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SUPERMAN SERIALS

Superman (1948)

Superman (1948) is a 15-part black-and-white Columbia film serial based on the comic book character Superman starring an uncredited Kirk Alyn (billed only by his character name, Superman; but credited on the promotional posters) and Noel Neill as Lois Lane. Like Batman, it is notable as the first live-action appearance of the title character on film and for the longevity of its distribution. The serial was directed by Thomas Carr, who later directed many early episodes of the Adventures of Superman television show, and Spencer Gordon Bennet, produced by Sam Katzman and shot in and around Los Angeles, California. It was originally screened at movie matinees and after the first three scene-setting chapters, every episode ends in a cliffhanger. The Superman-in-flight scenes are animations, in part due to the small production budget.

Superman is sent to Earth by his parents just as the planet Krypton blows up and is later raised as Clark Kent by a farm couple. They discover that he has great powers so they send him off to use his powers to help those in need. After his foster parents die, the Man of Steel heads to Metropolis under the bespectacled guise of Kent and joins the staff of the Daily Planet in order to be close to the news. Soon after he is sent out to get the scoop on a new rock that a man has found that he calls Kryptonite and Clark passes out, the director thinks that he died but when he sat up, he was wrong. Then and there Superman discovered that his weakness is Kryptonite. Whenever emergencies happen, he responds in his true identity as Superman. This first serial revolves around the nefarious plot of a villain who calls herself the Spider Lady.

Kirk Alyn as Superman

Kirk Alyn (October 8, 1910 – March 14, 1999) was an American actor, best known for being the first actor to play the DC Comics character Superman in live-action for the 1948 movie serial Superman and its 1950 sequel Atom Man vs. Superman. Alyn also appeared in other movie serials, including Federal Agents Vs. Underworld Inc. (1948), Radar Patrol Vs. Spy King (1950) and Blackhawk (1952), and as General Sam Lane in 1978's Superman: The Movie. Trivia note: the first person to play Superman in public was actor Ray Middleton on July 3rd, 1940, during the 1939 New York World's Fair's "Superman Day".

Kirk Alyn was born John Feggo, Jr. on October 8th, 1910 in Oxford, New Jersey, to Hungarian immigrant parents. In his youth he lived in Wharton, New Jersey. A plaque commemorating his life in the borough is hung in the municipal building.

Alyn started as a chorus boy for Broadway plays, appearing in notable musicals such as Girl Crazy, Of Thee I Sing, and Hellzapoppin' during the 1930s. He also worked as a singer and dancer in vaudeville before relocating to Hollywood during the early 1940s to act for feature movies, but he was successful only in gaining bit parts for low-budget movies before obtaining the role of Superman in 1948.

Alyn recalls the day producer Sam Katzman asked him to play Superman:

I thought it was a publicity stunt. I didn't think you could ever put Superman on film. They brought the people from D.C. Comics over and they said, 'Hey, he looks just like Clark Kent.' They said take off your shirt, so I did and flexed my muscles. Then the guy said, 'Take off your pants' and I said, 'Wait a minute.' I was 37 when I played Superman. I picked up that girl and ran up that flight of stairs like it was nothing."

Alyn played Superman for the first live-action Superman movie serial, released in 1948. The serial consisted of 15 episodes which recounted Superman’s arrival on Earth, getting a job as a reporter at the Daily Planet newspaper, and meeting Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. The main plot consisted of Superman’s battle against the arch criminal the Spider Lady.

Two years later, Atom Man vs. Superman was released, featuring Lyle Talbot as Superman’s arch-villain Lex Luthor. This serial also included a sequence involving an eerie alternate dimension, not unlike the Phantom Zone, which would not appear in the comics for another 11 years.

Alyn gave the Man of Steel a different portrayal to Clark Kent, adding to the element of disguise. This was in the tradition of radio's Superman, Bud Collyer. By contrast, his successor George Reeves played the dual roles more alike. The character's flight was effected by having Alyn jump up, at which point he becomes represented by an animated character by way of rotoscoping, which flew away. Alyn had tried "flying" while suspended by hidden wires for the first serial but the wires turned out to be clearly visible and that footage was scrapped.

