Kirk Alyn: Celebrating The First Live-Action Superman

On his birthday, we take a few moments to remind Superman fans of the first guy to wear the cape on screen.
When the average American thinks "Superman," s/he is likely to envision Christopher Reeve or George Reeves. But there were men who wore the red S before either of those mentioned. And, on the occasion of his birthday, Earth's Mightiest toasts the first actor to portray Superman on the silver screen.

Kirk Alyn was born John Feggo, Jr. in Oxford, New Jersey, on October 8, 1910, to Hungarian immigrants who resided at 47 West Central Avenue in the Borough of Wharton. Despite his father's hopes that he would become a carpenter, Alyn left school to follow his dream of becoming an actor.

He started out as a chorus boy on Broadway in the 1930s and worked as a singer and dancer in vaudeville before moving to Hollywood in the early '40s. In 1942, he married actress Virginia O'Brien, with whom he had two daughters and a son (the couple divorced in 1955).

For several years, Alyn was able to scrape up only bit parts in low-budget films. Then, in 1948, he was cast in the title role for Columbia Pictures' 15-part theatrical serial Superman.

Directed by Thomas Carr & Spencer Gordon Bennet, Superman follows baby Kal-El from the doomed planet Krypton to Earth where, in adulthood, he joins the Metropolis Daily Planet as the bespectacled Clark Kent. As Superman, he struggles to foil the nefarious plot of the Spider Lady.

Many young fans were disappointed that Alyn himself never "flew" in the serials. Due to a low budget (and lack of technology), the costumed star was forced to jump toward the sky and hand the aerial stunts off to his crude animated version. (In fact, an attempt was made for Alyn to fly on wires, but those wires were too visible, and the footage was scrapped.)

Some critics have argued that Alyn's portrayal was closer than that of TV's George Reeves to the comic book Man of Steel. Indeed, he looked much more like artist Joe Shuster's lean, spit-curled Superman than did the fleshy-faced Reeves. But Alyn also made a more definitive distinction between Clark Kent and Superman, changing his voice and body language, as Christopher Reeve would in the 1978 movie.

Alyn returned for the 1950 Bennett-directed sequel Atom Man Vs. Superman, in which (Lex) Luthor blackmails Metropolis by threatening to destroy the city. But when he was asked to bring the character to television in 1951, he declined, feeling that he'd been typecast.

"I couldn't get another film job," he told the Associated Press in 1987. So he returned to New York where he appeared in a dozen plays and in about 125 commercials. He also made guest appearances on many TV series throughout the 50's and 60's.

But he wasn't yet done with the Last Son of Krypton. In 1974, he published his autobiography, A Job for Superman. Four years later, he and serial co-star Noel Neill showed up very briefly in Richard Donner's Superman The Movie as Lois Lane's (rather aged) parents. He then parodied that job when he played "Pa Cant" (for a matter of seconds) in 1981's Superbman: The Other Movie.

After co-starring with Carroll Borland and Forest J. Ackerman in 1983's low-budget slasher Scalps, Alyn retired permanently from showbiz. But he did serve several times as Grand Marshal of the Metropolis (Illinois) Christmas parade and for Annual Superman Celebrations.

He died in Houston, Texas, on Sunday, March 14, 1999. He was 88.

"The last time I saw him," Neill once recalled, "I think he still wore the little curl on his forehead like Clark Kent supposedly did. I said 'Ohhh, come on!'"

Kirk Alyn's two Superman features are available on DVD as Superman: The Theatrical Serials Collection.

EM's P. Ryan Anthony also wishes Happy Birthday to his mom, Susan Morgan, who was born on October 8th, as well. But not in 1910.

[Thanks to News-Democrat blogger ELIZABETH DONALD, IMDb, Wikipedia, and the Borough of Wharton NJ homepage.]
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