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The question begs to be asked. If you are indeed super human, indestructible, impervious to pain, not answerable to those physical laws of nature which so limit and curtail our earthly and mortal powers, is it really a demonstration of legitimate bravery to face a gun that can’t possibly hurt you, a knife blade that will rebound off your steely chest, a bomb blast that will hardly ruffle your hair, an acid tub that will no more trouble you than a soaking in Mr. Bubble? This query is certainly not intended to denigrate or undermine the heroic status of Superman whose courage, bravery, integrity and devotion to Truth, Justice and the American Way are beyond repute. Still, let’s face it, Superman -- save on the rarest of occasions -- need not have worried about his enemies or their ineffective arsenal of weapons. Sure, there was kryptonite to deal with on occasion, but in the show’s first season this is not even an issue. In defeating the minions of crime, it’s pretty much an open playing field which the Man of Steel has all to himself.
On the other hand, if you are a naïve, fairly gullible young man of small stature and hardly of a physically imposing or impressive nature, it certainly says something of character and courage that you regularly are called upon to stand up to a wide variety of dangerous situations and individuals without once shirking your duty, devotion and loyalty to your friends and colleagues.
Enter James Bartholomew Olson, age 20, cub reporter for the Metropolis Daily Planet. Jim lives with mother, is browbeaten almost on a daily basis by his boss, the often gruff, bombastic and uncompromising Perry White, isn’t old enough to vote yet and sometimes doesn’t even have enough money for bus fare. He seems to lack much of a social life as well -- there are no real signs of friends -- although he occasionally takes in a White Sox baseball game with Clark Kent (Doesn’t Metropolis have their own major league team?). At one point there does appear to be a girl in his life because in The Human Bomb he calls someone named Miriam before going out to try and save the life of Lois Lane who has found herself out on a limb, literally a concrete one. Miriam, however, is never heard from again.
Mainly, however Jimmy seems to live for his Daily Planet gig, for hours spent trying to master the newspaper game and for tagging along with Clark and Lois although it’s mainly the latter that he sticks to like glue.
And it is here that Jimmy really shines, in hooking up with his beloved “Miss Lane”.
Time and time again, faced with the possibility of imminent death from guns, explosives, knives wielded by thugs and killers, Jimmy stands valiantly at her side, sometime willing to trade his life for hers.
Consider some examples, again from the first season.
Sure, it’s true that in nearly every one of these examples Jimmy either falls short of his heroic objective (losing most of his fights) or in the end needs to be saved by Superman. But this isn’t the point. His occasional lapses in judgment coupled with a certain boyish impulsiveness aside, Jimmy emerges as a brave young man, courageous and loyal to a fault. In Treasure of the Incas Perry White sends Jimmy with Lois to Peru as a kind of bodyguard even though a murderer is thought to be lurking about. Obviously, although he makes a big and loud show out of continually lambasting the cub reporter, he must also realize he is trustworthy, loyal and unquestionably brave.
Although Jack Larson has often been quoted as saying he preferred the role of Jimmy in later seasons when he was allowed to bring comedic touches to the character -- as well as a new hair style -- I have to confess my having a great fondness and affection for the younger, more spontaneous and sometimes foolhardy but always dependable Jimmy of those first twenty-six episodes.
Aside from one obvious exception, Lois couldn’t have been in better hands.
Occasionally, however -- and this is particularly true in the first season -- storylines demanded changing things around a bit, teaming up people and in the process totally eliminating certain regulars from particular episodes. Nonetheless these are interesting shows and work well despite the absence of the entire team. Moreover, they often allow audiences a chance to see how the players work one-on-one, sometimes even offering up exchanges which reveal aspects and histories of the characters we normally don’t get.
The Deserted Village is a good example. Featuring only Clark and Lois, we learn early in the episode that Lois grew up in a town called Clifton By the Sea, that she had a nurse named Miss Taisey (Maude Prickett) who was instrumental in raising her and that her childhood physician was a doctor named Jessup (Fred Sherman). Lois can’t reach her old nurse and alarmed by this decides to find out why with Clark agreeing to accompany her to her hometown (must have been a slow news day in Metropolis). Reeves and Coates always had strong on-screen chemistry and it was never better demonstrated than in this show. They toggle between working as a team to unravel the mystery surrounding the strange goings-on in the community and moments sparring verbally with each other. Headstrong Lois is at constant loggerheads with Clark who tries to cover his suspicions about what is really behind things as well as attempting to protect her -- a fact which she doesn’t at all appreciate and lets him know this at every turn. The adversarial sparks between them is always a delight to watch. It is also interesting to hear Lois reflect on aspects of her past, something we rarely see.
In The Haunted Lighthouse it’s Clark and Jimmy going in alone with the former really not showing up until well into the episode. The young reporter carries the ball -- and carries it impressively -- as the story, concerning the mysterious activities on Moose Island where he is vacationing, unfolds. There’s not a lot of time for scenes between the two, but in his alter ego as Superman he and Jimmy share some good moments and lines.
The Evil Three omits Lois from Daily Planet staff (I have no doubt she’s fully capable of running the paper by herself) with Jimmy and Perry off fishing -- or rather Perry off fishing and dragging Jimmy with him. The early scenes between the two -- before they become involved in the mystery at the Hotel Bayou -- are just terrific, perhaps the best the two shared by themselves during the entire run of the series (although the “I should blame myself” speech from Beware of the Wrecker comes pretty close). Despite his protests to the contrary, it is pretty obvious that Perry is very fond of Jimmy -- just as Jimmy is of his bombastic and hypercritical boss -- even if the cub reporter spends most of his time complaining about mosquitoes and early morning angling. Despite Jimmy’s growing concern that there is something decidedly wrong at the hotel, nearly being scared nearly to death by what he thinks is a ghost, he bravely fights along with his editor when attacked by the Colonel (Jonathan Hale) and Macey Taylor (Rhys Williams). Jimmy and Perry make for a great pairing. It’s only regrettable this didn’t happen more often.
Lois and Clark team up in The Broken Statues, slightly aided by Inspector Henderson. There’s a lot of detective work in this one as Lois, smelling a story, eventually pulls a reluctant Clark into trying to figure out what’s behind a bunch of criminals smashing cheap curios in antique stores. The verbal dueling which invariably goes on between these two when they are working closely together is not nearly as barbed here since they are too focused on their strange investigation. But the rapport and rivalry between Reeves and Coates is nonetheless in abundance and very satisfying.
Aside from some introductory scenes and a few moments with Clark which punctuate the action, Lois almost has Rescue completely to herself. Stubbornly ignoring all orders not to do so, she goes into a caved-in mine to help an old man trapped in the debris and nearly gets herself asphyxiated by gas in the process. Never more (wonderfully) defiant, if not downright pig-headed, Coates’ Lois only requires Superman’s aid in the final moments. It should also be noted that it is not her reporter’s nose but rather her heart that gets her into the mess when no one else seems to be hurrying fast enough to save the trapped miner.
Czar of The Underworld has Clark and Inspector Henderson out in Hollywood working together supervising a film, based on a series of articles by Kent, designed to put the finger on a noted mobster, Lugi Dinnelli (Anthony Caruso). Perry makes a short and blustery appearance (imagine his blood pressure) but for the rest of the episode it’s all the cop and reporter. They work effectively together too. Although in some of the first season shows Henderson could be downright nasty and condescending to Kent, they seem to have a solid and even warm friendship here with even some gentle ribbing going on (Henderson takes great delight in eating Kent’s steak as well as his own in their hotel room). Great stuff.
Lois and Clark are back in the spotlight in Riddle of the Chinese Jade investigating the theft of a priceless Asian artifact. Lois, very empathetic to the secondary characters of Lu Sung (Paul Burns) and Lilly (Gloria Saunders), isn’t quite as vitriolic in this episode or quite as poised to pounce on poor Clark as is usually the case. Anyway, the clock is ticking away in this hard-edged episode and there’s little time for banter or rancor here.
The Stolen Costume is an extremely unique episode in that the only regular cast member present is Clark Kent, distraught if not downright desperate over the theft of his one and only Superman suit (an oversight he will remedy in a later episode). With no other familiar faces present to take his troubles to he turns to Candy (Frank Jenks), a friend and most frustrated private eye, who is never told what he has been hired to track down. While the presence of Jimmy, Lois, Perry and Henderson are sorely missed, the addition of the always wonderful and highly enjoyable Veda Ann Borg and Dan Seymour as the doomed crooks, help tighten the slack.
The two-part The Unknown People, spliced together from the theatrical feature Superman and the Molemen, which spawned the TV series, takes us full circle with our view of the newest Superman and Lois Lane. Lois is hardly on camera for a moment before her bitchy demeanor is in evidence. She’s not happy with the assignment, the town itself or its citizens. Her contempt of Clark -- toned down a bit in the series -- is also apparent right out of the gate with the characterizations of the two reporters forged almost immediately. Clark might secretly be Superman but he still has his hands full with Lois.