After playing Superman, he again suffered casting problems. Apart from featuring in some similar comic book-type serials, he had few roles in television series and movies, some even uncredited, until he retired. Alyn was reportedly offered the part of Superman for the television version of 1951, but refused it. In 1971, he published an autobiography entitled A Job for Superman.

Alyn and Noel Neill (below) have cameo appearances as Lois Lane's father and mother, Sam and Ellen Lane. Their dialog scene was cut for theatrical release, but played in its entirety when the film was broadcast on TV, and later in the 2000 director's cut restoration.

Alyn made his final movie, the horror movie Scalps, In 1983 and in 1988, participated in the Superman 50th Anniversary Special.

Alyn married dancer/actress, Virginia O'Brien in 1942, and had one son and two daughters. They were divorced in 1955. He died on March 14th, 1999 in The Woodlands, Texas, at the age of 88 from Alzheimer's disease.

Noel Neill as Lois Lane

In her teens, Neill was a popular photographic model. While Betty Grable's pin-up was number one among GIs during World War II, Neill's was ranked number two. After she signed a contract with Paramount Pictures, it led to appearances in many of the studio's feature films and short subjects. In the mid-1940s, Noel had a leading role in one of Monogram Pictures' wayward-youth melodramas, and she became a familiar face in Monogram features for the next several years, especially in the recurring role of Betty Rogers. She appeared in the last of the original Charlie Chan movies, Sky Dragon (1949), and also played damsels in distress in Monogram Westerns and Republic Pictures serials. Neill sang with Bob Crosby and his orchestra. She also sang at the Del Mar Turf Club, which was owned by Bing Crosby.

In 1945, producer Sam Katzman gave Neill the recurring role of Betty Rogers, aggressive reporter for a high-school newspaper, in his series of "Teen Agers" musical comedies, beginning with Junior Prom in 1946. When Katzman was casting his Superman serial for Columbia Pictures, he remembered Noel Neill's newshawk portrayals and signed her to play Lois Lane. She played the role in the film serials Superman (1948) and Atom Man vs. Superman (1950), opposite Kirk Alyn as Superman/Clark Kent.

When Adventures of Superman came to television in 1951, veteran movie actors George Reeves and Phyllis Coates took the leading roles for the first season. By the time the series found a sponsor and a network time slot, Coates had committed herself to another production, so the producers called on Noel Neill. She continued in the role for five seasons until the series went off the air in 1958. She was scheduled to appear in the seventh season with co-star Jack Larson (Jimmy Olsen) in 1960, but after Reeves's tragic and sudden death, the seventh season was canceled, officially ending the show. While Phyllis Coates generally distanced herself from the role, Neill embraced her association with Lois Lane, giving frequent talks on college campuses during the 1970s, when interest in the series was revived, endearing herself to audiences with her warmth and humor.

Neill and Jack Larson both made guest appearance on the TV series Superboy in the episode "Paranoia" during the show's fourth season. In 2006 Neill played the multi-millionaire dying wife of Lex Luthor (played by Kevin Spacey) in Superman Returns.

Neill was married three times but had no children. Following an extended illness, she died in Tucson on July 3rd, 2016, at age 95.

Pierre Watkin as Perry White

Pierre Watkin (December 29, 1889 in Sioux City, Iowa – February 3, 1960 in Hollywood, California) was an American character actor in many films, serials, and television series from the 1930s through the 1950s, especially westerns. He is perhaps best remembered for his connection to the serial and television versions of Superman.

Watkin portrayed Perry White in both of the Superman serials of the late 1940s, which starred Kirk Alyn as the title character and Noel Neill as Lois Lane. He played a few different characters in the television series Adventures of Superman, in which John Hamilton played Perry White. He was set to reprise his role as the editor of The Daily Planet in a revival of the series in 1959, as Hamilton had died in the interim since the cancellation of the original series. However, series star George Reeves also died in the summer of 1959, and those plans ended. Watkin himself died six months later.

Tommy Bond as Jimmy Olsen

Thomas Ross "Tommy" Bond (September 16, 1926 – September 24, 2005) was an American actor. A native of Dallas, Texas, Bond was best known for his work as a child actor for two different nonconsecutive periods on Our Gang (Little Rascals) comedies (first as "Tommy" and later as "Butch"). Also, he is noted for being the first actor to appear onscreen as "Superman's pal" Jimmy Olsen, having portrayed the character in the film serials Superman (1948) and Atom Man vs. Superman (1950).

