Deck Log Entry # 157 "But I Always Thought . . . ": Superman on Television (Part Two)

In the first four days that Part One of this article was on the board, it picked up over six hundred hits.  Wow.


Now, I know it wasn’t because I'm such a scintillating writer.  I’m not the kind of fellow who can write a page-turner.  I’m lucky when I get the subject and verb to agree.


That many hits in that brief a time is a testament to the enduring appeal of Adventures of Superman.  For any fan who was a kid in the 1950’s or ‘60’s, all it takes is that opening chorus of harp strings and horns to stir those feelings of childhood excitement.  Yeah, we know . . . the cheap sets, the primitive special effects, the never-changing wardrobes, the padded muscles.  We know all of it.  It’s just that it doesn’t matter.


It’s a visceral thing.  It resonates not in the mind, but in the heart.


In his post on my previous entry, doc photo placed the credit precisely where it belonged---on the talent and professionalism of the cast.  Even in the first season, before the plots turned insipid and juvenile, Reeves and Larson and the others knew they weren’t doing Playhouse 90.  On the first day of filming, George Reeves invited Phyllis Coates to his dressing room, poured her a drink, and offered a toast.


“Well, babe, this is it---the bottom of the barrel.”


Despite that, they delivered earnest, solid performances, as if they were doing Playhouse 90.  And that’s what made it real, or at least, real enough to us.   George Reeves had appeared in Gone with the Wind, for crying out loud.  A bona fide cinema classic.  Yet, he infused his performance as the Man of Steel with every whit of the same effort and sincerity.


His Superman was the kind of person that you wished every adult in your life was like---honest, reliable, knowing, and confident.  He could be firm or tough when he had to be, but he could also put everything aright with a reassuring smile.


In “The Evil Three”, Superman confronts one of the villains holding Perry White and Jimmy Olsen captive.  He hoists the crook with one hand and cocks the other back into a fist.


“Tell me where they are, or I’ll break every bone in your body!”  And you knew he meant it.


At the same time, I defy anyone to watch his scenes with the little girl, Anne Carson, in “Around the World with Superman” and not feel a warm glow inside.


Quite profound for a “kids' show” of 104 low-budget, hastily-produced episodes.  And like all things which leave such a lasting mark, a certain number of myths and inaccuracies get mingled in with the facts.  I put the record straight on a couple of them last time out.  Now it’s time to deal with a couple more.




Myth # 3.  The Phrase “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” Originated with the Television Series.


During the original run of the Adventures of Superman television series, and for a decade of reruns thereafter, none of us youngsters had any problem with the Man of Steel fighting “a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way!”  It was as natural and appropriate to us as starting every school morning with the Pledge of Allegiance.


The “American way” part has fallen under some negative scrutiny over the past couple of decades.  Some feel it’s unjustly proprietary.  Others feel that the American way has little to do with truth and justice.  And a lot simply feel that it’s just too corny.


Whatever the individual opinion, almost everyone associates that closing narration with the TV series.  Such is the overwhelming power of television.  But the fact of the matter is that the expression was first heard on the Adventures of Superman radio programme.  But not at first, which is why many folks miss the connexion.


The Adventures of Superman radio series debuted on 12 February 1940. At first, the announcer’s introduction of the Man of Steel varied somewhat with each episode.  Eventually, though, it settled into this regular description:


Up in the sky!  Look!

It’s a bird!

It’s a plane!

It’s Superman!

And now, Superman!  Strange visitor from the planet Krypton, who has come to Earth with physical powers far beyond those of mortal men.  Superman, who can leap tall buildings at a single bound, bend steel in his bare hands, race a speeding bullet to its target, and who wages a never-ending battle against crime and oppression, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper.


Similar to the classic opening, but with significant differences.  The word “look” follows the directive “Up in the sky!”  Krypton is identified and Superman’s never-ending battle is against “crime and oppression”.


By 1941, the narration changed somewhat.


Yes, it’s Superman!  Strange visitor from the planet Krypton, who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.  Superman, who can leap tall buildings at a single bound, race a speeding bullet to its target, 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 and justice!


Closer, but still not quite the one that everybody knows.  Note that, here, the Man of Steel fights simply for “truth and justice”.  And it might have stayed that way---except for two events.


