sword across Superman’s chest, “Evil Three;” Dabbs Greer hanging from the rope, Sarah and Eben in their jalopy, and Lois, Jimmy and a photographer in their car for “Superman on Earth.” The latter trio, along with Kent and White, were also filmed exiting and/or entering the Carnation Building at 5045 Wilshire Boulevard, which was doubling as the front door of the Daily Planet; these scenes appeared in “Crime Wave” and “Superman on Earth.” The actual skyscraper used for establishing shots of the Planet during the first season was the E. Clem Wilson Building, located two blocks west at 5225 Wilshire. As of this writing, the 12-story structure remains while the Carnation Building was demolished in the 1990’s; today the site houses The Hollywood Reporter.

Finally, it was a wrap. Everyone said their goodbyes and moved on. Ellsworth and family returned to Connecticut. Larson lit out for New York. Reeves was so exhausted, he didn’t do anything for three months. At the end of January 1952, he took a role in a Fireside Theatre segment called “Hurry, Hurry,” and then Fritz Lang handed him a juicy part in a picture to be called The Blue Gardenia (1953).

From October to December, Maxwell and Al Joseph assembled the shows, slugging in Rabin’s flying composites and other optical effects. Superman and the Mole Men had its theatrical release on November 23, right around the time it was being recut into two episodes titled “The Unknown People.” Mole Men would remain in circulation for at least a year-and-a-half, servicing the double feature and Saturday matinee needs of theatres nestled within hundreds of pre-television towns across the U.S. The film handily made back its cost, while simultaneously flying under the radar of Hollywood’s movers and shakers.

Announcer Willard Kennedy (who’d played a radio newscaster in “Crime Wave”) read the narration for both the opening and a preview sequence that closed the TV episodes. Jack Narz found time between Space Patrol commercials to provide special narration for “Superman on Earth” and “The Unknown People.”

Leon Klatzkin wrote the “Superman March” for the opening and closing titles — or maybe not; Klatzkin is the credited composer, but there are serious doubts as to the validity of this claim. Variations on the theme’s spirited introduction would be used for the flying sequences. Luber cut a deal with the MuTel Music Library to provide background cues for all 26 segments (some of which have motifs strikingly similar to “Superman March,” hence the doubt cast on Klatzkin’s authorship) for $150 per show. After that, Luber decided not to continue working with Maxwell, and instead became an independent producer, forming Encore Films and signing a releasing deal with Lippert. The pair’s option on 1984 expired; four years later, Nathaniel Peter Rathvon, a former president of RKO Studios, would produce the film version.

By January 1952, all 26 episodes were ready. Dupe negatives (used to strike prints) were prepared, and the masters were stored away. It was time for Flamingo Films to get the show on the air.

Superman (George Reeves) leaps into action on the RKO-Pathé back lot in the summer of 1951.

“Superman is supposed to be a grotesque figure,” is the opinion of George Reeves in 1951, but he would use less fake padding as the season progressed.

Scene from “The Runaway Robot,” with George Reeves, Lucien Littlefield, Phyllis Coates, Jack Larson and Robert Shayne. The script was the first written for the TV series.

From left to right: Robert Maxwell, George Reeves and Bernard Luber were all smiles upon completion of Superman and the Mole Men… but tension grew between them as TV production wore on. Photo courtesy of John McElwee.

As Perry White, John Hamilton resorts to the script on his desk when episodes come up short and new scenes are added at the last minute.

Chapter 11

1952-53: The Selling of Superman Redux

The pact to distribute the Superman series had been made between National Comics and Flamingo Films in May of 1951. Flamingo had been formed two years earlier by two brothers: James and Joseph Harris, president and chairman of the board respectively. They were joined by Seymour (Sy) Weintraub, vice-president, and David Wolper, treasurer. Weintraub, at 26, was the eldest of the foursome. Their 31-year deal with National was estimated by the trade press to be worth some $30 million, based on a $20,000 weekly cost, although Wolper believes the figure “was just publicity.” As a bonus, National threw in the 17 Superman cartoons that had been produced by Paramount Pictures, which they’d recently acquired.

Flamingo, like other early distribution firms, would license television rights to old theatrical shorts, serials and features (mostly those of B-picture factories), as well as made-for-TV product from independent producers. They’d assemble film packages and sell them on a “spot basis” — literally from market-to-market — either to local advertisers or the stations themselves. Pricing was scaled to a market’s overall population, and as TV set sales increased within that market, so did the price for second runs and beyond. Thus began television syndication, and it was no surprise when Frederick Ziv — the self-proclaimed father of radio syndication — became the biggest supplier in the business; first by assembling packages such as Yesterday’s Newsreel and Sports Album from old footage, then producing his own shows from his radio properties The Cisco Kid and Boston Blackie. In the early days, Ziv recalled, “most stations were desperate for programming.” More and more stations opened in more and more markets, and the syndication business mushroomed.

As 1951 drew to a close, there were several players alongside Flamingo and Ziv: Official Films, TV Programs of America, Commonwealth Film & Television, Associated Artists Productions (AAP), Sterling Television, Interstate Television and Music Corporation of America (MCA). With not much more than its 51-film Eagle-Lion library, a few British features, some serials, the Superman cartoons and a 77-episode, quarter-hour sports-footage series titled TV Baseball Hall of Fame, Flamingo kept its head above water while waiting for the Adventures of Superman to become available. But the writing was on the wall, and in December the company merged with Matthew (Matty) Fox’s AAP and its varied holdings, and became Motion Pictures for Television (MPTV).

With the merger, Wolper was put in charge of the West Coast office, and when Superman was ready to sell, he was instructed to find buyers. “My job was to clear the markets, and the original plan was to sell Superman to a local sponsor in each individual market,” says Wolper. “That way, we could sell to, say, La Brea Motors in Los Angeles and Bank of America in San Francisco.” That this was the intention is supported by the original opening, as assembled by Maxwell. The series title is accompanied only by the “Superman March” music, so that any local advertiser could overdub its own announcer: “Our product presents the Adventures of Superman!

There would only be 24 episodes available, instead of the expected 26. National’s original plan of withholding the re-edited Superman and the Mole Men for a single year had backfired, thanks to the Screen Actor’s Guild. In September 1951, at a time when television was perceived as threatening the livelihood of everyone in the motion picture field, producers managed to obtain a compromise in their latest agreement with the Guild: theatrical films could be sold to television without royalties to key talent, but only those copyrighted prior to September 1, 1948 (with the trade’s fondness for shorthand, these pictures became known as “pre-‘48’s”). The Guild originally considered this a temporary measure, but it was never reversed during future negotiations. Producers would drag their feet on newer pictures into the next decade, hoping for another “temporary” concession, which the Guild was loath to award. Re-titling and re-scoring made no difference: Mole Men had been made with SAG members and had been copyrighted and exhibited theatrically in 1951. Until there was a change in the rules, “The Unknown People” would be withheld.

With no loftier goal in mind than securing a local sponsor, Wolper made a presentation (which appears to have included a screening of “Superman on Earth”) to the West Coast head of the Leo Burnett Agency. Whoever saw Wolper that day was certainly impressed. “He suggested that I go to [the parent office in] Chicago, and make a presentation to the head of the agency,” says Wolper. “So I flew out there as soon as I could.” The young executive didn’t know it, but he was about to facilitate a reunion.

For several years, Leo Burnett had been sharing the Kellogg’s account with Kenyon & Eckhardt, and they were itching to make theirs an exclusive relationship. Not long before Superman’s final radio flight, K&E had introduced Kellogg’s to children’s television: in January 1951, they debuted as sponsor of Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. Leo Burnett countered with The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok, which premiered in April. Both were huge successes. With an eye toward eventually packaging a Monday-through-Friday schedule, the cereal company let it be known that it was interested in similar programs.

Burnett’s home office was equally impressed by Wolper’s dog-and-pony show. Clearly, Superman was a well-produced, quality series that would be an easy sell to the execs in Battle Creek, and Kellogg’s would not need reminding that they and the Man of Steel had shared a long and profitable relationship once before. “We were delighted that Kellogg’s agreed to nationwide sponsorship,” concludes Wolper. No surprise there; it now became Leo Burnett’s job to “clear the markets.” On July 2, 1952, the reunion of Kellogg’s and Superman was announced in Variety. Just two weeks earlier, the cereal firm had severed ties with Kenyon & Eckhardt, claiming “differences with top management,” and handed its $6 million annual ad budget exclusively to the Burnett Agency.

July 2 was nearly six months after MPTV had been handed a finished product. What had taken so long?

The delay was due to an unexpected chore: the 24 episodes had to be re-edited. Kellogg’s had ordered some very specific changes. Then as now, an advertiser’s public image was carefully cultivated, and controversy was to be avoided at all cost. One can easily guess the scenario: the Kellogg’s and Leo Burnett people sit down over the course of a few days and screen each segment. They witness Inspector Henderson and the Planet staff pouring champagne in “Mystery in Wax,” and they’re disconcerted. They watch Greer (James Craven) throw Lu Sung’s niece Lily (Gloria Saunders) onto a bed and strike her twice in “Riddle of the Chinese Jade,” and they’re alarmed. They see the first five minutes of “Crime Wave,” with its images of gangland violence amidst screaming headlines, and they’re appalled. Bill Hickok and Jingles this wasn’t.

As Jack Larson told Gary Grossman, Maxwell “didn’t think of it as a children’s show, because he hoped to get an adult time slot,” something he’d already accomplished on radio, albeit not too successfully. Maxwell knew, and Luber had readily agreed, that in order to ensure success, their show had to be geared toward family viewership, as was The Lone Ranger. The character of Superman would entrance the kids; the stories would hook the grown-ups. But by 1952, Wild Bill Hickok and Tom Corbett had proven there was profit in the juvenile market, and Kellogg’s wanted to target Superman to that audience.

In addition to questionable scenes, there were other problems. Story exposition was occasionally presented in print: a small classified ad in “Mind Machine,” a teletype bulletin in “Monkey Mystery.” The cereal company asked to have characters read these items out loud; after all, the show was going to be viewed on a ten-inch screen. Kellogg’s biggest objection may have been that there were no breaks for the commercials. Nearly every segment went from start to finish without a single fade, and when the episodes went to or from titles, the transitions were bridged with music.

Presumably the company presented a list of demands to National and/or MPTV, which may have sounded something like this: “Put our logo on the opening before the first title card. Let’s lose that ‘And now, another exciting episode….’ stuff so we can insert a commercial before the episode starts. Let’s have a fade somewhere after the first fourteen or so minutes for another commercial break, and can we have a ‘We’ll be right back’ bumper in there, too? Let’s have our final commercial right after the episode fades out. When the program ends, make sure our name is mentioned one more time. And on the closing credits, ‘THE END’ should be the last title you see, not the first. Finally, here’s a list of scenes we think should be cut.” The list included:

1) “The Monkey Mystery”: delete the whipping of Jan Moleska.

2) “The Stolen Costume”: reduce the intense screaming as the two hoodlums fall to their deaths.

3) “Mystery in Wax”: eliminate pouring of drinks and drinking among the regulars.

4) “The Evil Three”: delete the ghost in the window, the pushing of Elsa into the cellar, the chained skeleton of George Taylor.

5) “Riddle of the Chinese Jade”: delete the striking of Lily Sung as she’s held down in bed.

6) “Crime Wave”: add narration to better explain what is happening; delete drive-by shootings and scenes of sabotage.

No one had asked Maxwell how he felt about working with Kellogg’s again, but before long everyone would know. He’d already prepared dupe negatives (or “negs”; used for striking prints) from Al Joseph’s master edit. When the order to make changes came down, Maxwell refused to do another master edit and simply cut into a set of dupe negs. He had to know that dupes could not be made from dupes, that his finished work would become the new masters, and that these would have to be used to strike all prints. Once they wore out, they could never be replaced.

It would be easy — maybe too easy — to assume Maxwell was sending a message to Kellogg’s that, in the long run, his original vision trumped their petty complaints. Perhaps he could foresee a time when new sponsors, who weren’t so picky, would one day appear. Then again, maybe he simply believed that the series would not be on the air long enough for wear and tear on the negatives to become an issue. Whatever the reason, the end result brought about an interesting development seven years later.

Announcer Charlie Lyon, who was selected by the Leo Burnett Agency, recorded the intro and outro lines that mentioned Kellogg’s name, and the commercial bumper: “We’ll return to the Adventures of Superman in just a moment.” The last piece of business was the commercials themselves. It was already becoming customary in series television for the closing ad to feature at least one cast member. Therefore, sometime in July or August of 1952, George Reeves donned the business suit, tie and glasses, and spent a day as Clark Kent wandering around the Pathé backlot with several children, hawking “that favorite new cereal of mine, Kellogg’s Sugar Frosted Flakes.”

Not surprisingly, the first city to air the Adventures of Superman was Chicago, home of Leo Burnett. Station WENR, an ABC affiliate, bought the show for 52 weeks, to debut Friday, September 19, 1952, at 7:30 p.m. Central. Within a month, MPTV reported that Superman had been sold in 15 markets, but these were mostly small, one-station cities such as Davenport, Iowa and Kalamazoo, Michigan, that otherwise relied on inferior kinescopes from the four networks. Buffalo, New York bought Superman for November; KDKA, Pittsburgh’s lone station owned by the DuMont network, added it in December.

Los Angeles ABC station, KECA, presented the show at 8:30 p.m. Monday, beginning on February 9, 1953. It was one of several timeslots that the cash-strapped network was unable to fill and left open for its affiliates. Daily Variety reviewer ‘Daku’ was watching: “The Superman series rates as one of the better-produced moppet shows and may also grab some adult audience. Initialer, of necessity, spent a good deal of footage detailing origination of the name character, but lost nothing in the process and managed to encompass a good deal of entertainment in the half-hour. Kellogg’s has been playing this same series in other markets around the country at the same 8:30 p.m. slot on the theory that it can lure combo juve-adult trade, and apparently it’s been paying off.” As if to prove ‘Daku’s’ point, Superman’s L.A. premiere was the highest-rated program in its slot that week; consequently, other large markets quickly followed: Indianapolis and Cincinnati in mid-February, Baltimore/Washington D.C. in early March.

Finally New York City rolled over and barked, but unlike L.A. and Chicago, it wasn’t about to give Superman a piece of prime time. WABC bought the series for 52 weeks and scheduled it for 6:15-6:45 p.m., its “kidvid” time slot, beginning Wednesday, April 1. Steven Scheuer of the Brooklyn Eagle wrote as if he’d been anticipating this day: “At long last, Superman! Designed for the younger element and for those adults who’ve been remiss in reading their comic sections, this evening’s debut episode tells of Superman’s humble origins, his journey to earth via rocket and his first case, the rescue of a man falling from a dirigible. Good fun for hero worshippers.”

The weekly Variety’s ‘Chan,’ like his Los Angeles counterpart, was impressed by the quality: “It’s to National Comics’ credit that its tele version is restrained on the scripting side and well done technically. Filming is topnotch, with no expense spared to get those special effects. George Reeves, who acts Superman, doesn’t have too much of a role in the initial pic, since most of it deals with boyhood of the hero, but he registered nicely as the meek reporter and as the hero. Phyllis Coates was okay as Lois Lane, the girl reporter, while John Hamilton fits the fictitious concept of an editor. Other roles were well handled…. This one’s a natural for TV.”

The following week, Larson’s showpiece, “The Haunted Lighthouse,” aired. Not long after, Larson — still living in Manhattan — could affirm that the series was being seen by Kellogg’s target audience. “I found myself being literally mobbed,” he told Collectibles Illustrated in 1983. “I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art when suddenly hundreds of school children were coming after me. The police had to get me out.” His manager’s assertion that “no one would ever see this show” had been trampled to death by a grammar school field trip.

Coates had similar problems, telling a reporter: “You know what I had to do less than a week after the program went on the air in Los Angeles? I had to change the color of my hair, from auburn to blonde! I couldn’t go anywhere without being mobbed. Not only [by] boys and girls but big grown-up women. They’d spot me in a supermarket or just taking a walk… and the first thing they wanted to know was how it feels to be held in Superman’s arms.”

With exposure in at least 50 markets, including the three majors, by April 1953 Leo Burnett and Kellogg’s knew they’d latched onto a winner. MPTV, too, was basking in the glow; they now had venture capital to co-finance a new Flash Gordon series, to be produced in Germany by Ed Gruskin and Martin Poll. The Billboard reported, “MPTV, of course, would have the property for distribution, and evidently hopes the show will become another Superman.” In less than eight months, National and Maxwell’s low-budget gamble established a benchmark for success.

The trades had already announced that Kellogg’s was renewing Superman for two more years, paying $1,350,000 for the privilege. In return, it was expected that Robert Maxwell Associates would produce an additional 26 episodes, with production to begin on May 15.

National Comics had other ideas. After a 14-year partnership, Maxwell was about to be shown the door.

Superman debuts in Los Angeles, February 9, 1953. Hey Kids: can you stay up until 9:00 p.m. on a school night?

“The Haunted Lighthouse” airs in New York City, April 1953 and Jack Larson (left, with George Reeves) becomes a bona-fide TV star.

Chapter 12

1953: The Rise of Whitney Ellsworth

Gus Dembling had been half-right. Superman and the Mole Men came and went in a whisper, but the series hit like a thunderbolt; the “must-see TV” of 1953. Even so, George Reeves had little to complain about. After completing his second stint with Fritz Lang, he moved on to a supporting role in Paramount’s Forever Female (1954), a cute comedic vehicle for William Holden and Ginger Rogers. These were augmented with more freelance TV work, including a Christmas-themed episode of Ford Theatre called “Heart of Gold,” playing the stern father of Mole Men’s Beverly Washburn and future Lassie star Tommy Rettig. For old time’s sake, he appeared in a Pasadena Playhouse production, Nightshade. The plum came in the spring of ’53: the role of Sgt. Maylon Stark in From Here to Eternity (1953). It wasn’t a huge part. Stark is mainly a plot device, whose purpose is to inform Burt Lancaster that he isn’t Deborah Kerr’s first affair. But James Jones’ novel was a runaway best seller, and it was expected that the film would be a box-office champion and perhaps garner some awards. Reeves hadn’t been anywhere near an Oscar-caliber film since So Proudly We Hail! (1942); appearing in such a picture, however briefly, could only increase his marketability. As a bonus, with extensive location shooting in Hawaii, he got to spend off-hours working on a tan and enjoying a luau or two.

Behind the scenes at Superman, Inc. life wasn’t so cheery. Superman’s success led Robert Maxwell to retool his radio production firm for television, and he began actively seeking out new properties, which wasn’t at all what the home office had in mind. Jack Liebowitz quietly asked Bernard Luber if he’d be interested in running the show under National Comics’ auspices, but Luber knew first-hand what he’d be in for when faced with the inevitable cost overruns, and politely declined, suggesting that the company’s own Whitney Ellsworth was a more logical choice.

Liebowitz would later insist, “I always wanted to do the films myself. I didn’t want to send them out to [a] subcontractor.” That, of course, was what Robert Maxwell Associates had become. On April 13, Maxwell told a Hollywood Reporter columnist that he’d turned down National’s offer to produce the new season because the money wasn’t good enough. That there actually was an offer is unlikely. Variety reported that Maxwell “retains financial interest” in Superman, but this referred to his 40% piece of the first season. Three days later, Maxwell announced he would be producing a new series based on the Lassie property, the rights for which he’d paid $2,000 to Lassie’s trainer-owner, Rudd Weatherwax. Lassie, of course, became a long-running success for the CBS network, although hard-core Maxwell admirers have expressed disappointment over the years that no episodes exist pitting the venerable collie against local crime lords, deranged kidnappers or blackmailers who’d stolen her collar.

Maxwell had one parting gesture for Liebowitz, a figurative flip-of-the-bird. Even after his dismissal, he continued to have business correspondence sent to National’s Lexington Avenue address, publicizing it in a half-page ad for The Hollywood Reporter’s April 29 edition — a special issue welcoming attendees of the National Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters’ Convention, held in Los Angeles that year. The ad was a remarkable example of bald-faced self-promotion: in huge type, it trumpeted Superman’s number-one rating during its premiere week in Los Angeles, as well as its 104-week renewal “by Kellogg’s, through Leo Burnett.” Superman was “Produced by Robert Maxwell,” and other “Current Maxwell Productions” were listed, including Lassie, which was to be filmed in color. Anyone reading the blurb would think Maxwell had done it all single-handed, and it failed to mention he’d no longer be producing the show. There was no mention of National Comics’ involvement or ownership, but it was at their address (and telephone number!) that interested parties could contact Robert Maxwell Associates.

Nine days earlier, Liebowitz had officially handed Ellsworth the job. Privately, Maxwell wished his friend well, warned him that the home office would force him to call weekly for the production money (“We couldn’t believe it,” claimed Ellsworth’s wife, “but sure enough, that’s the way it was”), and hooked him up with writer Jackson Gillis, who had scripted the Lassie pilot. As for Ellsworth, he was delighted. After more than a decade of calling the shots for the Man of Steel in the comics while serving as a glorified consultant on cartoons, serials and TV, he was finally given the opportunity to run the most visible — and costly — piece of the franchise.

Season two would begin with Ellsworth in New York conferring with senior editor Mort Weisinger, who would soon be taking over the Superman titles, and the rest of National’s writing and editing pool, gathering story ideas. Then Weisinger accompanied Ellsworth on the train west and together they outlined the season’s adventures. Consequently, Superman’s plots veered away from the radio series toward the comic books. Stories that would appear on the newsstands around the same time they aired on television included “Panic in the Sky” (“The Menace from the Stars;” World’s Finest #68), “Jimmy Olsen, Boy Editor” (“Jimmy Olsen, Editor;” Superman #86), “The Dog Who Knew Superman” (“The Dog Who Loved Superman;” Superman #88), “Lady in Black” (“Dick Grayson’s Nightmare;” Batman #80) and “The Man in the Lead Mask” (“The Man Who Could Change Fingerprints;” Batman #82). “Five Minutes to Doom” focused on Superman’s timely rescue of an innocent man from the electric chair, a theme that had appeared in Action Comics #1. Only two stories — “Jet Ace” and “The Face and the Voice” — originated on radio in, respectively, 1943’s “Mr. Prim and the Dragonfly Adventure” and 1946’s “Is There Another Superman?”

In addition to Gillis, Ellsworth solicited scripts from two vets of the first season: Monroe Manning (“Rescue”) and Peter Dixon (“No Holds Barred”). Royal Cole, who wrote the Superman and Batman and Robin serials for Columbia, also turned in a single teleplay. Roy Hamilton, writer of the screenplay for Cat-Women of the Moon (1952), turned in four, two of them co-written with Leroy H. Zehren. And a newbie, David Chantler, impressed Ellsworth enough to be given ten assignments, as many as Gillis received.

Production might have begun in May, except Ellsworth needed to find a new leading lady, and Reeves’ hair hadn’t fully grown out from the military buzz he’d received for From Here to Eternity. Since the cameras wouldn’t be rolling until early June, the new producer and comic book veteran likely took some time on May 26 to reflect upon the tragedy that, thirty years earlier, had defined him.

Frederick Whitney Ellsworth was born in Brooklyn on November 27, 1908 — a scant 10 months after Robert M. Joffe. The second son of Charles Josiah Ellsworth, a machinery salesman from Illinois, and Nova Scotia-born Edith Carmichael Brittin, young Frederick was the family dreamer. He took to writing and drawing fairly early in life, and later developed something of a passion for the sea. His older brother, Charles, gravitated toward his namesake father and would later become a salesman himself; the gentle Frederick forged his bond with Edith.

The senior Charles worked for the E.W. Bliss Company, which manufactured tools, presses and dyes for sheet-metal workers. Bliss Company equipment was used in the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge; thus the firm was highly regarded in the community. Charles himself was something of a go-getter, and life was cozy. The Ellsworths lived in a modest home on Bedford Avenue in the Lefferts Manor section — about a mile south of Ebbets Field, a half-mile east of glorious Prospect Park and one block from the Congregational Church of the Evangel to which they belonged. Frederick, who preferred going by his middle name, entered his teens as a student of the Polytechnic Preparatory Country Day School. Still a salesman according to the 1920 census, by 1923 Charles had worked his way to sales manager.

And then, on May 26 of that year, it all came crashing down: Whitney would learn his father had died of a sudden heart attack early that Saturday morning. According to the death certificate, Charles was pronounced dead at about 5:00 a.m., in a mid-town Manhattan apartment barely an hour’s subway ride from home and hearth. He was 45 years old.

It is, perhaps, too tempting to speculate that Mr. Ellsworth — flush with success and at just the right age for such sport — died while in the throes of a clandestine affair. The apartment, in a fashionably upscale neighborhood, was not his; there was no evidence he’d moved or was thrown out of Bedford Ave, which is listed as his home on the death certificate. Contrary to usual custom, his obituary in the Brooklyn Eagle omitted the death location, which suggests a face-saving measure. Was Charles Josiah Ellsworth leading a double life, as so many married-but-restless men had done and would do throughout the centuries? And did the stress of that life eventually overpower him? Readers are encouraged to speculate on any other plausible scenarios.

Whatever the circumstances, Charles’s sudden passing took its toll. Despite being personally closer to his mother, 14-year-old Whitney was devastated. “He often told me,” his wife Jane recalled, that “it was a terrible [age] for a boy to lose his dad.” He would also quickly lose his home and his mother’s constant presence. Edith was forced to give up their house and its accompanying mortgage, and took a job as bookkeeper for nearby Caledonian Hospital. If the experience hardened Ellsworth at all, it was to a determination to succeed without sacrificing his ideals, to never forsake his family in the pursuit of happiness, and to conquer life’s rat race with his sense of fair play and of humor, intact.

In 1924, the boy, claiming to be a year older than he was, took a summer job as bellboy for a British vessel, the R.M.S. Fort Victoria, which sailed from New York to Bermuda and back in six days. As he no doubt expected, Ellsworth found the experience thrilling. This would not be the final ocean journey for the man who would set five of his 78 Superman episodes in or around the sea. As an adult he would sail from New York to Los Angeles in 1935, and to and from Cuba two years later.

Meanwhile, his family moved from one rental space to another, seeking the most affordable rates, and eventually Charles Junior went out on his own. After graduating high school in 1926, Whitney enrolled in a cartooning course taught at the Brooklyn YMCA. By the end of the twenties, he would be working for King Features Syndicate, the Hearst-owned company that provided comic strips such as Krazy Kat and Mutt & Jeff to the nation’s newspapers. Ellsworth was assigned as artist’s assistant and gag-writer for Tillie the Toiler and Dumb Dora, among others. According to the 1930 census, he was also working at an art school, and he’s listed as a full-fledged “artist” in the Brooklyn Business Directory of 1933. Around that time, Ellsworth moved on to the Newark Star-Eagle and Newark Ledger as a cartoonist, reporter and feature writer; he also wrote a play, the intriguingly titled Maiden Voyage, which was given a short run off-Broadway in 1935.

In February of that same year, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, founder of National-Allied Publications, introduced New Fun Comics, the first comic book of all original material — no Sunday strip reprints. Its earliest tabloid-sized issues were mainly pulp-fiction interspersed with one-page illustrated adventure strips (one of which, French musketeer Henri Duval, was provided by Siegel and Shuster). By 1936, three editors oversaw the major’s output: Craig Flessel, Vincent Sullivan and Ellsworth. “He couldn’t be trusted to tell you the time,” said Flessel of their employer. “He had this wonderful idea to take comic strips that kids were sending in to the newspapers and publish them, to give them exposure, so he never had to pay for anything. That was good, because he didn’t have any money.”

Tiring of an unreliable paycheck, Ellsworth departed in a matter of months. He took his Havana cruise in early 1937, then changed his own course. Deciding to become a freelance writer and cartoonist, he reasoned he could do that anywhere and left Brooklyn for Los Angeles, which he’d visited two years previously. Soon after arriving, he made the acquaintance of a lovely Paramount Studios ingénue named Jane Dewey.

Born in Greenfield Massachusetts in 1910, Ms. Dewey studied acting at Smith College. Wed at age 20 to Patrick Farrell, director of the Irish Theatre at Sheridan Square in Manhattan, she soon gave birth to a daughter, Patricia. The marriage lasted briefly and Dewey returned to the stage, eventually playing a few small roles on Broadway. Spotted by a Paramount talent scout, she headed west, with Patricia in tow. Dewey appeared in a handful of films during 1935-37, until it became clear she was more interested in being a mother than a star. It was also clear that it would take a special man before she’d walk down the aisle again.

Whit Ellsworth was unlike any man in town. “Cartoonists are a breed apart,” she would say late in life. “They never really grow up; they are funny and they think funny. That was part of Whit’s personality. He wasn’t much more than a kid himself.” He clearly had a sense of humor and adventure, which was reflected in his pulp stories. Not for him the “spicy” rags like Harry Donenfeld’s — Ellsworth’s work was found in titles like Popular Detective (for which he penned a tale called “Mystery Cruise”) and Thrilling Adventures, and he was one of the ghostwriters for The Phantom Detective, Better Publications’ monthly emulation of The Shadow. He was sensible, steady, devoted to his mother. He clearly adored Patricia. And he was almost 30 years old, mature enough to understand the concepts of “forsaking all others” and “’til death do us part.”

Whitney married Jane Dewey on September 24, 1938, in Hollywood. She retired from acting and he adopted Pat, who throughout life considered him to be her only father. The cozy family might have remained in Southern California, had opportunity not beckoned in January 1940. Vin Sullivan had departed DC for a rival company. Donenfeld’s empire was growing; he’d just launched All-American Comics for Maxwell Gaines, and Sheldon Meyer was editing there. Liebowitz needed someone to oversee the DC titles, especially Superman; by virtue of experience, Ellsworth got the nod.

By his own admission, Ellsworth spent his first four years at the company doing “everything but mop the floor.” He wrote and approved scripts, drew covers, and created characters such as Congo Bill, a jungle hero that debuted in the June 1940 issue of More Fun Comics, moving over to Action the following year. One of Ellsworth’s earliest tasks, according to the Saturday Evening Post in 1941, was to tidy up after Jerry Siegel: “A highly individual stylist, [Siegel] is partial to phrases like ‘within the room,’ prefers ‘commences’ to ‘begins’ and has been known to split an infinitive three ways. To Whitney Ellsworth… falls the delicate task of curbing these tendencies without diluting Superman’s fruity mode of speech.” When Siegel was drafted into the Army in 1942, Ellsworth took over writing the Superman newspaper strip and kept at it for over a decade.

Ellsworth would also provide guidance to Max Fleischer’s team on the Superman cartoons, as well as keeping watch on Columbia Pictures’ serial adaptations of Batman (1943), Superman (1948) and his own Congo Bill (1949). But his most important contribution was the establishment of DC’s original code of ethics, alongside Liebowitz. “His philosophy in regard to the comic books was that they were for children; that they should be fun, clean, non-violent, and that the English should always be correct [although] he did allow for some slang,” remembered his wife. When the crusade against comic books heated up in the late 1940’s, Ellsworth was there on the front lines: “The great majority of comics magazines offer clean adventure stories, interestingly and excitingly told in a graphic medium,” he said in 1948. “We hear a good deal of talk about psycho-this and psycho-that in connection with comics, but I don’t think normally adjusted children are going to be hurt any more by decent comics than we were in our generation by the dime novels.

“The line of demarcation between highly objectionable and somewhat objectionable comics on the one hand, and acceptable comics on the other, narrows down to a simple fundamental: good taste.”

The 1940’s may well have been Ellsworth’s happiest years. Polishing up comic books and scripting the Superman newspaper continuity, along with the occasional freelance pulp story, kept his creativity in full flower. Certainly his mischievous side was never submerged. “My father often named the characters in the Sunday page stories after my classmates,” Pat Ellsworth recalled in 1983. “This sent my friends into fits of ecstasy — but on one occasion it gave our local physician quite a turn. Dr. Frank Read was on a fishing trip, hoping for a complete escape from the hometown scene. His hope was shattered one day when he glanced down at the comics pages wrapped around his fish. What should leap out at him but the names ‘Betty Braley’ and ‘Tom Richey’… two of his most boisterous little patients.” Dr. Read himself would achieve immortality when Ellsworth used his name for the sympathetic surgeon in Superman and the Mole Men.

For all his gifts with a typewriter and drawing pencil, like any creative soul, Ellsworth wanted to do work that he knew would outlive him. Pulp magazines, comic books and funny pages were all perceived as disposable. In their earliest days, movies were considered just as ephemeral, but by 1953, film meant forever. Maybe that applied to television film as well.

The man who ran the Adventures of Superman from 1953 to its conclusion has taken much criticism over the years for not being his predecessor. Various accounts have suggested that Ellsworth’s sole agenda was to abolish the violence of Maxwell’s vision; to “dumb-down” the series, but this is a stretch. Ellsworth had been as creatively involved in the first season as anyone. The most objectionable moments from 1951 had been removed in the re-editing of the series, and were not likely to be repeated no matter who sat in the producer’s chair. Watchdog groups would ensure that macabre plots and sadistic villains would no longer be welcome.

In spite of — or perhaps because of — Superman’s sudden TV popularity, the blood-and-thunder of its first season was especially open for criticism. In May, the National Association for Better Radio and Television monitored several programs that were ostensibly targeted for children. Examples of each series were viewed, and the overall ratings ranged from “Excellent” to “Most Objectionable.” Superman was one of 17 series that rated “Objectionable”; others included Captain Midnight, Hopalong Cassidy, The Lone Ranger, Ramar of the Jungle, Sky King, Space Patrol and Terry and the Pirates. The complaints were generally levied at overall gunplay and violence; anything having to do with crime was considered unsuitable for children, according to the Council (which awarded its top honors to Ding Dong School). But Superman received an especially detailed write-up:

“Comic strip hero is slightly limited on TV, as trick photography is expensive. So what the show lacks in depicting super-soaring feats of strength it supplies in frantic excitement. Monitored programs included a demonstration of how to cripple a wrestler, a doctor using drugs to hypnotize patients, torture, and the kidnapping of a child.” Imagine any concerned parent reading that… and the Council hadn’t even viewed “Mystery in Wax” and “The Evil 3”! Still, the show Ellsworth would produce in 1953 was also violent. Murders, beatings, kidnappings and dramatic confrontations with Superman were still on the menu, albeit depicted with the “simple fundamental” of good taste that somehow eluded Maxwell.

Ellsworth took his predecessor’s greatest contribution — Superman’s social conscience — and ran with it. Hot-button issues such as prisoner reform (“The Big Squeeze”), capital punishment (“Five Minutes to Doom”) and atomic energy (“Superman in Exile”) were explored in the best possible way: first as solid, action-packed entertainment, and then food for thought upon subsequent viewings. He also insisted on more sharply defined personalities for the characters, particularly Superman. When Reeves returned to the set, he was given scripts that allowed him to display a wider variety of emotions and attitudes, freeing him from the one-dimensional role of Super-cop.

The others fared nearly as well: Perry White lost most of his bluster, except perhaps when dealing with “young Olsen,” and evolved into something of a father figure — mentoring his staff at times, and more interested in justice than profit. Inspector Henderson lost the officious attitude that sometimes made him the butt of the joke; he might still debunk one of Kent’s wild theories, but with patience and logic. Jimmy Olsen was still wide-eyed and impulsive, but less intense and, somehow, more humorous. Gradually this character would usurp the previous two as the show’s comic relief; the concept would succeed due to Jack Larson’s comedic gifts.

And then there was Lois Lane. Phyllis Coates had inked the same deal as Reeves, and like him, managed to grab some feature and TV work afterwards. But in early 1953, she received an offer from MCA-TV to co-star in a new sitcom with Jack Carson, a fine character actor who’d found a niche at Warner Bros. throughout the 1940’s, then freelanced for a few years as comedic hero, including opposite villainous George Reeves in The Good Humor Man (1950). Carson would play Calvin, an unemployed comedian on the lookout for ways to make an easy success, much to the frustration of his wife. The premise wasn’t too far removed from the Joe McDoakes shorts in which Coates had toiled for the previous five years.

MCA was a television powerhouse: they distributed Amos ‘n’ Andy, The Abbott & Costello Show, I’m the Law, and they’d soon be buying Dragnet from Jack Webb, lock, stock & barrel. The director, William Asher, had been helming TV’s number-one show, I Love Lucy, for the past year. Even the show’s title, Here Comes Calvin, had that I Love Lucy cadence. Along with all this prestige, the salary was a clear upgrade. Despite personal requests from Reeves and Tommy Carr, in mid-May Coates opted out of her contract and left with fond memories and no regrets.

With the start date fast approaching, Ellsworth wasted no time in contacting the only other actress in Hollywood who knew how to play Lois Lane. Lucky for him, Noel Neill was available. Since finishing up Atom Man vs. Superman, the plucky actress had kept busy on the Monogram range with ‘Whip’ Wilson in Abilene Trail (1951) and Montana Incident (1952), rode the TV trail in episodes of The Cisco Kid and The Lone Ranger, and turned up briefly in such ‘A’ pictures as An American in Paris (1951), The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). But times were changing and television was throwing the industry into turmoil. “In the old days, it was not too hard to get an acting job,” she would tell her biographer, Larry Thomas Ward. “The studios made so many films back then, that often it was just a matter of some casting director saying, ‘Well, we could use a blonde or a brunette for the part,’ and I was usually eager for the work.”

She’d already had a taste of the future. One afternoon in 1950 her agent, Jack Pomeroy, escorted Noel and fellow client Jack Larson to a few casting offices. “Noel and I, like so many other players, had been dropped from our studios’ contract lists,” Larson recalled for Ward. “Our agent would take us every so often around the remaining casting offices to say hello and to stir up some work for us. Trying to sell yourself for a movie role is not an ego-enhancing situation. I could feel that Noel was uncomfortable about it.” Little wonder, for Noel — like Reeves — came of age in the business under the care and comfort of a studio contract.

Born in Minneapolis in 1920, Ms. Neill was the daughter of the former LaVere Binger, a chorus girl who’d made a brief mark on New York’s vaudeville stages until she’d married journalist David Neill and moved with him to Minnesota. As early as age three, young Noel demonstrated a flair for singing and improvised dance, and LaVere carefully guided her daughter into local stage and radio work. By age 18, Noel was an accomplished singer and actress who, on vacation in Los Angeles, fell in love with the West’s sunshine and coastline and decided to stay. While appearing as a vocalist at the Hotel Del Mar, she was spotted by Bing Crosby, who immediately engaged her for his own Del Mar Turf Club, where she remained for two seasons. Soon after, Noel found a niche at Crosby’s home studio, Paramount, shoring up some of their Henry Aldrich pictures, as well as musicals like Let’s Face It (1943) with Bob Hope, and Here Come the Waves (1944) with Crosby — the final picture completed by director Mark Sandrich.

Although Paramount remained her home base for nearly a decade, Noel was mainly assigned unbilled “atmosphere” parts, and she actually fared better dramatically whenever the studio loaned her out. Until her first stint as Lois Lane, her most visible role was Betty Rogers in all seven of Monogram’s “Teenagers” series — B-musicals where the “B” stood for bobby-sox. These were produced by Sam Katzman, who remembered her when it came time to do the two Superman serials.

“I had to ask, ‘What is Superman?’ I had never read the comics,” Neill recalled for author Gary Grossman, “so I saw it [as] something for the Saturday afternoon kids — for me, a month’s work.” Director Spencer Bennett “was a dear person, very kind and easy… a real love.” Kirk Alyn, on the other hand, came across as pushy and egotistical, taking himself too seriously both in and out of the uniform. “A little hammy,” was her diplomatic assessment in a 2006 interview; the two were never friendly.

Neill also dabbled in Westerns; among them Son of a Badman (1949) with ‘Lash’ LaRue, Gun Runner (1949) with Jimmy Wakely and two serials about the notorious James boys, Adventures of Frank and Jesse James (1948) and The James Brothers of Missouri (1949). “I know that some of the bigger name actors and actresses looked down on Westerns, but I enjoyed doing them,” she recalls. “There was a certain camaraderie in westerns that you didn’t have in other film projects.” Unfortunately, television was squeezing both westerns and serials out of theaters.

Ellsworth telephoned Neill personally; she carefully listened to his offer of $400 per week and accepted. On the plus side, the work would be steady through the summer and, since the series had proven successful, might well continue into the future. Her fellow agency-mate Jack Larson, plus John Hamilton and Bob Shayne — two friendly actors whom she’d helped to win the west — were part of the company. About the only down side was having to work with Tommy Carr, who’d directed her in Superman and another Columbia serial, Brick Bradford (1947), and didn’t much care for her. “She wasn’t very capable,” was his harsh assessment some forty years later. “He obviously liked [Coates] better than myself,” Neill would say with a shrug, yet perhaps his attitude had less to do with ability than with the fact that he’d cast Coates but had no say in choosing her successor.

From her first day, Carr pressed the issue. The crew was on location in the San Fernando Valley for “The Man Who Could Read Minds,” where Superman keeps Lois’s car, which just had a tire shot out, from going over a cliff. Her response was, “Thanks, Superman… I — we’re very grateful,” and Carr “had me do that line over and over again,” remembered Neill. “I repeated it so many times that I began to get a little upset and started to shed a tear.” Standing by was the fully costumed Reeves, who must have wondered why Carr was wasting valuable location time over such a trifle. “[George] said, ‘Can we take a break?’ and he took [Carr] aside and said, ‘Give the kid a break; she’s coming into a family that’s been together for 13 weeks.’ I really appreciated it so much.”

Returning to the studio, Neill was handed a telegram from the vice president of Kellogg’s: “Welcome to the most exciting set of predicaments a lovely young actress ever got into. Yours is a role that takes consummate dramatic skill, and your selection as Lois Lane fills us with pleasurable anticipation. Congratulations and good luck.” The telegram, along with discovering that her co-star wasn’t a self-absorbed blowhard, helped ease the tension. Carr would learn Neill was, in her own fashion, as tough as her predecessor: “After George intervened, [Carr] eased up and let me do it my way — and I’ve been doing it my way ever since.”

The pace wasn’t quite so hectic this year. Handed a budget of $550,000 — about 37% higher than Maxwell’s bankroll — Ellsworth set the schedule at six films every three weeks, instead of five every two. (On the down side, office scenes were shot concurrently for six episodes at a time, instead of five.) Additionally, he saved money by leasing space at California Studios — a rental lot situated directly across the street from Paramount in Hollywood — rather than the costlier RKO-Pathé. With Carr in the driver’s seat, the first batch consisted of “The Man Who Could Read Minds,” “The Big Squeeze,” “The Defeat of Superman,” “Jet Ace” (originally titled “Blackout”), “Superman in Exile” and “Five Minutes to Doom.” Shooting began on June 15 and continued until the July 4th holiday.

Behind the scenes, Ellsworth was finally able to hire his friend Harry Gerstad as editor, who, in turn, recommended Clem Beauchamp and Jean L. Speak, with whom he’d worked at Stanley Kramer Productions on Champion (1949) (for which Gerstad won an Oscar) and High Noon (1952), as production (unit) manager and sound engineer, respectively. Beauchamp called in RKO’s process-effects wizard Harold Stine for the cinematographer’s job and Stine brought his colleagues Harold Schwartz as camera operator and Thol ‘Si’ Simonson to handle special effects. The only holdover from 1951 was the casting director, Harold Chiles.

Reeves checked in a few days early for flying shots, which everyone agreed needed improving. Jack R. Glass, a specialist who ran his own shop, was handling the matte work, but Simonson had been tasked with coming up with a rig that Reeves would agree to use for his part of the optical equation. Simonson had sent the actor sketches for two of his ideas, and after some haggling about the amount of time required (“They wouldn’t pay him to come in for those shots,” Simonson informed writer Paul Mandell), Reeves went to work.

Simonson’s first contraption was a body pan connected at the chest and thighs with four strands of heavy-gauge piano wire. The wires ran up to a trolley suspended thirty feet above the stage; then down again to a dolly car on the floor that served as the “cockpit.” Stagehands would guide the pan along the trolley tracks while Simonson raised and lowered Superman’s legs and/or chest at the touch of a joystick. Immediately wary of being manipulated like a prop dummy two-dozen feet above the ground, Reeves refused to get into the device — until Simonson and his crewmen all piled into the body pan at one time, demonstrating that it would not collapse.

Suited up and secured into the pan, Reeves spent a day doing the most memorable shots of the series: nosedives, head-on swoops, three-quarter and reverse angle flights. “They were the scenes that every first-generation video moppet prayed to catch, week after week,” wrote Mandell in 1989, but they didn’t come easy. “The cape was a problem,” Simonson recalled. “When George tilted down, he’d change positions with the fan (which) was so large, we couldn’t move it. So we assisted the cape action by fastening it to his uniform with fine threads and narrowing it at the shoulders so it wasn’t quite so wide.

“Another problem was when George would raise up out of the pan to look around or turn his head. As long as he looked down and had his arms out, he was great. But when he arched upward, the pan wouldn’t follow. It pulled his uniform down. So I [had to] cut the pan down even further.” With all the stops-and-starts and ad-hoc adjustments, clearly it was a long, physically demanding day.

Later on, Reeves would submit himself to a second device, which Simonson developed after consulting with the Howard Anderson Company, FX specialists for the industry since the silent era. Simonson took the body pan and attached the right side to a twelve-foot pipe, the other end of which was attached to a hydraulic unit. The pipe went behind the white screen, “like an oar in an oar lock,” in Simonson’s words, and could be rotated up, down or even in a circle. “It took twenty men pulling on the [pipe], while the cameraman would tell them, ‘A little right, a little left, a little up, a little down.’” Since his body had to hide the pipe, Reeves could only be filmed in profile, facing stage left. However, the device was relatively easy to assemble and, since there were no wires, could be used not only for traveling matte shots but also rear-screen projection set-ups for scenes unique to the scripts. “Once he got on the rig,” Simonson recalled, “he was very happy.” He needed only to remain in place, arms extended and toes pointed, while seeming to fly across Metropolis, or the countryside, or the ocean, or into outer space, or even around the world.

It was at this time that Reeves made his first costumed appearance outside of production. On June 6, the Los Angeles chapter of the United Cerebral Palsy organization held a fund-raising telethon over KECA, the station that aired Adventures of Superman. Dragnet’s Jack Webb and Ben Alexander co-hosted the 16-hour event, which included appearances and appeals from several dozen stars. At some point, Superman came on to make his pitch; alas, only the first hour was kinescoped so the substance of Reeves’ contribution is left to time and memory.

Whether for good luck or not, Dabbs Greer was again cast in an episode that would be the first of the season to air — “Five Minutes to Doom” — as the innocent husband and father slated for electrocution. Ellsworth especially remembered this one. In a letter to future editor Jim Nolt, he wrote: “His ‘son’ was playing what is called a ‘silent bit.’ Dabbs tells him to be a good boy and to take care of his mother. Unable to speak, the lad nods sadly. The reason he is unable to speak is that if he does, he is entitled to slightly higher pay — and automatically becomes eligible for residuals.

“Well, Dabbs’ boy had it explained to him that he was to keep mum, and he said he understood. The scene went well — very moving — and I guess Junior got caught up in the spirit of the thing: when Dabbs said his last goodbye, the boy looked up at him and said his own clear ‘goodbye.’ The director said ‘Cut!’ and everybody laughed.

“The boy’s real mama looked embarrassed. Question: Did she or did she not tell him to slip in that single word? Nobody would have accused her of such a thing, of course. In any event, ‘time is money’ on a movie set, and it would have cost more to re-shoot the scene than to pay the boy the few dollars involved. So the youngster had his one-word ‘speaking part’ instead of a ‘silent bit.’” Little incidents like this may have sounded cute nearly 30 years later, but they were part-and-parcel of the producer’s world.

Si Simonson recalled, “Whit always ironed things out immediately, that was the beauty of the man,” but it came with a price. Decisions sometimes had to be fast and furious, and each one could potentially rub some associate the wrong way. Plus, there were Donenfeld and Liebowitz to contend with; in Larson’s view, “There were times that Whitney felt the corporation greatly abused him.” Ellsworth was determined to do right by the home office, yet it was in his nature to keep his employees happy, two goals that were often mutually exclusive. Said Robert Shayne, “Whitney’s little touches helped us all rally around him. There were cast parties and generally feelings of goodwill from Whit.” That Ellsworth occasionally needed to be rallied around speaks to the stress he often found himself under — stress that gradually took its toll on his health.

In a 1975 letter to Grossman, Ellsworth explained his procedure of handing out “complete step-by-step storylines” to his writers, adding, “I chose to do the rewriting myself — not necessarily because I thought I was a better writer, but mostly because I found it easier than explaining what I wanted. I never encountered a script that didn’t require rewriting — some less than others, of course. I recall feeling a bit wistful about it when I signed residual checks for the writers — like $12,000 at one crack to a writer named Jackson Gillis.”

It’s noteworthy that Ellsworth remembered his feelings about that particular payment: he’d spent more time rewriting and polishing up Gillis’ scripts than on those by anyone else — drastic improvement being the usual result. Gillis had been co-creator and staff writer for I’m the Law, the George Raft detective series owned in part by comedian Lou Costello. He recalled, “The stress of writing a new script every week broke up the collaboration of me and my partner [David Victor].” Gillis opted for the life of a freelancer, which led him to Lassie and Bob Maxwell, and then to Ellsworth.

Freely admitting that his knowledge of the Man of Steel was “not more than reading the funny papers,” Gillis likely viewed a couple of the 1951 shows as a primer, then went to work on his first assignment: “The Defeat of Superman.” This is the episode that introduced kryptonite to television; since its debut on the radio series a decade earlier, the dangerous element had become a key component of Superman’s backstory. The tale concerned a scientist, Meldini, who, in the service of gang leader Happy King (Peter Mamakos), develops a synthetic kryptonite. King kidnaps Lois and Jimmy; when Superman arrives to rescue them from King’s basement, he’s exposed to the element that very nearly finishes him off.

Meldini is described in the teleplay as “a myopic European scientist” with an accent. Ellsworth’s first change was to turn him into something out of a comic book. Gillis’ scientist was far more grim and evil; in the script, it is Meldini’s idea to trick Superman into going to King’s basement to rescue Lois and Jimmy, saying, “Listen… (pause, straightens up grinning). Such a perfect place down there to starve to death.” Meldini would be played by character actor Maurice Cass, one of the great scenery-chewers of all time, who certainly sunk his teeth into this role. With his flamboyant hand gestures and his tendency to grind out every syllable, Cass’s performance could be served on rye at the Stage Delicatessen.

Witness the original version of the capture of Lois and Jimmy, who show up unannounced at King’s home after having intercepted a note intended for Clark Kent. In the script, as they stand by the door, King’s lackey, Ruffles (Sid Tomack), surreptitiously whispers to his boss. Once Lois becomes aware of it, she and Jimmy quickly head out the door:

83. TWO SHOT INT. ROOM KING AND RUFFLES

CAMERA PAN to angled view toward door as King turns quickly in reaction to Lois starting to leave. He and Ruffles suddenly dive for the door and out — as SOUND of fast steps and a startled cry from Lois, a quick, useless struggle from Jimmy o.s. Meantime, Meldini hurries toward the door, then stops as King and Ruffles re-enter, each holding one of the reporters firmly by the arms. Meldini looks disgusted with what has been done.

Meldini: (Sourly) Well! Jump and double jump! You play stupid checkers, Mr. King.

Ruffles: We had to keep ‘em! This dame’s practically Superman’s girl friend!

84. CLOSE-UP KING.

He holds up piece of kryptonite, which he’s been keeping behind his back.

King: Well, when I get through with Superman, he’ll be nobody’s boy friend!

This has been changed to something a bit less violent: King and Ruffles merely grab Lois and Jimmy by the arms, with no noticeable resistance on their part; and Meldini’s reaction — moved to the end of the scene — is so overplayed by Cass that it borders on comedy relief: “Well. Jump and double jump, ehh? Baaah! You play a strrrrannge game of checkers, Missterrr Kinnng!”

Ellsworth also softened Gillis’ version of Lois Lane, written as a hard-nosed and pushy woman throughout. During the traumatic scene in King’s basement, the script doesn’t suggest that she direct Jimmy Olsen to try sending the kryptonite down the sink as filmed; instead, Gillis writes, she is to take the kryptonite from him, as she “jerks off a shoe” and “pounds frantically at the cube with the heel,” while barking at Jimmy to “Get out of my way!” Throughout this scene, the script calls for her to scream no less than three times; there’s no doubt whose Lois Gillis was thinking about when he wrote this.

In addition to her ill-tempered hysteria, the teleplay has Lois giving a blow-by-blow on Superman’s deterioration, with such lines as, “Jimmy, his heart… it skips… there, it missed again… I can hardly hear it…” Most of this impromptu diagnosis has been eliminated; Ellsworth wanted the scene to invoke nail biting, not nightmares.

The greatest difference between the written and filmed versions is in the scene in which the Man of Steel encounters King’s first booby trap: a machine gun containing a single kryptonite bullet. Gillis goes on for two-and-a-half script pages in describing Superman bounding up a flight of stairs, entering the warehouse, knocking at a door twice, yanking the doorknob off (this was used), pushing the door open slowly (“it CREAKS”), and encountering a seemingly empty room:

20. CLOSE-UP SUPERMAN

As, very slowly, his eyes start moving around the bare walls of the room.

21. MED. PANNING SHOT THE WALLS

Absolutely bare … as Superman’s careful gaze PANS around … then stops at a small dark spot on the wall. CAMERA FAST DOLLY toward the spot and we see that it’s really a hole cut into the wall.

22. EXTREME CLOSE-UP SUPERMAN (FEATURING HIS EYES) (STOCK)

As they narrow for X-ray vision.

23. SUPER-VISION SHOT THE WALL

As the wall FADES and we see what is behind the hole: a sub-machine gun (or burp gun) mounted on a frame, pointed into the room. To its trigger-mechanism is attached a cord.

24. CLOSE-UP SUPERMAN

He sees gun, looks puzzles, glances around – CAMERA PAN with him as he backs up a quick step, turning away – then CAMERA FAST LOWER toward his feet as he seems to stumble slightly.

