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"The Adventures of Superman" was, in the 1950s, the ultimate adventure
show for kids, a series that transcended low budgets, often laughably
bad scripts, and a torturous shooting schedule each season to become a
genuine 'TV Classic'. Next to "I Love Lucy", the series is, perhaps,
the most frequently rerun of any show of that decade; in shooting
several seasons in color, it was a major trend setter (particularly as
there were VERY few color televisions at the time); as a show that was
syndicated, and not owned by a network (Kellogg's Cereal sponsored and
financed the program) it paved the way for all the syndicated programs
that followed. It's place in television history cannot be denied, and
it's story is complete with drama, success, and tragedy, and a hero
whose life and strange death still fuels controversy, to this day.
Superman, DC Comics' high-flying hero, had already achieved success on radio, in animated short films, and in two movie serials, when a low-budget feature film, SUPERMAN AND THE MOLE MEN, paved the way for the television series. The film replaced serial star Kirk Alyn with brawnier, square-jawed George Reeves, a youthful 37-year old whose promising film career had been derailed by WWII. He was joined by Phyllis Coates, replacing the serials' Noel Neill as ace reporter Lois Lane, and the pair made the transition to television, joined by 19-year old Jack Larson, as photographer/cub reporter Jimmy Olsen, and veteran character actor John Hamilton as editor Perry White. Helmed initially by veteran producer Robert Maxwell, the series utilized the same 'assembly line' formula of the movie serials, shooting multiple episodes at one time (which was why the cast always wore the same outfits), relying on action-heavy scripts heavy with Gothic atmosphere, and creating 'master' FX shots that were reused constantly, keeping the budget within acceptable limits. (While the 'flying' shots have been the object of humor over the years, the use of wires and a 'flying pan' in front of a rear projection provided the most realistic 'look' yet achieved, and the technique would still be in practice when SUPERMAN RETURNS was filmed, 55 years later.) Reeves' 'Man of Steel' was a street brawler, unafraid to duke it out with villains, and his 'Clark Kent' was every bit as no-nonsense as his 'Superman'. The program was actually quite adult, for a comic book adaptation, and the first season episodes are considered the best of the series.
When Phyllis Coates left the show, in 1953 (believing it would not be renewed, she signed for other film work), Noel Neill returned, softening the character of Lois Lane, but participating in some of the series' greatest episodes, including the most popular episode ever filmed, "Panic in the Sky", where Superman attacks an asteroid 'head-on', resulting in amnesia and near doom for Earth. By now, the 'wired' take-offs of Superman were replaced by vaulting off a springboard (after Reeves had barely escaped serious injury after dropping over ten feet when the 'liftoff' wires broke).
When Whitney Ellsworth took over production duties for the series, pressure from Kellogg's (due to the show's tremendous popularity, and investigations into the detrimental effect of violence on children) to tone down the mayhem resulted in episodes becoming increasingly silly and far-fetched. As this coincided with the series' move to color, the marked difference is clearly evident. The color episodes (particularly in the last two seasons) are, by-in-large, held in far less regard than the black and white ones.
By the series' final season, George Reeves would look chubby, and far older than his 43 years, Noel Neill would sport flaming red hair, and the episodes, shot on a very tight budget, were nearly unwatchable (other than the series' finale, "The Trials of Superman", directed by Reeves, where the cast are all placed in "Perils of Pauline"-style catastrophes).
While Larson and Neill would move on to other projects, and John Hamilton soon passed away, George Reeves found himself type-cast as Superman, with his career considered to be at a standstill. The assumption that depression resulted in his committing suicide in 1959, at 45, has, however, been the subject of debate for over 40 years. It turns out that Kellogg's was prepared to finance a new season of "Superman", that Reeves had several upcoming directing opportunities, he was about to be married, and that on the night of his death, he was in excellent spirits. There is a growing belief that his 'suicide' was actually murder, by a 'hit man' hired by either by his ex-girlfriend, or her jealous husband. While the truth may never be known, the news of his death devastated a generation of children, who truly believed he WAS Superman.
