Tuesday, June 18, 2013

True or False: Christopher Reeve Will Always Own the Role of Superman

Doug:  Comments today should leave Man of Steel unspoiled.  We're just talking actors and their portrayal of Superman/Clark Kent.  Thanks in advance for your consideration.


Edo Bosnar said...

In a bit of a work-related rush now, but short answer: true.

Rip Jagger said...


He's the best I've ever seen or will see, but then he's the Superman of my generation.

I can remember people arguing this same point about George Reeves. But Reeves has been supplanted as his fans have dwindled. That will happen to Christopher Reeve too.

Will it be the new guy. I don't know, that remains to be seen. But with time, Christopher Reeve will become lumped together will all other past actors who have played the role, and whomever defines the character for this or the next generation will become the "definitive" version.

It's the nature of the beast.

Rip Off

Humanbelly said...

Well, true-- but I think that particular ownership operates as a time-share. George Reeves WAS Superman for youngsters in the 50's-- much like the way Clayton Moore WAS the Lone Ranger. What's surprising is that Reeves achieved that level of role identification with only 85 or 90 episodes under his belt (well, and a tsunami of promotional and charity fund-raising appearances). And I think you might have to put Tom Welling in that unit, too, since he played the role longer than anyone else, albeit in an odd niche. But none of that takes away from the fantastic way Chris melded so seamlessly into the role for those films. You believed the Clark Kent in him first, which is CRUCIAL to making the character work at all.



William Preston said...

Reeve bridged the gap between earlier portrayls--especially the serious-but-switches-quickly-to-bemused portrayal by George Reeves--with the small-scale focus and unconflicted thnking--and modern images of the hero. Superman now has to be traditionally good-looking. He has to be both Clark and Kal-El at the same time. He is engaged is tremendous feats previously uninmaginable.

Because of some clunky thinking by Singer, Routh played Superman as an homage to Reeve. Lines were directly lifted. The delivery was identical. Singer duplicated scenes. Cavill is, at least, in a movie that does reimagine the character visually and narratively. Nevertheless, he remains something of a reference to Reeve--good-looking, of a double nature, able to deliver earnestness in a way that seems credible. He even gave us some of that crooked smile, and his emotional responses looked very much like Reeve's. (I do wonder how he would have played the role, in terms of timbre and delivery, had he been allowed to use his native English accent.)

So Reeve does own that modern role, as his portrayal continues to haunt subsequent portrayals. Even if Cavill gets another film, that will be the case--even if people haven't seen what Reeve did. It will take time, generations, to move past that.

J.A. Morris said...


Reeve looked the part and (more importantly) acted the part better than anyone. He brought the right amount of heroism and optimism to Superman. He owns the role like Johnny Weissmuller owns Tarzan, like Bela Lugosi owns Dracula, like Arthur Lake owns Dagwood.

I'm probably breaking the rules here by bringing voice actors into this discussion, but the 2nd best Superman in my book was Danny Dark, who voiced the character in the Superfriends cartoons. When I read a comic that features Superman, Dark's voice is the voice I "hear" in my head.

And for the record, my comment above about Arthur Lake was meant to be a joke.

Humanbelly said...

Oh my Sweet Fancy Moses, we're tracking on the old side this morning---!

(Arthur Lake, J.A.-?? You're gonna reference ARTHUR LAKE??? BWAHAHAHAHAHA!) (I mean, I'm theoretically grandfather age, myself, but that's still I reference I only get because I'm partial to listening to xm's Radio Classics station at my shop. . . )

Ooo, but speaking of radio, let me follow your nod to radio voice acting, we've completely left out the FIRST actor to bring the role to life for a massive audience, and that was Bud Collyer, who was Kent/Supes from, let's see, 1940 to 1951. The show itself was sometimes campy & overwrought, and sometimes gripping & brilliant--- but Collyer's performance was just great. His signature, of course, was his sliding vocal shift from Clark to Kal-- absolutely dead-vivid, you could pretty much see the shirt and coat being torn open, revealing the chest emblem.

