The Many Faces of Superman

This is the final season of Smallville, and the showrunners are promising that faithful viewers will finally see Clark Kent don the familiar red, blue, and yellow costume of Superman.  Tom Welling will, after long last, be the latest in a long line of actors who have portrayed the Man of Steel in the iconic cape.

The list is long and impressive:

Ray Middleton - Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster invented Superman in 1932. The first actor to play the character in public was Ray Middleton in 1940 at the World's Fair in New York.  He is a footnote in history, easily forgotten, but he was arguably the first human being to wear that primary-colored garb before an audience, depicting a character that would become identifiable the world over.

Bud Collyer - Superman was a bestselling comic book character and his popularity launched a string of other superheroes, but he gained widespread fame with a hit radio series called The Adventures of Superman in the 1940s.  Bud Collyer provided the voice, sparking such catch phrases as "This is a job for Superman" and "Up, up, and away!"  He later reprised the role, supplying the voice in The New Adventures of Superman, a television cartoon of shorts by Filmation in 1966.

Kirk Alyn - The first of the "great Supermen," Kirk Alyn played the part in a couple of movie serials, Superman in 1948 and Atom Man vs. Superman in 1950. 

George Reeves - Television made Superman a household name and George Reeves became the face of the character, typecast in the role.  Kirk Alyn allegedly turned down the chance to play the Man of Steel on the boob-tube, so Reeves was cast, becoming forever linked to the part.  The Adventures of Superman ran from 1952 until 1958.  The first two seasons were in black-and-white, but the remaining seasons were in glorious color.  Even though the popular series was eventually cancelled, there were plans to return in 1960, but Reeves apparent suicide nixed the revival.

Johnny Rockwell - In 1961, the makers of the George Reeves TV series tried their luck again by attempting to bring The Adventures of Superboy to the TV screen.  Johnny Rockwell was cast as a younger version of the hero, but the pilot never led to a full series, which was deemed too expensive to produce.

Bob Holiday - In 1966, Bob Holiday became the first actor to play the character in the Broadway musical It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman.

Bob Hastings - Character actor Bob Hastings provided the voice of the young Superboy in the animated Filmation series The New Adventures of Superman.

Danny Dark - Voice-over king Danny Dark was the voice of Superman in Hanna-Barbera's Super Friends from 1973 through 1986.

David Wilson - In 1975, the musical It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman was made into a television special, and actor David Wilson played the lead.

Christopher Reeve - Arguably the greatest Superman of all, Christopher Reeve defined the role for many fans in four major motion pictures. 

Jeff East - Another footnote, Jeff East gave a great performance as the young Clark Kent in 1978's Superman: The Motion Picture.  He never donned the suit, so maybe he doesn't belong on this list, but in my opinion his scenes were brilliant and deserve to be recognized in the live-action history of the character.

Beau Weaver - Voice actor Beau Weaver played the part in the 1989 Ruby-Spears Superman cartoon.

John Newton - One of the under-rated shows in Superman lore was the late 1980s and early 1990s Superboy live-action series.  John Newton portrayed the Boy of Steel for the first season, but was not asked to return for various reasons (including a contract dispute, a DUI-arrest, and unhappiness by producers, the Salkinds, with his acting performance.)

Gerard Christopher - The Superboy TV show continued until 1992 with Gerard Christopher in the lead role.  He was so good in the part, he actually auditioned for the role again for Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and was hired, but was let go in favor of Dean Cain because he had "played the part already." What could have been!

Dean Cain - The enphasis of Lois and  Clark obviously was the relationship between Lois Lane and Clark Kent.  Dean Cain did a great job as the bespectacled, mild-mannered reporter.  The Man of Steel persona didn't get nearly as much screen time as some fans would have liked, but the series proved successful from 1993 through 1997.  It must be noted that the Superman costume in this TV series was probably the worst of all time.

Christopher McDonald - Another footnote, actor Christopher McDonald provided the voice of Superman in a two-part episode of the cartoon Batman Beyond.

Tim Daly - Superman: The Animated Series may not have been as much of a critical darling and cult favorite as Batman: The Animated Series, but Tim Daly did an excellent job as the voice of the Man of Steel from 1996 to 2000.

Tom Welling - The star of Smallville is actually a great choice to play the adult Superman.  Hopefully we'll finally see him in the traditional costume.

Brandon Routh - Supermna Returns was an underwhelming movie, and Brandon Routh seems to have been cast because he resembles Christopher Reeve.  Nevertheless, I think Routh is a fine actor.  I just wish he had better material to work with.

George Newbern - The voice of Superman in Cartoon Network's Justice League and Justice League Unlimited was provided by George Newbern from 2001 to 2004.

Other actors who played the voice of Superman in various cartoons and video games include Michael Dangerfield, Yuri Lowenthal, Adam Baldwin, Kyle McLachlan, Mark Harmon, Nolan North, and James Denton.

Who else will someday join the legacy of actors to portray the Last Son of Krypton, defining the character for a whole new generation?


Talisman said…
I LOVE SUPERMAN!! I'm currently in a Lois and Clark marathon...Jeremy is totally making fun of me, but I can't get enough =)
Nick said…
It was a good show!
Melyssa said…
John Newton was my fave. I was saddened when I didn't see him after season 1 of Superboy. But I still watched for Stacy.