Thursday, October 9, 2008

Episode #43: Kirk Alyn & Gregory Reed: Superman Actors

Kirk Alyn was born on October 8, 1910, as John Feggo, Jr. in Oxford New Jersey. His parents were Hungarian immigrants. Alyn attended Columbia University. He is best known for portraying Superman in two movie serials, Superman in 1948, and 1950's Atom Man vs. Superman. Kirk Alyn began his acting career as a chorus boy on Broadway, and had roles in a number of notable musicals in the 1930's, Girl Crazy, Of Thee I Sing and Hellzapoppin'. He was also a vaudville singer and dancer. Alyn moved to Hollywood in the early 1940's to begin a film career, but was limited to small parts in movies until he won the role of Superman.
Kirk Alyn married actress Virginia O'Brien in 1942. They had two sons and a daughter, but divorced in 1955.
Like other Superman actors Alyn was typecast after he was finished portraying the Man of Steel. He starred in a number of other serials, Federal Agents vs. Underworld, Inc. (1948), Radar Patrol vs. Spy King (1950) and Blackhawk (1952). Alyn had a variety of small roles on film and television, and retired after his final film role, Scalps, in 1983.
Kirk Alyn did have a cameo in Superman: The Movie (1978), in the Smallville part of the film. When the teen Clark Kent races the passenger train across the railroad tracks, Alyn is the father of the young Lois Lane who told her something like, "Lois, be quiet and read your book." Playing his wife was Noel Neill, who began her acting career portraying Lois Lane in the first Superman serial.
Alyn portrayed Clark Kent as the traditional meek, mild-mannered reporter, pitching Clark's voice a little higher, and voicing Superman's lines in a deeper tone. Because of the limited special effects of the day, Alyn was not shown flying as Superman. Except for closeups in front of a blurry background, the flying Superman was an animated figure. Kirk, in costume, would either run behind a stage prop for take-off, or run from behind a prop after the animated Superman landed there.
Kirk Alyn published his autobiography, A Job For Superman, in 1974, which is now out of print. He died from natural causes in Woodlands, Texas in 1999.
Superman (1948) was a 15 part serial, as most were, and was produced by Columbia Studios. Thomas Carr and Spencer Gordon Bennet directed the episodes. Carr would also direct many episode of the 1950's Adventures of Superman TV show, which starred actor George Reeves. Kirk Alyn was uncredited, as DC Comics mandated that Superman was to be portrayed as a real person, so the actor plaing Superman would be uncredited. This was true also for the 1950's TV show. The first edisode, Superman Comes To Earth, was released on January 5, 1948. The serial quickly told the story of the infant Superman's escape from the doomed planet Krypton and being raised on the Kent farm, to Clark Kent joining the staff of the Daily Planet. Joining Alyn and Neill iin the cast was Tommy Bond as Jimmy Olsen and Pierre Watkin as Perry White. Carol Forman portrayed the villainess Spider Lady.
Spencer Gordon Bennet directed the sequel, Atom Man vs. Superman (1950). Lex Luthor (Atom Man) was portrayed by Lyle Talbot, wearing a bald cap. In this serial, Luthor menaces Metropolis with his deadly inventions, one of which could de-materialize a person and re-materialize him at another location (Star Trek's transporter beam twenty years early, maybe?). Luthor attempts to synthesize artificial kryptonite, placing his creation at the launch of a ship. Superman attends, and when he gets close to the kryptonite, he faints. Two ambulance attendants take Superman away, but they are really Luthor's goons. Luthor places Superman in a device which sends Superman to "the Empty Doom" (Phantom Zone). When Superman escapes the Empty Doom, the Daily Planet's headline reads, "Superman Returns". Atom Man vs. Superman is concidered by many to be the stronger of the two serials, although I have not viewed either serials, except for some episodes aired on the AMC movie channel on cable years ago.
Both movie serials are available on DVD, as well as all six seasons of the 1950's Adventures of Superman TV show, starring George Reeves.
Another movie serial based on a comic book that Kirk Alyn starred in was 1952's Blackhawk. Quality Comics was the original publisher, and the character was created by Will Eisner, Chuck Cuidera and Bob Powell in the Eisner & Iger studio. DC Comics bought the characters after Quality Comics went out of business. Spencer Gordon Bennet and Fred F. Sears directed this also fifteeen part serial, subtitled Fearless Champion of Freedom.