2000+ episodes? Ten bajillion young and old kids dropping everything to get in front of the radio set three times a week? Ownership, bay-bee!


david_b said...

Wow, GREAT to see all our 'heavy-hitters' weighing in so early today, all far more wise and well-spoken than I..

Nothing to add. Oh, and FALSE.

(TRUE for our generation, but for all the reasons already spelled out, it's all subjective..).

Williams rightful mention of George Reeve's 'serious-but-switches-quickly-to-bemused' is SO spot on. I find myself exhibiting the same manner of social interaction and personality here at work so many times.

(Actually, it's part-George Reeves, part 'Dr Bob Hartley', with all the silly, neurotic personalities I have to deal with here at a federal agency.. My wife is definitely plays Suzanne Pleshette's role very well..)

Again, not a big Supes fan, but perhaps more a fan of the greats who have brought this character much glory in our childhoods.

Anonymous said...

Needs specification: T/F - Christopher Reeve will always own the movie role of the silver-age Superman?

In that case, true.

Doug said...

Anonymous --

That's an interesting point, and one I'd like to see some delving into next week on the 25th when we run our spoiler-laden Man of Steel follow-up post. I'm sure we'll be able to cite more than a few examples of a modern mythos on display in this new movie.

For me, Chris Reeve just looks the part at 6'3" and about 220. Plus, the suit was the suit, before comics film makers became embarrassed to do comic book costumes on celluloid. Additionally, and it's been said above, the actor must nail both Clark Kent and Superman; both Reeve and George Reeves did that.


William said...

I'd have to say "True".

The main reason is that Reeve's Superman was the purest portrayal of the character ever produced in any medium outside of the comics. He looked like Superman, he acted like Superman, so he was Superman, as far as movie versions go.

If those Reeve movies had been made with the same story, actors, and movie costume, and everything else as it they were, but with modern CGI special effects, I think they would be considered the greatest superhero movies of all time, hands down. (OK, sans the "Can you read my mind?" poem from the first movie).

Mike said...

"the actor must nail both Clark Kent and Superman; both Reeve and George Reeves did that." --- INDEED!!... therefore: true.

Doug said...

William (and others) --

While the poem was hokey, I'm not sure I disliked it more than I did the reversing of time in the climactic scene. That was way too Superman-as-god for me. It's no wonder they periodically depower the character in the comics.

Which will bring me to a point on the 25th. Sheesh -- all of you need to go see Man of Steel so we can spoil it, already!!


Karen said...

True -but as others have said, it's a generational thing. That's cheating, isn't it? I don't think I can absolutely say no one will ever portray Superman/Clark as well as Reeve did -I can't see the future. But AI can certainly say of all the actors who have portrayed the character, he's done the best job in my mind.An almost flawless job, actually.

What's ironic is that it took me a few years to come to that conclusion, as a kid who grew up watching George Reeves' Superman in syndication. I had become accustomed to his version, and the idea of an older, almost fatherly Superman. The younger, more vital Chris Reeve was so very different that I had a hard time accepting him at first, but his enthusiasm and charm won me over.But it was years before he completely displaced his TV predecessor from my mind.

Now though, it's hard to see anyone other than the beaming Chris Reeve when I think of Superman. He truly took the role and made it his.

Doug said...

I think, because of the nature of the end of George Reeves' life, that it would be appropriate to discuss "typecasting" as a tangent today. I don't feel that Chris Reeve allowed himself to be typecast, and Reeves' fears may have proved unrealized had he lived past his death (at one point considered suicide; some speculate murder).

What do you think about typecasting today? Is Robert Downey, Jr. or Christian Bale in danger? Or is the market different now?


david_b said...

