Superhero reboots come and go these days, but for those of my generation there will always be only one Superman, and that is George Reeves.
Reeves had mainly been a minor actor prior to 1951 (he was one of the Tarleton twins in Gone With the Wind), when he struck gold by being cast as Superman in the film Superman and the Mole-Men. This good fortune came about because actor Kirk Alyn, who had portrayed Superman in the movie serials of the late 1940’s, wanted too much money for the role.
Cheesy as this film is (the Mole-Men use a converted vacuum cleaner as a weapon) by today’s standards, it was a commercial success in 1951 and paved the way for the television series Adventures of Superman in 1952.
The series ran until 1958 and I can remember watching a few episodes before it went into syndication. Like most other TV series of the 1950’s, it was low-budget (as exemplified by the not-so-special effects) but audiences ate it up anyway. As explained in the IMDb:
….one must remember that only black-and-white televisions were on the market during the early 50’s. 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 a feature film as was done with The Lone Ranger (and with Superman). 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". Production of color episodes began in 1954, and budgets became even tighter.
Kellogg’s Cereals sponsored the show and they made hay out of it, featuring Superman in a number of commercials and promotions; they even formulated a recipe for Superman Cookies using their corn flakes.
But as we have seen with other TV series discussed on Neatorama, all good things come to an end and the series was canceled in 1958, leading to one of the most mysterious events in Hollywood history.
George Reeves was then 44 and typecast, depressed and unable to find other acting work. But during his series’ run, he had begun having a long affair with Toni Mannix, whose husband was a power player in Hollywood. And then things began looking up – another network decided to pick up the series, he was offered directing work, and he had become engaged to a beautiful woman (he had broken off the affair). Yet on June 16, 1959, he (allegedly) killed himself with a 9mm Luger. Events up to this point became the basis for the 2006 film Hollywoodland. His death, which also meant the final death of the series, was ruled a suicide, yet evidence has since been presented to show that his death could have been a carefully crafted murder, as seen in the last video below.
In spite of Adventures of Superman having ended over 60 years ago, complete episodes are not available through YouTube. Below is a sampling of what is available, and the short Stamp Day for Superman does approximate the look and feel of the TV series (just look at those wide-eyed children). DVD’s are of course available through the usual venues. One final word; no, George and Christopher Reeves were not related.
Superman on Earth – the beginning.
Stamp Day for Superman (theatrical short).
The Suspicious Death of George Reeves.