Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"Look, Up In The Sky...!"

"Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! Look, up in the sky! It's a bird. It's a plane. No, it's Superman! Yes, Superman. Strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman! Who can change the course of mighty rivers - bend steel in his bare hands. And who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights his never ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way!"

That's the way the old black and white TV series began. I couldn't wait till that special half hour arrived when I could lie, spellbound before the old television set engrossed with the adventures of Superman and his friends, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olson, and of course, Perry White, the editor of The Daily Planet. The anticipation would build all day. School had to be attended. Chores had to be done. Dinner must be rushed through. Then came that special 30 minutes - the fastest 30 minutes of the day. Superman, fearing nothing (but Kryptonite), always appeared in the nick of time, to rescue his friends and the other citizens of Metropolis from the most heinous criminals on earth. Those were the days.

The "real" Superman, of course, was the guy who appears above in the DC Comic books. However, over the years, at least seven actors have portrayed the sole survivor of Krypton on the large and small screens. Dad's generation thrilled to Kirk Alyn in the movie serials. George Reeves was Superman to me. My kids were wowed by the special effects in the exploits of Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel. I reluctantly accepted Dean Cain in "Smallville", which my wife often watched on TV. But alas, I have never been able to muster any enthusiasm for Tom Welling or Brandon Routh as my favorite super hero. Superman, no matter who portrays him, has spanned generations fighting evil and eliciting fantasy in the minds of kids all over the world. We could use a good hero like him today. Wouldn't you agree?
My admiration for the Man of Steel is no secret to those who know me. Anyone who thinks that kids aren't affected by what they see on television is sadly mistaken. I speak from personal experience. I was engrossed by Superman. First, through the comic books that I would beg my grandmother to purchase at the Company Store, then later through the TV series that inspired me to try my own "powers". My ultimate (and last attempt) to exercise my super powers came at about the age of seven. I was spending a week at my grandmother's house in Logan, WV. She had a window in one room that opened outward, much like the one Superman always lept from in the storage room of The Daily Planet. It looked perfect to me. So, dressed in my blue pajamas, with a red bath towel wrapped around my neck, and wearing a pair of red panties I found in my aunt's dresser drawer, I sprang into action. "This looks like a job for Superman" I yelled in the deepest voice I could muster. I threw the window open and flew - about six feet, straight down - into a rather sticky hedge growing on that side of the house. Ouch! Man of Steel? Not!
Members of my church caught on quickly, as I often use an illustration or make some reference to Superman and my youthful fascination with him. An entire corner of my office is filled with a growing collection of Superman memorabilia, that folks have brought in for me over the years. That may seem a little strange, but at least it's nice to know that they are thinking of me! Recently the guy who represents "Upward" sports ministries to churches in WV, OH, MI, and PA, stopped by my office for a visit. Upon walking into my office, his attention was immediately drawn to that corner. "I like this room!" he smiled. "Superman is my favorite!" Kindred spirits! It was a pleasure meeting with him.
George Reeves was my personal favorite Superman. And why not? He was the Superman of my youth. In reality, he may have been the least "super" looking Superman of all. The early shows were in black and white, and in those days before spandex, the woolen looking tights he wore, left a little something to be desired. But he was still "my" Superman. He was also once a resident of nearby Ashland, Kentucky, where I now make my home. (not because Superman once lived here, but it is a nice bonus). No sooner had I come to work in Ashland, I met Joe Coleman, a native of the city who had grown up on Hagan Court, just west of the downtown area. In the course of a conversation, he casually mentioned growing up in that neighborhood and playing around "Superman's house". I was incredulous. "You know where he lived?" I nearly shouted. "Sure", he responded. So, at lunch time, Joe and yours truly took a quick drive to Hagan Court, where he pointed out the home of the former star. I was thrilled! I know, it's sad that a 27 year old man with two children of his own, could be so happy over such a discovery, but what can I say? I am a fan.

Reeves, who also had a small role as a suitor of Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone With The Wind", came to an untimely death on June 16, 1959, at the age of 45, in Hollywood, California. He died of a gunshot wound to the head which was ruled to be self inflicted (although that has been a matter of debate for nearly five decades, and even the subject of the movie, "Hollywoodland" a couple of years ago). I will never forget the day my Dad showed me the story in the Huntington newspaper, indicating that "Superman" was dead. To this shocked 8 1/2 year old, there could be only one logical conclusion.
A Kryptonite bullet!

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