Superman: The Unauthorized Biography
Glen Weldon (Author)
A celebration of Superman's life and history - in time for his 75th birthday. How has the Big Blue Boy Scout stayed so popular for so long? How has he changed with the times, and what essential aspects of him have remained constant? This fascinating biography examines Superman as a cultural phenomenon through 75 years of action-packed adventures, from his early years as a social activist in circus tights to his growth into the internationally renowned demigod he is today.
Hardcover: 352 pages
On the evening of Friday, June 9, I got the opportunity to attend a press mixer at the AmeriHost in Metropolis. Among the press were representatives from the Associated Press, as well as newspapers and magazines from around the globe. Entailed below are the accounts of the evening:
Press: Marv, you did the novelization for the film. In addition to the script, what other reference material did you have? And, did you like what you read?
Marv Wolfman: First, aside from the script they sent me tons of photos, and I had a long, long meeting with the writers (Dan Harris, Michael Dougherty) going over everything and going over there intents for characters that are just touched upon in the movie. You know, you can only do so much in a 2 and a half hour film. So they said we have these thoughts about the background of this character, and the background for that character. On top of that, they asked me to add stuff on top of that as well. As far as liking it. Yeah I liked it. It's a very emotional story, which none of the others have been. They've all been plot oriented, and this is more about the character.
Press: What do you think of Metropolis so far?
Michael Rosenbaum: I've been here about 2 hours...
MR: I'm from Evansville, Indiana, which is about 3 hours from here, so I thought I'd grow this (runs fingers through his handlebar moustache).
MR: It's pretty cool so far. You know, they've got a Rafferty's. We've got one of those in Evansville. They've got an O'Charley's. (to Noel Neill) You ever been to O'Charley's? (back to press) They've got O'Charley's. It's good. They've got some fried catfish. You didn't like the fried catfish, did ya Stephan? You had to rip it apart, watchin the weight...
Stephan Bender: None of the fried stuff.
MR: I know how it is. No, it's nice (in Metropolis). It's hot, but it's good.
Emcee: Of course, you have other ties locally. You attended Western Kentucky University.
MR: Yeah, I graduated in, I don't wanna say, 1995. Yeah it's right around the corner. How far is it from here?
Emcee: About 2 hours.
MR: I'll have to stop in.
Press: I've got a question for Marv. You mentioned earlier that none of the other Superman movies were very emotional, very flat and two-dimensional.
MW: I did not say that. I said this was a very emotional...
MW: I love the first Superman movie, it's one of my favorite movies.
Press: What's interesting is the development of the villains. What do you think audiences today are looking for in a villain?
MR: Well, for me it was pretty much just playin' it real. And, uh, that's a tough question. (laughs) No, I'd seen the Superman movies, and I saw Gene Hackman and thought he was genius. But, he went over the top. Primarily because he's Gene Hackman, he can do what he wants. So, when I took the role, I wanted the character to have vulnerability. And for me that gave the character some credibility with me. I didn't want him to be a parody, or a caricature. I wanted him to have this heart, to follow this villain and see why he becomes a villain. That's why it's unique, why the show's unique, because you see him evolve. He starts out as this guy who tries to follow the right path, and he evolves into a villain and you see why. And you start to empathize him.
Press: I guess a follow-up question for you Michael. On Smallville, do they give you a sense of where the character's going down the road?
MR: No, not really. They don't tell us much. In fact, for the finale, they gave us a page of dialogue and said " This is what you're shootin' tomorrow." And I go 'Well, what happens before this scene with my character?' and they say "We don't really know that yet."
MR: They say "Oooo, you're gonna get bad." And as the years go on, it's been a slow, gradual process. But, I think, you know that this is the last couple of years - this year, maybe next year if we're lucky enough. You know, it's finally time to let me out of my shell, for Lex to come out of his shell. So I think that this is definitely the year. In fact, you can see it, if you've watched the finale last year it's obvious. It's obvious that I'm up to no good. You know, I got the Zod outfit on. (to Noel) Did you see the leather jacket I had on, with the purple... yeah I didn't like it. I told them to get rid of the purple. They tried to lighten it, it was just horrible.
