The nickname of Kal-el “a strange visitor from another planet with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men” who lives incognito as a mild-mannered reporter named Clark Kent on the sci-fi series ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN/SYN/1952-58.
Superman’s background story goes as follows: Rocketed to Earth as an infant, when the planet Krypton exploded, Kal-el landed on the planet Earth near Smallville, USA, where he was adopted and raised by John and Martha Kent (also given as Eben and Sarah), a childless farm couple.
Kal-el soon discovered he was superhuman, possessing the ability to fly, see through objects with his X-ray vision (with the exception of lead), hear and see things from tremendous distances, bend steel in his bare hands and retain enormous bits of information via his super memory.
His only weakness was the radioactive-charged substance known as Kryptonite, fragments from the explosion of his home planet. Prolonged exposure to this greenish element, would cause weakness, unconsciousness and possibly the death of Superman.
As an adult, Kal-el moved to the city of Metropolis, USA and assumed the identity of Clark Kent, a mild-mannered reporter working for the Daily Planet, a great metropolitan newspaper. His fellow workers included female reporter, Lois Lane, Cub-reporter Jimmy Olson and Editor-in-Chief, Mr. Perry White.
For some strange reason, a pair of dark-rimmed glasses offered an effective disguise from his true identity when he was not out fighting “a never ending battle for Truth, Justice and the American way.”
Opening Narration from the 1950s Series
Narrator: Superman! Faster than a speeding bullet. [Film clip of a gun shooting]
Narrator: More powerful than a locomotive! [Film clip of a speeding locomotive]
Narrator: Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! [Camera pans up the side of a building].
Male voice: Look up in the sky!
Male voice: It’s a bird!
Female voice: It’s a plane!
Male voice: It’s SUPERMAN!
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! 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! And now, another exciting episode in THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN.
Clark’s alter ego of Superman wore a blue body stocking, with red boots and trunks, and a yellow belt with gold buckle circled his powerful physique. On his chest and his red cape was a scarlet “S” emblazoned on a shield of yellow.
Clark’s Earth mother had fashioned him this costume from the fabric found in his crashed rocket. It was acid, fire and bullet-proof (I guess she got her son Clark to use his super laser vision to cut the pattern).
A telephone booth was a favorite place for Superman to change into his costume in the comics and on radio. However, on television the man from Krypton chose a storeroom in the Daily Planet newspaper building down the hall from his typewriter and when that wasn’t available an empty alley would do.
In the 1950s series, Superman kept his costume at his apartment (5-H) at the Standish Arms Hotel in Metropolis. His costume was hidden in a secret compartment at the back of his bedroom closet. (Later Clark moved to 344 Clinton Street). The costume on the 1950s B/W episodes was actually brown & light gray to allow for better contrast when shooting scenes.
Note: Originally, the Superman character did not have that many abilities. His super strength and power of flight which enabled him to “jump tall buildings in a single bound” was due to the gravitational differences of his planet and Earth.
But in the 1940s a comic book war ensued between Superman’s rival pulp character Captain Marvel (a.k.a. “The Big Red Cheese”) who appeared in Captain Marvel Adventures (1941) published by Fawcett Publishing. When the Captain got a new power, Superman’s writers countered with one of his own in the next issue, thus increasing his arsenal of abilities. In reality, Captain Marvel comics out-sold Superman.
During the Man of Steel’s seven year run on television starring Geoge Reeves, the show’s script writers provided Superman character with the additional abilities of levitation, splitting himself in two (each form shared half of his powers) and walking through solid matter.
As powerful as the television superhero appeared, the real life actor George Reeves succumbed to human weakness. On June 16, 1959 he was found dead in his Los Angeles home at 1579 Benedict Canyon Drive. The coroner’s verdict: suicide. But many still today suspected foul play.
In the summer of 1986, a total revision of the Superman storyline occurred in DC Comics, eliminating many of the old plots. Then in November of 1986, the real-life city of Metropolis, Illinois dedicated a fiberglass statue (later bronze) of the “Man of Steel” to its citizenry.
- A chronology of Superman facts follows:
- Superman premiered in the No. 1, June 1938 issue of Action Comics.
- The Superman character debuted as a newspaper comic strip on January 16, 1939.
- During 1941-43 Max Fleischer produced Superman movie cartoons for Paramount.
- Kirk Alyn was the first actor to play the Man of Steel in the movie serials Superman (1948) and Atomic Man vs. Superman(1950);
- George Reeves took over role from Kirk Alyn in Superman and the Mole Men (1951) and continued in THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN/SYN/1952-57 (108 episodes)
- A 1962 un-aired series pilot THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERBOY starred John Rockwell;
- Broadway musical It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman (1966) with Bob Holiday;
- Christopher Reeve (no relation to George Reeves) continues the Superman legend in Superman (1977), Superman II (1980), Superman III (1983) and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace(1987).
- Superman’s female counterpart appeared the movie Supergirl: The Movie (1984) starring Helen Slater.
- The fall of 1988 premiered THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERBOY/SYN/1988-91 about Clark Kent as a teenager that starred John Haymes Newton and later Gerard Christopher as Superboy
- The comedy romance LOIS & CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN/ABC/1993-97 focused on the sexual tension between Clark Kent/Superman (Dean Cain) and super-journalist, Lois Lane (Teri Hatcher) whom Superman later married.
- The most recent adaptation SMALLVILLE/WB/2001-2011 follows the teenage angst of Clark Kent as he emerges into manhood and discovers whom he really is and where he really came from.
The Superman character was created by two teenagers, writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster. They sold it outright in 1939 for a mere $165 and since then very little money from product spin-offs has ever seen its way into their pockets.
When Joe Shuster died on July 30, 1992, Entertainment Weekly(8/14/92) stated “Their character stands at the top of the 20th century cultural pantheon, as globally recognizable as Mickey Mouse, Charlie Chaplin, and Elvis.”
German philosopher, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900) developed the concept of a breed of “Supermen” in his writings Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883-91) and Beyond Good And Evil (1886) whose “Will To Power” would distinguish them from the weaker, inferior species of humanity. The Nazi’s perverted his doctrines and used his writings to justify the racial superiority theories of the German people in the years leading up to World War Two. George Bernard Shaw wrote a comedy Man and Superman (1903) and George Lowther wrote the novel Superman (1942).
Superman’s parents on the original 1950s program were played by Robert Rockwell as his father Jor-el and Aline Towne as his mother Lara.
In the 1990s, comedian Jerome “Jerry” Seinfeld on the sitcom SEINFELD/NBC/1990-98 revealed his favorite superhero was Superman. An American Express commercial later featured Jerry Seinfeld helping an animated Superman out of a bind when Lois Lane needed some money to pay for a grocery bill (Jerry whips out his American Express card).
Actor Chuck Connors played Sylvester J. Superman in the 1954 ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN episode “Flight to the North”.