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The Very First Season of TV's Superman Was Superb!

06/25/2013 05:30 pm ET | Updated Aug 25, 2013

The very first season (1952-53) of TV's Superman with George Reeves was outstanding, including intense film noir elements, such as the deaths of a couple who learned his secret ID in "The Stolen Costume"... he flew them to a mountain cabin where they fell to their deaths trying to climb down (he was definitely responsible for their demise).

And, in "The Secret of Superman," a nefarious criminal (Peter Brocco) who learned his ID was conveniently shot to death by the police.

Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane was very serious, contributing to the drama of each episode. But, she was replaced after that first season by light-hearted Noel Neill (who actually previously had portrayed Lois in two serials).

Actually, the series began as a 67-minute theatrical film, Superman and the Mole Men, then transitioned into a TV project. That film was later re-edited into an excellent two-part episode,"The Unknown People," which was the only two-parter during the run of the show.

As a cost-cutting measure, all regulars wore the same clothing for every episode so that out-of-sequence scenes could be shot without causing any sort of discontinuity(similar to the approach utilized on the original Dragnet series). As an example, all scenes taking place in Daily Planet editor Perry White's office would be filmed at the same time for future insertion in upcoming episodes. And, Clark Kent's office was readily transmogrified into Lois Lane's with a few minor alterations of wall hangings!

The first two seasons (1952-54) were shot in black-and-white, whereas seasons three through six (1954-58) were filmed in color, although aired in black-and-white as few viewers owned color TVs then. But, the producers astutely realized that in the future, they could demand a significantly higher price for those episodes in syndication. But, to counterbalance the added expense of color, only 13 new episodes were shot, with 13 reruns added, for a total of 26 per season. And, the color episodes were virtually devoid of truly villainous characters and serious scenarios, with any violence essentially eliminated (except when Superman was the target).

Contrary to rumor, the show was not cancelled. Indeed, in 1959, two additional seasons were being planned for. However, two tragedies occurred, beginning with the unexpected demise of actor John Hamilton who portrayed Perry White. He was to be replaced by Pierre Watkin, who had essayed the role in the two Superman serials. But, then, suddenly, George Reeves died in June, either by suicide or murder. While it had been speculated that he offed himself because the show was not renewed, that clearly was not the case, arguing for the possibility that he was indeed a homicide victim, such as orchestrated by the jealous husband of a girlfriend of his.

The powers that be then proposed that the series be changed to Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen, starring Jack Larson who would be interacting with previous footage of Reeves and new footage of a stunt double. However, he adamantly refused to cooperate in this venture. A pilot was then produced in 1961, The Adventures of Superboy, with Johnny Rockwell portraying a young Clark Kent, attired in a costume similar to Reeves'. But, the series was not picked up.

But, fortunately, the series has been re-aired numerous times on various cable systems and is viewable on the internet for those of us whose favorite Superman is George Reeves!

Ruehl Factoid: Three of the original cast members of the 1950s series are still living: Noel Neill is 92, Phyllis Coates is 86, and Jack Larson is 85.

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