Press: Ms. Neill. What was it like to be associated with the Superman franchise for almost sixty years?
Ms. Neill: Well, I'm not really rich, but it's nice though.
Ms. Neill: Well, they were very nice, of course. Jack Larson and I went up to them and said " You've made millions off of us." (laughs) No, they've been very pleasant, very nice. It'll all be in Truth, Justice, and the American Way, my new book
Press: They never did give you the residuals from the reruns of the series...
Ms. Neill: Actually, they did start to give us our residuals. It was back in 1965 that Jack and I had last received any residuals. And the thing is, which people are finally starting to find out, Ronald Reagan was the president of the Guild, and thus when he gave out all of our residuals and all other TV shows later, like Gilligan's Island, and so on (the rest of her answer is unintelligible)
Press: This question is for Stephan. What was it like for you auditioning for the role of Young Clark, and how many other young men did it come down to before Bryan (Singer) and his casting crew had chosen you for the role?
Stephan Bender: Well, I know that when I went it, there were about fifteen other guys in the room. Ranging anywhere from a big, buffy guy to a scrawny, I don't know, me... It was weird, because no one looked the same. They didn't know what they wanted, they just know they wanted someone who looked like Brandon. There was so many different types of guys.
Michael Rosenbaum: What did they put you through?
SB: They didn't put me through much. Roger put me in a room, gave me a head shot of Brandon, and I was pretty much it.
MR: Did they make you read?
SB: They didn't make me read anything.
MR: Have they seen you act?
SB: No, I guess not...
MR: Thank God for bein' pretty!
MR: It's not that easy for me.
SB: I guess they were ready to give up the scene. I guess I was one of the luckiest kids on earth.
Press: Noel. Back in the day when you were makin' the original series, you'd crank out 2 episodes a week. Now with your cameo in Superman Returns, you must've felt like you were being treated like a queen taking all that time to shoot the one scene.
Ms. Neill: Bryan, the Director said it would be nice for me to work on a big movie because it would be "Shoot. Shoot. Shoot. Print. Print. Print." It was a lot of fun, though, I was upstaged by two dogs.
Press: I guess a follow-up question for Noel and Stephan. Most of us growing up remember Superman: The Movie with Christopher Reeve, and there are many fans who are loyal to that film. Bryan Singer seemed like, going in, that he had that same sort of revelance towards the movie and the foundation of it. How was he like that with you guys?
SB: Well, personally, he was the nicest guy you'll probably ever meet. He knew exactly what he wanted. I remember one day, I guess I was learning the powers, he knew exactly what he wanted. And he told me straight up 'this is what I want done', and I did it for him. He's a really great guy, and he knew what he wanted and which direction he wanted to take the movie to.
MR: You guys wanna hear a cool story? You guys probably know this already because you're fanatics. Peter Jackson was filming Lord of the Rings at the same time... no, wait, it was King Kong. He was doin King Kong and he was so exhausted that he couldn't sit up in his director's chair. So he calls Bryan Singer on the set of Superman and says "Hey could you come over (to New Zealand) and direct. I'm so exhausted, can you come over and direct for just a day?" So, Bryan Singer flew over on a personal jet and filmed a day of King Kong. And Peter Jackson's all in his chair like (slouches in his chair, eyes closed and jaw hanging open)...
MR: Every once in a while Bryan would go over to him and ask "Is that what you want?" And Peter would just look up and go "Huh? Yeah, yeah that's fine... " and go back to sleep. I just thought in case you didn't know, it's a true story.
Press: This question is for Young Clark Kent. I was just curious how much your life has changed over the past year, year and a half since you won your role?
SB: Well, it's changed a lot. Coming from, I guess you guys being from a small town too, I come from Ava, Missouri. It's about 3,000 people. I was plumbing for a couple of years, playing football, you know, typical small town stuff. And, I got into a little bit of theater and went to L.A. for a little bit to see how it was. I got the gig, I auditioned for it and ever since my life has changed, you know, so much from that - it's actually kinda scary.