Interesting tangent. As much as entertainment has changed/expanded, more independent venues have grown in the industry, and actors themselves can either get more serious in their craft, or just disolve into 'celebrity status' (or get blurred somewhere in the middle..), there still are public perceptions as guides.

For instance, except for some filmmakers who want to throw work to their fav celebrities growing up (like Tom Hanks did to George Takei in 'Larry Crowne'...), I don't see too many Trek actors making much headway elsewhere outside of theater, unless you consiously throw 'em in to some quasi-comedy stew like 'Boston Legal' or pop up on 'Big Bang Theory' or something along those lines..

Doug said...

Adam West comes immediately to mind, David.

On the other hand, some actors typecast themselves intentionally. Arnold, Bruce Willis, Sly Stallone, and in comedy guys like Vince Vaughn -- they seem to play the same part each time out. So the things that actors from days of yore used to fret... well, money takes care of a lot of things.


Anonymous said...


Despite having a wonderful memory of going to see Superman with my uncle and siblings back in 1978, which is the last time I can remember all of us going to see a movie together, nostalgia is just that nostalgia.

Christopher Reeves is my favorite Superman so far, but I am a stickler for that word "always" - there could be another (however unlikely)

david_b said...

Agreed, Doug, purposeful typecasting like Owen Wilson..?

Gaaawwd, he's like the same character in every.. single.. movie.. he.. does.

I recall Sly Stallone meeting up with Davy Jones once, and Sly sayin' how much a HUGE fan he was of Jones.

Davy just replied, 'Eh, then go put me in one of your movies, will ya..?'

Apparently fan appreciation does have it's own limits when it comes down to money, doesn't it..?

Doug said...

Bracketology polls just closed -- check out that Ross Andru/Mike Grell result!

Karen and I were a little surprised that Wally Wood had so much staying power over Dick Dillin. Taking nothing away from Wood, Dick Dillin was the Justice League of America in the Bronze Age.


Edo Bosnar said...

Interesting that George Reeves keeps coming up; in contrast to Karen, although I had watched the Superman show for several years before the movies came out, I never really accepted Reeves as Superman. So I had no trouble accepting Reeve as THE guy. Put it this way (and tying it to the current bracketology): Reeves was sort of like the Curt Swan version, while Reeve was more like the Adams and/or Garcia Lopez version.

Speaking of bracketology, I'm a little surprised by that Wood/Dillin result as well (even though I did in fact vote for Wood). I'm a bit more suprised (or rather disappointed, actually), that Simonson was knocked out...

Anonymous said...

Some actors are more versatile than others, but even the most talented have limits, so some typecasting is inevitable. It's probably more true for big stars, who develop an image. I can't imagine Lee Marvin as Fielding Melish, or Woody Allen leading the Dirty Dozen. Bud Collyer may have been glad that he only played Superman in voice over (radio and cartoons), since it kept him from becoming too identified with the character, and allowed him to avoid the type casting that ruined George Reeves' career. I tend to remember Collyer more as a game show host than as Superman. (And I think of Olan Soule as Mayberry's choir director, rather than as Batman.) Getting back to who owns the role, I agree that it's a generational thing. "Your" Superman (Batman, Dr. Who, Bond, Sherlock Holmes) tends to be the one you grew up with.

Garett said...

True...except for the "always" bit. : ) Never know what or who can come along next.

Yes, Grell/Andru so close...I was pulling for Grell, as I think he has a more distinctive drawing style than Andru. I was also pulling for Dillin...if you include pre-Bronze age, Wood is up there, but during Bronze I think Dillin was better.

Nice to see Aparo's through to the next round. Some interesting matchups this time, like Kane/Colan. Windsor-Smith is out...he beat Byrne in that Top 50 list I posted, so I guess it's Byrne's turn on top this time. Buscema/Kubert...I was trying to think of what Kubert did besides Tarzan...I know he did Sgt. Rock, but wasn't that mostly in the '60s? I wonder how these two would compare if Kubert had drawn the same volume of work during the Bronze age as Buscema.

david_b said...