The first, on 08 December 1941, America officially entered World War II.


The second, the Mutual Broadcasting System was about to be challenged in its dominance of kids’ programming, of which The Adventures of Superman was its heavy hitter.  The Blue Network, the lesser of NBC’s two broadcast systems, was looking to grab that market.  In the late summer of 1942, the Blue Network scheduled a new adventure series, Hop Harrigan, as the lead-in for Jack Armstrong, All-American Boy, which would now air directly opposite The Adventures of Superman.  It was a one-two punch of counter-programming calculated to knock Mutual off its perch.


In response, Superman’s producer, Robert Maxwell (who, in one of those quirks of the broadcasting business, had sold Hop Harrigan to the Blue Network) knew he had tone down certain extreme aspects of the Superman plotlines, if he wanted to secure the good graces of the various parental watchdog groups that monitored children’s programming.  To their gimlet eyes, Jack Armstrong was seen as a wholesome show; The Adventures of Superman, not so much. 


Maxwell also wanted to insert a regular dose of patriotism.  You see, the first year of war hadn’t gone too well for the U.S. forces and it wouldn’t hurt to remind the listeners of what we were fighting for.


As related in Flights of Fancy, by Michael J. Hayde (BearManor Media, 2009), Maxwell turned to writer Olga Druce.  Miss Druce, a former Broadway actress, was a double-strength injection of parental approval for Superman.  Not only was she a producer of children’s theatre, she was a trained child psychologist.


A paragraph from Flights of Fancy related Miss Druce’s account of her entry into radio for Jeff Kisseloff’s book, The Box: An Oral History of Television.  “I was hired originally by the Superman people to clean it up,” she recalled, “because it was too racist, too violent, and parents were objecting.”


When the season-opener was broadcast, on 31 August 1942, a new version of the introduction, rewritten by Olga Druce, was heard over the airwaves for the first time:


Look!  Up in the sky!

It’s a bird!

It’s a plane!

It’s Superman!

Yes, it’s 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!


Sound familiar?



Myth # 4.  At the Hollywood Premiere of From Here to Eternity, George Reeves’s Appearance on the Screen Resulted in So Many Audience Responses of “Look!  It’s Superman!” That the Studio Executives Edited Virtually All of Reeves’s Scenes Out of the Film.


In the spring of 1953, George Reeves landed the part of Sergeant Maylon Stark in From Here to Eternity, a motion picture based on James Jones’s best-selling novel of the same title.  Set at the Army’s Scholfield Barracks, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, in the weeks just prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, it tells a meandering tale of two soldiers in particular.  Private Prewitt, portrayed by Montgomery Clift, is a former champion middleweight boxer who resists pressure from his commanding officer to join the regimental boxing team.  Meanwhile, First Sergeant Warden, played by Burt Lancaster, is having an affair with the same C.O.’s wife.


Reeves’s part as Sergeant Stark is mostly a minor one.  He appears in several group scenes; however, he has one pivotal scene with Lancaster.  Warden, who faces court-martial if his indiscretion is discovered, is stunned to hear from Stark that the C.O.’s wife has had many extra-marital lovers, including Stark himself.  It’s a key moment which alters the emotional direction of Lancaster’s character.

In the source notes for Flights of Fancy, Michael Hayde states that the news of the audience’s reaction to Reeves’s scenes and his subsequent exorcism from the film was broken by a Hollywood Reporter columnist.  Mr. Hayde adds that the same story was spread by Jack “Jimmy Olsen” Larson, who attended From Here to Eternity’s premiere on behalf of Montgomery Clift.


I can personally attest that Mr. Larson did, indeed, provide this account.  In that same Tomorrow segment from 1976 that I mentioned in Part One, I watched as he brought up the subject:


I was present at an extraordinary thing . . . . The Superman show had gone on the air, and here was the biggest film of the year.  Columbia [Pictures].  All the brass were there.  Sneak preview.  And George came on the screen and the audience went wild.  “Superman!”  And he was cut from that film, I mean, to the bone.  And I was, of course, sick for him.


Coming from a source so very near the horse’s mouth, it’s understandable that it’s taken as true.


Unfortunately, it isn’t.