While Christopher Reeve and Brandon Routh may be the definitive "Men of Steel" for their generations, and Dean Cain and Tom Welling have their fans, George Reeves, and "The Adventures of Superman", carry on a legacy that will never fade away. Each year introduces new fans to the series, and reminds us baby boomers of how fortunate we were to be there, at the beginning.
The general consensus seems to be that the first season of this all
time classic TV show was the best and I would probably agree with that.
Although, I'm a dedicated fan of the entire series.
The injection of color into the closing stages of the production run gave those final episodes a special quality of their own.
George Reeves was positively born to play the title role. The previously inconsequential journeyman actor brought the character to life with great conviction, charm and a wonderful enthusiasm which never faltered. Of course, he had some fine support with John Hamilton as Perry White, Jack Larson as Jimmy Olsen and Robert Shayne as Inspector Henderson.
As for the portrayal of Lois Lane, it really depends on which approach you preferred. Phyllis Coates created a prickly, no-nonsense big city reporter who wouldn't hesitate to smack 'ya across the face with a wet mackerel if you tried to get fresh with her. Noel Neil was more of your good natured girl next door who was always ready with a cheery word and a polite laugh whenever Clarke Kent or Jimmy made a clumsy attempt at humor (which usually backfired).
So it's all a bit corny when you look back now from our jaded perspective of life as we know it in the year 2003. But, who cares? It's still good, clean fun which is more than you can say for most of the vile, mind numbing garbage that spews forth out of the television these days. And there was a good spirit behind the whole thing ...obey the law, salute the flag, say "please" and "thankyou", be kind to your fellow human beings, take in stray cats, brush your teeth (and the cat's teeth) twice a day.
It was a different era and a better world in some ways.
I love all 104 episodes of the Adventures of Superman. This show kept my interest with it's mix of adventure, sci fi, crime, warmth, and comedy. Only one style would have bored me, but Superman had it all and continues to entertain me. The characters were wonderful. It's still a delight to spend time with Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, and Inspector Henderson. I also love both Lois Lanes. The first Lois is all business and the second Lois melts my heart with that smile of hers! George Reeves is fantastic in each and every episode. The Adventures of Superman is still a joy for me to behold in 2005. I can always count on any one of the 104 episodes to make me smile. All of them bring joy to my heart and there are very few shows that can entertain me for 104 episodes.
What a hoot!! I loved it. I watched this television series as a little
kid but the stories in this first season were so old (almost 55 years
ago!), I didn't remember more than a few scenes, although they sure
brought back memories.
The special effects and the credibility (picking a scene apart) were beyond bad. Apparently, they had a budget of about $5 a show, or so it looks, so you'd see the same scene over and over in various episodes. I could write volumes on all the ludicrous scenes that made no sense but that's what helps make this so entertaining. It's so bad, it's good! I don't want to sound like I am criticizing this because I thoroughly enjoyed it and have already purchased the second season.
It was especially fun to see the first show, the TV version of the origins of Superman. Then, as the episodes continued, to hear the innocence of a young Jimmy Olsen saying, "Jeepers, Mr. Kent," "Golly, gee whiz" and other similar exclamations. I laugh every time I hear those. Wow, compare that to today's TV.
Phyllis Coates was good as Lois Lane. It's too bad she left after one year. I'd rate her a slightly better Lane than Noel Neill, but Noel was good, too. Lois and Jimmy, with their nosiness, naiveté and just plain stupidity would have to be bailed out by Superman show after show.
George Reeves is likable as Superman but I got tired of John Hamilton screaming all the time as Perry White. They did calm him down a bit in subsequent years, but that first year all he did was yell.
Each episode was completely different and entertaining on this DVD package. This is great stuff for nostalgia buffs. Right now, I am in the middle of watching the second season on DVD and look forward to all of the sets that will be released.....hopefully, all of the seasons.
