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The Adventures of Superman
National (DC) Comics Publisher Harry Donenfeld (left) with Bud Collyer and Joan Alexander
Other names"Superman"
Genre
Running time15 min, 30 min
Country of originUnited States
Language(s)English
Home stationWOR-AM
SyndicatesMutual Broadcasting System, Citadel Media
StarringBud Collyer,
Joan Alexander
AnnouncerJackson Beck
Written byGeorge Putnam Ludlam
Recording studioNew York
Original releaseFebruary 12, 1940 – March 1, 1951
No. of episodes2088
Sponsored byKellogg's Pep Cereal
PodcastStream from Archive.org

The Adventures of Superman is a long-running radio serial that originally aired from 1940 to 1951 featuring the DC Comics character Superman.

The serial came to radio as a syndicated show on New York City's WOR on February 12, 1940. On Mutual, it was broadcast from August 31, 1942, to February 4, 1949, as a 15-minute serial, running three or, usually, five times a week. From February 7 to June 24, 1949, it ran as a thrice-weekly half-hour show. The series shifted to ABC Saturday evenings on October 29, 1949, and then returned to afternoons twice a week on June 5, 1950, continuing on ABC until March 1, 1951. In all, 2,088 original episodes of The Adventures of Superman aired on American radio.[1]

History

Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the Man of Steel first appeared in Action Comics #1 in 1938. The following year, the newspaper comic strip began and four audition radio programs were prepared to sell Superman as a radio series. When Superman was first heard on radio less than two years after the comic book appearance, the character took on an added dimension with Bud Collyer in the title role. During World War II and the post-war years, the juvenile adventure radio serial, sponsored by Kellogg's Pep, was a huge success, with many listeners following the quest for "truth and justice" in the daily radio broadcasts, the comic book stories and the newspaper comic strip. Airing in the late afternoon (variously at 5:15pm, 5:30pm and 5:45pm), the radio serial engaged its young after-school audience with its exciting and distinctive opening, which changed slightly as the series progressed. Most familiar today is the television opening, which copied the radio opening from 1945 onward (save for "and the American Way" line, which was an even later addition), but the most often heard radio opening through the mid-1940s was:

"Presenting the transcription feature, Superman." (followed by Superman's "flying" audio effect)
Up in the sky! Look!
It's a bird!
It's a plane!
It's Superman!

"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 in 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."

By September 5, 1945, the opening, (repeated at the close), had morphed into:

"Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.'
Look! Up in the sky!
It's a bird!
It's a plane!
It's Superman!"

Narrative notes

In the first few episodes, Superman's home planet of Krypton is located on the far side of the sun, as opposed to a distant star system as it is in most stories. During the journey to Earth, baby Kal-el grows into an adult and emerges fully grown from his ship after it lands on Earth. He is never adopted by the Kents but immediately begins his superhero career. This was eventually retconned in later episodes to match the narrative of the comic books.

This serial introduced the fictional mineral kryptonite, the radiation from which can weaken and even (in some continuities) kill Superman. Aside from giving Superman's foes a plausible way to fight him, it also allowed Superman's voice actor to take the occasional break: Superman would spend the next episode incapacitated, his groans voiced by a substitute actor.

Ratings

In January 1945, the show was listened to on 3.1% of radios. In January 1946, it was listened to on 4.4% of radios.[2]

Jackson Beck

That well-known signature opening, one of the most famous in radio history, was delivered by Jackson Beck, the announcer-narrator for the program from 1943 to 1950. He also had recurring roles, voicing an occasional tough guy and also portraying Beany Martin, the Daily Planet's teenage copy boy. On Superman episodes featuring Batman, he played Bruce Wayne's butler, Alfred Pennyworth. Decades later, Beck portrayed Perry White, Clark Kent's boss, in Filmation's The New Adventures of Superman (1966–70), in addition to serving as the show's narrator.[3]

Bud Collyer

Just as Superman's true identity remained a secret, the identity of radio actor Collyer also remained a secret from 1940 until 1946, when the character of Superman was used in a promotional campaign for racial and religious tolerance and Collyer did a Time magazine interview about that campaign.

Since there were no reruns at that time, the series often used plot devices and plot twists to allow Collyer to have vacation time. Kryptonite allowed Superman to be incapacitated and incoherent with pain while the secondary characters took the focus instead. At other times, Batman (Stacy Harris) and Robin (Ronald Liss) appeared on the program in Superman's absence.

The scripts by B. P. Freeman and Jack Johnstone were directed by Robert and Jessica Maxwell, George Lowther, Allen Ducovny and Mitchell Grayson. Sound effects were created by Jack Keane, Al Binnie, Keene Crockett and John Glennon.

