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Superman through the ages in movies

by Matthew Price Published: June 12, 2013

A look back at men who have donned the red cape as “Man of Steel” nears

Many mere mortals have donned the “Superman” costume in movies and television since Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created the character in 1938. Henry Cavill (above) is the latest, starring in “Man of Steel,” opening Friday. Forbes estimates the new “Man of Steel” could earn $100 million on opening weekend. More about the new movie will appear in Friday’s Weekend Look edition of The Oklahoman. But what about past Supermen? While some went on to enjoy solid careers after being “more powerful than a locomotive,” most will be remembered for being Kal-El, son of Jor-El. Here are some of them:

Kirk Alyn
Kirk Alyn

Kirk Alyn

Kirk Alyn was chosen by Columbia to be the first on-screen Man of Steel. Alyn was 37 when selected for the role in the 1948 serial, which he reprised in a second serial, “Atom Man vs. Superman,” in 1950. Alyn also appeared as the DC Comics character “Blackhawk” in the last serial released by a major studio. In “Superman: The Movie,” he had a cameo as Lois Lane’s father. He died in 1999 at age 88.

George Reeves
George Reeves

George Reeves

George Reeves was born in Iowa and raised in Pasadena, Calif. He was an amateur boxer and musician and appeared in “Gone With the Wind” in 1939. He later enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps during World War II and appeared in war training films before going on to star on television in “The Adventures of Superman” from 1952-58. On June 16, 1959, at age 45, he was found shot to death at his home in Hollywood, Calif. While it was reported as a suicide, some believe it was an accident or foul play. Reeves’ death is the subject of a film, “Hollywoodland,” starring Ben Affleck.

Christopher Reeve
Christopher Reeve

Christopher Reeve

Christopher Reeve studied at Cornell University and the Juilliard School of Performing Arts. He starred as Superman in 1978′s “Superman: The Movie” and three sequels. On May 27, 1995, Reeve was paralyzed in a horse-riding accident. He went on to found the Christopher Reeve Foundation, and with his wife Dana, founded the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Resource Center. Reeve guest-starred on “Smallville” as Dr. Swann. Christopher Reeve died Oct. 10, 2004, at age 52.

Dean Cain, actor who played Superman on the TV series "Lois & Clark"
Dean Cain, actor who played Superman on the TV series "Lois & Clark"

Dean Cain

Dean Cain was a college football star who set an NCAA record for interceptions in a season while at Princeton. He was drafted by the Buffalo Bills, but a knee injury ended his football career. Cain was cast as Clark Kent in the 1993-97 ABC series, “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.” Since that show ended, he has made a career largely in television movies, including playing convicted murderer Scott Peterson in “The Perfect Husband: The Laci Peterson Story.” In 2012, he appeared as himself on the TV series “Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23.”

Tom Welling
Tom Welling

Tom Welling

Tom Welling was a fashion model who landed a recurring role as karate instructor Rob Meltzer on “Judging Amy.” He followed that up with his role as farmboy Clark Kent on the WB’s “Smallville,” which ran for 10 seasons from 2001 to 2011. Welling was named one of People Magazine’s breakthrough stars for 2001. He became an executive producer on “Smallville” and later executive produced the CW program “Hellcats.” He’s set to appear in the upcoming films “Parkland” (2013) and “Draft Day” (2014).

Brandon Routh
Brandon Routh

Brandon Routh

Iowa-born Brandon Routh appeared in Christina Aguilera’s “What a Girl Wants” video, along with guest spots on “Gilmore Girls” and “Undressed” before originating the role of Seth Anderson on “One Life to Live.” He was considered for the role of “Superman” in a proposed film written by “Alias” and “Lost” executive producer J.J. Abrams and helmed by “Charlie’s Angels” director McG but lost out to Henry Cavill; eventually that entire project was scrapped. Two years later, he was cast as the hero for Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns.” He’s since appeared in the films “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and “Dylan Dog,” and had a recurring role on the TV series “Chuck.” He was a regular in the short-lived 2012 CBS series “Partners.”

Henry Cavill
Henry Cavill

Henry Cavill

The current Superman was chosen by director Zack Snyder. Cavill was best-known perhaps for his role as Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk, on the Showtime series “The Tudors” prior to being cast in “Man of Steel,” though he was also considered for the McG version of “Superman” that didn’t happen and was nearly cast as James Bond in “Casino Royale” before losing out to Daniel Craig. He was also said to have been author Stephenie Meyer’s first choice to play Edward Cullen in “Twilight.” Cavill’s film “The Immortals” opened No. 1 at the box office in 2011. USA Today reported this week that Cavill signed as Napoleon Solo in the film adaptation of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” to be directed by Guy Ritchie.

by Matthew Price
Features Editor
Features Editor Matthew Price has worked for The Oklahoman since 2000. He’s a University of Oklahoma graduate who has also worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and was a Dow Jones Newspaper Fund intern for the Dallas Morning News. He’s...
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