In this case, Michael Hayde did the legwork for me.  One of the references used for his book was the fanzine The Adventures Continue, published from 1987 to 2001 by Dan Rhoden and Jim Nolt.  TAC # 13 (Spring, 1977) carried an article titled “Setting the Record Straight”, by actor Jim Beaver, who is currently working on a comprehensive biography of George Reeves.


As the article describes, Mr. Beaver spoke with Fred Zinneman, the director of From Here to Eternity, and Daniel Taradash, the film’s screenwriter.  Zinneman went over Reeves’s scenes with Beaver in detail and insisted that, not only were Reeves’s scenes not cut in any way, there was no pressure put on him to do so.  Taradash told Beaver that every line he wrote for Sergeant Stark appeared in the final released version of the movie. 


Beaver confirmed this himself by seeking out the first production draft of the script, held in the Billy Rose Theatre Collection at the New York Public Library.  Everything in the draft with regards to Reeves’s part appeared in the 1953 release.


I want to make clear:  I’m not casting aspersions on Jack Larson.  There’s no way to know what input---ultimately mistaken input---he received from friends and industry insiders at the time.  Hollywood is a gossipy town, and suspicions often take the weight---and have the consequence---of fact.  I have no doubt that he genuinely believes that his version is the truth.


In terms of the impact on George Reeves himself, the fact that he wasn’t cut from the film made little difference.  The part of the tale that is true was that the shouts of “It’s Superman!” came loud and abundant from the audience.  And that wasn’t lost on the industry big wigs who heard them.  From that moment on, George Reeves was indelibly stamped as Superman.


There’s no denying that the Man of Steel torpedoed Reeves’s chances for Hollywood stardom.  But there is compensation, and a very good one, I believe, in the fact that he continues to be beloved and respected by the generations of now-adults who thrilled to his amazing adventures on the small screen.  Google “George Reeves” sometime, and see how many websites dedicated to his life and his career pop up.  And not all of them are by old-timers like me.


I think he would have been pleased far beyond that of mortal men.

Views: 2106

Comment by Mark S. Ogilvie on April 30, 2013 at 9:42pm
I think in Patrick Duffy and Deidra Hall's cases the fact that the series weren't hits and weren't on for very long was a deciding factor. Man From Atlantis lasted a season or so and Elctra Woman was Saturday morning. Both were barely a blip. Wonder Woman ran for three seasons in prime time and was a bit of hit, but I don't think it stopped Lynda Carter from doing other things, they just weren't sucessful. Her series with Loni Anderson had some potential, but didn't make it. Still she doesn't seem to be bitter about it.
Comment by Commander Benson on April 30, 2013 at 10:22pm

And then you have an actor who went the opposite route.

Clayton Moore embraced his rôle as the Lone Ranger.  After the series came to an end in 1957---even though he was offered parts in other types of series and films---Moore refused to play anything but the Lone Ranger.  For the next forty years, he made his living from television guest spots, commercials, and personal appearances as the Lone Ranger.



Comment by Mark S. Ogilvie on May 1, 2013 at 5:58pm
I remember some controversy when they did the updated movie and froze him out. That was sad.
Comment by Richard Willis on May 1, 2013 at 10:19pm

Rob Staeger (Grodd Mod) said:

And I'm currently enjoying Jim Beaver's work on Justified. (Only a little more than halfway through the latest season, but he's great as Sheriff Shelby.) I had no idea he was writing a book on Reeves!

I played catch-up and have seen all of JUSTIFIED to date. His part is pretty big.

Comment by Richard Willis on May 1, 2013 at 10:48pm

Commander Benson said:

As to the final conclusion of Hollywoodland, as I understand it, the film tried to have it all ways, dropping hints at all of the prevailing theories on Reeves's death.

I have to watch it again, but they actually acted out each of the competing theories with the actors. No special case was made for one or the other. It was an interesting movie. Affleck bulked up for the part and really looked like him, IMO.

Comment by Commander Benson on May 2, 2013 at 5:35am

". . . but [Hollywoodland] actually acted out each of the competing theories with the actors."


I believe you're correct on that.  In recalling what I had read, I knew that the film, as you pointed out, did not play favourites with any of the scenarios.


I'm not sure portraying each of the possibilities was the way to go.  After all, as I outlined, the case for an intruder murdering Reeves is preposterous.  But in any event, it would have been much more stylish to end the film leaving the cause ambiguous and simply going with the rest of the characters' reactions to it.