George Reeves in my heart will always be the First and True SUPERMAN
and I am so happy they are FINALLY putting this Great series on DVD! I
Only hope they do It Justice ( The American way) and do not cut corners
and let us finally see this series UN CUT so those who grew up watching
and loving every episode will again be able to relive their childhood
in all its splendor! George Reeves as Superman portrayed it not campy
as Batman would later emerge doing, but with a message and values that
were good and moral and he made you believe there WAS a Superman! When
I was about 5 years old, I was hit by a car and bedridden for several
months, my mom would tell me everyday sitting on my bed what happened
on Superman and at that age gave me the strength to get better and
stronger sooner so I could watch the show myself. I will always
treasure these episodes though in its later years got to be a bit corny
they still me me feel so good inside and now that I am in my fifty's, I
can enjoy this series even better on a BIGGER TV and better sound
system! Pure Heaven.
Long Live the Adventures of Superman and may all 104 episodes be released soon! ZDFORME
(Initial comments) My son gave me a copy of Season One of "The
Adventures of Superman" for Christmas, and I must say it was the best
present I've received in a long while. We had such a good time watching
favorite episodes. I am a child of the 50's and grew up with Superman
while it was still fairly new. My son experienced it on Nick at Nite
re-runs, a special time for us both.
Now I have purchased the Season Two set, and the episodes here may be in many ways better than those in the first. A particular favorite is "Panic in the Sky," where our hero has to deflect a meteor as it hurtles towards Earth. Special flying sequences were filmed for this episode that were not used in any other.
A special treat is "Stamp Day for Superman," a special episode that I never saw as a child. While it is a quickie "freebie" made to support the U.S. Treasury Dept., this episode stands up pretty well with the "regular" episodes.
The featurette "First Lady of Metropolis" is a wonderful tribute to Noel Neill, who took over the role of Lois when Phyllis Coates was unable to continue. It is so nice to see Ms. Neill still looking lovely. She still has the "sparkle" in her eyes that made her Lois so enjoyable to watch.
Another favorite episode is "Around the World with Superman." Anyone who is not moved by this story of a blind girl's attempt to re-unite her troubled family just doesn't have a heart.
Thanks to Warners and to my son for helping me capture a sense of my own youth.
(June 20, 2006) I just got my copy of Seasons 3 & 4 of Adventures of Superman. Special features include a piece entitled "Adventures of Superman: The Color Era" and another called "Faster Than a Speeding Bullet: The Special Effects of The Adventures Of Superman."
The former, about the series being filmed in color features interviews with Jack Larsen, Noel Neill, Gary Grossman (author of "Superman: Serial to Cereal") and a television historian whose name escapes me. All pretty much agree that it was a shrewd move of the producers to start filming the show in color, and saving the negatives until color television was common a decade later. In the words of Larsen, "Those guys were pretty smart."
The one about the sfx was mainly a profile and interview with Thol Simonson, along with Larsen and Neill. Both cast members were effusive with praise for Simonson, saying they always felt safe, no matter how risky the effect looked on screen. Something I had not seen before is a diagram of the "pan" apparatus and counterbalance that replaced the wires that had earlier suspended Reeves.
Episodes I have watched so far are "The Wedding of Superman," "The Big Freeze," and "Through the Time Barrier." As has been noted elsewhere, these stories are much less heavily dramatic as the nourish early episodes. However, the light comedy is not really campy, just good-natured. Also, Neill as Lois looks quite fetching in her cave-girl outfit in the time-travel story.
In fact, Ms. Neill still looks quite lovely in the new interview footage. She still has those same sparkling eyes and the lovely smile that gave me that first crush on Lois all those years ago.
(Update: December 3, 2006: Initial impressions of Seasons 5 & 6:)
"Superman's Wife" is not as hokey as many of the other episodes in the final season. Joi Lansing is a knockout, and John Eldredge, as usual, makes one of the more interesting, intelligent villains.
"The Perils of Superman" is pure FUN.
Noel makes for some NICE cheesecake in that proto-Jeannie outfit in "The Tomb of Zaharan." The story was pure cheese, though. (In "Foghorn Leghorn" voice: hey, I made a funny. Cheese--Cheesecake.)
