The Adventures Continue

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Serena Enger - July 2007

What was your first reaction to George Reeves and/or the Superman series?

WPIX- Channel 11 - New York ran the show in the 1970s. I probably watched it from around age ten to 13, roughly 1975-1979. I think it went off the air in 1979. Since the age of 4, I have been a devoted film fan. The NYC stations and PBS broadcast all the great Hollywood films: Astaire-Rogers, Laurel and Hardy, Chaplin, MGM, RKO and Warner Brothers classics. I think I saw most of Bogart's movies by the age of 12. I got a very thorough film education for free, just by plugging the TV into the wall! Watching TAOS consecutively from Season One through Six, I saw it as a natural extension of 1930s and 1940s film genres and styles. Those films had plenty of men and women paired as equals, with stylish sets and dialogue: reporters, Nick and Nora Charles as detectives, lawyers, teachers, military officers, spies, etc. Clark Kent and Lois Lane belonged to this club of characters.

George Reeves was a natural, genuine, sunny, and spirited actor and a soulful Romantic leading man. As I got older, I looked forward to seeing him in Gone with the Wind, The Strawberry Blonde, Westward Ho, the Wagons!, and From Here to Eternity. I saw no difference between him and other leading men, like Cary Grant, Joel McCrea, Robert Preston, Gig Young, Jimmy Stewart, Gene Kelly, except that he didn't get the leading roles in classic films. Reeves and these actors all had a zest for living and for acting. Reeves' Clark Kent makes a hero out of men who value intelligence and compassion, without sacrificing athleticism and an aggressive instinct for reporting and of course, truth, justice and the American Way. You want to run off with him and the Daily Planet staff and have fun.

Phyllis Coates's portrayal of Lois Lane, was for me, at the age of ten, a natural extension of Dorothy Gale, Pippi Longstocking, and Nancy Drew. Having seen so many classic Hollywood films, by the age of ten, her Lane was not unlike the intelligent, independent women respected as men's equals found in the roles played by Myrna Loy, Irene Dunne, Katherine Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck, and Lauren Bacall, among many others. In 1970s, there were few female characters on television appropriate for children to view, who had these qualities. I had plenty of real-life role models, but Ms. Coates and Ms. Neill and the stars of the 1930s and 1940s hold a place in my imaginative pantheon. Season Two gave Ms. Neill and Reeves strong scripts with social messages and interesting plots, which showcased their talents and chemistry. It's a groundbreaking show for a modern portrayal of a working woman who is respected by her male colleagues, who, in turn, enhance their own humanity. Upon viewing it as an adult, I also like the fact that in several episodes, female child actors were used as active heroines.

What are your 15 favorite episodes?

1. Around the World with Superman - one of the best programs in children's TV history
2. Panic in the Sky
3. The Birthday Letter
4. Five Minutes to Doom
5. Perry White's Scoop
6. The Mystery of the Broken Statues
7. Superman in Exile
8. The Wedding of Superman
9. The Mind Machine
10. Semi-Private Eye
11. The Monkey Mystery
12. The Face and the Voice
13. The Perils of Superman
14. The Big Freeze
15. Czar of the Underworld
Unbearably bad episode: "Mr. Zero"

What are some of your favorite scenes from the series?

* The Monkey Mystery: the perfectly executed landing through the window and immediate fight with the crooks, without missing a beat. I agree with Jim Nolt that it's one of the best athletic moments in TV history.

* Double Trouble: Kent's obvious pleasure in being a reporter who can transform himself into Superman in order to accomplish his goals; a flying showcase; the perfect running jump out of the window. Superman's legs are parallel to the floor. The shot possesses a dreamlike, poetic, and athletic beauty and excitement.

* The Star of Fate: remarkable flight sequences - perhaps the best in the series.

* The Boy Who Hated Superman: Kent's transformation scene in his bedroom. Perhaps a stretch, but the acting and photography remind me of Greta Garbo's style.