While one of the main attractions of this beloved series will always be the full cast contributing equally to its longevity and never-ending appeal, these early shows, showcasing smaller couplings of the actors, were unique and usually very successful experiments on the part of the writers and production team, often highlighting certain aspects of the characters which normally were lost in the shuffle.
This writer for one wishes there had been a few more examples of these reduced groupings in later years of the show but these occasions were rare and never quite as well scripted or conceived as these earlier and more satisfying entries.
The Guy In The Circus Suit?
Some historical events simply cannot be ignored. While there are admittedly a breed of people who make it a kind of career practice to sidestep newspaper headlines, television and radio broadcasts, bestsellers and now the Internet, there are moments that transcend the normal catalogue of crime and politics -- and even celebrity breakups -- that cannot be dodged no matter how hard and diligent the effort to do so might be. There are wars for instance that reek havoc on entire populations, major political developments that cannot help but touch us all, assassinations, epidemics, collapsing economies, etc.
And in this same league one might think, with little fear of contradiction, that the sudden, nearly miraculous appearance on Earth of a guy who can fly, is imperious to bullets, has X-ray vision and is an avowed proponent of “Truth, Justice and the American Way”, would not be an event that could be easily be brushed aside or ignored, not even by the most entrenched hermit or dedicated misanthrope.
Nonetheless, in the first season of TV’s The Adventures of Superman, there appear a surprising amount of people who have never, for whatever reasons, taken note of the fact that their planet has suddenly become the new home for someone faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locative and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Most of us, of course, would sit up and herald such a wondrous event but apparently not this select group. Moreover, this particular sampling of humanity has no obvious common thread, nothing to link them together aside from a propensity to bury their heads in the sand. There are criminals and scientists, men and women, good and bad. It’s a real mixed bag.
But first a bit of clarification. The individuals who will shortly be described below are those who simply and undeniably never got the word, never took the slightest interest in the fact that there was a Superman in their midst. There are other characters in the first season whose pointless if foolhardy actions might initially imply that they didn’t have a clue about the Man of Steel’s powers; but on reflection this was probably just panic and desperation on their part. In Czar of the Underworld, for instance, gangster kingpin Luigi Dinelli, his late evening cigar smoke interrupted by the arrival of Superman, calls for his two goons to help him. But did Dinelli actually not know who he was dealing with or was it just habit and adrenalin that caused him to waste his time trying to sick his hired muscle on his super visitor? Or in The Evil Three did Macey Taylor with his shotgun or Colonel Brand with his sword really think they could take care of Superman? It is doubtful. Yet I suspect they knew who he was -- well at least Macey, the Colonel always seemed to me a bit wacky -- and were just acting out of reflex and old violent habits. There are a number of other such instances: Madame Selena, nuts as she is, actually going after Superman with her fists when he is freeing Lois in Mystery in Wax or the hoodlums in Night of Terror trying to trade punches with him as if it were just another barroom brawl.
The folks below, however, are a decidedly different matter, a most unique breed. They actually have no idea who Superman is and act accordingly. Take a look.
First up we have The Case of the Talkative Dummy. Neither Green, the owner of the armored car company (and also the story’s main bad guy), nor his assistant, the red herring Davis, recognize Superman when he arrives to wrap up things. Green, pulling a gun on the Man of Steel, even utters a warning, “Whoever you are stay away or I’ll shoot.”
In The Mind Machine, the brilliant Dr. Stanton, apparently too engrossed with his work on the hypnotherapy machine to pick up a paper or listen to the radio, watches as Superman cleans house with Lou Cranek and his goons and then says “Whoever you are I want to thank you.”
Ramm, the East Indian held prisoner by wrestling promoter Murray in No Holds Barred, upon being visited by Superman assumes he is talking to a genii and believes this to be the case to the very end.
In The Unknown People the entire charming citizenry of Silsby apparently haven’t a clue who Superman is. When he confronts them, trying to calm their violent instincts, their response is to attack him in force. One member of the mob even warns that “We ought to string you up too.” Later, the doctor in charge at the local hospital inquires, having just seen Superman, “That man in the costume?”
Greer in The Riddle of the Chinese Jade, upon abducting Lois and having backed into an alley sees Superman and Inspector Henderson in the distance. Through a smirk he asks her “Who’s the guy in the circus suit?” As Lois warns him, he soon finds out.
My high school German is a bit rusty so I can’t exactly tell what the evil Dr. Albrecht is yelling as he blasts away at Superman in Double Trouble, but he seems pretty surprised that he doesn’t achieve the desired results with his trusty pistol.