SRounding out the rest of the cast was Carol Forman as the Spider Lady; Herbert Rawlinson as Dr. Graham; Forrest Taylor as Professor Leeds; Nelson Leigh and Luana Walters as Supeman's parents, Jor-El and Lara; Edward Cassidy and Virginia Caroll as Clark Kent's parents, Eben and Martha Kent; and a uncredited Mason Alan Dinehart as the young Clark Kent.

Republic Pictures tried twice to produce a Superman serial. The first attempt was replaced by Mysterious Doctor Satan (1940), when licensing negotiations with Superman publisher National Comics (later called DC Comics) failed. A second attempt was advertised for a 1941 release; but this time, two obstacles doomed production. National Comics insisted on absolute control of the script and production; and, the rights to Superman were already committed to the Paramount cartoon series. Sam Katzman acquired the live-action rights in 1947. He tried to sell them to Universal, but they no longer made serials by then. He also tried to sell to Republic; but, they claimed that "a superpowerful flying hero would be impossible to adapt despite having already successfully done just that in 1940 with The Adventures of Captain Marvel. Also, Republic was no longer buying properties for adaptation by 1947. Columbia accepted.

Sam Katzman found Kirk Alyn after looking through photographs, but had a hard time selling the idea of casting Alyn to Whitney Ellsworth, National Comics' representative on the project. This was made even worse when Alyn came in for a screen test, sporting a goatee and moustache (as he was also shooting another project, a historical film). These initial reservations were eventually overcome, and Alyn got the part. Columbia's advertising claimed that it could not get an actor to fill the role, so it had "hired Superman himself"; and, Kirk Alyn was merely playing just Clark Kent. The Superman costume was grey and brown, instead of blue and red, because those colors photographed better on black and white film.

Superman's flight sequences were animated instead of live-action or model work. Harmon and Glut consider this to be the "weakest point of the serial", explaining that the "effects created by Republic for Captain Marvel were very convincing; even the more routine ones for the Superman TV series, always showing the same pose, were better." While there were other effective special effects, in their opinion, they were undermined by the poorness of the flying sequences.

The film crew did test an alternate method of filming the flying sequences: Kirk Alyn spent an entire day painfully suspended by visible wires in front of a rear projection of moving clouds. Displeased with the results, Katzman fired the entire flight sequence production staff and used the animated method instead. Alyn's stunt double was Paul Stader. He had to perform only one stunt in the entire serial, leaping from the back of a truck. He almost broke his leg during this stunt and had to leave the production.

A peculiar characteristic of the mix of animated and live-action footage is that Superman's take-offs are almost always visible in the foreground, while his landings almost always occur behind objects, such as parked cars, rocks, and buildings. It was easier to shift from live footage of Kirk Alyn starting to take off, to animated footage, than it was to shift from an animated landing to live footage of the actor. As a consequence of the need to hide Superman's landings, Superman frequently lands at some distance from where he wants to be, and must run to arrive on-scene.

Budget limitations also dictated the frequent re-use of film footage, especially scenes of Superman flying. For example, one sequence showing Superman flying over a rocky hill (shot in the hills of Chatsworth in Southern California's San Fernando Valley) was used at least once in almost every episode of the first serial.

The Superman serial was first made available for purchase on VHS videotape in 1987 as a double tape box set. The serial was also offered available in two separate VHS tapes as Volume 1 (Chapters 1 - 7) and Volume 2 (Chapters 8 - 15). It was officially released on DVD by Warner Home Video, along with its sequel Atom Man vs. Superman, on November 28, 2006 as Superman - The Theatrical Serials Collection. Warner released the serials rather than Columbia as Warner's subsidiary DC Comics acquired the rights to the serials several years beforehand.

Superman was a "tremendous financial success" and played in "first-run theatres that had never before booked a serial." The serial was a popular success that made Kirk Alyn famous and launched Noel Neill's career. A sequel serial, Atom Man vs. Superman, also directed by Bennet, was released in 1950.