MR: Ladies? Is that what you're talkin' about?
SB: Not quite. (laughs)
MR: Well, that's what you're insinuating.
SB: Well, no. That hasn't really been a problem.
MR: I guess all he had to put on his resume was "cocky". It's good, it's good. Superman needs to be a little cocky.
MW: And so the rivalry begins!
Emcee: Don't listen to Lex, he's tryin' to turn you to the Dark Side.
Press: So, how has it changed?
SB: Well, definitely a different town. (chuckles) I mean, L.A. is crazy. It's insanely different. Just some of the people I've met are... different. Really, I have my old friends. They've stuck by me. And I made a couple of new ones, but I've definitely kept my old ones around. But, it's changed for the good and hopefully it gets better.
MR: Wait 'til your mom starts askin you for money.
Press: This is for both Stephan and Michael. My guess is because of your ages, you grew up after the Christopher Reeve movies. I'm just curious, were you guys big Superman fans as children, or were there always other figures or cartoon and movie heroes that you looked up to?
SB: Well, I read most of the magazines, my dad owned a toy store and he had a bunch of magazines there; and I read a lot of them. If you look today, kids - they always need a figure in their life and one of them is Superman, obviously. This guy can take on anything and always be the good guy. I mean, he was always there. Who didn't, as a kid, put a cape around their neck and try to jump off stuff? Everybody did that.
MR: I had the Underoo's. You remember Underoo's? I used to jump down ten stairs... I mean, Superman's with everybody. He's universal. It's one of those things where you turn on the TV and see something Superman. You walk down Hollywood Blvd, and you see somebody dressed up as Superman. In every movie there's a reference. It's omnipresent. Seriously, I used to watch this at my Grandma's house after I rubbed her feet with cream, and she would have the TV blaring late at night "Look! Up in the sky!" And, of course, you watched all the movies and they were so entertaining. I never was a comic book fan. It's funny, you see you'll hear from fans who are "Lex Luthor never... You should know that." And I'm all 'Sorry, you shouldn't talk to me about that. Talk to the creators. They're the geeks, not me.' I mean, I'm a geek about other things, but... (laughs)
Emcee: Marv, you and I talked about this last night. A little bit about Superman and over the years despite the changes in culture and society that he still has this timeless quality about him. Could you give us some thoughts as to why?
MW: I think the character, and the reason why he's been able to work no matter what decade he's in is that somehow people understand that he represents what good we'd all like to have in us. That purity that we honestly would like, but never go near, and I think that's one of the things that, unlike any other comic book character who are a little tainted, and all this stuff where you don't know if they're gonna be good or bad on any given week. Superman maintains that goodness even if he's angry, even if he's petulant, even if he has a sense of humor - no matter what characterization they give him, he always still represents the good inside us and the good we'd like to have inside us. And I think that's why the character has exceeded for 70 years now.
Press: Not necessarily the shades of gray like the others do.
MW: The shades of gray make them more interesting, but they don't take away from that basic concept. They don't interfere with the core of the character. They just add to the character more real when the time is, we're in a time now where we'd like our characters to be more grounded. But, the basics are still there. They have not changed whatsoever. That's just giving them more things to concern themselves with. More things to worry about, and more things to think about. Instead of just going "I'm gonna solve this problem", there's more ramifications to what they do. But the core of the character has never changed, and that's one of the reasons why I think people can identify with him. Some of the other characters have gone back and forth. Batman's become a lunatic at times, he's become insane. He's been this, he's been that, depending on who's writing him. Superman's been the one thing that people can understand. Truth, Justice, and the American Way.
MR: Well, that's unless he gets some Red Kryptonite in his blood. (laughs)
MW: That's not really Superman, though. (laughs)
Press: One of the fun things about Superman is his alter ego, mild mannered Clark Kent. Was that fun to write? And for Stephan, did you have to play a nerdy Young Clark Kent?
