Friday, February 19, 2016

The Adventures of Superman

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

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, 2068 original episodes of The Adventures of Superman were aired on American radio.

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-oft-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!"

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 animated series (1966–70) in addition to serving as the show's narrator.

Just as Superman's true identity remained a secret, the identity of radio actor Bud 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. 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".

In Australia, Superman was portrayed on radio by Leonard Teale (1922–1994).

My initial introduction to old time radio programs was probably as a child back in 1974 when my parents collected and sent away Kellogg's cereal box-tops for four LP records featuring installments of the Superman radio series. Yes, I still have these albums, they are very dear to me. They are currently framed and mounted on the wall in my home office.

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