A Timeline History of Superman: Part 2 (Mania.com)
By:Tim Janson Date: Tuesday, June 11, 2013 Source: Mania.com
Contrary to what a lot of people may think, Superman was not the first superhero. Costumed heroes date back to such characters as The Scarlet Pimpernel and Zorro in the early 1900s; Buck Rogers in the 1920s; pulp heroes like The Shadow, Doc Savage, and The Avenger; and newspaper strip heroes The Phantom and Mandrake the Magician. In fact, Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created another hero several years before Superman called Doctor Occult. But…none of those characters have had nearly the kind of pop culture impact that Superman has had. As Superman celebrates his 75th anniversary this year with a new major theatrical film, “The Man of Steel”, Mania takes a look at the history of Superman in TV, film, animation, and even radio!
Having conquered film, radio, and animation, the next medium for Superman to tackle was the burgeoning world of television. Adventures of Superman hit the airwaves in 1952 and would run until 1958, the longest running TV series featuring Superman until it was supplanted by Smallville’s ten-year run. George Reeves again donned the cape and tights. Phyllis Coates played Lois Lane for the first season and then was replaced by Noel Neill for the remainder of the run. Jack Larson was Jimmy Olsen and John Hamilton played the role of Daily Planet editor Perry White.
Despite the fact that Superman was, by any measurement, a low-budget show, the production crew maximized their efforts by reusing footage, filming scenes which took place in the same location all at once for multiple episodes, using the same office for both Clark and Lois and just changing a few of the items on the desk or walls.
If there was a major weakness to the show it was that it didn’t feature any of Superman’s villains from the comic books like Lex Luthor but instead most of episodes featured Superman battling various gangsters and mad scientists. Superman was canceled when George Reeves was found shot to death in 1959. While his death was ruled a suicide, there has been controversy over his death ever since with many believing it to have been a murder.
With the cancellation of Adventures of Superman it marked the first time in nearly 20 years that Superman could not be found in media other than comics and newspaper strips. A 1961 pilot The Adventures of Superboy was filmed but never aired. When Superman finally returned in 1966 it was again in animated adventures with The New Adventures of Superman courtesy of Lou Scheimer’s Filmation studio. The show would run on Saturday mornings from 1966 to 1970 although it would change names twice—first to The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure and then to The Batman/Superman Hour.
While Filmation’s animation style wasn’t nearly of the quality of the Fleischer cartoons of the 1940s, the show did benefit by having much heavier comic book elements and featured villains like Lex Luthor, Brainiac, The Toyman, Prankster, and Mister Mxyzptlk and it also co-starred many members of the Justice League including The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, and Atom. Bud Collyer, who had voiced Superman/Clark Kent on Radio and in the 40s cartoons returned once again to voice The Man of Steel.
Superman would be back for more animated adventures in 1973 with the debut of one of Saturday Morning’s longest running shows, The Super Friends. With a couple of interruptions the Super Friends would run until 1986 although the show’s title would change numerous times: The World's Greatest Super Friends, Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show, and The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians among them. The cast was one of the biggest in animation history and featured most of the members of the Justice League as well as characters like Cyborg, Plastic Man, Hawkgirl, and several international characters created specifically for the show like Apache Chief, Samurai, and Black Vulcan.
The Super Friends, while enormously popular, were also enormously watered down in terms of their content. Network standards resulted in the show having to highly tone down the violence to the point where you rarely saw a punch thrown and the shows usually had to deliver some type of moral message to kids.
While Superman had been a huge hit on radio, TV, and Saturday morning cartoons something was still lacking something. That something came in 1978 with the release of Superman, a big-budget, theatrical film. The film’s $55 million dollar budget would still be considered sizable today and for 1978 was absolutely huge. Technology had finally advanced to the point where the tagline “You will believe a man can fly” was not just an idle boast.
Part 3 of the Superman Timeline continues tomorrow on Mania.com! Read Part 1 here.
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