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The Ominous Link Between Superman, Career Washouts and Untimely Death

May 15, 2018 in History

By Ryan Mattimore

Kirk Alyn Superman

Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. But even Superman—or at least the actors who have played him—haven’t been able to escape one of Hollywood’s most legendary curses. This year the Man of Steel turns 80, and through the decades it has become apparent that a number of people who portrayed the character have fallen upon serious misfortune—from career washouts to untimely deaths.

Kirk Alyn was the first actor to portray the iconic crimefighter, starring in two 15-episode film serials for Columbia Studios starting in 1948: Superman and Atom Man vs. Superman. Having begun his career as a chorus boy and then on Vaudeville, he worked his way up through the acting ranks until a co-starring role in a Republic Studios serial gave him a big break. Studio executives from Columbia Pictures viewing it took note of the actor’s resemblance to Clark Kent, and soon cast him as the mild-mannered reporter. But since Alyn wasn’t well-known, the studio kept his name out of the credits as Superman.

After playing the Man of Steel for three years, he couldn’t shake his Superman image or parlay that role into a larger, more varied career. Because audiences had trouble picturing him as other characters, he only scored small roles in B pictures. “Playing Superman ruined my acting career,” Alyn said later. “I was bitter for many years.” He even saw his cameo role as Lois Lane’s father cut from the 1978 film version. In his final years he struggled with Alzheimer’s disease and died in relative obscurity.

Kirk Alyn played Superman in two early film serials, starting in 1948. He later said, ‘Playing Superman ruined my acting career.’ (Credit: Everett Collection)

George Reeves, the first television Superman, starred as the bulletproof do-gooder in both a 1951 film and the “Adventures of Superman” TV show that ran for six years starting in 1952. The hugely popular show made Reeves—who started his film career with a bit part in Gone With the Wind—into a household name. However, like Alyn before him, he had a hard time shaking his superhero image. Test audiences responded negatively to his appearance in the classic WWII film From Here to Eternity because they had a hard time picturing Superman at war. After five successful seasons, “Superman” was canceled in 1958 and Reeves struggled to find work …read more


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