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Hollywood, Television, and 1950s Typecasting
by Ben Burgraff
see Ben's art contributions to Supermanfanart.com         back to
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World War II created a unique situation for the Hollywood studios; after creating a 'stable' of bankable stars, through the 1930s, the outset of the global conflict cost them the use of some of their biggest moneymakers, as the stars either enlisted or were drafted into the armed forces. While the studios tried to anticipate the depletion of the technical people lost to them, and even worked out an agreement with the government to create their own 'documentary' unit, which would allow key people to serve in Hollywood and work from there (Ronald Reagan was the best-known 'soldier' in the unit), many stars preferred to serve in combat, without special 'favors'. Clark Gable (who, at 41, had to pull a LOT of strings to serve), James Stewart, Tyrone Power, Robert Montgomery, Robert Taylor, Glenn Ford, David Niven, and many other major stars left Hollywood to serve, creating a void that each studio had to fill. For every star who remained, either because of age (Spencer Tracy, James Cagney), health (Errol Flynn), or draft status/studio pressure (John Wayne), there were 'holes' that allowed good-looking younger actors to rise...at least until the war's end. 

Some of these 'replacement stars' achieved a permanent foothold, thanks to talent and audience appeal (Alan Ladd, Robert Mitchum), but for most, the end of the war was catastrophic (the best-known example is Robert Walker, whose wife, Jennifer Jones, had dumped him for David Selznick, in 1944; he suffered a mental breakdown, plunged into alcoholism as he saw his career rapidly bottoming out, and despite a 'comeback' in Hitchcock's classic "Strangers on a Train", died the next year, at 32).

For many of these 'usurped' actors, 'B' pictures and serials at the smaller studios were the only avenue open to them, if they wanted to continue to work. While some actors had never really risen above this 'bottom rung', even during the war ( Kirk Alyn, Clayton Moore), for others, like Jon Hall and George Reeves, the decline in salary and prestige must have been frustrating and humiliating. Certainly, they didn't consider it a 'permanent' situation; there was always the hope that "The Call" would come, and they would return to some level of the kind of attention they had enjoyed during the war years.

This, sadly, would never happen, as the major studios were forced to divest their lucrative theater chains, in the late forties, and the rise of television dramatically reduced the movie-going public. Suddenly bankruptcy became a possibility, and even the biggest stars would have to be 'cut loose'. The 'Golden Age' of Hollywood was over. 

The smaller studios, however, saw a silver lining in television; the 'cheapie' features and serials, now dying in the movie houses, were made-to-order for the new medium, and, using the same 'assembly line' production approach, the 'packaged' series, financed through sponsors like Kellogg's, became 'hit' television shows of the 1950s. Thus, George Reeves' "Adventures of Superman" and Clayton Moore's "The Lone Ranger" made each actor far greater stars than they'd ever been, on the big screen.

What did this mean for Moore and Reeves? Not a lot, sadly. Locked into low-paying contracts, working extraordinarily long, grueling schedules, the butt of jokes of many of their peers, they found that they were nearly always 'passed over' at auditions (Reeves' one 'breakthrough', in a supporting role in "From Here to Eternity", would be edited down to a cameo, as producers didn't want a 'Superman' label attached to the film), and, even more frustrating, in order to supplement their merger salaries, each would have to use their 'down' time to do promotional appearances, cross-country, as their characters ("See THE LONE RANGER at our supermarket opening!") Reeves would beg event planners to allow 'Clark Kent' to appear, instead of 'Superman', simply to avoid the tights he always felt embarrassed wearing.

In a sense, Moore had it better than Reeves; Although "The Lone Ranger" ran from 1949-1957 (ending the same year as "The Adventures of Superman") with over 50 episodes, three of the seasons, Moore got one season 'off', from 1952-1953, when John Hart assumed the mask; Reeves would play Superman in the 'pilot' movie and six seasons with no breaks, from 1951-1957 (and, at the time of his death, in 1959, he'd agreed to a seventh season in the role, after a year off). Both actors, however, truly respected their audiences, and worked hard at being positive role models, while in character. While Reeves enjoyed a stiff drink, or three, and had a reputation with the ladies (both factors in the circumstances surrounding his mysterious 'suicide'), he would never appear intoxicated as the Man or Steel, and truly cared about his younger fans. He was acutely affected by reports of children being injured, trying to 'fly', and it became his personal 'cause', making public service announcements that "only Superman can fly". While his death devastated a generation of children, his devotion to their well-being survives, to this day.

For Clayton Moore, the 'positive' image he wanted to convey was equally important. He stressed that the Lone Ranger NEVER shot to kill, that rehabilitating lawbreakers was as important as capturing them, and that qualities like honesty and integrity were what the Ranger and Tonto stood for. This was Moore's credo, as much as the Lone Ranger's, and he would see, in his post-"Lone Ranger" life, an amazing turn of events. While his being 'typed' in the role virtually ended his acting career, the syndicated episodes became even more popular in the 1960s, and the public, especially children, clamored to meet the 'actual' Lone Ranger. A whole new life would begin for Moore, who would stay in shape, and don the mask in an ever-increasing series of public appearances. He truly loved his fans, as they did him, with a surprising result; when Universal Studio decided to remake "The Lone Ranger" as a big-budget feature film, in 1981 (taking advantage of the success of "Superman"), the studio won a court order for Moore to take off his mask and cease making public appearances as the character. Moore switched to sunglasses, but refused to give up the persona...and fans, nationwide, showed their support by ignoring the new film! The movie tanked at the box office, and Universal eventually gave in to the 73-year-old actor, who would again don the mask for an adoring public. He would continue to 'be' the Lone Ranger until his death, in 1999.

Ultimately, being typecast as a character, while disastrous to their acting careers, gave both George Reeves and Clayton Moore an immortality that they would never have achieved, otherwise. While that may have offered little comfort to them, as artists, the countless children who grew up with stronger values because of their influence would be something they both could be proud of.

Hollywood's loss was truly the world's gain!
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see Ben's art contributions to Supermanfanart.com

Read Ben's other article "FROM 'MAN OF STEEL' TO 'LAST SON OF KRYPTON' 

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