The celebrated Mr. K pays an ANNIVERSARY TRIBUTE to a show beloved by generations…


My favorite TV show of all time?


The Adventures of Superman (September 19, 1952 – April 28, 1958). That doesn’t mean I think it’s the best show ever. Au contraire. Even watching it at maybe 7 or 8 years old in syndicated reruns on New York’s independent station, WPIX-TV Channel 11, I knew it was kids’ entertainment. It ran weekday afternoons, after school, mixed in with “Officer” Joe Bolton and Three Stooges shorts, and “Captain” Jack McCarthy and Popeye cartoons, and it was about a guy from the comic books, which everybody knew only kids read.

It didn’t matter. This wasn’t about the medium. It was about the message, and the message was Superman. (By the way: Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, just because it should always be mentioned.)

1966 DC Comics ad

And for me, an unhappy kid in a dysfunctional household, Superman became my happy place. My initial exposure to him was in the 1940s Fleischer Studio cartoons that ran on a kids’ show I watched on our 17-inch black-and-white Philco TV set, then in the comics glimpsed in my adolescent uncle’s apartment and on the candy store newsstand, and finally, he came to life for me on The Adventures of Superman. I always knew I could put my head in a comic book or get lost in an episode and escape my unhappiness for half an hour.

By the time I could actually read comic books and not just look at the pictures, Superman had a voice for me, and that voice was George Reeves’. It was ingrained in me from my scores of viewings of the 104 episodes. Twenty years later when I started writing the adventures of Superman in comics and newspaper strips, I kept that voice in the back of my head. It’s still the voice I compare every new Superman to and usually, through no fault of their own, find wanting. For me, there can be only one Superman.

It was 71 years ago, six months after the plug had been pulled on the long-running radio program of the same name, that television audiences would first be treated to the stirring words that would become first a catchphrase and then a cliché, “Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird… it’s a plane! It’s…!”


13. “The Mysterious Cube” (Season 6, Episode 4). If you had to stick a label on The Adventures of Superman, a program about a “strange visitor from another planet with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men,” “science fiction” would be the best fit. And TAOS took advantage of those science-fiction tropes their limited syndicated show budget would allow right from the start, with Mole Men and secret formulas and outlandish devices serving as McGuffins across the life of the series.

A favorite episode is “The Magic Cube,” where through sheer will power, the Man of Steel is able to loosen up his molecular structure enough to pass through the thick walls of a giant metal cube too tough for him to smash through. The idea that Superman might somehow lose concentration and get stuck in that wall forever sent a shiver of claustrophobia up my spine every time I watched it.

12. “Divide and Conquer” (Season 6, Episode 3). Likewise, this episode where Superman once again shatters the laws of physics, this time by splitting into two separate Supermans (Supermen?) in order to simultaneously prevent a coup in a small Latin American country and obey the law by staying in prison. The story’s motivation is ridiculous, but George Reeves makes it work with his convincing performance(s) of a half-powered Superman.

11. The Daily Planet Building. The first time I was in Los Angeles, I was being driven into the city from the airport when I looked out the window and saw, off in the distance, a certain tall building that I’m sure had been leaped dozens of times. “Oh my god, that’s the Daily Planet!” I gasped. My driver, an Angelian and fellow comics aficionado chuckled and said, “That’s Los Angeles City Hall. It’s also been in, like, every TV show and movie ever filmed in LA.” I said, “I guess I never noticed it unless it was in Metropolis.”

10. Robert Shayne as Inspector Henderson. Robert Shayne (October 4, 1900 – November 29, 1992) had a B-movie and TV guest-starring career that lasted over 60 years and almost 200 roles… but he’ll only ever be MPD Inspector Bill Henderson to me. And you, too.

9. “Mr. Zero” (Season 5, Episode 12). Billy Curtis (June 27, 1909 – November 9, 1988) gives a touching performance as the only other alien (besides Superman himself that is… and that’s if you don’t count the Mole Men from inside the Earth) to appear on the program, Mr. Zero. Rejected by his fellow Martians for being too short, Mr. Zero falls prey to the machinations of some bad guys and hilarity ensues.