25. INSERT SUPERMAN’S HEEL

As it strikes a loose board in the floor, the board tilting

26. INSERT DAY INT. FLOOR-BOARD (FAST CUT)

(The other end of the same board, presumably) – as it’s tilted in opposite direction. To end of board is attached a cord, which is of course jerked. Right next to board-end is pulley, through which the cord passes o.s.)

27. INSERT DAY, INT. ANOTHER PULLEY (FAST CUT)

As cord (at right angles through pulley) is jerked, pulling —

28. EXTREME CLOSE-UP DAY, INT. ANOTHER PULLEY

And CAMERA LIFT with pulley of cord through it to trigger mechanism of the gun which is jerked — then FAST PAN toward barrel of gun as loud BLAST of its starting to FIRE.

29. MED. SHOT DAY, INT. ROOM SUPERMAN

He whirls back toward us as the gun blasts a steady stream of bullets toward him, spraying all over him.

30. EXTREME CLOSE-UP SUPERMAN (SPECIAL STOCK)

As the bullets spray and ricochet off his chest —

31. BACK TO MED. SHOT SUPERMAN

The bullets, of course, don’t bother him, though once during this he brushes his hand against his shoulder. But now he leaps toward the wall where the gun is. He smashes his fist through the wall. CAMERA DOLLY CLOSER as he rips off boards and jerks out the gun (it finally stops firing) — then looks at it, puzzled; he tosses it to the floor. After second’s more hesitation, he turns to hurry back toward door.

32. FULL SHOT DAY, INT. HALL

As Superman steps out into hall — still absolutely silent, empty. He takes a couple of quick steps to next door, jerks it open, looks inside — sees nothing — hurries in opposite direction and o.s. — then returns a second later, more slowly …He stops, CLOSE, looking completely baffled. WIPE:

From here, the scene goes to Superman’s conversation with Ruffles, which is essentially the same as filmed.

The sequence as written was very elaborate and would have taken too much time to stage and film. It’s also far less effective. Having Superman see the gun behind the wall telegraphs the outcome; we would know it was going to fire at any moment. Worse, he triggers the firing with a clumsy misstep, which would be out of character. It also raises questions: Why would King leave it to chance that Superman would step on just the right board in just the right way to trigger the gun? If Superman scanned the room with X-ray vision, why didn’t he also see the movie camera? The final version of this sequence, although shorter, is infinitely more dramatic, as we watch from behind while the Man of Steel enters the room and the gun, in full view, fires immediately, taking us all by surprise. Perhaps the wholesale cutting down of this scene accounts for the 24 seconds of flying needed to pad the episode.

As he had the previous season, Harry Donenfeld paid a visit to the studio. Between takes, Ellsworth introduced him to Noel Neill and the new crew members. When Donenfeld was out of earshot, someone expressed surprise at the publishing magnate’s diminutive stature. Reeves’ wry retort: “He’s very tall when he stands on his money.”

Another visitor during the first three weeks was Bud Collyer, who swung by California Studios while on a business trip. By this time, Collyer was pretty much done with radio; his TV hosting chores included Break the Bank every weekday, plus Quick as a Flash, Talent Patrol and a big prime-time hit, Beat the Clock. His introduction to Reeves was brief and cordial, but publicist Jay Emmett (Jack Liebowitz’s nephew) dressed it up for a press release: “Both ‘Supermen’ shook hands firmly for a few seconds, seemingly scorning each other’s strength. Whereupon an onlooker quipped: ‘Who do these guys think they are — Superman?’ ”

Although having slighted Carr in the casting department, Ellsworth freely sought his advice in lining up another director. Lee Sholem was not available, having accepted a second chance to work at Universal-International. Carr suggested George Blair; they’d met back at Republic: “He was a first assistant [director], I was a script clerk. That’s how I got to know him.” Blair had moved to the center seat in 1944, a year ahead of Carr. By the time he came on board for Superman, he’d worked the first TV seasons for Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, and understood what “fast and cheap” meant. Even so, there were problems.

Blair’s first go-round was for only two weeks, beginning July 6. Ellsworth handed him four scripts: “Shot in the Dark,” “A Ghost for Scotland Yard,” “The Face and the Voice” and “The Man in the Lead Mask.” Noel Neill told Grossman something unusual about Blair’s early rushes: “We noticed a little white dot popping up and down in the lower third of the frame. Nobody knew what it was. We looked at some more footage and there it was again. Somebody, I can’t remember who, finally realized it was George Blair’s tennis sneakers slipping around in the frame like a little white ball. Needless to say, we moved him over!”

More serious was a moment that slipped past both Carr and Ellsworth. In “Shot in the Dark,” Kent is confronted by Harriet Harper (Vera Marshe), who possesses photographic proof that he is Superman. David Chantler’s original script reads as follows:

Kent: I’m afraid you’ve got things a little mixed up, Miss…?

Harper: Harper. Harriet Harper. And I’m certainly not mixed up. I know you’re Superman.

Kent: Well, for some reason you might think I am, but…

Harper: The proof of the pudding is in the eating… and I have the proof.

Jimmy: (becoming very interested) You can prove that Mr. Kent is really Superman?

Kent: (trying to laugh it off) Jim, you know better than that.

In order to make Harriet Harper more scatterbrained, Blair made a slight revision to her line (“The proof of the pudding is in the eating. And I have the pudding… I mean, the proof”) and also decided to not have her interrupt Kent. The director revised Reeves’ line to: “Well, you might think I am, but I assure you, I’m not.” Which meant Clark Kent was lying.

While Maxwell had little such compunction about the measures taken by Kent to protect his secret, Ellsworth was different: heroes were to be above reproach. Scripts exist with instructions that Kent must be “careful not to lie” whenever his association with Superman comes up for discussion. No doubt Ellsworth saw the gaffe while screening the rushes, whereupon he pulled Blair aside and gently let him know that no dialogue changes were to take place without his knowledge. And to be certain, he repeated it to the cast: “This is the script that we bought, re-wrote and edited, and this is the way I want it shot!”

Not that any directive could halt Reeves’ penchant for mangling dialogue whenever he got into the spirit of a scene. Blair discovered this during a crucial encounter between Superman and Inspector Henderson in “The Face and the Voice.” Superman has just discovered that a doppelganger is going around Metropolis committing various robberies and then donating the booty to charity, like an extraterrestrial Robin Hood. Unfortunately, he’s the only one who realizes it; everyone else is convinced the Man of Steel has lost his grip on reality. It’s interesting to note, when contrasting the script to the finished scene, how little Robert Shayne’s lines have changed in delivery compared to those written for Reeves:

Henderson: Superman! Well! This is a pleasant surprise —

He doesn’t say it as if it were. Henderson acts throughout as one would act with a dangerous lunatic in his presence.

Superman: (briskly) Sit still, Inspector, I won’t bite you! We’ve got work to do — fast!

Henderson: (laughing, friendly) Of course you wouldn’t bite anyone — now you just sit down and relax and —

Superman: I’m the real Superman, you understand? Here, look —

He seizes a huge, long metal paperweight from Henderson’s desk and bends it double in his hands, then snaps it apart as though it were made of wax. Henderson stares at him, gulping, more nervous than ever.

Henderson: Of course you’re real! Why, I’d lock up anybody that said different! And I’ve always admired you, too —

Superman moves closer to him, interrupting

TWO SHOT

And PANNING with Henderson’s retreat during:

Superman: Henderson, somewhere in town there’s a crook who looks like me. A phonograph record of my voice was stolen. Maybe plastic surgery was done on him, too —

Henderson: Please — hold it, will you? There’s nothing to get excited about —

Superman: —But all this must be building up to some huge crime!

Henderson: Now, now, we know all about it. Perry White talked to you, and I’ve known him for years. I believe him… But we have some doctors coming to see you. I’m sure you’ll like the doctors, Superman…

CLOSE SHOT — FAVORING SUPERMAN

As realizing Henderson still won’t even listen, he reaches to seize Henderson gently but firmly — and hoist him a foot into the air with one easy hand.

Superman: Inspector, if I have to play volleyball with you to make you listen, I’ll —

But he checks himself at SOUND of the telephone from the desk beside them. Second’s pause, then Henderson clumsily reaches down to pick up the phone — Superman lowering him for it.

Henderson: (to phone) Henderson! … What?! (looking at Superman in confusion) He was — No! … I mean, yes! Right away!

And he holds down the phone, to explain, in horrified realization of the truth of matters:

Henderson: The Metropolis Bank. Two million dollars in gold bullion was just — well, they just stood there, because it was Superman! I mean — it was —

Suddenly the awakened Henderson drops the phone entirely as he springs into action, CAMERA FAST PANNING as he and Superman together dive for the door.

In the scene, Reeves bends if not breaks a rule by twice calling Henderson “Bill” — which is how Clark Kent addresses him — and he so rushes the payoff line that it comes out, “This could be building up into some hubige [sic] crime!”

It wasn’t possible for Ellsworth to police the set as closely as he’d have liked. He was expected to have his first episodes ready to air by September, prior to the end of shooting — which meant regularly following up with Jack Glass for the matte work, reviewing Gerstad’s edits and getting the music in place. For the latter, he licensed two British collections (Francis Day & Hunter, and W. Paxton) from the Emil Ascher publishing company at a cost of $200 per episode, and hired Universal Studios composer Irving Gertz to select and insert cues. The results rivaled the first season for nuance, tension and thrills — especially “Tumult and Commotion,” written by Miklos Rozsa in 1933 as part of a larger piece (“Theme, Variations and Finale, Opus 13”) and somehow co-opted by W. Paxton as fight music.

Monday July 6 held more for Reeves than Blair’s debut in the director’s chair. That evening, a limousine took him in full costume up to Mt. Wilson, where Superman would throw a switch that increased KECA’s transmitter power from 29,000 to 118,000 watts. The station’s only other big name, Danny Thomas (soon to star in ABC’s Make Room for Daddy) was also there to emcee. Jack Larson, who evidently came along for companionship, remembers a jittery Reeves belting a few during the ride. The whole ceremony — all five minutes of it — was broadcast at 8:30 p.m., just before KECA aired “The Riddle of the Chinese Jade.”

The same week, the New York office announced that the new episodes would conclude with a brief public service message from Superman. According to The Billboard, “The title character, played by George Reeves, will give a quick talk to the kiddie audience on good health habits and safety. This… follows the strong public service line that National Comics has long taken in connection with the comic books of this title.” Nevertheless, when the episodes reached the air, no such messages were ever included. No one is even certain they were filmed. Reportedly, a short film titled “Only Superman Can”[_ ]— in which Reeves explains that only the Man of Steel can fly and perform super-feats — was produced, for what purpose remains unclear. In any case, it has gone unseen, not even turning up as an extra on the _Superman DVD releases.

Ironically, Reeves sustained his first injury since “Ghost Wolf” the very next week. The script for “The Man in the Lead Mask” called for him to trap the titular character by disguising himself in a similar get-up. When it came time to remove the mask, which Si Simonson had built, Reeves “literally tore his face apart trying to get it off. I didn’t realize,” Simonson told Grossman, “that George had a tinge of claustrophobia and a bigger head (than mine)!” The problem was solved when Si cut a hole in the back of the mask and covered it with malleable papier-mâché.

The episode, by Leroy H. Zehren and Roy Hamilton, is one of the better-written mysteries of the series. On the surface, it seems to be about a gang of wanted men pulling robberies while wearing overcoats and lead masks in order to pay a surgeon who will not only change their faces but their fingerprints as well. As the story wraps up, we realize that it’s an elaborate — and nearly successful — con job, one that only the Man of Steel, with his total recall and super vision, can solve.

However, a puzzling aspect of the tale comes during a scene between Kent and Henderson. Over a series of slides, the Inspector is describing the myriad ways that criminals have tried to change their fingerprints over the years, concluding with “It never works, Kent. And it never will.” Clark seems convinced, then asks Henderson if it would be possible to trace tire tracks made by one of the masked criminals back to their origin, thus revealing the gang’s hideout. Henderson doesn’t think so: “It would take supersight to follow such a trail,” he tells Kent with a grin, who smiles back but says nothing more about it.

If anyone has ever wondered how Henderson could say such a thing without immediately thinking of Superman, it’s not entirely the writers’ fault. The scene was written not for the Inspector, but for an FBI agent named Burke, which makes sense, as the crime that opens the show — the theft of Marty Mitchell’s (Joey Ray) “wanted” poster from a U.S. post office — would have spurred the Bureau’s interest. But in order to save time and money on a teleplay that was already laden with actors (three wanted thugs, plus two Marty Mitchells, plus one crooked surgeon), Burke was replaced with Henderson, with little thought to altering the lines.

The third batch of six went into production on Monday, July 20. Tommy Carr was handed two from Chantler (“The Dog Who Knew Superman,” “My Friend Superman”), two from Gillis (“Panic in the Sky,” “The Machine that Could Plot Crimes”) and one from Peter Dixon (“Jungle Devil”). The sixth script was not for television, but for the U.S. Treasury Department: “Stamp Day for Superman.”

The 18-minute tale, made for schools and civic organizations and targeted toward elementary and junior high students, has the Man of Steel foiling a jewel robbery, of which one of the two culprits is a newcomer to crime: a remorseful fellow who “should have learned how to save and handle money years ago.” Lois, unfortunately, is kidnapped by “Blinky,” a more ruthless crook (played by Billy Nelson; with three roles, it was certainly a lucrative week or two for him!), and Superman has to track her down. He does so, with enough time left to pay a visit to Jimmy’s alma mater and encourage the students to “be super citizens and have a super future by buying United States Savings Stamps at school.”

A misconception about this film is that the entire cast and crew volunteered their talents. Not so. The home office paid everyone, and Superman, Inc. simply donated the finished product to the government (in exchange for a significant tax deduction, no doubt). Not even the script was registered for copyright, so “Stamp Day for Superman” has been a public domain item ever since. Once the most obscure of all Superman “episodes,” it became widely available when the budget-line home video industry rose to prominence. Today, whenever Reeves-as-Superman footage is needed for a documentary, producers invariably turn to “Stamp Day,” since the price — no licensing fee — is right.

What the “Atom Man” saga is to radio’s Superman, “Panic in the Sky” is to the television series. The tale, in which Superman loses his memory while trying to destroy an earth-threatening asteroid, is perhaps the most celebrated of all the TV episodes; certainly the most popular among those produced by Ellsworth. With his director’s memory, Carr recalled it as the most expensive half-hour of the series (only the Mole Men feature had cost more), what with its outer space effects and non-stock flying. Unlike other Gillis submissions, the script didn’t require much of a rewrite. The most substantial change was one of casting: the farmer that gives the dazed Kent a ride to Metropolis was written as a male. But it was clear that another budget-minded show, similar to “The Human Bomb,” would eventually be required to offset the extra cost; Chantler would oblige with “Jimmy Olsen, Boy Editor.”

Jay Emmett took advantage of the situation for a publicity release: “In filming the Superman television program, a scene called for the ‘Man of Steel’ to save a city from a huge falling meteor. Special effects men wrestled with the problem of obtaining a realistic prop that would resemble a close-up of a meteor and yet not strain the budget. The problem was solved by a visit to the local planetarium, where a still photograph of a genuine meteor was lend-leased to the Superman unit.”

Gary Grossman would praise “Panic in the Sky” in his 1975 book Superman: Serial to Cereal and it has been discussed, reviewed, dissected and analyzed ever since — so much so that to do so here would only be redundant. In its day “Panic” certainly fueled a few nightmares for the baby-boomer generation, and children encountering Reeves at personal appearances were known to ask him how the Man of Steel could possibly lose his memory. Long-time New Yorker scribe Philip Hamburger critiqued the episode for the magazine’s Television column after watching its premiere in the company of a neighbor’s child. The piece was so sarcastic and condescending (“…Superman himself, clad in a handsome pair of long drawers and a sweat shirt bearing a large ‘S’… a lithe and muscular figure; the prototype of what all good little boys who eat their cereal and don’t ruin their eyes watching Superman can look forward to being”), it has earned Hamburger a lasting enmity among fans approaching levels usually reserved for Dr. Frederic Wertham.

Potentially more damaging, though, was a review of the other Gillis episode from this batch, “The Machine That Could Plot Crimes,” by San Mateo Times TV columnist Bob Foster. Noting that his two daughters “had been practically mesmerized from 6:30 to 7 o’clock Wednesday night, we decided to see what it was about Superman that could keep the Foster kids quiet for 30 whole minutes…. Last Wednesday night Superman got tangled up with a ‘know it all’ machine which gave out calculations which aided a sinister gang of criminals in knocking over the various and sundry Metropolitan banks.

“The bad aspects of this show are those familiar with most kid shows. The bloodshed, murder and mayhem taking place would make any thinking person shiver. Even the most strict parent is bound to lose the battle, for the stations persist in presenting these affairs early in the evening. It is getting now so we are thinking of turning the kids over to the local theatre manager. The stuff seen in movie houses these days is not nearly so bloodthirsty as the bill of fare served up nightly on our television screens.

“In last Wednesday night’s episode there were two killings, a couple of beatings and no less than four bank robberies. Take the beating incident for one. This beating was administered by a plug ugly to a mild mannered little man. This should be wonderful for the kids, teaches them such a fine sense of poor sportsmanship. The lesson is obvious, ‘always hit a little guy ’cause he can’t fight back.’ It’s time that the TV boys stop paying lip service to the policy of cleaning up television, and really do something about it.”

My, my… such indignation! Too bad it doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. Foster’s “beating incident” — the one he feared young viewers would emulate — was a one-punch knockout of meek Uncle Oscar (Sterling Holloway), inventor of the machine that Larry McCoy (Billy Nelson) co-opts for his crooked purposes. Had he thought to ask his daughters, the columnist might have discovered that kids generally don’t identify with bad guys. The second beating was Kent giving the same to McCoy — which, to almost anyone else, might be seen as justifiable retribution. But Foster couldn’t have been paying close attention to the episode anyway, as it contains exactly zero killings — just a lot of punching and one non-fatal gun battle between McCoy, his two goons, and a couple of policemen.

A pity that Foster wasn’t watching two weeks later when “My Friend Superman” aired; he might have enjoyed the comical pie fight that closed the show. Ironically, there was only a single pie in the sequence as originally penned by Chantler, and Superman had much more to do than step aside and observe the battle royal:

Superman: The perfect end to a wild goose chase, gentlemen.

Cap: It ain’t ended yet…

With that, Cap lunges for the door. Superman catches him and heaves him back into the diner.

115. CLOSE SHOT GEORGE

As Cap comes hurtling toward him. George has a pie in his hand which he obligingly smashes into Cap’s face on the way by.

116. MED. SHOT SHOOTING FROM THE DOOR

Now everything goes up for grabs. Ace and Spud try desperately to escape. Spud pulls a gun and blasts a shot at Superman. Superman grabs the gun and crushes it. Ace reaches up and grabs the rifle from the rack. Superman snatches it from him and bends it back into a pretzel. Cap comes to and leaps behind the counter. Superman leaps after him. Cap tries to evade him and backs against the griddle. He gives a shriek and jumps into the air. Now Tony has joined the fray. He has an arm full of coffee cups which he flings with gay abandon at Ace and Spud, keeping them back from the door. Jimmy stands protectively in front of Lois and Elaine. Finally the fight is over. Superman and Tony lug the cringing victims to a booth and push them in. Superman comes over to Tony and pats him on the back.

Superman: You throw a pretty mean cup, Tony.

Blair took over on August 10 with Royal Cole’s “Beware the Wrecker,” Roy Hamilton’s “Perry White’s Scoop” and Chantler’s “The Boy Who Hated Superman,” “The Clown Who Cried” and “Semi-Private Eye.” Both “Wrecker” and “Clown” had scenes set at a carnival/circus, which were naturally shot side-by-side, while “Semi-Private Eye” capitalized on Chantler’s tendency toward comedy. The script is practically word-for-word identical to the episode, although Jack Larson was given the freedom to work out both his approach to Jimmy’s private eye persona (employing a Bogart impersonation was all his idea) and the physical shtick while handcuffed.

“The Boy Who Hated Superman” was actually one of Chantler’s darker tales, like the earlier “Big Squeeze.” In this one, Jimmy befriends a teenage hoodlum wannabe named Frankie (Tyler McDuff), whose uncle, “The Duke” (Roy Barcroft) has been sent to prison thanks to the investigative prowess of a certain Clark Kent. Frankie’s gangster tendencies seemingly rub off on the cub reporter, but Jimmy is actually trying to look out for his vulnerable friend. This is brought home to Frankie when he and Jimmy are ambushed by another hood — Babe (Richard Reeves). The two teens quickly subdue the armed Babe with a foot stomp and a right cross, but Chantler originally conceived the scene as Sennettesque slapstick:

Jimmy stomps on Babe’s toe. Babe gives a yelp. Frankie sees the opening and jumps into the fray. Frankie stomps on the other foot. Babe drops the gun and howls as Jimmy steps in back of him and pulls his coat down to pin his arms. Frankie grabs Babe’s tie, pulls it tight. Babe tries to grab his neck as Jimmy jerks his hat down over his eyes. Frankie jerks his belt loose from Babe’s pants. (Can we have his pants falling and him tripping over the legs?) Frankie grabs his hands and ties them behind him with the belt. Babe goes down in a confused heap.

Ellsworth must have decided that the story was not suited for this kind of routine — either that, or one hoary comedy bit per season was sufficient, and “My Friend Superman” had already filled the quota.

Blair’s sixth script was to have been “The Killer Mountain” by Gillis, which was never put into production. The description on the cover page reads: “Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen are assigned to cover the human interest story of an Alpinist who plans climbing the same mountain which he first conquered thirty years earlier. But a crooked guide, seeking a million dollars in diamonds lost on the peak in an airplane crash, makes every attempt to thwart the climb. In the excitement of perilous ascents and avalanches, Kent’s true identity as Superman is revealed to Lois and Jimmy, and only fast thinking and faster action can re-establish his secret.” (A more complete synopsis appears in Appendix V.)

Gillis allowed for budget concerns with this note: “Though close to the chalet and already viewed from there in long shot, this mountain is big enough that all the stock shots of it needn’t match; several different views of alpine peaks could be used.” Yet Ellsworth apparently couldn’t whip this teleplay into acceptable shape. Possibly the fact that it takes place entirely on one-time-only sets, with special prop, effect and costume requirements (no less than seven characters wearing heavy parkas on a soundstage in the middle of summer) made him think twice as production was winding down. Or he may not have liked the “perilous ascents and avalanches,” especially when an innocent young guide meets an untimely — and preventable — demise. Only bad guys, or those mixed up with them, die in Ellsworth’s shows. Speaking about her producer in 1965, Noel Neill told the New York Daily News, “I remember he once scrapped an entire episode because he felt it contained too much violence.”

Whatever the reason, Ellsworth commissioned another script from Gillis, handing him an outline concerning a little girl who wins a trip around the world in Superman’s arms — only she’s blind and doesn’t believe in Superman; and requesting that he find a way to incorporate the aerial stock footage of snow-capped mountains that had already been paid for.

Carr’s final assignment began on Monday, August 31. Due to the upcoming Labor Day holiday, his schedule was originally for five episodes, but the “Killer Mountain” decision changed that. Consequently, shooting was extended through Wednesday, September 23 to accommodate six shows. A wrap party would be held on Thursday the 24th. The first five were “Jimmy Olsen, Boy Editor” and “The Whistling Bird” by Chantler, “Lady in Black” and “The Golden Vulture” by Gillis, and “Star of Fate” by Roy Hamilton and Leroy H. Zehren.

“The Golden Vulture” began the week; its climactic fight scene was shot over two days. Every last detail of the melee was scripted and the on-screen result couldn’t have been better choreographed. The teleplay needed very little polishing; it was Gillis’ “Lady in Black” that got the red-pencil treatment. The story was the third go-round for what was evidently a favorite Gillis ploy: a crime masterminded in a way that leads an innocent character to believe he’s going crazy. Clark Kent (“The Face and the Voice”) and Perry’s friend Sir Arthur Macready (“A Ghost for Scotland Yard”) were the first two, and Perry himself would endure it next season. For now, it was Jimmy Olsen’s turn. Apartment-sitting for a friend of his mother, Jimmy hears strange noises and encounters even more strange people in his unfamiliar surroundings — none more nerve-wracking than the titular character (Virginia Christine). Superman is convinced his anxious pal is crying ‘wolf,’ which is naturally the effect desired by the art thieves and smugglers operating in the building.

When the Man of Steel shows up for what is apparently a second false alarm, Gillis originally had Lois there as well, leaving Jimmy to convince two skeptics that there is, indeed, a mysterious lady in black:

Superman: Wearing a veil, no doubt.

Lois: And a strange foreign accent.

Jimmy: She’s the one who gave me the package.

Superman: With money in it.

Lois: Of course. Thousand dollar bills, generally.

Jimmy: How did you know?

Lois: Jimmy. That old plot has been keeping mystery writers alive for years!

Later:

Superman: I think it’s Miss Lane’s turn to give the lecture. I have to get back to the office.

Lois: (startled) Office!

Superman: Uh — well, Clark Kent has a lot of work to finish this week. I have to get together with him before he can start on it. (He departs.)

Lois: Now for you, James. Come in here.

To speed things up, Lois was dropped from the scene and her lines merged with Superman’s and given to Reeves.

In the nick of time, Gillis turned in his tenth script, which was numbered 53 and titled “Around the World with Superman.” This would become one of the series’ most beloved, best-remembered episodes… but not before some extensive rewriting. After reading the original, Ellsworth can only have reached one conclusion: let Gillis stick to mysteries and give someone else the human-interest tales.

The set-up is the same: little Anne Carson (Judy Ann Nugent), blinded by an auto accident and wanting nothing more than to arrange a reunion between her estranged parents, enters the Daily Planet’s “trip around the world” contest under her mother’s name in hopes that her mom (Kay Morley) can take the trip and locate her father (who’s in Arabia) in the process. But once the plot has been established, the script reads like the episode’s evil twin. Most of the right words are there, but far too many wrong ones offset them.

Here’s how Gillis conceived of Superman’s encounter with Anne: Superman (in full costume) walks toward the open apartment door, but Anne hears the footsteps and gets up to close and lock it. The Man of Steel grabs the doorknob, preventing Anne from closing it.

Anne: Go away!

Superman: But I want to talk to you! Where are you and your mother going?

Anne: I don’t know. A man named Mr. Murray telephoned. She got all upset again.

Superman: Who? [probably this line was supposed to be “Why?”]

Anne: I won’t tell you. It’s all your fault, she said.

Superman: All right, never mind that. Just let me in.

Anne: My mother said if anyone came, I was to make sure the door was locked.

Superman: (grins) Then why’d you open it in the first place?

Anne: I guess sometimes I get curious.

Superman: Anne, I want to talk to you. We want to help work things out for you. I’m Superman.

Anne: (pause) You sound more like Mr. Kent.

Superman: Uh — you know, I’ve noticed that sometimes myself. Oh, but I do lots of things Clark Kent doesn’t do.

Anne: I’ll bet.

Superman: All right, lock the door.

Anne: Why?

Superman: (takes hand off knob) Lock it! I’ll show you a trick!

DOOR clicks shut. SOUND of key turning.

Superman: That’s it. Now put your hands next to the lock so you can feel what happens.

Slowly Superman pushes out the entire metal lock frame from the door, until Anne feels his hand and arm come through. He replaces the lock into the door, as:

Superman: There! Now do you believe in Superman?

Anne: (awed but stubborn) Well, it – it’s not a very good apartment house. We couldn’t afford any better.

From here, Superman requests that Anne whisper something softly, while he’s in a different room. After departing, he was to call out, “I’m clear in the bathroom, but I’ll bet I can hear what you say!” Ellsworth decided the words “the other room” would be more appropriate for a conversation between a male adult and female juvenile.

No less unsettling is the scene between Lois and Elaine Carson, where everything spills out after the frightened mother manages to elude Mr. Murray, her husband’s lawyer:

Elaine: My husband’s family can afford thousands of lawyers. That’s the trouble. I can’t.

Lois: Your husband?

Elaine: (sobs it out) Couldn’t you see that’s what’s wrong with everything? It’s not just poor Anne’s blindness, even if that started it — Jim was driving, I blamed him for it — only he blamed me for things, too — it was such a shock, we were horrible to each other.

Lois: But, I don’t understand. That Mr. Murray —

Elaine: They’re trying to get me into court to take my custody away! To take Anne away from me!

Lois: (gasp) From her mother? How could they?

Elaine: (bitterly) Oh, they’ll do it all right! I’ve been no more perfect than Jim ever was. It takes a long time to admit it to yourself — but changing doesn’t help you in court. And he could provide for her better —

Lois: (firmly) But why don’t you talk to your husband without any lawyers?

Elaine: Jim’s gone away! I don’t even know where he is any more! Don’t you see? It’s just too late for being reasonable, or … or having what you really want to have, or… or…

She breaks down at the thought of the truth — that she really still loves her husband; sobs helplessly into her hand… Then, Lois, with a glance toward downstairs —

Lois: (softly, hating herself) And now we come along and give Anne publicity, and they know where to find you again.

Elaine: (nodding) I’ve been hiding with her. It’s wrong maybe, but I’ve been straightening things out — we’ve been happy — I’ll be able to support her myself pretty quick.

Lois takes Elaine firmly by the hand as —

Lois: (very firmly) Elaine, we’ve been trying to help just for the sake of a contest. Well, fooey [sic] on contests — and editors, too. Come on!

At this point, Lois “drags Elaine hurriedly up the stairway,” to the apartment, where she immediately tries to take charge. She calls for Clark, but Superman informs her:

Superman: I’ve taken over for him, Miss Lane.

Lois: All right, there’s no time for that. We’ve been meddling. You’ve got to get them out of town, quick —

Superman: What?

Lois: I’ll explain later. But no mere husband and a pack of dried-up lawyers is going to interfere with a mother and her child.

The main problem with the script is that every time it comes near a tender moment, a sudden burst of nastiness snuffs it out. After Superman explains that he may be able to help Dr. Anderson restore Anne’s eyesight, Lois cautions Elaine, “…only — that will mean that — ” Elaine abruptly cuts her off: “Be quiet! I don’t care! How could anything be as important as Anne’s eyesight.”

As for Anne, a successful surgery does nothing to improve her attitude. Even in Superman’s arms, she’s short-tempered:

Superman: Atlantic Ocean. Make you dizzy?

Anne: Just hurry up!

Anne implores Superman to “hurry up” or “step on it” twice more during their flight. Why? Because she’s anxious to get to Arabia, believing her father is there. That is spelled out in this exchange, during which Gillis has Superman exhibit a Judeo-Christian faith and Anne’s newfound eyesight apparently impairs her ability to listen:

Superman: That’s the Holy Land.

Anne: Oh…

Superman: Where Christ lived…

Anne: (softly) I know. And Moses and David and lots of people. I wish I could see all of them.

Superman: Lots of people still do, Anne. More and more of us. Not with our eyes, maybe, but —

Anne: Look! Where’s the sun going?

Superman: Well, half the world is in night-time. But there’s a good moon, don’t worry. (He twists in flight) And now for India!

Anne: Wait! No! Arabia’s down that way! I looked on the map!

Superman: (smiles) Arabia?

Anne: Of course. Why do you think I entered this contest! Why do you think I wanted mother to take the trip!

Superman: I know. I guessed what you’ve had up your sleeve, all right. And when you wrote that the trees were green there —

Anne: Greener than anywhere in the world!

Superman: But he’s not working there any more. Not since a couple of weeks ago.

Anne: He is so! He told me in a letter where he was! But not to tell Mother, and I didn’t! They’re so silly and stubborn!

VIEWS OF INDIA (NIGHT) — TAJ MAHAL THEN HIMALAYAS

Superman: Look — India — and the mountains coming up.

Anne: Please go back! My father is there.

Superman: Anne, you just wait! While you’ve been getting well, Miss Lane and I have been working on a little surprise for you.

Anne: What?

The finished episode doesn’t account for the fact that half the world is dark at all times; the concept was jettisoned along with the rest of the darkness permeating Gillis’ teleplay. Ellsworth changed as much as he could without starting from scratch, while mixing in just the right amount of heart. Even wardrobe was changed; the script has Reeves in costume almost throughout. On paper, the only time he’s Kent is when he and Lois first visit the Carson apartment and during his visit with Dr. Anderson (Raymond Greenleaf); even when he calls Lois to say “I need time,” he’s in the suit. Perhaps because Reeves would be spending nearly a full day in and out of the flying harness with a 12-year-old actress in his arms, Ellsworth re-wrote so Superman could have his tender moments with Anne dressed in Kent’s clothes. It was a fortuitous decision: the combination of softer dialogue and a less formidable appearance humanizes the Man of Steel while reinforcing that Superman is always who he is. Consequently, his examination of Anne’s eyes is not only the highlight of “Around the World with Superman,” it’s one of the highest moments of the whole series. Sadly, for reasons that are unclear, a good chunk of it is missing from the authorized DVD release.

September 23 was the last day of shooting, and it found Carr, Reeves, Neill and Larson at Long Beach’s Pier A, doing location shots for “The Golden Vulture.” Also present was Don Brackenbury of the Long Beach Press-Telegram. While Neill and Larson did their quick charter boat trip toward a Navy vessel doubling as the SS Golden Vulture, Brackenbury spoke with Reeves about the series. “It’s a sort of fairy tale,” he said, “sort of ‘St. George and the Dragon’ all over again.”

“Reeves said he thoroughly enjoys portraying the role of Superman and is tickled that it has quite an audience among adults,” wrote Brackenbury. The same day, he and the series were the cover story in the latest TV Guide, which described him as “a thoroughly likeable man with a ready grin, a keen sense of humor and no illusions about his importance in the TV hierarchy. Superman he takes genially in stride, albeit with a strong undercurrent of responsibility to the kids. He has given up smoking, believing that Superman should never be seen with a cigaret — and not trusting himself to confine his smoking behind closed doors. To him, Superman is a cross between a job and a dedication.” A week later, it became simply a cross, one that he would have to learn to bear.

From Here to Eternity had its Hollywood premiere at the Pantages Theater, home to the Academy Awards, on September 30. Presumably Reeves was there. Jack Larson definitely was, standing in for Montgomery Clift, who hated to watch himself on screen. When Sgt. Stark’s big scene came on, the audience began to whisper and point: “Look, there’s Superman!” There may have even been a few chuckles.

Over the years, a rumor has circulated that, after this screening, Reeves’ role was severely trimmed from the final print. His authorized biographer, Jim Beaver, insists this is not so: “[Director Fred] Zinneman went over George’s role with me in detail and assured me that not only was [it] not cut down in any way, there was no pressure whatsoever for it to be cut out. And the screenwriter, [Daniel] Taradash, told me… that every word he wrote for the character is in the film.” Beaver confirmed this by personally examining various screenplay drafts, including the shooting script. Nevertheless, the rumor has been presented as fact, even appearing on the packaging for Columbia Pictures’ video release.

There was little need for rumor, though, for the truth was just as devastating. From now on there would be no more calls to Gus Dembling or to Reeves himself. There would be no more work with Zinneman, Fritz Lang, or any director of consequence. Reeves would appear only once more in a theatrical feature, and his casting there was primarily a matter of luck and timing. What had once been a simple trade headline was now absolute fact in the eyes of Hollywood: Reeves was, indeed, Superman.

And only Superman, for the rest of his life.

George Reeves and his new producer, Whitney Ellsworth.

Robert Maxwell promotes himself at National Comics’ expense, and they’re not amused. Trade ad from The Hollywood Reporter, April 29, 1953.

The front door to Whitney Ellsworth’s boyhood home, 1914 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, NY. During World War II, the single-family structure was renovated to become a multi-unit dwelling.

George Reeves is either annoyed or amused by Jack Larson’s growing popularity, 1953.

Noel Neill, the movies’ original Lois Lane, gets to know — and like — her new costar, 1953.

Sterling Holloway as “Uncle Oscar” with George Reeves in “The Machine That Could Plot Crimes.”

A call sheet for cast and crew on “The Golden Vulture,” September 1, 1953.

Anne Carson (Judy Ann Nugent) flies “Around the World with Superman” (George Reeves), 1953. Jackson Gills’ script required a lot of rewriting from Whit Ellsworth. Photo courtesy of Jim Nolt.

Chapter 13

1954-55: Becoming Super

If there was any doubt as to the scope of the Superman audience, Variety’s January 13, 1954 issue dispelled it: “Syndicated vidpix are pulling audiences as large as network entries in many key cities.” Among the examples cited was Los Angeles, where Superman, airing at 8:30 p.m. Mondays on the ABC station, was outdrawing Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts on CBS, which was the third-highest rated show in the country (after I Love Lucy and Dragnet). Needless to say, that kind of viewership couldn’t have been possible without a substantial number of adults.

Variety continued to track the trend through the winter, and readers discovered that adults were watching on the East Coast as well. Now airing on the NBC station in New York City, Superman was outdrawing WCBS’ newscast by a better than 3-to-1 margin (and crushing WABC’s Rootie Kazootie). In Washington, Superman was the #2 syndicated show, behind only the Dragnet rerun series, Badge 714. The Man of Steel was #1 in Atlanta, pulling a Lucy-like audience share of 88. TV Guide’s New York Metro edition included, in its February 12 issue, a letter from a Mrs. H.W. Carlson of Groton, Connecticut. Although written tongue-in-cheek, the letter demonstrates that Mrs. Carlson treated Superman as more than background noise: “The next time Lois Lane gets into trouble through her snooping and prying, intercepting other people’s mail, and generally trying to hog all the credit for everything, why not let Superman just leave her there? I think that any villain who found himself stuck with her on his hands would be more than sufficiently punished.”

In May, John Lester’s “Radio and Television” column for Hearst’s International News Service looked at the Superman phenomenon: “The big, new thing these days is the conversion of comic strips to television. To date, six comic strips are showing on TV and all are on film. They include Joe Palooka, Flash Gordon, Fearless Fosdick, Dick Tracy, Terry and the Pirates and Superman. The most successful of these is the latter, Superman, which is racking up terrific ratings everywhere and which has a large adult following to boot, which might surprise some people.

“Partially responsible for the success of Superman, according to those who know comic strips best, is the fact that the series stars George Reeves in the title role, and Reeves is regarded as the perfect human counterpart of the comic strip’s ‘Man of Steel.’” Lester’s opinion wasn’t unique. An unnamed publicist for Cincinnati’s WLW-TV, wrote, “George Reeves, who performs as Superman and as Clark Kent, fulfills the popular conception of the fabulous character to a startling degree.” Even when slamming the series, San Mateo’s Bob Foster conceded, “The producers, as farfetched and imaginative as they are, have come up with a guy to play the lead role who looks almost exactly like his comic strip counterpart.”

None of this went unnoticed by the actor in question, whose contract was up for an option in the summer, and who took the next few months to weigh the strength of his position as Superman’s “perfect human counterpart” against a future where he might not ever play another role.

At some point near the end of the previous year, the cast reassembled at California Studios, but only for a day. Superman, Inc. had struck a deal with 20th Century-Fox to distribute five makeshift Superman “features” to European and Latin American countries that weren’t running the series (or didn’t yet have television). Each feature would consist of three TV episodes spliced together; other kid’s shows, such as Ramar of the Jungle and Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok had done the same. Since Bob Maxwell still retained a percentage of the first year, only second season episodes were chosen. The principals gathered in Perry White’s office to shoot some brief scenes that would link the segments together. The features seem to have vanished into the mists of time, although at least one of them was playing in Kingston, Jamaica as late as 1972. Reeves must have been wondering if these “movies” would be his final theatrical work.

That spring, an interviewer called upon him for the Los Angeles weekly TV-Radio Life. Rather than discuss his personal life, which he guarded zealously, the crux of the story focused on his work for “the Mambo Club,” a charitable organization directed toward underprivileged Mexican-American children from the barrios of the city’s east side. In 1952, Reeves’ lifelong friend Natividad Vacio, and Nati’s wife Queta, invited him to speak with the children; he not only did so, but he and Nati also entertained with guitar and Spanish songs. “From that moment on,” said Reeves, “I became interested in these young people.

“Recently, I was supposed to attend a meeting of the club — there was some interest in the boys and girls in seeing Superman. Since there were about 150 [children] in the club, I was totally unprepared for the mob scene that greeted me when I went to the school. There were about 3,000 children waiting for me. I managed to get to the recreation hall and I talked to them.” Reeves also signed countless autographs (“some on little girls’ shoes”), answered questions about flying, “and let many of them feel my muscles.”

He also spoke about the part: “I do all of my own stunts, which consist of going through windows and walls and, of course, jumping. The highest jump I ever did was twenty feet. In Superman, we’re all concerned with giving the kids the right kind of show. We don’t go for too much violence. Our writers and sponsors have children and they are all very careful about doing things on the show that will have no adverse effect on the young audience. We even try, in our scripts, to give gentle messages of tolerance and to stress that a man’s color and race and religious beliefs should be respected.” The article appeared in April 1954 — just as National Comics, along with every other comic book publisher, fell under the scrutiny of a congressional investigation.

In mid-January, Joseph and James Harris, Sy Weintraub and Dave Wolper departed from Motion Pictures for Television in a capital gains buyout, taking the original Flamingo Films properties, including Adventures of Superman, with them. Their intention was to buy into a new concern, National Telefilm Associates (NTA); Wolper joined the company as vice-president in charge of sales, bringing with him four Flamingo properties — one of which was the 17 Paramount Superman cartoons — as a goodwill gesture. But when NTA acquired the TV rights to two theatrical feature packages totaling 51 films, its value went up and the “Harris Group” (as Variety termed them) could no longer afford the deal. Wolper resigned from NTA in mid-April and the quartet reorganized Flamingo. In September, Matty Fox would fold Motion Pictures for Television into another new company, U.M.&M., which would eventually be acquired by NTA. At the same time, Fox’s original firm, Associated Artists Productions (AAP), was reborn under the stewardship of MPTV consultant Eliot Hyman, and became a major player in 1956 with a single purchase: the entire Warner Bros. pre-’48 library.

The same month Flamingo emerged from the ashes of MPTV, Noel Neill received a letter from publicist Jay Emmett, in which he said in part, “It certainly looks like it will be another no-swim summer for you, as I expect we will be shooting around June.” As it happened, behind-the-scenes intrigue would delay production until mid-November. However, the cast (minus semi-regular Robert Shayne) reunited for a special public appearance in Memphis Tennessee, as guests of the Mid-South Navy Air Festival the weekend of June 11 — 13. Reeves, Neill, Larson and Hamilton left Los Angeles on June 10, and stopped to refuel at Dallas’ Love Field, where they greeted young fans while filmed by a crew from station WBAP. Then it was on to Memphis, not yet known for Elvis Presley (he’d record his first single there 25 days later), but still a place where separate facilities for “colored people” were mandated.

Emmett had set up appearances at the Malco movie theatre for the cast on the mornings of June 11 and 12: Superman and the Mole Men would be shown, after which the cast would appear on stage to say hello. After checking in at the Gayoso Hotel, Larson took a stroll around town and noticed separate water fountains. Suspecting that the Malco would also be segregated, he eventually returned to the hotel to discuss this with his costars. In the interim, Reeves had also observed the facts of Memphis life, and didn’t like it any less than did Larson.

Reeves had gone to visit an orphanage; another Emmett-arranged event. It was his first such visit, and he wasn’t sure what to expect, although his experience at the Mambo Club must have given him an inkling. He’d already made it known to all concerned that he wouldn’t wear the Superman costume at all during the trip; if anyone expected a TV character, he’d don his glasses and appear as Clark Kent. Neill remembered, “George was literally afraid to go out in the uniform because of a child getting the family gun and blasting poor Superman.” But these children not only didn’t mind, they were delighted to know that someone so special cared about them personally. The experience moved Reeves deeply: “I came out of there and bawled like a baby,” he recalled three years later.

Back at the hotel, everyone soon learned the Malco did, indeed, separate audiences by race; black customers were directed to the balcony. Reeves made some phone calls, and a compromise was reached that everyone could live with: the cast absolutely would not appear as part of the show in front of a segregated audience, but would cheerfully greet all children as they entered the theatre. A table was set up, and the four principals spent a couple of hours signing autographs for a line that spanned two blocks; even longer the following morning. Thus did Superman once more take a stand for equality.

Then it was on to the first day of the Navy Air Festival. The event was sponsored annually by the Naval Relief Fund to raise proceeds. The Superman cast members were officially listed as guests of honor, and would appear at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. all three days. An air show by the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron (a.k.a. “the Blue Angels”) was scheduled for Friday afternoon, but was canceled due to a tragic accident that cast a pall over the entire weekend.

An F7U Navy Cutlass aircraft, piloted by World War II ace Lt. Robert Woolverton, took off to demonstrate some maneuvers prior to the main show. It reached 300 feet, banked left and passed a nearby water tower. Then something went amiss. A veteran pilot who witnessed the crash told an AP reporter, “The pilot switched to the after-burners, which is not normal procedure by any means. The plane never recovered from its bank, but seemed to plunge sideways and downward.” The Cutlass “smashed through a Naval Air Station aviation mechanics school like a flaming meteor,” according to a newswire report. Fortunately, the school was nearly empty due to a lunch break; only four occupants, plus Lt. Woolverton, were killed.

On an aircraft enthusiast’s website some years ago, a visitor posted that his father had been fire chief at the Naval Air Technical Training Center in Memphis at the time, and was there to help put out the resulting blaze. He especially remembered “Dad coming home and telling us that every one of the kids there wanted to know why Superman could not save the pilot.”

Reeves probably had to answer a lot of difficult questions from his young admirers during the rest of the event. He never spoke of the incident publicly, but it doubtless added to his concern about the responsibilities that came with portraying the Man of Steel.

Around that time, word came down that Superman would be filmed in color — a decision for which Whit Ellsworth took full credit: “I had talked Kellogg’s into shooting in color and picking up the extra expense just as sort of a hedge against a possible day when they might wish to telecast in color.” The FCC had approved RCA’s “compatible color” transmission system on December 17, 1953, waiving any waiting period. There would eventually be color television in every household that wanted it.

But was Ellsworth actually the catalyst for Superman? In February 1954, producer William F. Broidy announced that his Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok would be filmed in color. That, too, was a Kellogg’s-financed show. The cereal company and/or the Leo Burnett agency may have decreed the change, in which case the only input on Ellsworth’s part would have been to provide them with the detail behind the “extra expense” — and still he would have to cut corners. “The cost of making duplicate color negatives was so high that we went directly to b&w prints,” he recalled in 1980. “It was several years before we ever saw more than a dozen or so frames of color film processed only to show the cinematographer what he was getting.” As with Hickok, Superman wouldn’t air in color until it became cost-effective to do so.

Additionally, Hickok was shooting only 13 episodes a year and had been since 1953. That schedule was set up after there were 48 segments in the can. Kellogg’s had by then determined that children not only tolerated, but craved repetition. With no audience drop-off during reruns, even with the 1951 shows making their third go-round in some markets, the company saw no need to finance more than a quarter-year’s worth of new shows per season, especially as costs continued to rise. Kellogg’s had 50 Superman films in rotation, and they informed Superman, Inc. that they’d be placing 13-week orders each year going forward.

With that out of the way, Ellsworth made his annual sojourn to New York to discuss the year’s budget with Jack Liebowitz and begin conferring with Mort Weisinger on plots, a few of which would again come from comic book stories then in production. But Liebowitz, Weisinger and everyone else at the home office were reeling from the fallout from April’s Congressional Committee hearings on juvenile delinquency, which were held in the U.S. Court House in New York City. Comic books were not only discussed, a few lurid examples were distributed and dissected. Committee member Estes Kefauver — he of the congressional investigation into organized crime that had kept TV viewers glued to their sets in 1951 — invited a writer-psychiatrist he’d met in July 1950 when moderating radio’s American Forum program in a panel discussion entitled “Do Comics Cause Juvenile Deliquency?” Like a real-life Lex Luthor, Dr. Frederic Wertham had returned, causing Superman, Inc. all kinds of trouble.

Wertham, needless to say, testified, and the timing was perfect: his newest book, Seduction of the Innocent: The Influence of Comic Books on Today’s Youth, had just gone on sale. Almost none of the comic publishers saw any point in testifying, or even attending, in the hope that, as happened in 1948, the hysteria would fade. But one publisher, William M. Gaines of the Entertaining (formerly “Educational”) Comics Group (E.C.), opted to take the stand. Gaines, the son of Maxwell C. Gaines (who’d sent Superman to DC sixteen years earlier), felt particularly put-upon. His company now published “mature” comics, with titles such as Vault of Horror and Tales from the Crypt, and Wertham had included so many panels from these in Seduction, one might suspect that the doctor never missed an issue.

Gaines made a valiant effort to defend his company, at one point asserting, “The truth is that delinquency is a product of the real environment in which a child lives — and not of the fiction he reads.” He was also compelled to give Wertham a verbal slap: “It would be just as difficult to explain the harmless thrill of a horror story to a Doctor Wertham as it would be to explain the sublimity of love to a frigid old maid.” But everything fell apart when he proclaimed, “My only limits are the bounds of good taste.” Kefauver immediately held up issue #22 of E.C.’s Crime SupsenStories, with its cover of a figure holding a bloody axe in one hand and a severed head in the other. “Do you think that is in good taste?” asked the senator. “Yes, sir, I do, for the cover of a horror comic,” Gaines replied, beginning to appear drowsy; he was then taking Dexedrine for weight control and the stimulant had worn off. “I think it would be bad taste if he were holding the head a little higher so the neck would show with the blood dripping from it.”

Kefauver wasn’t impressed: “You have blood coming out of her mouth.” “A little,” agreed Gaines, rapidly losing focus. “Here is blood on the axe,” continued Kefauver. “I think most adults are shocked by that.” The rest of the committee brought other E.C. covers and stories to Gaines’ attention, basically prodding for his reaction to their reactions, while he “sat there like a punch-drunk fighter, getting pummeled,” as he later described it. Realizing Gaines was no longer able to parry, Senator Thomas Hennings delivered a final thrust: “I don’t think it is the function of our committee to argue with this gentleman. I believe he has given us the sum and substance of his philosophy.” These hearings were also televised, and everyone watching realized Gaines had effectively sunk his company’s fortunes. The question remained whether he’d taken the entire comic book industry down as well.

Certainly the reaction to Seduction of the Innocent didn’t help. Reviewer Charles Gregg, in his “Book News of the Week” column, called it “one of the most important books of the year. For parents of young adolescents, it is ‘must’ reading.” In his “Literary Comment and Criticism” column, Stanley E. Babb wrote, “A devastating — yes, devastating! — and unanswerable attack on the comic book industry, Seduction of the Innocent should be of immediate interest to (a) parents, (b) schoolteachers, © social workers, (d) law enforcement officials and (e) juvenile court authorities.”

Writing for the New York Times Book Review, C. Wright Mills, associate professor of sociology at Columbia University, concluded, “Surely any careful reader of this book can only agree with Dr. Wertham when he says, ‘Whenever I see a book like this in the hands of a little seven-year-old boy, his eyes glued to the printed page, I feel like a fool to have to prove that this kind of thing is not good mental nourishment for children!’ It does not seem to me that ‘further studies are needed’ before action is taken against comic book manufacturers and purveyors.”

As before, Wertham claimed his attack was on “crime comic books,” and as before, this included any title or genre that so much as suggested crime, even Donald Duck. The illustrations chosen may have been weighted toward the E.C. line, but all comics — especially Superman and the like — were fair game. “What is the social meaning of these supermen, superwomen… super-ducks?” wrote the doctor. Wertham’s predictable conclusion was Nazism: “Superman (with the big S on his uniform — we should, I suppose, be thankful that it is not an S.S.) needs an endless stream of ever new submen, criminals and ‘foreign-looking’ people not only to justify his existence but even to make it possible.”

In driving his point home, Wertham referenced the TV show: “Television has taken the worst out of comic books, from sadism to Superman. The comic book Superman has long been recognized as a symbol of violent race superiority. The television Superman, looking like a mixture of an operatic tenor without his armor and an amateur athlete out of a health magazine advertisement, does not only have ‘superhuman powers,’ but explicitly belongs to a ‘super-race.’” George Reeves owned a copy of Seduction, but what he thought of it, or of Wertham’s assessment of him, is lost to time.

Before the congressional committee moved on to other aspects of juvenile delinquency, its members effectively issued a warning to comics publishers: clean up your house, or Washington will do it for you. In September, publisher John Goldwater of the Archie Comics Group gathered 24 of his peers together to create the Comics Code Authority; this time, National Comics would willingly participate. Its template was, naturally, the DC code of ethics that Ellsworth and Liebowitz had created in 1940, taken to such extremes that it was felt necessary to include a clause stating, “In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds.”

Additonally, the words “Horror” and “Terror” could no longer appear in a comic book title. With that, the E.C. Group was effectively shut out of the comic book business. Gaines took his most successful title, the satirical MAD, turned it into a twenty-five cent magazine and enjoyed unparalleled success in a field all his own. The Code’s coup de grace was a “catch-all” clause: “All elements or techniques not specifically mentioned herein, but which are contrary to the spirit and intent of the code, and are considered violations of good taste or decency, shall be prohibited.” The Authority appointed a czar, Judge Charles F. Murphy, who in turn appointed an independent panel to review each and every comic book and rule on it.

As Les Daniels put it in his book Comix: A History of Comic Books in America, the Comics Code Authority “proudly proclaimed itself the most oppressive force of censorship on the American landscape, and nobody batted an eyelash.” Indeed, copies of the code were submitted to the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the American Legion, the Police Athletic League, the St. Louis Council of Parent-Teacher Associations, even the Boy Scouts of America — pretty much the same groups that had praised the Superman radio show’s campaign against intolerance. All responded with enthusiastic endorsement. The irony is that, on the stand, Dr. Wertham had fervently opposed the idea of censorship, favoring public health legislation that would prohibit the sale of horror and crime comics to anyone under 15. Instead, a stamp-sized seal of approval would assure the parents of American youth that their children were safe from “seduction.”