    Chapter Titles

Superman (1948)

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15

Superman Comes To Earth
Depths Of The Earth
The Reducer Ray
Man Of Steel
A Job For Superman
Superman In Danger
Into The Electric Furnace
Superman To The Rescue
Irresistible Force
Between Two Fires
Superman's Dilemma
Blast In The Depths
Hurled To Destruction
Superman At Bay
The Payoff

Atom Man vs. Superman

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15

Superman Flies Again
Atom Man Appears
Ablaze In The Sky
Superman Meets Atom Man
Atom Man Tricks Superman
Atom Man's Challenge
At The Mercy Of Atom Man
Into The Empty Doom
Superman Crashes Through
Atom Man's Heat Ray
Luthor's Strategy
Atom Man Strikes
Atom Man's Flying Saucers
Rocket Of Vengeance
Superman Saves The Universe

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Atom Man vs. Superman

Atom Man vs. Superman (1950), Columbia's 43rd serial and the second live-action Superman screen appearance, both featuring Kirk Alyn as Superman, finds Lex Luthor (Lyle Talbot), secretly the Atom Man, blackmailing the city of Metropolis by threatening to destroy the entire community. Perry White (Pierre Watkin), editor of the Daily Planet, assigns Lois Lane (Noel Neill), Jimmy Olsen (Tommy Bond) and Clark Kent (Kirk Alyn) to cover the story.

Lex Luthor, the Atom Man, invents a number of deadly devices to plague the city, including a disintegrating machine which can reduce people to their basic atoms and reassemble them in another place. But Superman manages to thwart each scheme. Since Kryptonite can rob Superman of his powers, Luthor decides to create a synthetic Kryptonite and putters about obtaining the necessary ingredients: plutonium, radium and the undefined 'etc.' Luthor places the Kryptonite at the launching of a ship, with Superman in attendance. He is exposed to the Kryptonite and passes out. Superman is taken off in an ambulance driven by Luthor's henchmen, and he is now under the control of Luthor. Superman is placed in a device, a lever is pulled, and the Man of Steel vanishes into "The Empty Doom" (which bears a similarity to the Phantom Zone of the comic books). Most of chapter 7 is a repeat of the origin story from chapter 1 of Columbia's first "Superman" serial, and this serial also finds a way to work in stock footage from Ken Maynard's 1936 Avenging Waters (also directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet).

Lyle Talbot was the first actor to ever play the character, and wore a rubber scalp to create the impression of baldness. Lex Luthor was in neither the animated shorts nor the later TV series starring George Reeves. The face of Talbot was used in the comic books as the actual face of Luthor until the 1960s, when a much thinner version of Luthor was premiered. Despite their onscreen personas, Talbot (Lex Luthor), and Alyn (Superman) spent much of their time, when not shooting, exchanging recipes; both actors shared an interest in cookery.

Lyle Talbot as Lex Luthor

Lyle Talbot (February 8th, 1902 – March 2nd, 1996) was an American actor on stage and screen, best known for his long career in film from 1931 to 1960 and for his frequent appearances on television in the 1950s and 1960s.

He was born Lysle Henderson, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He grew up in a small town in Nebraska, where after the early death of his mother, he was raised by her mother, Mary Hollywood Talbot, whose name he later bore professionally.

Talbot's incredibly long and varied show-business career began right after high school, when he joined a traveling tent show. Starting out as a magician-hypnotist's assistant, he worked his way up to magician before quitting the carny's life for that of the stock theater. He learned to act with stock companies throughout the Midwest, where he became a leading man, and even formed his own short-lived company in Memphis, Tennessee, "The Talbot Players," which included his actor father, Ed Henderson.

By 1931 he was in Hollywood as the talkies were maturing and he began his movie career under contract with Warner Brothers in the early days of sound film. He appeared in more than 150 films, first as a young matinée idol and later as a character actor and star of many B movies.

Talbot, along with James Cagney, Olivia de Havilland and Bette Davis, were outspoken in their commitment to change working conditions for actors. Talbot was one of the founders of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the first employee of the Brothers Warners to join the union. He later served on its board.

