(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."
played Superman for the first live-action Superman movie serial,
released in 1948. The serial consisted of 15 episodes which recounted
Supermans 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 Supermans battle against the arch
criminal the Spider Lady.
Two years later, Atom Man vs. Superman was
released, featuring Lyle Talbot as Supermans 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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
Between Two Fires
Blast In The Depths
Hurled To Destruction
Superman At Bay
Atom Man vs. Superman
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
Atom Man Strikes
Atom Man's Flying Saucers
Rocket Of Vengeance
Superman Saves The Universe
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
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.
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
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
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.
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