This week, we're reconnecting with our love for the Last Son of Krypton, thanks to a brand new big-budget movie. Superman's had a long history, spanning eight decades, and he's gone through some really strange transformations. We pored over the book Superman by Larry Tye, and gleaned 10 weird facts you probably didn't know.
Larry Tye has written a fantastically detailed history of the original superhero, chock full of interviews with people close to Superman's creation from the early days until today. With inside info, he shows how Superman has changed and been reinvented over the decades, but also gives hints about what Superman has meant to people and why he's remained such a popular escapist hero. Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero is new in paperback, and well worth picking up.
So here are 10 bizarre facts we gleaned from Tye's book, about Superman's history:
1) The first version of Superman was evil
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's first collaboration was a 1932 illustrated story called "The Reign of the Super-Man," about a homeless man named Bill Dunn who becomes a mad scientist's test subject. The scientist's secret chemical transforms Bill Dunn into Superman, who has the ability to read minds and also control them. Superman immediately murders his creator and embarks on a career of stock manipulation, racetrack winnings and getting rich enough to take over the world. Only to lose his powers and go back to the bread line. Siegel and Shuster wound up debating whether to put a hyphen in Superman's name, plus whether he should be evil. In a later version, Superman is from a future Earth that's about to be destroyed, and he escapes to the present in a time machine.
2) Superman had a gun made of Kryptonite
Well, sort of. The first time Kryptonite was ever mentioned, in any form, was in 1940, when merchandisers decided to sell a toy gun called the "KRYPTO-RAYGUN" which is "used by SUPERMAN in his never-ending fight against crime," and which is made of Kryptonite, "that amazing metal from Superman's birthplace — the planet KRYPTON!" Why would Superman need a gun? And why would he want it to be made of Kryptonite? These questions were never answered — and the comics hadn't yet established that Kryptonite was harmful to Superman. In fact, creator Jerry Siegel had written a script in 1940 in which Superman encounters "K-Metal," from his homeworld, which can rob Superman of his powers — and he's unable to rescue Lois without revealing his secret identity to her in the process. (The publishers nixed the idea of Superman revealing his secret to Lois, and Kryptonite wasn't properly introduced as a threat until 1949.)
3) Superman and Batman went on double dates
Once again, sort of. Joe Shuster, the artist who created Superman, got heavily into body-building, and went out on frequent double dates with Batman writer Jerry Robinson and Batman's official creator, Bob Kane. Kane "loved double-dating with Joe, if only so he could tell the girls they were dating Batman and Superman."
4) Superman was investigated for leaking atomic bomb secrets
In 1945, when the U.S. was still developing the atomic bomb, a Superman newspaper strip featured a storyline where Superman visits an atom-smashing cyclotron. And the FBI investigated the editorial offices, fearing a possible leak — although a memo at the time said that this material appearing in the "funny pages" might actually ensure nobody took the matter seriously. Also, a cover image where Superman watches an atomic bomb test and a story about Lex Luthor trying to use an A-bomb against him were both delayed until the war was over.
5) The Superman radio show took on the Ku Klux Klan
A 1946 Superman radio storyline called "Clan of the Fiery Cross," lasting 16 episodes, took aim at the KKK, and producer Robert Maxwell gathered as much inside information as he could about the KKK's rituals and passwords so the radio show could expose and criticize the burgeoning hate group. An impressive audience of 4.5 million listeners heard Superman and the Grand Scorpion trade dueling sermons about tolerance vs. racial purification every week, and magazines were full of (somewhat inaccurate) reports that undercover newspaper reporter Stetson Kennedy had given Maxwell authentic KKK passwords to include in each episode, updating them every week as the KKK changed them around.
6) The original television Jor-El wore Flash Gordon's cast-offs
Because budgets were so tight, a lot of costumes were recycled for the 1951 TV show — Jor-El wore one of Buster Crabbe's old Flash Gordon uniforms. Also, costumes from the Captain Marvel and Captain America movies were reused, even though those were technically the competition. George Reeves had to be sewn into his gray-and-brown wool "monkey suit," a process that took an hour every day, and the suit weighed 20 pounds and gave him a rash. By the afternoon, Reeves desperately needed his afternoon martini, which he called "my olive," and if anybody disturbed him during his drink break, he would say, "Go shit in your hat!"
7) Superman caused a disagreement between Einstein and Asimov
An MIT class sent Superman editor Mort Weisinger a letter form Albert Einstein, asserting that not even Superman could move faster than the speed of light. But Weisinger consulted his "good friend" Isaac Asimov, who responded that "Professor Einstein's statement is based on theory. Superman's speed is based on fact."
8) The original treatment for Superman: The Movie was by Alfred Bester
The author of The Demolished Man turned in a great story, that producer Ilya Salkind loved — but his father, Alex Salkind, didn't like Bester's ideas and wanted a big name writer. So they hired Mario Puzo, who came up with a script that would have cost $1 billion to film and included Superman meeting Kojak, who sucks on a lollipop and asks, "Hey, Superman! Who loves ya, baby?" In the end, not much of Puzo's script was used, but his name was prominently featured.
9) Darth Vader trained Christopher Reeve
Reeve needed to bulk up in a hurry to play the Man of Steel, so the producers turned to David Prowse, who played Darth Vader and had also played Superman in a TV commercial. Prowse fed Reeve tons of food plus five or six protein drinks per day, and helped him to gain 30 pounds of muscle in just six weeks.
10) Speaking of Darth Vader...
...the producers wanted to have James Earl Jones, the voice of Vader, play Perry White in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. But the studio and advertisers nixed this idea, because America wasn't ready for a black Perry White.