"The Big Forget" contains the greatest tease in the entire series: Clark changing into Supes in full view of all the series regulars!
The final shot of "All That Glitters" is really poignant, considering how things turned out for George.
The featurette about Jack Larsen is a nice little tribute.
A fun time with old friends that I now share with my grandkids. (All warm and fuzzy.)
What a great TV show. Sit back in time and watch as TV brought out the best of Superman.I remember as a child watching the reruns and was so amazed how Superman would fight off the bad guys. Bending steel and bullets that just bounced off his chest. He was my favorite super hero. Let yourself go and relive the Adventures of Superman.I just loved his outfit. The man of steel wearing red and blue. We need more shows like these instead of what we have now. Every show was like a cliff hanger. Nail biting action. Would Superman make it in time? Can he get to the bad guys before they hurt Olsen and Miss. Lois Lane? These were questions that were answered every time Superman came on. He made you feel good about the world. He was just simply the best.
It was a different time and different era when this now legendary program was first televised. Yes some of the episodes toward the end of the series are on the hokey and corny side. However this show is a part of television history. The opening credits with the great theme music always set the mood. My favorite was the two part ` The Unknown People' episode. Although I always thought Noel Neill was a cuter and sexier Lois Lane Phyllis Coates played the part to a T. Jack Larsons Jimmy Olsen idolized Clark Kent as a father figure like the character did in the comics. John Hamilton was superb as the gruff but understanding Perry White. Robert Shayne as Inspector Henderson who never solved a case by himself but did it matter? Then George Reeves. Other actors donned the costume through the years but George Reeves was and always will be Superman, and when you think about it that's not too shabby.
Growing up in the 1950's I was an avid collector of comics. One of my
favorites was superhero Superman. The other was Plastic Man. For some
reason few have heard of the original Plastic Man, but Superman is
still very much with us and probably will be for some time to come.
Before judging this series, one must remember that only televisions
that showed black and white were on the market. There was no color. If
an early television show was produced in color it was for other
reasons, say possible release on the big screen. Some producers hoped
to string two or three episodes of a popular television series together
and distribute it to movie houses as one feature as was done with The
Lone Ranger. Also, there were no big-screen TV's. Therefore special
effects could be kept fairly primitive (and inexpensive) because the
viewer wouldn't be seeing much anyway. The average TV screen was about
13". A person was uptown if he/she had a 17" screen.
There were Superman movies out at the time featuring other actors rather than "the real" Superman, George Reeves. The Superman TV shows were compact, well-written, and well-performed. For me Noel Neill will always be Lois Lane. Ditto for Jack Larson as Jimmy Olsen, John Hamilton as Perry White, Robert Shayne as Inspector Bill Henderson, and even though Christopher Reeves did a bang-up job as a later Superman, George Reeves will always be Superman for my generation.
Another reason I was so drawn to the Superman TV show was because a stunt man who was married to my cousin at the time appeared in one of the episodes. In the episode, "The Wedding of Superman" Doyle Brooks played Mr. Poole, one of the heavies. Brooks was born in the little hamlet of Bethesda, Arkansas, married my cousin and set out to become a movie star in Hollywood. He ended up a successful stuntman but did very little acting. His biggest success was playing the Ajax White Knight in a now famous television commercial.
Superman's may come and go but George Reeves will always be "the" Superman to all of us who were kids in the 1950's.
I remember watching several episodes of The Adventures of Superman when
the BBC screened some of them during the summer school holidays around
1987/88. An episode of this usually followed Gentle Ben and Silas
(these were on around two or three times a week) but Superman was on,
if I remember right, everyday. So a good 90 minutes of entertainment
Superman/Clarke Kent was played by George Reeves who is certainly no relation to the late Christopher Reeve who starred in the four Superman movies which some people seem to think so (the surnames are different). Louis Lane was played by Phyllis Coates and later Noel Neill.
We usually had a different story each episode although some episodes were two parters.
It would be nice to see some episodes of The adventures of Superman again. They don't make 'em like this anymore.
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