SB: I guess. I mean, my clothes were kinda nerdy. But, I didn't really have many speaking parts. All I did was the physical learning his powers kinda thing. I mean, I guess you could say I ran a little nerdy.
Press: They never made you put on the tights and cape, did they?
Press: So, it's not one of those things we'll get to see on the DVD?
SB: No. (laughs)
MW: In terms of Clark, again it's one of those interesting things where Clark has gone over many different guises over the years. He was a totally nerdy character, you know, a complete loser - the Charlie Brown becomes Superman. He's also been, on the Superman TV show he was pretty straightforward, he was just a good reporter. I've written him at least 4 to 5 different ways from the very silly character, to the very serious character, to a more fun character. He keeps changing, and I've enjoyed them all because there's a difference between playing Clark and Superman, and it's fun to see where you can write that.
Press: Michael. I was just curious on the current status on your autobiographical TV series you were working on with (unintelligible)?
MR: Yeah, it's based off my autobiographical short stories I wrote as a cheap form of therapy. I wrote them, and Greg and I sold the script to Fox and that was Fall... November of last year. And the network decided not to pick it up, so now we're shopping around other networks. It's just the way things go. At least we sold it.
Press: You had planned on filming that in your hometown...
MR: Yeah. Yeah, eventually we'd love to do that...
Press: How are you gonna pull that off while still shooting Smallville in Vancouver?
MR: Well, like I've said, the show's only gonna last so long. I think we're contracted for two more years. You know, it was funny because they were thinking of shooting it up in Vancouver, where we film Smallville, and I met this lady who said [imitates a lady's voice] "Ooooh, Vancouver's such a nice place. Isn't it?" and I was like, 'Oh yeah? When were you up there?' "Oh, in June. I was up there for three days with my husband." And I'm like 'Well, yeah. That's when it's beautiful. Try comin' up for the other ten months when it's raining.' Just to let you know it's about 100 miles north of Seattle. You wanna know what Seattle is? It's the number 1 suicide capitol in the country, because it rains.
Press: Working title for your autobiographical show, "Everybody Hates Mike"?
MR: (laughs) Well, everybody just misunderstands Mike. (laughs) It's called Welcome to Paradise.
Press: When you play your charity hockey games, how hard are you allowed to play?
MR: It's for fun, we do it for charity. Everybody tries really hard. We play with a lot of NHL players. You know, the funny thing is we think we're really good for actors. But, when we get out there we're trying as hard as we can. These NHL guys are playing, at like, a quarter of their speed, and they're killin' us because this is what they do for a living. Then they realized they put an elbow in your side, and I'm just like "Hey, how hard did you hit me on the scale of 1-10?" And they're like, 'Oh, about a 3...' So I'm like, "Really? 'Cause that hurt.' So we try to take it easy while we're out there. So there's no real body checking. Maybe a little hitting, but who's gonna drop their gloves for charity? That would be funny, wouldn't it? Except for if I do it, it'd be ok because I play Lex Luthor. If someone starts a fight at a charity event, that's ok. I'm in. (laughs)
Press: Mike, I'm a huge fan. I love the show. I was just curious, what's your favorite episode, or what's your favorite scene as playing Lex?
MR: I kinda like goin a little nuts. There was an episode way back called Shattered, then another one called Asylum where I'm all drugged up and I don't know where I am and I go into an asylum. That's one of my favorites. What I really liked was an episode called Lexmas. I don't know if you guys watched that. It was an episode of 'what if things were different? What if Lex had the good family, and had went on the good path?' That was interesting because I actually got to smile in an episode. Because every time I try to smile, or be charismatic or anything, they cut it. And I'm just like, "Hey guys, what're you doin?" (deepens voice) 'Well, you're Lex. You can't be that happy.' And I'm like, "Well, I can have moments." And they're like, 'Yeah, but the fart jokes, Michael we can't let him talk about that.' But, I always have a good time. Obviously now there's a little triangle. Well, actually it's just Lana and I. Lana and Lex are starting a little relationship, and I don't know where that's gonna go. It's not disappointing kissing Kristen (Kreuk). Unfortunately, I can't have tuna everyday for lunch. Gotta kind of watch that. But, I really have a lot of fun with it.
