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Jim Hambrick runs the Superman Museum on the town square in Metropolis, Ill. A longtime Superman enthusiast and collector, Jim has one of the greatest Superman collections in the world. Among the items are virtually every Superman toy ever produced, props from the Christopher Reeve movies and one of the only George Reeves Superman costumes still in existence.
The Superman Homepage would like to thank Jim for agreeing to do this interview.
This interview is Copyright © 2002 by Steven Younis. It is not to be reproduced in part or as a whole without the express permission of the author.
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A: I got into Superman when I was 5 years old. My mother bought me a Superman lunch box for my birthday, and that was it. That and watching the old television series with George Reeves (in syndication during the 1960s). The worst part about it was that I had 3 sisters and 2 brothers that I had to share the television set with. It was a real difficult thing because everyone was coming home from school, the television was in the front entrance by the living room, where everybody came in the front door, I would lay their on my stomach watching the show, getting stepped on and everything else... It didn't take a whole lot of time for them to realize that the only moment I asked for was to watch that series.
Q: When and How did you first start collecting Superman items?
A: After the lunch box... I had so much appreciation for it... I built a shrine around it. With crayon drawings of Superman from kindergarten and so forth. When Christmas came around that year my dad (who worked at a Chevy dealer) had found a Superman hood ornament that he gave to me, and I got film strips that my grandmother had bought in Los Angeles from a shop that sold old toys and things. And the madness continued from there. It wasn't for monetary reasons... I don't know, I just got off on the colors, and Superman, and the whole promotional aspect. It's actually what got me into advertising. And I've been there ever since.
Q: When did you first decide to start a Superman Museum?
A: I was around 10 years old, I had my Superman collection in my room, and I always had kids coming over after school. They'd talk to each other about my collection and so forth. I started charging a nickle... I set my bedroom up like a museum. I charged them a nickle to go through my bedroom! (laughs) I mean there was a lot of kids I didn't want in there and I just figured well if they're gonna take up my time then I want to get paid. (laughs) Our house was only a block away from the school I went to, so we had kids coming by and by, I put a sign out on the front porch saying "Superman Museum", a cardboard sign. And I did, I had kids coming in and out... You know a buck a week, just enough to say I was getting paid for having my collection. And then as you get older (and this was before collecting toys became fashionable) you have this fear about what people are thinking... Grow up, you know? This is the thought. And then years later when I was approached by the Salkinds to put up my collection in the Daily News building in New York to promote the Superman movie, I was very concerned about what people were going to think of me! I was the one who was going to be out there talking about it and everything else... but when the lines showed up, and the people, the respect they showed for these things, and the reverence they had for the stuff... I had no problem with it after that. So the late 70s and early 80s it was real easy for me.
Q: Did you have to get permission from Warner Bros./DC Comics to run the Museum?
A: Never did, no. In fact it was DC Comics who knew about me and recommended me to the Salkinds, because they were always getting lots of calls from journalists and people doing stories, or just people wanting to know, "I found this old chalk statue in my attic", or "What's this worth?", always concerned about the value attached to the item, especially after the Christopher Reeve Superman movies. And of course that made all the George Reeves stuff worth money. And so they'd call DC Comics, and DC Comics would simply give them my phone number. So it was basically DC Comics who recommended that I put together a museum to showcase my collection and use it as a promotional vehicle for the films.
A: That would be more brown and grey George Reeves Superman costume for black and white television. George Reeves has always been my favorite Superman, of course I was Kirk Alyn's manager for about 8 years, and he was always competing with that, but he knew that George was my favorite Superman. I never hid that from him. (laughs) That would be the one piece... didn't matter what it was worth, it does happen to be worth more than any other piece of have in my collection, I mean I have 3 copies of "Action Comics #1" and they're all mint copies which people say are going for over $100,000 these days or whatever it is... but if there was a fire in the museum (God forbid), the costume would be the first thing I'd run for... and my lunch box (laughs).
[Note: The magazine shown right is still available for purchase. Click here for more information.]
Q: What item in the museum seems to have the most appeal to visitors?
A: The George Reeves colored costume.
A: I would have to say Kirk Alyn's phone booth. He held that out in front of my like a carrot for years. He had it sold to an oil man in Texas, who wanted to put it in his lobby. He offered US$15,000 for it, but Kirk always intended for me to have that phone booth. So when he moved from Temechula out to Texas he asked me to come over and asked him to move. Kirk talked to me 3 times a day for many years... morning, noon and night. So I went over to help him move and the last thing that got on the truck was the phone booth. He says, "Put that on the back of the truck", and I said, "No you ought to put it on the front of the truck because this is heavy and that's where all the weight should be distributed. It should be in the front of the truck!" And he says, "Put it on the back of the truck, I'm telling you put it on the back!" So when the truck was all loaded he says to me, "Now drive the truck over to your house and drop the phone booth off and then bring me the truck back". That was his way of giving me the phone booth... Meant a lot to me.
Q: What section or category of the museum draws the most visitors?
