Monday, November 15, 2010

Superman's Early Fans

“Where is Superman?” Monty Woolley irritably rustles the pages of his newspaper in “Since You Went Away” (1944) - covered in this previous post, and we might answer rhetorically that in the 1940s, Superman was everywhere.

Above see the always-alluring Olive Oyl from “She-Sick Sailors” (1944), reading, and fantasizing, over a Superman comic book. We see her boyfriend Popeye, below, taking a break from swabbing the deck in “Fleets of Stren’th” (1942) to catch up on the latest adventures of the Man of Steel. And Popeye himself had been featured in newspaper comic strips since 1929. There’s nothing like the admiration of your peers.

Over the past several decades, Superman has firmly established himself as an American cultural icon. We’ve seen him in enough films, TV, toys, etc., to make him as common as the American flag.

What’s amazing is that it didn’t take long for Superman to achieve this exalted status. Created during the Depression by Joe Schuster and Jerry Siegel, Superman first reached large distribution when he debuted in Action Comics in June 1938. A year and a half later, he was a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade balloon. That’s a mighty leap.

By World War II, when we were looking for all the help against the Axis we could get, Superman was everywhere, and when he couldn’t be there, he was parodied by Bugs Bunny, Private Snafu, and anyone with a dishtowel cape. We mentioned in this previous post on “super” markets how Mighty Mouse began as a parody and developed his own following.

Below we have Charles Coburn and Joel McCrea reading the funnies out loud together from “The More the Merrier” (1943). We’re going to be discussing this movie in a few weeks, by the way. Bring a friend.

Mr. Coburn remarks in all seriousness, “I missed ‘Superman’ two Sundays in a row once, and I’ve never felt right since.”


panavia999 said...

Of course Popeye would read Superman because the comics were made by the same studio. If Superman/Clark Kent read the comics, he'd read Popeye.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

I don't think either Superman or Clark Kent reads the funnies. However, thanks for pointing out they were made by the studio. That eluded me.

Yvette said...

I'm a big fan of Superman, always have been. I especially loved the old Superman cartoon serial done by, I think, the Fleischers? Loved the movies too, even SUPERMAN RETURNS which was ruined, basically, by Kevin Spacey's obnoxious performance. (At least for me.) Quick story about Popeye (whom I also love, but only the older cartoons): My first job out of high school (I went to an art high school) was for Paramount Pictures which had an office/animation studio in NYC at the time. (Don't know if they still do.) I was hired as an 'opaquer' for the new Popeye cartoons shown on tv in the very early sixties. They were awful really, none of the wicked charm or the wonderful animation of the early stuff. After six months I became bored and was fired.
A happy day. I mean, you can only paint between the lines, every single day, 8 hours a day, for so long without going bonkers. HA!

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Yvette, what a great story! You have had some adventures in your glorious past. I suppose most fans agree the early Fleischer Popeye cartoons were better than the later ones. "Wicked charm" describes it perfectly.

John Hayes said...

What a fun overview & great pix to illustrate! The bit about Macy's Parade is interesting. In contemporary terms, it sounds like Superman "went viral."

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Hi, John. I think "went viral" perfectly sums it up.

Sean Grey Hanson said...

Wow! Just last week, I watched a rerun of Popeye cartoons and I saw this part where Olive read a Superman comic and Popeye seemed to think he had competition! Internet TVs have a Popeye channel, though.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Welcome, Sean. Always glad to have another Popeye fan on board.

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