8. “Panic in the Sky” (Season 2, Episode 12). Superman gets amnesia trying to knock an asteroid about to hit Earth off course, but does he let not knowing who he is and how powerful he is stop him from saving the day? He does not! Haven’t you been listening? He’s Superman!

7. “Superman in Exile” (Season 2, Episode 7). Superman becomes radioactive and has to isolate himself from the rest of the world, leading to some lovely melancholy moments for the Man of Steel.

6. Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane. Noel Neill (November 25, 1920 – July 3, 2016) vs. Phyllis Coates (January 15, 1927)? Neill originated the role of Lois Lane on the screen in two Columbia serials, Superman (1948) and Atom-Man vs. Superman (1950, both co-starring with Kirk Alyn) and returned to it for Seasons 2 through 6, 78 episodes of The Adventures of Superman. Phyllis Coates, on the other hand, appeared only in the 26 Season 1 episodes and had already committed to other work by the time the series was picked up for the second season, opening the way for Neill’s return.

Truth is, I always preferred Coates’ Lois. Neill could be kind of soft and wimpy, but Phyllis Coates had a hardcore Front Page edge to her that made me believe she was a tough dame who could hold her own in the rough and tumble world of the newsroom.

5. “The Deadly Rock” (Season 4, Episode 11). As if the appearance of green kryptonite wasn’t cool enough, later in life I learned that this episode’s guest-star, Robert Lowery (October 17, 1913 – December 26, 1971) who is suspected by the bad guys of possibly being Superman’s secret identity, had starred as Bruce Wayne/Batman in the 1949 serial, Batman and Robin. Holy unintentional World’s Finest, Batman!

“Bruce” and Clark

4. Jack Larson as Jimmy Olsen. If you ever happened to catch a glimpse of any real acting on TAOS, odds are it was coming from Jack “Jimmy Olsen” Larson (February 8, 1928 – September 20, 2015) who chose to give his two-dimensional part a full-on “Golly gee, Chief!” naivete that was perfect for the role and fully believable in the context of the show.

3. “The Stolen Costume” (Season 1, Episode 13). Does Superman leave Ace and Connie on that icy mountaintop to die? Of course not! There was a cabin there for shelter, wood for heat, and the Man of Steel promised to return with food and supplies to hold them until he figured out how to protect his secret identity, and Superman doesn’t lie. Kidnapping? Unlawful imprisonment? Sure, but who told them to try escaping down the mountain in high heels and street shoes? That aside, a killer noir episode, with Clark/Superman operating solo, without the distraction of the rest of the regular cast.

2. “The Unknown People, Parts 1 & 2” (August 10, 1953). Originally released as a feature, Superman and the Mole Men (1951), the film was chopped into two episodes to close out the first season of TAOS. Featuring only Clark and Lois and a cast of local townspeople, this has always felt to me like the purest portrayal of the character on TV.

1. George Reeves. For me, there can be only one! I loved his barrel chested portrayal of Superman, a stoic hero still capable of a laugh and a twinkle in his eye, but his real strength was playing Clark Kent. The show was called The Adventures of Superman, but most episodes saved the costume for short action scenes and the denouement, while Clark in his familiar gray baggy double-breasted suit got the majority of screentime.

I loved that unlike the comic book Clark, George Reeves’ ace investigative reporter didn’t whimper and cower to cover his secret identity. He worked in mysterious ways to the eyes of his colleagues, and he took Lois’ milquetoast jibes with the aforementioned twinkle because, hey… he’s Superman! I could go on and on about George Reeves… and indeed did a while back, the results of which can be read here, in “The Ghost of George Reeves.”


— GEORGE REEVES: 13 Times SUPERMAN Thought Doors Were Stupid. Click here.

— SUPERMAN A MURDERER? 13 Jurors Debate the TV Classic THE STOLEN COSTUME. Click here.