The code had an impact on Adventures of Superman as well. Ellsworth may have thought he’d effectively toned down the violence after Maxwell, but now he even had to reign in his own taste. Banished forever were stories that might remotely be construed as horror or overly suspenseful, such as “Panic in the Sky,” “A Ghost for Scotland Yard” and “Lady in Black.” Banished was any form of murder, both on- and off-screen, and if a character received a blow to the head, the script specified that it should happen “OUT OF FRAME,” with never so much as a lump afterward. Banished were criminal masterminds like the Wrecker, replaced for the most part with bumbling two-bit hoodlums. If one with a modicum of intelligence happened to slip by, he was always paired with an imbecile. Sadly, banished as well were social justice episodes like “The Big Squeeze” and “Five Minutes to Doom,” and the “gentle messages of tolerance” of which Reeves had spoken would be couched in the sort of symbolism that was scoffed at just a few years earlier. Superman was now to be a children’s show first, a family show second, with no risk of controversy.

Asked in 1991 about the change in storytelling, Jackson Gillis recalled, “Mort Weisinger, the story editor… wanted to retain the flavor of the comic books at the time. I remember enjoying the earlier ones much more.” Gillis received four assignments for the new batch. Leroy H. Zehren, who’d written two alongside Roy Hamilton the previous year, handed in two solo works, both highlights of the season. Ellsworth favorite David Chantler got the crux of the assignments, with five; his sister Peggy was handed an opportunity to prove herself with a single tale — oddly, a sequel to Gillis’ “The Defeat of Superman.” And Dwight V. Babcock, a former pulp writer who’d made his name penning mysteries and horror flicks for Hollywood’s B-units, turned in a script that owed a little of its origin to one of the radio arcs, “The Boy King of Moravia.”

All that remained was to re-up everybody’s contracts. Neill, Hamilton and Shayne signed with little or no complaint. Larson’s agent came to the table with cold hard facts: Jimmy Olsen was the second-most popular character in the show; Larson was receiving nearly as much fan mail as Reeves; National Comics acknowledged it by introducing a Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen bimonthly title that summer. Ellsworth could only do so much by way of money, which wasn’t much at all. A compromise was reached: Larson’s salary went up a tad, and his on-screen credit moved up a notch, to top billing among the co-stars.

That left Reeves, who through his agent, Gus Dembling, submitted a figure. Ellsworth, who may have needed time to catch his breath, responded with a counter-offer. The two sides met, but found no common ground. In addition to more pay, Reeves wanted Superman, Inc. to cease selling Superman costumes and capes. By now, he’d had scores of children asking him how he flew, and if they could too, if they wore his “magic cape.” The home office said, “Forget it” on all counts. Negotiations were halted on September 24.

Los Angeles Times TV columnist Walter Ames sought out Reeves: “He explained some of the hazards of personal appearances. Only last week, a youngster hit him in the eye, ‘to see if he would flinch.’ On other occasions, he has been kicked in the shins, slugged in the back and subjected to other tricks by his admirers to test his endurance.” And these while in his street clothes! Ames also spoke to Ellsworth, who asserted that money was the only issue: “Reeves’ agents served an ultimatum on me. It called for a salary increase I was unable to meet. My relations with Reeves are still amiable. I wish him luck.”

Ames’ piece appeared on September 27; Hal Humphrey followed up in his own syndicated column four days later: “If the producers of the Superman TV series plan to make any more episodes, they’ll have to find another hero. George Reeves, who played Superman in 53 [sic] of the TV films, balked at having his option renewed and claimed the money was not what had been promised. He also may have been getting a little tired of living the super-clean life. It was in the contract that he couldn’t smoke, drink or generally be a cut-up in public.”

Those who knew him best say that, by the mid-1950’s, Reeves had grown ambivalent about furthering his career; he simply liked his leisure time too much. His friend Nati Vacio would tell author Gary Grossman, “He’d say, ‘Let’s go off to South America’ or, ‘Let’s buy a horse and go prospecting in Mexico.’ This would be in two minutes. Five minutes later he’d buy the damn horse and off we’d go.” He was also in a romantic relationship that, of necessity, had to be kept private, as the woman was married. As Pat Ellsworth Wilson described it, “[He] saw [her] very steadily. She was not the type of lady that could go following him to a distant city for summer stock.”

He’d long before made peace with the idea that he wasn’t a Gable, Bogart or Cagney, and would’ve happily settled into a career as supporting player, the pet of a major director’s stock company, had Superman not intervened. Now he was a star, of a medium that was growing in importance, and even though only children were coming up to shake his hand (and test his grip), he knew adults were watching and enjoying him as well. Jimmy Fidler’s “Fidler in Hollywood” column all but confirmed it that August: “A neighbor columnist recalls that George Reeves, who plays Superman in a TV feature, was cast in Gone With the Wind. Nobody noticed George at that time, but as the fabulous Superman on the air waves, he’s kicking up a lot of dust…”

A full year had passed since production ended on season two, with no offers for film or dramatic television — only personal appearances arranged by Jay Emmett. Now he was faced with an annual schedule pared to six-and-a-half weeks, while shooting in color all but guaranteed that he would be flying across home screens for a very long time.

So, did Reeves really want to leave Superman, or was he simply looking for a salary befitting the popular star of a hit series? Opinions vary. Grossman would write in 1975, “There are those who say Reeves… wanted out,” without naming names. Others believe that he and Superman, Inc. were going through “the dance” — that moment when a star, confident he is now indispensible to a show’s success, tries for more money by starting with an impossibly high figure, in hopes that he and the producer(s) will eventually dip and twirl their way to an agreement that approaches his true expectations.

By October 5, TV-Radio Life was reporting, “To date, no auditions have been held for George Reeves’ replacement as Superman,” which at least implies that both sides were still “dancing” behind the scenes. Nevertheless, an ambitious bit player named John Frederick, like Reeves an Iowa native, decided to campaign for the role. Frederick ordered up stills of himself in a makeshift superhero costume, as well as in grey suit, hat and horn-rims. He sent them over to Superman, Inc., and allegedly received a call. “It was at a little studio on the street just south of the Paramount gate,” Frederick wrote in his autobiography, Name Droppings on Your Head, as reported by the Des Moines Register website in January 2007 (which included the two stills of Frederick in character). “It was a tiny office with two men in it,” one of whom was undoubtedly Ellsworth; the other may have been Si Simonson. “Hanging on a rack was the Superman costume. ‘If it fits, you’ve got the job,’ one said.”

Everything up to that last sentence sounds credible. Frederick wrote that he actually made 18 episodes, for which he was “paid well,” but “I eventually figured it out that I was supposedly the threat that just might bring (Reeves) back into the fold and hopefully his senses.” This part of his tale is highly improbable, to say the least. When the Register story came out, both Neill and Larson emphatically denied that they ever worked with anyone other than Reeves in the role. Eighteen episodes would have taken a minimum of eight weeks to film, whereas Reeves’ entire walkout lasted five. Moreover, if the company had that much money at their disposal, to film 18 half-hour shows as a negotiating ploy, they would have been better off giving it to Reeves from the get-go. At most, Frederick got to try on the suit and did a test on the flying rig: “The part I remember the most vividly was lying stretched out on something that looked like a barrel on my stomach, feet and arms outstretched, and wind machine blowing. I guess I was flying.”

Someone also reportedly gave Kirk Alyn a call. In 1974, Alyn told interviewer Eric Hoffman, “I knew George. We had the same agent, Gus Dembling. I got a call from the people making the show and they told me about the situation and what George was holding out for. I told them to pay him… he deserved whatever he wanted.”

Whether Alyn or Frederick were held over Reeves’ head during this time is unrecorded, but the company felt confident enough to issue a statement on October 9 that production would resume in November. Interestingly, they also stated “negotiations are… almost ready to be concluded for return of the radio series next year. If the proposed deal goes through, Superman, Inc. would tape the series with Ziv acting as distributor.” Ellsworth and Ziv Vice President Herb Gordon handled the negotiations; Ellsworth would produce and the TV cast would star in this new version.

Perhaps the fact that Wild Bill Hickok and Space Patrol were airing on both media convinced Superman, Inc. to do the same with their much more successful show, or else they were simply looking to get more bang for their buck. Whatever the reason, the era of children’s radio drama was just about over. Kellogg’s was firmly entrenched in television, still trying to build that weekday half-hour strip; they’d be dropping the radio Hickok at the end of the year and had no interest in regressing. Space Patrol’s sponsor, Nestle, would discontinue the radio version come March. Frederick Ziv may have been amenable to distributing a transcribed Superman, but not without a guaranteed sponsor.

By the third week in October, Reeves and Superman, Inc. had come to terms. He would receive $2,500 per episode, which amounted to at least a 300% increase over his first contract. That alone equaled a gross annual salary of $32,500, at a time when the average individual income was $2,300 per year. The company agreed to a residuals-in-perpetuity agreement, retroactive to the 1953 season. A healthier cut of personal appearance fees was also granted. Demands about merchandise were taken off the table. Everyone was happy, more or less. The only one left holding the bag was Ellsworth, who had to keep an ever-more watchful eye on the books. Bess Epstein, his accountant, had her work cut out for her.

The news about the prodigal’s return went out on October 26. Two days earlier, the new Comics Code had gone into effect.

Higher salaries, rising costs; everything was going up, up, up… especially the producer’s cigarette intake. Making things worse, reliable Tommy Carr had opted not to return, seeking “better things to do. As a director, you want to advance yourself. I shot about 20 to 25 percent of Friendly Persuasion (1956) with Gary Cooper. I told the director (William Wyler), ‘I’ll do it, but I don’t want my name attached to a second unit, because the whole industry will think that all I did was a couple of run-throughs, and a couple of shots of the Civil War, and that everything else was yours.’ So I didn’t classify myself as anything less than a director working with him.”

Harry Gerstad “wanted to trade his editor’s table for the director’s chair,” as Ellsworth told Grossman. “He knew the stock requirements of the show, and how to put a picture together better than anyone… so he became our other director” alongside George Blair. Gerstad, in turn, passed the editing chores to his assistant, Sam Waxman, who remained until the end. The official start was on Monday, November 15, but Gerstad spent the prior week getting his feet wet by supervising ‘special stock’ shots around Los Angeles needed to replace the old black & white footage.

Reeves, meanwhile, spent one day of that week suited up in Simonson’s “oar” — the hydraulic flying rig. He had no desire to contend with the wire trolley again, not that there was enough money in the till to do so. Ellsworth had learned process shots could no longer be used, because re-photographing backgrounds via rear-screen projection looked too obvious in color. That meant all the flying for the new shows had to consist of blue-screen matte work from Jack Glass’ lab. It was just one more strain on a budget already stretched to the breaking point. Simonson did the best he could with the rig, even sweeping the camera across Superman’s entire body to simulate a “fly-by.” But by design everything had to be done in profile; the head-on swoops and dives and three-quarter angles of the previous year disappeared.

Still, the harshest edict was put to the two directors: they could not shoot more than one take. When Reeves stumbled coming through a rock wall in “Through the Time Barrier”… no retake. When he flubbed a line in “The Talking Clue”… no retake. When John Hamilton flubbed one in “Superman Week”… no retake. Whether special effect or simple conversation, “we never shot it twice,” asserted Simonson. “What you see is what you get.”

The season began with Gerstad — presumably with Blair nearby to offer advice and hand-holding — piloting the first three-week slate: Gillis’ “The Lucky Cat” and “Great Caesar’s Ghost,” David Chantler’s “The Talking Clue” and “Through the Time Barrier,” and Peggy Chantler’s “Superman Week.” Only five segments were scheduled to accommodate Thanksgiving weekend.

Despite his proficiency with scissors and splicing tape, as a directorial novice under the dual pressures of little time and less money, Gerstad’s output is unimpressive to say the least. His biggest problem is one of pacing: at times, it’s glacial. By all accounts, properly lighting sets for the color emulsions of the day took a great deal of time; consequently, Gerstad’s philosophy was ‘the fewer set-ups, the better.’ In “Superman Week,” for example, this translates to Lois and Jimmy entering Clark’s apartment, walking across the living room, positioning two chairs in front of his TV, turning it on, waiting for it to warm up and settling back to watch the show — not the sort of action one would call compelling. Close-ups are almost non-existent. Instead, Gerstad would stick to two-shots and simply dolly the camera in — or out. The occasional end result would be awkward pauses while actors strained to remember their lines, as Robert Shayne seems to during a lengthy scene between Henderson and Kent in “Talking Clue.” According to Shayne, no TelePromTer or cue cards were used. “That would be highly unprofessional,” he told editor Jim Nolt. “I would memorize my lines at night. The next day, I’d go into the studio and George would say, ‘Lets go over [the lines] in my dressing room.’ So we’d polish the scene… and that was it.”

The problem came to a head with “Great Caesar’s Ghost,” Gillis’ “let’s drive Perry White batty” tale. The editor, a key witness in the trial against “Morley’s Gang,” thinks he’s being visited by the ghost of Julius Caesar (Trevor Bardette), and has become so disoriented that he’s welcomed the bogus Shakespearian specter as his houseguest. Naturally, this plays havoc with Inspector Henderson’s confidence in White’s upcoming testimony. Jimmy Olsen, who seems to only have a brain when Gillis writes for him, figures out that the gang is behind it all, and with Superman’s help, proves it.

Sam Waxman had to prune this one to a fare-thee-well to make it fit the running time, even inserting a dissolve as Jimmy is speaking to Superman. The major casualty was a piece of exposition that would have plugged a gaping hole in the final episode. The excised dialogue occurs when Julius, Jarvis and the delivery clerk from an earlier scene converse about their plot to discredit White:

Clerk: You’ve been doing all right, Jarvis.

Jarvis: I was scared to death. I turned the recorder on, playing Julius’ voice — but then there was Superman, coming after us! I tell you, I just got the phonograph thrown overboard in time, so he wouldn’t see it with his X-ray vision.

Clerk: Aw, Superman just thinks this guy’s nuts, like everybody else. Why back in White’s office, Superman didn’t even bother to look around for the gadget I made that ticking sound with — or any of the other stuff, either! So relax!

Jarvis: I will not! Look at him! Getting worse and worse — and he’s been so good to me, all these years —

Ghost: Silence! You’ll do as we say!

Clerk: You planted them paper dolls in his briefcase! And if you don’t keep on helping us until this trial’s over, we’ll tell the police that you used to be one of the Morley gang, too!

Jarvis: No, please — I tried to go straight —

During the course of production, a photojournalist from TV World magazine — a monthly that did puff-pieces about the stars’ private lives — ambled out to California Studios to set up an interview with Reeves. “He doesn’t do interviews,” Ellsworth told him. “We would welcome the publicity, but he hates too much attention.” The man replied, “We logged over 40,000 letters from our readers [wanting] to know more about the man behind the costume. The least I can do is to ask him directly and try not to take ‘no’ for an answer.”

“You must be Art Weissman,” said Reeves upon the journalist’s arrival to Stage Seven. “Whit phoned to tell me he’d passed you in to try and see me. How hard are you going to try?” The actor firmly stated that his home life was his own business, to which Weissman shrugged and made his pitch: “We can keep your private life as private as you want, but concentrate on personal causes or charities that interest you. How about meeting me later for a drink or two and talk it over?” Reeves grinned; this guy clearly spoke his language.

The two hit it off and arranged for a photo shoot at the East L.A. elementary school where Nati Vacio taught. They became close friends in the coming months, and when Gus Dembling died on April 30, 1955, Reeves asked Weissman to consider becoming his personal manager. “We did it on a trial basis, and from there it went into a full-time activity.” According to some of Reeves’ associates, as a manager Weissman was a very good photojournalist, but the arrangement was deemed satisfactory for both men, at least for a while.

For one thing, Weissman confirmed, “He wasn’t too ambitious about pursuing his career. New York, Florida and Hawaii were his three favorite places, [and] he would always try to be off and go somewhere between production [chores]. That was one of the bones of contention we used to have, that you have to work at your career and work toward your own goals. He’d say, ‘You take care of business for me, and I’ll take care of the acting!’ ” As previously noted, Reeves didn’t see a need to hustle; he was content to ride the Superman wave for a while, certain he’d be able to move into something else — behind the camera if not in front — once it had crested.

For another, he’d learned how to make a successful personal appearance. November 21, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, marked Reeves’ debut in costume in front of a paying audience. Frank Sennes, owner of Hollywood’s Moulin Rouge nightclub, was hosting a special dinner show for the local chapter of the Boys Club of America and made a deal with Reeves: if he’d entertain as Superman, Mambo Club members could attend for free. Although Reeves had to conjure up appropriate attire for some of the children (according to Grossman, he did so by “canvassing friends for outgrown attire, and bedeviling shopkeepers for slow-moving merchandise”), by all accounts the evening was a triumph.

Back at the studio the Monday after “Turkey Day,” Blair took the reigns for Gillis’ “The Seven Souvenirs,” Babcock’s “King for a Day” and Zehren’s “Clark Kent, Outlaw” before the Christmas/New Year’s holiday break shut things down for another two weeks. (So much down time with so many on salary; Ellsworth would not make that mistake again!) Gillis’ tale has long been considered the highlight of the season, with Zehren’s not far behind it. Not-so-coincidentally, both used the same house set, and Gillis saved money by setting industrialist Mr. Jasper (Arthur Space)’s office in the Planet building.

“The Seven Souvenirs” is, naturally, a mystery: someone is stealing bent-up knives purchased from the quaint souvenir shop of Mr. Willy (Phillips Tead). Each knife is supposed to be a one-of-a-kind item, damaged when a spy tried to use it on Superman, but Willy has created and sold so many of them that no one knows which might be the genuine article. The assigned task seems to be for the Man of Steel to examine the knives with his X-ray vision, in order to identify the one legitimate knife, which must have something valuable hidden inside. Four-fifths into the story, though, we learn it’s a ruse: Jasper has staged the thefts so Superman will use his vision on a completely different set of knives — those of his own creation, fashioned with an alloy that the X-ray will change into pure uranium. It’s a brilliant twist.

Gillis wrote Mr. Willy as an opportunistic, used-car-salesman type. Phillips Tead, however, turned him into a dithery little ball-of-fire with a carload of shtick. His scene with Clark Kent is a delight, mainly because Reeves is obviously enjoying the little guy, even breaking into laughter (only one take, remember?) when the script says he should be annoyed at the deception he’s witnessing. Blair clearly sat back and allowed Tead to have his head, and upon viewing the rushes, Ellsworth’s reaction must have been similar to Jackie Gleason’s after his first show with Art Carney: “We’ve gotta bring this guy back. He’s gold!”

Zehren’s “Clark Kent, Outlaw” is an underrated gem. After lending a surreptitious hand to Henderson as Superman by breaking up a shootout with a robbery gang, Kent discovers to his surprise that some of the stolen money is in his car’s glove compartment. Realizing he’s being framed, he plays along: Perry White “fires” him and he joins the clever bunch whose racket is to con victims into thinking they and their valuables are being protected by a U.S. government official, Major Stoddard (Tris Coffin). Having gained the confidence of his wealthy prey, Stoddard sends his two minions (John Doucette and Sid Tomack) to retrieve the loot. Kent has both fooled, especially when he contrives to have Lois and Jimmy burned alive in Perry’s office. But Stoddard, having abducted the editor, discovers it’s all a ruse and provides knock-out pills to White and Kent. Once Perry’s unconscious, Superman springs into action. The story is solid, and as the heavies Coffin, Doucette and Tomack are first-rate.

When cast and crew returned on January 3, 1955, they found out one of the episodes had changed. David Chantler had turned in “The Unlucky Number” for this season, but Ellsworth didn’t have enough left in the budget to carry it off — what with a street and store set, a house front with a porch, a newsstand, and other pleasantries. He had no intention of shelving the script, just postponing it until next season when his bank account had been refreshed. Ellsworth asked Chantler to write something that would make do with what they had, and since Elizabeth Patterson had already been signed for a day’s work, to include an elderly woman in the tale. The writer promptly handed in “Olsen’s Millions,” based on a recent comic book story.

The schedule included Gillis’ last for the year, which he called “The Man Who Could Not Die.” But “Die” was now too disturbing a word for a kid’s show episode title, so Ellsworth changed it to “The Magic Necklace.” Actor Lawrence Ryle, seen previously as Dr. Barnack desperately seeking the ancient, cursed “Star of Fate,” appears here as gangster Jake Morell desperately seeking the charmed necklace of Tai-Wan’s tomb, the prize of Professor Jody (Leonard Mudie)’s expedition.

More than the title was changed. Comparing the original script to the filmed version provides an excellent illustration of the new rules of business, post-Comics Code. As the story begins, Morell and his two cronies, Clicker (John Harmon) and Lazy (Frank Jenks), have broken into the crates of artifacts Jody has sent to the Metropolis Museum. Each time a necklace is found, one of the two goons must put it on, then drink a fast-acting poison. Should the poison actually take effect, Morell’s “volunteer” is given an antidote.

Clicker goes first. Here’s how Gillis wrote it:

Clicker: (worried) Lazy, get that antidote ready, will you?

Lazy: (blankly) Huh?

Clicker: (growing alarm) The stuff to counteract the poison I took, stupid! I mean in case I start dying. You didn’t forget to bring it, did you?

Clicker is about to grab Lazy by the throat. But Morell calmly intervenes. He feels Clicker’s forehead — his pulse.

Morell: Now, now, don’t worry… How do you feel? Any pain yet?

Clicker: Boss, it must be a minute, already! Boss, gimme the — gimme the —

But suddenly he stares at both of them, clutches his body with both hands, reels around a couple of times. Lazy would move to help, but Morell just pushes him back, studying the guinea pig.

Morell: The necklace doesn’t seem to be helping him any, does it? It’s not keeping him from dying…

Then poor Clicker spins again and topples to the floor, out cold.

On film, all this suspense was reduced to comedy. John Harmon plays the poisoning strictly for laughs: he starts making his character’s “clicking” sound while his eyes bug out and his body stiffens and quivers. At no time do we believe Clicker’s life is in jeopardy; it’s more like one of those fake death scenes that turn up in cartoons.

Another variation from script to screen is subtler, yet just as effective in reducing a feeling of menace. Lois and Jimmy confront Morell and his thugs trying to escape from the museum, and are taken captive. In the script, the reporters couldn’t turn on the museum lights, so the scene is played in the dark, with only Morell’s flashlight to illuminate things:

Lois: If you’re looking for a certain stone neckace, then it isn’t even here! Professor Jody hasn’t sent it home from Tibet yet!

Clicker: How do you know so much?

Morell: Take a look in her bag — see who she is.

Clicker pulls her handbag roughly away from her. Lois gasps indignantly. Jimmy struggles with Lazy.

Jimmy: (yells) Keep your hands off her!

Lazy: Quiet, you!

20. CLOSE SHOT CLICKER

He has Lois’ bag open and the flashlight shining into it. He pulls out her press card.

Clicker: Her name’s Lois Lane and she’s a reporter from the Daily Planet!

In the episode, the lights are on, everything is done in long shot, and when Morell merely asks who she is, Jimmy proudly proclaims it — like an idiot.

Along with “Olsen’s Millions,” Chantler’s remaining episodes were “The Bully of Dry Gulch” and “Flight to the North.” For the former, the cast got to spend a day at Corriganville, the all-purpose western rental lot owned by Ray “Crash” Corrigan. Noel Neill dressed up in a cute frontier outfit, which Ellsworth amortized by having her don it in Leroy Zehren’s “Test of a Warrior” as well. She even got to use the same Corriganville telephone in both shows. Fortunately, Jack Larson had only to wear his drugstore-cowboy outfit in “Bully;” his wardrobe for most of “Warrior” looks like the actor’s own street clothes.

“Test of a Warrior,” based on the same-titled story that graced issue #200 of Action Comics, scores a half-point for attempted political correctness. Red Hawk (Maurice Jara), a college-educated Native American, wants to help his father (Francis McDonald) steer their tribe into the modern day and away from the superstition and fear perpetuated by the elderly medicine man, Okatee (Ralph Moody). But his solution is an odd one: to call upon an ancient legend of the tribe, that of “the Great White Bird.” Thus, he goes to the Metropolis Daily Planet to find a genuine great white bird that wears a red cape. If the episode doesn’t exactly reverse the “noble redskin” stereotype, at least it’s fun watching Superman make a monkey out of Okatee.

“Flight to the North” starred Chuck Connors as a backwoods bumpkin named Sylvester J. Superman who, accompanied by his mule, Lilybelle, visits Metropolis only to find out that its residents know all about him… or at least he thinks they do. One of them, Margie Holloway (Marjorie Owens), asks him to “fly” a lemon-meringue pie to her fiancé (Richard Garland) in Alaska. Sylvester’s perfectly agreeable to the idea; anything to “halp out” a neighbor, but he has to contend with ‘Leftover’ Louie Lyman (Ben Welden), an ex-con with a mercenary interest in that very pie, who follows him all the way to the frozen north. The episode is far and away the best “comedy relief” show in the Superman canon, and considering Connors — a Brooklyn native who’d played basketball for the Celtics and baseball for the Dodgers and Cubs — first stepped in front of a camera exactly three years earlier, he displays a great sense of comic timing.

By his own admission, Connors was “a naïve young guy then. George was very kind. I had seen the show and admired the man. He was one of the big guys when my career was just beginning. But working with George was very special because he treated the regulars and guest actors like real people. He was a down-to-earth guy.” Within four years, Connors would himself become “one of the big guys” in the Sam Peckinpah-created series The Rifleman.

For those who may be wondering why Sylvester came to Metropolis in the first place, the scripted version of his initial scene with Hicks (George Chandler), the Crumbly Hotel’s desk clerk, provides a clue:

Sylvester: Never been to the big city before.

Hicks: So far, that’s the only thing I can believe.

Sylvester: Yep. Got a letter two weeks ago saying my forty-fifth cousin had gone to glory and left me a fortune.

Hicks: Left you a fortune?

Sylvester: Yep, accordin’ to the letter it’ll probably be somewheres around fifty-seven dollars.

Another minor loose end occurs at the close, when Louie — still shivering even though he’s got a hot water bottle on his head and his feet in a steaming bucket of water — tells Kent that “me and Buckets have seen the light.” Up to that moment, Buckets (Ralph Sanford), Louie’s cohort, has given no indication that he wants to go straight, too. Again, the script holds the answer:

Louie: I’ve learnt the cold facts of life, Buckets. From now on, I go legitimate.

Buckets sits down dolefully on the edge of the bed.

Buckets: That’s exactly what I been contemplatin’. I keep hearin’ it over and over again… what my Aunt Tillie called me.

Louie: What’d she call ya?

Buckets: A hoodlum.

Louie: Okay, so we give the money back and start goin’ straight. Ya get a warm feelin’ when ya reform.

Of course, the episode lacks any sense of urgency; it was being played tongue-in-cheek for laughs. But a slower pace seems to have crept into all the episodes, creating the need for little excisions like the above in order to fit the episodes to a proper running time. A great Perry White line in The Magic Necklace was another casualty (not to mention the camera set-up as described):

29. CLOSEUP DAY INT. WHITE’S OFFICE

White is on the phone.

White: Well, thanks anyway, Inspector. I just don’t see how Lois could have got herself mixed up with a millionaire crook like Jake Morell.

He listens for another moment, then:

White: I know she’s got a nose for news! But sometimes she sticks it in too far!

Perhaps working under the hot lights required for color made everyone feel logy, but the most likely reason for a lack of urgency in tempo is the absence of Tommy Carr.

During the six-plus weeks of production, National Comics brass took notice of an amazing turn of events at the local movie house. Television producer-director Jack Webb brought his Dragnet program to the big screen in a brand new feature-length film, in full color. It had cost a hair over a half-million to make, and so far had raked in ten times that amount in gross receipts. Despite the fact that critics were underwhelmed by Webb’s movie, people were lining up to pay to see something they could have at home for free.

On January 12 — the same day the company headed up to Corriganville — Hollywood’s Daily Variety published a blurb that Ellsworth would be making a Superman feature in the spring, with George Blair directing. Neither script title nor screenwriter was named; only that Reeves and Neill would co-star and that “It’s understood a major studio release for the property has already been set.” For whatever reason, production did not begin that spring, nor did a script emerge. But talk about a feature would start up again in the fall, this time with slightly more tangible results.

“Olsen’s Millions” finished up the season during the week of January 17. Reeves took a few weeks off, heading to whichever winter destination — Hawaii or Florida — beckoned, then braced himself for a series of personal appearances.

The first took place on March 12, in Milwaukee. In a promotion tied to the “Little Helpers” — the children’s leukemia program of the nonsectarian City of Hope (for which he had succeeded Roy Rogers as national spokesman the previous November) — Reeves made what was advertised as the “First Nation-Wide appearance of Superman” at the opening of Johnnie Walkers Boys’ Clothing Club House at the Johnnie Walkers department store. Prior to that, at 11:00 a.m., he would be riding in a parade that began at Lake Michigan, proceeded down Wisconsin Avenue to North 6th Street, turned right, then right again on West Wells Street, to stop at the store on the corner of W. Wells and N. 3rd. With the temperature hovering around 45 degrees, and “strong Northwesterly winds” in the forecast, for once Reeves must have been grateful his costume was made of heavy wool.

At Johnnie Walkers, Reeves greeted children while still in the uniform, handing out 5”x7” photographs of himself, each embossed with “Best Wishes, George Reeves.” After that, he went back to his hotel room presumably to warm up, possibly using the ‘Leftover’ Louie method, although more likely a different kind of Johnnie Walker’s was involved.

On March 31, Reeves was in Allentown Pennsylvania at the Hess Brothers’ Department Store. Owner Max Hess, Jr. had established an Easter tradition of inviting at least one celebrity for the weekend. For two days, Reeves greeted youngsters (alongside Hess’ regular guest, the Easter Bunny), made a tour of the store every hour, handed out pictures and spoke about the City of Hope.

Back in Los Angeles, on April 4 he stopped in at KTTV Studios for a guest shot on a local program, The Jack Owens Show, in which he plugged his upcoming appearances at two Broadway Department Stores in downtown Los Angeles and the Crenshaw district. KTTV had acquired Adventures of Superman the previous year, moving it from the 8:30 p.m. Monday slot into what they called “a better time for the whole family” — Saturday at 7:00 p.m.

The following day he visited the Broadway stores; the downtown one at 10:00 a.m. (in which 15,000 children greeted him) and the Crenshaw one at 2:30 p.m. (where he encountered 20,000 children). He spent an hour at each store, handing out photos and informing kids how they could become “Little Helpers” on behalf of the City of Hope hospital in nearby Duarte.

Newspaper ads for the Broadway appearances invited children and their parents to “see our official Superman Suits for boys and girls… in fine rayon gabardine.” Reeves, of course, had wanted no part of these costumes a few months’ earlier, and ironically it was right about this time that his greatest fear came true. According to the Associated Press and New York Herald Tribune, on March 18, “a Brooklyn lad who believes what he sees on television” named Walter Adams Jr., age four, took his two-year-old brother Kevin into the bathroom “to show him how Superman operates. He climbed up on the bathtub, chinned himself with great effort up to the window sill, and opened the window.” The Adams’ apartment was on the fourth floor.

“Two girls from the project… were passing 40 feet below. They noticed Walter and shouted, ‘Better get inside.’” Undaunted, the young boy “took off like a high-diver with his hands together [and] landed in a snowbank. A clump of bushes also helped break the fall.” Immediately notified by the two girls what happened, his Marine father, Sgt. Walter Adams, called for an ambulance, which took the lad and his “frantic parents” to the hospital; luckily, doctors found nothing more serious than scratched hands. “Said Walter gleefully, ‘I played Superman,’” but when his mother threatened to punish him, “the three-foot-four-inch Superman and flyer began to weep. ‘Mom, I won’t do it again,’ he said.”

The City of Hope was Reeves’ primary charitable cause during the year, but he was also becoming involved with an organization for a disease that struck much closer to home. Back in 1946, 15-year-old Patricia Ellsworth “developed a lot of peculiar symptoms,” her mother recalled for author Chuck Harter. “They started in her face: her eyelids began to droop, her smile became a sneer, she began having trouble chewing, then she had double vision. The symptoms spread to other parts of her body.” After six months spent consulting fourteen doctors and two psychiatrists, it was the second of the latter that correctly diagnosed Pat’s problem: Myasthenia Gravis, a debilitating muscular disorder. However, there was little to anything in the way of information about the disease.

Gradually, Mrs. Ellsworth sought out a panel of doctors interested in MG. In 1952, “with the help of [these] wonderful physicians and friends and patients from whom I [had] heard, we established the National Myasthenia Gravis Foundation. Jack Liebowitz… gave us our first one thousand dollars with which to open our bank account.” Reeves’ involvement began when she started a Southern California chapter after the Ellsworths had relocated to Los Angeles. “When you see a six-year-old kid who can’t move a muscle without expending the kind of effort you and I would need to climb a mountain, it does something to you,” he told columnist Eve Starr.

Jane Ellsworth recalled that Reeves would take a few minutes to speak about MG even when appearing for other causes (“I thought that especially kind of him”). He’d attend the early general meetings, bringing Art Weissman, who assisted the fledging organization with publicity. And he and Nati Vacio would entertain with guitars and singing. “That,” Pat Ellsworth recalled, “would be the piece de resistance of the meeting.”

As spring began to wane, and Superman Inc.’s lease with California Studios was drawing to a close, Ellsworth went comparison-shopping. Eventually, he turned up a new home for the production at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, one with an indelible place in movie history. The studio that Charlie Chaplin had built in 1917; where he’d made Shoulder Arms (1918), The Kid (1921), The Gold Rush (1925), City Lights (1931) and several others — classics, all — was now a rental lot.

Chaplin himself was living in Switzerland, forced to relocate when his re-entry permit was revoked while sailing to England with his wife in 1952. At the height of Cold War hysteria, his pacifist politics (“Although I am not a Communist, I refused to fall in line by hating them”) marked him as “undesirable.” After his undignified exit from the United States, Chaplin liquidated all his assets; the studio was sold to a New York real estate firm, Webb & Knapp, for $650,000. They, in turn, sold it to a Chicago advertising production company, Kling Studios. Kling did some upgrading and in 1954 began renting it out for TV commercials; Ellsworth was among the first to bring series production to the lot.

The Kellogg’s Corporation was heavily involved in children’s causes, particularly pedestrian and bicycle safety. In the summer, they brought Reeves on board for a one-week, 10-city speaking tour of schools and children’s hospitals. The tour began in Tulsa on June 1, wound through such cities as Memphis and St. Louis, winding up at Kellogg’s home base in Battle Creek. Reeves visited as many as 19 schools per city, giving a 10-minute talk; the actor donned his Clark Kent guise for these, and even demonstrated a couple of falls “to show youngsters how to fall to avoid injury.” Whenever possible, he also paid a visit to the local station airing Superman to deliver a brief message: “Safety to me means just using your common sense… you’re taking your life into your hands when you play in the streets… and, remember, policemen are your friends.”

Reeves was so chipper during the tour that he dropped a bombshell on Memphis Commercial-Appeal reporter Paula Richardson: “Superman is getting married. George Reeves, who plays the rocket hero on television, said he’s engaged to a New York girl. He wouldn’t tell her name. He added that she’s pretty super.” Left unsaid, along with her name, was the fact that the lady was married and that the “engagement” was dependent upon the demise of her husband — which, at the time, seemed imminent.

Of course, the children were delighted to see their hero, even if he wasn’t caped. One young patient, Nick Canterucci, recalled for “The Adventures Continue” website: “As it happened, I was visiting my aunt and uncle in Memphis that summer and I got sick. So sick that I had to go to the hospital to have my tonsils removed and an ear drum repaired. I remember being scared as heck despite the constant servings of ice cream…

“But just when I was feeling down the most, the doctor came into the ward with a big announcement. He said that because we were all so very brave he had a treat for us…a treat even better than ice cream. Can you imagine our amazement when, just a few moments later, George Reeves, in his guise as Clark Kent, came through the ward talking to each and every one of us! He took the time to sign autographs, and he told each of us how truly brave we were. Of course, with the passing of so many years I can’t remember everything he said and did, but I surely remember that great laugh and monster cool smile as he shook my hand and told me that things would be getting better really soon.”

When adults — not to mention reporters — asked him why he wasn’t appearing as the Man of Steel, he had a ready answer: two years earlier, in Detroit, a young fan aimed a loaded .45 pistol right at his chest, “to see how the bullets bounce off.” Reeves calmly talked the gun away from the child, explaining “when the bullets bounce off my chest, they might hurt you and the others around here.” In Superman: Serial to Cereal, Gary Grossman printed the story as fact, and a variation of it was used in the feature Hollywoodland (2006).

Years of subsequent research has failed to turn up any evidence of a costumed personal appearance in Detroit — or for that matter, anywhere — by Reeves in 1953. In the years since, no one has ever claimed to have witnessed this event, making it less credible than an urban legend. Reeves, of course, had always feared such a thing could happen, but he’d appeared costumed in front of thousands just months earlier, without incident. Not until 1957 did he let slip the real reason: “On these visits (to hospitals and schools), I don’t wear the suit with muscles, because when I do, the kids want me to do all sorts of things — like jumping out of windows. But I can’t fly. We have to be very careful not to destroy any illusions.”

After Battle Creek and Lakeview Michigan, Reeves flew to Chicago to appear on the Kellogg’s-sponsored portion of Super Circus on July 10. He made it back in time to attend the July 17 opening of Disneyland. After that, he settled back for a few weeks of solitude with his “New York girl,” worked out his management contract with Art Weissman and otherwise rested up for the next production slate.

Anxious about his new opportunity, Weissman went right to work with Jay Emmett and together hammered out a deal for an appearance at the Arizona State Fair, scheduled for “Kid’s Day,” November 4. Weissman also teamed with composer Irving Gertz, the fellow who selected music cues for the TV episodes, to create a “Superman” popular song in the wake of Walt Disney’s success with “The Ballad of Davy Crockett.” Weissman’s lyric went like this:

Su-perman! His power is atomic! He’s faster than a super-sonic plane!

Su-perman can change the course of rivers,

and Superman can make it snow or rain!

Not a bullet can harm him, no danger alarms him,

For he’s an indestructible man!

He’s the mightest hero, the mightiest man, he’s Su-perman!

It was Weissman’s intention that Reeves would eventually record it; since he never did, the song was never picked up by a publisher.

On August 31, Reeves was officially welcomed as a member of the California Chapter of the Myasthenia Gravis Foundation, and named the organization’s honorary chairman. As such, he kicked off their first annual membership drive. The next day, he received the City of Hope’s Torchbearer Award for his work on their behalf. Like Bud Collyer before him, Reeves had discovered how his Superman identification could be used to promote the well being of all children, and to especially help the ones in need, and that such work brought its own rewards.

Production resumed on Tuesday, September 6 and would continue until October 21 — a full seven weeks, less Labor Day. Thanks to their respective unions, cast and crew now had two-day weekends like everybody else. On the minus side, the directors only had five days to complete two episodes, instead of six. George Blair was over at Republic directing Sabu in Jaguar (1956), a film co-produced by Mickey Rooney, so Ellsworth signed an old-timer, Phil Ford, to fill in. Ford was the son of silent screen actor Francis Ford, and the nephew of director John Ford. He began his career near the end of the silent era, first emulating his father in front of the camera, and then his uncle behind it. With more years of grinding out poverty row quickies under his belt than even Tommy Carr could boast, Ford’s direction was sharp and smartly paced. He was given six assignments; the other seven went to the soporific Harry Gerstad, who started the season.

Other new arrivals included the production manager, Eddie Donahoe, and cinematographer Joseph Biroc. Donahoe, who took over for Clem Beauchamp, had been an assistant director at RKO Radio, mostly toiling in their B-unit, interspersed with such classics as Bringing Up Baby (1938) and Citizen Kane (1941). Biroc, who replaced Hal Stine, began his career with top directors such as Frank Capra (It’s A Wonderful Life, 1946) and William Wellman , then dove headfirst into the B-picture arena, including Bernard Luber’s first post-[_Superman project, Loan Shark (1952) with George Raft. Prior to Superman, Biroc logged plenty of time filming episodes for such shows as Four Star Playhouse, The Lone Wolf and Treasury Men in Action. After Superman, he would go on to win an Oscar (for The Towering Inferno, 1974) and an Emmy (for an episode of the short-lived Casablanca).

This year’s scripts came primarily from David Chantler, who put his name to eight new teleplays, along with the already-submitted “Unlucky Number.” Now working steadily for Disney, Jackson Gillis only had time to turn in two, one of which was a sort-of second cousin to “Panic in the Sky” called “The Deadly Rock.” Leroy Zehren penned one, as did a newcomer to the Superman fold: Robert Leslie Bellem.

Bellem is, perhaps, the most widely known scribe to ever grace the Superman writer’s pool. He’s arguably the most widely read, estimated to have written over 3,000 pulp detective and mystery stories for the better part of two decades. Bellem’s “Dan Turner” tales began in the pages of Spicy Detective in June 1934 and continued after the “Spicy” was dropped, until 1947; Turner even had his own pulp title, Hollywood Detective, from 1942-49. Turner was probably the most hard-boiled of private eyes; his beat was the heart of movieland and his exploits were lovingly memorialized by humorist S.J. Perelman in a 1938 New Yorker piece, “Somewhere a Roscoe.”

“Roscoe” was a Bellemism for “gun.” Kevin Burton Smith, in a tribute for WordWrights Magazine, thrilled at the writer’s “high-octane use of every slang word known to man (and more than a few Bellem must have coined himself) that fueled the [Turner] tales. Women were wrens or frills, and their breasts were pretty-pretties or tiddlywinks, something that Dan, ‘as human as the next gazabo,’ always took the time to notice. Cars were chariots, money was geetus and no one ever got killed in the stories; they were croaked, cooled, iced, de-lifed or had an act of killery performed upon them.”

When the pulps finally “croaked” in the early 1950’s, Bellem moved over to television, scripting several episodes of the Dick Tracy TV series, plus some Boston Blackie, Charlie Chan and even Captain Midnight, keeping his proclivity for creative slang under check. It’s unclear whether it was his TV experience or his pulp history with Donenfeld that led Ellsworth to engage him — perhaps a smattering of both. Most likely the two were old friends; if not, they certainly became so. Over the years they would collaborate on several Superman segments, an episode of CBS’s The Millionaire, and scripts for a proposed Adventures of Superboy series.

Tuesday began in front of a blue screen. Some traveling matte work was required for David Chantler’s “Joey”; the writer had two scenes earmarked for “process,” but the technique still wasn’t viable for color film. Consequently, mattes were needed for Lois and Jimmy’s drive to the Thomas farm and Superman flying Alice (Janine Perreau) to her ailing titular horse. Perreau, who was thirteen at the time, later told an audience at the Memphis Film Festival that even though she was old enough to know better, a part of her wanted to believe in Superman. That reverie ended during the flying scene, when Reeves called out, “Would someone please take her from me? She’s getting heavy!”

Gerstad moved from “Joey” to the long-awaited “Unlucky Number.” The tale revolves around a series of raffles and lottery chances, all of which are purported to aid charities, but are actually headed up by three confidence men: ringleader Boots (Jack Littlefield), Slippery Elm (Alfred Linder) and Dexter Brown (John Beradino). Having observed Slippery eagerly awaiting the outcome of a jelly-bean contest, Clark Kent gives Clara Exbrook (Elizabeth Patterson) the correct number; she enters and wins a house. That spells trouble for Dexter, who is rooming with Mrs. Exbrook and her grandson Bobby (Henry Blair). The latter observes “Dex” survive a drive-by attempt on his life; a bullet-proof vest saved him, but Bobby rushes to the conclusion that Dexter is Superman, which the con man does nothing to dispel.

Ellsworth made only one change to the script between seasons, a crucial one. In the 1954 original, Dexter was Bobby’s older brother. This would have made the closing scene, when Dexter confesses to all of his deceptions and resolves to serve his time and reform, a little more meaningful for all concerned — especially combined with John Beradino’s underplaying. But for some reason, Ellsworth decided to make Dexter a mere tenant, which puts an entirely different spin on Beradino’s performance and his character’s relationship to the Exbrooks. Without an underlying emotional investment tying Dexter to the family, his repeated attempts to distance himself from Bobby, and his ultimate vow to make amends, ring hollow.

The producer’s choice for the role of Bobby doesn’t help matters. Chantler wrote him as “a nice looking little boy of about ten or twelve.” Janine Perreau had been the perfect age for her role, a farmer’s granddaughter who cares for her horse. Henry Blair, on the other hand, was at least 20 years old; he’d been in the business since 1940, and portrayed George M. Cohan at age seven in 1942’s Yankee Doodle Dandy. The entire situation — not to mention Bobby’s dialogue — calls for a young child. It’s difficult to believe that a suitable one was not available. Maybe Ellsworth (or casting director Harold Chiles) owed Blair’s agent a favor.

During the course of the episode, Superman (the real one) meets up with Bobby and asks him about the attempt on Dexter’s life. Bobby, of course, believes Superman is Dexter and thinks he’s being tested on his ability to keep everything a secret. At the same time, he can’t resist asking the Man of Steel for a few super feats, such as bending and melting horseshoes and crushing a barbell. At one point, Bobby asks if Superman can teach him to do such tricks. Chantler originally wrote the response as: “Bobby, there’s one thing I want you to remember… nobody else can do any of the things Superman does.” In light of the recent incident with Walter Adams Jr., Reeves requested permission to alter the second half of the line just a bit: “No one — but no one — can do the things Superman does. And that goes especially for flying.”

Latter-day critics consistently point out that Chantler’s work is seriously lacking in dramatics, particularly where Superman is concerned. Although he did have a weakness for glib dialogue and corny sight gags, Chantler at least tried to put some action into his scripts, but was usually overruled by either Ellsworth or the director. Again, “Unlucky Number” provides a case in point. Here’s how Chantler wrote the scene where Superman emerges from Dexter’s closet:

Superman: Surprised, gentlemen?

Slippery goes to pieces and begins to tremble.

Slippery: He made me do it. Honest.

He raises his trembling hands in surrender.

Boots: Shut up.

Boots lets go a couple more shots at Superman as Superman advances, the bullets bouncing off him. Then Boots’ gun is empty. He hurls it a Superman. This, too, bounces off him harmlessly.

98. PAN SHOT — BOOTS, SUPERMAN

Boots begins to back toward the door as Superman advances on him. Then Boots stops suddenly and throws a tremendous punch at Superman. It doesn’t even faze him, but Boots grabs his fist and howls in pain. Then Superman grabs him by the shirtfront, turns him around, and with a mighty heave sends him crashing into a corner. CAMERA PANS Boots as he flies backwards, hits the wall and slumps to the floor. Slippery cowers near him, his hands still raised.

In the episode, Superman merely hurls Boots and Slippery onto Dexter’s bed. If not for all the stunts the Man of Steel performed earlier for Bobby, this would have been one dull adventure. Alas, it had the potential to be much, much better.

Gerstad put more of Chantler’s scripts through his two-per-week wringer: “The Big Freeze,” “Peril By Sea,” “Topsy Turvy” and “Blackmail.” “Freeze” resurrects a recurring theme from the radio serial: political malfeasance. Duke Taylor (George E. Stone) wants to ensure that the Metropolis mayoral election goes to the underworld’s favored candidate, Buckley. To that end, he hires an eccentric scientist, Dr. Watts (Rolfe Sedan), to figure out how to keep Superman away from his goons, who plan to hang around the polling places and intimidate voters. Watts designs the world’s biggest flash-freezing device, into which Taylor lures the Man of Steel by using Lois and Jimmy as bait. Since his “strength is completely gone,” Superman, and later Kent, feels pretty weak and tired most of the time, so Gerstad’s all-too-relaxed direction doesn’t do much harm to the story. It’s one of Chantler’s more engrossing tales, despite ignoring the existence of the Metropolis Police Force and its presumed stance on electioneering.

The writer intended “Topsy Turvy” for Sterling Holloway’s “Uncle Oscar” character, even though the actor had portrayed “Professor Twiddle” in the previous season’s “Through the Time Barrier.” It’s not clear why the character was changed — possibly Holloway, who preferred the stage to all other media, was unavailable — but whatever the cause, Ellsworth took the opportunity to bring Phillips Tead back in a new role: Professor Pepperwinkle. Everyone was apparently delighted to see the scene-stealing old coot again. Pepperwinkle would return four more times in the coming years, leaving Uncle Oscar and Twiddle consigned to history.

For some reason, only Chantler’s name graces the front page of the “Blackmail” script, while on-screen it’s credited to Oliver Drake as well. It’s not clear what the latter’s contribution was, as the teleplay contains everything that is seen in the episode, as well as a few things that aren’t. Once more, scenes and dialogue that helped explain the plot went by the wayside in favor of a relaxed pace, even though “Blackmail’s” premise lends itself to urgency.

Inspector Henderson is the focus of this story, and Robert Shayne turns in his finest performance of the series. Superman has captured one of three payroll thieves, Bates (George Chandler); what he doesn’t know is that Bates allowed himself to be captured so the other two could safely abscond with all the money. Clark Kent talks Henderson into letting Bates escape, in hopes he’ll lead police to the others. Henderson does so, and it almost works… but the ringleader, Arnold Woodman (Herb Vigran), figures out what the inspector is up to and decides to turn the tables. Cohort Eddy Perkins (Sid Tomack) puts $20,000 of the stolen loot in a central depot locker, hides the locker key in Henderson’s squad car, and informs Henderson that unless he’s given all the evidence obtained on the payroll job, he’ll formally accuse the inspector of having accepted a bribe in exchange for Bates’ escape.

Henderson’s dilemma: in order to circumvent the blackmailers, he has to find where the $20,000 “bribe” was planted before the deadline for handing over the evidence. This aspect of the story was almost completely jettisoned. In a lengthy section that was never filmed, he and Kent discuss several possible hiding places, most of which Henderson has covered. All that remains is a vacation lodge several hundred miles away, which precludes an immediate search. This, of course, is a cue for Superman to whisk across the landscape and give the lodge an X-ray vision scan. Without these scenes, all Henderson and Kent do is sit around and talk about not being able to arrest anybody.

Later in the episode, Woodman figures to take Kent out of the picture before he can call on Superman, and sends Perkins to apprehend him. Alas, Lois and Jimmy intercept a note intended for their colleague (you’d think they’d learn), and get themselves kidnapped. And since Henderson doesn’t want to arrest Perkins until he’s found the bribe money, naturally this is the one time the pair manage to outsmart and overpower their abductor. As they gleefully announce to Henderson that Perkins is his for the taking, the Inspector and Kent feel utterly powerless. Lois and Jimmy return to the office to write up the story, in a scene that was lengthier as written:

Lois: I’m afraid we’ve scooped Mr. Kent for once — on the arrest of Eddy Perkins.

Jimmy: (thoughtfully) But you know, there’s something backwards about this whole thing.

Lois: (also thoughtfully) That’s right. The Inspector didn’t seem very happy, and Eddy kept saying he’d be sorry…

Jimmy: Somehow I get the feeling that we’ve committed a crime.

They look at each other in complete bafflement.

Perkins having “spilled the beans… all over the Commissioner’s desk,” Henderson starts cleaning out his desk while Clark looks on. “Look at these, Kent,” he states wistfully, pointing to a worn pair of boots. “I used to wear them when I was pounding a beat on Delancy Street, when I used to dream of becoming an inspector. Now it’s all over.” Henderson’s plight is extremely moving, and there’s nothing cloying about Shayne’s performance. There’s not even a hint of bitterness toward Kent, who is after all partially responsible for the consequences. “It was my decision, too,” he states after the reporter quietly expresses hope for Henderson’s forgiveness. Reeves doesn’t play Kent as agitated or overly remorseful, so as to focus attention on the inspector. The scene belongs to Shayne — and Reeves knows it.

It’s open to interpretation why the commissioner would be so quick to take the word of a criminal over Henderson, but a bit of excised dialogue answers that question, too:

Eddy: And when I tell the commish where to find that locker key… well, figure it out.

Henderson: (pleading with the commissioner) Whatever you find, they planted. You’ve got to believe that.

Commissioner: It doesn’t figure, Bill. An old hand like you letting a punk escape.

Henderson: I told you I did it on purpose.

Eddy: On purpose… for twenty grand.

We get the impression that the car is pulling over.

Henderson: Eddy, whoever you work for is a pretty smart cookie.

Only the first and last lines of that exchange survived Gerstad’s red pencil.

Although the plot ties directly to “Panic in the Sky,” “The Deadly Rock” is not technically a sequel. Gary Allen, a government agent friend of Clark Kent’s, is making a brief stopover in Metropolis. As it happens, he was involved in a plane crash the night that Superman destroyed the meteor; his private plane was struck by a large, radioactive fragment. Unbeknownst to Allen, the experience has left him just as vulnerable to kryptonite as Superman.

Meanwhile, a Professor Van Wyck (Steven Geray) has brought a fragment of the meteor to Metropolis in search of a buyer; having viewed Superman’s reaction to it through a telescope, he’s aware that something in it will weaken and eventually kill the Man of Steel. Big Tom Rufus (Bob Foulk) is interested, and instructs the Professor to take his rock to the Daily Planet, certain that Superman will turn up sooner or later. Dressed as a shoeshine vendor, Van Wyck repeatedly flashes the meteor fragment to everyone who passes by, even women… but it’s Allen, on his way to meet Clark for lunch, who succumbs. Big Tom and his cohorts leave an unconscious Allen (plus Lois and Jimmy, who’ve once more charged headlong into a dangerous situation) and the “deadly rock” in a house rigged to explode. Thanks to a handy weed burner, Superman is able to destroy the kryptonite from a safe distance and save everyone from certain death.

The story is adequate, although again sluggish in pacing. The most interesting aspect of the episode is the casting; the role of Gary Allen is taken by Robert Lowery, who portrayed Batman in Columbia’s 1949 Batman and Robin serial. It’s the nearest the Man of Steel has come to meeting the Caped Crusader since the radio serial periodically partnered them.

