TAC Table of Contents
THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN
By Bruce Dettman
Dedicated to Lou, John, Mike, Alfred, Jim and, of course, Carl.
My wife Kay, wiser than me in most things, caught me the other day in the den watching The Deserted Village from the first year season of TAOS. I had my feet up and my fist wrapped around a tall one and the drapes were closed and I was having a grand old time. Somewhat bemused, she watched me with a smile on her face and then said "That really brings you comfort, doesn't it? It's something you can count on from the past. It never lets you down, does it?"
Later I thought about what she said and realized that as usual she was dead on the mark. As one who admittedly tends to spend too much time visiting the past, I've allowed the magic of the DVD to digitally escort me back in time on many occasions as I revisit old TV haunts of my bygone youth. Of late, I've re-acquainted myself with Davy Crockett and lamented his fall at the Alamo. I've laughed as Froggie the Gremlin plucked his magic twanger while Andy Devine looked on, and watched Joe Friday on Dragnet sweat a confession out of a suspect. I've admired the fast draws of Cheyenne Body, Paladin and particularly Matt Dillon, the manual dexterity of The Rifleman and the knife throwing technique of Jim Bowie. I've gone underwater with Lloyd Bridges and up in the air with Sky King. It's been fun and satisfying to see them all again, all my old video pals. These have been good reunions even if in some cases - as also often happens in real life when you come up against your past -- they didn't entirely deliver quite the same feelings I had about them forty and more years ago.
The Adventures of Superman, however, is something else again and I guess I'm still not all together certain why. Born in 1950 and having a TV (a Packard-Bell) by 1953, I saw most of the shows first run. I was so enamored of it, so obsessed with every character and facet of the show, that my impassioned protests finally succeeded in breaking down my father's iron-clad dictum that the family had to sit down as a unit each night and dine together (save on Saturdays when he would camp out in front of the tube always with a Casper's dot dog, a cream soda and unfiltered Marlboro to watch televised golf) and on that one evening I was allowed to eat in front of the TV, sawing through Mom's minute steaks and leaden pork chops, so as not to miss a single instant of the show. I'm not sure what I would have done if this had not been the case and I had missed episodes in favor of table conversation about my father's job selling aluminum, my mother's neighborhood gossip -- mostly about Mrs. Hanke who hated her husband's oddball penchant of collecting sugar cubes -- or my brother's chronic pleas for an allowance raise so he could buy some blue suede shoes. I probably would have threatened suicide or run away from home. Such was the power TAOS had over me. It was not just a show. It was an integral part of my psyche, something that made the world so much more magical and exciting. It appeared at just the right time in my developing - and already over-romanticized -- psyche to burrow its way in and stubbornly remain there, an intractable and fixed point in my private universe. It was like a favorite song that somehow clicks in your brain and for the rest of your life you never tire of the melody. And speaking of melodies, there is no doubt that the signature Superman theme, played both over the opening credits and later whenever Superman appeared to save the day, in addition to the evocative background music which peppered the show at just the right moments and lent so much to the atmosphere and texture of the show, resonated so strongly with all of us who watched. Even if these secondary snatches of music, some public domain material, could occasionally be heard on other action shows of the period, they would be forever linked in our minds with the happenings in Metropolis. Just the briefest contact with them today and I am instantly swept back to the Daily Planet.
At the center of Superman, of course, there was George Reeves. Reeves easily could have phoned his characterization in, created a one-dimensional, bigger-than-life cardboard representation of the comic book character but he didn't. No swaggering, braggadocio, chest-swelling stuff for him. He was too good an actor, too accomplished a performer and too compassionate an interpreter of his own work to do that. While his super strength, X-Ray vision and ability to fly were the big attraction and things to be envied by children everywhere, it was also obvious, even to the youngest viewers, that this was a good and kind man, a man of conviction and warmth and principal, someone you could depend on, whose word was gold. Reeves invested the character with the timeless qualities of empathy and concern, intelligence and wisdom, not just muscle and speed. What all of us wouldn't have given to have had him as a friend the way that lucky Jimmy Olsen did.
Superman eventually left the airwaves in my area and life began to interfere with fantasy. The real world was beginning to intrude upon the inevitable detours and backroads of our youth, and suddenly there was the 60s and the beginnings of a world which has changed more than most of us ever could have imagined. There seemed no place for Superman in this new crazy quilt of a universe and like so many other once important things from yesterday the Adventures of Superman seemed, at least in my case, to have been archived into a half-forgotten brain attic accessible only on the remotest of occasions and having little if anything to do with modern life and the cynical and jaded disposition that went with it. The one exception was stumbling upon Gary Grossman's ground-breaking book on the making of the series Superman: From Serial to Cereal which I read with enthusiasm.
Then out of nowhere, sometime in my late twenties, I discovered my old friend again. A local television station had decided to air a weekend marathon of the TAOS punctuated by station breaks in which interviews with Noel Neill and Jack Larson provided intimate commentary on both the making of the show and their experiences with fellow cast members. While I had originally intended to watch only few of these, I found myself slavishly glued to the set for hour after hour until I realized that nearly an entire day had gone by without my hardly moving, moreover, that not only had I enjoyed each and every moment of this experience, but that watching these old shows had triggered something deep and surprisingly potent within me, something distant and nearly lost, a child-like exuberance and excitement plus a deep and abiding affection for these characters and episodes. Fortunately, this was the beginning of the video era and I managed to tape all of them for future viewing which I did over and over again. Few of the shows, however, were available on commercial tapes except a few bootleg copies so I had to do with my single tape for a number of years.
Fast forward, to stay with the video lingo, to the early 90s when somehow, I don't recall exactly how, I was made aware of the existence of Jim Nolt's publication The Adventures Continue and subsequent to this I hooked up with Jim's terrific website which in turn brought me into the fold, so to speak of a lot of other great TAOS aficionados and various Superman projects. It was also during this period that I had the remarkable experience of interviewing Phyllis Coates, TAOS's first Lois Lane, one of the great afternoons of my life as Ms. Coates gave generously of her time and with wit, intelligence, charm, style and remarkable candor described so much of the history, development and nuisances of the show. Little could I have dreamed at that point that someday I would also have the privilege of meeting Noel Neill and Jack Larson as well.
But for all of this, the important part is simply the lasting and pre-eminent placement of the show in my mind and heart. When I turn on an old Superman episode, just as my wife Kay has suggested, I seem to shake off the discord and disharmony of modern life. The rubble and debris of so much of the chaos around us is filtered away and I can sit, perhaps just for a half hour and marinate myself in a simpler world of heroism and virtue, decency and goodness while at the same time enjoying the action and adventure with nearly the same wonder I had as a boy. Yes, my wife is right. the Adventures of Superman, unlike so many things in my 57 years, has never has let me down, has never disappointed. It is, for whatever magical and perhaps inexplicable reasons, a fixed and unalterable point in my life. It is the cherished stuff of dreams.
All of them good ones.
Whenever I read an essay from Bruce Dettman's personal feelings relative to the Adventures of Superman I cannot help myself thinking maybe he could have written episodes for Fred Savage's television show The Wonder Years. Bruce wonderfully injects his childhood memories in so many well articulated thought provoking ways. He speaks for all those who have a great admiration for the Adventures of Superman and other classic television shows.
"Like The Only Real Magic -- The Magic Of Knowledge"