* Perry White's Scoop: a terrifically orchestrated scene in which Kent begins to punch a crook at the railroad stockyard, with Lois looking on from the car. He throws a good punch, but stops in mid-motion, as he realizes that he can't enjoy this, and must act as a frightened Kent. "Lois, you better get help." His face is hilarious. She leaves. He gets knocked out, rolls under the railroad car, and emerges as Superman. The episode is a wonderful piece of ensemble acting, especially for John Hamilton.

* The Clown who Cried: Superman's televised fundraising speech asking the public to support children who will become the citizens of the community in the future. This scene mirrors Reeves's personal appearances on behalf of children's causes, and his own involvement in helping Latino children in Los Angeles. It also reflects the heart of Siegel and Schuster's and Whitney Ellsworth and Robert Maxwell's progressive sensibility in developing Superman comics in the 1930s and 1940s.

* Panic in the Sky: as a kid, it was one of my sublime viewing moments. As Noel Neill rightly says in the audio commentary, the show is timeless because modern children and adults can identify with Kent's vulnerability in the face of ecological disaster. It also shares a mythic structure with many ancient hero-centered stories from around the world. He's a non-human, god-like person helping humans in the face of disaster. I also enjoy Neill and Larson's performances.

* Superman in Exile: for its remarkable condemnation of unregulated scientific thought that hasn't thoroughly considered the ethical, physical and ecological impact a new scientific theory and product can have. At the time, in 1953, Los Angeles residents could see the glow from atomic testing. It also shows Ms. Neill's ability to convey compassion. I like how she gets annoyed with Kent, but betrays her worry about his situation. Wonderful ending with Kent and Lane in the airplane.

* The Face and the Voice: I agree with Lou that Inspector Henderson being chased around the office by Superman is priceless. Shayne is a classy actor with one of the best voices in the business.

* Atomic Captive: the ultimate camp: Superman's body driving the atomic mushroom back into the ground. Everyone is contaminated, but thanks to molecular polarity generated by Superman's hands, the radioactivity is cancelled. I also love the coral-colored car being up-ended by the blast.

* Superman and the Mole Men: Superman's take-off scene in front of Corrigan and Lane is a work of art. For a B movie, it has a powerful message for tolerance and acceptance for that which we don't understand. The lynch mob scenes, including the chase, and the hospital director's denial of medical care to the mole men are quite powerful, and seem to allude to civil rights issues. It is an underrated and unique film given its story line involving lynch mob mentality, scientific-economic challenges to the environment, and the possibility of non-human life.

* The Secret of Superman: Before Lois enters Dr. Ort's office, Jimmy warns her about the danger. Lane: Remember, Jim. I'm a newspaper woman."

* A Shot in the Dark: The chase in the Daily Planet hallway in which Jimmy grabs the photos from the clutches of Burt Burnside (John Eldredge) and runs down the hall chased by Kent and Burnside. Lois walks into the chase, sees a story and starts running after Kent. It's one of my favorite scenes with Noel Neill as the inquisitive reporter. It has a slapstick quality that shows the actors having fun.

* The Golden Vulture: Kent taking on the crooks. Very funny slapstick. Jimmy and Lois showing their deep friendship for Kent with him replaying the kindness by pulling Lois into the water with him in an affectionate gesture.

* Five Minutes to Doom: ok, last one. Powerful TV adult drama with social message with a strong performance by Dabbs Greer. It's the first episode of Season Two with the debut of Neill. Reeves and Neill show camaraderie in the bomb scene and seem to really enjoy their work. Reeves looks great in a trenchcoat.

What interesting mistakes or inside jokes have you detected?

The Monkey Mystery: Perry White tells Kent that Ferguson, an unseen reporter, wants to do a nature feature. He sends Jimmy out on the story. Of course, Jimmy finds the monkey with the microfilm with the atomic energy formula. I can't recall other Daily Planet reporters even being mentioned in the series. I wonder whether Ferguson is an allusion to Frank Ferguson who appeared in The Lady in Black, as well as the two Fritz Lang films with Reeves, and about 5 other films. They appeared as the two leading men in Shaw's play, Arms and the Man, at the Pasadena Playhouse in 1938.