Many aspects associated with Superman, such as kryptonite, originated on radio, as did certain characters, including Daily Planet editor Perry White, copy boy Jimmy Olsen and police inspector Bill Henderson.[4] On March 2, 1945, Superman met Batman and Robin for the first time.

Paramount's animated Superman short films used voices by the radio actors, and Columbia's Superman movie serials (1948, 1950) were "adapted from the Superman radio program broadcast on the Mutual Network".

“Clan of the Fiery Cross”

In 1946, the series delivered a powerful blow against the Ku Klux Klan's prospects in the northern US. The Anti Defamation League infiltrated the KKK and other racist/terrorist groups. Concerned that the organization had links to the government and police forces, the ADL decided to use their findings to strike at the Klan in a different way. They contacted the Superman producers and proposed a story where the superhero battles the Klan. Looking for new villains, the producers eagerly agreed. To that end, they provided information—including details of Klan rituals and the like to the writers. The result was a series of episodes, “Clan of the Fiery Cross”, in which Superman took on the Klan. The ADL tried to strip away the Klan's mystique. The trivialization of the Klan's rituals and natures had a negative impact on Klan recruiting and membership numbers.[5]

Reportedly, Klan leaders denounced the show and called for a boycott of Kellogg's products. However, the story arc earned spectacular ratings, making Superman the most highly rated kids radio program, and the food company stood by its support of the show.

Superman historian Michael Hayde has cast doubt on whether actual KKK codewords and details were broadcast in the Clan of the Fiery Cross story arc. He wrote, "[O]ne is hard pressed to uncover anything that might be construed as proprietary to the KKK, with the exception of one — and only one — sequence, heard in episode #2".[6]

The story-arc was loosely adapted for a DC Comics limited series, Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang, and was released in October 2019.[7]

Stories

The syndicated series, titled simply Superman, first aired via pre-recorded transcription disks over 11 stations beginning on February 12, 1940, with an origin story, "The Baby from Krypton". The series aired in 15-minute episodes three times a week until May 9, 1941, with the conclusion of the "Nitrate Shipment" storyline. By that time, it had expanded to 63 stations.[8]

The first 19 episodes had individual titles that told three overall stories:

No.TitleOriginal air date
1"The Baby from Krypton"
February 12, 1940 (1940-02-12)
On the planet Krypton, scientist Jor-L warns that the planet is doomed -- but his plan to build spaceships and evacuate the planet meets with jeers. Jor-L only has time to build a model spacecraft. He and his wife Lara send their infant son, Kal-L, off in the spaceship just before the planet explodes. The child is sent off on a one-way trip to the planet Earth.
2"Clark Kent, Reporter"
February 14, 1940 (1940-02-14)
3"Keno's Landslide"
February 16, 1940 (1940-02-16)
4"Kent Captured by the Wolfe"
February 19, 1940 (1940-02-19)
5"Locomotive Crew Freed"
February 21, 1940 (1940-02-21)
6"The Silver Clipper"
"Yellow Mask Intro-Train Switch Thrown"
February 23, 1940 (1940-02-23)
7"The Atomic Beam Machine"
"Dr. Dalgrin's Atomic Beam"
February 26, 1940 (1940-02-26)
8"Fuel"
"Yellow Mask Steals Fuel For Atomic Beam"
February 28, 1940 (1940-02-28)
9"Threat to the Planet Building"
"Yellow Mask Throws Lois Out of Plane"
March 1, 1940 (1940-03-01)
10"Fire in the Sterling Building"
March 4, 1940 (1940-03-04)
11"The Stabbing of June Anderson"
"Relative Stabs June Anderson in Hospital"
March 6, 1940 (1940-03-06)
12"North Star Mining Company"
March 8, 1940 (1940-03-08)
13"The Steamship Madison"
"Bart & Joe Set Fire on Steamer Madison"
March 11, 1940 (1940-03-11)
14"Plane to Canyon City"
"Kent Falls off Plane to Canyon City, Idaho"
March 13, 1940 (1940-03-13)
15"Left to be Killed"
"Superman Saves June From Mine Explosion"
March 15, 1940 (1940-03-15)
16"The Prison Riot"
"Prison Riot With Keno & Wolfe"
March 18, 1940 (1940-03-18)
17"The Steam Plant"
"Keno & Wolfe Head for Steam Plant With Lois"
March 20, 1940 (1940-03-20)
18"The Wolf vs the Yellow Mask"
March 22, 1940 (1940-03-22)
19"The Yellow Mask Escapes"
"Superman Saves Jefferson Bridge"
March 25, 1940 (1940-03-25)

The series then moved to multi-part cliffhanger stories, beginning with "The Mystery of Dyerville". Some stories spanned just a few episodes; others, like "The Last of the Clipper Ships", went on for up to 20 parts.