The order in which the shows were filmed as opposed to actually be aired might provide some explanation to all of this but chronology has always been a bit of a problem in the series, particularly in the first season. Clark, fresh from the Smallville farm, new in Metropolis and with no background in the newspaper business and no connections in the big city, is soon said to have a pal who works at the FBI (Craig Roberts), and a Colonel Redding, an intelligence officer stationed in Germany is acknowledged to be one of his best friends. But perhaps Clark just makes friends quickly.
Superman’s role in the first season, more of an avenging vigilante than he would appear during the rest of the run, could also account for some of the show’s staff writers seeing him as a more mysterious character who appears and disappears at will, but this hardly accounts for individuals not having heard about him at all. This is not Zorro, Batman or the Green Hornet hiding their identities behind masks and operating in the darkness. This is a guy in a blue body suit with a bright red cape and boots who soars through the daylight hours punching out meteors, catching bad guys and averting catastrophe after catastrophe. There’s even a comic book about him as evidenced in The Birthday Letter.
Imagine then the shock to all these individuals when they suddenly come face to face with Superman, are either defeated or rescued by him, and realize what idiots they are to have been practically the only people on the entire planet not familiar with his existence.
Talk about your wake up calls.
And That'll Put The Whammy On Your
Superman Racket, But Good!
(Or so thought Connie in “The Stolen Costume”)
by Bruce Dettman
As a rule of thumb most career surfers tend to stay clear of Kansas. By the same token, the majority of fanatical jazz buffs would probably not be inclined to set up housekeeping in Nashville. People fearing earthquakes do not readily seek residency in my hometown of San Francisco and if you like the topography and arid climate of deserts, Maine would in all likelihood not be your ideal region of preference.
Continuing along this litany of obvious assumptions it would also be a fairly safe to say -- perhaps even more so since in this particular instance crime and judicial penalties are both factored into the mix -- that the last place that professional criminals would be likely to set up their activities would be in Metropolis, the home turf of a guy named Superman.
Perhaps in the early days of his arrival on the Metropolis scene the extraordinary notion of an opponent who could fly through the air and bend steel in his bare hands was just too much to take in all at once by the local bad guys. Perhaps these homegrown shady characters, not always the brightest bulbs on the planet, thought it was just a lot of hype, a heap of phony baloney designed to pump fear into the hearts of the city’s lawless citizenry and to sell copies of The Daily Planet or The Blade. Or maybe they just kidded themselves into thinking their small-potato operations rendered them safe, not really worthy of the attention of a character “more powerful than a locomotive” and “able to leap tall buildings at a single bound” and who probably had bigger fish to fry, saving the world from a collision-bound asteroid, for instance.
But if this was not the case and this costumed overgrown Boy Scout from Krypton was the real deal, then they must have reasoned there had to be a way of nullifying his impact on their unlawful activities. Moving their operations, however, never seemed to have occurred to any of them. Perhaps, they might have stubbornly figured, if they couldn’t kill him they could at least pay him off, make him some sort of a deal, cut him in on things, even reason with the guy. Obviously something had to be done. Over time, as seasons of the series rolled along, various solutions were considered and tactics employed by a variety of Metropolis miscreants, all sizes, all kinds.
There were the masterminds, kingpins in the Al Capone tradition, running large operations, probably in place long before Superman ever showed up on the scene. This group would include such characters as confidence man Paul Martin (Tris Coffin), ultimately in search of the world’s largest ruby (“Mystery of the Broken Statues”), and Lou Cranek (Dan Seymour) who, with his motley gang and Professor Stanton’s hypnotherapy machine, attempts to circumvent some official crime hearings that could implicate him (“The Mind Machine”). There is Chopper (Russell Johnson) and his moronic minions out to rob banks (“The Runaway Robot”), Luigi Dinelli (Anthony Caruso), his home turf actually in sunny Hollywood but who inadvertently (and stupidly) invites Superman into his territory (“Czar of the Underworld”) and, of course, Walter Canby (John Eldridge), eminent attorney and member of the newly organized Committee For Clean Government, who is actually the number one man behind all the city’s various rackets (“Crime Wave”). Canby was the first character in the series to ever hit on the idea of actually removing Superman by destroying him, a grandiose if highly flawed notion which would be replicated in subsequent seasons, particularly after the arrival on the scene of the lethal kryptonite. In the episode “Face and The Voice,” another criminal named Fairchild (Carlton Young) decided on a different means to deal with the Man of Steel, that of discrediting him by having a physical double commit crimes thereby compromising Superman’s reputation. Mostly, however, for those bad guys stubborn enough to stick around Metropolis, whether engaging in ordinary blue collar crime or inspired to take on bigger game, the emphasis became not taking out Superman -- a fairly useless enterprise save in a couple of instances (“The Big Freeze”) -- but in finding a means to work around him, to somehow nullify his amazing powers.
