There have been many actors who have had the daunting task of portraying Superman since the iconic superhero first hit the stands in 1938.
Certainly no one has clocked more hours as The Man of Steel than Bud Collyer who portrayed Superman over 2000 times on the 1940’s radio program broadcast over the Mutual Network.
Kirk Alyn brought Superman to life in two very popular Columbia movie serials Superman (1948) and Atom Man Vs. Superman (1950)
The best known Superman for MY generation was none other than George Reeves who carried the torch for 104 episodes on Adventures OF Superman (1951-1958)
In 1966 there was Bob Holiday cavorting across the Broadway stage in the campy musical “It’s A Bird, it’s A Plane, It’s Superman”. The show was later made into a one night Late night special with David Wilson in the Role.
Perhaps the most familiar of ALL the Supermen is Christopher Reeve who created a standard for the Last Son OF Krypton that has yet to be equaled. Chris carried Superman through four feature films. One might EVEN say FIVE because Brandon Routh was nothing if not channeling Supes in Superman Returns.
Superboy was played at various times by John Haymes Newton, Gerard Christopher and Johnny Rockwell (in an unsold Superboy pilot).
Tom Welling enjoyed TEN years on television creating the most realistic and well developed Superman on Smallville.
…And in June we are set to see Henry Cavill in the new Blockbuster “The Man Of Steel”
But who was FIRST?
Who first donned the tights, jutted out his chest and thrilled children as the embodiment of Superman?
None of the above!
Superman was first brought to life by Ray Middleton, a well known character actor who’s career spanned four decades.
Middleton was hired to play Superman at the 1939 World’s Fair right here in New York. It may be easy to forget today but back in the late thrities the country was going through a full blown case of SUPERMANIA! The World’s Fair decided to capitalize on the new hero’s popularity by staging a “Superman Day” and tapped the square jawed Middleton for the role. He did this on July 3, 1940 soe even though the radio program made it’s debut in February 1940, Middleton is the first actor to play Superman in public in COSTUME.
Middelton appeared on Broadway in the original cast of Annie Get Your gun and Man of La Mancha. He was a guest on a wide variety of TV Shows including Ed Sullivan and MASH.
He passed away in 1984 at the age of 77. Middleton was certainly never a star. Just one of thousands of hard working actors who continue to carve out a career in a very tough field. But for a brief time, he was Superman! His place in the pantheon of actors who have given life to the Man Of Steel remains forever assured.