Spotlight: TV's Adventures of Superman

Guest Author Trevor Tillman is a filmmaker and screenwriter who studied film at Academy of Art University.

Since television is also cinema, I thought it might be cool to spotlight some TV shows that don’t get talked about as frequently. I found Adventures of Superman, which premiered in 1952, a childhood favorite while watching reruns on Nick at Nite in the ‘90s. George Reeves really embodies the character of Superman in a way that would not be surpassed until Christopher Reeve portrayed him in Richard Donner’s 1978 film Superman: The Movie. I’m an uber fanboy when it comes to the character. I’ve read countless interpretations of him in comics, anthologies and novels, as well as in animation. The way I see it, George Reeves was the onscreen custodian of Superman during the 1950s.

It began with Superman and the Mole Men. It was intended to be both a B-picture and the television pilot. The show’s main appeal was of course young boys ages 4-11. Many of whom could not differentiate between George Reeves and the fictional character of Superman. While Reeves was playing Superman in a live performance, a little boy approached him with a loaded gun. Superman calmly talked to the boy and retrieved the gun. This is dramatized in the 2006 film Hollywoodland, starring Ben Affleck as George Reeves.

On the set of Superman, Reeves was generally regarded as a gentleman. He insisted that Phyllis Coates, who portrayed Lois Lane in the show’s first season, get equal billing. And Reeves stood by costar Robert Shayne when he was labeled a Communist. Although he enjoyed being looked up to by young boys, Reeves was never able to escape being typecast as Superman.

Adventures of Superman showcased some convincing special effects for its day, with Reeves suspended on wires to depict Superman launching into flight. After Reeves experienced an injury, they switched to a springboard, upon which he would jump (thus “taking off”). Then it would cut to a rear projection shot of Superman flying.

Although fairly simplistic when viewed today, Adventures of Superman captivated children during its six year run. It remains popular to this day. It is my belief that Superman represents a convergence of the film noir pictures and programming of the ‘40s; with Superman fighting gangsters and petty thieves, and the B-movie science fiction of the ‘50s; with Superman fighting aliens, faulty technology, and mad scientists.

Its legacy lies primarily in the fact that George Reeves died mysteriously. I don't want to go into this because it's really its own subject. To this day it is in question whether he killed himself, or whether he was murdered. Those close to Reeves, including Jack Larsen (Jimmy Olsen) and Reeves’ own mother, believed he had been murdered. This question is the central idea of the underrated Hollywoodland, which happens to be available on Netflix. Watch it. Now.

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