Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Mysterious Death of Superman

"Superman"

Superman and the Mole-Men
Superman and the Mole-Men

Failing to make ends meet in his film career and faced with a divorce, Reeves relocated to New York, where the major networks of the fledgling television industry were headquartered. Although reportedly skeptical of the ability of the new medium to supplant the long-entrenched motion picture industry, Reeves put forth his best effort when he was offered the role of Superman in a feature film that served as a "pilot" for the TV series. According to some reports, the second he strode confidently into the interview room, the producers knew they had found their man.

Superman and the Mole-Men, in which Reeves starred as Superman and Clark Kent, was used to launch the series in 1951 and introduce an already-familiar comic book character to a visual audience. That film was later edited down to a two-part episode for the TV series, retitled "The Unknown People." The original film was seldom seen after its initial release, but it appeared on a 2005 DVD issue of the first season.

The Adventures of Superman
The Adventures of Superman

The Adventures of Superman series began airing the following year and continued for a six-year run, ending after the 1958 season. It was produced by Paramount Television, with Whitney Ellsworth, Bernard Luber, and Robert Maxwell as producers, and Harold Stine as director of photography.

As Superman, Reeves worked for low pay even as the titular star, and was only paid during the weeks of production. The half-hour films were shot on tight schedules, at least two shows every six days. He was reportedly astonished when he became an international celebrity. The show eventually aired in 21 countries and had Superman speaking in three different languages.

Although the concept of a superhero on television was a novelty in the early '50s, the character himself was no stranger to the American scene. First conceived by Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel in the late 1930s, the "Man of Steel" was the subject of Action Comics issue #1 in June 1938. It was an instant hit, one that would spawn hundreds of superhero incarnations over the next 65 years.

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