Take as an example Luke Maynard (John Kellog) in “The Big Squeeze.” He’s released from prison, comes up with a plan to blackmail his old cell-mate Dan (Hugh Beaumont) and, as a precautionary measure, has a cave in the vicinity -- which he intends to use as a hideout -- lined with lead presumably to thwart Superman’s X-ray vision. Now, engineering is not exactly my field of expertise, but I have to wonder about the time and expense required to lead-line an entire cave. Who would you go to for such a thing? Is there actually a profession of cave liners? And how to explain why you would want this done without a lot of questions being asked?
Less costly plans, also utilizing lead, were forged in “The Man in the Lead Mask,” “Money To Burn,” and later “The Perils of Superman” with the bad guys hiding their visages behind coverings made from the X-Ray-defying material. Still no cigar for these characters as the Man of Steel cleverly outwits them each time. Moreover, I always figured if Superman came across something his super peepers couldn’t penetrate wouldn’t he grow suspicious and further check out the situation by other means?
More sophisticated was the large cube, invented by chemist/criminal Paul Barton (Bruce Wendell) which is miraculously impervious to Superman’s powers and which he employs as a hiding place until Superman cleverly arranges for him to exit prematurely and therefore be nabbed by the authorities. It was the Man of Steel’s brain, not his brawn, which served him so well in this episode.
The titled criminal genius in “Beware The Wrecker” (William Forrest) looked at the problem in another fashion realizing that whatever Superman was or could accomplish with his amazing powers he still couldn’t be in two places at once (obviously he never watched “Divide and Conquer”). Smart thinking, but the Man of Steel ultimately realized what was going on and dealt successfully with the challenge.
“Bet A Million” Butler (Trevor Bardette) also tried the can’t be in two places scenario in “The Human Bomb” where he makes a wager that he can pull off a crime by nullifying Superman’s involvement. To do this he rigs a dynamite vest, kidnaps Lois and forces (he thinks) Superman to remain visible to him while the bank heist is going on several blocks away. But again, this brainy guy is thwarted by a brainier one, a guy from Krypton, with the help of a certain Inspector Hill (Marshall Reed) filling in for an absent Inspector Henderson.
For most of us the solution to the obstacle that was Superman was an obvious one. Even the dumbest of those who tried to pit themselves against the Man of Steel – and there were some pretty dumb characters in this mix – must have realized that the best course of action was to get out of Dodge while the getting was good, to leave Metropolis behind and start business elsewhere.
But this, after all, is television, and without criminals, dumb or not, where would Superman be?
I like East-Indian food but probably eat it at the most three times a year. I enjoy live theatre but I only take in a couple of shows annually. I thrill at seeing the San Francisco Giants take to the field, but if I go to more than three games a season it’s a rare thing.
The first two seasons of the Adventures of Superman are a different matter for me. Somehow, for whatever bizarre and unaccountable reasons -- these undoubtedly buried deeply within a subconscious playing field of my mind that I normally stay pretty clear of examining in too much detail -- I can (and have) watched these twenty-six episodes over and over again, dozens and dozens of times in fact ever since I first saw them on their first run as a small boy in the early 1950s. Some might consider this a peculiar obsession, an unhealthy pre-occupation, certainly a mammoth waste of time. Whatever it is, I have to concede it’s probably here to stay and to be frank, since I’m not taking heroin, robbing banks, cheating on my wife or losing my money at the blackjack table, I’m not going to worry about it too much. I just love these shows. It’s as simple as that.
In any case, in watching these episodes over and over again it’s certainly not surprising that one sees a lot of things that the normal viewer probably wouldn’t spot. Moreover, eventually initial interest in the big ticket attractions -- the crashing through walls, the bullets bouncing off the Man of Steel’s chest, the flying sequences, the thrashing of criminals -- begins to take a backseat to a lot of small nearly invisible moments, fleeting and miniscule images, a comment here and there, a particular look between players, the design of a certain set, a favorite musical queue. All of these become part of the total package, familiar and reassuring things which always, no matter how many times I encounter them, bring pleasure and immense satisfaction to me.
Here are a few from various episodes of the first season which never fail to grab my attention and which I never tire of watching.
I’m certain all fans of the series could manufacture their own lists of favorite scenes, big and small, and will probably not understand some of my highly subjective selections. But that’s OK. There are plenty of terrific moments in these twenty-six episodes to go around.
I know I’ll be watching them… again and again.
A few of Bruce Dettman's favorite scenes from Season One.
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