On October 3, Phil Ford took the director’s chair for his six segments, beginning with “The Girl Who Hired Superman” and “The Wedding of Superman,” written by Chantler and Gillis respectively. The former is nothing special, save for the presence of lovely Gloria Talbott in the title role, but the latter is an offbeat jewel; a fitting finale to Jackson Gillis’ Super-canon. After 15 years of fueling the fantasies of prepubescent males, Superman would at last pay attention to its juvenile (and not-so-juvenile) distaff audience.

The tale begins with the famous girl reporter speaking directly to viewers: “I’m Lois Lane. I’m a reporter for the Metropolis Daily Planet. This is my own story. To me, it’s a pretty important story.” Unfortunately, no one else seems to think so. She’s been handling an “advice to the lovelorn” column, much to her displeasure, as it’s making her painfully aware of her long-standing availability. The sheer volume of mail is positively overwhelming, but all of Lois’ co-workers are focused on rounding up a shadowy criminal gang. With no choice but to take work home with her, Miss Lane eventually collapses from exhaustion, letters scattered around her bed.

When she awakens, things change rapidly. One of the lovelorn correspondents, “Sometimes Mabel” (Julie Bennett), confesses that her boyfriend is the gang’s ringleader, and it’s none other than the public defender, Mr. Faraday (Milton Frome). Even better, most of the men around her are eyeing her in a way she finds quite charming. Best of all, Superman sends her flowers and actually proposes! Now that she knows how to finish off the gang, she intends to do so, and then get down to the business of becoming Mrs. Superman. But Faraday knows she knows, and he intends to put the brakes on her scheme… if not by marrying her himself, then by permanently disposing of her.

It takes awhile for the story to shift into high gear, but once it does, “The Wedding of Superman” is a joy. Given the opportunity at last to demonstrate Lane’s love for the Man of Steel, Noel Neill made the most of it. You name it, the emotion is there: joy, sadness, affection, anger, fear, confusion… an awful lot to play in twenty-six minutes. Some of the tender moments between Lois and Superman were hinted at in Gillis’ “Killer Mountain” script, especially when she runs her finger across Superman’s chest, tracing the ‘S.’

The differences between Harry Gerstad and Phil Ford are apparent even in this gentle story. An early scene set entirely in Perry White’s office uses five different set-ups, including two where the camera dollies in. Everyone’s movements are more brisk and dialogue is a bit faster paced. The director also gave Neill some latitude. A cute dialogue exchange with Kent (“Does spring mean anything to you?” “Well… baseball?” “I thought so. Do you think spring means anything to Superman?” “Oh, I doubt if Superman has any time for baseball right now”) ends with her heaving a handful of letters at her hastily retreating co-worker — an action that doesn’t appear in the script. She also gets to wear four different outfits in the one show, including an all-too-brief appearance in a gorgeous bridal gown.

The finale, when Lois really wakes up, the mail still strewn about, to confront a life unaltered and hopes dashed, can put a lump in the throat of the unsuspecting. Naturally expecting only one take, Neill put her all into it. Upon Ford’s “Cut!” the cast and crew broke into spontaneous applause for her riveting performance, but sound engineer Earl Snyder wasn’t happy with the resulting playback and a retake was necessary. A few kind words from Reeves helped prepare Neill for repeating the emotionally demanding scene.

Jack Larson got the chance to flex his acting muscles in Leroy Zehren’s excellent “Jimmy the Kid.” Dipping into the “evil twin” pool, Larson portrays ‘Kid’ Collins, a hard-boiled ex-con hired by J. Walter Gridley (Damian O’Flynn) — one of those upper-class gangsters who keeps an office downtown — to steal some incriminating evidence and affidavits in Clark Kent’s possession. Gridley wants Collins to impersonate Olsen, get into Kent’s good graces and abscond with the goods. This is a tall order, considering Collins comes equipped with Havana cigars and a gorgeous moll, Maizie (Diana Darrin). Olsen is kidnapped by one of Gridley’s minions (Rick Vallin) and “the Kid” takes over, with no hesitation about whistling at the curvaceous Miss Lane, smoking in the City Room and chewing out the Chief. Eventually he finds not only Gridley’s prize package but one for himself — Superman’s costume hanging in Kent’s secret closet.

What sets this story apart from other doppelganger tales is a novel twist. The villain usually has to impersonate the hero, but not vice-versa. In this case, Jimmy escapes because the Kid’s unsuspecting moll thinks he’s Collins, and he’s forced to keep up the deception until he can get to the Planet and warn his friends. Thus, Larson not only had to play Olsen and Collins, he had to play Collins pretending to be Olsen and Olsen pretending to be Collins, all within twenty-six minutes. Between the actor’s own skills and Ford’s guidance, Larson puts it over.

Unfortunately, the episode suffered in post-production. Zehren outlined what would seem to be a relatively painless sequence for Superman’s encounter with a forest fire:

31. EXT SKY — DAY — (SPECIAL STOCK)

As Superman flies over city, then country

32. EXT FOREST — DAY — (AERIAL STOCK)

of a forest fire

33. EXT SKY — DAY — (SPECIAL STOCK)

as Superman dives downward

34. EXT FOREST — DAY — (SPECIAL STOCK PLUS OPTICAL FX)

as Superman flies through the raging flames

35. EXT FOREST — DAY — (AERIAL STOCK)

of burned-out forest, still smoldering, but no flames now

36. EXT SKY — DAY — (SPECIAL STOCK)

as Superman flies in opposite direction, looking back over shoulder

In lieu of shots 34-36, shot 32 is merely repeated, dissolving to a scene where Kent, on the telephone, describes what we weren’t shown to the fake Jimmy. Even if the burnt-out forest stock was unavailable, the matting of the flying stock with some flame footage shouldn’t have been too expensive. Something similar, after all, was done when Superman emerges from a blast furnace in “The Big Freeze.” An even more perplexing omission takes place near the end: after Superman has dispatched Collins, Gridley and his goons, he sits on Gridley’s desk and appears to take pleasure at his handiwork. The script suggests that we should be hearing sirens at this moment. Were this one minor overdub not missing, we’d know the Man of Steel is smiling because the police are about to arrive, not because he’s delighted with his left jab and right cross.

The high point of the season, and arguably the entire color era, was Chantler’s “The Phantom Ring.” Nary a syllable was changed from script to screen, and the fantastic tale, centering on a device that turns the members of a burglary gang invisible, plays out convincingly. When the leader of the bunch, “The Spectre” (Peter Brocco) and his henchman Rosy (Paul Burke) take Kent for a one-way trip in a private plane, the cagey reporter manages to extract the whole scheme before they throw him out in mid-air. The highlight comes when Superman, now invisible himself, descends on the unsuspecting gang. Without so much as a hint of choreography, here’s how Chantler scripted the showdown:

What follows is a real donnybrook, with the heavies trying to fight a Superman they can’t even see. And because the audience can’t see Superman either, the special effects must put over the idea that he is there, and that the breakaway furniture with which the heavies attack him boomerangs on them.

It’s to the credit of both Phil Ford and Si Simonson that the sequence does exactly that. From Superman’s crash through the side of The Spectre’s cabin to the final knockout punch, it’s all remarkably — and delightfully — convincing. The Phantom Ring is, in many respects, the last truly great Superman episode. Although some compelling stories would follow over the final two years, the end result would be sabotaged by poor direction, poor staging and sets, or poor performances — or all three at once.

Ford guided the troupe through the final two stanzas during the week of October 18: Bellem’s “Dagger Island” and Chantler’s “Jolly Roger.” In the interests of expediency, both episodes took place on the same set (a tropical island), and featured pretty much the same supporting players (Dean Cromer, Myron Healy and Ray Montgomery). Only the lead antagonists differed: Raymond Hatton (as Jonathan Skagg) in “Dagger,” and Leonard Mudie (as Captain Blood) in “Roger.”

Bellem’s teleplay was remarkably ambitious, with over 120 set-ups; perhaps nobody told him Superman was only a half-hour show. A number of dialogue exchanges were trimmed, and one lengthy scene between Kent and Skagg was chopped entirely (see Appendix IV for a transcript). Little wonder Ellsworth collaborated directly with Bellem on future endeavors; he didn’t need to clean up after another Jackson Gillis. The story, a rather clever one, involves a search for one million dollars’ worth of hidden diamonds — bequeathed by one James Craymore, deceased, to whichever of his four relatives can find them. One of the four tries to gain an advantage by poisoning Lois Lane (holder of Claymore’s “clues” to the treasure), stealing the troupe’s water supply, and disposing of another relative as well as Jimmy Olsen — fortunately, Superman manages to thrice save the day, twice without anyone knowing.

The only real hole in the plot comes when Jimmy, interpreting the clues, mentions the existence of a “captain’s palm” tree that is completely white. There is such a tree on the island, although Olsen never saw it beforehand, and sure enough, it contains the prize. Skagg, who is really the not-so-late Craymore, painted the tree himself, but prior to that, Jimmy confesses to Lois and Clark that he made up the entire legend. The two threads — Craymore’s tree being identical to one sprung whole from Olsen’s imagination — are never reconciled.

As previously mentioned, Bellem’s penchant for slang, so prevalent in his pulp work, is absent here — the only “slang” is Skagg/Craymore’s fondness of such colloquialisms as “Dad-burn!” But the writer couldn’t resist trying for a hint of sex, although it didn’t get past Ellsworth: as the band heads through the underbrush toward the “captain’s palm,” Lois was to turn to Jimmy and exclaim, “Glad I’m not wearing nylons.” Innocent or not, that Lois would say such a thing out loud to her young co-worker is open to any number of interpretations.

After the 20th century treasure hunt, it was time to revisit the days of Captain Kidd in “The Jolly Roger.” Perry White sends his stalwart trio to examine and photograph a lush tropical — and unpopulated — island prior to its being shelled as part of a naval exercise. However, the reporters are not alone: a ragged band of bona fide pirates, latest of a family line that has been marooned on the island for centuries, take them prisoner. Also recently marooned are two dishonest drifters (Cromer and Montgomery), eager to abscond with at least some of the ancestral treasure, and with the arrival of the Planet staff, they see an opportunity. The pirates are basically harmless, yet determined to maintain tradition, and between them and the two would-be thieves, Kent is almost forced to shed his disguise, especially with the Navy’s artillery on its way.

“Jolly Roger” was clearly Chantler’s attempt at comedy in the manner of “Flight to the North,” and like most anything, it wasn’t quite as good as the first time. In “Flight,” the whole situation was ridiculous. Here, the threat — the imminent shelling of the island — is very real, and that tension undercuts the humor. Moreover, the payoff is a crushing disappointment: the shelling begins, and we see the guns going off, and we see Superman flying back and forth (with the ‘S’ on his costume clearly reversed when he flies left-to-right), but there was no time and/or money for an optical effect that would have shells bursting off the flying figure. It’s up to Jimmy to tell us what’s happening.

On the whole, season four was a step up from the previous year. True, Gerstad still hadn’t demonstrated a clear understanding of tempo and visual excitement, but his shortcomings were offset by some compelling stories. Ford absolutely made the most of his opportunities; pity he didn’t return the following year, when they really could have used him.

The biggest disappointment was the music. Ellsworth rented a brand new package from distributor Emil Ascher, called “Video Moods.” The cost was the same – $200 per episode — and the producer used it for the remainder of Superman’s run. According to historian Paul Mandell, most of the cues were written by George Chase under Ascher’s house name “Franz Mahl.” While the sound quality was improved, the resulting “moods” were pedestrian at best. There was little in the way of tension or thrill in any of the cues, which further diluted feelings of suspense or excitement in episodes that could have used an extra boost. It’s somehow fitting that the package was also leased for Ed Wood’s notorious Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959).

When the third season reached the airwaves during 1955, not only had the show become less controversial, so had the sponsor’s product. Hereafter, Adventures of Superman would forego sugar-sweetened fare and plug Kellogg’s flagship product, Corn Flakes. A campaign was created in which various individuals, including Perry White and Clark Kent, would find they’d run out of cereal, necessitating an urgent delivery by the Man of Steel himself (courtesy of a cardboard cut-out and some second-season flying footage). “Even Superman can’t keep everybody happy: more people run out of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes than any other cereal,” the narrator tells us. “Don’t run out at your house… pick up a spare package of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.”

The campaign gave Reeves an idea for a series of commercials. In late 1955, he and Art Weissman formed a company called Candid Reporter Productions. Reeves’ idea was to present himself as the “candid reporter for Kellogg’s” (and possibly other products), as he filmed various stars in their homes enjoying, and reaping the benefits of, the sponsor’s wares.

And what better subject for the pilot film than himself? Weissman, using Reeves’ 16mm camera, filmed his client beginning the day with a bowl of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, poured out from a spare package, naturally. Appropriately fueled, Reeves dons a gi (“You see, judo is my hobby, and that’s my judo outfit”) and takes a few sprightly tumbles in his back yard. Exercise and know-how help keep the star in shape, but “the real muscle builder [is] Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.”

The resulting commercial, which ran over two-and-a-half minutes, never aired. That it was nothing more than a test is evidenced by the fact that it was filmed entirely in Reeves’ home, with no hint of professional lighting or editing (although it does contain one lap dissolve, possibly something that could be accomplished in the camera itself). Reeves’ hair is not dyed during the “candid reporter” intro and closing sequences, and all of the footage — even Reeves speaking directly to the viewer — was shot silent and overdubbed later.

Two different edits, each with alternate narration by Reeves, have circulated on home video over the years, but their origin remains murky. Weissman possessed a silent 16mm print, possibly derived from the camera negative. In any case, Kellogg’s passed on the idea, and the “Candid Reporter” faded from Reeves’ agenda. The film would later be misrepresented in both a book and a movie as something Reeves concocted after Superman ended in a desperate attempt to land other work.

The production company was the actor’s second; he’d already formed George Reeves Enterprises the previous year. Between the salary hike and appearance fees, Reeves had done pretty well for himself, and was clearly looking for a means to put his money to work. The December 3 issue of TV Guide reported on another investment: “George (‘Superman’) Reeves has an interest in a newly developed mobile electronic gadget which, it is claimed, ‘reads’ radiations from rooftop antenna and tells what channel is tuned in. With a fleet of trucks, Reeves and his engineering associates hope to blanket a city and thus establish an accurate overnight rating system.” Further details about this venture are elusive, but needless to say, no such measurement system was ever put into service. It might have been just as practical to invent a device that would allow Reeves to use X-ray vision and see what people were watching.

Another venture was Promotion Management Company, headed by Art Weissman, to handle Reeves’ personal appearances. On November 4, Superman turned up at the Arizona State Fair to meet and greet all comers on “kids’ day,” with a special ten-cent ticket for juveniles (who had to ditch school in order to attend). It was Reeves’ first fair appearance; other than his demo of judo falls, he really didn’t have an “act” per se, so no one knew what to expect. Basically he shook hands and handed out photographs, but apparently that was enough. The Billboard reported that the fair “immediately began to pile up estimated daily attendances that indicated it will equal, if not surpass, its 1954 record.”

Unfortunately, the event was marred on its third day with the death of auto race driver Jack McGrath on the 87th lap of the AAA Championship race, the final event of the 1955 racing season, which the Fair Commission’s executive secretary, George W. Blake, had scheduled for the grandstand. The car’s front axle gave out on the dirt track; the auto flipped several times and McGrath perished instantly. Having left the fair by this time, Reeves missed the tragedy, thus escaping another round of uncomfortable questions.

In the aftermath of the crash, Blake resigned, but sent Weissman a letter just before leaving office: “The 1955 Arizona State Fair says 10,000 thanks to you and George Reeves for the completely delightful appearance of ‘Superman’ on the opening day of the Fair. Ten thousand is the proper number as that is an accurate estimate of the paid admissions above average for which we feel ‘Superman’ is responsible… We sincerely hope that many other Fairs avail themselves of the services of George Reeves and Art Weissman for I know that all parties concerned will be happy with the experience.”

Weissman included the letter, along with a brace of newspaper headlines for the appearance, in a four-page flyer that touted Reeves as “the Super-Answer” for fairs and carnivals seeking a “Number one attraction for children and families.” He, Reeves and National’s Jay Emmett attended the Outdoor Attractions Convention in Chicago at the close of the year, The Billboard noted that Reeves “made his first fair appearance this year… and did so well that a route of annuals is sought for 1956. He has a judo act and gives kids signed photographs and handshakes. If necessary, he can put on an hour-and-a-half show with clowns, jugglers and other kid talent.”

Reeves’ flyer promised “limited availability for 1956-57.” He and Weissman had no idea how limited it would be.

Superman surveys downtown Phoenix when George Reeves arrives for the Arizona State Fair, November 1955.

George Reeves is ready for action after receiving a hefty raise in pay, 1954. Photo courtesy of Jim Nolt.

Superman (George Reeves) and “Miss Lane” (Noel Neill), more intimate on the set of “Superman Week” than they are in the episode, 1954.

Perry White (John Hamilton) knows that “Great Caesar’s Ghost” won’t be returning, thanks to Superman (George Reeves), 1954.

Souvenir from George Reeves’ appearance as Superman at the Hollywood Moulin Rouge, November 21, 1954.

Newspaper ad for Superman’s (George Reeves) visit to Milwaukee, March 1955.

For the Kellogg’s-sponsored safety tour, George Reeves appeared as Clark Kent.

It looks bad for “Joey,” until Superman (George Reeves) arrives with Alice (Janine Perreau). Perry (John Hamilton), Jimmy (Jack Larson) and Lois (Noel Neill) look on, 1955.

Superman assists a flagpole sitter (Mickey Knox)…

…and then George Reeves dives for the mat (right): “Topsy Turvy,” 1955.

Love in Bloom: Lois (Noel Neill), Superman (George Reeves) and a sprig of edelweiss in “The Wedding of Superman,” 1955.

George Reeves takes his own picture in his dressing room, after going over his lines for “The Phantom Ring,” 1955. Believe it or not: the oval plaque on his mirror reads, “Everything I like’s immoral, illegal or fattening.”

Clark Kent (George Reeves) prepares to deliver clues to the treasure on “Dagger Island,” 1955. Photo courtesy of Jim Nolt.

The promotional flyer Reeves’ manager, Art Weissman, created at the close of 1955 to drum up personal appearances for his sole client.

Chapter 14

1956-57: The Shadow of Superman

For George Reeves, as for dozens of other TV and movie stars seeking a breather, 1956 began with a vacation in Palm Springs. At the end of the respite, along with a suntan, he had a job — one that would return him to the big screen after three years.

According to Louella Parsons’ column of January 24, “George was sunning himself… when producer Bill Walsh learned that an important actor had to beg out of Westward Ho the Wagons! because of a previous commitment. Walsh happened to run into George and signed him for this important role of the captain of the wagon train.” The film was a Walt Disney production starring the studio’s own juvenile hero, Fess “Davy Crockett” Parker, plus a few Mouseketeers (Walsh was a producer of The Mickey Mouse Club, overseeing Jackson Gillis’ “Spin and Marty” mini-series). The story smacks of press-agent puffery: the “important actor” is never named, plus Walsh and Reeves had been friends for several years. The film was Walsh’s first produced expressly for theatres; it’s likely he saw a part for his friend — who had “30,000,000 fans” of his own, according to Parsons — and reacted accordingly.

Alas, fate played havoc with this happy occasion. Heading toward Disney’s Burbank lot on the morning of March 1, Reeves’ sports car was struck by a construction company truck at an intersection, which sent him careening into another truck and “bounced me back and forth like a ping-pong ball,” as he later told columnist Eve Starr. Reeves suffered injuries to his head, left side and arm. There were no broken bones, although he claimed “it loosened up a lot of my old fractures.” He was hospitalized for a week; the short-term consequences included the cancellation of Superman at a benefit for the Pennsylvania Association of Retarded Children and a few delays for his remaining scenes in Westward Ho, the Wagons (1956).

There would also be long-term consequences. By the end of May, the actor filed a $500,000 lawsuit for damages and loss of earning power. Grandiose plans for blanketing state and county fairs had to be jettisoned. Personal appearances for the year were drastically reduced and, with one notable exception, limited to a little muscle flexing and distribution of photos; even the judo falls were omitted. The Superman scripts for 1956 were written to keep Reeves’ stunting to a minimum. The result was the least compelling season of the series, and since continued discomfort caused Reeves to reduce his usual exercise regimen, TV’s Man of Steel would require a girdle to keep his middle in check.

The same week Reeves filed his lawsuit, Robert Maxwell was settling out-of-court with a few disgruntled ex-associates. It had taken him until the fall of 1954 to get Lassie on the air, and the wheeling and dealing involved was now coming back to plague him. Jackson Gillis, who wrote the pilot, remembered some of these shady doings: “The pilot sold the series. I got along well with Bob, but… he screwed the production [company] out of a lot of money. I think Bob sold about 120% of the production.” Clarence Eurist, a producer who’d been named production manager at the start of the venture in exchange for 40% of Lassie, sued Maxwell for $2 million in profits that had been “diverted in violation of an agreement.” On May 29, Eurist settled for $165,000; Gillis settled his own suit with Maxwell “in about ten minutes” around that same time.

Typically, Maxwell continued to think and talk big, and he convinced Jack Larson to do a pilot for his new series idea: Waldo. “Maxwell said he could get me out of my Superman contract and make me into a teen idol with this show,” Larson recalled years later. Waldo was a situation comedy about a rich young man and his eccentric pet monkey who, as the actor told Paul Mandell, “drove the car and did the chores. All of the family members were trying to get him declared legally insane because of his relationship with the chimp.” Larson interrupted out-of-town rehearsals for a summer stock production of Mister Roberts and flew to Hollywood, only to find the monkey Maxwell had engaged didn’t understand the premise. Said Larson, “I met one of the chimps. They bite, you know. I was supposed to work very closely with him. He immediately bared his teeth, and I thought, ‘Well, I’ve got a man with cape now who saves me. Why leave that for a furry friend who bites me?’” Adding insult to injury, the interruption cost Larson the Mister Roberts job.

It was fortunate for Whit Ellsworth that Larson didn’t walk; he had enough on his mind. Leo Burnett wanted another series from Superman, Incorporated, while National Comics was still making noises about a feature film. There was talk about bringing Batman and Robin to the home screen, although the budget-minded Ellsworth was pushing for Blackhawk. The producer handed David Chantler the feature assignment. He would return with an outlandish sci-fi tale called Superman and the Secret Planet, which Harry Gerstad was expected to direct.

The plot is something like a second cousin to that of 1980’s Superman II. A band of young Kryptonian scientists survived the planet’s destruction when their underground shelter remained intact beneath a huge chunk that blasted into space. Directed by the corrupt Zonar, they’ve now reached the Earth, kidnapped the U.S. president, and need only to lure Superman to their “planetoid” Kryptonia — the surface of which is covered with you-know-what — in order to ensure Zonar’s rule over the world.

In the hopes that he’ll be taken to the renegades’ shelter, Clark Kent commandeers a large jet and heads directly for Kryptonia. Lois and Jimmy, naturally, have hidden aboard the plane and are immediately taken hostage, Kent having allowed himself to be sucked out of an open cargo door. Changing to Superman, he attempts to rescue the pair, but his usual brute force is insufficient — he has no special powers in Kryptonia’s scientifically engineered atmosphere, which duplicates that of his home world. (So much for the “race of supermen” of the radio show and Superman on Earth… by this time, the comic book had decreed that it was only on Earth — specifically under its yellow sun — that Superman gained his extraordinary powers.) For once, the Man of Steel is taken prisoner along with his friends… and only his cunning, plus the help of the honest Kryptonians that are also prisoners of Zonar, can save the president and the world.

The script is an above-average effort that, as written, would have cost a bundle to make; the mind reels at the thought of how Gerstad would have handled it. Mixed in with Chantler’s usual comedic touches (Zonar: “Who else was with you? What was your mission?” Jimmy: “We refuse to answer on the grounds that it might tend to eliminate us.”) were several heavy-duty props: the jet airplane, an oversized electro-magnet used by Zonar to guide Kryptonia toward Earth’s atmosphere, a special lead-lined suit for Superman, among others. About half the movie would have taken place on Kryptonia, which would have required special sets, and toward the end, Superman is required to reverse an atomic blast — a trick he would perform, most unsatisfactorily, in a later TV episode.

In the end, nothing happened. Ellsworth told the trade press that another series would come “when we can find a property with the same general appeal as Superman,” only there was never any agreement on what that would be. No one remembers why the feature didn’t pan out, but most likely it was a combination of factors. Shooting was originally announced for the spring, but Reeves’ auto accident put the brakes on those plans. Warner Bros., which had inaugurated the “theatrical TV” trend with Dragnet, opted to put its resources into a Lone Ranger feature, and no one else came forward with a financing/distribution arrangement. Jack Liebowitz probably read the Secret Planet script with an eye toward production costs, and decided the company would be better off cashing in on the trend by re-releasing Superman and the Mole Men — which did happen the following year. Whatever the reason, National’s decision to axe the project came quickly: they didn’t even bother submitting Chantler’s script for copyright registration.

Amidst all that, Ellsworth needed to go shopping for studio space again, increased activity at Kling having led to a rent hike. Frederick Ziv had purchased the old Eagle-Lion studios on Santa Monica Boulevard the previous year and he had space available at the right price. The lot (which can be seen in a stock shot in “Czar of the Underworld”) had been built in the 1920’s and used by Educational Pictures for their short comedies. In quick succession, the facilities passed to Grand National Pictures, Producer’s Releasing Corporation (PRC) and Eagle-Lion. When the latter company cashed out, it became a rental lot called American National; before long, Ziv was the primary tenant, so the purchase was a logical progression. Best of all, it was literally within five blocks of Kling, making the move relatively painless.

Ziv had been using color for their TV product since 1949, so it’s probable their expertise was responsible for an improvement in the lab work during the course of production. The finished films from Superman’s two prior seasons contained a glaring fault: every shot prior to and after a dissolve or fade appeared grainy and “washed out,” for the entire length of the shot. The cause was the dupe processing used for fades and dissolves when assembling a final edit; color losing more detail than black and white film. (The same problems plagued the ‘special stock’ shots that were used repeatedly.) Considering directors Gerstad and Blair rarely varied their set-ups, such shots could run for minutes at a time. Someone at Ziv must have seen one of the early edits of the new shows and noticed the problem; as the season progressed, the “washouts” only occurred at the precise moment of the fade or dissolve.

As usual, David Chantler took the bulk of the script assignments: four solo and two collaborations. Busy at Disney, Jackson Gillis opted not to return — or perhaps Ellsworth, tiring of rewrites, chose not to invite him back. Instead, he divvied Gillis’ quota between Peggy Chantler and a former staff scribe for Dan Duryea’s China Smith series, Wilton Schiller. Leroy Zehren, always good for a decent script per season, did not disappoint. By contrast, Ellsworth disappointed with his original story, “Close Shave,” for which he ended up using a pseudonym, Steven Post. The teleplay was credited to Benjamin B. Crocker, which may have also been a pseudonym for some unlucky soul; the episode is Crocker’s lone writing credit.

Meanwhile, Reeves spent most of the summer recuperating, and likely mourning the loss of personal appearance income, when an unexpected invitation arrived. NBC-TV producer Norman Frank was tasked with overseeing the 13 weeks of summer variety replacements for The Perry Como Show. Patti Page and Julius LaRosa were the first two, each hosting four weeks, and Tony Bennett would be taking over the final five before Perry’s return. Frank invited Reeves to perform a couple of songs with his acoustic guitar on Bennett’s August 11 premiere, live from New York.

It was open knowledge in Hollywood that Reeves could sing and play in the Mexican style; he’d done it at parties, charity functions and between takes on the set since his Warner Bros. days. He even did it in a movie, singing lead in a major production number (“Amigo, We Go Riding Tonight”) in the Ritz Brothers’ first film for Universal, Argentine Nights (1940). It’s likely Frank encountered Reeves during the latter’s live television days; or possibly earlier, since both men served in the Army Air Corps.

With this to bolster his spirits, Reeves had Art Weissman filter through P.A. opportunities in the East. Ironically, all of them were in Pennsylvania: the same state on which he had to cancel in March. And so, the Indiana County Fair booked him for a kid’s TV day (to which Lassie had also been invited), August 24. Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh booked him for Labor Day weekend. And, most intriguingly, Max Hess brought him back to his Allentown department store, to take on the duties of all 1,600 employees on August 7, in a promotion linked with U.S. Savings Stamps and Bonds.

“TV’s Super-George Reeves arrived bulging with brawn and brimming with energy,” claimed People Today in its December issue. “Dressed in super-clothes, he darted around running elevators, driving delivery trucks, acting as stock room clerk, advertising director, shoe salesman, fashion director and several assorted vice presidents. Whirling through the store, his flashy capework enchanted moppets and mothers alike. He sped from toys to notions and back, tossing mountains of cartons around as though they were empty. In fact, they were. Loping from the stock room to a Hess delivery truck, he presented startled housewives with packages, was back in a flash to run the store switchboard.

“After a short period of this frenzied activity, TV’s Superman threw in the towel. He wasn’t called suddenly to super-business in India; the truth is he rounded a turn in the toy department and tripped over a tricycle. A skinned knee scratched Superman for the rest of the show.” Despite this unfortunate conclusion, Hess Brothers’ public relations department considered the special appearance a resounding success. Manny Levine, the store’s P.R. director, particularly remembered the merchandise deliveries, telling Gary Grossman: “[Housewives] just glowed, as if they were tapped by Lady Fortune. They wanted George to come in and join them for coffee.” Proving again that Superman, which was now airing in 150 markets, was a family favorite and not just a kiddy show.

Not everyone understood that. An ad-hoc organization formed in Los Angeles, termed the National Association for Better Radio and Television (NAFBRAT), and consisting of a dentist, his wife and eleven other housewives, named Superman as one of its 31 “objectionable/most objectionable” programs of the year, as reported in TIME magazine. Addressing the Man of Steel, NAFBRAT asserted, “Youngsters believe his ‘super’ talents to be within the realm of possibility. In this lies the danger.” NAFBRAT would have little to fear from the coming season.

Before leaving for New York, Reeves spoke with Los Angeles Herald columnist Hal Humphrey, not only to plug his upcoming guest stint but also to recap his career for the unaware: “Some people may not be sure of it, but I’ve done other things besides playing Superman. I wanted to be a singer, but got my start in Hollywood with ‘Hopalong’ Cassidy… From there I graduated to roles with Claudette Colbert, Marlene Dietrich and Merle Oberon. When the war came along, I wound up in Moss Hart’s Army production of Winged Victory… Most movie producers feel I’m too closely identified with Superman, so they won’t use me. Except for the Sergeant Stark role in From Here to Eternity and a new part coming up in Walt Disney’s Westward Ho the Wagons, I haven’t done much else. That’s why I was glad to get this spot with Tony Bennett. It will give me an opportunity to prove again that I haven’t always been Superman.”

Two days prior to the Bennett show, Reeves appeared in costume on New York City’s Romper Room program over WABC-TV. Considering Romper Room was designed for and populated by pre-kindergarten tots, this seems an odd choice for a guest shot. It either speaks to how much younger Superman’s audience had become, or how undiscriminating Weissman could be when sifting through offers.

Bennett’s guest lineup was typical of variety in the Ed Sullivan era. Appearing along with Reeves were actress-dancer Debra Paget, comedian Ben Blue, singer June Valli, monologist Harvey Stone, and a unicycle act, the Three Goetschis. The announcer was Don Pardo, familiar to anyone who’s ever watched NBC’s Saturday Night Live. It was a busy hour during which the host somehow found time to croon four songs, while the network squeezed in six commercial breaks. At this writing, a kinescope has not been found for the show, which aired in color on the east coast.

A first draft of the script does exist, and along with trade press reviews enables us to visualize a lost moment in time. Norman Frank and his staff concocted a theme for the first show: Tony Bennett taking us on a tour of New York City’s most famous thoroughfare. After singing “Happiness Street” and “Rags to Riches,” Bennett tells us, “There’s one street that seems to belong to everyone … and that’s Broadway. It’s a street that can mean different things… depending on how you look at it. Tonight, we’re going to look at it as if we’ve just come to town and are taking our first walk down Broadway.”

Moving along the set, the singer continues, “You really see some wild sights walking down this street…” At that moment, a familiar “whoosh” is heard, and Superman enters (according to the script) “from as high as possible.” Caught up in his monologue, Bennett doesn’t even see the costumed figure: “…why you wouldn’t believe what I…” “Hey, Tony!” calls the Man of Steel. Bennett turns around and exclaims, “Superman!” After the applause dies down:

Bennett: What’re you doing in town?

Superman: Clark Kent told me the Forces of Evil were getting the upper-hand.

Bennett: This is new? How about walking along with us?

Superman: In New York traffic?! Not on your life! That’s why I learned to fly!

And with that, the “whoosh” is heard again, and Superman has taken off. The short sequence was the first TV appearance of Reeves in costume in full color. Those few baby boomers in color TV households — belonging mostly to RCA and NBC employees — were the first to view the Superman suit as it was meant to be seen. Everyone else would have to wait another nine years.

After the Three Goetschis, another song from the host and a (pre-recorded) “good luck” phone call from Como, Bennett again strolls down the Broadway set. A tough guy with a violin case glances at his watch, looks down the street, spots someone and walks off. Bennett comments, “Not every guy you see carrying a musical instrument case is a musician.” At that moment, a machine gun is heard, and an alarmed Bennett turns to us: “See what I mean? Let’s get out of here.”

Turning a corner, the singer bumps into a man leaning against a lamp post, reading a Superman comic book, with a guitar case against his leg. Bennett does a “fright take” and starts to back off. The man lowers the magazine and asks, “What’s the matter, Tony?” A visibly relieved Bennett cries, “George Reeves!” but (after the applause diminishes) becomes worried again after glancing at the case.

Bennett: What’ve you got in that guitar case, George?

Reeves: A guitar.

Bennett: You sure? How about proving it?

Reeves: What d’you mean?

Bennett: Play it.

Reeves: Sure, Tony.

Reeves hands the comic book to Bennett and opens the case. As Reeves removes the guitar, Bennett looks at the comic book, then back at his guest:

Bennett: You know, you look an awful lot like this fellow, Superman. Say… I just met him, and now you’re here.

Reeves: I guess that’s because I’m the guy who plays Clark Kent, the reporter from the Metropolis Daily Planet, on the Superman television show.

Bennett: Now wait a minute! I heard that Clark Kent is Superman! So, if you’re Clark Kent — and Clark Kent is Superman…

Reeves: Don’t you believe it, Tony. Just a close resemblance!

Bennett: Okay, George. But I bet your undershirt has a big ‘S’ on it!

Bennett walked off and Reeves sang two songs, one of which was “Las Altinatas” (a.k.a. “The Gay Ranchero”). The show went to a commercial break after the concluding applause. The rest pretty much followed the same pattern, with each guest getting a solo spot. The finale was a medley performed by Bennett and the house choir, the Spellbinders.

The trade press had mixed reactions to Reeves’ contribution. “Gros” of Variety, labeling the spot “a workover of a couple of Mexican-flavored tunes,” decided, “in civvy garb, he’s just another guitar plucker.” The Billboard’s Leon Morse thought otherwise: “One of the better guest stints was the singing by George Reeves, TV’s ‘Superman,’ whose ‘Bamos a Tepa’ [sic] was in refreshing contrast to some of the pops.” An unnamed Hollywood Reporter reviewer concurred: “George (Superman) Reeves surprised with nice singing and Spanish-guitaring.” All three critics agreed that Bennett did not appear comfortable among the trappings of the show’s theme, particularly the phony shocked reaction at the appearance of each guest.

Still, the overall positive reaction led to some interesting developments. Daily Variety reported that some unnamed producer wanted Reeves for a Broadway musical; if true, his Superman contract prevented him from even considering it. In September, Epic Records approached Reeves about recording an album of folk tunes. And the makers of television’s number-one show, I Love Lucy, noted the charming ease with which Reeves put over his comedy dialogue while in costume, and contacted Superman, Inc. about having the Man of Steel pay a visit to the Ricardos.

But all this would have to wait as Reeves made his way over to Ziv on September 24, for thirteen episodes that warrant a close examination, if only because they compare so poorly to the previous year’s output. Blair and Gerstad, the duo that brought us the underwhelming season three, were back, accompanied by Harold Wellman, a cinematographer who spent the majority of his career handling second-unit work. Blair oversaw the first week’s output, David Chantler and Robert Drake’s “Peril in Paris” and Wilton Schiller’s “Tin Hero.” Neither episode is a classic, although Reeves turns in a good performance in the first, especially when it appears he’s been duped into smuggling stolen jewels. Both scripts emphasize comedy. In “Paris,” Jimmy Olsen must pose as a streetwise buyer of stolen “ice;” his lack of confidence in the role is matched only by his clumsiness. “Tin Hero” focuses on Frank Smullins (Carl Ritchie), a really mild-mannered nebbish who lucks into a job as a crime reporter after inadvertently foiling a bank robbery. Ritchie plays Smullins like a bargain basement Lou Costello, and eventually it’s a race between him and Olsen to see who can out-bungle the other.

Gerstad moved in on October 2nd for the next two: “Money to Burn” and “The Town That Wasn’t.” The former was one of David Chantler’s more clever scripts; it would also be the final showcase for Perry White. In the episode, two characters calling themselves “the Firemen’s Friends,” serve free coffee and donuts to fire fighters battling the flames at large warehouses. But one of them slips into an asbestos suit during the height of each conflagration and loots the safe. When the Daily Planet warehouse is victimized, White is suspected of engineering the blaze in order to abscond with a now-missing payroll. The editor sets out to clear his name, only to be caught by the two burglars and locked in his own vault.

As with most episodes from the final two years, the ‘grind ‘em out’ production routine began to drain everyone’s creativity. The teleplay notes that, if stock footage of two different fires could not be obtained, the film for one could be reversed, but even this rudimentary task was forgotten in the rush. Another great “might-have-been” moment comes when Superman arrives, taking Slim (Mauritz Hugo) and Torch (Dale Van Sickel) by surprise. The Man of Steel blocks all escape routes, via some clever editing, and then ushers a very-much-alive Perry White into the room. From the script:

Torch: (wildly, to Superman) I can’t get you… but I can shut him up!

With that, Torch’s hand dives into his pocket, coming out with a gun which he levels and fires at White. As he does, Superman releases his hold on Torch and his hand darts out to the side.

CLOSE SHOT — SUPERMAN’S HAND —

(ANIMATION)

As the bullets hit and bounce off.

GROUP SHOT

Torch desperately continues pulling the trigger but the gun is empty. Superman grabs him by the coat front.

Superman: Mister White, I think we’d better call in our friends… the policemen.

In the episode, Superman merely slaps the gun from Torch’s hand as soon as it’s drawn, changing the moment from dramatic to pointless.

Most of the week’s budget went toward location work for Wilton Schiller’s “The Town That Wasn’t,” which raised the bar he’d set with “Tin Hero,” but still didn’t score any points for plausibility. The tale focuses on Ackport, a four-structure town that actually relocates at the command of a quartet of sharpies, who have two rackets going. The main one involves hijacking eighteen-wheelers loaded down with high-end merchandise. Their cottage industry is fining “speeders” who have no idea there’s a town (with a 25 MPH limit) on the route. Vacationing Jimmy Olsen is caught, convicted and cleaned out, but it remains for Clark/Superman to figure out that Lois, investigating the hijackings, is in serious danger from the same gang. The teleplay, filmed with no revisions, is a fairly engrossing mystery, until one considers what any highway patrol would do about such shenanigans. Still, much of the episode takes place out-of-doors, making it far less claustrophobic than most of the season’s segments.

Blair returned the following Monday for “The Tomb of Zaharan” and “The Man Who Made Dreams Come True,” both penned by Chantler. In the former, Lois Lane is mistaken for an Arabian princess, because she’s wearing a royal scarab that Perry White borrowed from a museum. The high point is the silky Cleopatra costume that Noel Neill is squeezed into; the outfit fueled adolescent male fantasies at least until Barbara Eden’s Jeannie came along a decade later. Her Majesty Lane is sealed into Zarahan’s tomb, which is slowly filling with poison gas expected to restore her queenly persona, but Superman isn’t going to sit still for that. Unfortunately, there’s a gaping loose end: Lois leaves the scarab behind once her ordeal is over, which must have put Perry on the spot with museum officials. The sole highlight of “The Man Who Made Dreams Come True,” the tale of a two-bit conman (Keith Richards) who plans to eliminate a superstitious king (Cyril Delevanti) and rule in his stead, is courtesy of Si Simonson: after crashing through a glass window, Superman grabs a live electric wire and sends an impressive shower of sparks out of both ends of his fist.

That same week, trade columnists announced that Reeves would be appearing as Superman on I Love Lucy later in the season. Lucy’s writers went to work on the story, which would have to pass muster not only with the founder-owners of Desilu Productions, but also National Comics. The Lucy staff needn’t have worried: their script was better written than some of those approved by Superman, Inc. for its own show.

Gerstad returned on October 16 for a three-week, six-episode marathon, consisting of the good (Leroy Zehren’s “The Prince Albert Coat” and David & Peggy Chantler’s “Disappearing Lois”), the bad (Wilton Schiller’s “Whatever Goes Up” and David Chantler’s “The Stolen Elephant”), and the ugly (Peggy Chantler’s “Mr. Zero” and the aforementioned “Close Shave”).

“The Prince Albert Coat” is, quite simply, the series’ best human-interest story since “Around the World with Superman,” which is not to say it doesn’t have problems. One minor issue is that Great-Grandfather ‘Gramps’ Jackson (Raymond Hatton) — who, the script makes abundantly clear, is a Confederate sympathizer (his father enlisted in that army, we learn near the end) — refers to one major battle as “Bull Run,” which is what the Union Army called it; Confederates termed it the Battle of Manassas. A more serious problem is that the actors playing the two heavies, Phil Arnold (“Cueball”) and Daniel White (“Mike”), are — as ‘Gramps’ might term it — pluperfect awful. And, of course, Gerstad is the director, so it moves at a snail’s pace.

But the story is sweet — perhaps too sweet for some tastes — and Stephen Wooton, the young actor portraying Bobby Jackson, deports himself believably throughout. Bobby wants to help flood victims by donating clothing, which he does, including his Gramps’ Prince Albert coat. He doesn’t learn until it’s too late that the old man’s life savings are sewn into the lining. Fortunately, Bobby knows that help, in the form of a certain costumed superhero, can be found at the Daily Planet. Offsetting the sweetness is a sequence where Superman averts another flood by single-handedly reinforcing a bursting dam. Reeves plays the scene alone, but that wasn’t how it was written:

64. EXT. DAM GATE — DAY — FULL SHOT

Superman lands in front of the gate and looks the situation over. Water is trickling down (as from the top of the dam) and there is a seepage from under and around the gates. As he looks at it, an ENGINEER runs to him.

Engineer: Get out of here, mister! That gate’ll only hold for a few —! (suddenly agape) Su-Superman!

Superman nods, looks around and sees:

65. MED. SHOT — SIDE OF GATE (TRICK SHOT)

Steel girders are piled against a wall. Superman seizes a girder. He lifts it, jams one end into the ground, and forces the other down on the gate, thereby reinforcing it. The engineer races in, grabbing Superman’s hand.

Engineer: You’ve done it, Superman! You’ve saved the city!

Superman: (smiling) This will hold until you can bring in men and material. And now — I’ve got another item to take care of!

He waves, and as he leaps into the air, the engineer stands and waves in return.

The savings from eliminating a speaking part could justify this script change. No such justification exists for the change made to the final confrontation with the heavies — where once again, on paper, Superman is more ‘super’ than he is on screen. The two thugs, Cueball and Mike, move to take the coat away from actor Mortimer Vanderlip (Frank Fenton), and he in turn has threatened to fight them:

Superman: (o.s.) That won’t be necessary, Mister Vanderlip.

80. FULL SHOT — DRESSING ROOM

as Superman stands smiling in the doorway.

Mike: Superman!

Mike and Cueball hurl themselves on Superman, but he catches them and cracks their heads together. They slump to the floor.

Vanderlip: (delighted) Well done! Well done!

With the sort of goofiness that tickled Ellsworth’s funny bone, the episode has Mike — furious in discovering that Superman is after them — knocking out Cueball himself, just before fainting from fright. Clearly the producer was tiring of the head-cracking routine, which showed up in most of the scripts that year, but he should have taken viewers into account before replacing any of them with slapstick.

“Disappearing Lois” is another improbable tale, with Lois Lane bedeviling Clark Kent by having a friend (Yvonne White) move into and completely refurnish her apartment in about three hours’ time, but it’s made memorable by Milton Frome’s performance as Lank Garrit — the kind of slimy, sadistically evil character that permeated Maxwell’s Superman but was a rarity during the Ellsworth regime. Offsetting Garrit, though, is his dimwit henchman, Lefty (Ben Welden). Lois, who has enlisted Jimmy’s aid in the deception, is out to nab Garrit with stolen loot while keeping Clark off her trail, but Garrit’s a little too smart for her, as the gangster cliché has it.

There’s an unhappy footnote to the episode: near its conclusion, Garrit has gotten the drop on Lois, Clark, Jimmy, Inspector Henderson and the double-crossing Lefty. When Kent makes a sudden move, Garrit casually shoots him, whereupon he falls down “dead” — temporarily, of course. As it happened, the day after George Reeves’ untimely passing (and the accompanying sensational headlines), this episode was next in the rotation in Los Angeles. One of Frome’s children had to endure the taunts of schoolmates cruelly informing him “your daddy killed Superman!”

Frome also portrays heavy Frank Gannis in “Whatever Goes Up,” an episode that, since it takes place entirely on just two sets, was the low rent show for the year. Pity it’s an utterly pointless half-hour. Jimmy Olsen inadvertently creates a fluid that defies gravity, and he can’t wait to show it off to Mr. White. Once the editor grasps the significance of the invention, he’s all for getting the Pentagon involved, and Tris Coffin makes a welcome return to Superman in the role of Major Osbourne. Olsen has no problem with any of this while in White’s office. Back at his lab, though, Jimmy’s confidence has vanished without warning; he knows he can’t recreate what he did the first time. The lack of a transition between the two scenes is jarring. Meanwhile, Gannis tries posing as a government agent in order to obtain the formula, but that ruse is uncovered in mere seconds, and we never do find out just who he is (other than a nasty guy whose clothes are ruined by Jimmy’s errant experiments), nor why he wants the formula (except when he needs it to get away from the authorities who are only after him for trying to steal it in the first place). Finally, although he makes four separate appearances, Superman actually does very little in the show except almost hit Gannis (twice), and retrieve floating bottles.

“The Stolen Elephant” is another would-be heart-tugger. Two slimeballs, Busher (Gregg Martell) and Spike (I. Stanford Jolley), steal a baby elephant from the Hayley Circus and stash it in the barn of what they think is a vacant farm. But it’s been sold to a single mother, Mrs. Wilson (Eve McVeigh) and her son Johnny (Gregory Moffett), who thinks the elephant, Suzy, is a birthday gift from mom. For her part, Mrs. Wilson — who could only afford a bag of marbles for Johnny’s special day — is puzzled by the elephant’s presence but opts not to disappoint her son. Before they can collect on their ransom demands, Busher and Spike have to get the elephant away from Johnny, which they do by producing an “elephant registration” that’s actually Busher’s car registration number. Of course, Superman eventually uses that info to round up the elephant-nappers.

Before he does, though, David Chantler’s tale has a neat twist worthy of Jackson Gillis. Busher has sent a guided missile to Mr. Hayley (Thomas Jackson) to be used for delivery of the ransom. Superman, naturally sends the missile out empty and follows it. But Busher, figuring on Superman’s interference, sends the rocket 300 miles away, and while the Man of Steel is off on this wild goose chase, he and Spike descend on Mr. Hayley and grab the money. It almost works… but for the guy who is, after all, faster than a speeding bullet.

Aside from that, it’s a tepid piece of ‘ho-hum,’ but the big problem with “The Stolen Elephant” is the same one that plagued the previous year’s “The Unlucky Number.” Chantler’s script specifies that “Johnny Wilson is a 10-year-old boy,” while the actor playing him looks to be at least five years beyond that. The idea that a boy of Johnny’s size and apparent age would be interested in either marbles or a pet elephant — as opposed to, say, a model airplane or a horse — stretches ‘suspension of disbelief’ to the breaking point. Why Ellsworth didn’t cast Moffett for “Prince Albert Coat” and slot the younger Stephen Wootton into this tale is a mystery.

It’s nigh impossible to believe the same man who conceived Superman and the Mole Men and “The Human Bomb” also came up with “Close Shave.” Richard Benedict, better served as ‘Baby Face’ Stevens from 1951’s “Night of Terror,” portrays Tony Gambini, a barber with an uncanny knack for tapping into his customers’ inner desire to do the right thing. He convinces Jimmy Olsen to stand up to Perry White, with predictable results, but more crucially he persuades a childhood friend, gangster Tony Sable (Rick Vallin) to give up the rackets and go straight. The complications arise when the members of Sable’s gang object to their leader’s change of heart. Premise, dialogue and direction are stultifying.

Alas, “Close Shave” is but a prelude to the rock-bottom, hands down, all-time worst-ever Superman episode: “Mr. Zero.” The plot and action of this “adventure” can be summed up thusly: a Martian comes to Earth and no one cares. Although perhaps someone would care, were he not such a whiny Martian.

In fairness to Peggy Chantler, her script reads like the annual attempt at an all-out comedy episode, which her brother had launched with “Flight to the North.” But the Martian (Billy Curtis, one of the original Mole Men), whose full name is Zero Zero Zero Minus One, is not Sylvester J. Superman, who was merely an off-kilter human being. Zero’s an extraterrestrial from the planet next-door, banished from his home world for the preposterous crime of being a quarter-inch too small, yet everyone around him acts as though he were just your ordinary everyday green-haired little person. Even Perry White, who wanted to “phone the governor, declare a holiday” when Superman proposed to Lois, would rather learn how to make a paper helicopter than get an exclusive interview with an alien.

This attempt at using an unearthly creature to teach a lesson in tolerance pales in comparison to Mole Men; here, everyone’s good intentions are hopelessly sabotaged by Gerstad’s heavy-handed direction. The acting is leaden — nobody has the energy to react to even the idea of a Martian — and the pace is funereal. Every five minutes or so, Zero whines about how useless he is. By the third time, you want to stuff him in a rocket and aim it at Mercury. Oh, yes, somewhere in between, he’s briefly led astray by two crooks, Georgie Gleep (Herb Vigran) and ‘Slouchy’ McGoon (George Barrows) — their names speak volumes about the level of wit in this episode — who are more interested in his helping them rob a bank than in possibly cashing in on his very existence. It’s almost sacrilegious that “Mr. Zero” not only references “Panic in the Sky” but does so clumsily (“Superman? We’ve heard about him on Mars… from that time he took care of those meteors”). The nearest the episode gets to any sense of urgency is when Kent is leaving his office, as Reeves once again rushes a line: Clark gives instructions to Lois that end up sounding like, “Will you please call Inspector Henderson, tell him to ge’ over thur wight away with a couple o’ his best men?”

Ms. Chantler fared somewhat better with the final production of the season, “The Phoney Alibi.” George Blair took over for the first episode written specifically for Phillips Tead’s Professor Pepperwinkle. The premise of traveling through telephone wires, although lacking the visual finesse of a Star Trek transporter, makes for engrossing viewing, and the guest villains — especially William Challee, absent from Superman since 1951 — are a breath of fresh air compared to most of the year’s heavies. Production wrapped on Friday, November 10. Once Sam Waxman finished the final edits, Ellsworth omitted the superimposed episode titles used during the previous three seasons, opting instead for animation of bullets deflecting from Superman’s chest during gunfire scenes.

The following week, Reeves, along with Si Simonson, went over to Desilu’s Cahuenga Boulevard studios to work on television’s number-one series. The plot the I Love Lucy writers concocted was simplicity itself: Little Ricky’s birthday is approaching and Lucy is planning a big party. However, Caroline Appleby (Doris Singleton), is organizing a party that same day for her son, Stevie, born the same week as Little Ricky (Keith Thibodeaux). Neither wants to change the date for the other, but Caroline’s entertainment is hard to top… until Lucy remembers that Superman is in town for a personal appearance. She asks her husband to invite him, then impetuously announces to both her son and Caroline that the Man of Steel is coming. When Stevie overhears this (“I don’t want a party! I wanna see Superman!”), Caroline has no choice but to acquiesce. Unfortunately, Ricky learns that “Superman” is flying to Terre Haute that same day and is unavailable. Realizing, “If I don’t produce Superman, my name will be Supermud,” she decides to play the part herself. The usual Lucy complications ensue, and the ludicrously costumed redhead finds herself stuck on the ledge outside her apartment window, her cape caught in the drainpipe, during a raging downpour.

Lucky for her, Superman is able to attend the party after all, and the studio audience reaction to the news makes clear that this guest appearance was kept secret prior to filming. Watch closely after Superman lands in the Ricardo living room, and you’ll see Desi Arnaz break character as he turns toward the audience saying, “How about that, eh?” In an interview for The Adventures Continue, Keith Thibodeaux recalled Reeves’ stunning arrival:

“I really believed he was Superman. Even though I was an actor [too], I believed he was super. [There was] a little ladder back there which sort of let me down a little bit. But the way he came through those shutters was really something! I knew he got up on this ladder, put his arms up on this kitchen thing and just pulled his legs through… but the way he came bursting through was outstanding. He must have been half-super or something!”

It’s long been assumed that, since Reeves was not credited for his Lucy appearance on syndication prints (and is not mentioned by name during the episode), that he never received credit at all. It’s a false assumption: original network prints contain this announcement: “Our guest star tonight was George Reeves, star of the Superman series.” Since the episode didn’t enter syndication until after Reeves’ death, it’s possible the credit was deliberately omitted for that reason; in any case, Gregg Oppenheimer, son of Lucy’s original producer, Jess Oppenheimer, restored the voiceover for DVD release.