Press: Michael. You've done pretty good dramatic turns in Smallville, but your comedic stuff is really, really funny. Do you enjoy the comedy more, or is it really good to be a working actor... or what?
MR: Well, it's all of the above. It's good to be working you know. I love doin comedy. The irony is, I'm doin one of the most dramatic characters on TV and that's, like, funny to me. I'm a comedian, and I lose hair and go up to Vancouver being bald for 5 years. It's crazy, but I'm blessed. It's like, I can't wait until I can do a comedy. I just did a comedy with Jamie Kennedy called Kickin' it Old School, which is about breakdancers. Two twelve-year-olds battling it out, and I'm one of them. I'm the bad guy, but not bad like Lex. I'm bad with hair, and just sarcastic a lot. We're breakdancin' and he tried to out do me with a head spin and falls off stage and goes into a coma for twenty years, wakes up and he's 35 with the mentality of a twelve-year-old stuck in the 80's.
Stephan Bender: Do you dance at all?
MR: There's this point at the end where I try to out do him. I host this dance contest, like Ryan Seacrest called "Get to Steppin'". He wins everything in front of America, and I flip out and start break dancin.
Press: Michael. The WB just recently merged with UPN forming "The CW". Usually when a show goes from one network to another, there's a lot of changes to the format. Should we expect something like this to happen to Smallville?
MR: No. The CW is completely supportive, 100% behind the show. They love everything that's goin' on with the show. They're just 'We love everything that you're doin'. We'll back off'. As long as the budget stays in tact, I think we'll be alright.
Press: Ms. Neill, what kind of role model was Lois Lane back in the day for younger girls?
Ms. Neill: I didn't know the character those days when I got the job. I had to go buy a comic book to see what she looked like.
Ms. Neill: She was the plain, working girl. I heard from a lot of women later on that they got into writing, and doing TV shows because of Lois Lane. And I said, well at least we did some good in the series.
Marv Wolfman: Lois is one of the few in a less than a handful of working women who were able to handle themselves that were on TV in that time period. All the other women were usually married characters. Whether they were in charge like Lucy (Arnaz - "I Love Lucy"), or they were secondary characters. Lois was the only one with a career that was not the standard teacher role. So, she was a major character for the years that came out of women characters in that time period.
Press: What was it like for you doin the show in the 50's as far as fan mail? Did you get a lot of fan mail from girls that really admired the character?
Ms. Neill: All fan mail was sent to National Comics (now DC Comics) in New York. They took care of answering those.
Michael Rosenbaum: The guys loved you. You were pretty easy on the eyes. I mean, you know. You should've worn the tights.
Press: Noel, could you give us a story of what it was like to work with George Reeves? I know you guys worked together for 7 or 8 years. Could you give us a little bit of a background on what it was like to work with him, maybe some favorite memories of working with him?
Ms. Neill: George was a wonderful, wonderful guy. He was going to start directing almost all the movies before what happened to him. Because, he says, "Noel, I'm getting a little too old to be running around in my underwear.' I remember one day as we were filming we had a prop wall. Firm enough to stand, but not too soft so he'd plow right through it. But, I remember it was Jimmy, Lois and the Chief were supposed to be waiting for Superman. And we were waiting, and waiting and the director said "action", and we waited and waited. Then, all of a sudden, a hand and a foot came through the wall, and nothing happened. Finally he said "Cut, cut". And George, bless his heart, pulled his hand and his foot out of the wall, walked around and said "It's been a pleasure working with you. See you tomorrow". (laughs) That was the first shot of the day.
Check back in with SupermanHomepage.com for an exclusive interview with Stephan Bender, young Clark Kent in Superman Returns.