Thursday, February 5, 2009

Episode #59: Happy Birthday, Ray Middleton!

Ray Middleton was born on February 8, 1907 in Chicago, and died on April 10, 1984, age 77, at Panorama City, California. He holds the distinction, in Superman history, of being the first actor to portray Superman in costume. He did not appear as Superman on movies, and TV was not available to the masses. Nor did he appear on the radio, where a costume would be unnecessary. Ray Middleton made a public appearance as Superman on July 3, 1940 at "Superman Day" at the 1939-1940 New York's World's Fair.

He had a long acting career, appearing on Broadway in 1931, to movies and television as well, until the early 1980's. His first appearance on Broadway was as the Giant in the show Jack & The Beanstalk. Among his first movie appearances was in Gangs of Chicago in 1940. In 1941 he appeared in the John Wayne movie Lady From Louisiana, as Blackburn "Blackie" Williams. In the movie Wayne played a northern lawyer who went to New Orleans to clean up the local crime syndicate. During WWII Middleton served in the Army Air Forces, appearing in the Air Force Broadway production Winged Victory, as Lt. Sperry, from 1943 - 1944. In 1946 Ray Middleton originated the role of Frank Butler in the original Broadway production of Annie Get Your Gun which starred Ethel Merman. He also appeared on Broadway in South Pacific as Emile de Becque from 1947 - 1954. His career expanded into television and movies, as well as stage and screen. Among his many TV appearances in the 1950's were several appearances as guest host of Taste of the Town and its successor The Ed Sullivan Show. In 1956 he played the Innkeeper in the Broadway show Man of La Mancha.

During Middleton's time on the show he married the dancer and singer Patricia Dinnell. The couple devoted themselves to Unitarian Church activities and his one man show America In Song & Dance.

Other highlights of his acting career included the 1967 NBC production of Damn Yankees, as Joe Boyd. Phil Silvers had the starring role. In 1972 Middleton played Col. Thomas McKean in 1776. He played rancher George Spahn in the 1976 TV movie Helter Skelter, about the Charles Manson murders. Among Ray Middleton's last roles was Cardinal Reardon in the MASH episode Blood Brothers, which also included a young Patrick Swayze as Pvt. Gary Sturgis. Middleton's last role was as grandfather Huey Rush in Ted Knight's sitcom Too Close For Comfort.

The idea for "Superman Day" on July 3, 1940, was credited to publicist Allen "Duke" Ducovny as part of the promotion of DC's New York's World's Finest Comics #2, which was sold exclusively at the World's Fair along with the first issue of the same title. The first issue had been published on April 30, 1939. It contained 96 pages and sold for a quarter, as compared to a regular sized comic book of 64 pages for a dime. Vin Sullivan served as editor and also drew the cover. Both issues featured the World's Fair landmarks of the Trylon and Perisphere. The first issue showed head shots of some of the characters inside, including a blonde headed Superman, and the first published appearance of the Sandman. Bob Kane created a story for this first issue, but he had not c0-created Batman with Bill Finger yet. His contribution for this first issue was the humorous characterGinger Snap. Humor was what Kane was known for at this time. Zatarra was another hero that appeared in this issue, along with more humorous stories.

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster contributed a Slam Bradley story as well as Superman. In Superman At The World's Fair Clark and Lois are covering the World's Fair for the Daily Star and their editor George Taylor. On the Fairgrounds Lois recognizes a wanted criminal, who realizes Lois has spotted hime. He kidnaps Lois after knocking out Clark. After secretly changing into Superman, Clark saves Lois and catches the crook.

New York's World's Fair Comics #2 was published on May 11, 1940 and was sold exclusively at the World's Fair. It also contained 96 pages but carried the cover prive of 15 cents. Whitney Ellsworth was the editor on the second issue and Jack Burnley drew the cover, featuring the first appearance of Superman, Batman and Robin together. Inside the characters appeared in separate stories. Superman and Batman would not appear together in the same story for over a decade. Jerry Siegel and Jack Burnley created the Superman story, Siegel and artist Harry Lampert created the Red, White & Blue story, and Siegel and artist Howard Sherman created the Slam Bradley story. Bob Kane created another Ginger Snap story, as well as a Batman and Robin story.

In the unnamed Superman story, Clark and Lois are again covering the World's Fair, this time for Perry White and the Daily Planet. this time it's Clark who recognizeds a wanted international jewel thief at the fair. This jewel thief kidnaps Lois. Clark discovers he has also stolen an emerald that was scheduled to go on display soon. Clark secretly changes into Superman and recues Loi, captures the crook and presents the emerald for display.

In Batman and Robin Visit the 1940 New York World's Fair, a bridge near the fairgrounds collapses. Batman and Robin discover that a scientist has invented a device that melts steel. They save the next target and raid the evil scientist's lab. To avoid prison the rogue scientists commits suicide by electrcuting himself.

Part of the festivities for "Superman Day" was a competition to crown a Supergirl and Superboy of the day. They did not dress up as Superman, or Supergirl. Charles Atlas was one of the judges. Maureen Reynolds and William Aronis won. Aronis reminisces about that day at the web site . He said that he went to the DC offices and met Superman's creators. The web site also noted that Aronis became a competitive weightlifter and placed third in 1996 at the World's Masters competition at Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

"Superman Day" at the 1940's World's Fair served as the backdrop to the climax of DC's Elseworlds graphic novel Detective 27. This story is full of historical references which adds to the fun of reading it.

Another web site which contains information about Ray Middleton is .

A great podcast about the history of Superman and Batman team ups is episode #58 of The Golden Age Of Comics podcast, hosted by Bill Jourdain. The link for that episode is .

To learn more about Ray Middleton's movie and television career go to . For information about his Broadway career go to .

Superman Fan Podcast can be found at . Send e-mail about this podcast to .

My Pull List is my spoiler free review blog of the comic books I read every week. It can be found at . Send e-mail about this blog to .

Superman and all related characters is copyright DC Comics.

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

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