Kirk Alyn, the first Superman of cinema, was born 100 years ago

Oct. 08, 2010 | 3:48 p.m.
clark kent and lois lane Kirk Alyn, the first Superman of cinema, was born 100 years ago

Kirk Alyn and Noel Neill (Los Angeles Times archive)

One hundred years ago Friday, John Feggo Jr. was born in Oxford, N.J., but he is far better known  by two other names —   Kirk Alyn and Superman.

This week, Warner Bros announced that Zack Snyder , director of  “300” and “Watchmen,” will be handling the latest relaunch of Superman as a silver-screen brand name, which makes it even more fitting to look back on Alyn, the  very first cinematic Superman but a sinewy star who gets overshadowed by those other Men of Steel, Christopher Reeve and George Reeves.

Alyn was born Oct. 8, 1910, to Hungarian immigrant parents and attended Columbia University. Early in his career he was a song-and-dance man in the chorus of such classic 1930s Broadway musicals as the George and Ira Gershwin’s Girl Crazy” and “Of Thee I Sing.”

kirk alyn as superman Kirk Alyn, the first Superman of cinema, was born 100 years ago

Kirk Alyn as Superman publicity still

He married MGM singing star Virginia O’Brien, who was best known for her deadpan singing style, in 1942 (they had three children before they divorced in 1955) and  made the big jump to Hollywood after working in vaudeville.  The  going was rough, though, and his career stagnated with small roles in forgettable films. He scored a decent role in the 1946 Republic serial “Daughter of Don Q.

Finally, at the age of 37,  lighting struck and he was chosen to play Superman in the 15-chapter 1948 serial “Superman” and its 1950 sequel, “Atom Man Vs. Superman.” Produced by Sam Katzman, “Superman” was the most successful movie serial of its time.

The film was advertised as being based on the Superman and Action Comics magazines and on the “Superman” radio program which was broadcast over the Mutual Network. The original poster declared, “THE ONE AND ONLY ‘SUPERMAN’…Rocketing to ‘REAL LIFE’ in a Mighty SUPER-SERIAL!”

The serial (see a sequence in the video below) followed his arrival on Earth as an infant and  the  last survivor of the planet Krypton, his transformation into a superhero and then his first nemesis: The Spider Lady, played by Carol Forman. Noel Neill, who would play Lois Lane for five seasons on the “Adventures of Superman” television series, originated the role in the serial. Tommy Bond, who had played Butch in the “Our Gang” comedy series, was Jimmy Olsen, and Pierre Watkin was Perry White.

Because Alyn wasn’t a familiar face to most audiences, his name was kept off the credits because the studio felt that no one should know who was playing Superman. In fact, Columbia spread a rumor that Superman himself was playing the part. Alyn was initially just credited as playing Clark Kent.

Thanks to “Superman,” he got a starring role in the Republic serials  “Federal Agents Vs. Underworld Inc.” (1949), which starred Rosemary La Planche, the Miss America of 1941, , and “Radar Patrol Vs. Spy King” (1949).

Alyn wanted more money to continue on as Superman but Columbia didn’t cave. Reeves took over the role in 1951’s “Superman and the Mole Men” and then began working on “Adventures of Superman” for television. Alyn made one more serial for Columbia, “Blackhawk” (1952). Over 40 at the time, he found he was typecast as Superman — a wrenching issue that Reeves also faced — so he eked out a living doing minor parts in TV shows and movies, many uncredited. He moved to Arizona in the late 1950s, appearing sporadically thereafter in bit parts.

As Superman began a renaissance in the 1970s, Alyn was in demand to tour and talk to fans about his years wearing the cape. He even had a cameo as young Lois Lane’s father on the train (with former costar Neill as Lane’s mother) in Richard Donner’s Superman” (1978), which had Reeve handling the  cape work. He appeared in a few acting parts — he popped up on a 1979 episode of “Battlestar Galactica” and as Professor Machen in a 1983 film called “Scalps,” directed by cult filmmaker Fred Olen Ray.

Suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, the first Man of Steel on the silver  screen died of natural causes in The Woodlands, Texas, on March 14, 1999.

— Susan King

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Comments


9 Responses to Kirk Alyn, the first Superman of cinema, was born 100 years ago

  1. David Carlton says:

    Thank you for paying tribute to The Original Superman Kirk Alyn. While he wasn't a household name, his career spanned 53 years in over 60 films leading to a very interesting life on stage and off. His autobiography "A Job For Superman" is being re-published in honor of his 100th birthday. We each have the ability to be a Super Hero every day by practicing random acts of kindness.

    David Carlton, Agent
    The Original Superman
    Kirk Alyn Estate & Collection

    • Brian says:

      I concur with David, thank you for paying tribute to my Grandfather.

      David – What connection to do you have to my grandfather's estate and collection?

  2. Guillermo Puma says:

    Kirk Alyn also starred in another Columbia serial, "Blackhawk" in 1952, based on the same comic strip drawned by Reed Crandall.

  3. Perley J. Thibodeau says:

    I remember Kirk Alyn as Superman.
    I thought he was much more attractive in the role than all of the future actors combined.
    And of course, Noel Neill as Lois Lane was adored by everyone.

    • charles price says:

      I recalled kirk alyn as the original and certainly the best looking superman.costume was better the portrayal of both clark and superman was better, the lois lane,the storyline and scenes better. we as kid would thrill each Saturday series it was so exciting and he certainly fitted better in the uniform. this was the case dispite there failure to use the same special effects they used in,rocketman and captain marvel.its good that it has been improved on. if it had been when it was made it may have been no. one cliffhanger serial instead of three or four. thank you for the memories of better times.

      c.d price

  4. lynda says:

    I just saw a large picture of kirk Alyn as Superman posing on a rock.
    Kirk visited a theater in Folsom, ca and wrote a nice comment to my 94 year old friend.
    She was a big part of the Old Folsom theater and stated he was a real nice person.and was wondering what year it was ?
    The theater is now closed down. If anyone know when he toured here, I would like to put this in the Folsom Museum.

  5. Brian says:

    Lynda – the rock that my grandfather, Kirk Alyn, was posing on is called Saddlehorn Rock. It is located on the old Iverson Ranch property which has since been developed. However, this rock still stands today. It is in Chatsworth, CA. Here's exactly where it is: https://maps.google.com/maps?q=34.274999,+-118.61

  6. Roy Banks says:

    Superman Kirk Alyn to me,was the

    Superman of them all ,and show it

    Playing his part .He was a good man

    To be let down by Hollywood as the

    Man name was Superman :-) Thanks

    And for kirk family Love and God

    Bless .

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