Suspended Animation #313
The New Adventures of Superman is a series of sixty-eight, six-minute animated Superman adventures produced by Filmation that were broadcast on CBS from September 10th, 1966, to September 5th, 1970 that literally changed the face of Saturday morning cartoons.
In the first season, the show had two six minute Superman cartoons bracketing a six minute Superboy cartoon. In the third season (The Batman/Superman Hour), the artwork changed to imitate Superman comic book artist Curt Swan’s model sheet style, and the Superman episodes now were two-part Superman adventures.
One year earlier in 1965, network television Saturday morning still consisted mostly of theatrical repeats (Heckle & Jeckle, Tom & Jerry, Porky Pig, etc.), live action series and re-runs of prime time shows (The Jetsons, Top Cat, etc.). There was only one superhero, Hanna-Barbera’s Atom Ant.
The change in 1966 is credited to a young Fred Silverman who felt the time period would be better served with new programming and that the audience was children who read comic books. The chief supplier of new cartoon programming was Hanna-Barbera but Silverman wanted a different look.
Filmation was formed in 1963 by Norman Prescott, Lou Scheimer (an animator formerly with Hanna-Barbera and Larry Harmon) and Hal Sutherland (who had worked at the Disney Studios). They began producing animated commercials at low cost and were developing an animated feature film sequel to The Wizard of Oz. They were just days from closing the studio completely because not enough money was coming in.
They had shown Silverman a seven minute animated pilot of a Buck Rogers series that Silverman liked but not the character which is how they got on his radar as being able to do human characters. Prescott had been in contact with Mort Weisinger to get some story help with his Pinocchio In Outer Space project so when Silverman wanted to buy the rights to do Superman, Filmation was the first animation studio Weisinger called for advice.
Weisinger, a pulp writer and editor, joined National Comics (DC) in 1940 and started his thirty year career as editor of the Superman family of magazines. It was under his editorship that many of the aspects of the Superman legend were created such as Kryptonite, the many survivors of Krypton, the Phantom Zone, Krypto the Superdog and Supergirl among many others.
Weisinger had also assisted on the Superman movie serials and the television series. Filmation hired Mort Weisinger as a story consultant for the animated series.
To finalize the deal, DC wanted to send Whitney Ellsworth out to visit the studio. At the time all there was in the building were 24 empty desks and just Scheimer and Sutherland. They had a mannequin wearing glasses sitting at the secretary desk.
Ellsworth was an editorial director at DC comics and was considered their “Hollywood” liaison. He had control over the scripts on the Superman movie serials and the television show. He had also been responsible for the unsold pilots Superpup and The Adventures of Superboy. He had also been a consultant on the Columbia Batman serials and the Congo Bill serial among many other credits.
Scheimer phoned Ellsworth and told him they were so busy they couldn’t have visitors because it disrupted their heavy work schedule. However, if he wanted to come on a Wednesday between noon and one o’clock, they could accommodate him. Scheimer contacted animators who were friends and asked them to show up during their lunch hour to make the office look like a studio.
Rudy Larriva, Eddie Green, George Reilly, Eddie Friedman, Lou Kachivas, Jack Mock, Don Peters and others showed up, leaving only one or two empty desks. He also brought in a friend of his who was starting out as an actor, Ted Knight. He told Knight that if he were asked any questions about animation to tell Ellsworth that there was trouble in the lab and he didn’t have time to talk.
Scheimer and Sutherland passed out work from their Oz project and showed Ellsworth some of that stuff as well. Things were going well until outside their office they heard multiple voices yelling “Trouble at the lab!” All the voices were from Knight who thought he was helping and was probably also bored he wasn’t getting any attention.
Ellsworth was impressed and gave a strong recommendation to Jack Liebowitz at DC who made the final decision.
However, DC had some requirements. They wanted to provide the writers because it was felt it would give them more control over the stories and keep them in canon.
Scripting chores were done by some of the top DC writers including Arnold Drake (The Many Faces of Dr. Nucleus), Bob Haney (Can a Luthor Change His Spots), William Finger (Lava Men), William Woolfolk (The Abominable Iceman), George Kashdan (The Two Faces of Superman) and Leo Dorfman (The Gorilla Gang).
Many of the Filmation cartoons were based on previous comic book stories. For example, Superboy – Devil of a Time was an adaptation of Superman’s Black Magic (Superman #138 July 1960) and Superboy – The Super Clown of Smallville was taken from The Super Clown of Metropolis (Superman #136, April 1960).
Allen Ducovny with Robert Joffe Maxwell developed the Superman radio series. Ducovny, known as “Duke”, was hired by DC to work with Filmation. He recorded the voices in New York using the same actors from the radio show and Fleischer cartoons.
Clayton “Bud” Collyer was Clark Kent and Superman. Joan Alexander voiced Lois Lane as she had on the radio show and the Fleischer cartoons. Jackson Beck was the announcer and the voice of Perry White. Jack Grimes who had done Jimmy Olsen on the radio series reprised that role in the animated series.
The cartoon series also featured a Daily Planet copy boy named Beanie who had been a character in the radio show. Oddly, the Superboy segments were recorded in Burbank, California. Radio veterans Bob Hastings was Superboy and Lana Lang was Janet Waldo.Money was tight. As Scheimer told writer Andy Mangels, “One of the things we developed on Superman was the use of stock animation. It was tough to get stories to be seven minutes exactly so we would add extra scenes of Superman flying if we needed to fill a few seconds. Nobody got upset if they got to see more Superman flying.
“We realized that it was crazy to do new animation for the same flying sequences. So we started to use and reuse the flying sequences. There was one major problem with doing stock, though, when we did Superman the damned ‘S’ on his chest! We couldn’t flop the scene…the damn ‘S’ had to change all the time. Consequently, all our stock scenes for Superman had to done twice!”
As talented animator and good friend Mark Kausler told me back in 1989, “I was called an assistant animator but at Filmation you really were sort of a Xerox machine operator… A lot of time you didn’t even have time to draw Superman. You just took the layouts. Xeroxed two of them. Ripped off legs. Ripped off arms and literally repositioned them like cut-out animation. Make a new Xerox of that, strip it up and hand it in. We were under tremendous pressure.”The series was one of the highest-rated animated programs on Saturday morning and has been credited for taking CBS from third place to first place in the Saturday morning ratings.
Filmation’s rights to the character ended in 1972 with the Man of Steel making one last cameo appearance on Filmation’s The Brady Kids. “Cindy’s Super Friend” had Cindy meeting mild-mannered Clark Kent and teaming up with the Man of Steel to paint a bank building during the city’s “Paint-Up” week.
Toulouse La Trick and his henchman Igor substitute delayed-action invisible paint so that when the bank becomes invisible they can rob it. However, Clark Kent can change into Superman any time he can find a telephone booth and save the day.