With production done for the year, Reeves focused on his newfound music career. Art Weissman booked time at Radio Recorders Studio in Hollywood on January 12. (For music historians: this was the day after Elvis Presley recorded “All Shook Up” in the same studio.) Reeves, Nati Vacio, guitarist Freddie Hernandez and a few friends gathered to record two tunes: the Mexican “Las Altinatas” and an English folk tune, “The Riddle Song,” which is probably best remembered nowadays as the song that triggers ‘Bluto’ Blutarsky (John Belushi) to smash the balladeer’s guitar to pieces, in Animal House (1978). By all accounts, the session took on the atmosphere of a frat party, with drinks and guests such as Reeves’ neighbor Gig Young and his then-wife, Elizabeth Montgomery. Consequently, Hernandez believed that less frivolity and more rehearsal would have been nice.

Nevertheless, the two tunes were recorded, and an acetate disk of the preliminary mix was pressed and given to Weissman. When Reeves gave it a spin, though, he wasn’t very happy, and heard today it’s easy to guess why. “Las Altinatas” is quite charming, but Reeves’ vocal and the lead guitar aren’t mixed high enough. “The Riddle Song” is particularly overburdened with instruments, plus a backing choir that doesn’t sound terribly confident. Additionally the arrangement is bizarre: the tempo alternately speeds up and slows down as the vocals rise and fall; one gets the impression it was recorded in a boat on a storm-tossed sea. Although Weissman believed the problems were primarily technical and easily corrected, Reeves seems to have lost interest after the first pass.

Making matters worse, another investment opportunity blew up in his face. In November 1956, an entrepreneur named John A. Kuhns proposed the building of a 1,500-room “super-motel” (as termed by the press) in Anaheim to principally serve Los Angeles County residents seeking overnight accommodation near Disneyland. The structure, termed “Motel of the Stars,” was to include family rooms, executive suites, a spacious dining hall, a banquet room and other luxurious amenities. In a press release, Kuhns maintained that, in its first six months, “an average of 300 people per day had to be turned away [from the Disneyland Hotel] for lack of space… we intend to meet that need as soon as possible.” Stock was issued, and, along with Reeves, investors included Mickey Rooney, Dennis Day, George Raft, Debbie Reynolds, Max Baer, Burl Ives, Jerry Colonna and Pinky Lee.

Unfortunately, Kuhns turned out to be a crook: on January 28, the Los Angeles district attorney’s office filed a 14-count felony complaint against the would-be “Motel Mogul.” Kuhns was charged with nine counts of grand theft involving $15,200 and five counts of violating corporate securities law. Principal stockholders immediately kicked Kuhns off the board and tried to salvage the concept, but to no avail.

Still, Reeves was no longer hurting for extracurricular work: between January and June he’d make personal appearances at the Connecticut Sportsmen’s and Boat Show in Hartford, the Milton-Freewater Pea Festival in Walla-Walla, Washington, and Palisades Amusement Park in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Between gigs, he had judo to keep him occupied. He’d joined the National Judo Academy in Los Angeles some years before, where he met and befriended Gene LeBell, the 1954 & ’55 U.S. judo champion. By 1957, Reeves was instructing at the academy and LeBell was talking about trying pro wrestling.

That was likely the moment when Reeves conceived a plan for later in the summer: a tour of fairs, carnivals and municipal auditoriums in which he and his musical combo could perform, followed by a judo-wrestling bout between ‘Superman’ and LeBell. Reeves put Weissman to work on the idea; he and Jay Emmett got in touch with Joe Higgins of the GAC-Hamid talent agency, owners of the Hamid Circus, to assist with the tour route and bookings. Realizing a girl singer would enhance the act’s appeal, Reeves called on the one he’d been working side-by-side with for the past four years. When Noel Neill answered her phone to, “Hi, Noel… how long has it been since you’ve sung — sober?” she laughed, and eagerly agreed to participate.

The TV series made news early in the year, not all of it good. On January 3, a 29-year-old Idaho Falls man, Farrel C. Vest, engrossed in Superman while dining, “swallowed a triangular-shaped chicken bone, about one-and-one-half inch in each direction, which lodged in his throat,” according to the Idaho Falls Post-Register. Mr. Vest was rushed to Idaho Falls LDS Hospital, where an emergency esophagoscopy took care of the bone. On February 8, another would-be Superman junior, eight-year-old Jesse Camacho of Kansas City, climbed onto a table and “flew” through the storm window of his kitchen door. For that, he received twenty-four stitches in his right forearm and four on his nose. “Almost two years ago, he made us buy him this costume,” his mother told reporters for the Kansas City Star, referring to her son’s Superman suit. “Now I don’t know if I should let him watch that program on TV any more or not.”

In financial news, Joe Harris and Sy Weintraub sold Flamingo Films, the success of which was largely due to Adventures of Superman, to the Continental Thrift Company, a west coast investment firm, for $3 million. Plus, after several years, Kellogg’s finally assembled a five-days-per-week children’s strip, and the perfect outlet had opened up to them. In April, ABC-TV announced it was cutting The Mickey Mouse Club down to a half-hour for the fall.

Disney’s daily hour-long kid’s show had been a solid success in its 1955 debut, but for its second season, ABC was only able to sell 12 of its 20 weekly quarter-hour segments to advertisers. The network “just about broke even” on the show, according to Variety, but with Warner Bros. Television providing new prime-time product, Mickey Mouse was no longer as crucial to their bottom line; halving the program solved the sponsorship issue and placated stockholders. Within a month after ABC’s announcement, Kellogg’s swooped in with a seven million dollar deal for the 5:00 — 5:30 p.m. weekday slot, plus alternate weeks of a prime-time series, Circus Boy. The cereal company simultaneously renewed its deal with Superman, Inc. for pretty much the same money as in 1955, of which $500,000 was allotted for Ellsworth’s annual budget.

Kellogg’s termed their weekday strip “Fun at Five,” which consisted of:

MONDAY: Adventures of Superman

TUESDAY: Adventures of Sir Lancelot, with William Russell

WEDNESDAY: Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok, with Guy Madison and Andy Devine

THURSDAY: The Woody Woodpecker Show, cartoon series

FRIDAY: The Buccaneers, with Robert Shaw and Peter Hammond

Although Kellogg’s owned the package, they were open to sharing the expense with secondary sponsors. For Superman, they partnered with Sweets Company and their Tootsie Roll products.

Come September, for the first time since the radio years, Superman would be a network show; with the exception of a few small-market affiliates, the time and airdate were set nationwide. This was the earliest slot yet for a series that had begun life as a prime-time entry, and even though Ellsworth had carved the blood-and-thunder out of the property, he knew that his show would now precede Monday’s Mickey Mouse Club installment, which meant his core audience would be younger, if not bigger, than ever. But how to cut back on the cops-and-robbers tales without alienating the ‘tweens and teens that also watched faithfully?

Casting about for a solution, Ellsworth turned to his own industry. By the summer of ’57, comic book fantasy had replaced Davy Crockett heroism in the eyes of American youth. Shrinking men and hulking giants, prehistoric creatures and teenaged werewolves forced the singing cowboy from the B-picture scene. The logical solution was to let fast-paced action take a back seat to situations laced with science fiction overtones.

For the first time, the producer would dispense with Mort Weisinger’s services and simply co-write nine of the scripts himself; eight alongside Robert Leslie Bellem and one with Wilton Schiller. The remaining four were assigned to ever-reliable David and Peggy Chantler. For a time, Ellsworth toyed with using his “Steven Post” alias, authoring seven of his scripts that way, but eventually elected to take screen credit under his true name.

While Ellsworth hunkered down at the typewriter, Reeves, Neill, LeBell, Vacio, Hernandez and accordionist Hon Hollington embarked on the “Superman Unit Tour,” which opened at the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo on August 20 for three days. Reeves (dressed in his Clark Kent garb) and his combo, abetted by Neill’s singing and dancing ability, opened the show with four or five numbers. During the final song, as Neill pirouetted about the stage, “Mr. Kryptonite” (Gene LeBell) would emerge from the shadows and grab her, prompting Reeves to leave the stage and suit up. The finale was a wrestling bout between hero and foe. By Neill’s account, Reeves was financing the tour himself. No doubt he expected to come out well ahead with 65% of the grandstand take for the Pueblo dates and 70% for all dates thereafter, according to The Billboard.

Neill’s recollection was that the Colorado Fair shows “were well-attended and well-received. It was such a great beginning to what we thought would be a wonderful run.” The Billboard tells a different story: an article celebrating the fair’s “all-time high” attendance record added one caveat: “A kid show, which featured George (Superman) Reeves, did just fair the first three afternoons.” Still, it’s possible the attendance was acceptable by Reeves and Weissman’s standards.

But after this “just fair” beginning, it mostly went downhill. The next stops were municipal auditoriums in Ashville (August 25) and Raleigh (August 28), North Carolina, then in Columbia, South Carolina, on the 30th and Bluefield, West Virginia, on September 2. All were sparsely attended. One of the North Carolina shows, according to Neill, was played to exactly three people. A date in Georgia was evidently canceled due to poor advance sales. Neill remembered, “When not on stage, [George] pretty much stayed by himself in his room and drank. It seemed like the more we toured, the more depressed George became.”

On September 8, the troupe arrived in Louisville, Kentucky, for a three-day stay at the state fair beginning the following afternoon. Reeves and Neill visited Kosair Hospital for Crippled Children and Children’s Hospital, accompanied by reporter John Briney of the Louisville Courier-Journal, who got a brief glimpse of a morose actor. “In each ward,” wrote Briney, “Reeves delivered the same general spiel: ‘I speak for the friend of mine whose picture I’ve just given you. He wants you to eat everything that’s put before you and do everything the doctors and nurses tell you. And then you’ll get better. And remember, he’ll be watching.’

“He makes a point of visiting children’s hospitals and orphanages whenever he can. ‘The visits aren’t really very much,’ Reeves said. ‘But you go in there and try to cheer them up and maybe it gives them something to talk about for a few days. You smile and smile,’ Reeves said, flashing a toothy, Hollywood-type grin. His face sobered almost instantly. ‘But you feel like an idiot.’” Perhaps his mood brightened when he was inducted into the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels for his charitable work.

At the fair, there was hope for improvement: although early attendance was below the previous year due to rain, the Superman Unit was actually drawing better than last year’s stadium show on the same days. Unfortunately, they were sharing the bill with singer Johnnie Ray, who was well on his way to the alcoholism that eventually proved fatal, giving Reeves an eager drinking buddy each evening. In any event, when their stint was up, another GAC-Hamid unit starring new teen idol Pat Boone moved in and did twice the business. That must’ve hurt both Reeves and Ray.

“George told me he was very upset that [Weissman] had not done more to promote the tour,” claimed Neill in Larry Ward’s biography. “He was expecting extensive radio, television and newspaper coverage at each site, but very little of that was done.” Indeed, a newspaper article in the New Oxford Item, touting “Activities for Kids at Reading Fair” (where the troupe was to appear next, on September 13), fails to mention Superman’s appearance, whereas the Lone Ranger, Pat Boone and even the Mills Brothers are plugged. The publicist for the Bluefield Auditorium was so ill-informed that he advertised “the Entire Cast of the Television Show.” In composing the ad, the names “Superman,” “Lois Lane” and “Jimmy Olsen” were simply lifted from comic book covers.

On the 12th, Reeves flew to Columbus, Ohio, to help initiate Governor C. William O’Neill’s statewide traffic safety campaign. When he missed his plane to Reading, because Weissman failed to confirm his reservation, one of the governor’s secretaries found him a seat on another flight. That was the last straw: Reeves abruptly canceled the remainder of the tour after the Reading show — which was, ironically, the best attended of the lot, although Pat Boone once again outdrew him. Although Neill graciously waived her salary, Reeves still lost a bundle. His disposition would not improve by the time shooting for season six began on the 23rd.

Some heavy-duty changes awaited everyone at Ziv studios. Harold Wellman departed for M.G.M. and The Invisible Boy (1957), but Joe Biroc was happy to return as company cinematographer. Eddie Donohue had likewise moved on, and Ellsworth chose Ben Chapman as his unit manager. Chapman had done the same for Bill Walsh on Westward Ho the Wagons! and arrived at Ziv having just completed work on The Young Lions (1958). As Reeves’ biographer, actor Jim Beaver, describes it, “The unit manager’s job is to be on the ground, on the set, making sure that everything runs quickly, efficiently, and as inexpensively as possible. He’s the constant voice of cost.” Chapman went at the task with such zeal, one suspects Superman, Inc. promised him a performance-based bonus.

His first move was to cut true exterior shots to a bare minimum. A generic “outdoors” painting was set up on a soundstage, along with some rented shrubbery, and this was used as the “exterior” in practically every episode. It had the advantage of keeping everyone studio-bound, but made last season’s “Prince Albert Coat,” “Phoney Alibi” and “Town That Wasn’t,” with their genuine exteriors, look lavish by comparison. Leased stock shots were also vetoed: “The Mysterious Cube” called for a brief look at Washington D.C.; “The Atomic Captive” specified an establishing shot of Las Vegas. No dice, said Mr. Chapman… and those were co-written by Ellsworth.

Some of the scripts required special flying scenes. “The Last Knight” has Superman flying while wearing a suit of armor; “The Gentle Monster” involved his flying off with an exploding briefcase; and in “The Atomic Captive,” he flies into an atomic cloud to force the explosion back into the ground. Si Simonson expected to use his hydraulic arm for these shots, but got a surprise:

“Ben Chapman [was] a hurry-up guy. I said, ‘I need George for a half-hour to get him in the body plate…’ that would go under his costume [as] we usually did it. Ben didn’t go for that and said to lay a bar on the extended pole, instead of attaching the body plate, and to put Reeves on that. Ben said not to shoot George full-figure since his legs were hanging down due to lack of support. So there are only the quickest of full-figure shots in the new flying scenes. It was elementary and, although we accomplished everything we needed, it wasn’t as good.”

Simonson’s observation is an understatement. The new flying scenes are cheap in every sense of the word. Rear-screen projection still wasn’t viable in color, so a bare background of bright blue (for daytime) or charcoal gray (for night) was used, with wisps of dry ice doubling as clouds. The wind machine seems to be set on “tropical breeze,” as the cape barely makes a ripple (this was necessary lest the dry ice dissipate before it could be photographed). The scene in “Atomic Captive” called for Superman to be buffeted by the force of the explosion, so Reeves rocks back and forth — and the bar on which he’s reclining is plainly visible. Considering the impressive effects of previous seasons, it’s an unpardonable sin.

With this, his fifth year in charge of production, Whit Ellsworth visibly bore the scars of the previous four. Now part of a network lineup, the Superman cast and crew were the subjects of many more publicity photos than in previous years. Ellsworth appears in several of these stills. His hair has turned almost completely white. His eyes have bags under them, his jowls sag. He’s never without a cigarette. Ellsworth looks like he’s nearing retirement age; old enough to really be Reeves’ “Dad.” In fact, he was just weeks away from turning 49.

He wasn’t alone. In 1956 an auto accident, coupled with lackluster direction, had given us a bulky, slow-moving Man of Steel. This season, although slightly slimmer, Reeves looks and sounds tired, old, discouraged, bored. He didn’t bother trying to hide his age: thinning, slicked-back hair added years to his face, as did new, larger eyeglass frames that now held genuine lenses. The recent tour still chafed and his mood carried over to his performances. There’s little of the old spark, particularly in his Clark Kent scenes. At times, when he speaks quietly and with little inflection, one suspects he was nursing a hangover.

By some accounts, he wasn’t waiting until afternoon to open the bar in his dressing room. Phyllis Coates, on the lot for I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957), remembered, “I ran into George one morning, about 8:00 a.m., and he said, ‘C’mon, let’s have a drink.” I went over to his dressing room with him and he started pouring me a brandy. He was talking about the series and said that he was so sick of it all.” Topping it off, he was handed scripts that, for the most part, trapped Superman in situations where he was either unable to take action or in a weakened condition for most of the episode.

Harry Gerstad had moved over to a new syndicated series, Captain David Grief, with Marshall Reed, so Phil Ford returned to share duties with George Blair. Yet for reasons never explained, Ellsworth booked two additional directors, veterans Howard Bretherton and Lew Landers, for two episodes apiece, and brought back Tommy Carr to inaugurate the season.

Carr was shocked by Reeves’ appearance, ordering him to get the gel out his hair during his Superman scenes — but then most everyone else was shocked to see Carr. Blair was expected to helm the first of the batch, David Chantler’s “The Last Knight,” a story of a secret society of would-be medieval Round Table members, all four of whom are retired wealthy businessmen. Alas, one of them — ‘Sir Arthur’ (Marshall Bradford) — is actually looking to grow his personal fortune by eliminating the other three. According to a story Carr told Gary Grossman in 1975, neither Blair nor Ford wanted the responsibility of shooting a scene where Superman jumps out a window in a suit of armor, so Ellsworth gave him a call. In 1992, Carr told Chuck Harter he returned to prove a point to his fellow directors: “They used to talk about how much longer color took. It doesn’t take that much longer if you know what you’re doing. Some directors waste time on the set trying to figure out what they’re going to do, [whereas] I had every shot plotted before I started.”

Indeed, nearly every set-up in Chantler’s teleplay appears in the episode, a rarity during the color years whenever Blair and Gerstad were at the helm. And, in fairness to the writer, the final confrontation between Superman and ‘Sir Arthur’ was also filmed as scripted; Carr devised none of it spontaneously. The only variation is a scene where the Man of Steel emerges from his armor:

94. CLOSE SHOT — SUPERMAN

He yanks the steel rings from the wall, then rips off his chains. Then, flexing his chest and arms, he bursts off the armor. He rips off the leg pieces and stands revealed as Superman. CAMERA PULLS BACK as the others rush to him.

Lois: Superman! But why… why did you wait?

Superman: Evidence, Miss Lane. I wanted him to go all the way. Follow me.

Since there was no budget for anything that could burst apart, in the finished scene, Superman yanks off the rings (his right arm requiring two attempts), removes his helmet, throws it to the floor at his feet, where we watch the rest of the cladding quickly follow suit, not returning to Superman’s full figure until he’s completely un-armored. Curiously, when Lois asks, “Why did you wait?” Superman merely says, “Follow me, please.” Either Reeves forgot the rest of the line, or it was deliberately omitted when no one could think of a suitable replacement for “go all the way.”

Blair took over mid-week for Peggy Chantler’s “The Superman Silver Mine,” Superman’s third go-round with the evil twin scenario (there were twins in 1951’s “Double Trouble,” but both were evil). Mr. Pebble (Dabbs Greer), a millionaire prospector, donates a silver mine to the Metropolis Children’s Camp, of which Superman is a sponsor. In his honor, Pebble has named the mine after the Man of Steel. The gift will not only provide a campsite, it’ll fund the whole operation. The only problem is that Pebble is a dead-ringer for Dan Dobey (also Dabbs Greer); the only physical difference between the two is that Dobey has a metal plate in his head. The generous prospector is promptly kidnapped and threatened with starvation unless he reveals the mine location. Lois and Jimmy stumble into this plot in their usual inept fashion and are imprisoned with Pebble until Superman can figure out how to save them all, which of course he does.

Greer had some not-so-fond memories of this apparently troubled episode, which he shared with his friend, publisher Jim Nolt: “I played twins (two parts for one salary). Mr. Pebble was supposed to be a prospector, so on the first day I met with the wardrobe man and we drove to Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors (located in North Hollywood) to look for some kind of western costume. Often big stars buy their clothes from Nudie and then later trade them in on something else. Nudie then rents the traded-in outfits to television or movie productions in need of specific wardrobe.

“Well, we looked through the racks, and the wardrobe man picked out an outfit which once belonged to a famous country-western singer of the time. It was my size, so back we went to the Superman set. It wasn’t until we got back that I noticed that this famous singer obviously never wore underwear! The suit was cleaned and everything, but it was stained, and I said, ‘I’m not going to wear this!’ The wardrobe man had a fit and said there was no time to go back to get another. We reached a compromise: the wardrobe man sewed a heavy pair of underwear into the outfit [and] with my own underwear and that sewn-in pair, I figured I could manage. But I’ll tell you something, whenever you see me as Mr. Pebble, you can be sure I was most uncomfortable!”

The character of Dobey was no less uncomfortable, but for a different reason: “There was a plot device where George’s X-ray vision was supposed to penetrate my head (in order to view the metal plate). This required a make-up gizmo called a ‘skin head’ — a thin rubber head piece molded to cover the actor’s hair from the forehead to the nape of the neck and covering the sideburns, [and] glued into place with spirit gum. I don’t know what they cost but they’re not something to send you into bankruptcy… The schedule had been set up so that I would do a sequence, then other actors would do a sequence while I had the prosthesis applied, we’d photograph me in the skin-head then it would be removed during another scene in which I didn’t appear and then they would shoot the dissolve into my regular head.

“They had ordered two [skin heads]. The first one split (old stock, I suppose) as it was being glued on. The second one also created a problem. The assistant director pushed the panic button. Nothing went right. It took forever to get the set ups. I’m sure there were several new ulcers before the day was over.”

The following week, “Divide and Conquer” and “The Mysterious Cube” went before the cameras. These two shows have to be discussed together. Both are controversial, in that Superman is given new abilities beyond those established by his comic book persona, something to which purists have been known to object. Both were written by Bellem and Ellsworth. Both feature a new character, Professor Lucerne (Everett Glass), a scientist that helps the Man of Steel unlock his new powers. Controversy aside, both were compelling stories, yet could have been much better — and “Divide and Conquer” had the potential for greatness — if only they’d been shot as written.

The script for “Mysterious Cube” was completed first; the episode was shot first and meant to air first. Indeed, the teleplay for “Divide and Conquer” references a conversation from “Cube” as originally scripted. Therefore, this book will discuss them in that order.

“The Mysterious Cube” is the story of Paul Barton (Bruce Wendell), a criminal “guilty of every crime in the book,” according to Inspector Henderson, including espionage. Unfortunately, Barton disappeared nearly seven years ago — just after a huge metal shelter, made of a strange impenetrable alloy, was constructed in his back yard. Presumably over those seven years, Henderson tried everything to breach the cube, much to the amusement of Barton’s brother Steve (Keith Richards) and their pal, Jody Malone (Ben Welden). Henderson confesses his bafflement to the Planet Staff, venturing that not even Superman could get in. With that, Clark Kent quietly slips away to see for himself and, as Superman, discovers the Inspector is correct. The Man of Steel decides this looks like a job for Professor Lucerne, and flies to his observatory. From the script:

Superman: I have just encountered a secret metal alloy that I can’t break through — I can’t burn through — I can’t even see through.

Lucerne: Impossible!

Superman: I assure you, it’s quite true. And you’ve got to help me find out how to penetrate it.

Lucerne: Without even a sample?

Superman: (sour smile) If I could break off a sample for you to analyze — there’d be no problem.

Lucerne: I see what you mean… If you could break off a little piece, you could break the entire structure.

Superman: Right. As it is, I can’t even scratch the stuff.

Lucerne: (clucks tongue) That is a problem. (a beat, soberly) I’ll need a few days to think it over.

Superman: We haven’t got a few days. We must find the answer before tomorrow noon — or one of this country’s worst criminals will escape punishment.

At this point, we switch to Steve and Jody, as in the episode, where they opt for some “Superman Insurance” by kidnapping Lois and Jimmy (well, it always works, doesn’t it?) and binding them together in Barton’s house, beside a mildly elaborate death trap involving a pellet that can drop into a tub of acid, creating a deadly poison gas, if Steve or Jody pulls a convenient string outside the house. Returning to the observatory, Lucerne has an idea:

Lucerne: The mystery of this impervious metal is a problem of molecular density. Now all matter is made up of molecules.

Superman: I know. That applies to solids, liquids, gases — everything.

Lucerne: Right. The molecular structure of any substance determines its weight, strength and specific gravity. For instance, take the petroleum industry. Crude oil is pumped out of oil wells and run through a refinery…

Superman: The process is known as cracking, isn’t?

Lucerne: Correct. But do you know that a single barrel of crude oil can go through the refinery and come out as four barrels of gasoline, kerosene and other by-products?

Superman: So I’ve heard.

Lucerne: That’s because the crude oil molecules are packed closely together. But the refining process drives them farther apart, increasing the volume from one barrel to four.

Superman: I see.

Lucerne: Now, suppose we reverse the process. Say you have one quart of water and one quart of alcohol. Pour them together and what will you have?

Thinking this over for a brief beat, Superman answers.

Superman: Two quarts?

Lucerne: (shakes head) Half-a-cup less than two quarts. That’s because the alcohol molecules and the water molecules slide closer together, reducing the volume of liquid.

Superman: Like crowding twelve people in a ten-passenger elevator, eh?

Not quite, but Lucerne politely agrees and goes on to explain that if Superman can rearrange his molecules, so that they join with those of the wall, he might — with extraordinary concentration — pass through it. The Man of Steel gives it a shot, and succeeds. Lucerne issues the obligatory warning that melding with this strange alloy is going to be much harder than passing through the relatively porous concrete, but Superman believes he’s up to the challenge and heads to the Barton residence.

What happens next is predictable: Superman passes into the cube (the script instructions were that he was to be seen struggling to get through; the actual effect, although visually impressive, doesn’t quite communicate that). Immediately, Steve notifies his brother, adding that Lois and Jimmy are imperiled and that Superman should lay off or else. The Man of Steel promptly backs out, apparently exhausted from his effort. Steve warns him that Paul had better be allowed to emerge at noon, if he wants his friends released unharmed, and informs him that his brother’s clock is run by the Naval Observatory in Arlington, Virginia — so noon means noon. Agreeing, “You win this time” (“We win, period!” Steve rejoins), Superman flies off to Arlington, meets with an admiral (John Ayres), who relays his request to the president. The scenes that were to follow his response were cut for time:

Admiral: He says if Superman wants it done — we’ll do it!

Superman: Good! Now do you mind if I use your phone? I want to make a long distance call to Inspector Henderson in Metropolis.

Admiral: Help yourself. I’ll go get things started.

He exits, as Superman sits at desk and picks up phone.

DISSOLVE:

55. INT. HENDERSON’S OFFICE AT POLICE H.Q. — DAY

Henderson: Yes… Yes… Are you sure? I see… Yes, of course we’ll cooperate… Absolutely! … Yes, we’ll be there… What’s that? Call Mister White for you? … I’ll be glad to… Yes, I’ll give him the message… ’Bye.

He hangs up briefly, then lifts phone, speaks into it.

Henderson: (continuing) Get me Perry White, publisher of the Daily Planet.

WIPE TO:

INT. WHITE’S OFFICE — DAY

White is at his desk, marking proofs. His phone rings — he answers it.

White: (into phone) White speaking… Oh, hello, Inspector Henderson, what can I do for you? (reacts) You just heard from Clark Kent??! Where is he? (listens, explodes) He what??!! … But good grief, man, how can he expect me to prepare a story about something that hasn’t happened yet??! … Yes … Yes … You’re taking his word, eh? … Well, all right… Thanks for telling me… ’Bye.

He hangs up, disturbed and doubtful. He drums on the desk, uncertainly, then finally makes up his mind. He presses a button on his desk intercom and speaks into the box.

White: (continuing) Send me in a rewrite man. I’m going to dictate some front-page news that isn’t going to happen until just before noon tomorrow! …

FADE OUT.

When we return, Paul Barton begins applying the acid that will create his exit from the cube. Steve Barton leaves for court to have Paul declared legally dead, but before that, he gives Jody Malone some instructions in an exchange that was lengthier as written:

Barton: (continuing) Oh, and Jody — the minute Paul comes out of the cube, you’re to pull the string on Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane.

Malone: (appalled) But, Boss, you promised Superman you’d turn ’em loose! …

Barton: And let them put the finger on us for kidnapping them? Don’t be a fool.

Malone: Yeah … I see what you mean. Okay, I’ll do it.

So Barton is willing to risk murder convictions (remember, Superman knows they’re in the house) rather than face kidnapping charges. No one said these guys were smart. Steve departs, the acid is having its effect on the cube, and while it does, the script has us cutting to the following:

63. MONTAGE OF STOCK SHOTS

We see newspaper presses rolling at high speed — then papers being bundled — the bundles being loaded onto delivery trucks, etc. Montage ends with a —

QUICK DISSOLVE

64. INT. WHITE’S OFFICE — DAY

Perry White stands at his desk, scanning an edition of the Planet whose front-page headlines we need not see. White is frowning worriedly. He wags his head, mutters to himself.

White: All I can say is … he’d better be right!

He puts paper down, sits at desk, buries his head in his hands…

Instead of showing this sequence of events that would have tested White’s faith in Kent, as well as providing something to cut to other than Jody and the cube, thus adding to the tension (since the acid was expected to take thirty minutes), all of it was excised and handed to us as a fait accompli in dialogue at the close. Such a sequence could have helped diffuse the scenario’s obvious problems.

“Divide and Conquer” is less troubling story-wise; its problems are due to budget and performance. Kent, Miss Lane and Mister White are in an unnamed Latin American country to establish a local edition of the Daily Planet. No sooner do they meet with President Patillo (Donald Lawton) than an attempt is made on his life. Behind the scheme are Vice President Obreon (Robert Tafur), and his associate, Philippe Gonzales (Jack Reitsen). Both are sufficiently slimy, although Tafur has difficulty maintaining his character’s accent. When Superman foils the assassination, Obreon has him arrested for his mere presence at the scene, reminding Patillo that it is their law and if he breaks it, he risks impeachment. In the script, the scene continues beyond what was filmed:

Superman: I’ll submit to arrest.

Patillo: (to Obreon) This is absurd! There isn’t a prison in the world that could hold Superman!

Obreon: (shrugs) He is a U. S. citizen under legal arrest. If he tries to escape, it will mean serious diplomatic complications between his country and ours.

Gonzales: (to Patillo) If that happens, you will still be impeached and removed from office.

Superman smiles reassuringly at the forlorn Patillo.

Superman: Don’t worry. For the good of your country and mine — I’ll stay in jail until I have been proved innocent.

He lets the two guards nervously escort him out.

Stuck in jail, Superman needs a solution and somehow knows that Lucerne has the answer. He tells Perry, “I want you to call him — or rather, cable him” — a nice recovery on Reeves’ part, since he lost his place during the course of the line, the original of which was: “He’s been a tremendous help to me in matters of very grave urgency. Please cable him, and ask him to fly down at once.”

During their meeting, Lucerne reminds Superman of what they had discussed previously:

Lucerne: You are made up of molecules and atoms. Everybody is. Yours happen to have greater density — they’re packed more closely together, giving you your super-strength and making it impossible for you to be injured or hurt.

Superman: (faint smile) That’s one explanation anyhow.

Lucerne: Well then — do you recall how we once discussed the petroleum industry? How one single barrel of crude oil can be sent through the refinery and come out as two or more barrels of gasoline?

Superman: I remember very well. Crude oil molecules are packed closely together. But the refining process drives them farther apart and the volume increases from one barrel to two or more… (sudden thought) Wait a minute — !!

Lucerne: (smiling) I thought the idea would come to you.

Superman: (pacing) If I could expand my atomic structure by driving the molecules farther apart… and then separate them…

Lucerne: (nods gravely) There might be two of you instead of one.

From here, the dialogue mirrors the episode. A pacing, excited Superman would have added a nice touch, but for the scene as filmed, both characters remain seated. After Lucerne departs, the Man of Tomorrow halves himself neatly, if not very spectacularly. As with Cube, the script called for this to be a strenuous effort on Superman’s part, and this time it’s put across; only the special effect itself is wanting. After Superman #2 leaps from the cell window, Superman #1 restores the bars, and finishes up as the guard (Jack Littlefield) approaches. The scene was to continue:

32. ANGLE ON GUARD IN CORRIDOR

The CAMERA FOLLOWS HIM as, rifle alert, he moves to the door of Superman’s cell and peers in, just in time to see Superman turning warily away from the window, which is now back in place.

Guard: You would not be trying to escape, I suppose?

Superman just looks at him, not answering.

Guard: (continuing) But of course the great Superman would have no trouble escaping if he wished.

Superman still does not answer, and the guard continues to needle him.

Guard: (continuing) But that, naturally, would be most embarrassing for His Excellency, the President.

Still no answer. Smirking, the guard pokes the muzzle of his gun through the bars of his cell.

Guard: (continuing) Or perhaps the great Superman is not so great as he is reputed to be. Perhaps bullets do not really bounce from his skin.

At this, Superman’s eyes widen. He is not at all sure that bullets will bounce off his skin at this time. At last, with a chuckle, the guard lowers the rifle and retreats down the corridor. Whistling silently in relief, Superman sinks to the cot.

Superman: (mutters to himself) That was close.

33 and 34. CLOSE SHOTS — SUPERMAN

His reactions, to INTERCUT WITH ABOVE.

Meanwhile, Superman #2 has taken off to the hotel where he and the others are staying — the script calling for a new flying shot:

37. CLOSE-UP — SUPERMAN IN FLIGHT — NIGHT

His face shows terrific strain, for flying is obviously a great effort to him.

Coincidentally, Lois and Perry are just then discussing Clark’s dis-appearance:

Lois: I’m just wondering… wouldn’t it be funny if Clark turned out to be — Superman?

White: (scoffing snort) Of all the idiotic ideas…! (hesitates) Still, come to think of it… (snorts again) No, he couldn’t be! It’s preposterous!

Lois: Then where is Mister Kent? Why did he vanish?

White: (dubious again) Yes, why did he? (sudden decision) Come on, we’ll check his hotel room.

Which they do, as shown in the episode. Superman #2 is now dressed as Kent, and the script is worded a little bit differently than in the episode… and take a look at the instructions for everybody, particularly Noel Neill:

White: Oh, so here you are. (looks at Lois) I told you you were wrong.

Kent: (wearily) Wrong about what?

Lois: (with a sniff) Oh, nothing. I suppose you’ve been wandering the streets all this time, dazed by the bomb.

Kent: (mildly) Well, I was pretty close to it when it exploded.

White: (grumpily) You’d better take it easy for a day or so, Kent.

Lois: (the eternal feline) By all means. I’m sure a little rest will cure your shattered nerves. We have newspaper work to do.

Kent lies back and closes his eyes. Lois starts for the door, followed by White. At the door:

White: What newspaper work do you mean, Miss Lane? You’ve already covered the story on the attempt on the president’s life.

Lois: I know. But tomorrow morning, I’m going to interview Vice President Obreon. Maybe I can trick him into admitting something that will incriminate him.

White: (explosively) That might tip him off that President Patillo suspects him! You stay away from Obreon, do you understand? (points finger at her) That’s an order!

White issues no such demand in the scene as filmed, which is just as well because Lois immediately disobeys… and of course spills the beans that Patillo is planning to dissolve his government. This leads to Obreon and Gonzales trapping El Presidente, his two bodyguards, Lois and Perry a mile underground by dynamiting the entrance and elevator shaft of a mine they are visiting. Superman #2 learns of the mine collapse from the radio, flies to the site (the script again specifying a close-up flying shot of a straining Man of Steel), and attempts to do something. What was written is very different from what we’d see:

61. EXT — MINE AREA — DAY

Now Superman starts attacking rocks and boulders, moving them slowly and by tremendous effort. He is better at it than an ordinary human, but obviously not as good as Superman should be. He makes very little headway, and we get the feeling that he never will. This is a Superman of very limited capabilities. Finally, he straightens wearily, looks o.s., as though wishing his other half were not in prison.

In the episode, he merely tries to lift an ordinary rock, one that wouldn’t trouble a pre-teenager. He uses both hands and immediately drops it from the strain. Apparently the flight took a lot out of him, but it would have been nice if we could have seen that. Meanwhile, Superman #1 has his own problems: a lynch mob has gathered outside his cell, convinced by Obreon’s rumor mill that he’s responsible for Patillo’s death.

64. INT. CELL — DAY

Superman turns from the window, looking puzzled, and more worried than ever. Then we HEAR the o.s. voice of Professor Lucerne as Superman hears it in his memory.

Lucerne’s Voice: (filter) I must warn you, the experiment may prove dangerous. If you do separate into two, then each of you will be only half as strong and half as powerful. You could be wounded by bullets, and you could be hurt by enemies…

Superman looks in the direction of the window and the mob below. We HEAR the mob sounds. Superman would never, of course, be frightened, but he’s certainly worried.

It’s here that the guard tells Obreon and Gonzales about the rifle-pointing incident that we could have seen but didn’t. Obreon tests Superman’s strength and, when the Man of Steel fails, is convinced there’s no danger in releasing him. Little does he know that Superman is capable of removing the bars from the window (“I had some help with those”); when he finds out, it’s too late. The guard shoots and Superman feels the bullet strike, but it’s not bad enough to keep him from taking off. In the script, the guard was supposed to keep firing, leading to another special flying shot:

73. CLOSE UP — SUPERMAN IN FLIGHT

He winces as the bullets bounce off him. Then he looks o.s. and down, smiling grimly. He’s in the clear. During this we HEAR the crack of the rifle.

74. EXT JAIL WINDOW — DAY

The guard’s gun clicks on an empty shell. Angry and frustrated, and more than a little frightened now, they look at each other.

Gonzales: We may be in trouble.

Obreon: (bravado) Don’t lose your nerve. After all, the president is dead, and nobody can connect us with it.

But as he gazes off into space we can see that he isn’t completely convinced of anything.

When Superman #1 and #2 meet up at the mine, the scripted dialogue is the same as on film. But the teleplay called for most of it to be played “split-screen,” with both Supermen conversing in a single shot. Instead, it’s a series of close-ups and over-the-shoulder views with Reeves’ astonishingly inadequate double (probably his stand-in, Don Wilmot). Once they have fused together, the one and only Superman takes off to burrow into the mine:

84. INT. MOUNTAIN — (SPECIAL OPTICAL FX)

Superman zooms through the mountain on a downward angle, spewing a trail of earth and rocks after him. NOTE: This effect will be accomplished in a manner similar to that used in the underwater sequence in Production No.69.

That production being 1955’s “Peril By Sea,” where someone on Jack Glass’ crew blew air into dyed-green water for a traveling matte shot. Ellsworth must have visualized matting Superman over something akin to a thin burst of air tunneling through an empty ant farm. What he got instead was another of the budget’s crushing blows: an all-too obvious animated cartoon of the inside of a mountain, over which Superman’s downward flying image was matted. Inexplicably, the blue screen is visible behind Superman’s tunnel; utterly destroying what little credibility remained in the shot. Regardless, the rescue is a timely one, and thanks to Obreon’s carelessness, Superman recovers the detonator that seals the fate of the murderous vice president and his aide. And Lois is convinced, for a little while anyway, that Superman and Clark aren’t one and the same.

Both “The Mysterious Cube” and “Divide and Conquer,” as scripted, reflect the best of Ellsworth’s intention to season Superman’s format with a dash of science fiction, not to mention a bit of science fact. The episodes themselves usually make the devoted fan’s top ten list, if only among color shows. How much better they could have been with a Tommy Carr plotting out shots ahead of time and placating Chapman’s time-and-money concerns, and with Reeves allowed to display excitement and fear, rather than just exhaustion, is something on which we can only speculate.

It seems almost karmic that two of the best episodes of the season were immediately followed by two of the worst; doubly so since they, too, were scripted by Bellem and Ellsworth. Both “The Magic Secret” and “The Atomic Captive” are almost unwatchable. The former is hardly worth discussing: it takes an intriguing premise — a device that attracts microscopic fragments of kryptonite from space and converts them into a beam that can eventually kill the Man of Steel — and couches it in one of the most ill-conceived contrivances of all time: Jimmy’s fawning interest in a levitation trick that even his boss — a member of “the Amateur Magic Society” — can perform on Lois, with the help of Simonson’s hydraulic arm (which had to be used this time). A weakened Superman uses the trick to escape a death trap, that’s all anyone needs to know. Beyond that, it’s just embarrassing.

“The Atomic Captive” isn’t much better. Ironically, it’s the most dated of all Superman episodes, as it deals specifically with the Cold War. Spies from behind the Iron Curtain arrive to forcibly escort a naturalized scientist, Dr. Ladislav (Raskin Ben-Ari), home to “the old country.” Having recently been contaminated by nuclear radiation, Ladislav lives deep in the Nevada desert, not far from an atomic bomb testing site that is very active. As if this antiquated situation wasn’t enough, Jimmy Olsen speaks a little 1950’s slang: “Boy, I dig this foreign agent stuff the most!”

Having heard from Clark there’d been an attempt to kidnap Ladislav (while failing to tell them he’d foiled it as Superman), Lois and Jimmy drive out to see him themselves. In the episode, Jimmy is put off by a sign warning of Ladislav’s contamination, then immediately decides it doesn’t mean anything. If Olsen’s reversal seems a little too sudden, the script holds the answer:

Jimmy: Oh-oh! Maybe we hadn’t better go any further, Miss Lane. See — it says Dr. Ladislav is dangerously radioactive. Any contact with him can be fatal…

Lois: (impatiently) Clark Kent contacted him, didn’t he? And he wasn’t hurt.

Jimmy: Yeah, that is right… (brightly) Maybe the sign is just to scare people off…

Etcetera. The two of them quickly discover just how wrong they are, but decide to sacrifice themselves by driving deeper into the desert — specifically toward ground zero — in order to keep Ladislav away from more immediate threats, such as the spies that are in hot pursuit. It’s at this point that General Barrows (Walter Reed) orders the newest bomb test to proceed, much to Clark Kent’s dismay. The script requires Reeves to portray Kent as hoping against his better judgment that Lois and Jimmy are somewhere safe… but since we know they’re not, it gets frustrating watching Kent do nothing, while Barrows seems to be taunting him (“Still no sign of your two friends”). Only after the bomb is ignited does he spot two cars plowing through the desert (through a telescope! So much for super vision) and springs into action. This is the ill-fated scene discussed previously, where Superman flies over the nuclear cloud, “driving it back into the ground,” in Barrow’s words. With the wrapping of these two misfires, both Blair and Ford bid Superman a fond farewell.

Howard Bretherton closed out his lengthy career by directing “The Big Forget” and “The Gentle Monster.” Bretherton began in the silent days where, as a Warner Bros. contract director, he worked with the studio’s biggest stars: leading man Monte Blue and the original Rin Tin Tin. From there, he helmed a plethora of westerns and B-pictures, including one at Republic (The Girl Who Dared, 1944) with John Hamilton and Kirk Alyn in character parts. Surprisingly, his Superman work is undistinguished, similar to that of Gerstad: deliberate pacing, unexciting visuals.

Both of Bretherton’s episodes had scripted opening scenes that weren’t used. In the case of Ellsworth & Bellem’s “Big Forget,” the start was to be Lois and Jimmy bound together facing an imminent demise, courtesy of some nearby dynamite. Superman, of course, arrives at the nick of time: the Man of Steel grabs the dynamite and hurls it out the door, leading to a stock shot of an abandoned shack suddenly blown to bits.

Superman: Are you all right, Miss Lane?

Lois: Just barely, I guess — thanks to you.

Superman looks at Jimmy o.s. Lois’ gaze follows his.

Superman: And you, Jimmy?

Then both Superman and Lois smile broadly as they see Jimmy with his head slumped, he has fainted.

We then dissolve to the scene that opens the episode: everyone in White’s office listening to Jimmy protest that he did not faint… he fell asleep. A production note states that the dynamite scene “will not be shot unless the footage is needed, and should therefore be scheduled for the tag-end of the work-week in which this picture will be the first to be shot.” Although the footage was not needed, there’s a possibility that the scene was shot anyway, as Ellsworth intended to use it in a later episode.

Perennial baddies Herb Vigran and Billy Nelson revisit as, respectively, ‘Muggsy’ Maples and ‘Knuckles’ Nelson. Phillips Tead returns as well, with another madcap Pepperwinkle creation: anti-memory vapor: “One whiff, and you won’t remember anything that happened in the last fifteen minutes.” “Preposterous!” cries Perry White. “Yes, indeed,” agrees the professor. Jimmy decides to take the spray in case he gets caught spying on Maples and Nelson. One guess as to what actually happens. The two thugs con Pepperwinkle into supplying them with more vapor, which they use on a crime spree where nobody can remember the crimes! In an attempt to set things right, Lois, Jimmy and Perry wind up as Maples’ hostages.

It’s going to take Superman to resolve this… except Lois and Jimmy are supposed to get the story without the Man of Steel’s help, in exchange for a long-overdue raise. So, Kent nonchalantly joins the others in captivity and (with his super strength) ensures that Maples and Nelson won’t escape the poison gas trap they’ve set for the prisoners. Once the gas is released, he has no choice but to reveal his true identity. Declaring, “There’s no point in keeping this a secret any longer,” Kent bursts his bonds and begins the switch. Perry “can’t believe it,” while Jimmy excitedly realizes, “Mister Kent is Superman” and Pepperwinkle agrees. Lois is simply “too overwhelmed to speak,” according to the script.

The anti-memory vapor resolves everyone’s problems: Jimmy can take credit for the rescue, he and Lois can get their raise, and Clark can resume his double life. As silly as the episode is on the whole, the few seconds of Kent revealing the truth to one and all — after six years of close calls and near misses — is worth the price of admission.

The discarded opening for David Chantler’s “The Gentle Monster” — another foray into Pepperwinkle-land — is more crucial to the plot. While the main thrust is the professor’s robot, Mr. McTavish (Wilkie DeMartel), the real problem is the trio of bad guys that intend to blow up the Daily Planet. We’re never really clear just who they are or why they’re doing this, apart from a quick reference to a munitions investigation. The missing scene makes everything clear:

4. INT — KENT’S OFFICE — NIGHT — AT THE DOOR

LOIS enters, CAMERA PANNING her toward Kent’s desk. Now we see KENT seated behind his desk, JIMMY is seated backwards on a chair drawn up to the side of the desk. Both Jimmy and Kent are leafing through stacks of clippings. They hardly bother to look up as Lois drops her clippings in front of Kent.

Lois: That’s everything I could dig up, Clark… every minor revolution and civil war that’s taken place in the last eight years.

Kent picks up the clippings and leafs through them.

Kent: I’m afraid we’re up a blind alley. All we can learn from these clippings is what we already know.

Jimmy: Which isn’t much… except when one of these wars breaks out, some outfit right here in Metropolis provides the guns and ammunition to both sides.

Lois: At a very fancy price.

Kent stands up, resting his hands on the desk, a very troubled look on his face.

Kent: We’ve promised our readers to expose this outfit and that’s what we’re going to do.

Jimmy: Do you mind if I ask one question? How?

Kent: That’s the one question I do mind if you ask.

Jimmy: Then I won’t even bring it up.

Lois: So what do we tell the public… sorry, we goofed?

Kent: There must be some way…

He is interrupted by the RINGING of the phone. He answers it irritably.

Kent: Kent speaking…

Which brings us to the opening as it exists in the episode: Kent receives the telephone threat to lay off the munitions exposé, which he rejects… and so on. The robot enters the picture when a frightened woman calls Kent’s office about it. Jimmy and Lois drive out to investigate, and find the professor and his metallic companion, McTavish. Pepperwinkle isn’t funny this time around; he’s wistful and lonely, having built the robot for a companion because, as Superman later says, “Everyone needs a friend.” It’s odd seeing this character — who, only a week earlier, was his usual dithery self — in a bid for pathos. It’s almost as if Chantler didn’t intend the story for Pepperwinkle; if true, that makes the writer 0 for 2: we may recall his “Topsy Turvy” was also not originally a Pepperwinkle tale.

Anyway, the Man of Steel also investigates, and that’s when we — and Slade (Ben Welden), one of the terrorists — learn McTavish is partially powered by kryptonite. Slade passes on the discovery to his two cohorts as the perfect means to destroy the Planet building: McTavish can assemble the volatile bomb, and Superman will be unable to interfere. Back at the office, Lois rails at Clark for his unwillingness to help convince Pepperwinkle the kryptonite must be destroyed. In a fury, she storms out of Kent’s office… and the scene was supposed to continue:

Jimmy sits down, looking at Kent coldly.

Kent: Come on, Jim. We’re still friends, aren’t we?

Jimmy: You’re my superior, Mister Kent. I get paid to take instructions from you. What would you like me to do?

Kent gives up and takes his seat behind the desk.

Kent: All right, Mister Olsen. I want you to help me figure where the next civil war or revolution is likely to break out. Check all the international news in these papers.

Jimmy: Yes sir, Mister Kent.

Jimmy takes a paper from the pile on Kent’s desk and begins leafing through it.

The three war profiteers abduct McTavish and Lois Lane, but leave Pepperwinkle tied up in his home, on the supposition that nobody will believe his story anyway — obviously forgetting that Superman had already been there. Then again, they’re not much worried about Superman anyway. The professor manages to use the telephone and gets a message to Jimmy Olsen, in a scene that was a little bit longer as written:

40. INT. KENT’S OFFICE — NIGHT

Kent and Jimmy are both busy poring through newspapers, clipping out specific items. Jimmy is very formal in his speech and manner. Kent pauses and looks thoughtfully into space.

Jimmy: Mr. Kent, may I call your attention to these items about Euratania?

Kent: (preoccupied) What, Jim? Oh, yes, Euratania.

Jimmy: I would like to advance the theory that the political situation there is following the same trend that led to war in…

Kent: She should have been back by now, don’t you think, Jim?

Jimmy: Who, may I ask, is it of whom you are speaking, Mister Kent?

In the episode, Jimmy’s “formal speech and manner” debuts with the above line, so it’s kind of unexpected. We understand why he’s doing it, but it still seems out of character when the situation is so opaque.

All the research scenes and discussions about civil war added a sinister edge to Chantler’s tale, putting it in the same vogue as his “Big Squeeze” and “Boy Who Hated Superman” back in season two. Without them, the emphasis rests solely on McTavish and the episode ultimately becomes inconsequential. Superman tries to stop McTavish and rescue Lois, but the kryptonite is too much for him. The bomb is assembled and put into a balloon that is guided electronically to Kent’s office. Pepperwinkle, of all people, saves Superman, so he can retrieve the bomb and frighten the conspirators into surrender. The professor removes the kryptonite from his electronic companion and all is well… and when he returns one last time, Pepperwinkle will once more be a comedic presence.

“Superman’s Wife” and “Three in One” were assigned to Lew Landers, who — under his real name, Louis Friedlander — directed both Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff in The Raven (1935) during his freshman year in the business. After nearly two decades of B-pictures, Landers moved into television in 1953, helming episodes of Terry and the Pirates, Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, Topper and countless others. For his two Superman segments, Landers freely utilized “big head” close-ups, which the industry had by then named after the man who’d brought them to TV. When a director wanted to fill the screen with a talking head, he’d simply tell his cameraman to “move in for a Jack Webb.”

Pro that he was, Landers had no difficulty with his assignment; both scripts were shot as written, with no omissions. “Superman’s Wife” featured voluptuous blonde Joi Lansing in the title role, actually a ruse designed to flush out an underworld gang led by the mysterious “Mister X” (John Eldridge). Lansing, up to then best known for her recurring role as model Shirley Swanson on The Bob Cummings Show [, was far and away the most glamorous guest star in _Superman history. She plays Sgt. Helen J. O’Hara of the Metropolis Police Force, and her performance is stellar; it’s one of Hollywood’s greatest tragedies that her talent was overshadowed by her beauty, as beheld by the industry’s movers and shakers. The episode would be top-notch, except for the crummy “exteriors” and Superman’s solution when he and his friends are trapped in a diving bell: he accesses the cable from the inside, slowly pulling the bell to the surface, yet without pulling himself off the floor in the process. As any physics major will tell you, it’s impossible.

“Three in One,” which Ellsworth wrote with Wilton Schiller, harkens back to radio’s “Is There Another Superman?” — a strong man is convinced by a couple of sharpies that he’s doing good deeds, while actually helping them commit robberies. The twist here is that all three characters are from the circus: Harman the Great, an escape artist (Sid Tomack), Pellini the Human Fly (Rick Vallin) and their unwitting dupe, Atlas (Buddy Baer). Combined, their jobs look as though they’ve been pulled by Superman, who is subsequently jailed by a reluctant Henderson. The resulting headlines only give Harman and Pellini more fuel with which to con Atlas. Once the good guys catch on, Henderson willingly permits Superman to escape from custody. It takes the Man of Steel no time to convince Atlas that he’s still on the side of the angels, and the two join forces to thwart Pellini and Harman.

When Ellsworth named his directors at the star of the year (for a blurb in The Hollywood Reporter), all were listed — even the supposed last-minute substitute, Tommy Carr — except one: George Reeves. No one ever asked Ellsworth why he permitted his star to helm the final three shows, neither did he volunteer the answer. Reeves had directed stage performances during the post-war 1940’s, and he’d joined the Director’s Guild of America in April 1957. Perhaps Reeves convinced his producer that he needed to branch out, since he probably wouldn’t be landing any serious acting jobs for quite a while, and Ellsworth complied. Whatever he thought of Reeves’ recent performances; whether or not he knew of any dressing room drinking bouts, to the end of his days, Ellsworth would insist “George was a pro.”

Three episodes will hardly support a valid skills assessment, but based on the evidence, Reeves did employ a certain flair behind the camera. His pacing is fine, he doesn’t fear close-ups or multiple set-ups during a scene, and when his camera dollys in, it’s for effect, not merely to save time. In short, his work is solid, within the context of low-budget episodic TV. As Larson put it, “You can’t compare [Sergei] Eisenstein to Tommy Carr or George. But directing traffic doesn’t just prevent people from bumping into one another. It’s how a scene is staged, whether we’re told, ‘faster, slower, pick up the lines, show a little more terror, or you’re terrific.’ George did all that exceptionally well.” Noel Neill believes, “We were so good at working together as a cast, that all George had to do was just have us say a line faster or slower, louder or softer. This is not to say that George was not a great director… the series typically did not give any director too many opportunities to show their greatness, and George was no exception.”

Shooting for Reeves’ directorial debut began on Monday, October 28; the cast and crew graciously autographed his call sheet. David Chantler’s script for “The Brainy Burro” includes yet another opening that was sacrificed for time, albeit one that was wholly expendable. The set-up scene was primarily for laughs, since the premise — a mind-reading burro in a small Mexican town — wasn’t very serious to begin with. But it would have cleared up why Lois and Jimmy were there:

INT. WHITE’S OFFICE — DAY — MED SHOT —WHITE

WHITE sits at his desk in one of his glowering disturbed moods. His lips are moving and he is gesturing with one hand much as if he is silently memorizing a speech or trying to recall a conversation word-for-word. He is too preoccupied to notice the o.s. SOUND of the door opening.