The Big Freeze: Perry White (sarcastically) to Kent (wearing Lois's makeup after having being poisoned by a chemical spray, rendering him white and frozen): "Where have you been? Miami? You seem to have a tan." (Reeves is said to have enjoyed vacations in Miami.) There's also a good joke with the crooks about being caught inside a TV set.

Five Minutes to Doom: the reflection of the production crew on Lois's car.

I'm intrigued by the fact that Stanley Kramer's production crew worked on several seasons of TAOS, and by the fact that several guest actors and John Hamilton appeared in Kramer films. Harry Gerstad, the Oscar-winning, cinematographer, devoted much of his career in the 1950s to TAOS. There seems to be a strong connection between politically progressive directors and producers (Kramer, Delmer Daves, Fred Zinnemann, and Fritz Lang) and their casts and crews and TAOS.

The number of classic character actors from Warner Brothers, where John Hamilton, John Eldredge, and George Reeves spent part of their careers. Eldredge and Shayne both appeared as leading men opposite Bette Davis. Quite a few of the guest actors (and friends of Reeves's or actors who worked with Reeves in films) can be found in scenes together in other films and in Bogart's films. For example: the cast of Invaders from Mars; Tom McFadden (Eben Kent) and Ben Welden as the henchmen in The Big Sleep. Frances Morris (Sarah Kent) and J. Farrell MacDonald (Mole Men and Pony Express Days) in Harold Lloyd's film, The Cat's- Paw. Frank Wilcox and Robert Shayne as business associates of Cary Grant's in North by Northwest. Frank Wilcox and Tris Coffin assisting Judy Garland in A Star is Born. Hoodlum Empire includes about 5 actors who worked with Reeves along with his former wife who shares a scene with Philip Pine.

Why have you continued to watch the series, and why do you consider yourself a fan of George Reeves?

Unlike many fans, I hadn't access to TAOS since it went off the air around 1979. When the DVDs were available in 2006, I felt the pull of the show all over again, as well as the charm and soul of Reeves. It's a very entertaining and stylish show. The cast is impeccable; I know they deserved better roles in films, especially Jack Larson with his wonderful comic abilities. As an adult, I was pleased to read in the New York Times that Larson shared my interest in Frank Lloyd Wright, and had been an acquaintance of Greta Garbo's. I discovered Wright, Garbo and Reeves all about the time of my ninth year. Having read about the cast as an adult, I find them to be interesting people.

As for being a fan of Reeves, please see my article, Recovering George Reeves on this website. Besides exuding the qualities of a devoted Romantic leading man, he also displayed an under appreciated playful comic ability. There's a serious zanyness in him, that can be occasionally seen in the Superman series, especially in the scene where he wears Morley's coat in Great Caesar's Ghost, in the bath scene in So Proudly We Hail!, and in Man at Large where he has to lug the typewriter out of the office and in the great hotel scene in which he wrestles with the German spy and the Marjorie Weaver's ditzy reporter. Lang gave him the room in Rancho Notorious to show his many sides as an actor: racy, earnest, loyal, action figure, romantic, the group organizer, the rake, the storyteller, the Latino. You know, Hollywood wasted Yves Montand, who shared these qualities. He had to return to France to make classic after classic film. Hollywood wasted Reeves. With a good director and script, he might have had a more significant career.

If you could meet George Reeves today, what would you want to say to him?

To have steadfast courage as an actor without the traps of stardom and alcohol. Not to blame himself for the difficult environment in Hollywood. To take chances on character roles; in the late 1950s, to try acting abroad in French and Italian film productions (as Victor Mature, Farley Granger, Steve Cochran, and Burt Lancaster successfully did); get a good agent! I suppose if I had the chance, I would have cast him in a film close to the spirit of the comic Italian movie masterpiece, Divorce, Italian Style. To continue being involved with charity work and appreciate the impact the Superman series has had on developing children's self-confidence and ethical development. Shakespeare and Nabokov? Let's make a day of it.

Thanks for Watching.

(July 20, 2007)   


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