The Adventures of Superman

From Academic Kids

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The cast of The Adventures of Superman from 1953 to 1957. From left: John Hamilton, George Reeves, Jack Larson and Noel Neill.

The Adventures of Superman was the first attempt to bring the character of Superman to television. First aired in 1952 and running until 1957, it starred George Reeves as Superman and, originally, Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane. In 1953, Noel Neill replaced Coates. Jack Larson played Jimmy Olsen and John Hamilton was Perry White.

Phyllis Coates returned to the genre in 1993 when she played the part of Lois Lane's mother in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Noel Neill had played Lois in a movie serial, called simply Superman, in 1948.

The opening narration of the show set the stage:

"Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings at a single bound! ... Superman ... strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men! Superman, who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way!"

Series production

The show was syndicated. A total of 104 episodes were filmed for television, with the first two seasons in black and white. The show was one of the first weekly television shows to switch to full color. For the first two seasons, George Reeves' Superman costume was actually colored brown, so that it would show better on black-and-white TV. When the series went to color, a red and blue costume was made to match the look of the comic books.

The budget for the series was relatively low, with the series' actors paid $200 per episode. TV historians state that the cast had to make repeated requests to the show's producers before they were given a $50 raise. The low budgets of the show were also reflected in the special effects used to simulate Superman's super powers and superhuman feats. Nearly every episode of the show had Clark Kent change into Superman, and run across a room to jump out the window (using a trampoline). There would then be repeated stock footage of Superman flying through the sky.

Series history

The series was actually based upon the movie Superman and the Mole Men, which was filmed and released to theaters in 1951. This low-budget film was successful to inspire the TV series; it was later integrated into the series as a two-part episode.

Earlier episodes of the story presented serious, action-packed, sometimes gritty storylines in which Superman fought tough gangsters and crime lords. As the series progressed (especially after the switch to color), some of the seriousness was lost and the series began to take on the light-hearted, campy tone of the Superman comic books of the 1950s.

None of the regular Superman villains of the comic books made appearances on the TV show, and the bad guys on the show were usually generic "thugs."

George Reeves became so typecast as Superman that it was difficult for him to find other roles. When he eventually committed suicide, much speculation resulted as to whether it was because of his failed career.

The shooting location for the Daily Planet lobby scenes was the "Carnation Building" on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, California, a famous example of Streamline Moderne architecture.

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