A: You know it changes... When Christopher Reeve has his accident the "Superman" movies section was by far the most popular. We average about 200 people a day here year round. The when "Lois & Clark" got such a huge following on the Internet we had people coming in from Florida, New York, all over the country, wanting to see the "Lois & Clark" section. Because I had a lot of things from the show, props and costumes and things like that. That went for a while. And then when Kirk Alyn died, the Kirk Alyn section took over. Overall, I tell you what, the George Reeves section goes back and forth. When there's nothing going on in the news at the time it always ends up being the George Reeves section. People call him "The Original Superman", (he might be called that but we know he was the first Superman, that was Kirk Alyn) but it's always the one that gets the most comments, you know the controversy about his death, and people saying, "Oh yeah I remember him, he jumped out of a window thinking he was Superman", I hear that story all the time. That section gets the most conversation.
Q: Was there any actual licensed merchandise that was sold bearing George Reeves' actual likeness as Superman?
A: There was only 3 items, besides the advertising material and photographs and campaign kits that they were distributing to the various television stations. One was the gum cards, that they did in 1966 during syndication. And of course they were always concerned, they pulled that show off the air because of the suicide thing and the connection with Superman... and didn't bring it back till the sixties. So the gum cards was the one and only thing that was really licensed for the show. And then the second thing was a little movie-viewer that came out, and a lot of people didn't know about this, but it was a little plastic movie-viewer that you turned a little crank on it and it played a part of the episode called "Topsy Turvy" where everything turns upside down. Something like a 1 minute segment of that. And that was commercialized back in the 60s. And then the third thing that I can recall was the George Reeves plate from Nick At Nite.
Q: Have you been able to obtain any of the lost Richard Donner footage from "Superman II" or the complete print of "Superman IV"?
A: I was real close to getting that [Superman II] footage and what they wanted, all they needed was a letter of order on Warner Bros. stationery (laughs). I did what I could at that time to get it, if I was to have to do that today I could get it done. But back then it was in Pinewood Studios and could not get it. They were ready to send it to me, but they needed someone from Warner Bros. saying it was okay. Similar situation with "Superman IV". The editing was done by "White, Olsen and Lane", they made that name up just for that specific reason. They had (what people call) the extra "Bizarro" footage from Superman IV. And again, I knew where it was and who had it, but again I had to get permission. And why would Warner Bros. give me permission when they wanted nobody to see that footage. And I don't know what happened to it.
Q: You've been contacted by the Discovery Channel program producer of "Would You Believe It?" to do a TV special on yourself and the Super Museum. How did that come about?
A: They found in a Museum registry a listing for the Superman Museum and contacted me about coming out. You know to make sure I was who I said I was, and coming out to make sure there'd be enough for them to go with for a TV special. Well, when they came out... they were amazed! So I think it's going to be great!
A: Yes, I do now. You know after the "Death of Superman" I read them for about a year, and that generated so much interest. Probably did more for the comic book industry then any other part in comic book history. Then it started getting boring with the Superman Blue/Superman Red thing (which was originally a great imaginary story from the 60s) of course they did their own twist on it. And there was the whole Superman comes back and has long hair and he looks more like Fabio than he does Superman. And I was hearing the response from people coming into the museum, and I gotta say there was so much negativity in that. And you know, DC Comics were always so concerned about somebody like myself or someone with a website doing something to hurt the integrity of the character... and would say that they did more to hurt the integrity of the character at that time... (laughs)... they're tidying up a little bit now. I understand there are some major changes taking place over there. I like the Ed McGuinness stuff. I like the Jeph Loeb stuff. The whole John Byrne stuff... ah, that was kind of iffy for me. The reason maybe was because, John Byrne during Superman's 50th Anniversary had of course the cover of Time magazine... the story I have for you... I was supposed to be on the cover of Time magazine and he made a deal with them at the last minute (not knowing about the deal they had with me) that they put his Superman on the cover otherwise he wouldn't have anything to do with it. I guess somebody who draws Superman had more interest to the magazine as opposed to somebody who collects. So I got kicked off. So ever since I haven't liked the John Byrne version (laughs). I guess in a way I held a grudge... nothing against him... that's just the way it went.
Q: Who would you like to see play Superman on the big screen in another Superman movie?
A: You know, I would say this... I was so excited about Tom Welling and some of the ways he's presented himself in this new "Smallville" show, that I would like to wait another 3 or 4 years and let that show develop and take its course, and then let him do the movie. I think he's growing into the part. There's nobody who could possibly understand the whole thing better than him when he gets to that point. I get so many people emailing me saying, "I wish they'd get him into the costume!" You know what? Take your time. Enjoy the way the detail their going into his childhood. You know that's the whole essence of us collecting! A lot of us growing up felt that our childhood wasn't long enough, we grew up too quick. So now we collect these toys to remind us of those times which we cherish. It really works the same way with this show... Let's pay attention to what's going on. Let them develop the story, let them develop the character because it goes through a metamorphosis every ten years. They change him [Superman] a little bit to bring him up to date. Let them do their thing. Then after that we have the expectations of okay, now he's Superman, now he's got the costume, now he's grown up, now he knows how to handle all these things, and we know why. And the kid's got the looks, he's got the height, he's got all those things going for him. So Tom Welling is my number one choice for Superman in 5 years.
Thanks for allowing me to interview you!