Good comments on 'who you grew up with, but I agree with Garett regarding you never know who comes along next.

Until David Tennant, 'my Doctors' were Tom Baker and Peter Davison primarily because they were my first ones I watched regularly growing up.

David Tennant quickly won me over with his charm, humor and at times frantic energy. I was very sad to see him go.

Humanbelly said...

Yep, Dr. Who is ALWAYS ripe fodder for this kind of conversation--!

Tom Baker was who my wife & I first caught late at night on our local PBS station, and he is indeed "our" Doctor for sentimental reasons. But that station did a good job of pulling the other Doctors in, and then kept running the later episodes (through McCoy) until it was cancelled, and I have to say that I really liked Jon Pertwee & Peter D a whole lot, as well.

My daughter's crowd are REALLY into the new series, and she and I have been watching it together chronologically. She has, of course, declared Eccleston as the Doctor against which all others must be measured. . . but I can see that Mr. Tenant has completely won her heart in spite of that.
(As an aside-- I can't believe how many times this blasted new series has made me cry! In front of my daughter, for pete's sake!!)

This whole "I don't want to limit my career by being overly-identified with this one iconic character" mindset makes me CRAZY. It's the rare television/movie star that becomes indentified with more than one iconic, career-defining role-- and the happiest ones seem to be those that embrace their best, most memorable work, rather than flee from it. Well, as long as they don't surrender themselves to simply living in the past.

Gilligan's Island: Alan Hale, Jr was the Skipper until the day he died, and LOVED that identity, and recognized that he was perpetually beloved by young fans thanks to re-runs. Tina Louise? Cursed every aspect of the show and blamed it for destroying her career as a serious actress (although I'm sure she never learned those hyper-active eyebrow movements at the Strasberg studio. . .). Good lord. . . who would you choose to be in that scenario?


Anonymous said...

Christopher Reeve is my Superman as well. I always felt like he just understood the dual identity aspect of Supes. As someone else mentioned, you have to be able to play Clark Kent first. Also, those movies weren't all dark and gloomy like many pictures and (from what I understand) most comics today. Is anybody else getting a little tired of the Anti-Hero character, or am I just getting old.

David from Wisconsin

Doug said...

David, you are old & tired!! Just like most of the rest of us.

Welcome - we now have two Davids from Wisconsin (at least that are documented; who knows for sure??).


MattComix said...

True in the sense that he may have a worthy successor but he will never have a replacement.

Part of it to is that his costuming was so very true to the comics. Between that and what he brought to the part in terms of physical looks and acting it's better than "realism", it's almost like a Garcia-Lopez drawing just got up and walked out of the pages into the 3rd dimension.

Humanbelly said...

Perhaps. . . perhaps Wisconsin has quietly become over-run w/ David-clone pod-people-??

BTW- over in the brackets I am HEARTBROKEN that Herb Trimpe couldn't hold off that late rally for Keith Giffen. Rats-in-a-basket, man. But I am cheered to see Jack Kirby still making a solid run. That pairing, to my mind, was Jack's early Bronze work vs. Walt's late Bronze. Both very enjoyable to this fan, yes-- but I think Jack has the edge in visual story-telling. I also thought Joe Kubert got an unlucky path here, too. I think his war genre work is certainly on a par w/ Buscema's barbarian work in the Bronze-- although I think I still picked JB.


david_b said...

"Ahhhh, my evil twin has ARRIVED.."

We shall rise in power and rule the 'Great White North'..

(Oh, by the way, we're heading south and comin' for you, Doug.)

By the way Doug, my wife mentioned the recent closing of many many schools and all the teacher pink slips.

I trust you weren't part of that mass reduction...?

Doug said...

Thanks for asking, David. No, all of that was in the Chicago Public Schools. I'm about 50 miles south of all that mess.


Anonymous said...

For people of my generation who grew up in the 70s and 80s - TRUE. To us, Christopher Reeve will always be the definitive celluloid Superman.

For the younger kids growing up now, perhaps not. I agree with Garrett and David_b; some actor might come along in a few years who totally blows us away with his interpretation of the Man of Steel. In the eyes of that generation he will own the role : he will be their version of Christopher Reeve.

William Preston hit the nail on the head when he mentioned that Brandon Routh's portrayal in Superman Returns suffered from a sense of deja vu - they tried too hard to literally catch lighting in a bottle twice. He came off as a poor man's Christopher Reeve as a result. At least the new movie tried to go in a different direction.

- Mike 'forget Supes, who owns the role of Spider-Man?' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Doug said...

Not Nicholas Hammond...


MattComix said...

Andrew Garfield owns the part despite how bad the last movie was. He is also a very good custodian of the part and generous to his fans, especially kids. I like that for the new movie they're letting him wear a proper Spider-Man costume instead of looking like a basketball with sunglasses.

david_b said...

Oh, geez, sorry everyone, in my earlier post regarding the 'Cometh of my evil Wisconsin David twin', I TOTALLY forgot to provide the obligatory '80s Kevin Maguire Justice League maniacal laugh..:


Fantastic Four Fan 4ever said...

I'd say True.

I'd vote for Christopher Reeve because he was so closely identified with the character. In comparison with todays super hero movies, it seems like he has been forgotten. However Superman I and II defined the character for me. The third and fourth movies were very tired and didn't take the character seriously. Especially the Quest for Peace. That one was probably made to pay for Chris Reeves bills. I don't even know how that one got made.

Teresa said...

True...Sort of.

Christopher Reeve is the Superman of my childhood. Superman II is one of favorite movies. It hasn't aged well, but I love it still. Christopher is the Superman that all others are compared against.

I watched an old episode of Superman (George) after I saw the 1978 film. It was my first exposure to George Reeves and I was repelled. Not my Superman.

2006 Superman Returns was not as enjoyable. It had its moments. The jetliner crash sequence gave me goosebumps. But Brandon Routh was directed to be Christopher and that wasn't fair to him. He could never fill those red boots.

Cavill did a great job. He brought out a different side of Superman that we all have read in the comics.
There are aspects to his Superman that Chris couldn't quite pull off.

I really liked Man of Steel. Everyone has an opinion about this Superman film and I love it! It has stirred interest. So rare for Superman.

Unknown said...

Christopher Reeve will always own the part for me, much as Sean Connery owns James Bond. It doesn't matter how many times I see it, I still get goosebumps when he catches Lois and the helicopter in Superman 1.

"Don't worry Miss Lane, I've got you."
"You've got me? Who's got you?"

However, I just saw Man of Steel today. Wow! I was blown away. I understand some of the reservations that have been expressed, and agree with some of them. But I have to hand it to Henry Cavill. He did a great job.

James Chatterton

Ray Tomczak said...

For me, its a split decision. I really both the George Reeves and Christopher Reeve version of the Man of Steel. However, I definitely prefer Reeves' portrayal of Clark Kent. If Kent truly is Superman's commentary on the human race, as some have theorized, then George Reeves' Superman apparently had a higher opinion of us than did his successor. Reeves' Kent is far from the bumbling inept oaf that Reeve portrayed. Rather he is a tough, determined newspaperman and every bit the hero, in his own way, that his alter-ego is.
Of course, may favorite screen incarnation of Superman is not any of the live action versions, but rather the 1990's Bruce Timm produced animated series (featuring Tim Daly as the voice of Superman).

Doug said...

I saw this post in the "others you might like" section and thought I'd tweet it again for our newer followers.

Saying that, the further we get away from "Man of Steel", the less interested I am in ever seeing it again. And I'm really not interested in all the news about characters and casting for the next Batman vs. Superman flick. DC just isn't doing it for me at the cinema these days.


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