Each week, Albany Herald researcher Mary Braswell looks for interesting events, places and people from the past. You can contact her at (229) 888-9371 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Superman Day” is coming on Friday. Here is a look at the character so loved by generations of Americans.
IN THE BEGINNING …
—Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster met in high school. Seigel’s short story “The Reign of Superman” had the lead character as a bald-headed villain with telepathic powers who was bent on controlling the world. Shuster did the illustrations.
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—Siegel and Shuster tried to sell their stories to magazines in order to escape the poverty of the Great Depression. After their work was rejected, the 18-year-old Shuster printed their own typewritten, mimeographed science fiction fanzine titled “Science Fiction: The Advance Guard of Future Civilization.” Only five issues were published in 1932.
Henry Cavill, shown in this scene from “Man of Steel,” is the latest actor to portray Superman. He will reprise the role in the March 16 release of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” (Photo: Warner Bros.)
— In 1933, Siegel re-created the character as a hero and went on what turned out to be a five-year quest for a publisher.
— National Comics received what the writer/illustrator had turned into a comic strip, but paid little attention. The company was preparing a new magazine called “Action Comics” and someone suggested the Superman proposal where the hero was lifting a car with his hands. Siegel and Shuster were asked to put together a 13-page story.
— The writer and illustrator cut and pasted, literally, their strip into comic book form. Action Comics No. 1 was published in June 1938. By the time Action Comics No. 4 was out, sales were off the charts.
— Writer and illustrator sold the rights to the company for $130 and a contract to supply the publisher with material. When the pair sued for more money in 1964, they were fired and their names were taken off the bylines.
— After the success of “Superman” in theaters (1978) and finding that the Siegel and Shuster were living in near poverty, Warner Communications gave each a lifetime pension of $35,000 and health care benefits.
ON THE RADIO …
— Already a hit in comic books and newspaper comic strips, “The Adventures of Superman” took to the airwaves beginning Feb. 1, 1940. Episodes were typically 15 minutes long. When the show was last aired on March 1, 1951, a total of 2,068 episodes had filled the airwaves.
— The radio broadcast, which ran variously at 5:15 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 5:45 p.m., was sponsored by Kellogg’s Pep Cereal.
— Just like the identity of Superman, the radio actor’s name (Bud Collyer) remained a secret from 1940 until 1946 when he did an interview with Time magazine.
— On Feb. 7, 1949, the radio series expanded to half an hour.
— Many of Superman’s signature aspects, including kryptonite and characters editor Perry White and young photographer Jimmy Olsen, originated on the radio show.
— In June and July 1946, 15 anti-KKK stories ran called “Clan of the Fiery Cross.” Klan leaders called for a boycott of Kellogg’s products but the sponsor backed the show until its end.
ON TELEVISION …
— The first air date, sometimes disputed, of “The Adventures of Superman” on television was Sept. 19, 1952, with the last show on April 28, 1958. The first 52 episodes were filmed in black and white. Episodes 53-104 were filmed in color, but were not seen in color until the series was syndicated in 1965.
— In the first episode, Clark Kent’s parents were named Eben and Sarah, not Jonathan and Martha.
— For the first season, the E. Clem Wilson Building in L.A. was used for external shots of the Daily Planet newspaper building. For the remaining seasons, the Los Angeles City Hall was used. The rest of Metropolis street scenes were filmed at the RKO Forty Acres and included facades from Atlanta in “Gone with the Wind.” It later served as Mayberry.
— The first 26 episodes were filmed in 1951, but did not appear on television until Kellogg’s Cereals agreed to sponsor the show.
— External landing shots were done by Reeves jumping off a ladder.
— Because of a limited budget, all scenes were filmed out of sequence. For example, all scenes in Perry White’s office were filmed at one time, which is why the actors were often seen wearing the same clothes in every episode.
— Two more seasons were planned, but the sudden death of George Reeves, despite efforts by producers to continue without him, put an end to the show. On June 16, 1959, Reeves died from a gunshot wound. The official finding was suicide.
THIS ‘N’ THAT
— In the comics, Superman was once bitten by Dracula, but because the he is fueled by the sun, Dracula immediately exploded.
— According to the comics, Lex Luthor is angry at Superman because he thinks Superman contributed towards the balding of his head when he was a child. (He once had a head full of red hair.)
— Nicolas Cage named his son Kal-el after Superman.
— In 1945, the U.S. government tried to “cover up” a Superman comic that was about scientists splitting the atom to create an atomic bomb while the top secret Manhattan Project was working on the real thing.
— It didn’t take Lois Lane long to fall in love with the Man of Steel. In Superman No. 3 (1940), Superman saves both Lois and a town from a flood, and she rewards him with a kiss.
— In the comics, Superman officially gained his ability to fly in 1941.
— In 1978, DC Comics released an issue in which Superman and Muhammad Ali teamed up to defeat an alien invasion.
— On eBay in August 2014, an original Action Comics No. 1 sold for $3.2 million.
— Clark Kent’s middle name is Joseph.
— Kryptonite didn’t originate in the comic books. It was in the character’s radio show that it was introduced, but only because the actor who voiced the Man of Steel, Bud Collyer, wanted some time off and they needed some sort of plot device to explain his absence. It was in 1943 that Clark Kent first felt the negative effects of the radioactive remains of his home planet. This gave Collyer his holiday and introduced a major plot device to Superman’s stories.
—In a 1940 Look Magazine, an article tackled the question of how World War II would be played out if the Man of Steel got involved.
— In conjunction with the U.S. government and UNICEF, DC created “Superman: Deadly Legacy,” a free comic book for children in areas with active land mines, particularly war-torn areas of the former Yugoslavia like Bosnia. In the story, Superman came to the rescue of Bosnian children caught in a minefield. The year was 1996.