Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s… SUPERMAN!
In 1938, the creative team of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster invented a character named Superman for Action Comics. By the 1950’s, the consistently popular character of Superman had transcended its humble comic-book origins to become a popular attraction at the movies and on radio. With The Adventures of Superman, the Man of Steel conquered the television medium, setting the tone for all future television interpretations of the super-hero genre.
The television version followed the comic book closely, starting with the origin story “Superman on Earth.” Superman was a humanoid alien who was sent to earth as an infant by his parents when they discovered their home planet of Krypton was going to be destroyed. The infant’s escape pod landed in the American hamlet of Smallville and was recovered by Eben and Sarah Kent, who named the boy Clark and raised him as their own.
As Clark grew older, he discovered he had an extraordinary set of superpowers that included superhuman strength, sight and hearing, as well as x-ray vision and the ability to fly. His parents revealed his true origin to him and his mother made him a costume from the blanket he was wrapped in on his flight to earth. Thus equipped, the hero they would call Superman set out to fight crime, hindered by only one weakness: Kryptonite, green rocks that were fragments of his long-dead home planet.
Clark decided to use his powers for good, moving to the big city of Metropolis when he reached adulthood. Now played by George Reeves, he kept his superhero identity secret and became a reporter for the Daily Planet. His employer was editor Perry White, a gruff man who frequently exclaimed ”Great Caesar’s ghost!” Clark’s fellow employees included a timid cub reporter named Jimmy Olsen and tough female reporter Lois Lane. The latter idolized Superman but didn’t know Clark was her hero’s alter ego. Episodes usually depicted Clark stumbling across wrongdoing in his reporting work and setting it right as Superman. He also frequently bailed Lois and Jimmy out of trouble.
The show’s first 26-episode season was produced in 1951 but wasn’t released to television until 1952. Kellogg’s Cereals came on board as a sponsor and new episodes began production in 1953. The cast remained the same except for Lois, who was now portrayed by Noel Neill (Phyllis Coates had done the reporting in the first season).
Like many series of the time, The Adventures of Superman was produced at a fast pace on a low budget. Due to these financial constrictions, the show relied on stock footage to depict Superman’s heroic deeds, especially the endlessly-reused footage of Superman flying. Also, the characters constantly wore the same outfits to save on costume costs and allow the producers to shoot multiple episodes at once. Just the same, the show’s faithfulness to the comic book transcended the small budgets, and the syndicated series became a hit with viewers. In 1954, the producers began to shoot the show in color and would continue to do so until the show ended in 1957.
The series was the first science fiction show to be shown on the ITV network in the UK.
USA / ABC / 104×25 minute episodes / Broadcast 1952-57
Producers: Robert Maxwell, Bernard Luber, Whitney Ellsworth
GEORGE REEVES as Superman/Clark Kent
PHYLLIS COATES as Lois Lane (season 1)
NOEL NEILL as Lois (seasons 2-4)
JACK LARSEN as Jimmy Olsen
JOHN HAMILTON as Perry White
ROBERT SHAYNE as Inspector Henderson