Kirk Alyn played Blackhawk, and Carol Forman protrayed Laska, a foreign spy working for a mysterious Leader. Blackhawk was the last aviation serial, filmed near the end of the serial era. I don't have any research to back it up, but I would guess that increased production costs and the rise of television combined to make serials extinct, but I digress.
The Blackhawks are an international squad, but all speak with English accents. They must prevent Laska from stealing the experimental super fuel "Element X". Some critics consider it a lackluster serial. It was made on a very slim budget, like most serials were.
While several actors named Gregory Reed are listed at, the Gregory Reed mentioned in this episode is not a real person, but a minor character in Superman stories who appeared in about a half dozen stories:
Action Comics #414, July 1972 (published May 30, 1972) Superman vs. Superstar
Action Comics #445, March 1975 (December 31, 1974) Count Ten, Superman--And Die
Superman #297, March 1976 (December 11, 1975) Clark Kent Forever-Superman Never
Superman Family #206, March/April 1981 (December 8, 1980) Strangers At The Heart's Core
Superman #399, September 1984 (June 14, 1984) The Man Who Saw Superman Die
DC Comics Presents Annual #4, 1985 (July 18, 1985) Superman and Superwoman: Welcome To Luthorcon III
I can only guess, but it seems Gregory Reed is an homage to George Reeves. (It seems since Reeves, every Superman actor must have a last name beginning with R.
The only Superman story I have read, although I don't have that copy any more, was Action Comics #445, Count Ten, Superman -- And Die. I was able to find a web site that had a plot summary of the story,, from which I sharing the plot here.
The story begins with Superman blasting through a mountain to assist a construction project, then flying to Metropolis. Back at Metropolis the actor Gregory Reed, dressed as Superman, and looking exactly like Superman, is giving a lecture. He is sharing with the audience his experiences when his face was horribly disfigured in an accident. Superman performed surgery to restore his face, and Reed requested that his features be made identical to Superman. After the lecture Reed answers reporters' questions, is hit by a pulse-bolt from space, and faints. It came from a spaceship belonging to the Superman Revenge Squad. The real Superman appears and takes the unconscious Reed to the hospital. Superman is then hit by another pulse-bolt. SR Ozega explains that the pulse bolt is a lethal poison that will kill Superman as soon as he uses his superpowers ten times.
Afther flying Reed to the hospital, Superman rescues skydivers from a vengeful pilot, stops an avalanche and repairs a railroad tressle. That's four super feats.
Lois Lane visits Reed in the hospital, and finds an unusually emotional Clark already there. The Superman Revenge Squad are monitoring Clark Kent (knowing Clark's secret identity) and Ozega explains that the emotions are a side effect from the pulse bolt.
Later, Superman removes a shark from Metropolis harbot, extinguishes a warehouse fire, stops a robbery and saves an airliner from crashing, now eight feats.
The next morning, Clark Kent is again emotional at the Daily Planet offices.
Superman prevents two cars from crashing head on, and then saves a boy who had fallen out of the window of a high rise building. After landing, Superman falls dead, and the Superman Revenge Squad leaves Earth orbit. After the ship leaves, Superman appears and reveals that Gregory Reed performed five of the super feats with the help of a super power pill Superman had invented. Superman and Reed fly away.
When the Superman Revenge Squad ships returns to its hidden base, it is destroyed as a reward for its failure.
The websites and had no plot summaries of the other stories, or reprint information, so I will have to try to find copies of the individual issues in back issue bins, and then share these other stories on future episodes.

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Thanks for listening to Superman Fan Podcast, and, as always, thanks to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

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