Talbot appeared as Commissioner Gordon in the 1949 serial Batman and Robin (1949) and was Lex Luthor in Atom Man vs. Superman (1950) the next year. In the early 1950s he appeared in several of Edward D. Wood Jr.'s most notorious films, including the infamous transvestite tear-jerker Glen or Glenda (1953) and the famously inept Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). Aside from Bela Lugosi, Talbot was Wood's most famous star.

He would appear opposite Ann Dvorak, Carole Lombard, Barbara Stanwyck, Mary Astor, Ginger Rogers, and Shirley Temple during his career, as well as sharing the screen with Humphrey Bogart, Spencer Tracy and Tyrone Power. Overall, Talbot would appear in some 150 movies

Talbot's acting career thrived on television, in which he appeared from the beginning of the medium until the 1980s. He co-starred as Ozzie Nelson's friend Joe Randolph on The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet (1952) and as Robert Cummings' Air Force buddy in The Bob Cummings Show (1955) (also known as "Love that Bob") and made guest appearances on a plethora of TV series, including Leave It to Beaver (1957), The Lone Ranger (1949), Topper (1953), The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show (1950), Perry Mason (1957), Rawhide (1959), Wagon Train (1957), The Beverly Hillbillies (1962), Green Acres (1965), Charlie's Angels (1976), Newhart (1982), The Dukes of Hazzard (1979) and Who's the Boss? (1984).

Throughout his film and TV career, Talbot continued to perform on stage, co-starring in "Separate Rooms" on Broadway in the early 1940s and starring in national touring companies of Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple" and summer stock tours of Gore Vidal's "The Best Man" and Thornton Wilder's "The Matchmaker."

After several brief marriages and a number of romantic entanglements, Talbot in 1948 married for the fifth time, to a young singer and actress, Margaret "Paula" Epple; the couple had four children together and remained married for more than forty years until her death in 1989.

Three of the four children became writers or journalists. Only Cynthia Talbot, the elder daughter, did not. She is a family physician and residency director in Portland, Oregon. One of Talbot's grandchildren, Caitlin Talbot, is an actress based in Los Angeles.

Stephen Talbot was for many years a documentary producer for the PBS series Frontline and "Frontline World" and executive producer of Sound Tracks: Music Without Borders. As a child actor, he played Gilbert on the hit television show Leave it to Beaver.

David Talbot is an author ("Brothers" about John F. and Robert F. Kennedy) and the founder and editor of Salon.com.

Margaret Talbot of The New Yorker wrote about her father's long career beginning in pre-Code Hollywood in a book, "The Entertainer: Movies, Magic and My Father's Twentieth Century".

Lyle Talbot died of natural causes on March 3rd, 1996, in his home in San Francisco, California, at the age of 94, the last of the original SAG founders to pass.

The flying effects were somewhat improved in this film than in the original, by the simple expedient of turning the camera on its side. Kirk Alyn stood with arms raised in front of a cyclorama, while a wind machine and smoke pot were placed above him (out of frame). This gave an inexpensive illusion of flight. Longer shots continued to use cartoon animation of the Man of Steel.

In chapter one the shot of Luthor destroying the bridge is actual footage of the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge that opened in 1940 (also known as "Galloping Gertie"). The footage used is that of the bridge in its final moments prior to its collapse on November 7th, 1940, shot on 16mm Kodachrome motion picture film by Barney Elliott and Harbine Monroe of a Tacoma-area camera shop. The final set piece shows Metropolis under attack by "poorly animated" flying saucers and a torpedo.

Who created Superman?

Frank Shuster & Stan Siegel
Joe Siegel and Wayne Shuster
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster
Bob Kane & John Shuster

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General-DC Comics

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Check out the SuperHero Stuff Superman merchandise page, your directory to the biggest collection of Superman products on the Internet. They have Superman tees coming out their ears; and have tons of other cool Superman products, too, like Superman hoodies, belt buckles, baseball caps, sandals, magnets, alarm clocks and even Superman underwear! All products are official and licensed.

DC comics toys and more at TFAW.com

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Content intended for informational and educational purposes only under the GNU Free Documentation Areement.
All Superman and DC Universe characters and merchandise are copyright © and property of Warner Brothers, DC Comics, and/or their subsidiaries and licensors.

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