Comment by Commander Benson on May 2, 2013 at 6:30am

"I remember some controversy when they did the updated movie and froze [Clayton Moore] out. That was sad."


Sad, yes, but the final result had to be so much sweeter for Moore because of it.


For those who came in late, back in 1979, the Wrather Corporation, which owned the rights to the Lone Ranger, was planning on making a new film about the Masked Man and his Faithful Indian Companion.  Up until then, Wrather had had no problem with Clayton Moore appearing in commercials, doing television spots, and making public appearances as the Ranger.  But now, with a new film in production, they wanted to divest Moore of his identity as the Masked Man.


Publically, Wrather argued that Moore was too old to play the Lone Ranger, even though, at 65, Moore, a former circus acrobat, was remarkably fit and trim.  Privately, Wrather wanted to promote its new movie's star, Klinton Spilsbury, as the new Lone Ranger, and didn't want competition from Moore.  (In view of the public reaction to the movie, I suspect that Wrather feared that Moore's popularity would outstrip Spilsbury's.)


So Wrather obtained an injunction against Moore.  The judge charged with the case prohibited Moore from wearing the signature Lone Ranger mask and identifying himself publically as the Lone Ranger.  He could only promote himself as "a man who had played the Lone Ranger."  Unbowed, Moore continued to make public appearances by changing his attire to make it somewhat different from the traditional Ranger outfit and, instead of a mask, wore wrap-around sunglasses.


The public response was one of outrage.  Moore had become so endeared to the public as the Lone Ranger, particularly because he had scrupulously lived his life in conformance to the "Lone Ranger Creed"*  I have to sympathise with the judge and his ruling.  I certainly didn't like it but, in fact, Wrather did own the rights to the character and had the authority to make Moore stop representing himself as their character.  It wasn't the wisest thing for Wrather to do, however.  For a couple of reasons, as it turned out.


Wrather received truckloads of mail from irate Lone Ranger fans, castigating the company for stripping Moore of his mask.  Wrather's PR department responded by answering each piece of mail with a form letter.  The form letter began by praising Moore for his long and faithful service "in portraying" the Ranger, but quickly segued into the argument that just as fans of the original radio programme of the Lone Ranger had their Ranger in Earle Graser and Brace Beemer, and fans of the television show and 50's movies had Moore as their Ranger, it was only fair that the next generation of Lone Ranger fans have their own Ranger.  The letter then went on to predict that Klinton Spilsbury would be known to that next generation of fans as the Lone Ranger.


Boy, was Wrather's crystal ball foggy when the PR folks wrote that letter!


The Legend of the Lone Ranger was released by Universal Pictures in 1981, and it was a Manhattan-Project-sized bomb.  Several things made it a terrible film, but not the least of which was the new Lone Ranger himself, Klinton Spilsbury.  The dummy in any department store window  would have been a better actor, and adding to the embarassment, Spilsbury's delivery of his lines was so wretched that all of his dialogue was looped by actor James Keach.


I can attest to this personally.  I was at sea then, on my first deployment, and in those pre-satellite television, pre-Internet days, all we had for entertainment was the nightly movie in the wardroom, and The Legend of the Lone Ranger was one of the offerings.


It was bad.  And not just I-don't-like-this-movie-because-Clayton-Moore-isn't playing-the-Lone-Ranger bad.  It was just plain awful on its own merit.  The writers had tried to update the character and the plotline and the background of the Old West to fit modern sensibilities.  In doing so, everything which made the Ranger and Tonto appealing as characters was thrown out with the bathwater.


And where things really count---the box office---Universal and Wrather both took a beating.  The Legend of the Lone Ranger had cost $18 million dollars to make and the movie grossed a mere $12 million.


Wrather got the worst of it---it lost a bundle of money, acquired a reputation for making lousy pictures, and had lost all public sentiment for how it had treated Clayton Moore.


In the meantime, Moore had counter-sued Wrather in an attempt to reclaim the right to appear as the Lone Ranger, and it didn't take long for Wrather to do the math:  better to have the phenomenally popular Moore carry on as the Lone Ranger than to not have a public face for the character at all.  (Obviously, Klinton Spilsbury had said his last "Hi-Yo, Silver!", or rather, had James Keach say it for him.)  So Wrather didn't challenge the counter-suit and the mask was restored to the face of Clayton Moore.