MED SHOT — KENT — AT THE DOOR

KENT pauses inside the door, looking at White curiously. He moves toward the desk, CAMERA PANNING him. White still barely notices him.

Kent: Am I disturbing something, Chief?

White: (looking up suddenly, but still deep in his puzzle) No, no, not at all… (he leans toward the intercom, flicking it on) Kent, will you come into my office.

TWO SHOT — KENT, WHITE — DIFFERENT ANGLE

Kent reacts sharply, peering at White.

Kent: Yes sir, be right in.

White: (still into the intercom) Good.

White flicks off the intercom and then looks up, now really aware of Kent.

White: (continuing) Say, that was quick.

Kent: (cautiously) Chief, is something bothering you?

White: Something is always bothering me. I just got a call from Lois and young Olsen.

Kent: (surprised) From Mexico?

White: Yes, a little town called El Pueblo. I should have known better… sending those two scatterbrains into Mexico to do a travel series.

Kent: (very alert) You sound as if they’re in trouble.

White: Oh, not the usual kind. They just wanted permission to bring back a… a live burro.

Kent: You mean one of those cute little donkeys?

White: Yes, but it seems this particular burro… what I mean is… that is to say this burro… (he stops, shaking his head) No, I didn’t hear them right. I couldn’t have.

Kent: If you tell me what they said…

White: It’s too fantastic. Kent, I want you to get to Mexico and see that they drive back immediately. You can fly down there in a matter of hours.

CLOSE SHOT — KENT

The idea secretly amuses him.

Kent: I guess I could at that.

TWO-SHOT — KENT, WHITE

White: They’re staying at the Hacienda Pueblo. Tell accounting to arrange for your ticket.

Kent: Probably be easier if I make my own arrangements. (he turns to leave, pauses and turns back) Don’t worry, Chief. What kind of trouble can a little burro get them into?

Kent leaves, CAMERA PANNING him to the door.

INT. PLANET CORRIDOR — STOREROOM DOOR — DAY (SPECIAL STOCK)

Kent approaches the door, looks around cautiously, then enters.

INT. WHITE’S OFFICE — DAY — MED SHOT — WHITE

Still seated behind his desk, deep in grave thought. He flicks on the intercom

White: Miss Perkins, will you have the commissary send me up a little burro… I mean a pot of black coffee.

He flicks off the switch, shaking his head in confusion.

Needless to say, the burro does get them into trouble when its owner, Pepe (Marc Cavell) is forced by two American hoodlums, Tiger (Mauritz Hugo) and Albert (Ken Mayer) to help them rob the El Pueblo bank. Carmelita, the burro, reads the bank president’s mind and relays the safe’s combination. Suave criminal that he is, Tiger plants some of the loot in Kent’s hotel room, forcing the reporter to abruptly leave Lois and Jimmy, who are promptly arrested, so he can operate as Superman. The Man of Steel works with Inspector Tomeo, a role that Reeves arranged for the casting of his oldest friend, Nati Vacio; with Carmelita’s help, they solve the robbery and apprehend the crooks. About the only drawback to an otherwise charming little story was Reeves’ inability to stage Superman’s interrogation of Carmelita so as to hide the fact that he’s manipulating the burro’s “yes” and “no” answers by tugging her harness.

The second half of the week went to Bellem and Ellsworth’s “The Perils of Superman,” the most celebrated episode of the season. What writer Gary Grossman termed “a good solid script” was shot almost exactly as written (the exception being a few sacrificed lines between Kent and Henderson — see Appendix IV). The Man of Tomorrow finds himself pitted against a new kind of “serial killer.” A lead-masked gang seeks revenge on Superman by getting back at his friends. Their scripted names are never mentioned, but the leader of this crew, Rogan (Michael Fox) has a thing for old-time movie serials. So, Lois is tied to the railroad tracks, to be done in by the Midwest Flyer; Perry is bound in the old lumber mill, to be halved by a circular saw; and Jimmy is driving on a cliffside highway in a car with its steering column and brakes having received an acid lube job.

Acid is also Clark Kent’s fate — a huge, boiling vat of it, which Rogan and his henchman Hale (Steve Mitchell) watch carefully until the nosy reporter is fully submerged. They don’t stay to witness Superman leap out of the vat, but no matter: once the Man of Steel rescues his friends post-haste, he ensures that Rogan and Hale share a jail cell. There they decide that nobody would ever believe the only possible reason Kent survived his acid bath. “I don’t even believe it myself,” concludes Rogan. “Perils” is a fun ride, slightly harmed by another staging error. In rescuing Perry, the script called for Superman to apply his chest to the saw blade, disabling it. On film, he crashes through the wall, dashes over to the saw, thrusts his chest forward; the blade loses its teeth and slows to a stop — but he’s nowhere near it. Blade and chest are separated by a good six inches. It almost appears that Superman is using heat vision to disable the saw, were it not for the teeth that come flying off (and if you look in the lower left corner of the screen, you’ll see the bar that removes the blade’s teeth).

Superman’s final episode — after nearly two decades of adventures over the airwaves — was the ultimate in wish fulfillment. In “All That Glitters,” Lois and Jimmy each get a taste of what it’s like to be a super hero, even if it’s only in young Olsen’s dreams. Bellem and Ellsworth intended to make use of the opening rescue scene deleted from “The Big Forget,” accompanied by narration: Jimmy reminding Lois of the dreadful experience. Summing up, he tells Miss Lane, “I was just thinking — wouldn’t it be swell if we could be like Superman? You know, fly through the air and crash through brick walls and all that? Golly, think how easy it would be to pick up front-page stories.” Lois reproaches her colleague: “No use daydreaming, Jimmy. You may as well make up your mind to it — we’ll never be able to do things like that.”

The intercom sounds and they’re summoned to the chief’s office for the scene that actually starts the episode. Pepperwinkle is back again, with a machine that will make gold out of scrap iron plus “a few odds and ends.” The government is appalled by what such a device would do to the economy, and they, along with Perry White, implore the professor to never use it again. The editor also demands that his staff keep the invention secret, directing particular emphasis toward Olsen. But, as was ever thus, Jimmy can’t contain his enthusiasm while he, Lois and Pepperwinkle are dining out. Two sets of ears, belonging to Nick Mitchell (Len Hendry) and Elbows Logan (Jack Littlefield) are very intrigued and forcibly persuade the inventor to provide them with a ton or two, giving him $10,000 in seed money.

Pepperwinkle figures he can stop the two crooks by dispatching them with sandbags when they return. Demonstrating his idea to Lois and Jimmy, the latter is knocked flat, and awakens in a haze. It’s here that Olsen begins his joyful dream, although as with Lois’ reverie in “The Wedding of Superman,” there’s just enough reality to keep an audience off-balance. Pepperwinkle announces he’s discovered the secret of Superman’s strength: “Positive kryptonite,” which he’s isolated from a meteor and converted into tablet form. After demonstrating its effectiveness with a small white mouse that can pull a safe across the floor, the two reporters are eager to try it for themselves.

Sure enough, they can bend crowbars, smash through walls, and fly through the air. Noel Neill, having already been fitted for Simonson’s hydraulic device for “The Magic Secret,” got to utilize it again, while Jack Larson employed the bar used by Reeves earlier in the year. “George suspended us above the set. It was great,” Neill recalled. “Absolutely fantastic! For once it looked as if our fantasies were acted out.” Theirs, and every other viewer’s. “Super Olsen” and his lovely counterpart track down and overpower the crooks, then return to Pepperwinkle’s lab… where Jimmy is promptly knocked out again, and this time awakens from fantasyland to the still-at-large — and now impatient — Nick and Elbows.

Demanding that the professor get down to business, they soon discover one of the “odds and ends” required for this machine is platinum, which makes the gold worth half its cost. (Don’t ask why this wasn’t brought up in the first place — you’ll spoil the fun.) Furious, the two hoods truss up the three helpless comrades and set dynamite to the infernal machine. Superman, naturally, makes a timely appearance to save everyone from the explosion. Back at the office, Jimmy laments that his super-feats were just the effects of a super-concussion. The final lines, as scripted:

Lois: Like I told you, Jimmy, you may as well make up your mind to it — none of us will ever be able to do the things Superman does.

Jimmy: (dolefully) No, I suppose not. (to Kent) But golly, Mister Kent — you’ll never know how wonderful it was to be like Superman!

And the CAMERA PUSHES IN on Kent as:

Kent: (smiling) No, I guess I won’t, Jimmy.

Fade out.

Nearly every episode of what turned out to be Superman’s final season shared a common thread: non-action on the part of the Man of Steel. In “The Magic Secret” and “The Gentle Monster,” he’s temporarily felled by kryptonite, to be rescued by Jimmy and Pepperwinkle, respectively. In “The Mysterious Cube” and “Divide and Conquer,” he’s forced to be “super” scientifically, rather than with brute force, and in “Divide,” he’s mostly in a weakened condition. He’s jailed in both “Divide” and “Three in One,” and in “Superman’s Wife,” he’s stuck in the diving bell. In “The Superman Silver Mine,” he catches the crook with a magnet, standing still. “The Big Forget’s” big thrill is seeing Kent divulge his true identity in front of his friends, everything else is meh. Carmelita is the real star of “The Brainy Burro,” as are Lois and Jimmy in “All That Glitters.” Only “The Last Knight” and “The Perils of Superman” give us the hero of old; in the rest, Superman is more of a shadow: he’s clearly there, but we don’t see him as he really is.

Within days after “All That Glitters” wrapped, Ellsworth and writer/director Cal Howard shot a pilot for a genuine kiddy show, Adventures of Super Pup. A variation of the Superman story aimed at a Captain Kangaroo demographic, Super Pup featured little people in dog costumes (including “Mr. Zero” himself, Billy Curtis, in the title role, alias “Bark Bent, star reporter of the Daily Bugle”) running around the Superman sets. Mel Shaw, who’d designed the original Howdy Doody marionette, created the dog heads. The Ellsworth-Howard script contained no lines of dialogue, as the film was shot silent; music and voices were overdubbed later. Special effects were held to a minimum and incorporated Ben Chapman’s idea of flying. The plot included the requisite kidnapping of the femme reporter, Pamela Poodle (Ruth Delfino), one of the nefarious doings of evil Professor Sheepdip (Harry Monty), whose laboratory looked remarkably like Pepperwinkle’s. Inevitably, the mighty mutt, who was “able to fly around the world faster than you can say ‘Super Pup,’” rescued Pamela and dispatched Sheepdip and his brainless henchwolf. Ellsworth received so little venture capital from National Comics, he made up the difference out of his own pocket. When it was all finished, National brass politely thanked the producer (perhaps they patted him on the head), and then spent the better part of 50 years pretending Adventures of Super Pup didn’t exist, even after the pilot was distributed on bootleg videos.

The final thirteen Superman episodes aired over ABC Television from February through April 1958. They took over from season two reruns without fanfare, and were just as quietly followed by the second run of season five. One wonders if Reeves tuned in to watch his directorial debut or his most recent acting stint. And if he did, perhaps he wondered why he was home watching, instead of at a studio directing or acting.

George Reeves makes a surprise appearance on television’s number one show, I Love Lucy, 1956.

George Reeves signs autographs in the Hess toy department, and wonders why Bud Collyer can be pictured on the Beat the Clock game, while his face can’t be on the Calling Superman game, 1956.

Superman (George Reeves) serves the salad in Hess’ cafeteria, 1956.

Jimmy Olsen (Jack Larson) and Inspector Henderson (Robert Shayne) are rescued by Superman (George Reeves) in “Disappearing Lois,” 1956.

From left to right: Natividad Vacio, George Reeves, Hon Hollington and Freddie Hernandez perform at the Colorado State Fair, August 1957.

George Reeves tries some “knight flying” in “The Last Knight,” 1957. The mat is underneath because he’s on an unsecured device, courtesy of unit manager Ben Chapman.

A prematurely aged Whitney Ellsworth looks at his star, who would like to direct, October 1957. Ellsworth was about four weeks’ from his 49th birthday.

Superman (George Reeves) calls Inspector Henderson in a scene that was deleted from “The Mysterious Cube,” 1957.

Directing at last: George Reeves calls the shots and cinematographer Joseph Biroc gets them on film, 1957.

Perry White (John Hamilton) about to be rescued by Superman in the Reeves-directed “The Perils of Superman,” 1957.

Epilogue

Truth and Justice

By May of 1959, Kellogg’s was still sponsoring Superman, still airing everywhere once a week. When production ended in November of 1957, the cast and crew hadn’t necessarily assumed their paydays from Superman, Incorporated were over, as the company retained option rights on everybody’s contracts. But there had been no hint of future activity for nearly eighteen months. Between comic book assignments, Whit Ellsworth was busily plugging Super Pup, with little or no encouragement from the home office, when, almost out of the blue, Kellogg’s sent word that they were interested in buying 26 new Superman episodes.

The re-edited negatives of the 1951 shows were finally showing signs of wear after seven years of striking positive prints. The masters of Robert Maxwell’s original edits were still in the vault and new dupes could be made from them, but the versions that would result were as unacceptable to Kellogg’s in 1959 as they were in 1952. That left only two options: either reduce the package to 78 episodes, or shoot 26 new ones to replace the first season. The series was still popular enough to make the second option worthwhile.

The first to be approached, naturally, was George Reeves. While the idea was still under consideration, Reeves told a reporter that he was willing to return. “National Comics may have to start shooting again to bring the total (episode count) up,” he informed UPI’s Henri Gris. “When this happens, I’ll not only star in my familiar double role, but also direct and probably will tackle the producing as well. I’m very interested in both producing and directing. In fact, I directed the last three.” The “producing” claim might have taken Ellsworth by surprise, assuming he read Gris’ article, but he would have understood that Reeves was simply reminding Hollywood that he was willing and able to work behind the camera.

Through the end of May and into early June, the others would be contacted. Sadly, one who couldn’t return was John Hamilton; he had passed away from heart failure in October of 1958. Noel Neill recalled that Pierre Watkin — Perry White of the two Superman serials — was engaged to play White’s brother for the new group. Everyone remembered being told that the shoot was for 26 episodes, although memories varied as to whether they would be filmed over one or two years.

Neill dropped by Ziv Studios on Saturday, June 13, and found Reeves playing cards with George Blair. Her recollection was of a man delighted to get back to work, telling her that he and Blair would each direct 13 segments. Reeves had already confided to Gris that he was “not too unhappy the first batch of 26 is becoming unusable. Those early ones did contain some undesirable ‘bloody elements,’ but since then we’ve changed, and 99% of our episodes are now gore-free.” Of course, Reeves was a much happier camper under Ellsworth’s tent, and a better paid one to boot, and he was not about to mourn the loss of the only episodes for which he did not receive residuals.

Pat Ellsworth has said that her father called his star on Monday, June 15, telling him that Kellogg’s had put up the funding; all systems were go and production would definitely resume in September. Tragically, within 24 hours those plans would be forever abandoned, when a gunshot ended the life of George Reeves. In an attempt to keep the sponsor’s money, Mort Weisinger proposed a Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen series that would use stock footage of Reeves for the action sequences, but Jack Larson turned it down almost as soon as the words were out of Weisinger’s mouth.

On January 15, 1960, Jack Walsh — the self-professed “world’s strongest man” — announced from his home in Trenton New Jersey that he’d just signed a contract to become TV’s new Superman, to the tune of 26 episodes at $800 each. The 30-year-old Walsh had become known over the previous decade for heavy-lifting stunts: hoisting a 2,700-pound elephant (and its 180-pound trainer) overhead, supporting a 12-ton fire truck on his chest (which subsequently broke a couple of his ribs), keeping a DC-3 jet from taking off. The story made the UPI wire service, and most papers played up Walsh’s comment that, at 5’10”, he’d need to wear lifts in his boots to reach Superman’s height. Walsh was actually five-foot-six-and-a-half, and it soon became clear to everyone that no quantity of lifts would turn him into another Reeves. Walsh was quietly released from the contract; the story quietly vanished. And that was that.

Kellogg’s relinquished sponsorship in the spring. Superman was put into daily syndication by fall, although some markets continued to present it weekly. Flamingo Films issued a flyer promoting the series as “The highest-rated children’s show in the history of television,” and backed it up with its ranking in various cities as noted by Variety’s syndication charts during the Kellogg’s years. Flamingo also mentioned awards from such organizations as the Council of Protestant Episcopal Churches, United Parents Association of New York, National Conference of Christians and Jews, Layman’s National Committee and several others, adding, “all commend SUPERMAN’S struggle for tolerance, and his fight against juvenile delinquency” — omitting that the honors were for the radio serial, not the TV show.

With the arrival of a new agreement between the Screen Actor’s Guild and the Producers’ Association that same year, “The Unknown People” was included in the syndication package; viewers could finally see the adventure that had been previewed at the close of “Crime Wave” for the previous eight years. Over time, as the “Kellogg’s negatives” passed into oblivion, they were gradually replaced with the original edits, which is why countless viewers recall different versions of certain first season episodes.

By February 1961, Superman was flying again in 35 markets, including all the majors; that same year Jack Liebowitz renamed the company National Periodical Publications and brought it to the stock market. But it was in the fall of 1965, when the 52 color negatives were retrieved from the vault, that the show once again struck gold. The timing was perfect: ABC-TV’s Batman, although conceived by producer William Dozier as an exercise in camp humor, debuted as a smash hit the following January. Suddenly superheroes were cool again. Now visible in glorious comic book color, the Adventures of Superman never looked better — and zoomed to the top of the syndication rating charts.

Prior to the color release, the canny Liebowitz had bought out Flamingo’s interest and National Periodical established its own distribution outlet: Superman TV Corporation. With that success came new projects: It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s Superman, a Broadway musical starring Jack Cassidy, with Bob Holiday in the title role; and The New Adventures of Superman, a Saturday-morning cartoon series that reunited Bud Collyer, Joan Alexander and Jackson Beck, courtesy of its producer, Allen Ducovny. Twenty-six years after Bob Maxwell’s radio series sold its first box of Hecker’s Oats, Superman had come full circle.

Even the launch of a brand new franchise in 1977, with the first of four feature films starring Christopher Reeve, didn’t signal the end of Superman on television. Local stations continued to air the program into the 1980’s, whereupon it moved to cable TV, then home video, and into the new millennium. Adventures of Superman, now held in the same regard as I Love Lucy, Gunsmoke, Twilight Zone, Star Trek and other television classics, continues to capture the imagination of young and old, as it has done since its very first airing back in 1952.

So what happened to the principal players in our story?

Most of those behind the scenes pretty much continued along their chosen paths. Harry Donenfeld had retired by the mid-1950’s, turning his share of the business over to his son Irwin. He passed away in 1965, reportedly at the age of 71. Jack Liebowitz and Irwin Donenfeld sold National Periodicals to Kinney National Services in 1968; Kinney had also acquired Warner Bros. and the two entities were merged in 1969 (with Warner Bros. Television assuming distribution of the TV series). Upon the merger, the comic book division reverted to its original name, DC Comics. Liebowitz retired the following year, but remained a Warner board member, through additional mergers and acquisitions, into his nineties. He died at age 100 in 2000. Mort Weisinger also retired in 1970, then set himself up as official spokesperson (and primary influence) on all things Superman — much to the dismay of those who did the actual work — until his death in 1978 at age 63. His best friend, fellow DC editor Julius Schwartz, had long before suggested an appropriate epitaph: “Here lies Mort Weisinger… as usual,” and ever since his passing, writers, artists and editors have spent countless hours at various comic book conventions setting the record straight.

Allen Ducovny joined the Kenyon & Eckhart agency as an assistant director of radio and TV in 1948, where he worked on everything from Tom Corbett, Space Cadet to Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town, before moving on to the William C. D’Arcy agency in 1954. As noted, he produced the Saturday morning New Adventures of Superman for CBS, and eventually succeeded Fred Silverman as head of Children’s Programming for that network. “Duke,” as he was known to friends and associates, passed on in 2002.

Post-Superman, Jack Johnstone went on to write and direct for The Man Called X and Richard Diamond, Private Detective during the 1940’s, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar and Six Shooter (with Jimmy Stewart) during the ‘50’s. Johnstone literally remained in dramatic radio to the very end: he scripted the final episodes of Suspense and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, both of which aired over CBS on September 30, 1962, the day that spelled finis to the old-time radio era. Johnstone died at age 85 in 1991. Conversely, George Lowther left radio for TV early on, joining the ill-fated DuMont Network as an executive producer in 1945. In 1963, he became the supervisor of instructors at Westport Famous Writers’ School, but continued to script on a freelance basis. In the last year of his life, Lowther returned to his roots, contributing over 30 scripts to the CBS Radio Mystery Theatre (reworking at least one of his Superman storylines for that series) prior to his death in 1975 at age 62.

After upgrading Superman, Olga Druce became writer — then producer and director — for another Mutual juvenile series, House of Mystery, created in 1945 by the Benton & Bowles agency for their client, General Foods. B&B called on her again in 1952, assigning her to DuMont Television’s cheesy Captain Video. Claiming, “I didn’t want the show to be laughed at,” she asked Arthur C. Clarke to assist her with both upgrading the writing staff and designing a better spacecraft set. Most historians agree that Druce steered Captain Video away from schlock toward genuine science fiction. She passed away in 2004 at age 92.

Mitchell Grayson continued with Kenyon & Eckhart after Kellogg’s dropped the Superman radio series, directing Girl Intern on radio, then Somerset Maugham Theatre for TV, before Red Channels slowed his career. Grayson worked quietly as a producer for New Jersey’s lackluster WNTA — channel 13 prior to becoming a New York-based PBS station — in the early 1960’s, then moved over to Group W Productions. Grayson passed away at age 63 in 1979.

Ben Peter Freeman actually retired from show biz after Superman’s debut TV season, opting for a career as sales manager for his brother’s construction company in Chicago. Amazingly, nobody seems to have interviewed him about his contribution to the Man of Steel’s radio and television legacy. Freeman died in 1992 at age 91. Jackson Gillis, on the other hand, moved from Superman to the Mickey Mouse Club, creating and scripting the Spin and Marty mini-series. Gillis worked his way up to head writer for Perry Mason and executive story consultant for Columbo, while still freelancing for Lassie, Tarzan, Lost in Space, Mission: Impossible, Murder She Wrote and countless others. Gillis even turned in two scripts for Wonder Woman, but perhaps his sweetest moment came when he received story credit — and presumably payment and residuals — for the 1994 remake of “Panic in the Sky” produced for the first season of Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, without having to lift a finger!

David Chantler wasn’t quite so prolific — Adventures of Superman remains his most significant achievement in television. Chantler contributed scripts to Lassie and Richard Diamond (the TV series) concurrent with his Superman work, and then gradually tapered off to a less-stressful life as a novelist. Sister Peggy went to work for Screen Gems’ situation comedy department in 1959, becoming story consultant for Dennis the Menace and Hazel, and head writer for The Farmer’s Daughter. She passed away in 2001. Robert Leslie Bellem continued with freelance TV work, and served as story consultant for the first season of The F.B.I. Bellem died in 1968.

Lee Sholem parlayed his Mole Men screen credit into more low-budget theatrical features such as Tobor the Great and Ma and Pa Kettle at Waikiki. But his true niche was the home screen and he carved a career at Warner Bros. Television; 77 Sunset Strip, Maverick, Cheyenne, Sugarfoot, Bronco and Colt .45 were all grist for Sholem’s mill. He died in 2000 at age 87. Tommy Carr occasionally returned to Monogram’s idea of the wild west in between TV assignments, which included steady gigs with Steve McQueen on Wanted: Dead or Alive, and Clint Eastwood on Rawhide. Both future stars gave him fits: “Eastwood was never an actor. That taciturn Fistful of Dollars bit isn’t acting,” he told Jeff Kisseloff. To Chuck Harter, Carr griped, “One of Steve McQueen’s big problems [was] he always made the same turns, the same faces… no matter if he was playing a pony doctor, or a hold-up man, or a banker, or anything else. He was always Steve McQueen.” Carr passed away at age 89 in 1997.

As he’d done with Superman, George Blair alternated with Carr on Wanted: Dead or Alive’s second season. Blair then moved on to Lassie until 1960, when he decided to retire, although he returned just once the following year as a favor to Whit Ellsworth. Blair died in 1970, age 64. Declaring he’d “rather edit good pictures again than direct bad ones,” Harry Gerstad returned to the editor’s room in 1958 until his retirement in the mid-1970’s. Gerstad passed away at age 93 in 2002. Phil Ford was directing Lassie concurrent with his Superman assignments, then quit the business in 1958. Ford died in 1976 at age 75.

The same year that Michael Fitzmaurice became Superman, he took over as narrator of M.G.M.’s News of the Day, which lasted until 1967 when newsreels finally bowed out of movie theatres, the only true victims of television. Fitzmaurice also voiced several radio and TV commercials until he passed away from lymphoma at age 59 on August 31, 1967.

Phyllis Coates, “the Lois Lane that screams,” found that she’d left a steady job for a pilot that didn’t sell, although Here Comes Calvin did air as an episode of GE Theatre on February 21, 1954. The actress returned to westerns and TV guest shots, and portrayed the Panther Girl of the Congo in Republic Pictures’ final serial. By the mid-1960’s, Coates decided she’d had enough of quick-and-cheap work, and semi-retired to the north of California, emerging only for the occasional summer stock production. She returned to the Superman spotlight in 1995, playing Lois Lane’s mother in the final episode of Lois and Clark’s first season, at the request of series co-star Teri Hatcher. Ironically, Coates once again chose not to return for future seasons, and Beverly Garland took the role for the rest of Lois and Clark’s run.

As previously noted, the ailing John Hamilton passed away in Glendale, California, at age 71, on October 15, 1958. Exactly six weeks later in New York City, his radio counterpart Julian Noa died at age 79. Up to then, Noa had continued in radio, live television and the theatre; distinguishing himself in the role of Welch, owner of the Washington Senators, in both the Broadway and road companies of Damn Yankees.

To the end of his days, Jackson Beck lamented the loss of network radio drama. “Radio was the theater of the imagination and I think there’s very little imagination required if it’s all laid out in front of you,” he said in 1975. “That’s the great thing about radio. You heard a voice, you heard sound effects, and you dressed the set. It was all yours and nobody else could intrude.” After Superman ended for him in 1950, Beck had plenty of other work, including as the perennial voice of Bluto, Popeye’s thorn-in-the-side, for Paramount’s cartoon series. On television, Beck opened and closed each episode of Tom Corbett, Space Cadet on behalf of Kellogg’s, and was the announcer for the 1958-59 Steve Canyon series. But it was in commercials — hundreds upon hundreds of them — that the distinctive Jackson Beck remained active and vital for nearly half a century. The New York native was always a welcome presence at various old-time radio conventions, until a series of strokes claimed him in 2004 at age 92.

Robert Shayne continued appearing in movies, television and on stage, but found his greatest joy lecturing to college students majoring in acting, and in forming a theatre group in his Ventura County hometown. In both, he could impart the wisdom that came with vast experience, having worked in venues good and bad, with only one goal in mind: bettering the actor’s life. Whatever frustration he felt while playing a one-dimensional caricature in a cheap production “sweatshop,” Shayne weighed against four decades of love from Superman fans, and realized just how fortunate he’d been. “The love of his fans sustained him in his old age,” recalled his daughter, Stephanie Shayne Parkin. “A very sweet and humble man, he just never thought he’d done anything memorable. To be remembered with such devotion by so many people literally gave him some extra years.” At age 89, he took a recurring role as Reggie, a blind newsvendor, in another DC-inspired TV series, 1989’s The Flash. Shayne passed away in December 1992.

Jackie Kelk moved over to television in 1949, assuming his radio role of Henry Aldrich’s best friend Homer Brown, on The Aldrich Family. Two years later, he got his own starring sitcom on NBC, Young Mr. Bobbin, which unfortunately lasted only one season. For the next several years, Kelk alternated between television, movies and the stage; appearing on Broadway (Me and Juliet), in sitcoms (Leave it to Beaver, The Donna Reed Show) and in films such as The Pajama Game and Somebody Up There Likes Me. But by the 1960’s he’d had his fill of performing and became a casting director for the McCann-Erickson ad agency. Kelk died in 2002.

Any ambition that Jack Larson harbored toward serious acting was thwarted when cast for a Mervyn LeRoy film in 1961: the veteran producer fired him at first sight. “He started castigating the casting director right in front of me, saying, ‘I can’t have him in my film! He’s Jimmy Olsen,’” Larson remembered 45 years later. Advised by Montgomery Clift that things weren’t going to improve, Larson focused on writing — plays, librettos for Virgil Thompson and Irving Fine, dramatic poems set to ballet, operettas — and resumed acting only when specifically requested (such as by his friend Jim Nabors for a role on Gomer Pyle, USMC). In the 1970’s, Larson teamed with director James Bridges to form the production company responsible for such films as The China Syndrome (1979), Urban Cowboy (1980) and Bright Lights, Big City (1988). From 1988-91, he hosted an annual “Superman Marathon” for WOR-TV in New York each Thanksgiving, introducing his favorite episodes and those of fans worldwide.

Interviewed by the New York Times in 1998, Larson could look back with pride and perspective: “Everywhere I go, I get the warmest feelings from people about Jimmy. They love him, and I grew to feel that I could never have done anything more special than be Jimmy Olsen.” Today mostly in retirement, Larson occasionally returns to “Superman World,” portraying an elderly Jimmy in a 1996 episode of Lois and Clark, and most recently a character part in Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns (2006).

Joan Alexander moved easily to television, and her witty personality assured her a place on several panel and game shows, including Pantomime Quiz and The Name’s the Same. But she was unwilling to trade her privacy for a too-visible celebrity status, and eagerly retired to wife-and-motherhood. In 1966, she returned to the role of Lois Lane for The New Adventures of Superman cartoon series, and afterwards occasionally accepted stage and voiceover work.

When Superman wrapped in 1957, Noel Neill eschewed acting for domestic life and the Santa Monica beach. That respite lasted about 10 years, after which she took up secretarial work more out of boredom than any financial need. In 1974, while employed as a sales rep for United Artists Television, Ms. Neill was invited to speak about her years as “Miss Lane” at Monmouth College in New Jersey. She did so, and was greeted by over a thousand students with a prolonged standing ovation. Neill went on to speak at more than 50 colleges and universities over the next four years. In 1977, she was asked to make a quick cameo in Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie (1978) that reunited her with serial costar Kirk Alyn. The part, mother to a grammar school aged Lois Lane, turned out to be even quicker than planned. Most of it was excised from the theatrical release; fortunately the full scene was later restored for the network television broadcast and Special Edition DVD.

In the early 1980’s, Noel became actor Tom Selleck’s personal assistant, a position she held for the next two decades. During her free time, she appeared at film festivals, autograph shows and celebrity conventions, as well as on various television shows, celebrating her years as “Superman’s Girlfriend.” In 2003, she collaborated on her biography, Truth, Justice and the American Way, authored by Larry Thomas Ward. That same year she was named “First Lady of Metropolis (Illinois)” at their annual Superman Celebration, and in 2006 she returned to the screen with the first scene (and first line) in Superman Returns.

In September 1956, Robert Maxwell sold his interest in Lassie to Jack Wrather for $3.2 million — about as good a return on his $2,000 investment as could be expected. For a time, he developed new series for Television Programs of America (TPA), the company that now oversaw Lassie production. The only one to reach the air was Cannonball, tales of a truck driver and assistant who work routes between Toronto and Detroit. The premise allowed Maxwell to set up production across the border; he would return to the cost-friendly Canada for the remainder of his career.

Another project planned for the 1958 season, Thunder Ridge, tried to go Lassie one better: “In this series, we have a kid who has a sort of menagerie of five or six assorted wild animals he has domesticated,” said Maxwell in 1957: “A deer, a raccoon, a skunk, and so on. [What we’re doing] right now is to get infants of the various species and have them raised together, so they’ll be used to each other. As a matter of fact, we’re having two such groups raised for us.” Despite this costly effort, or perhaps because of it, Thunder Ridge failed to materialize. Meanwhile, Cannonball lasted only a year.

M.G.M., which had given away their Lassie rights to trainer Rudd Weatherwax, brought Maxwell on board in hopes that he could make lightning strike again by producing series’ based on their other film properties. The deal included partial ownership of the shows, but unfortunately National Velvet (NBC, 1960) and Father of the Bride (CBS, 1961) failed to match the appeal of the venerable collie.

Maxwell was no more fortunate in his private life. After his 1950’s divorce from Jessica (who, by 1958, was a casting director for TPA), he married Dusty Bruce, described in a 1949 Walter Winchell column as “a western disk-jockess.” Bruce also did occasional stage acting. Alas, before the decade was over, the second Mrs. Maxwell filed a million-dollar divorce suit claiming mental cruelty — which by then had become the standard “opt-out clause” for Hollywood marriages.

In 1964, Maxwell moved to Toronto full time, where he produced additional series for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He also retained ties with M.G.M., which distributed a film he’d written and co-produced with Canadian director John Trent in 1969, The Bushbaby. On February 3, 1971, just three days past his 63rd birthday, Maxwell suffered a fatal heart attack, leaving his third wife, Barbara, and her two sons from a previous marriage.

In April 1961, Whitney Ellsworth reunited at Ziv with George Blair, ‘Si’ Simonson and Ben Chapman to produce a pilot of the Adventures of Superboy. It was a logical decision: Superboy had been appearing successfully in comics since 1945. John Rockwell, a novice who was appearing in another pilot on the Ziv lot, heard about the new series and, while on a break, walked into Ellsworth’s office and announced, “You don’t have to look any further. I can fly.” If the cheekiness of this approach didn’t already remind the producer of George Reeves, Rockwell’s warm smile cinched it. Ellsworth wrote 13 scripts with collaborators Robert Leslie Bellem, Vernon E. Clark and Paul Harber. Then he selected one, “Rajah’s Ransom” (co-written with Clark), for the pilot. Filming went smoothly; the search for a sponsor did not. General Mills’ ad agency expressed interest, thinking of pairing the “incredible Boy of Steel” with Wheaties, but the cereal company nixed it on the grounds that Superman and Kellogg’s had been together so long, the public would forget which product they were supposed to buy. No one else came forward, and after a year the Adventures of Superboy died on the vine.

With that, Ellsworth retreated to his Ventura County home and scripted the Superman and Batman newspaper strips off-and-on for the next eight years. Ever the company man, in 1965 he was summoned to 20th Century-Fox to consult on the Batman TV series, but left after two frustrating weeks when he saw what William Dozier and writer Lorenzo Semple, Jr. had in mind. “He was supposed to be an advisor [but] nobody would listen,” recalled his daughter Pat. “To camp up the show, in his view, insulted the [concept] and the characters.” Ellsworth retired in 1970, but the stress of all he’d been through eventually caught up with this gentle man. The years of heavy smoking led to emphysema, which claimed him on September 7, 1980 at age 71. The same illness took his wife Jane in 1991; their daughter succumbed to the effects of Myasthenia Gravis in 2007.

Bud Collyer had no cause to stress over his professional life. Beat the Clock lasted 11 years, and in 1956 he moved into another long-running hit, To Tell the Truth, which ran weekly in prime time for a decade, and weekday afternoons for six years beginning in 1962. Throughout, he was one of the most beloved game and panel show hosts of the fifties and sixties. Explaining his approach to the job in 1958, Collyer said, “I just try to be sincere, put people completely at ease and convince them that I’m their friend. That’s all I want to do.” That same year, UPI’s TV critic William Ewald described him as “genial without being overbearing about it… he snaps off (To Tell the Truth) at a brisk pace without getting hubba-hubba.” His commitment to Christian faith resulted in two inspirational books, Thou Shalt Not Fear and With the Whole Heart.

In 1966, when he was about to resume the Kent/Superman roles for the Saturday-morning cartoon series, Collyer reflected on the character(s): “I loved Superman, the guy who could fly through the air. The idea that there is someone, somewhere, that you could be like if you were impervious to bullets, if you were able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, if you were able to do all these things, and I think that every small boy, especially at some time in his growing up, goes to bed at night imagining all the things that he would have done if! This is the great thing of imagination.

“So many people get the least bit embarrassed by fantasy when they’re directing it or performing it and it loses all the great charm it could have, but if played honestly and whole-hog all the way, it’s great… I think there’s too little of that. There should be more.” Collyer even recreated a 1944 Superman broadcast on The Tonight Show in April 1969, with Beck announcing and Johnny Carson portraying Jimmy Olsen. In a radio retrospective article a few months later, critic Joel Siegel wrote, “When the announcer, Jackson Beck, said, ‘There’s 60 seconds of excitement in every minute of tomorrow’s episode, gang, so be sure to tune in tomorrow…’ you could hear the audience sigh.” To the end, Collyer believed in what he was doing and carried listeners along for the ride.

Less than six months later, on September 8, Bud Collyer died of a circulatory ailment at age 61. He had suffered from vascular issues for several years; in 1963, he’d collapsed at CBS studios from a blood clot in his right leg. Three weeks prior to his death, Collyer entered Greenwich Hospital for treatment, but the disease had taken its toll. It was too soon a passing for the still-energetic and personable man, but at least he departed with a clear understanding of the value in his work as the Man of Steel.

The final question is: did Collyer’s television counterpart have the same perspective at the end of his life? Sadly, as with so many things surrounding the life and death of George Reeves, there is no answer; only speculation.

As reported by the Los Angeles Police Department, in the early morning hours of June 16, 1959, Reeves excused himself from a group of partygoers in his home, went upstairs to his bedroom, stripped off his bathrobe, took a loaded Luger automatic from a nightstand drawer, put the barrel to his right temple and pulled the trigger. The guests beneath him were mostly intoxicated, but all instantly realized what must have happened. One ran upstairs to investigate and found Reeves dead, the gun on the floor at his feet.

At the time of his death, there were four others in the house: Reeves’ fiancée Leonore Lemmon, journalist Robert Condon, neighbor Carol Van Ronkel and William “Bud” Bliss, “a personal friend of the deceased,” or so he told police. Reeves, who hadn’t boxed since his college days, had reportedly accepted a two-round exhibition bout with world light-heavyweight champ Archie Moore in San Diego for Wednesday, June 17, and had presumably planned to make the four-hour drive that Tuesday. Condon, a friend of Lemmon’s, was ghost-writing Moore’s autobiography.

According to the Death Report submitted by Sgt V.A. Peterson, LAPD, West Los Angeles Division, Reeves retired to his bedroom at midnight, as did Condon. Lemmon was also planning to turn in when, at about 12:15 a.m., Bliss and Van Ronkel rang the doorbell. Lemmon invited them in. Reeves came downstairs and “became upset and irritated by the arrival of the two guests at such a late hour.” He and Bliss argued for a few minutes, then Reeves apologized for the outburst. Conversation continued until about 1:15 a.m., when Reeves “excused himself and said he was going to bed.”

The next part warrants quoting the report in full: “As (Reeves) started to walk up the steps, Mrs.[sic] Lemmon stated ‘He is going to shoot himself.’ At that time they could hear a dresser drawer being opened upstairs in the decedent’s bedroom and as he opened the drawer she said, ‘‘He is getting the gun out now, and he is going to shoot himself.’ A few minutes later a shot was heard and Miss Lemmon asked Mr. Bliss to go up and see what had happened.” In their statements to the detectives, both Lemmon and Bliss affirmed that this happened. Condon, who had remained in his bedroom during all this, volunteered an opinion that Reeves “had been despondent due to lack of work, but I did not think he was despondent to the point that he would shoot himself.”

Bliss went upstairs, observed Reeves, went back downstairs and told the others that he was dead. The report: “They then discussed the situation for approx. 10 to 15 minutes and then called the police.” Upon arrival, the officers saw “the deceased lying on his back cross ways on his bed in a nude condition. Deceased was lying in a large pool of blood and appeared to have been dead some time prior to officer arrival. There was a .30 caliber German Luger lying on the floor between the deceased’s feet. Officers obs[erved] that a bullet wound had passed through the deceased’s head and had lodged in the ceiling of the room in a westerly direction approx. 12’ above and away from the deceased’s body. The shell casing was found on the bed under the deceased’s body. The bathrobe that he had appeared in was laying (sic) on the foot of the bed. Officers were unable to find any notes or messages giving or stating any reasons for his actions.”

The detectives interviewed all of the witnesses except Mrs. Van Ronkel; her husband arrived and abruptly took her home just as questioning began. The other three stated that Reeves had been despondent, “being he was unable to get the type of acting work that he wanted.” In keeping with departmental policy, the Coroner’s office was called; a rep from Gates, Kingsley & Gates Mortuary took custody of the body, while the Coroner sealed the house. Later that morning, the mortuary would receive a telegram from Reeves’ mother, Helen Bessolo, authorizing them to handle the funeral arrangements, with “absolutely no cremation.”

Deputy Medical Examiner Alexander Griswold, M.D., performed the initial examination, noting that the wound of entrance was 5/8” x 3/4” right temple, and the wound of exit 1/4” stellate, left temple. (This last measurement was probably an error, as we shall see.) Griswold submitted a blood sample to the lab at 10:00 a.m., and the result came back three days later: ethanol .27%. Today, this would be considered more than three times the point of intoxication, which is fixed at .08% in nearly every state. An alcohol level that elevated, no less than nine hours after death, denotes that Reeves was drinking both heavily and steadily throughout Monday — possibly from the moment of Ellsworth’s phone call.

Reeves’ body was embalmed and prepared for his funeral. Then things got weird.

The press, of course, picked up on Lemmon’s “prediction” that Reeves would shoot himself and ran with it. One account quoted Lemmon as saying, “I had a premonition he was going to shoot himself. Then we heard the shot.” An Associated Press dispatch claimed, “Miss Lemmon said she jokingly remarked, ‘Well he’ll probably shoot himself.’” There were other discrepancies. Gwen Dailey, wife of actor Dan Dailey and a friend of Lemmon’s, told reporters that Reeves “told me ‘At last I know exactly what I’m doing, and where I’m going, and I’ve never been so happy.’” On the flip side, Lemmon herself affirmed that her beau “had been depressed for months and months.” She also went on Walter Winchell’s radio program that evening and spoke at length about a rival for Reeves’ affections, “the wife of a prominent studio executive,” who had threatened to kill her and made nuisance phone calls to Reeves’ house “twenty times a day.” As if that weren’t enough, she and Ms. Dailey broke the coroner’s seal, tore all the sheets off the bed and threw them into the bathtub, then tried to walk out with two cases of Scotch. Art Weissman, executor for the estate, arrived at that moment and threw them out.

Next, Helen Bessolo thundered into town. Suspicious of the houseguests and their official story, affirming that Reeves “made no mention of an impending marriage” to her, and inquiring to the whereabouts of $4,000 in cash that she’d sent her son, Mrs. Bessolo announced that she’d engaged lawyer Jerry Geisler, the famed “attorney to the stars,” to investigate Reeves’ death. Both were particularly alarmed that the body had been embalmed without a full autopsy, and promptly demanded one. The LAPD complied, and coroner Theodore J. Curphey — the doctor who would soon train his successor, Thomas Noguchi — conducted the examination on the afternoon of June 23.

Interestingly, the first draft of Curphey’s report contains different wound measurements than the final version. The right temporal entry wound is described as “an irregularly stellate opening, measuring 7/8 × 5/8 inches in greatest dimensions, the margins of this wound at the skin surface show inward beveling. The surface of the skin surrounding the opening shows dark rim of discoloration, approximately 1/4 of an inch in the maximum width.” This is close to Dr. Griswold’s initial measurement of “5/8” x 3/4” right temple.” The draft continues with the following description of the left temporal exit wound: “This wound is irregularly stellate in outline, and measures an inch to an inch and a quarter in greatest dimensions. Its margins are slightly overted. The margin of the opening on the external surface shows hemorrhagic discoloration to a minimal degree.”

All of the above statements were omitted from the final report. On the draft copy, they are crossed out and hand-written notes indicate that, since the wounds had been sewn by the embalmer prior to the examination, Dr. Griswold’s original measurements from his June 16 medical report should be inserted. Thus, the exit wound would be reduced from “an inch to an inch and a quarter in greatest dimensions” down to “1/4” stellate” in the final version. One of the points of contention regarding the autopsy report is that an exit wound from a bullet is characteristically larger than an entry wound. Critics point to this anomaly as an indication that the investigation of Reeves’ death was poorly handled. However, a possibility exists that the original measurement was incorrectly recorded on the form, and that the error carried over to the autopsy.

At a press conference, Curphey made the following statement: “An examination of the bones of the head and brain established the fact that the fatal wound was of a close contact nature, with the gun pressed against the skin, producing extensive fracturing of the skull and marked damage to the brain along the wound track.” Because neither the report nor Curphey’s statement mention powder burns surrounding the wound, critics have asserted that the gun must have been fired at least 18” from Reeves’ head, making it unlikely that he pulled the trigger himself. But in fact, a characteristic of close-contact gunshot wounds is that powder burns are literally blasted inside the wound track and are not visible on the outer surface. Autopsy photographs confirmed the close-contact nature of the entry wound, and also confirmed that the exit wound was at least as large as, if not slightly larger than, the entry. “From these findings, coupled with the investigative report supplied this office by police,” summarized Curphey, “it is my opinion that the wound was self-inflicted.”

Meanwhile, the local press also learned that Reeves had willed his entire estate to Camille ‘Toni’ Mannix, wife of Edgar J. ‘Eddie’ Mannix, vice president of Loews Incorporated, parent company of M.G.M. Although Mrs. Mannix released a statement that she, her husband and “Mr. Reeves” had been jointly involved in children’s charities, it wasn’t lost on those following the story that she was “the wife of a prominent studio executive,” perhaps the same one Leonore Lemmon had griped about to Winchell. It wasn’t lost on Lemmon, either. When the Los Angeles Herald & Express unearthed that Reeves had visited the Deputy City D.A. in March to formally accuse Toni Mannix of making “‘round-the-clock telephone calls,” Lemmon turned over Mrs. Bessolo’s $4,000, which had been used to purchase travelers’ checks, to her lawyer; then promptly left town, heading first to New York, then Europe, accompanied by Gwen Dailey. Evidently, both had something to fear.

Then things got even weirder. At the same time Chief of Police William H. Parker was telling the press he was “satisfied with (Curphey’s) verdict of suicide,” a pair of detectives were pulling up a carpet from the floor of Reeves’ bedroom and discovering two additional bullet holes. Both bullets were recovered and tested; they’d come from the same weapon that killed Reeves. The Los Angeles Examiner broke this story on the 26th, along with the news that the crime lab found no fingerprints on the Luger. Parker explained that the gun had recently been oiled, rendering it incapable of retaining prints.

Lemmon told police she “might have” fired the two extra shots earlier in the week, when she was “fooling around” with the gun. But a few days later, a friend of Lemmon’s explained that the shots occurred when Reeves had threatened suicide six weeks earlier; apparently Lemmon “wrestled the death pistol away from him and fired two shots into his bedroom floor.” With that, Parker closed the case.

The funeral took place on Wednesday, July 1, with about 150 mourners in attendance, Miss Lemmon and Mrs. Mannix not among them. Helen Bessolo took charge of the body and kept it in a cooled vault while she sought another forensic opinion. On November 28, an autopsy was conducted in Cincinnati, but those examiners reached the same conclusion. A few journalists picked up the story in January 1960; by then Helen couldn’t find another coroner willing to court notoriety. Reeves’ body was cremated in Cincinnati on February 10. Helen died in June 1964; today their remains are side-by-side in the Pasadena Mausoleum at Mountain View Cemetery in Altadena, California.

If Reeves did in fact shoot himself, what was the reason? Excess alcohol notwithstanding, could such a devil-may-care, ‘hang the work, let’s have some fun’ guy truly sink that low? On one hand, despite rumors, promises, proposals, feelers and fantasies, aside from a handful of personal appearances both in and out of the blue-and-red uniform, Reeves had not worked at all since Superman had stopped shooting nineteen months earlier. Not as an actor, not as a director, nor producer, nor panelist, guest host, announcer, extra, stand-in or runner. The fact that he was no longer in demand, except as a comic book figure, was reason enough in the eyes of several friends, including Jack Larson: “It was tough to have to wear a cape and tights on a set with a macho crew who gave him a hard time. He was thoroughly typed also, and I felt that it was hard on him.”

Interviews with Reeves during that period support Larson’s contention. In June 1958, columnist Bob Thomas quotes him: “Producers wouldn’t give me a job. They’d take one look at me and say it was impossible… like ‘Hopalong’ Cassidy trying to get an acting job in white tie and tails.” According to columnist Mike Connolly, one of the parts for which he was rejected (“because the producers were afraid movie audiences would snicker at Superman”) was opposite Susan Hayward in Woman Obsessed; the role went to Stephen Boyd, and the film was released three weeks prior to Reeves’ death.

A month after the Thomas column, another reporter found Reeves in a particularly sardonic mood: “Things are going great right now because I’m the only star from a star — a planet, really. You’ve heard of Krypton, naturally. It’s out a ways. But strange things are happening. With all this real-life space travel talk, next thing you know guys from other planets will be appearing on Top Tunes and New Talent. How will the kids feel about little old me, then?” Columnists would play up the bright side, reminding the public — and Hollywood in general — that Reeves was interested in directing (“Acting no longer intrigues him,” wrote Hal Humphrey in 1957), but he was still a performer at heart and ideally would have liked to direct himself. Some weeks prior to his death, he’d told his mother he’d be making a film in Spain — hence her $4,000 gift — but that deal evidently fell through. He had scripts and held literary property rights, but had no reliable financial backing to initiate production. At the time of his death, Reeves’ only contractual obligation was a Superman appearance at Pittsburgh’s Kennywood Park over the July 4-5 holiday weekend. With no substantial work of any kind, his ego was taking a harsh beating and bitterness was setting in.

On the other hand, when he signed his renegotiated contract in 1954, Reeves knew he was committing to a character in a costume. It’s why the paid personal appearances increased year over year; why he invested his money; why he formed production companies and pushed Ellsworth to let him direct. And, at least to reporters, he seemed to understand the stakes: “At first, I didn’t think I’d like the change from leading man roles to Superman, but I do. Kids are truly alive and appreciative. It’s more than just a job. Kids listen to what I say, and that means I can do a lot for them.

“I hate to sound presumptuous, since I’m not a parent, but I’m in contact with 45 million children through this show of mine and I think they deserve more respect than most adults… Children are merely little people growing up. And from my contact with them, which has never ceased to fascinate me, I’ve learned not to underestimate this new generation… they learn more in one hour of watching television than we learned in months! I’ve been told by parents so many times that my show has helped their kids to distinguish between good and evil, and I’ve begun to accept that as my chief reward.”

Reeves’ death was trauma enough for these children, especially when confronted with headlines such as “TV’s Superman Kills Self,” “Mysteries Cloud ‘Superman’ Suicide,” “‘Superman’ Unburied: Death Probe Still On.” But as the kids became adults, they learned there was more to the story. In the 1980’s, it came out that Reeves did have an affair with Toni Mannix, allegedly with the full consent and encouragement of her husband. Their romance pre-dated the Superman years, was common knowledge among Reeves’ friends and associates (although probably not his mother) and, according to Larson, included an understanding that the Catholic Toni would not divorce, but would marry Reeves upon Mr. Mannix’s death. The “understanding,” of course, ended once Reeves met Lemmon in 1958.

This information, plus the news accounts about extra bullet holes, the spent shell, the fingerprint-less gun; the autopsy report with its odd wound measurements and lack of powder burns; interviews with friends and associates that yielded conflicting statements about Reeves’ frame of mind, added up to a torrent of theorizing that hasn’t ceased. From tabloids like The National Enquirer, to television exposés , to books [_(Deadly Illusions; Hollywood Kryptonite: The Bulldog, the Lady and the Death of Superman; Speeding Bullet: The Life and Bizarre Death of George Reeves), to a theatrical feature (Hollywoodland, 2006), Reeves’ death continues to fascinate. Yet despite all the attention, fifty years later the case hasn’t reached an indisputable resolution.

Only the speculation remains: Reeves absolutely committed suicide. Or he accidentally killed himself in an alcohol-fueled stupor. Or an equally inebriated Leonore Lemmon tried to wrestle the gun from him again, and she accidentally killed him. Or Lemmon deliberately shot him because he wouldn’t give up Toni Mannix. Or Toni Mannix shot him because he wouldn’t give up Leonore. Or Toni arranged to have him killed. Or Eddie Mannix did, because of the affair with his wife. Or because Reeves ended the affair with his wife. Take your pick, or construct your own theory; there are no longer any right or wrong answers. Which is, perhaps, the greatest tragedy: that Reeves’ legacy relies less on his dramatic embodiment of truth and justice, than on the belief that, in real life, he was ultimately denied them.

Two weeks after Reeves’ death, syndicated columnist Whitney Bolton of the New York Telegram wrote a tribute to his friend that, in retrospect, seems remarkably prescient given the ebb-and-flow of interest in the mystery over the past half-century: “What is true in the case of Reeves? This much is true: that he was momentarily disturbed because his Superman series had ‘typed’ him and he was finding it difficult to get an acting job in any medium doing anything else; that he was seeing Leonore Lemmon, although he did not confide to his mother or anyone else discernable that he planned to marry her that weekend, as has been claimed; that three persons beside Miss Lemmon were in Reeves’ home at the time he was shot.

“That he had told his mother on the telephone that he had a film job in Spain, was getting ready to go there and had about $4,000 or $5,000 in cash in the house with which to buy traveler’s checks for that trip; that a woman of Hollywood, married, was pursuing him romantically and it was getting on his nerves; that although Miss Lemmon has described volubly what happened in the last few minutes before Reeves died from a pistol wound, none of the other three has rushed into print.

