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With Henry Cavill about to burst onto the big screen as the latest actor to fill Superman’s iconic bodysuit in Man of Steel, we decided to take a trip down memory lane and look at the other men who have tackled the responsibility.
Each of these men had to channel his own version of Clark Kent/Superman for his era, and they stepped up to the challenge and packed on the muscle to make them superheros. Check out this cast of clean-cut Clarks who spun into action as Superman when needed.
Kirk Alyn (1910-1999) has the distinction of being the first actor to portray the iconic character of Superman on the big screen. He starred in two movies as “the last son of Krypton” in the 1948 film serial Superman and another one two years later called Atom Man Vs. Superman.
In an 1987 interview quoted in Alyn’s New York Times Obituary, Alyn recounted the joy and surprise he felt at being offered the role. ”I thought it was a publicity stunt,” he said. ”I didn’t think you could ever put Superman on film. They brought the people from DC Comics over, and they said, ‘Hey, he looks just like Clark Kent.’ I was 37 when I played Superman. I picked up that girl and ran up that flight of stairs like it was nothing.” Incidentally, Alyn popped up in the 1978 Superman movie starring Christopher Reeve, playing an uncredited role as Lois Lane’s father.
Check out this clip of Alyn talking about his audition process for the role, and how one question nearly threw him off his game.
George Reeves, who once famously said, “Knock the ‘t’ off the ‘can’t,'” had the distinction of being the first man to play Superman on TV, putting on the cape for the first time in 1951 and going on to make 104 episodes of The Adventures of Superman. Unfortunately, Reeves died in 1959 in what the LA Police deemed a suicide. However, some doubted that claim, and that doubt would spawn the 2006 movie Hollywoodland, starring Ben Affleck as Reeves.
Superman was both a career-maker and breaker for Reeves. While the role gave him instant fame and recognition, it also typecast him, as he found it very difficult to find any work outside of Superman.
The late Christopher Reeve played Superman in four movies: Superman (1978), Superman II (1980), Superman III (1983), and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987). The original film was widely praised. Roger Ebert wrote about Reeve in his Chicago Sun Times review, “The producers held a worldwide talent search for an actor to play Superman, and although ‘talent searches’ are usually 100 percent horse feathers, this time, for once, they actually found the right guy. He is Christopher Reeve. He looks like the Superman in the comic books (a fate I would not wish on anybody), but he’s also an engaging actor, open and funny in his big love scene with Lois Lane, and then correctly awesome in his showdown with the arch villain Lex Luther. Reeve sells the role; wrong casting here would have sunk everything.”
The popular actor had a tragic horse riding accident in 1995 that left him paralyzed from the neck down, but rather than let the accident define his life, he spent the rest of his days championing spinal chord research. Reeve died in 2004.
In this clip promoting Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, he talks about the evolution of his Superman character:
Dean Cain brought Superman back to the small screen in 1993 when he donned the cape for four seasons of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, with Teri Hatcher playing the female lead. In this YouTube clip, Cain describes what it meant to play Superman:
“It’s been a few years, but It’s been a lot of fun. I loved doing the show and it was certainly was my claim to fame. It started my career and I am not complaining at all. There is no such thing as a Superman curse or any of that silliness,” he said. “It was a fantastic role, and at these conventions it is the number one thing that people are familiar with.”
Brandon Routh played the first big screen Superman of the 21st Century when he donned the cape for the 2006 movie Superman Returns with Kate Bosworth taking on the role of Lois Lane. The movie had a $270 million production budget and, according to boxofficemojo.com, made just over $391 million in ticket sales around the world. In this clip, Routh talks about the role and the movie:
Tom Welling played Clark Kent for 10 seasons in Smallville, which took a look at the life of Kent in his teenage years before he became Superman. The show ran from 2001-2011 (Christopher Reeve was a fan and made a few appearances) and in the series finale we finally saw Welling’s Kent take on the mantle of Superman. This clip shows that moment: