This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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by Thomas V. Powers, © 2005
(From Radio Recall, April 2005.
This is Part Two of a two-part article. Read Part One here.)
The new series began with a new, expanded origin story, which renamed the Kents as Eben and Sarah. These seem to have been written by George Lowther, who was the announcer on the show, as well as a writer. (About this time he authored a Superman novel that was quite successful.) The Wolf story-line was then repeated, before moving into new adventures.
The series was an immediate success, with Superman becoming more popular than ever. Superman would be joined on the air by DC's lead aviator Hop Harrigan on his own Mutual series.
In 1943 Jackson Beck would take over as announcer on Superman, continuing to play character parts, as he had been doing for the previous year. His supercharged delivery would become the best-remembered version of the radio show.
1945 would be a watershed year for the program. On September 5th, he would gain two valuable allies, The Batman and Robin -- and just in time. For on the 24th, a meteor from Krypton landed, bringing Superman a potentially fatal challenge.
The adventure of the Scarlet Widow would begin, leading ultimately to Superman's most dangerous adversary, The Atom Man. By December, events would cause Clark Kent to reveal his identity to Bruce Wayne, in order to gain Batman's help. And Batman was of great assistance in many ways, including allowing poor Bud Collyer to have time off from the program. I find it interesting to note that Bruce Wayne conveniently seems to live in a nice suburb of Metropolis in the radio show.
Listening to the programs, I also discovered an interesting fact about Kryptonite on radio -- it, in itself, cannot kill Superman. It simply makes him weak, sometimes to the point of paralysis. The way to kill Superman is actually more macabre, yet somehow humanizing. Kept captive by the metal's powers, one simply has to wait for Superman to die -- not by radiation, but by starvation. It seems even Superman must eat and drink, or perish. The Man of Steel is ultimately still a man, with the many of the simple needs of ordinary mortals. The notion did not carry over to the comics, or other media -- but Superman himself would.
In 1948, Superman would finally make the jump to the live action screen. Columbia's chapter serial of Superman would become a box office hit, starring Noel Neil as Lois Lane, former Our Gang kid Tommy Bond as Jimmy Olsen, and Pierre Watkin as Perry White. Superman would take the lead role himself -- or at least according to the press releases.
Actually, acrobatic dancer and actor Kirk Alyn was cast in the dual role, and acquitted himself rather well. He seemed to base his interpretation essentially on Bud Collyer's -- and the serial noted in the credits that it was adapted from the radio series, not the comics. Plots inspired by the “Meteor from Krypton” and Scarlet Witch story lines were incorporated into the beautiful and ruthless Spider Lady's plans to steal and use the power of the incredible Reducer Ray in this 15 chapter cliffhanger.
Another chapter play would come from Columbia in 1950, Atom Man Vs. Superman. Contrary to what you might expect from the title, Superman's adversary would be his arch-enemy from the comics, mad scientist Lex Luthor, played in a well-done bald cap by movie veteran Lyle Talbot. This serial would be a bit more like the comic book this time, and featured somewhat better special effects.
By this time, the radio series had shifted into its third phase. On February 7th, 1949 the series began airing on Mutual three times a week (5 PM) -- but now the episodes were a full half hour. The first 30 minute episode was titled "The Frozen Death". Several episodes would seem to be condensed versions of earlier serials. Some would say this new format really makes it a third series, and I can't say I disagree.
On October 29th, The Adventures of Superman switched to a new network, ABC, created out of NBC's Blue Network, broken up following an Anti-Trust ruling. The show initially aired at 8:30 p.m. Saturday nights, then at 8 p.m. for several months. June 5th of 1950 saw the show in a new twice-weekly slot at 5:30 PM Mondays and Wednesdays, with a new Superman, Michael Fitzmaurice. There is only one known recording, 'The Story of Marina Braun', to survive from his 78 episodes.
To fill the twice-weekly broadcasts, many of the shows would be repeats. By September 12th, the episodes were being aired Tuesday and Thursdays, and the final episode "The Mystery of the Prehistoric Monster" was broadcast March 1st, 1951.
The next year, Robert Maxwell would launch a new Superman movie and television show starring George Reeves and Phyllis Coates, though the premiere of the series would be delayed until early 1953. Kellogg's would again be the sponsor and it would air on the owned and operated ABC stations, as well as many local independent markets. His more adult-themed story lines, some based on radio episodes, would lead to some trouble with the sponsor, and DC would replace him as producer with their own Whitney Ellsworth.
Ellsworth was a pulp writer and comics editor who had been with the company since the thirties, and had encouraged a young Bob Kane to come up with his own costumed character, “The Batman.” The new episodes had a lighter tone, and returned Noel Neil to the role of Lois Lane, joining cast members John Hamilton, Jack Larson, and Robert Shayne. Shayne played Inspector Henderson; another character created for the radio series. Allen Ducovny stayed in New York, producing radio shows and live television, including the popular Tom Corbett, Space Cadet -- which would have Jack Beck again as announcer both on TV and radio.
In 1966 a cartoon series, The New Adventures of Superman, came to CBS on Saturday mornings. Bud Collyer and Joan Alexander would reprise their roles, and Jackson Beck would serve as narrator, the voice of Perry White, and other characters. Bob Hastings would portray Superboy, who had been introduced in the comic books in 1949. Allen Ducovny was again behind the scenes, and the show would have two more seasons, one as The Superman-Aquaman Hour of Adventure, and finally, The Batman-Superman Hour.
1978 saw the release of Superman: The Movie from Warner Brothers, which by then owned DC Comics. Director Richard Donner choose relative unknown Christopher Reeve to play the Man of Steel, and the slim New York actor bulked up, trained largely by Darth Vader actor and body builder Dave Prowse. Reeve bought great talent and commitment to the part, making us believe if only for a few moments that a man really could fly. Three sequels would follow.
Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman was produced by Warner Brothers and ran on ABC-TV from 1993 to 1997. Teri Hatcher and Dean Cain played the title roles in this series, which would concentrate on the romantic aspects of the world's longest running love triangle... between two people. Well, it's a complicated business, leading a dual life, and these problems do crop up.
BBC Radio would adapt actual Superman comic book plot lines into two serials in the early 90's starring Stuart Milligan and Lorelei King as Lois Lane.
Now Warner Bros. WB Network is running Smallville, a series about Clark Kent's teenage years in his hometown, with Tom Welling in the role. His parents, now a younger Jonathan and Martha Kent, play vital roles in shaping the future Superman. Christopher Reeve appeared on the show as Dr. Virgil Swan, a wheelchair-bound scientist hoping to give him explanations of his origin, and possibly some guidance. Reeve’s recent death will prevent that, but his movie costar Margo Kidder will do her best to fulfill that role.
2004's been a tough year for Superman, with the recent losses of Christopher Reeve, and Jackson Beck, who had been very generous in sharing his memories and talents with OTR fans over the years. They will be missed. However, the story of Superman goes on.
Plans continue to put the Man of Steel back on the big screen, and the latest news is that director Bryan Singer has cast newcomer Brandon Routh as Superman. Many other actors have been rumored as winning the role, so we'll have to wait and see.
After more than fifty years, it looks like there will always be a job -- for Superman!
About the author: Thomas V. Powers is known as Tom Powers around the NJ FOTR Conventions. This Queens, NY resident been attending since the 80's and he and his little troupe, the RadioActive Players, have performed dramatic readings of radio shows of characters from the Pulps and Comics since 1999. Tom is a budding author, with a few published works, and is involved in independent film/video productions.