“George Reeves was a big, gentle and sensitive man. This I know of personal knowledge. His sensitivities were enormous. They often are in big men, men of stature and breadth. He was an acceptably good actor, never a great one. He was, also, that greatly and mournfully abused word — a gentleman.

“There are areas of show business in which to be a gentleman is a perilous and thorny role. Hollywood is one of them. This is said without rancor or bitterness. There are gentlemen there and some of them have survived. Many more have been steam-rollered…

“It is plainly possible that George Reeves did indeed in a sudden flood of hopelessness and anger rush upstairs and kill himself. Miss Lemmon has denied that she told the other guests, ‘He’s going to kill himself — now he’s taking the pistol out — there. He’s done it.’ Others say that she did utter these words or their approximation. It isn’t of consequence — at the moment.

“What is useful, it seems to me, is that George, about to escape from the suffocating attentions of an unwanted woman by going to Spain, having about $5,000 in cash in his house and having been told that more Superman episodes would be filmed a few months hence, with all these benefits in his possession, died.

“That is the main thing. It is the thing that disturbs his mother and Jerry Geisler and, probably, in time, many, many more people…”

With so many of the principal figures gone, it has been left to writers, collectors and historians — most of them serious fans — to keep alive the legacy of those who brought the Man of Steel to the airwaves. Among these:

Anthony Tollin, who oversaw and chronicled the CD release of the best of Superman’s radio adventures for the Smithsonian Institution and Radio Spirits, while simultaneously interviewing many of the participants before time took them from us.

Fred Shay and Martin Grams, Jr., who accessed copies of the elusive scripts and compiled the most comprehensive log of Superman’s radio exploits in the book Radio Drama: A Comprehensive Chronicle of American Network Programs, 1932-62 (McFarland & Company, 2000), which served as the basis for episode guides in this book.

Gary Grossman, who broke ground with the first-ever book about a single television series, Superman: Serial to Cereal, with the unexpected result of igniting the passions of many hundreds of George Reeves fans, each of whom thought he or she was the only one left.

Jim Nolt, who for over a decade published a fan magazine, The Adventures Continue, that helped unite and grow the fan base created by Grossman’s book, and who followed that venture with a still-vital website (www.jimnolt.com) that puts aside questions of death and instead focuses on Reeves’ life, career and accomplishments.

Jim Hambrick, who went from collector to curator of the Superman Museum in Metropolis, Illinois: the only place to see original Reeves costumes, not to mention memorabilia related to the radio show, and who spearheaded the Superman-Metropolis connection into an annual, citywide celebration every June.

Paul Mandell, who wrote the definitive article about the techniques used to make Superman actually fly for television, then researched the spine-tingling music used for the first two seasons (some of which could also be heard on other shows, including radio’s Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar) for the Library of Congress, which led to a CD release of the original MuTel music library through Varese Sarabande Records in 2000.

Chuck Harter, who by a twist of fate worthy of any Superman episode, found himself the recipient of the remnants of Reeves’ estate and saw to it that the most important items made their way to the Superman Museum, and who has chronicled some of the lesser known aspects of the legend (Ellsworth’s Superpup and Superboy pilots, and the 1966 Broadway musical) in his own books.

And many more, all of whom believed a man could fly long before a multi-million dollar feature film told them so.

Perhaps this is why the radio episodes and original TV series have found fervent devotees for over a half-century. With all the technological achievements we have seen in 21st century entertainment, humanity, personality and charisma have become too easily overlooked. Bound by the limitations of radio and early television, Superman had these traits in abundance, and for this he still registers. He thrives. He endures.

Superman is not going away anytime soon. But whatever the future holds for him, those who chronicle his destiny should keep in mind that which Bob Maxwell, Bud Collyer, Whit Ellsworth and George Reeves seemed to understand so well: in the quest for the “Super,” don’t forsake the man.

One of the products to arrive in the wake of Superman’s color release is a series of Topps bubble gum cards, 1965. Six years after his death, Reeves’ image finally appears on Superman merchandise.

George Reeves in June 1959: a brand new car and a broad smile. Less than 72 hours after this picture was taken, he would lie dead in the house behind him.

Appendix I

Superman: The Syndicated Transcription Series (1940-42)

Produced by: Robert J. Maxwell

Directed by: Frank Chase, Jack Johnstone

Written by: Robert Maxwell, Allan Ducovny, George Ludlam, Jack Johnstone, George Lowther, others.

Starring: Clayton ‘Bud’ Collyer (Superman/Clark Kent), Julian Noa (Perry White), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane, except where noted), Jackie Kelk .

Announcer: Various, then George Lowther effective October 28, 1940.

Sponsor: Hecker’s Oat Cereal and Force Wheat Flakes (East Coast stations); other regional sponsors.

Number of Episodes: 325

Note: Pinning down actual airdates for the transcribed series is rather like predicting the weather — we think we know how it’s supposed to go, but can’t guarantee it. Previous printed and online logs were ostensibly based on the New York City (WOR) broadcasts, determined by the official start date of February 12, 1940 and following a thrice-weekly schedule. However, there were two problems with this approach. One, newspaper listings suggest Superman left WOR in March 1941 — meaning the city that housed the recording studio never got to hear the entire series. Two, we now know that there were two separate “seasons” of episodes, so airdates never were consecutive in any city that had obtained the show in February 1940. This discovery actually solves a few problems with previous logs — none more egregious than the given airdate of November 16, 1941 for the second part of the Pan-Am Highway story arc, an episode that prominently references the attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. Declaration of War, which didn’t occur until December 7 and 8.

As discussed in the text, several cities picked up the show well after its February debut; presumably they aired the transcriptions in sequence from the beginning. One example is Los Angeles: station KECA of the Blue Network began running Superman as a five-times weekly program beginning Monday, October 21, 1940. This continued through the first series of 195 episodes, ending on July 18, 1941. The program took a brief hiatus, returning on Monday, August 25, 1941, and continued (still at five days per week), until the second series of 130 episodes ended on February 20, 1942.

The KECA airing is, at this writing, the only confirmed schedule for the second series. Therefore, this appendix uses the East Coast, three-times weekly airdates for the first series of 195, then the West Coast, five-times weekly airdates for the remaining 130.

This and subsequent appendices are not intended as “broadcast logs.” Rather, the intention is to present a series of brief synopses for each story arc (hopefully without spoilers), followed by the airdates for each installment (or “chapter”), in the belief that interested readers will seek out the actual shows.

All of the episodes listed in this appendix are in circulation, as are four audition recordings from 1939 that are discussed in Chapter Two of this book. Story arcs that were novelized in Radio Mirror magazine are indicated.

1940-41

The Baby From Krypton: Superman’s parents place their infant son in a rocket and send it to earth, just before their home world explodes.

One episode: February 12, 1940

Clark Kent, Reporter: Superman emerges from the rocket fully-grown and ready to assist humankind. A kindly professor suggests he adopt a “civilian” identity and become a newspaper reporter. This and the previous episode were novelized in the January 1941 issue of Radio Mirror.

One episode: February 14, 1940

The Wolf: Superman must find a way to stop “the Wolf,” a saboteur of the railroad. But the Wolf is only the hireling of an even more dangerous foe.

Chapter One: February 16, 1940

Chapter Two: February 19, 1940

Chapter Three: February 21, 1940

Chapter Four: February 23, 1940

The Yellow Mask: “The Yellow Mask” emerges from the shadows and steals an atomic beam machine that can destroy the Daily Planet building in seconds! Lois Lane (played by Rollie Bester) makes her debut in the first episode.

Chapter One: February 26, 1940

Chapter Two: February 28, 1940

Chapter Three: March 1, 1940

The North Star Mining Company: Secretary June Madison has discovered a deadly secret: the company is a stock fraud. Now her life is in danger, and Superman must intervene. Novelized in the February 1941 issue of Radio Mirror.

Chapter One: March 4, 1940

Chapter Two: March 6, 1940

Chapter Three: March 8, 1940

Chapter Four: March 11, 1940

Chapter Five: March 13, 1940

Chapter Six: March 15, 1940

The Mystery of Dyerville: The Wolf escapes from prison, vowing revenge on the Yellow Mask as well as Clark Kent. Meanwhile, mysterious earthquakes are destroying the town of Dyerville… could the Yellow Mask be responsible? Novelized in the March and April 1941 issues of Radio Mirror. Helen Choate portrays Lois Lane in this arc.

Chapter One: March 18, 1940

Chapter Two: March 20, 1940

Chapter Three: March 22, 1940

Chapter Four: March 25, 1940

Chapter Five: March 27, 1940

Chapter Six: March 29, 1940

The Emerald of the Incas: Dr. Beecham has discovered an ancient emerald that has served as a fountain of youth for the Azatlan Indians.

Chapter One: April 1, 1940

Chapter Two: April 3, 1940

Chapter Three: April 5, 1940

Chapter Four: April 8, 1940

Chapter Five: April 10, 1940

Chapter Six: April 12, 1940

Donelli’s Protection Racket: ‘Gyp’ Donelli is extorting protection money from Jimmy Olsen’s mother. After Superman knocks him around and orders him to give up the racket, Donelli retaliates by kidnapping Lois. Novelized in the May 1941 issue of Radio Mirror. The first episode marks the debut of Jimmy Olsen, portrayed by Jack Grimes.

Chapter One: April 15, 1940

Chapter Two: April 17, 1940

Chapter Three: April 19, 1940

Chapter Four: April 22, 1940

Chapter Five: April 24, 1940

Chapter Six: April 26, 1940

Airplane Disasters at Bridger Field: Clark Kent is assigned to the story of seven airplane crashes. The reporter must solve the mysterious code of Professor Hagen before Superman can act.

Chapter One: April 29, 1940

Chapter Two: May 1, 1940

Chapter Three: May 3, 1940

Chapter Four: May 6, 1940

Chapter Five: May 8, 1940

Chapter Six: May 10, 1940

Buffalo Hills: Governor Carson and famed photographer Asa Hatch are in danger from the Pete Flores gang. Superman must uncover the plot and protect the pair as they attend the unveiling of the granite mountain carvings at Buffalo Hills. Novelized in the June 1941 issue of Radio Mirror.

Chapter One: May 13, 1940

Chapter Two: May 15, 1940

Chapter Three: May 17, 1940

Chapter Four: May 20, 1940

Chapter Five: May 22, 1940

Chapter Six: May 24, 1940

Alonzo Craig: Arctic Explorer: Explorer Craig has been missing for three years, and now reporter Ray Martin and Professor Peters have vanished! Perry White sends Clark Kent to investigate — and he discovers a mysterious Indian tribe and a surprising witch doctor.

Chapter One: May 27, 1940

Chapter Two: May 29, 1940

Chapter Three: May 31, 1940

Chapter Four: June 3, 1940

Chapter Five: June 5, 1940

Chapter Six: June 7, 1940

Horace Morton’s Weather Predictions: Lois’ uncle, Professor Horace Morton, has predicted unusual weather with pinpoint accuracy — because he’s creating it! Moreover a criminal gang is exploiting his invention.

Chapter One: June 10, 1940

Chapter Two: June 12, 1940

Chapter Three: June 14, 1940

Chapter Four: June 17, 1940

Chapter Five: June 19, 1940

Chapter Six: June 21, 1940

Hans Holbein’s Doll Factory: An explosion in Holbein’s doll factory sends Clark and Lois off to the town of Melville to investigate. But the factory is a blind: Holbein has discovered a deadly new explosive, with which he plans to rule the world! Novelized in the July 1941 issue of Radio Mirror.

Chapter One: June 24, 1940

Chapter Two: June 26, 1940

Chapter Three: June 28, 1940

Chapter Four: July 1, 1940

Chapter Five: July 3, 1940

Chapter Six: July 5, 1940

Happyland Amusement Park: Fearing honest competition, ‘Midway’ Martin tries to buy Nancy Bardette’s new park, Happyland. When she refuses to sell, Martin resorts to sabotage. Novelized in the August 1941 issue of Radio Mirror and remade as the February 25, 1949 half-hour episode “Death Rides the Roller Coaster.”

Chapter One: July 8, 1940

Chapter Two: July 10, 1940

Chapter Three: July 12, 1940

Chapter Four: July 15, 1940

Chapter Five: July 17, 1940

Chapter Six: July 19, 1940

Lighthouse Point Smugglers: Jimmy Olsen is visiting his Aunt Lu at her coastal home in Maine, but is puzzled by her strange behavior — and by the light from a supposedly deserted lighthouse. Remade in February 1944. Adapted for television in 1951 as “The Haunted Lighthouse.”

Chapter One: July 22, 1940

Chapter Two: July 24, 1940

Chapter Three: July 26, 1940

Chapter Four: July 29, 1940

Chapter Five: July 31, 1940

Chapter Six: August 2, 1940

Pillar Of Fire At Graves End: Lois and Clark investigate a pillar of fire in a mysterious walled village — but the village elder, who knows there is a silver mine under the pillar, has other ideas. Novelized in the September 1941 issue of Radio Mirror.

Chapter One: August 5, 1940

Chapter Two: August 7, 1940

Chapter Three: August 9, 1940

The Mayan Treasure: Clark joins Major Dauber’s expedition to Central America. The quest is for the perfectly preserved mummy of the goddess Ashta, and the High Priest Comado wants them stopped.

Chapter One: August 12, 1940

Chapter Two: August 14, 1940

Chapter Three: August 16, 1940

Chapter Four: August 19, 1940

Chapter Five: August 21, 1940

Chapter Six: August 23, 1940

Professor Thorpe’s Bathysphere: A false teletype stating that Thorpe’s ship, the Juanita, has been stolen lures Clark to investigate. In reality, Thorpe is after the sunken treasure of Octopus Bay — and so are Pete Escobar and his gang! The actor portraying Jimmy Olsen in this arc is unidentified. Novelized in the November 1941 issue of Radio Mirror.

Chapter One: August 26, 1940

Chapter Two: August 28, 1940

Chapter Three: August 30, 1940

Chapter Four: September 2, 1940

Chapter Five: September 4, 1940

Chapter Six: September 6, 1940

Chapter Seven: September 9, 1940

Chapter Eight: September 11, 1940

Chapter Nine: September 13, 1940

Chapter Ten: September 16, 1940

Chapter Eleven: September 18, 1940

Chapter Twelve: September 20, 1940

The Curse Of Dead Man’s Island: Clark and Jimmy are shipwrecked on Dead Man’s Island, and try to discover its deadly secret. Novelized in the October 1941 issue of Radio Mirror.

Chapter One: September 23, 1940

Chapter Two: September 25, 1940

Chapter Three: September 27, 1940

Chapter Four: September 30, 1940

Chapter Five: October 2, 1940

Chapter Six: October 4, 1940

The Yellow Mask And The 5 Million Dollar Jewel Robbery: The Yellow Mask has returned… and theft of the Crown Jewels of a world-famous empire is just one part of his scheme. He also plots his revenge against Clark Kent! Novelized in the December 1941 issue of Radio Mirror.

Chapter One: October 7, 1940

Chapter Two: October 9, 1940

Chapter Three: October 11, 1940

Chapter Four: October 14, 1940

Chapter Five: October 16, 1940

Chapter Six: October 18, 1940

Chapter Seven: October 21, 1940

Chapter Eight: October 23, 1940

Chapter Nine: October 25, 1940

Chapter Ten: October 28, 1940

Chapter Eleven: October 30, 1940

Chapter Twelve: November 1, 1940

Chapter Thirteen: November 4, 1940

Chapter Fourteen: November 6, 1940

Chapter Fifteen: November 8, 1940

The Invisible Man: District Attorney Parker is a dishonest man — and he resorts to a desperate scheme to remain in office!

Chapter One: November 11, 1940

Chapter Two: November 13, 1940

Chapter Three: November 15, 1940

Chapter Four: November 18, 1940

Chapter Five: November 20, 1940

Chapter Six: November 22, 1940

The $5 Million Gold Heist: The last episode of the previous arc includes the start of this one. A freight car containing $5 million is gold, has gone missing. While investigating, Lois and Clark each disappear! Novelized in the January 1942 issue of Radio Mirror.

Chapter Two: November 25, 1940

Chapter Three: November 27, 1940

Chapter Four: November 29, 1940

Chapter Five: December 2, 1940

Chapter Six: December 4, 1940

Chapter Seven: December 6, 1940

Chapter Eight: December 9, 1940

Chapter Nine: December 11, 1940

The Howling Coyote: Clark and Jimmy try to discover why a coyote howl means death for the people of Comanche Joe’s tribe. This arc introduced a new recurring character: Tumbleweed Jones.

Chapter One: December 13, 1940

Chapter Two: December 16, 1940

Chapter Three: December 18, 1940

Chapter Four: December 20, 1940

Chapter Five: December 23, 1940

Chapter Six: December 25, 1940

Chapter Seven: December 27, 1940

Chapter Eight: December 30, 1940

Chapter Nine: January 1, 1941

Chapter Ten: January 3, 1941

Chapter Eleven: January 6, 1941

Chapter Twelve: January 8, 1941

Chapter Thirteen: January 10, 1941

Chapter Fourteen: January 13, 1941

The Black Pearl Of Osiris: A magician, a disappearing theatre and a mysterious stranger called “The Whisperer” spell trouble for the Man of Steel as he tries to locate the stolen Black Pearl of Osiris.

Chapter One: January 15, 1941

Chapter Two: January 17, 1941

Chapter Three: January 20, 1941

Chapter Four: January 22, 1941

Chapter Five: January 24, 1941

Chapter Six: January 27, 1941

Chapter Seven: January 29, 1941

Chapter Eight: January 31, 1941

Chapter Nine: February 3, 1941

Chapter Ten: February 5, 1941

Chapter Eleven: February 7, 1941

The Dragon’s Teeth: The ten teeth of the Green Dragon are said to hold the secret of immortality… and Perry White is asked to guard nine of them! Novelized in the February 1942 issue of Radio Mirror.

Chapter One: February 10, 1941

Chapter Two: February 12, 1941

Chapter Three: February 14, 1941

Chapter Four: February 17, 1941

Chapter Five: February 19, 1941

Chapter Six: February 21, 1941

Chapter Seven: February 24, 1941

Chapter Eight: February 26, 1941

Chapter Nine: February 28, 1941

Chapter Ten: March 3, 1941

Last Of The Clipper Ships: Clark and Jimmy are sailing on the Clara M, last of the clipper ships. Mr. Barnaby, a one-legged sailor, and the mysterious “Whistler” make trouble for Captain Hawkins.

Chapter One: March 5, 1941

Chapter Two: March 7, 1941

Chapter Three: March 10, 1941

Chapter Four: March 12, 1941

Chapter Five: March 14, 1941

Chapter Six: March 17, 1941

Chapter Seven: March 19, 1941

Chapter Eight: March 21, 1941

Chapter Nine: March 24, 1941

Chapter Ten: March 26, 1941

Chapter Eleven: March 28, 1941

Chapter Twelve: March 31, 1941

Chapter Thirteen: April 2, 1941

Chapter Fourteen: April 4, 1941

Chapter Fifteen: April 7, 1941

Chapter Sixteen: April 9, 1941

Chapter Seventeen: April 11, 1941

Chapter Eighteen: April 14, 1941

Chapter Nineteen: April 16, 1941

Chapter Twenty: April 18, 1941

The Nitrate Shipment: A treasure map discovered near the end of the previous story arc leads to Jimmy trapped on a freighter ship, with a cargo of nitrate! The conclusion of this arc marked the end of the first series.

Chapter One: April 21, 1941

Chapter Two: April 23, 1941

Chapter Three: April 25, 1941

Chapter Four: April 28, 1941

Chapter Five: April 30, 1941

Chapter Six: May 2, 1941

Chapter Seven: May 5, 1941

Chapter Eight: May 7, 1941

Chapter Nine: May 9, 1941

1941-42

The Grayson Submarine: The beginning of the second series, designed to air 5 times weekly. Professor Grayson’s experimental submarine is trapped 350 feet under the sea. Clark goes along in the rescue sub, which is also held beneath the sea by some mysterious force created by the evil Dr. Deutch. Novelized in the March 1942 issue of Radio Mirror.

Chapter One: August 25, 1941

Chapter Two: August 26, 1941

Chapter Three: August 27, 1941

Chapter Four: August 28, 1941

Chapter Five: August 29, 1941

Chapter Six: September 1, 1941

Dr. Deutch And The Radium Mine: The storyline continues as Dr. Deutch tries to do away with the meddling Daily Planet staff. Deutch plans to rule the world with the help of a radium mine on Volcano Island.

Chapter One: September 2, 1941

Chapter Two: September 3, 1941

Chapter Three: September 4, 1941

Chapter Four: September 5, 1941

Chapter Five: September 8, 1941

Chapter Six: September 9, 1941

Chapter Seven: September 10, 1941

Chapter Eight: September 11, 1941

Chapter Nine: September 12, 1941

Chapter Ten: September 15, 1941

Chapter Eleven: September 16, 1941

Chapter Twelve: September 17, 1941

The White Plague: A legendary “plague” has been killing lumberjacks. Clark and Jimmy head to the lumber camp along Big Beaver River to investigate. Novelized in the April 1942 issue of Radio Mirror.

Chapter One: September 18, 1941

Chapter Two: September 19, 1941

Chapter Three: September 22, 1941

Chapter Four: September 23, 1941

Chapter Five: September 24, 1941

Chapter Six: September 25, 1941

Chapter Seven: September 26, 1941

Chapter Eight: September 29, 1941

Fur Smuggling: As the previous story wraps up, a new one begins: still in the north woods, Clark and Jimmy are ordered to leave by two phony game wardens. Superman soon discovers a smuggling operation.

Chapter One: September 30, 1941

Chapter Two: October 1, 1941

Chapter Three: October 2, 1941

Chapter Four: October 3, 1941

Chapter Five: October 6, 1941

Chapter Six: October 7, 1941

Dr. Roebling And The Voice Machine: On their trip home from the north woods, Clark and Jimmy encounter Dr. Roebling, who has invented a machine that will pick up voice waves no matter when they were created. The doctor’s no-good nephew is also interested in the machine — and plots to kidnap his uncle! Remade in October/November 1944.

Chapter One: October 8, 1941

Chapter Two: October 9, 1941

Chapter Three: October 10, 1941

Chapter Four: October 13, 1941

Chapter Five: October 14, 1941

Chapter Six: October 15, 1941

Chapter Seven: October 16, 1941

Chapter Eight: October 17, 1941

Chapter Nine: October 20, 1941

Chapter Ten: October 21, 1941

Chapter Eleven: October 22, 1941

Chapter Twelve: October 23, 1941

Chapter Thirteen: October 24, 1941

Chapter Fourteen: October 27, 1941

Chapter Fifteen: October 28, 1941

Chapter Sixteen: October 29, 1941

Metropolis Football Team Poisoned: Metropolis University will receive a $3 million bequest if the football team can make it to the Rose Bowl. But someone doesn’t want that to happen — the players have been poisoned!

Chapter One: October 30, 1941

Chapter Two: October 31, 1941

Chapter Three: November 3, 1941

Chapter Four: November 4, 1941

Chapter Five: November 5, 1941

Chapter Six: November 6, 1941

Chapter Seven: November 7, 1941

Chapter Eight: November 10, 1941

Chapter Nine: November 11, 1941

Chapter Ten: November 12, 1941

Chapter Eleven:November 13, 1941

Chapter Twelve: November 14, 1941

Chapter Thirteen: November 17, 1941

Chapter Fourteen: November 18, 1941

Chapter Fifteen: November 19, 1941

Crooked Oil Association: Clark and Jimmy help Tumbleweed Jones fight off sabotage from a dishonest oil protective association.

Chapter One: November 20, 1941

Chapter Two: November 21, 1941

Chapter Three: November 24, 1941

Chapter Four: November 25, 1941

Chapter Five: November 26, 1941

Chapter Six: November 27, 1941

Chapter Seven: November 28, 1941

Chapter Eight: December 1, 1941

Chapter Nine: December 2, 1941

Chapter Ten: December 3, 1941

The Silver Arrow: Still out west, Jimmy has found a silver arrowhead with a strange poem on it. The mystery leads to a fortune hidden in Dead Man’s Gulch.

Chapter One: December 4, 1941

Chapter Two: December 5, 1941

Chapter Three: December 8, 1941

Chapter Four: December 9, 1941

Chapter Five: December 10, 1941

Chapter Six: December 11, 1941

Chapter Seven: December 12, 1941

The Pan-Am Highway: Three teams of government engineers, hoping to build a transcontinental highway, have vanished within the Andes Mountains of South America. Clark discovers that a tribe of Inca Indians, long believed extinct, is sabotaging the project. The first five episodes were recorded during the week of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Chapter One: December 15, 1941

Chapter Two: December 16, 1941

Chapter Three: December 17, 1941

Chapter Four: December 18, 1941

Chapter Five: December 19, 1941

Chapter Six: December 22, 1941

Chapter Seven: December 23, 1941

Chapter Eight: December 24, 1941

Chapter Nine: December 25, 1941

Chapter Ten: December 26, 1941

Chapter Eleven: December 29, 1941

Chapter Twelve: December 30, 1941

Chapter Thirteen: December 31, 1941

Chapter Fourteen: January 1, 1942

Chapter Fifteen: January 2, 1942

The Mechanical Man: The “Yellow Mask” has escaped from prison, and swears revenge on the Planet staff. He aligns with a Nazi spy, and steals the plans for a flying robot!

Chapter One: January 5, 1942

Chapter Two: January 6, 1942

Chapter Three: January 7, 1942

Chapter Four: January 8, 1942

Chapter Five: January 9, 1942

Chapter Six: January 12, 1942

Chapter Seven: January 13, 1942

Chapter Eight: January 14, 1942

Chapter Nine: January 15, 1942

Chapter Ten: January 16, 1942

Lita The Leopard Woman: A Japanese spy ring, “The Society of the Leopard,” threatens Max Heller, the Nazi spy from the previous storyline. Lita, the mysterious “leopard woman,” plans to blow up an American tanker with a Nazi submarine.

Chapter One: January 19, 1942

Chapter Two: January 20, 1942

Chapter Three: January 21, 1942

Chapter Four: January 22, 1942

Chapter Five: January 23, 1942

Chapter Six: January 26, 1942

Chapter Seven: January 27, 1942

Chapter Eight: January 28, 1942

Chapter Nine: January 29, 1942

Chapter Ten: January 30, 1942

Chapter Eleven: February 2, 1942

Chapter Twelve: February 3, 1942

The Ghost Car: A series of auto accidents by the Bar-O Ranch have been blamed on a “ghost car.” Lois and Clark investigate the mystery. Jackson Beck makes his Superman debut as “Alfredo the Gaucho.” Remade in April 1945.

Chapter One: February 4, 1942

Chapter Two: February 5, 1942

Chapter Three: February 6, 1942

Chapter Four: February 9, 1942

Chapter Five: February 10, 1942

Chapter Six: February 11, 1942

Chapter Seven: February 12, 1942

Chapter Eight: February 13, 1942

A Mystery for Superman: Lois has been kidnapped off a train and held for $20,000 ransom — or has she? Remade in March/April 1946 as “The Story of the Century.” The final storyline of the transcribed series.

Chapter One: February 16, 1942

Chapter Two: February 17, 1942

Chapter Three: February 18, 1942

Chapter Four: February 19, 1942

Chapter Five: February 20, 1942

Appendix II

Adventures of Superman: The Mutual Broadcasting System Serial (1942-49)

Produced by: Robert Maxwell Associates for Superman, Incorporated

Directed by: George Lowther, Allan Ducovny, Mitchell Grayson, Jessica Maxwell

Written by: George Lowther, Edward Langley, Allan Ducovny, Ben Peter Freeman, Robert Maxwell, others.

Starring: Clayton ‘Bud’ Collyer , Julian Noa , Joan Alexander , Jackie Kelk , Jackson Beck , Matt Crowley , Ronald Liss .

Announcer: George Lowther (through October 11, 1943), Jackson Beck (effective October 14, 1943).

Sound Effects: John Glennon, Bill Hoffman, Al Binnie, Keene Crockett, Jack Keane, Ed Blainley

Music: John Gart (as of April 16, 1946)

Sponsor: U.S. Treasury (time donated by MBS) August 31, 1942-December 31, 1942; Kellogg’s Pep (January 4, 1943-December 26, 1947); Brach’s Confections (August 30, 1948-November 26, 1948); sustaining or local co-op, remainder.

Broadcast Schedule: Monday-Friday (Live). From August 31, 1942-January 29, 1943: 5:30 p.m. From February 1, 1943-September 29, 1944: 5:45 p.m. From October 2, 1944-January 12, 1945: 5:30 p.m. From January 15, 1945-February 4, 1949: 5:15 p.m. All times Eastern.

Number of Episodes: 1,612

Note: In nearly every case, the final episode of one arc includes the set-up, or prologue, for the next. Many arcs have completely disappeared and plot descriptions were not available. Episodes for which recordings are known to exist are marked with (*) after the broadcast date.

1942-43

Superman Comes to Earth: Superman’s parents place their infant son in a rocket and send it to earth, just before their home world explodes. The baby is adopted by Sarah and Eben Kent.

One episode: August 31, 1942

Eben Kent Dies in Fire, Clark Goes to Metropolis: The title pretty much sums up the plot.

One episode: September 1, 1942

The Wolfe: A reworking of “the Wolf” story arc from February 1940. In this version, the railroad saboteur and his henchman Keno are working for the Nazi cause. At the conclusion, Clark, Lois and Jimmy are assigned to London as war correspondents.

Chapter One: September 2, 1942

Chapter Two: September 3, 1942

Chapter Three: September 4, 1942

Chapter Four: September 7, 1942 *

Chapter Five: September 8, 1942 *

Chapter Six: September 9, 1942

Chapter Seven: September 10, 1942

Chapter Eight: September 11, 1942

Chapter Nine: September 14, 1942

Chapter Ten: September 15, 1942

Chapter Eleven: September 16, 1942 *

The Tiny Men: A German inventor, whose family is held captive by the Gestapo, is forced to use his amazing creation — the tiny men — to sabotage the British war effort.

Chapter One: September 17, 1942 *

Chapter Two: September 18, 1942 *

Chapter Three: September 21, 1942

Chapter Four: September 22, 1942 *

Chapter Five: September 23, 1942

Chapter Six: September 24, 1942 *

Chapter Seven: September 25, 1942

Chapter Eight: September 28, 1942 *

Chapter Nine: September 29, 1942

Mystery in Arabia: Lois Lane is mistaken for the Countess Wojeska from Poland. Superman has to find her while trying to discover the secret of the tiny men.

Chapter One: September 30, 1942 *

Chapter Two: October 1, 1942

Chapter Three: October 2, 1942 *

Chapter Four: October 5, 1942 *

Chapter Five: October 6, 1942 *

Chapter Six: October 7, 1942 *

Chapter Seven: October 8, 1942 *

Chapter Eight: October 9, 1942 *

Chapter Nine: October 12, 1942 *

Chapter Ten: October 13, 1942

The Black Narcissus: Jimmy Olsen has been poisoned by the thorn of the Black Narcissus. Superman must retrieve the antidote from Cairo; while he’s gone, a Nazi blitz endangers the hospital!

Chapter One: October 14, 1942 *

Chapter Two: October 15, 1942 *

Chapter Three: October 16, 1942 *

Chapter Four: October 19, 1942 *

Chapter Five: October 20, 1942 *

Chapter Six: October 21, 1942 *

Chapter Seven: October 22, 1942 *

Chapter Eight: October 23, 1942

Chapter Nine: October 26, 1942

The Headless Indian: The Planet staffers are threatened by the mysterious Laugher and his henchmen during a trip to Hudson Bay. After Superman foils an airplane crash, the others are victimized by “the curse of the headless Indian,” which The Laugher has rigged to conceal a counterfeiting operation.

Chapter One: October 27, 1942 *

Chapter Two: October 28, 1942 *

Chapter Three: October 29, 1942 *

Chapter Four: October 30, 1942 *

Chapter Five: November 2, 1942 *

Chapter Six: November 3, 1942 *

Chapter Seven: November 4, 1942 *

Chapter Eight: November 5, 1942 *

Chapter Nine: November 6, 1942 *

Chapter Ten: November 9, 1942 *

Chapter Eleven: November 10, 1942 *

Chapter Twelve: November 11, 1942 *

Chapter Thirteen: November 12, 1942 *

Chapter Fourteen: November 13, 1942 *

Chapter Fifteen: November 16, 1942 *

Chapter Sixteen: November 17, 1942 *

Chapter Seventeen: November 18, 1942

Chapter Eighteen: November 19, 1942 *

The Midnight Intruder: Someone dressed as a pirate — or is it a clown? — is observed smashing plaster statues. The mystery involves an underworld search for a powerful explosive formula. Reworked into the 1951 television episode “Mystery of the Broken Statues.”

Chapter One: November 20, 1942

Chapter Two: November 23, 1942 *

Chapter Three: November 24, 1942

Chapter Four: November 25, 1942

Chapter Five: November 26, 1942 *

Chapter Six: November 27, 1942 *

Chapter Seven: November 30, 1942 *

Chapter Eight: December 1, 1942 *

Chapter Nine: December 2, 1942 *

Chapter Ten: December 3, 1942 *

Appendix III

Adventures of Superman: The Half-Hour Episodes (1949-51)

Series One:

The MBS Weekday Afternoon Broadcasts (February 7-June 24, 1949)

Produced by: Robert Maxwell Associates for Superman, Incorporated

Directed by: Jessica Maxwell

Written by: Ben Peter Freeman, Robert Maxwell, others

Starring: Clayton ‘Bud’ Collyer (Superman/Clark Kent), Julian Noa (Perry White), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane), Jackie Kelk (Jimmy Olsen), Jackson Beck (Beanie Martin)

Announcer: Jackson Beck

Sound Effects: John Glennon, Al Binnie, Keene Crockett, Jack Keane, Ed Blainley, Bill Hoffman

Music: John Gart

Sponsor: Sustaining

Broadcast Schedule: Monday-Wednesday-Friday, 5:00 p.m. Eastern (Transcribed)

Number of Episodes: 60

Note: Only the episodes of March 4, 7 and 9 are in circulation.

The Frozen Death (February 7, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Mystery of the Golden Eagle (February 9, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Riddle of the Chinese Jade (February 11, 1949): A jade figurine worth $10,000 is stolen from a curio shop, and it looks like one of the employees is involved. Adapted for television in 1951.

The Curse of the Devil’s Creek (February 14, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Lost Civilization (February 16, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Mystery of the Voice Machine (February 18, 1949): The inventor of a machine that can receive voices from the past and his daughter have been abducted from a train. Adapted from the Dr. Roebling and the Voice Machine serial arc that first appeared in October 1941.

The Mystery of the Little Men (February 21, 1949): The Planet staffers – except Clark Kent – have seen little men dressed in formal clothes standing on their window sills at night, laughing. Is everyone being driven mad?

The Story of Marina Baum (February 23, 1949): Jimmy Olsen has gotten into a brawl with someone who insulted his new girlfriend, Marina Baum. Moreover, his own mother doesn’t want him to date “a foreigner.” Clark Kent has a story to tell them both.

Death Rides the Roller Coaster (February 25, 1949): “Midway” Martin’s carnival is threatened by Nancy Bardette’s Happyland Amusement Park. When she refuses to sell, Martin resorts to sabotage. Adapted from the “Happyland Amusement Park” serial arc of July 1940.

The Mystery of the Singing Wheels (February 28, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Case of the Poisoned Town (March 2, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Mystery of the $10,000 Ghost (March 4, 1949): Three wealthy citizens of Metropolis have disappeared after each withdrew $10,000 from the bank. The mystery leads to an old ghost town taken over by gangsters.

The Mystery of the Flying Monster (March 7, 1949): Professor Joshua Fields tricks Jimmy Olsen into flying with him into outer space in his rocket-powered invention. When it malfunctions, Superman must intervene.

The Case of the Double Trouble (March 9, 1949): Clark Kent and Lois Lane have each been accused of a crime. How can they be cleared?

Superman’s Mortal Enemy (March 11, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Mystery of the Disappearing Diamonds (March 14, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Cat As Big As an Elephant (March 16, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Mystery of the Walking Doll (March 18, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Return of Terror (March 21, 1949): Plot details are not available.

How Time Stood Still (March 23, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The World’s Greatest Secret (March 25, 1949): Plot details are not available.

Crime by the Carload (March 28, 1949): Plot details are not available.

Fangs of Fury (March 30, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Mystery of the Citadel Of Doom (April 1, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Mystery of the Death Train (April 4, 1949): Plot details are not available.

Terror Under the Big Top (April 6, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Man of a Thousand Faces (April 8, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Lost King (April 11, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Mystery of Skull Cave (April 13, 1949): Plot details are not available.

(Untitled Story) (April 15, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Secret of the Sahara (April 18, 1949): Plot details are not available.

A Voice from the Grave (April 20, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Deadly Double (April 22, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Adventure of the Impractical Joker (April 25, 1949): Plot details are not available.

An Experiment in Danger (April 27, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Mystery of the Phantom Fleet (April 29, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Triangle of Crime (May 2, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Mystery of the Vibrating Death (May 4, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Mystery of Butte Valley (May 6, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Eye of Balapur (May 9, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Horsemen of Doom (May 11, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Mystery of the New Face (May 13, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Vengeful Ghost (May 16, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Mystery of the Flaming Forest (May 18, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Winged Horse (May 20, 1949): Plot details are not available.

Death on the Diamond (May 23, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Riddle of the Tapestry (May 25, 1949): Adapted for television in 1951 as “Treasure of the Incas.”

The Mystery of the Singing Wheels (May 27, 1949): The same script as used for the broadcast of February 28, 1949.

The Speedway of Terror (May 30, 1949): Plot details are not available.

Crime at a Bargain (June 1, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Vanishing Ships (June 3, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Case of the Double Double Cross (June 6, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Portrait of Satan (June 8, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Ghost of Shipwreck Island (June 10, 1949): Plot details are not available.

Eleven for Death (June 13, 1949): Plot details are not available.

Forecast for Crime (June 15, 1949): Plot details are not available.

Murder on the Midway (June 17, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Borrowed Corpse (June 20, 1949): Plot details are not available.

Killer at Large (June 22, 1949): Plot details are not available.

The Mystery of the Frozen Monster (June 24, 1949): Plot details are not available.

Series Two: The ABC Saturday Evening Broadcasts

(October 29, 1949-January 21, 1950)

Produced by: Robert Maxwell Associates for Superman, Incorporated

Directed by: Jessica Maxwell

Written by: Ben Peter Freeman, Dick Hamilton, Robert Maxwell, others

Starring: Clayton ‘Bud’ Collyer (Superman/Clark Kent), Julian Noa (Perry White), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane), Jackie Kelk (Jimmy Olsen), Jackson Beck (Beanie Martin)

Announcer: Jackson Beck

Sound Effects: John Glennon, Al Binnie, Keene Crockett, Jack Keane, Ed Blainley, Bill Hoffman

Music: John Gart

Sponsor: Sustaining

Broadcast Schedule: 8:30 p.m, EST through December 10; 8:00 p.m. EST effective December 17 (Transcribed)

Number of Episodes: 13

Note: The episode of November 12 is missing, as are the first halves of the November 5 and December 24 episodes. The rest are in circulation.

The Mystery of the Walking Dead (October 29, 1949): A killer about to be executed threatens to return to life and kill Lois Lane. The death sentence is carried out, but soon after Lois is lured into a trap where the “dead” killer does appear!

The Case of the Courageous Cobbler (November 5, 1949): Spies have obtained government files pertaining to a high-powered bomb and plan to smuggle them to one of America’s enemies by concealing them in a pair of shoes. But the cobbler catches on and manages to send a warning to Lois Lane just before he is murdered.

The Million Dollar Mystery (November 12, 1949): One million dollars’ worth of radium has been stolen and brought to the U.S. illegally. Adapted for television in 1951 as “Double Trouble.”

One Minute to Death (November 19, 1949): Tony Dinelli has framed an old friend, young Johnny Webber, for murder. Convicted, Johnny awaits his execution, but Clark is convinced he’s innocent and works with Johnny’s fiancée to locate Dinelli.

Puzzle of the Poison Pomegranate (November 26, 1949): How did Doctor Benson King die in a sealed room with only experimental animals as his companions? Inspector Henderson and Clark Kent hash out the mystery. Superman does not actually appear in this episode.

Death Rides the Roller Coaster (December 3, 1949): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of February 25, 1949.

Mystery of the Mechanical Monster (December 10, 1949): A monstrous robot appears in Metropolis, with a beautiful girl in his arms! She’s the assistant of the monster’s inventor, who plans to create a race of mechanical men.

The Diamond of Death (December 17, 1949): Someone is attempting to steal the valuable Fairmont diamond, but the mystery deepens when the prime suspect is murdered.

Highway to Murder (December 24, 1949): When a friend is murdered by a trio of killers, Clark moves into the boardinghouse used by two of the gang in hopes of learning their identities and whereabouts. He befriends one of the tenants, a young girl – but unknown to him, she’s in love with the third suspect.

Mystery of the Little Men (December 31, 1949): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of February 21, 1949.

The Ghost of Billy Baker (January 7, 1950): While investigating a labor dispute among coal miners, Lois and Clark learn about Billy Baker, who perished in a mine collapse. Then Lois is taken hostage – by Baker’s mother!

Voices of the Dead (January 14, 1950): The inventor of a machine that can receive voices from the past and his daughter have been abducted from a train. Adapted from the “Dr. Roebling and the Voice Machine” serial arc that first appeared in October 1941.

Dead Men Tell No Tales (January 21, 1950): Superman’s spare costume has been stolen from Clark Kent’s apartment. Unfortunately, Kent cannot disclose to Candy Meyers what was taken. Worse, a pair of blackmailers mistake Meyers for Kent! Adapted from the “Mystery of the Stolen Costume” serial arc from March 1948. Adapted for television in 1951 as “The Stolen Costume.”

Series Three:

The ABC Weekday Afternoon Broadcasts (June 5, 1950-March 1, 1951)

Produced by: Robert Maxwell Associates for Superman, Incorporated

Directed by: Jessica Maxwell

Written by: Ben Peter Freeman, Dick Hamilton, Robert Maxwell, others (most episodes used scripts from the previous two series)

Starring: Michael Fitzmaurice (Superman/Clark Kent), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane), Al Markim (Jimmy Olsen), remaining cast unconfirmed

Announcers: Ross Martin, Sidney Paul

Sound Effects: John Glennon, Al Binnie, Keene Crockett, Jack Keane, Ed Blainley, Bill Hoffman

Music: Murray Ross

Sponsor: Sustaining

Broadcast Schedule: 5:30 p.m. Eastern. Monday & Wednesday through September 6; Tuesday & Thursday effective September 12 (Transcribed)

Number of Episodes: 78

Note: Episodes were 30 minutes in length through September 6, and 25 minutes thereafter. Only the episode of November 23, 1950 is in circulation.

The Wall of Death (June 5, 1950): Plot details are not available.

The Plunging Planet (June 7, 1950): Plot details are not available.

The Riddle of the Chinese Jade (June 12, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of February 11, 1949.

The Mystery of the Golden Eagle (June 14, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of February 9, 1949.

The Lost Civilization (June 19, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of February 16, 1949.

The Man of a Thousand Faces (June 21, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of April 8, 1949.

An Experiment in Danger (June 26, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of April 27, 1949.

The Mystery of the Flaming Forest (June 28, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of May 18, 1949.

The Mystery of the $10,000 Ghost (July 3, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of March 4, 1949.

The Borrowed Corpse (July 5, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of June 20, 1949.

Superman’s Mortal Enemy (July 10, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of March 11, 1949.

The Adventure of the Impractical Joker (July 12, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of April 25, 1949.

The Winged Horse (July 17, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of May 20, 1949.

The Deadly Double (July 19, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of April 22, 1949.

A Voice from the Grave (July 24, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of April 20, 1949.

The Mystery of the Disappearing Diamonds (July 26, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of March 14, 1949.

The Vengeful Ghost (July 31, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of May 16, 1949.

The Mystery of Butte Valley (August 2, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of May 6, 1949.

The Triangle of Crime (August 7, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of May 2, 1949.

The Portrait of Satan (August 9, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of June 8, 1949.

Eleven for Death (August 14, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of June 13, 1949.

The Mystery of the New Face (August 16, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of May 13, 1949.

The Eye of Balapur (August 21, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of May 9, 1949.

The Curse of Devil’s Creek (August 23, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of February 14, 1949.

The Crime at a Bargain (August 28, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of June 1, 1949.

The Mystery of the Vibrating Death (August 30, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of May 4, 1949.

The Speedway of Terror (September 4, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of May 30, 1949.

The Case of the Double Double Cross (September 6, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of June 6, 1949.

How Time Stood Still (September 12, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of March 23, 1949.

The Cat as Big as an Elephant (September 14, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of March 16, 1949.

The Lost King (September 19, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of April 11, 1949.

Crime By the Carload (September 21, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of March 28, 1949.

The Mystery of the Phantom Fleet (September 26, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of April 29, 1949.

Death on the Diamond (September 28, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of May 23, 1949.

The World’s Greatest Secret (October 3, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of March 25, 1949.

The Ghost of Shipwreck Island (October 5, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of June 10, 1949.

The Riddle of the Mysterious Tapestry (October 10, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of May 25, 1949.

The Case of the Double Trouble (October 12, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of March 9, 1949.

Forecast for Crime (October 17, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of June 15, 1949.

The Horsemen of Doom (October 19, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of May 11, 1949.

The Vanishing Ships (October 24, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of June 3, 1949.

The Mystery of the Fortress of Fear (October 26, 1950): Plot details are not available.

Killer at Large (October 31, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of June 22, 1949.

Terror Under the Big Top (November 2, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of April 6, 1949.

The Mystery of Skull Cave (November 7, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of April 13, 1949.

The Return of Panic (November 9, 1950): Plot details are not available.

The Frozen Death (November 14, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of February 7, 1949.

The Mermaid’s Ghost (November 16, 1950): Plot details are not available.

Murder on the Midway (November 21, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of June 17, 1949.

The Story of Marina Baum (November 23, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of February 23, 1949.

The Swiss Clock Killers (November 28, 1950): Plot details are not available.

The Secret of the Sahara (November 30, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of April 18, 1949.

The Achilles Heel (December 5, 1950): Plot details are not available.

Napoleon’s Death Head (December 7, 1950): Plot details are not available.

The Mystery of the Voice Machine (December 12, 1950): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of February 18, 1949.

Glass Diamonds Spell Death (December 14, 1950): Plot details are not available.

The Case of the Precious Papers (December 19, 1950): Plot details are not available.

The Mystery of the Fabulous Fortune (December 21, 1950): Plot details are not available.

The Mystery of the Madcap Monkey (December 26, 1950): Plot details are not available.

Death in Disguise (December 28, 1950): Plot details are not available.

Fangs of Fury (January 2, 1951): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of March 30, 1949.

The Mystery of the Walking Doll (January 4, 1951): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of March 18, 1949.

Murder with Music (January 9, 1951): Plot details are not available.

The Case of the Mysterious Midgets (January 11, 1951): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of February 21, 1949.

The Mystery of the Stolen Costume (January 16, 1951): The same script as used for the ABC broadcast of January 21, 1950.

Operation Danger (January 18, 1951): Plot details are not available.

The Mystery of the Reasoning Robot (January 23, 1951): Plot details are not available.

The Lizard Men (January 25, 1951): Plot details are not available.

The Ghost of Johnny Johnson (January 30, 1951): The same script as used for the ABC broadcast of January 7, 1950.

The Counterfeit Murderers (February 1, 1951): Plot details are not available.

The Mystery of the Singing Wheels (February 6, 1951): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of February 28, 1949.

Death Sells a Picture (February 8, 1951): Plot details are not available.

The Diamond of Doom (February 13, 1951): The same script as used for the ABC broadcast of December 17, 1949.

The Murder Trap (February 15, 1951): Plot details are not available.

Ride of Death (February 20, 1951): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of February 25, 1949.

The Diamond Pigeon (February 22, 1951): Plot details are not available.

The Marked Witness (February 27, 1951): Plot details are not available.

The Mystery of the Prehistoric Monster (March 1, 1951): The same script as used for the Mutual broadcast of June 24, 1949.

Appendix IV

Adventures of Superman: The Television Episodes (1951-58)

Note: Airdates for season one episodes are from Chicago (station WENR-7), where Adventures of Superman made its TV debut. Airdates for seasons two through five are from Los Angeles (KECA-7 and KTTV-11). Airdates for season six are from the ABC-TV network.

I’ve tried to limit the bloopers to legitimate vocal, visual or continuity errors. I’ve chosen to ignore the frequent stock shot mismatches, such as Clark Kent’s “mysterious disappearing hat” (briefly discussed in the introduction), or when Kent leaves the storeroom or an office, and turns in a direction opposite his destination. Such things usually happened when George Reeves was following the scripted directions (“Kent grabs his hat and goes out”), because writers and directors were paid not to memorize stock footage, but to grind out episodes.

The spelling of certain character names may vary from previous episode guides; these were taken directly from the scripts.

Superman and The Mole Men (1951)

Released theatrically on November 21, 1951 by Lippert Pictures Inc.

Running time: 58 minutes

Script #S-3+4; working title: “Nightmare”

Producer: Barney A. Sarecky

Director: Lee Sholem

Original Screenplay: Richard Fielding (pen name for Whitney Ellsworth and Robert Maxwell)

Camerman: Clark Ramsey

Film Editor: Al Joseph, A.C.E.

Music: Darrell Calker

Assistant Director: Arthur Hammond

Art Director: Ernest Fegte

Special Effects: Ray Mercer, A.S.C.

Make-up: Harry Thomas

Dialogue Director: Stephen Carr

Sound Cutter: Bud Hayes, A.S.C.

Sound Engineer: Harry Smith

Wardrobe: Izzy Berne

Script Clerk: Mary Chaffee

Property Master: George Bahr

Cast

Superman/Clark Kent: George Reeves

Lois Lane: Phyllis Coates:

Luke Benson: Jeff Corey

Bill Corrigan: Walter Reed

Pop Sherman: J. Farrell MacDonald

The Sheriff: Stanley Andrews

Jeff Regan: Byron Foulger

John Craig: Ray Walker

The Little Girl: Beverly Washburn

The Girl’s Mother: Margia Dean

Esther Pomfrey: Irene Martin

Weber: Hal K. Dawson

Dr. Reed: Frank Reicher

Eddie: Stephen Carr

Matt: John Phillips

Doc Saunders: Paul Burns

The Deputy: John Baer

Nurse: Adrienne Marden

Mole Man: Billy Curtis

Mole Man: Jack Banbury

Mole Man: Jerry Marin

Mole Man: Tony Baris

Filmed at RKO-Pathe Studios, Culver City, CA between July 10-21, 1951

Plot: The citizens of Silsby, home of the world’s deepest oil well, become crazed with fear when humanoid creatures from the center of the Earth emerge from the drill shaft. Superman must determine which is the greater threat: the mole men or a lynch mob led by Luke Benson.

Trivia: Released theatrically, then repurposed as the final two episodes of the first season.

Blooper: At the beginning of the film, and whenever the creatures arrive and depart, the oil well they use is clearly surrounded by other derricks and equipment, not to mention a shed and a hillside road. Yet in the final shot, when it is set ablaze, the well is isolated for several yards, and on flat ground.

From The Script: After the mole men set the drill shaft afire, this scene was to follow:

279. INT. CRAIG’S CAR (PROCESS) DAY

As it moves out of town with Craig at the wheel, Lois in front and Kent in back, leaning on the front seat.

Lois: Too bad you missed it, Clark. It was the most amazing thing to see them go back down to their own world and then destroy the well.

Kent: (smiling) It must have been.

Lois: It was almost as though they were saying: “We’ll live our lives and you live yours.”

Craig: I’m glad it’s over. Boy, what a nightmare.

Lois: It could have been a lot worse… if not for Superman.

Kent nods sagely.

280. EXT. ROAD MED.

As Craig’s car drives down the road with Lois and Kent, passing a signboard. The car continues a little distance and then comes to an abrupt stop.

281. CLOSE AT CAR

Overlapping the action as Craig has just completed slamming the emergency brake on. To the mystification of Kent and Lois, he gets out of the car, reaches down for a handful of mud, and flings it out savagely in the direction of the signboard o.s. Reacting with grim satisfaction, he gets back behind the wheel, releases the brake and drives off, to the amusement of the others.

282. CLOSE INSERT SIGNBOARD

Reading: YOU ARE NOW LEAVING SILSBY, HOME OF THE WORLD’S DEEPEST OIL WELL.

A handful of mud flies into scene, for a perfect bull’s eye, splattering all over the sign. (This cuts into the preceding scene.)

FADE OUT.

Season One

Regular Cast

Superman/Clark Kent: George Reeves

Lois Lane: Phyllis Coates

Jimmy Olsen: Jack Larson

Perry White: John Hamilton

Inspector William J. Henderson: Robert Shayne

Crew

Producers: Robert J. Maxwell, Bernard Luber

Associate Producer: Barney A. Sarecky

Assistant Directors: Nate Barragar, Art Hammond

Art Directors: Ernest Fegte, Ralph Berger

Cameramen: Clark Ramsey, William Whitney

Story Editor: Whitney Ellsworth

Sound Engineer: Harry Smith

Sound Cutter: Barton Hayes

Film Editor:: Al Joseph, A.C.E.

Make-up: Harry Thomas

Wardrobe: Izzy Berne

Casting Director: Harold Chiles

Dialogue Director: Stephen Carr

Property Man: George Bahr

Special Effects: Danny Hays

Music Editor: Leon Klatzkin

Filmed at RKO-Pathe Studios, Culver City, CA between July 23-October 15, 1951

  1. Superman on Earth (September 19, 1952)

Script #S-9

Director: Tommy Carr

Teleplay: Richard Fielding (pen name for Robert Maxwell and Whitney Ellsworth)

Jor-El: Robert Rockwell

Lara: Aline Towne

Rozan: Herbert Rawlinson

Kogan: Stuart Randall

Eben Kent: Tom Fadden

Sarah Kent: Frances Morris

Twelve-year-old Clark Kent: Joel Nestler

Man Rescued by Superman: Dabbs Greer

Miss Bachrach: Dani Nolan

Narrator: Jack Narz

Plot: Krypton, home to a race of Supermen, is doomed. An infant, placed in a rocket designed by his scientist father, is sent to Earth just before the planet explodes. Adopted by a kindly farm couple, the young man grows to maturity and learns to use his powers for the good of mankind.