PAUL KUPPERBERG was a Silver Age fan who grew up to become a Bronze Age comic book creator, writer of Superman, the Doom Patrol, and Green Lantern, creator of Arion Lord of Atlantis, Checkmate, and Takion, and slayer of Aquababy, Archie, and Vigilante. He is the Harvey and Eisner Award nominated writer of Archie Comics’ Life with Archie, and his YA novel Kevin was nominated for a GLAAD media award and won a Scribe Award from the IAMTW. Now, as a Post-Modern Age gray eminence, Paul spends a lot of time looking back in his columns for 13th Dimension and in books such as Direct Conversations: Talks with Fellow DC Comics Bronze Age Creators and Direct Comments: Comic Book Creators in Their own Words, available, along with a whole bunch of other books he’s written, by clicking the links below.



Author: Dan Greenfield

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  1. Completely agree on Coates and Reeves was the best Clark Kent ever.

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  2. I also agree on Coates over Neill and Reeves being the best Kent…and Superman. Panic in the Sky freaked me out when I was a kid and it’s still by far my favourite episode.

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  3. Loved this show! Robert Shayne shows up in a couple of episodes of the early 1990s TV version of “The Flash” as a blind newspaper vendor! There was even a small article in the real newspapers about his appearance! Inspector Henderson first appeared in the radio Superman show and (though I never heard the episodes!) that is where Supes first did his walking through walls and splitting into two supermen stunts. Oh, and catch George Reeves in “Gone With the Wind.” (Can’t miss him—he’s the first person you see!)

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  4. George Reeves! My 5-year old Superman “jumping on point.” Jumping with a towel tucked in the back of my tee-shirt, allowing me a cape! My walk-in to Superman, way before I discovered a “Superman magazine” (comic) the VO spoke of during the end credits of each episode!

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  5. I am now 70 years young and iI STILL love TAOS!!!!!!! As a child, back in the 50’s, Mom and Dad got me one of the authentic looking Superman suits complete with the “Remember kids, this suit will not let You fly, only Superman can fly!”, complete with the Kurt Schaffenberger 3/4 profile of Superman’s head. It was made of cloth with the separate belt, and cape and the trunks and boots were printed on the pants. It was a GREAT outfit!! I would wear it when TAOS would come on after school. Yes, “Panic in the Sky” was my favorite episode and still is. Too bad that it hasn’t been colorized because imho, it was one of the episodes that seemed to be the most like the comic stories! Cheers!

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  6. I was watching TAOS reruns by the time I was 6 or 7, perfectly priming me to get immensely excited for The Movie at age 8 in 1978.

    TBH, Chris Reeve will always be my Superman, but George Reeves made for my favourite Clark Kent. His tough-but-winking Clark, pleasantly messing with his co-workers, and truly kind to all (though he could be humanly annoyed or impatient, too), was played to perfection.

    Nice to hear I’m not the only one who loved Phyllis Coates the most. To me, she reflects the smart and scrappy Golden Age Lois, while Noel Neill (I love her, too!) portrayed the sometimes daft & daffy Silver Age (Atomic Age?) Lois, always needing a rescue.

    I have been watching the show lately on DVD, and I have to say it holds up beautifully! Still a delight.

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  7. Yes, Reeves is my Superman and Coates is my Lois. I once had the pleasure of telling Phyllis Coates in person that I’d seen all the Loises in the movies and TV shows, and she was my favorite. She gave me a big smile. (This is not to knock Noel Neill or Margot Kidder in any way, both of whom I met at other times. In fact, Noel allowed me to give her a peck on the cheek.) But that’s not why I’m writing. Take a look at that opening again. How many hundreds of times have you and I watched it? I can recite it in perfect cadence at any moment upon request. But now look again at the “Faster than a speeding bullet” part (about 0:20-0:22 in the above clip). I’ve watched that over and over again for decades and always assumed that the hand holding the gun turns away from the camera to fire. But that hand is too steady. It has to be the camera pivoting around that rock-steady hand. That clip is so smooth. It’s the kind of thing that is so well done that you don’t notice it, but if it weren’t well done, you would. Kudos to the gun handler and the camera operator. (Next on point-of-view camera tricks: Did Christopher Reeve really reverse the Earth’s rotation, or was he actually traveling back in time, and it just appeared to the audience that the Earth slowed and reversed?) Thanks for giving me the opportunity to see this beloved opening with fresh eyes, Paul.

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  8. I agree with so much of your choices, with the exception of Mr. Zero. Phyllis Coates was so great as Lois and that first season was incredible.

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