Beginning August 25, 1941, a second series of transcriptions designed to air five days per week (although many stations continued the previous three-per-week schedule) aired. These concluded after 26 weeks with the final installment of "A Mystery for Superman" airing on February 20, 1942:

By the time the syndicated series ceased production, it was airing in 85 North American markets. In June, the Mutual Network discovered it would be losing its #1 juvenile show, "Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy" to NBC's Blue Network at the end of August. To counter, MBS decided to revive the show, now officially titled The Adventures of Superman, on August 31, 1942.[9] The new series aired live, five days a week. The revival began with two individual episodes, and then returned to the cliffhanger serial format.

The stories were of varying lengths—some stories were only five parts, while others could go into the dozens. Some of the longer stories include "Looking for Kryptonite" (25 episodes), "The Hate Mongers' Organization" (25 episodes) and "Superman vs Kryptonite" (33 episodes).

All stories broadcast from August 31, 1942, to September 3, 1945, are either wholly or partially missing. For those stories where some episodes are available in circulation, it will be noted which parts are available.

From September 4, 1945 (Part 1 of "Dr. Bly's Confidence Gang") to September 2, 1948 (Part 3 of "The Mystery of the Silver Buffalo") all stories are fully available in circulation except for "Looking for Kryptonite", "The Hate Mongers' Organization", "Pennies for Plunder", and "Hunger, Inc." which are all missing a handful of episodes. For these 4 serials, it will be specified which parts are missing.

The remaining serialized stories are all either wholly or partially missing. For those stories where some episodes are available in circulation, it will be noted which parts are available.

Beginning February 7, 1949, The Adventures of Superman episodes expanded to 30 minutes each. All were transcribed. Each episode was self-contained and had an individual story title. Only "The Mystery of the $10,000 Ghost". "The Mystery of the Flying Monster", and "The Case of the Double Trouble" are available in circulation.

The series left MBS with the 60th half-hour show, "The Mystery of the Frozen Monster," on June 24, 1949. It returned as a mystery program targeted toward adults[10] on Saturday, October 29, 1949, at 8:30pm over the ABC network. ABC aired this adult-themed version for 13 weeks, concluding with "Dead Men Tell No Tales" on January 21, 1950. This broadcast marked the final radio appearance of Bud Collyer as Clark Kent/Superman.

On June 5, 1950, ABC revived The Adventures of Superman as a twice-weekly afternoon half-hour series. This version reused the scripts for the 60 MBS half-hour episodes and the 13 "adult" ABC episodes but with new cast members. Michael Fitzmaurice replaced Collyer as Kent/Superman, Jack Grimes replaced Jackie Kelk as Jimmy Olsen, and Ross Martin replaced Jackson Beck as narrator. A total of 78 episodes were produced, with the final broadcast, "The Mystery of the Prehistoric Monster," on March 1, 1951. By then, producer Robert Maxwell was actively preparing Adventures of Superman for television.

Cast

In the 1950s, an Australian version of the series had a different cast with Superman played by Leonard Teale.

References

  1. ^ Harmon, Jim (2011). Radio Mystery and Adventure and Its Appearances in Film, Television and Other Media. McFarland & Co. pp. 197–218. ISBN 9780786485086. Retrieved 8 April 2020.
  2. ^ Harrison B. Summers (1958). A Thirty-Year History of Programs Carried on National Radio Networks in the United States.
  3. ^ Mclellan, Dennis. "Jackson Beck, 92; Radio, TV Voice Performer for 70 Years," Los Angeles Times, July 31, 2004.
  4. ^ DeForest, Tim (2004). "Superman". Storytelling in the Pulps, Comics, and Radio: How Technology Changed Popular Fiction in America. McFarland. p. 169. ISBN 0-7864-1902-4.
  5. ^ "Up, Up and Awa-a-y!" by Thomas Whiteside, New Republic, issue of March 3, 1947, pp.15-17
  6. ^ Hayde, Michael J. (2009). Flights of Fantasy. BearManor Media. p. 77.
  7. ^ Pinion, Kyle. "The long-awaited SUPERMAN SMASHES THE KLAN debuts this October". The Beat. Retrieved 11 July 2019.
  8. ^ "Up, Up and Awa-a-y! The Rise of Superman, Inc." by John Kobler, The Saturday Evening Post, June 21, 1941.
  9. ^ "Hi-Yo, Silver, Plated," Time, June 8, 1942
  10. ^ "Superman Program For Adult Audience," Winona (MN) Republican-Herald, October 28, 1949