That had to be one of the most rewarding moments of his life.




* The Lone Ranger Creed


 I believe . . .


That to have a friend, a man must be one;


That all men are created equal and that everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world;


That God put the firewood there, but that every man must gather and light it himself;


In being prepared physically, mentally, and morally to fight when necessary for that which is right;


That a man should make the most of what equipment he has;


That "This government of the people, by the people, and for the people" shall live always;


That men should live by the rule of what is best for the greatest number;


That sooner or later . . . somewhere . . . somehow . . . we must settle with the world and make payment for what we have taken;


That all things change but truth, and that truth alone lives on forever;


In my Creator, my country, my fellow man.

Comment by Philip Portelli on May 2, 2013 at 9:00am

I vividly recall a TV interview with Clayton Moore in those sunglasses, asking, not pleading or begging, to be allowed to wear his mask again. Sometimes the Good Guys win.

Totally agree about Legend of the Lone Ranger. Awful movie. Should be doubled-billed with Bo Derek's Tarzan the Ape Man as punishment for bad people!

On a similar note, IIRC, wasn't The Adventures of Superman pulled off TV when Superman: The Movie came out?


Comment by Philip Portelli on May 2, 2013 at 9:02am

There was an episode of Happy Days where Fonzie met his idol the Lone Ranger but it was John Hart, not Clayton Moore. Was that because of the injunction? It seemed weird to me at the time.

Comment by Commander Benson on May 2, 2013 at 1:11pm

"There was an episode of Happy Days where Fonzie met his idol the Lone Ranger but it was John Hart, not Clayton Moore. Was that because of the injunction?"

Yes it was, Philip.  Wrather's injunction stripped the Ranger's mask from Moore's face in 1979, and he didn't get it back until January of 1985.


The Happy Days episode you mentioned, "Hi-Yo, Fonzie, Away!", originally aired on 09 February 1982.  The Wrather lawsuit against Moore was still ongoing and nobody at Paramount or CBS wanted to stick his nose into that mess.  So they called up John Hart.  Undoubtedly, Wrather gave permission for the use of Hart as the Lone Ranger.


The Lone Ranger television series debuted in 1949 with Clayton Moore portraying the Masked Rider of the Plains.  In 1952, Moore and the Wrather Corporation had their first dust-up.  Wrather states that Moore wanted more money; to the day he died, Moore insisted that their dispute was over creative differences.  Whatever the reason, Moore was not re-hired for the upcoming season.  Wrather hired John Hart to don the Ranger's mask and six-guns.  Hart played the Lone Ranger for 52 episodes between '52 and '54.


No doubt Wrather felt that any tall, stalwart, good-looking fellow could carry off the rôle, so long as he was wearing that mask.  Instead, it turned out to be the first time Wrather underestimated the popularity of Clayton Moore.  The ratings for the two seasons of The Lone Ranger with Hart in the saddle dropped precipitously, and a mountain of fan mail had come over Wrather's transom, demanding Moore's return.


Wrather capitulated and re-hired Moore, who remained the Lone Ranger until the series ended in 1957.  Moore amassed a total of 169 episodes playing the Masked Man.  He also did two feature films about the Ranger in 1956 and '58.


Interestingly enough, Wrather's lawsuit against Moore led another television character to idolise Hart's version of the Lone Ranger before Fonzie did.


On 29 April 1981, The Greatest American Hero aired the episode "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys".  John Hart once again plays the Ranger, in the then-modern day, and he is the boyhood hero of the show's hero, Ralph Hinkley.  However, it's almost humorous the way a line of dialogue in the episode lampshades the prominence of Hart as the Ranger.


"There were two actors who played the Lone Ranger---John Hart and Clayton Moore," Ralph tells his girl friend, Pam.  "They made over 220 half-hour TV shows." 


Yeah, considering Hart was so dismally received as the Masked Man that he's been nearly forgotten and he performed in less than a third of the Lone Ranger episodes that Moore did.  That's kind of like me saying, "Between Bill Gates and myself, we have over 75 billion dollars."


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