Fictional account of early and alternative attempts to bring Superman to the silver screen.


In late 1940, Republic Pictures abandoned its attempts to acquire the film rights to Superman from National Periodical Publications. Instead they pressed on with Fawcett’s Captain Marvel. The serial Adventures of Captain Marvel, staring Tom Tyler, was filmed between December 1940 and January 1941. National tried to halt production due to the prior failed negotiations with the Superman character and his similarities to Captain Marvel, but were unsuccessful. Republic meanwhile did some testing of their own with the National character. Republic had ordered a Superman costume prior to the initial negotiations with National on the assumption that they would receive the filming rights. Once spurned, and not wanting to waste their investment, several scenes were filmed with Tom Tyler simply changing outfits to that of Superman. The hope was that eventually this footage could persuade National to relent and allow production of Superman by Republic at a later date. No record exists that this ever happened.



In 1943 National approached both Columbia and Universal about a Superman serial. Universal showed initial interest, and allowed Lon Chaney to film a short screen test Phyllis Coates. National liked what they saw, but the two sides could not meet a financial agreement or release agreement. Columbia agreed to the film and tried to lure Chaney from Universal. Fresh off his success as the Wolfman, Mummy, and Frankenstein, Chaney was hesitant to ruffle feathers at Universal. To placate the rising horror star, Universal promised a two-picture deal to Chaney for Mummy sequels (The Mummy’s Ghost and The Mummy’s Curse, both produced and released in 1944). In a 1965 interview, Chaney commented “…Universal would never had allowed it, but by ‘Curse’ I’d had it with the hours or wrapping and would have much preferred to put on the cape and tights back then”. Not able to land Chaney, the production momentum slowed and eventually ended.



After WW2 the project heated up again when Tyrone Power signed on to play the Man of Steel. Columbia Picture began filming in the summer of 1947. After nearly a week of shooting, Tyrone had to pull out of production due to an undisclosed illness. Sam Katzman then hired Kirk Alyn, whom he’d briefly considered for the role previously. Power’s scenes were reshot in quick order with all the other principle actors.


While Alyn again played the title role in the 1950 sequel Atom Man vs. Superman, National began to look elsewhere for an actor to bring Superman to the television screen. In February of 1951 Victor Mature, very popular from his role in 1949’s Samson and Delilah, tested for the role. National initially were very pleased with Mature’s audition and test shots, but in the end felt he made Superman “too Italian”.



They then approached Robert Mitchum who had just wrapped My Forbidden Past for RKO. An audition and test shots were conducted with Noel Neill as Lois Lane. National felt they had their Superman in this up-and-coming actor. After a week or negotiation though, Mitchum bowed out of consideration. In an interview on the Dick Cavett show in 1972, Mitchum never disclosed why he ultimately declined the role, but did say “…I’m damn glad I did”.


National and Lippert Pictures then set their sites on George Reeves. In short time they had a commitment from Reeves and beginning in June 1951 Superman and the Mole Men was filmed to serve as both a theatrical release and the television pilot. In a strange twist Phyllis Coates, whom eight years earlier had tested with Lon Chaney, stepped into the role of Lois Lane. Ultimately Noel Neill, Lois Lane in the two earlier Alyn Superman serials, later television series, and whom also did the Superman test shots months earlier with Robert Mitchum, would become the actress synonymous with the character.

That's my take on it. Any other possibilities out there?

- Jerod  Discuss here


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