STILL FLYING HIGH
THE MAN OF STEEL IS 80 YEARS OLD AND CAN STILL LEAP TALL BUILDINGS IN A SINGLE BOUND. MARION McMULLEN LOOKS AT THE ENDURING APPEAL OF SUPERMAN
IS IT a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Superman. The action hero appeared 80 years ago, effortlessly lifting a car above his head on the front cover of the first Action Comic dated June, 1938 – however, the comics were post dated to get newsagents to keep them on their shelves longer... so you could have had this issue on April 18.
He was already wearing his trademark cape and blue and red superhero outfit emblazoned with the distinctive letter ‘S’.
The Man of Steel had arrived and was ready to help mankind battle all manner of villains intent on ruling the world.
American actor Kirk Alyn was the first to bring the comic book character – created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster – to life in the 1940s serial which boasted episode titles like The Reducer Ray and Into The Electric Furnace!
Kirk was credited only as Clark Kent though, with the studio spreading the story that Superman was portraying himself.
Bud Collyer voiced the first Superman cartoon in the early 40s and returned to put words in his mouth again in 1966 in The New Adventures Of Superman.
American amateur boxer George Reeves never made it big in the movies, but became famous to a generation of children in the 1950s in Adventures Of Superman.
He first played the comic book favourite in the 1951 film Superman And The Mole-Men and went on to appear in the TV series in 1952. It ran for six years and was originally filmed in black and white with Superman’s costume being brown, grey and white to provide contrast.
It switched to the more traditional red and blue suit when the TV show began filming in colour in 1954.
The Superman costume was padded although George was extremely athletic and performed many of his own stunts in the 104 episodes.
He was 38 when he took on the role and took care never to disillusion his young fans. He gave up smoking and never attended appearances with girlfriends, but had to be careful of youngsters keen to test his superhero powers.
There is a famous story of one young boy turning up with his father’s Second World Luger pistol and pointing it at George to see if Superman really was invincible and could dodge a bullet.
George eventually convinced the young fan to hand over the gun by saying someone could get hurt by the bullets bouncing off Superman. Christopher Reeve took on the heroic role in 1978 and gained 30lbs for the part. His weight trainer for the first film in the movie franchise was David Prowse, best known for playing Darth Vader in the original Star Wars movies.
Christopher was only 24 when he first appeared as Superman and was the first actor to play the famous hero to have been born after the character was created in 1938.
A group of children once recognised Christopher in a park and deliberately threw their Frisbee over a fence and asked him to fly after it.
He quickly explained he could not fly because his cape was in the wash, but still saved the day by simply reaching over the fence and retrieving the Frisbee for them.
The enduring appeal of Superman continued with Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher appearing as Clark Kent and Lois Lane in 87 episodes of the American TV series The New Adventures Of Superman in the 1990s. Tom Welling went on to play the young Superman for 10 years in the series Smallville, but turned down the role twice before accepting it. He once explained: “I find it much more interesting to concentrate on the development of Clark and show what happened in his life to make him the Superman that we all know him to be.” Smallville marked the death of Christopher Reeve by dedicating a 2001 episode to him with the credits reading: “He made us believe a man could fly.” Brandon Routh and British actor Henry Cavill have both put on the famous cape in the more recent movie versions and Henry even auditioned wearing Christopher Reeve’s original film costume. He once joked: “I get to wake up every morning and say, ‘I’m Superman.’” Christopher Reeve himself said Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created a piece of American mythology when they introduced their hero from Krypton. “It was my privilege to be the on-screen custodian of the character in the 70s and 80s,” he said. “There will be many interpretations of Superman, but the original character created by two teenagers in the 30s will last forever.”
Superman made his first appearance in a 1938 comic – and became an instant legend. Christopher Reeve, right, took on the persona in the late 1970s and made us ‘believe a man can fly’