Trivia: Rather than suffering a heart attack, Eben Kent was to be pinned under his tractor, with Clark having to lift it off of him and carry him to the farmhouse.

Blooper: When the man hanging from the dirigible falls, watch the lower portion of the screen — he actually hits a mat and rolls forward.

From The Script: Kent’s closing line, “Maybe I’m a Superman, Miss Lane,” was originally “Professional secrets, Miss Lane. Professional secrets.”

  1. The Haunted Lighthouse (September 26, 1952)

Script #S-18

Director: Tommy Carr

Teleplay: Eugene Solow

Mrs. Carmody: Sarah Padden

Chris: Jimmy Ogg

Mac: William Challee

Alice: Allene Roberts

Aunt Louisa: Effie Laird

Plot: Jim Olsen is visiting his Aunt Louisa at her Maine island cottage, but strange things are happening. A seemingly deserted lighthouse gives off a signal, and Jim’s cousin Chris is deliberately unfriendly.

Trivia: Adapted from the radio show’s Lighthouse Point Smugglers story arc from 1940.

Blooper: When the phony Aunt Louisa opens her door to welcome Jim, both she and the door cast shadows on the “sky” behind them.

  1. The Case of the Talkative Dummy (October 3, 1952)

Script #S-10

Director: Tommy Carr

Teleplay: Dennis Cooper and Lee Backman

Harry Green: Pierre Watkin

E.J. Davis: Tristam Coffin

Marco the Ventriloquist: Syd Saylor

The Usher: Phillip Pine

1st Safe-Man: Robert Kent

Armored Car Guard: Steve Carr

Plot: Is a ventriloquist’s dummy providing vital information to a gang of armored car hijackers? That’s the mystery Superman must unravel, with the help of Lois and Jimmy.

Trivia: Clark and Lois were originally supposed to take Jim to a nightclub (“similar to Ciro’s or the Mocambo” according to the script) for his birthday; the ventriloquist would have been the floor show, and the usher was to have been a waiter.

Blooper: You can see the shadow of the safe “hanging” in mid air as Superman arrives to catch it. Only when he’s in position does it start to fall.

From The Script: When Jim’s phone call was mysteriously cut off, Perry White’s line was to have been, “Sufferin’ Caesar! What the — ! Jim! Jim — you there?” Also, Superman’s landing effect is officially described as “the Superman wind and zump” — an appellation that turns up in other scripts (and was likely used in radio scripts as well).

Finally, note the directions in this exchange:

Jim: Let’s go.

Kent: Not you, Jim. You have work to do.

Jim: (disgusted) Aw — (searches for a bad, bad word; settles for) Jeepers!

  1. The Mystery of the Broken Statues (October 10, 1952)

Script #S-12

Director: Tommy Carr

Teleplay: William C. Joyce

Paul Martin: Tristam Coffin

Dorn: Phillip Pine

Owner of Bonelli’s Articrafts: Michael Vallon

Owner of Ellie’s Gift Shop: Maurice Cass

Owner of Edward’s Gift Shop: Steve Carr

Dart: Joey Ray

Pete: Wayde Crosby

Plot: Cheap plaster statuettes are being purchased and smashed at various Metropolis gift shops in order to retrieve seemingly innocuous items hidden within. Why? And how is notorious confidence man Paul Martin involved? Lois enlists Clark to help her, but after finding a key in one of the statues, she is kidnapped.

Blooper: Three different “airplanes” are seen at the close: the two crooks force Lois into a plane with two rear fins, neither of which has writing. As it taxis down the runway, the plane has a single fin without writing (and appears to be much larger); when Superman lands and grabs the plane, there’s one fin with the plane number written on it!

From The Script: Here’s how Superman was originally supposed to stop the getaway plane:

SINGLE MOTORED PLANE (Stock) — As it turns and stops.

AIRPORT RUNWAY — As Superman plummets into scene and lands, looking O.S. up runway.

SINGLE MOTORED PLANE — NIGHT (Stock) — As it comes roaring down the runway into camera (CLOSE SHOT WHIRLING PROPELLER)

CLOSE SHOT: SUPERMAN — As he dives forward and up.

TRICK SHOT: SUPERMAN — As he smashes into the whirling propeller and it splinters over the frame.

  1. The Monkey Mystery (October 17, 1952)

Script #S-13

Director: Tommy Carr

Teleplay: Ben Peter Freeman and Doris Gilbert

Maria Moleska: Allene Roberts

Harold Crane: Harry Lewis

Max: William Challee

Tony Urmetti, the organ grinder: Michael Vallon

Doctor on the train: Steve Carr

Plot: An organ-grinder uses his monkey to assist a band of spies that smuggle atomic secrets out of the U.S. When a microfilm containing a key defense formula is stolen from the refugee daughter of its inventor, Superman must intervene.

  1. Night of Terror (October 24, 1952)

Script #S-23

Director: Lee Sholem

Teleplay: Ben Peter Freeman

Sully: Frank Richards

Mitch: John Kellogg

‘Baby Face’ Stevens: Richard Benedict

Cora King: Ann Doran

Miss Bachrach: Almira Sessions

Mr. Quinn: Steve Carr

Oscar: Joel Friedkin

Plot: Lois unwittingly finds herself in a remote tourist camp used to smuggle criminals out of the country. Via telephone, she entrusts Jimmy to get word to Clark, but the janitor accidentally destroys the message. With Clark absent, Jimmy decides to help, and is mistaken for a hired gun — but only temporarily. It’s a race against time as Superman tries to locate the exact camp.

Blooper: Oscar the janitor leans his broom against the wall in Kent’s office… and you can see that it’s merely fabric.

From The Script: The original version of Lois’ encounter with Sully, who is called ‘Augie’ in the script:

Lois: (enraged) Don’t you push me!

Lois comes at Augie, swinging her overnight case, smashes him with it. He reels back, groping in his back pocket, comes up with a black-jack.

10. CLOSE SHOT AUGIE

advancing on Lois with the black-jack

11. CLOSE SHOT LOIS

backing away, horrified. She starts to SCREAM as Augie’s body comes into scene, towering over her and his arm comes up and down as he wields the black-jack. The scream is cut short as we hear a THUD, then a body fall.

  1. The Birthday Letter (October 31, 1952)

Script #S-14

Director: Lee Sholem

Teleplay: Dennis Cooper

Kathy Williams: Isa Ashdown

Maria DuVall: Nan Boardman

Marcel DuVall: Maurice Marsac

Slugger: John Doucette

Mrs. Williams: Virginia Carroll

Cusack: Paul Marion

Mr. Perkins: Jack Daly

Plot: Little Kathy, who cannot walk without leg braces and crutches, wants the real-life Superman to take her to the Metropolis Fair. But when she receives a phone call intended for a gang of counterfeiters, she is visited by a bogus Man of Steel — who takes her hostage!

  1. The Mind Machine (November 7, 1952)

Script #S-2, working title: “Engine of Death”

Director: Lee Sholem

Teleplay: Dennis Cooper and Lee Backman

Lou Cranek: Dan Seymour

Curly: Ben Welden

Dr. Edward Stanton: Griff Barnett

John Hadley: Steve Carr

Senator Taylor: James Seay

Al: Harry Hayden

Carl Wagner: Frank Orth

Bus Driver: Lester Dorr

Plot: Lou Cranek — the “Kingpin of organized crime” — kidnaps Dr. Stanton and forces him to use his “mind machine” to interfere with witnesses that are testifying against him. Three men die as a result — and Lois is also due to testify!

Blooper: Dr. Hadley commandeers Dr. Stanton’s “private plane” — which, courtesy of the stock footage used, has “American Airlines” written on it. Also, watch closely as Hadley anticipates Kent’s knockout punch.

From The Script: The scene where Clark and Perry argue with Lois about testifying included this dialogue:

Lois: (determinedly) Look — they want me on that witness stand this afternoon, and I’m going to be there. Now it’s more important than ever — if Lou Cranek is to be exposed.

White: Who cares about Cranek? It’s you I’m thinking about. You want to be driven crazy like those other witnesses?

Lois: They were all men.

White: What in the name of thunder has that got to do with it?

Lois: (innocently) Women have much stronger minds than men. Everybody knows that.

White: (blowing his top, sputtering) If that isn’t the — wackiest kind of — of woman talk !

  1. Rescue (November 14, 1952)

Script #S-22

Director: Tommy Carr

Teleplay: Monroe Manning

Pop Polgase: Houseley Stevenson, Sr.

Inspector D. K. Sims: Fred E. Sherman

Stan Hocker: Ray Bennett

Lafe Reiser: Edmund Coff

Harry Hansen: Milt Kibbee:

Plot: Refusing to heed safety warnings, Pop Polgase works in his dilapidated coal mine until a shaft collapses. Lois, on an assignment at the mine, secretly makes her way to Pop’s location and attempts to dig him out… when another cave-in seals them both. It’s up to Superman, now… but Clark Kent keeps missing the news about Lois’ peril.

Blooper: The burning paper that starts a fire in the mine is clearly being pulled by a wire.

  1. The Secret of Superman (November 21, 1952)

Script #S-6

Director: Tommy Carr

Teleplay: Wells Root

Dr. H.L. Ort: Peter Brocco

Rausch: Larry Blake

Mrs. Olsen: Helen Wallace

Herman the Waiter: Joel Friedkin

The Cook: Steve Carr

Plot: A mysterious doctor is using mind-control drugs on the Planet staff in order to locate — and eventually dominate — Superman. In order to expose the culprit, Kent is “fired” and accepts a job with the doctor.

Blooper: Perry White’s coffee cup is empty throughout the scene where he supposedly drinks and is drugged by it.

From The Script: The episode was to include a scene where editor White fires Kent:

White: Now look here, Kent, I’m running this newspaper!

Kent: You certainly are — right into the ground!

White: Why of all the impudence! You’ll handle this story my way or…

Kent: Or what, Chief?

White: I’ll put someone on it who can take orders. (Into intercom) Miss Bachrach. Send in Lois Lane.

Kent: Lois can’t handle this story!

Lois: (has been listening by the door) Oh, she can’t, can she? May I ask why she can’t?

Kent: (desperately) Because it’s too dangerous — that’s why! (to White) Chief — are you crazy?

White: Maybe I have been, keeping a man on my staff that’s too big for his britches.

Kent: But you can’t go that far, letting Lois…

White: Yes I can! And you can go even farther. You can go down to the cashier’s office and pick up your check.

Kent: I’m fired?

White: You’ve got the idea — in a flash. Go to work on it the same way. I’m busy. That’s all, Kent.

KENT turns slowly — he goes out.

Lois: Chief, don’t you think you poured it on a little thick? Clark’s liable to take you seriously.

White: (curtly) He’d better.

Lois: (astonished) You mean he’s really fired this time?

White: That’s what I mean.

Lois: (genuinely concerned) But Chief… for all his timidity, Clark Kent’s the best reporter this paper ever had.

White: (stiffly) Young lady, do me a favor — save your sob stories for the reading public. That’s all.

  1. No Holds Barred (November 28, 1952)

Script #S-16

Director: Lee Sholem

Teleplay: Peter Dixon

Wayne Winchester: Malcolm Mealey

‘Bad Luck’ Brannigan: Richard Reeves

Mortimer ‘Murder’ Murray: Herburt Vigran

Ram Kutch: Tito Renaldo

Crusher Jones: Henry Kulky

Sam Bleeker: Richard Elliot

Plot: ‘Bad Luck’ Brannigan rises to the top of professional wrestling with an unorthodox ‘hold’ called “The Paralyzer” — which does literally that to its victims. Superman soon learns that the hold was taught by a young Indian named Ram, who is being held against his will by Brannigan’s manager Mortimer ‘Murder’ Murray. With this knowledge, Clark teaches a young college wrestling champ how to expose Brannigan.

Trivia: “Mortimer Murray” is named for two National Comics editors, Mort Weisinger and Murray Boltinoff. Whitney Ellsworth hired both men in the 1940’s.

Blooper: This one may have been caused by re-editing: a newspaper headline refers to the crippling of wrestler ‘Teuton’ Tony… then, just before a dissolve, the headline spelling changes to ‘Two-ton’ Tony.

From The Script: The teleplay continually has Murray and his cohorts refer to Ram by the insulting epithet “the geek.” Also, when Kent first shows Winchester how “The Paralyzer” works, his apartment phone rings, leading to the following:

65. MEDIUM CLOSE KENT AT TELEPHONE

Kent picks up the phone.

Kent: Hello.

Lois: (o.s. filter) Clark? Lois. Can you meet me at St. Luke’s Hospital in half an hour? It’s important.

Kent: St. Luke’s? Why, yes, I guess so.

Lois: (o.s. filter) I’m sorry about what I said last night… I…well… I’ll tell you about it when I see you. Bye, now.

SOUND of phone at Lois’ end being hung up. Kent hangs up his phone and turns to Winchester.

66. MEDIUM SHOT ANOTHER ANGLE

Kent is getting his hat.

Kent: We’ll have to postpone the rest of the lesson… I’ve got to get over to St. Luke’s Hospital.

DISSOLVE TO:

67. MEDIUM SHOT HOSPTIAL ROOM INT. DAY

Shooting at a hospital bed. SALTY SIMMONS, the crippled wrestler, is in bed. His face indicates dull pain. Lois and Kent at his side.

Lois: I just want you to look at him, Clark. He can’t move from the waist down. He doesn’t even try to talk. That’s what’ll happen to Wayne Winchester if you let him wrestle Brannigan.

Kent regards Lois gravely.

Kent: Is that all you wanted me over here for?

Lois: Is that all? Even the doctors don’t know whether it’s a temporary paralysis or a permanent crippling.

68. MEDIUM SHOT KENT AND LOIS

Kent and Lois stand looking at Simmons.

Kent: (almost to himself) Something’s going to be done about it!

Lois: Maybe too late to do anything to help this poor man. But not too late to stop the match between Brannigan and Wayne. And Wayne will listen to you… I know he will.

Kent gives Lois a long, steady look.

Kent: Wayne’s going to wrestle Brannigan, Lois… and he’s going to win!

Lois is fighting back tears of anger and frustration. The man she has always trusted has failed her completely.

Lois: You… you monster!

  1. The Deserted Village (December 5, 1952)

Script #S-7

Director: Tommy Carr

Teleplay: Dick Hamilton and Ben Peter Freeman

Dr. Oscar Jessup: Fred E. Sherman

Mrs. Matilda Taisey: Maude Prickett

Alvin Godfrey: Malcolm Mealey

Peter Godfrey: Edmund Cobb

Miss Walton: Ann Tyrell

Plot: Lois visits her childhood hometown, Cliffton-by-the-Sea, with Clark and finds it nearly deserted. The residents have been scared away by a sickening fog and a mysterious “monster.”

From The Script: Superman’s explanation of the scheme included this line: “Had the Godfreys succeeded in driving everyone out of Cliffton and purchased this property for a song — they could’ve sold the hydrozite to the government and become multi-millionaires.” Also, at the conclusion Matilda Taisey agreed to marry Doc Jessup!

  1. The Stolen Costume (December 12, 1952)

Script #S-17

Director: Lee Sholem

Teleplay: Ben Peter Freeman

Ace: Dan Seymour

Connie: Veda Ann Borg

Candy Meyers: Frank Jenks

Johnny ‘Teaball’ Simms: Norman Budd

Officer Riley: Bob Williams

Plot: While Clark is having a physical, the notorious “Rope Burglar” enters his apartment and finds a secret closet containing Superman’s costume. He’s shot by a patrolman, but makes his escape and passes the costume on to small-time hoodlums Ace and Connie — who intend to blackmail the Man of Steel.

Trivia: Adapted from the radio episode Dead Men Tell No Tales, airdate January 21, 1950. This marks the only television appearance of detective Candy Meyers, a recurring character on the radio series.

Blooper: There is a vase on the table to the left of Kent’s closet. When the door explodes, the vase remains upright, but when Kent and Meyers inspect the damage, the vase is on its side.

  1. Mystery in Wax (December 19, 1952)

Script #S-19

Director: Lee Sholem

Teleplay: Ben Peter Freeman

Madame Selena Dawn: Myra McKinney

Andrew Dawn: Lester Sharpe

Plot: Madame Selena’s Wax Museum features a macabre “Hall of Death” — the madame creates wax statues of notable citizens that will die within six months. In each case, the subject is witnessed committing suicide. Although the police have cleared her of wrongdoing, when a Perry White figure is introduced as the next victim, Lois and Clark make their own investigation.

Trivia: Despite having been re-edited to Kellogg’s specifications, several stations dropped this episode from the rotation.

Blooper: The span of time between the first and last “suicides” is fourteen months!

From The Script: The entire script was re-written on July 28, 1951, with additional revisions dated August 2. The scene where Henderson calls Kent at home at night includes the following:

46. INT. KENT’S BEDROOM CLOSEUP ON KENT NIGHT (PROD. NOTE: Use film from “The Secret of Superman.”)

  1. Treasure of the Incas (December 26, 1952)

Script #S-20; working title: “Secret of the Incas”

Director: Tommy Carr

Teleplay: Howard Green

Pedro Mendoza: Leonard Penn

Don Anselmo: Steve Carr

Dr. Cuesta: Juan DuVal

Chief of Police: Martin Garralaga

Professor Laverra: Hal Gerard

Taxi Driver: Juan Rivero

Plot: At an auction, Lois is asked by a stranger to bid on a rare tapestry. When a different man appears at the close and requests the tapestry, Lois refuses — and soon finds herself the owner of an Incan treasure map. She and Jimmy travel to Peru to unravel the mystery.

Trivia: Adapted from the radio episode Riddle of the Tapestry, airdate May 25, 1949.

Blooper: Mendoza and Anselmo light three sticks of dynamite, but by the time Superman arrives, there is only one.

From The Script: Supeman’s line “The explosion trapped those two; I’ll get them later” was not in the original teleplay and was added in post-production. Indeed, according to the script, “Mendoza and Anselmo are running away. But now there is an explosion — and they are buried in falling rock and earth.”

  1. Double Trouble (January 2, 1953)

Script #S-11, working title: “Million Dollar Mystery”

Director: Tommy Carr

Teleplay: Eugene Solow

Dr. Albert Fischer/Schumann: Howard Chamberlain

Dr. Rudolf Albrecht: Rudolph Anders

Colonel Redding Selmer Jackson

Count von Kleben, a.k.a. ‘Madame Charpentier’: Steve Carr

Jake: Jimmie Dodd

Kreuger: John Baer

Plot: A million dollars’ worth of radium is stolen from an Army hospital in Germany and smuggled into the U.S. When Jimmy unwittingly assists the smuggler in a double-cross, he is kidnapped. Superman must fly to Germany for the solution.

Trivia: Adapted from the radio episode The Million Dollar Mystery, airdate November 12, 1949.

Blooper: The nameplate on Dr. Rudolf Albrecht’s door says “Dr. H. Albrecht.”

From The Script: Dr. Albrecht’s curse is written as “Verfluchte Uebermensch!” Superman’s original response was “Your curses aren’t as pretty as your aim, Doctor!”

  1. The Runaway Robot (January 9, 1953)

Script #S-1, working title: “By Hook or Crook”

Director: Tommy Carr

Teleplay: Dick Hamilton

Professor Horatio Hinkle: Lucien Littlefield

Chopper: Russell Johnson

Rocko: Dan Seymour

Mousey: John Harmon

Marvin: Robert Easton

Police Officer: Herman Cantor

Plot: Professor Horatio Hinkle has invented a robot named Hero, intended to thwart criminals — but which ends up instead in the hands of a robbery gang.

Trivia: Horatio Hook appeared in the Superman newspaper strip; on radio he was ‘Horatio Horn.’

Blooper: Somehow Professor Hinkle can see Hero on his monitor, even though the camera is mounted inside the robot!

From The Script: Professor Hinkle’s name in the script is ‘Horatio Hook,’ hence the working title. The script also states that Hero “should have the same piquant visual appeal that the Tin Woodsman did in ‘Wizard of Oz,’” and labels Marvin “Hook’s ‘Mortimer Snerd’ assistant.” Finally, in the closing scene, Horatio intentionally sets off Hero’s flame on Inspector Henderson’s posterior.

  1. Drums of Death (January 16, 1953)

Script #S-15; working title: “Black Magic”

Director: Lee Sholem

Teleplay: Dick Hamilton

Paploi Legbu/William Johnson: Harry Corden

Dr. Leland Masters: Leonard Mudie

Miss Kate White: Mabel Albertson

Antoin Bergeret: Milton Wood

Dr. Simone Gerarde: George Hamilton

Voodoo Drummer: Smoki Whitfield

Plot: Perry White’s sister Kate and Jimmy Olsen have vanished in a Haitian jungle. Perry and Clark travel to Haiti to find them, and discover that Legbu, a mysterious voodoo doctor attempting to locate Henri Christophe’s hidden treasure, is holding them prisoner.

Blooper: Perry’s photo of Legbu is allegedly a blow-up from the movie film sent by his sister — but it’s clearly a posed shot that doesn’t equate with the film at all. Moreover, in a later scene, Johnson puts down the photo and we can see it’s not of the witch doctor, but a man in an ordinary suit and tie.

From The Script: Hamilton wrote a moral summation for Superman after the rescue in the citadel:

White: Lose my temper? I almost lost my life because of this — this imbecile! Digging for treasure. You’ll get all the digging you want — in prison.

Superman: The end of the trail for those who look for easy money.

  1. The Evil Three (January 23, 1953)

Script #S-24

Director: Tommy Carr

Teleplay: Ben Peter Freeman

Macey Taylor: Rhys Williams

Colonel Brand: Jonathan Hale

Elsa: Cecil Elliot

Plot: On a fishing trip, Perry and Jimmy stay overnight at the run-down Bayou Hotel, which houses the late owner’s nephew and two mysterious guests. When Jimmy claims to have seen the ghost of the former owner, Perry suspects something sinister and enlists Clark’s help.

Blooper: There is a jump cut in the forest footage behind Superman and Colonel Brand, just before Brand strikes Superman with his sword.

  1. Riddle of the Chinese Jade (January 30, 1953)

Script #S-26

[Director
__]Tommy Carr

[Teleplay
__]Richard Fielding (pen name for Robert Maxwell)

Lu Sung: Paul Burns

Harry Wong: Victor Sen Yung

Lily Sung: Gloria Saunders

John Greer: James Craven

Plot: Harry Wong, wanting to marry the niece of his employer Lu Sung, assists a criminal with the theft of a valuable jade figurine. But the plan backfires when the niece, Lily Sung, witnesses the crime.

Trivia: Adapted from the radio episode “Riddle of the Chinese Jade,” airdate February 11, 1949.

Blooper: The amount of bamboo shavings on Harry Wong’s shirtfront vary between long shot and close-up.

  1. The Human Bomb (February 6, 1953)

Script #S-21

Director: Tommy Carr

Teleplay: Richard Fielding (pen name for Whitney Ellsworth)

‘Bet-a-Million’ Butler: Trevor Bardette

Conway: Lou Krugman

Deputy Inspector Hill: Marshall Reed

A Henchman: Lou Lubin

Officer Riley: Dennis Moore

Receptionist: Aline Towne

Plot: ‘Bet-a-Million’ Butler wages his usual amount that he can control Superman for thirty minutes. He does this by strapping himself with dynamite, taking Lois Lane out on the ledge of the Planet building, and keeping within sight of Superman until a robbery has been committed.

Trivia: The teleplay, intended to ease budget concerns, replaced “Death Rides the Sky Chaser,” a script written by Doris Gilbert and adapted from the radio episode “Death Rides the Roller Coaster” (see Appendix V).

Blooper: In one of the ‘cutaways’ to the street below, the cars are moving backwards.

From The Script: The entire opening scene, where Butler makes the bet with Conway, is not in the final script.

Bomb: I see you’re convinced my dynamite is quite real.

Superman: Just what are you after?

Bomb: Your company and cooperation…

Lois: (hotly) Tell him to drop dead!

She suddenly realizes the import of what she has said, looks down, reacts in horror to the INSERT of looking-down shot.

Lois: No, don’t tell him quite that! If he drops dead — so do I.

  1. Czar of the Underworld (February 13, 1953)

Script #S-25; Working title: “Murder on Stage 13”

Director: Tommy Carr

Teleplay: Eugene Solow

Luigi Dinelli: Tony Caruso

Ollie: Paul Fix

Frank Dinelli/Studio Police Chief: John Maxwell

Tommy: Roy Gordon

Director Carr: Stephen Carr

Plot: Clark Kent’s series of articles about gangster Luigi Dinelli is being made into a Hollywood movie, with Kent and Inspector Henderson serving as advisors. No sooner do they arrive than Dinelli’s henchmen begin to sabotage the studio.

Trivia: Dinelli’s name was originally Luigi Postello. This would have made his brother “Frank Postello” — dangerously close to Frank Costello, the real-life mobster that had become a central figure in Senator Estes Kefauver’s organized crime hearings a few months earlier (and was reputed to be a friend of Harry Donenfeld).

Blooper: The lamp in Kent’s office that is hit by the mobster’s bullet starts to fly off the desk before the shot is fired.

From The Script: Several pages of dialogue were altered on September 17, 1951; these reflect Luigi’s name change. Along with the telephone conversation between White and Henderson, Superman and Henderson’s dialogue about “that little carbon monoxide deal” does not appear in the final script. Finally, a scene alleged to be a blooper was actually intentional. The limo has a “National Studios” sign on it when Dinelli’s thugs knock out the chauffeur, but when Kent and Henderson arrive, the sign is gone. The script specifies that the sign should be gone, because we’re meant to believe that the thugs are driving Dinelli’s limo, not the studio’s.

  1. Ghost Wolf (February 20, 1953)

Script #S-5

Director: Lee Sholem

Teleplay: Dick Hamilton

Sam Garvin: Stanley Andrews

Babette DuLoque: Jane Adams

Jacques Olivier: Lou Krugman

Train Conductor: Harold Goodwin

Plot[*:*] The lumber camp that supplies the Daily Planet with pulpwood is being deserted — a supposed werewolf is scaring off the lumberjacks. Perry White sends Clark, Lois and Jimmy to investigate.

Blooper: Because the phone conversations between White and Garvin were filmed at least a week after the episode had wrapped, Garvin’s telephone voice is clearly not that of actor Stanley Andrews.

  1. Crime Wave (February 27, 1953)

Script #S-27

Director: Tommy Carr

Teleplay: Ben Peter Freeman

Walter Canby: John Eldredge

Nick Marone: Phil Van Zandt

Big Ed Bullock: Al Eben

The Professor: Joseph Mell

Sally: Barbara Fuller

Tony: Bobby Barber

Plot: Superman embarks on a one-man crusade against the top mobsters in Metropolis — but the location and identity of the number one crime boss eludes him.

Blooper: It’s impossible for Sally to have taken the movie shots we see with the camera she’s using.

  1. The Unknown People, Part One

  1. The Unknown People, Part Two

(Original broadcast dates: undetermined)

Featuring the cast of Superman and the Mole Men, plus

Narrator: Jack Narz

Plot: The film Superman and the Mole Men, split in two parts.

Season Two

Regular Cast

Superman/Clark Kent: George Reeves

Lois Lane: Noel Neill

Jimmy Olsen: Jack Larson

Perry White: John Hamilton

Inspector William J. Henderson: Robert Shayne

Crew

Producer: Whitney Ellsworth

Production Manager: Clem Beauchamp

Production Coordinator: David S. Garber

Assistant Directors: Jack R. Berne, Robert Justman, Ivan Volkman

Director of Photography: Harold Stine, A.S.C.

Story Editor: Mort Weisinger

Film Editor: Harry Gerstad

Special Effects: Thol Simonson

Photographic Effects: Jack R. Glass

Casting Director: Harold Chiles

Sound Engineer: Jean L. Speak

Music Editor: Irving Gertz

Re·recording: Ryder Services, Inc.

Filmed at California Studios, Hollywood, CA between June 15-September 23, 1953

  1. Five Minutes to Doom (September 14, 1953)

Script #S-29

Director: Thomas Carr

Teleplay: Monroe Manning

Joe Winters: Dabbs Greer

Mr. Wayne: Lewis Russell

Baker: Dale Van Sickel

Clare Winters: Lois Hall

Turk: John Kellogg

Secretary: Jean Willes

Warden: Sam Flint

Governor: William E. Green

Plot: It’s a race against time to prove Joe Winters is innocent of murder, and to save him from the electric chair.

Blooper: This one’s tough to spot, but if you look closely at the side of Lois’ car (shortly after Clark has jumped out with the bomb left by a saboteur), you’ll see the cameraman and boom operator reflected.

  1. The Big Squeeze (September 21, 1953)

Script #S-27

Director: Thomas Carr

Teleplay: David Chantler

Dan Grayson: Hugh Beaumont

Luke Maynard: John Kellogg

Tim Grayson: Bradley Mora

Mr. Adam Foster: Harry Cheshire

Peg Grayson: Aline Towne

Al: Ted Ryan

Policeman: Reed Howes

Plot: Dan Grayson, the Daily Planet’s Citizen of the Year, has a long-buried secret: he was once a convict. The unwanted publicity of the award has flushed out a fellow ex-con with a healthy blackmail racket.

Blooper: Superman pulls off a vault door and props it against the wall, but not enough to keep it in place unassisted. He has to steady it with his hand, and as he leaves the scene, the door starts to fall forward. We cut to Superman jumping out a window; when we return, the door is propped upright at a much more extreme angle.

  1. The Man Who Could Read Minds (September 28, 1953)

Script #S-31

Director: Thomas Carr

Teleplay: Roy Hamilton

Swami Amada: Larry Dobkin

Lura: Veola Vonn

Monk: Richard Karlan

Sergeant Healey: Russell Custer

Newsboy: Tom Bernard

Plot: Who is the Phantom Burglar? That is the puzzle that leads Lois, Jimmy and Clark to a nightclub where a mind-reading Swami has not-so-coincidentally encountered all the victims.

Trivia: Adapted from “The Phantom Bandit of Gotham City” (Batman #81, February 1954).

Blooper: This mistake was caused in the lab: Clark tells Perry to stop the car (they’re on a dirt road), and it suddenly stops via a freeze frame that holds for several seconds. The dust kicked up by their tires freezes as well.

  1. Jet Ace (October 5, 1953)

Script #S-34; working title: “Blackout”

Director: Thomas Carr

Teleplay: David Chantler

Chris White: Lane Bradford

General Summers: Selmer Jackson

Steve Martin: Larry Blake

Frenchy: Richard Reeves

Nate: Mauritz Hugo

Tim Mallory: Jim Hayward

Voice on Speaker: Sam Balter

Plot: Test pilot Chris White (Perry’s nephew) blacks out during the trial flight of a new Air Force jet. After being rescued by Superman, Chris heads to his Uncle’s cabin to relax, but is kidnapped by an espionage agent interested in his report.

Trivia: Not a remake, yet remarkably similar to the radio show’s “Mr. Prim and the Dragonfly Adventure” story arc from July 1943, which also featured Chris White as a pilot testing a new airplane.

Blooper: Superman’s boots are visible in the rear window as he holds the doors of Nate and Frenchy’s car in place. But when we cut to a two-shot inside the car, the boots are gone, even though the entire rear window is visible.

  1. Shot in the Dark (October 12, 1953)

Script #S-35

Director: George Blair

Teleplay: David Chantler

Harriet Harper: Vera Marshe

Alan: Billy Gray

Burt Burnside: John Eldredge

Slugger: Frank Richards

Bill: Alan Lee

Plot: A boy photographer has taken two very interesting pictures: one of a confidence man long presumed dead, the other of Clark Kent changing into Superman.

Blooper: A continuity error: watch how Clark Kent’s handkerchief magically disappears and reappears during a scene in Henderson’s office.

  1. The Defeat of Superman (October 19, 1953)

Script #S-28

Director: Thomas Carr

Teleplay: Jackson Gillis

Happy J. King: Peter Mamakos

Professor Meldini: Maurice Cass

Ruffles: Sid Tomack

Plot: Underworld kingpin Happy King has discovered the secret of Superman’s Achilles heel: kryptonite. With Lois and Jimmy as bait, he lures the Man of Steel into a death trap.

Blooper: A stock footage mismatch: after King’s car veers off the road, we see a car going over a cliff, followed by a completely different car tumbling to the bottom.

From The Script: Over the years, viewers have wondered how Clark assembled the torn letter Lois deposited in his wastebasket. The script reveals it was accomplished via super-vision, in a shot intended to be more elaborate:

93. CLOSE SHOT KENT’S OFFICE DAY

As Kent, still worried and frustrated, lifts papers from desk, searching. Then his gaze goes o.s. to wastebasket beside desk, and he reacts to what he sees:

94. INSERT DAY WASTE BASKET

As the CAMERA MOVES CLOSER we see the torn pieces of the note.

95. CLOSEUP KENT’S EYES

As he frowns and stares downward intently.

96. CLOSEUP THE NOTE (TRICK SHOT)

As the torn pieces of the note re-arrange themselves swiftly like a jigsaw puzzle so that the writing becomes clear, and (for audiences still using 10-inch screens) we hear Kent’s o.s. voice reading:

Kent: (o.s.) “Dear Mr. Kent. If you can contact Superman, please ask him to come to my home at 3420 Ocean Drive at once.”

And as he pauses, the fragments of the note disintegrate again. (This is reverse of TRICK SHOT above.)

97. CLOSE SHOT KENT’S OFFICE DAY

As he sits there for a moment, stunned, repeating the last words of the note:

Kent: (slowly) “Signed, Happy J. King.”

Here’s the closing scene as originally written:

Lois: Well, Clark? How do you like it? I told you if I got half a lead, I’d bring back the real story… Of course, the mere fact that we happened to fall into his trap for Superman the way we did —

Clark has seemed very unresponsive — now he interrupts softly.

Kent: — You saved my life.

Lois: What?

Kent: (Quickly) I mean — I’m glad you got the story instead of me! Yes, and I’m glad you didn’t print anything in it about the effect of kryptonite on Superman.

Jimmy: Gosh, I’m never going to tell about that!

Lois: (Softly) It’s too dangerous a thing for anyone else to know — even if there isn’t anymore kryptonite in the world!

Jimmy: Funny though, to think that Superman actually has a weakness. It makes him almost human! For once we actually had to save him!

Kent: We were pretty lucky, I guess.

Lois: We! Now don’t tell me you’re going to start taking credit for it!

Kent rises quickly. He gives an affectionate rub to Jimmy’s head with one hand — while he pats Lois’ cheek with the other.

Kent: Oh, don’t worry, I won’t, I won’t. After all, I’m not human!

And grinning, he exits quickly — while they look at each other: This screwy guy Kent! FADE OUT

  1. Superman in Exile (October 26, 1953)

Script #S-30

Director: Thomas Carr

Teleplay: Jackson Gillis

Joseph Ferdinand: Leon Askin

Regan: Phil Van Zandt

Skinny: John Harmon

Director Adams: Joe Forte

Fred: Don Dillaway

Allen (scientist on radio): Robert S. Carson

Sheriff: Gregg Barton

Radio Announcer: Sam Balter

Plot: After containing a nuclear reactor that had gone wild, Superman becomes dangerously radioactive. With the Man of Steel in self-imposed exile, a gang of thieves stages a daring crown jewel theft, taking Lois as hostage.

Trivia: Adapted from “The Spectral Superman” (Action Comics #188, January 1954).

Blooper: As Superman grabs and jostles the tail of the airplane where Lois is held hostage, you can see the shadow of the plane against the process screen projecting the sky film.

  1. A Ghost for Scotland Yard (November 2, 1953)

Script #S-41

Director: George Blair

Teleplay: Jackson Gillis

Rocker/Brockhurst the Magician: Leonard Mudie

Sir Arthur Macready: Colin Campbell

Maybelle Macready: Norma Varden

Inspector Farrington: Patrick Aherne

Betty: Evelyn Halpern

News Vendor: Clyde Cook

Plot: Clark and Jimmy are in England, and are asked by Lois to visit Perry’s friend Sir Arthur Macready. It seems Macready’s life has been threatened by a dead magician’s ghost.

Trivia: The opening scene, where Superman flies from Paris to London with his and Jimmy’s forgotten passports, does not appear in the script. The scripted opening was the scene with Jimmy and the News Vendor, which coincidentally is how the episode began when it aired on Nick at Nite and TV Land.

Blooper: Sir Arthur drives a Rolls Royce, which is proper for Great Britain, but it’s an American model: the steering wheel is on the left.

  1. The Dog Who Knew Superman (November 9, 1953)

Script #S-38

Director: Thomas Carr

Teleplay: David Chantler

Hank Carey: Ben Welden

Louie: Billy Nelson

Joyce Carey: Dona Drake

Dogcatcher: John Daly

Man at the Well: Lester Dorr

Plot: After Superman rescues a small dog from a well, he soon discovers that the pup has figured out his secret identity — and that he’s the property of a bookmaker’s wife.

Trivia: Corky’s name in the script is Bones. Adapted from “The Dog Who Loved Superman” (Superman #88, March 1954).

Blooper: The boom mike is visible when Louie enters Kent’s office.

From The Script: Here’s how the finale was originally written:

124. MEDIUM SHOT KENT’S OFFICE

Bones looks up at Kent for a moment, then turns and goes slowly and sadly out the door. CAMERA MOVES IN on Kent, who looks sad and amused. He reacts slowly to:

Lois: (o.s.) What’s the matter, Clark? You look as though you’d lost your best friend.

CAMERA ANGLE widens to include Lois as Kent smiles wanly at her.

Kent: Better than most, at that…

  1. The Face and the Voice (November 16, 1953)

Script #S-32

Director: George Blair

Teleplay: Jackson Gillis

Boulder: George Reeves

Fairchild: Carlton Young

Scratchy: George Chandler

Hamlet: Percy Helton

T-Bone: I. Stanford Jolley

Grocery Store Clerk: William Newell

Jewelry Store Guard: Nolan Leary

Tom (doctor): Hayden Rorke

Radio Announcer: Sam Balter

Plot: A double for Superman is committing small crimes and then donating the “proceeds” to local charities. The ruse is so convincing that even Clark begins to doubt his sanity. The big payoff is for $2 million dollars of gold bullion — with no charitable donation to follow.

Trivia: Based in part on the radio arc “Is There Another Superman?” from 1946. The scene where Kent visits his doctor friend Tom is not in the original script. Likely the episode came up short and the vignette was written and shot some days later. As with similar instances during the previous season, the character’s absence from the original cast sheet explains why Hayden Rorke did not receive a screen credit.

Blooper: The radio announcer describes the jewelry store watchman as “confused by being thrown to the floor” by Superman (Boulder), but the robbery was shown earlier, and Boulder simply ignored the watchman.

From The Script: The first page contains this “PRODUCTION NOTE: George Reeves will play the part of Boulder, as well as Clark Kent and Superman — probably the first triple identity role in history.”

  1. The Man in the Lead Mask (November 23, 1953)

Script #S-37

Director: George Blair

Teleplay: Leroy H. Zehren and Roy Hamilton

Marty Mitchell/Canfield: Frank Scannell

Doc Webster: John Crawford

Scott: Louis Jean Heydt

Morrell: Paul Bryar

Pawley: John Merton

The real Marty Mitchell: Joey Ray

A Waitress: Lynn Thomas

Radio Announcer: Sam Balter

Plot: A master criminal seems to have discovered the unthinkable — a way to permanently change his fingerprints. Clark soon figures out this is tied to a series of robberies committed by men wearing lead masks.

Trivia: Adapted from “The Man Who Could Change Fingerprints” (Batman #82, March 1954). In the script, Jimmy was originally supposed to hit Superman (wearing the lead mask) on the head with a fire axe!

  1. Panic in the Sky (November 30, 1953)

Script #S-33

Director: Thomas Carr

Teleplay: Jackson Gillis

Professor Roberts: Jonathan Hale

A Lady Farmer: Jane Frazee

Professor Roberts’ Assistant: Clark Howat

Shopowner: Thomas Moore

Plot: Attempting to destroy an asteroid plunging toward Metropolis, Superman only sidetracks it. What’s more, he loses his memory in the process. The asteroid plays havoc with Earth’s climate, and Superman is desperately needed. But no one — least of all Clark Kent — knows where to find him.

Trivia: Adapted from “The Menace from the Stars” (World’s Finest #68, January 1954).

Bloopers: The amnesiac Kent starts to disrobe with Jimmy right behind him. When he pulls his shirt open, revealing his costume, we can see that the Superman shirt has no sleeves — his left armpit is visible! Second, when Superman lands on the asteroid with the explosive device, birds chirping can be heard on the soundtrack.

From The Script: For the scene where the amnesiac Clark retrieves Superman’s costume from his closet, the script has some very specific directions: “…as he walks slowly from closet, the uniform in both hands, folded carelessly, but so that the ‘S’ shows, and the jockstrap part doesn’t.” Also, there’s a slight variation in Jimmy’s comment about the costume, as written: “Superman explained it to me once. The costume doesn’t give him any powers. Only Superman can do super-things. Nobody else. Nobody.”

  1. The Machine That Could Plot Crimes (December 7, 1953)

Script #S-39

Director: Thomas Carr

Teleplay: Jackson Gillis

Uncle Oscar: Sterling Holloway

Larry McCoy: Billy Nelson

Nosey: Ben Welden

Pinky: Stan Jarman

Bank Teller: Sherry Moreland

Policeman: Russell Custer

Radio Announcer: Sam Balter

Plot: Inventor Oscar has created a large computer dubbed Mr. Kelso. His neighbor, gangster Larry McCoy, uses the mechanical brain to figure out a way to stage a series of perfect robberies, and to keep Superman at bay.

  1. Jungle Devil (December 14, 1953)

Script #S-36

Director: Thomas Carr

Teleplay: Peter Dixon

Dr. Ralph Harper: Damian O’Flynn

Gloria Harper: Doris Singleton

Berto: Nacho Galindo

Pilot Bill Hurd: James Seay

Native Chief: Al Kikume

Native: Leon Lontoc

Native: Steve Calvert

Native: Henry A. Escalante

Native: Bernard Gazier

Plot: Clark, Lois and stowaway Jimmy embark on a mission to find a lost expedition of researchers in the wilds of Zinaya. They soon discover that natives hold the group prisoner. But the natives have one fear — a giant ape they call the “jungle devil.”

Blooper: The position of the rope tied around Kent shifts between close-up and long shot.

From The Script: The native chief’s lines are scripted, but Al Kikume had the freedom to extrapolate. Compare this example to the scene as filmed (and notice that the Harpers’ guide, Berto, was originally supposed to translate while the Chief was speaking):

Chief: (o.s.) Blank meego pero blanca totonica!

All react to voice of Chief o.s. Clark turns to Berto.

Clark: What’s the boss man saying now?

128. GROUP SHOT (FROM CLARK’S ANGLE)

The natives are grouped around the Chief as he continues his speech. He spouts unintelligible gibberish, faintly heard, as Berto translates.

Chief: (voice in distance) Chalata tara tulum. Yocoroso chinameca. Yohoa. Araga lumtec bowee!

Berto: (o.s.) (translating) The chief say since white warrior has sent away the Jungle Devil, the lives of all the strangers will be spared, but they must leave this country and never return!

GROUP SHOT THE CAPTIVES

Clark and the captives listen intently to the Chief’s voice

Harper: (quietly) That’s more than I hoped for… even though my expedition has been a failure.

Chief: (o.s.) Blanca gambo teletan garoo chickamuta!

Berto: The chief says that because the white woman took the idol’s eye, no outsiders must ever come back here.

  1. My Friend Superman (December 21, 1953)

Script #S-42

Director: Thomas Carr

Teleplay: David Chantler

Tony: Tito Vivolo

Elaine: Yvette Dugay

Cap: Frederick Berest

Spud: Terry Frost

Ace: Paul Burke

George: Ralph Sanford

Claire: Ruta Kilmonis

Ted: Edward Reider

Plot: To hide the fact that he’s victimized by a protection racket, the owner of Tony’s Diner incessantly brags to his patrons that Superman is his best friend. But when the racketeers use him to lure the Man of Steel on a wild goose chase, Tony may have to face the truth.

  1. The Clown Who Cried (December 28, 1953)

Script #S-44

Director: George Blair

Teleplay: David Chantler

Rollo: William Wayne

Crackers: Peter Brocco

Hercules: Mickey Simpson

Simon O’Toole, the Magician: Harry Mendoza

Jim, the Stagehand: George Douglas

Policeman: Charles Williams

Plot: Rollo the Clown is invited to perform in a Daily Planet telethon to aid a children’s hospital. His crooked ex-partner, Crackers, sees a chance to make some easy money by impersonating Rollo.

Blooper: As with the rope in Jungle Devil, the chain with which Jimmy is bound shifts position from one shot to another.

  1. The Boy Who Hated Superman (January 4, 1954)

Script #S-43

Director: George Blair

Teleplay: David Chantler

Frankie: Tyler McDuff

Duke: Roy Barcroft

Fixer: Leonard Penn

Babe: Richard Reeves

Judge Allen: Charles Meredith

Plot: Frankie, nephew of imprisoned gangster Duke, is paroled to the custody of Clark Kent. He uses the opportunity to retrieve evidence the reporter has on his uncle — and to entice Jimmy Olsen into a life of delinquency.

  1. Semi-Private Eye (January 11, 1954)

Script #S-47

Director: George Blair

Teleplay: David Chantler

Homer Garrity: Elisha Cook, Jr.

Fingers: Paul Fix

Noodles: Douglas Henderson

Cappy: Richard Benedict

Murray: Alfred Linder

Plot: Just as Lois talks private eye Homer Garrity into trailing Clark — in hopes of proving he’s really Superman — the two are taken hostage by a gang whose protection racket is threatened by Garrity’s snooping. It’s up to bumbling Jimmy Olsen to fill Garrity’s gumshoes and save the day, with a little help from the Man of Steel.

Blooper: Jimmy falls through a two-piece trap door: it opens from the center, hinges on both ends. When Superman arrives, he yanks off a single, solid door.

  1. Perry White’s Scoop (January 18, 1954)

Script #S-46

Director: George Blair

Teleplay: Roy Hamilton

Max Kruger: Steven Pendleton

Maria: Bibs Borman

Lynch: Robert Wilke

Beam: Jan Arvan

John de Breer: Tom Monroe

Plot: A man in a diver’s suit is gunned down in front of the Daily Planet. His dying word — “Quincy” — puts Perry and Clark on the trail of two rival gangs of counterfeiters seeking the same prize — a supply of the paper used to manufacture bills.

Trivia: Adapted from “The Deep-Sea Diver Mystery” (Batman #83, April 1954).

Blooper: Jimmy’s pant legs are down when he’s inside the water tank, but rolled up when he exits it.

  1. Beware the Wrecker (January 25, 1954)

Script #S-40

Director: George Blair

Teleplay: Royal Cole

Mr. Crane, Director of Steamship Line: William Forrest

Mr. Morgan, Director of Airline: Pierre Watkin

Mr. Kilgore, Director of Railroad: Tom Powers

Emil Hatch: Denver Pyle

Carnival Hawker: Renny McEvoy

Plot: In a story that smacks of latter-day terrorism, an unseen enemy is destroying trains, airplanes and steamships. When Superman thwarts one attempt, “the Wrecker” threatens to obliterate multiple targets simultaneously unless his demands are met.

Blooper: Henderson, Lois, Jimmy and Clark — not to mention (presumably) several unseen policemen — are closely watching the stump holding the (fairly bulky) package just a few feet away. Yet none of them sees the package drop through the trap door — it’s just gone when they decide to fetch it.

From The Script: The closing lines were originally:

White: (remembering angrily) And where’s Clark Kent? He ought to know better than to stay away this long!

Superman cringes away, reproachfully eyeing White as he says

Superman: Take it easy, Mr. White. For a moment, I thought you were shouting at me.

White grins reassuringly as we FADE OUT.

  1. The Golden Vulture (February 1, 1954)

Script #S-49

Director: Thomas Carr

Teleplay: Jackson Gillis

Captain McBain: Peter Whitney

Scurvy: Vic Perrin

Sanders: Murray Alper

First Mate Bennett: Robert Rice

Sailor: Wes Hudman

Sailor: Saul M. Gorss

Sailor: Carl H. Saxe

Sailor: Dan Turner

Sailor: William J. Vincent

Plot: When Jimmy finds a distress message in a bottle, he and Lois set out for the S.S. Golden Vulture — a salvage ship that’s not exactly as it seems. Eventually they are taken hostage — and Superman must find them.

  1. Jimmy Olsen, Boy Editor (February 8, 1954)

Script #S-50

Director: Thomas Carr

Teleplay: David Chantler

‘Legs’ Leemy: Herburt Vigran

Henchman: Keith Richards

Toots: Dick Rich

Director of Mercy General: Anthony Hughes

Boy Mayor: Ronald Hargrove

Boy Chief of Police: Bob Crosson

Daily Planet Custodian: Jack Pepper

Plot: It’s Youth Day in Metropolis — and Perry finds, to his dismay, that Jimmy is in charge of the Planet. The “boy editor” uses his power to flush out ‘Legs’ Leemy — a gangster one day away from clearing the statute of limitations for a bank robbery.

Trivia: Adapted from “Jimmy Olsen, Editor” (Superman #86, January 1954)

  1. Lady in Black (February 15, 1954)

Script #S-48

Director: Thomas Carr

Teleplay: Jackson Gillis

Mr. Frank: Frank Ferguson

Mrs. Frank: Virginia Christine

Joe (Scarface): John Doucette

Thief with Glasses: Rudolph Anders

Policeman: Mike Ragan

Plot: Jimmy is apartment sitting for a vacationing friend of his mother’s. When he starts hearing strange noises, then witnessing even stranger happenings, even Superman believes it’s just an overeager imagination.

Trivia: Adapted from “Dick Grayson’s Nightmare” (Batman #80, December 1953). Watch for the box of Kellogg’s Sugar Smacks — the “hitchhiker” product advertised by the cast this season — in Mrs. Frank’s grocery bag.

  1. Star of Fate (February 22, 1954)

Script #S-51

Director: Thomas Carr

Teleplay: Roy Hamilton and Leroy H. Zehren

Dr. Gregory Barnack: Lawrence Ryle

Mr. Mattlen Whitlock: Paul Burns

Dr. Wilson: Arthur Space

Alma Dennis: Jeanne Dean

Ahmed: Ted Hecht

March: Tony deMario

Plot: An ancient Egyptian scarab, housed in a box with a curse, is the focus of two men. When three people — one of them Lois Lane — fall victim to the poisonous “curse,” Superman must find a cure and stop a would-be killer.

Blooper: The episode uses a takeoff shot that appeared in Jet Ace, but in this show it’s been “flipped” so Superman can exit to the right (because he needs to fly to the EAST) — and so the ‘S’ on his costume is backward.

Trivia: Adapted for “Star of Fate” (Superboy #34, July 1954). The flying shot that follows the takeoff described above is unique in one respect: because Superman flies facing to our right — the opposite of his usual direction — the cityscape behind him is passing right-to-left. It’s the same footage used when he flies facing left — but in those flights, the city footage is flipped, and all of the billboards and signs are backward! In this one flight, if stepped through using a DVD player, you can clearly see ‘Coca-Cola’ billboards and the ‘California Western States’ sign mounted on top of the last building.

  1. The Whistling Bird (March 1, 1954)

Script #S-52

Director: Thomas Carr

Teleplay: David Chantler

Uncle Oscar Quinn: Sterling Holloway

Chief Foreign Agent: Joseph Vitale

Foreign Agent: Otto Waldis

Roma (Dorothy) Manners: Toni Carroll

Nancy: Allene Roberts

Security Agent: Marshall Reed

Plot: The eccentric inventor Oscar is back, and he’s inadvertently created a dangerous explosive — one that has attracted the attention of some foreign spies. Oscar has written down only part of the formula — the rest has been memorized by his pet bird, Skyler.

Trivia: Roma Manners’ scripted first name is never mentioned — only her “Americanized” name, Dorothy — but that’s why her handkerchief has the initials “R.M.”

From The Script: For some reason, in the original script it is Jimmy who affixes the stamp, causing the explosion. After he comes to, his line is: “Instead of a boon to humanity — we got a boom! And you know something? My hand’s still ringing.” Also, for those who cannot follow the formula when Skyler is speaking, here’s how it was scripted: “CO2 plus one litre manganese acetate soluble catalyst in zinc oxide.” (But don’t try this at home.)

  1. Around the World with Superman (March 8, 1954)

Script #S-53

Director: Thomas Carr

Teleplay: Jackson Gillis

Anne Carson: Judy Ann Nugent

Elaine Carson: Kay Morley

Dr. Anderson: Raymond Greenleaf

Murray: Patrick Aherne

Shortwave Radio Operator: Max Wagner

Jim Carson: James Brown

Plot: A little blind girl has won a ‘flight around the world’ contest sponsored by the Planet. The Man of Steel is supposed to fly the winner, but there are two problems: the child entered as her mother, and she doesn’t believe in Superman.

Trivia: Adapted for “The Girl Who Didn’t Believe in Superman” (Superman #96, March 1955).

Blooper: Elaine Carson, who lives in hiding with Anne, knew nothing of her daughter’s contest-winning letter. So just who helped this blind girl write, address, stamp and mail her entry? (Perhaps the same unseen person who was surreptitiously delivering — and maybe reading — her father’s letters to her.)

From The Script: Along with all the differences described in the main text, the script also closes out the episode with this:

TWO SHOT (REVERSE) — LOIS AND SUPERMAN IN DOORWAY

Pause, as they both smile happily at the success of their work — then Lois can’t help it. She impulsively gives the startled Superman a kiss.

[* *]

Stamp Day for Superman