A Timeline History of Superman: Part 2 - Mania.com

Superman Timeline

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A Timeline History of Superman: Part 2

TV, Films, Animation, and Radio Too!

By Tim Janson     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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monkeyfoot 6/11/2013 6:48:23 AM

Tim, you are doing a great job with this series! Lots of fun reading.

Why was it the SupermanAquaman hour? How did Aqua rate above even Bats as the main team-up guy for Supes? Damn he had a great agent! "I'm sorry. My client Arthur Curry will take nothing less than side by side billing with Kal-EL. And his dressing room has to be the same size. Only it has to be a fish tank."

On the Adventures of Superman TV series the famous narration over the opening is said by an actor named Bill Kennedy. Growing up in the Detroit area, as a kid I watched him host a movie show on local TV. His Hollywood career never brought him fame but he did small parts with the likes of Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, and Cary Grant. One thing he always bragged about was doing the voiceover for Superman.

tjanson 6/11/2013 7:20:18 AM

Monkey Thanks!  I am a lifelong resident of the Detroit area myself and also remember Bill Kennedy hosting movies every afternoon.  He was a cantankerous old coot for sure!  I too have always wondered how aquaman not only leap frogged Batman but also seemingly other more wll known heroes like Green Lantern or the Flash.  I would bet though it had something to do perhaps with animating him being easier to do than perhaps other characters.  I'm not sure b ut Filmation was a very low budget studio and known for cutting corners.  I remember reading about how they even got the contract to do Superman.  They literally only had a couple of guys working for them...when DC..I think Julius Schwartz came to visit their studio, they brought in a bunch of animators and artists and sat them at tables and had them look busy to give the impression that the Studio was much bigger than it really was.

HomestarRunner 6/11/2013 7:27:06 AM

I wonder how long The Adventures of Superman would've went on had Reeves not died.

EyeofHarmony 6/11/2013 3:57:55 PM

 By the end of its run, the plot lines of the Adventures of Superman had become just plain awful.  The show was targeted to kiddies, whereas the earlier shows were more adult in nature.  If I recall, one of the last shows involved a little green man from Mars named Mr. Zero, who could freeze people by pointing his finger at them. Being naive, he was fooled into helping criminals pull off crimes. The crooks had convinced him that he was actually doing good deeds.

samson 6/11/2013 5:17:23 PM

 I see The D is well represented here in the Maniaverse. Bill Kennedy is probably the reason I have such a strong appreciation for all those old black and white films.  

Was the George Reeve Superman program on Channel 20 or 50?

DaForce1 6/11/2013 10:13:56 PM

 I still have in my possession a movie handout from the the 1978 movie. They used to give these pamphlets out in the lobby of the really big movies at the time. Big, glossy pages with stills from the movie and a fairly long write up about Superman and the production of the movie. I was a kid when that movie came out, and somehow I managed to keep that booklet in fairly good condition over the years. Of course, that survived a move while my original X-Wing Fighter, Luke, Obi-Wan, and Vader (all with the lightsabers in arm) disappeared. Thanks, mom.



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