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Autumn, 1951

By the fall of 1951, Superman and the Mole-Men was re-worked into the two-part "Unknown People," and post-production work on the other twenty-four episodes was almost finished. While it’s true that sponsorship and distribution details still needed to be finalized, Robert Maxwell thought that his twenty-six episodes of the Adventures of Superman were just about ready to go.

ollage created by Mike Cline

Then a problem arose... the two-part "Unknown People" (edited down from the feature film) could not be included in that first season package.


National Comics Publication was almost ready to begin distribution, but it discovered that in September, 1951, in a contract agreement between producers and the Screen Actors Guild, it was stipulated that no films copyrighted after September 1, 1948 could be sold to television without the payment of royalty fees to actors. Superman and the Mole-Men was just such a film, copyrighted by National Comics Publications, 1951.

This from Michael Hayde’s book Flights of Fantasy: The Unauthorized but True Story of Radio & TV’s Adventures of Superman:

Re-titling and re-scoring made no difference: Mole Men had been made with SAG members and had been copyrighted and had been exhibited theatrically in 1951.* Until there was a change in the rules, The Unknown People would be withheld.”

As it turned out, the rule would not be changed until 1960, and therefore, until then, National Comics was left with a 24-episode first season package.

* "Superman and the Mole-Men" was released to theaters on November 23, 1951.


The year 2021 marks the 70th anniversary of the Adventures of Superman going into production. And all this year we've been following along with those events from seven decades ago... from the demise of the radio program early in the year through the formation of a new production company, writing of scripts, filming of Superman and the Mole-Men, the twenty-four television scripts, and the problem with "Unknown People I & II." But there is still more to the story.

Returning to Flights of Fantasy... Michael Hayde details the formation of Flamingo Films and its deal with National Comics in May of 1951 to distribute the series. But by the end of 1951 Flamingo no longer existed as it had merged with Associate Allied Productions to become Motion Pictures For Television.

So, there is still more to be done... and the story of 1951 would continue into 1952.


I’ll add that story soon, but first… I think these remarks from Brian McKernan are worth reading:

It's easy to look back on the Adventures of Superman from the perspective of 2021 and think of it as just another “old TV show.” But 1952 was still “early days” in television, with far fewer stations on the air and underlying technologies that were primitive by today’s standards. There was no cable TV, there were typically a maximum of six TV stations in only the biggest cities, and networks were costly, ad hoc hook-ups of Bell System telephone “long-lines.” The first TV-capable communications satellite (Telstar) wouldn’t be launched until 1962. And TV sets were so expensive that they were unaffordable for most Americans.

Live-action TV shows for young audiences back then were typically poorly made live productions with puppets and clowns. Videotape wouldn’t be perfected for broadcast use until 1956. The guts it took for a small publishing company, DC (National) Comics, to bankroll 24 half-hour Superman episodes beautifully shot on 35mm motion-picture film by experienced B-movie crews on Hollywood sound stages – with no sponsors yet lined-up to reimburse this costly enterprise – was nothing short of astonishing. But publishers Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz had total faith that their popular comic book/newspaper strip/theatrical cartoon/radio/movie serial character, Superman, would also be a success in the new medium of TV. And they were right, surpassing even their own expectations.

As the 1950’s progressed and more stations signed on the air, more baby-boomers were born, more TV sets were sold and gradually became more affordable, TV became an actual “industry.” The Adventures of Superman, like all syndicated programming, was delivered to stations on 16mm reels by UPS trucks – and by 1965 it grew into the most successful series on the air, proving to all what could be done when a commitment to best-possible production values, solid scripts, professional acting (and, in 1954, color cinematography) was managed with a TV budget.

The TV networks eventually “struck gold” by picking up on the success of the Adventures of Superman with their own better-financed film-originated, effects-heavy sci-fi/fantasy series (Twilight Zone, Lost in Space, Star Trek, Batman, etc.). Fast-forward to today’s age of digital HD, with multiple superhero-themed CW series and blockbuster Marvel movies, and it’s clear that the 104 episodes of the Adventures of Superman should be seen as a bold and historic chapter in TV history that resonates to this day.

Kellogg’s and distribution

Posted: November 23, 2021

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