ANIMATION ANECDOTES
April 2, 2021 posted by Jim Korkis

Filmation Superman

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).

Scheimer supervised the scripts and Sutherland directed the episodes. The budget was $36,000 per half hour. Hanna-Barbera was getting $45,000 at the time.

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.

Superman was teamed with Aquaman on Saturday morning in 1967

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.”

Filmation’s DC Comics cartoons on CBS in 1968

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.

12 Comments

  • Julie Bennett alternated as the voice of Lois Lane on some of these episodes.

  • I never saw the Filmation Superman show, having been devoted to shows that were on opposite it (Cool McCool, Secret Squirrel, the Banana Splits). Joe Barbera disparaged the superhero “fad” of the late ’60s, but that didn’t stop him from jumping on that particular bandwagon in a big way. The increased emphasis on conflict and violence in Saturday morning cartoons gave rise to Peggy Charren and Action for Children’s Television, resulting in a spate of innocuous new cartoons featuring teenaged bubblegum pop bands and/or mystery solvers. It’s the thesis-antithesis-synthesis pattern of Hegelian dialectic all over again.

    I wonder how Lou Scheimer knew Ted Knight. Knight had started out as a kids’ TV host, puppeteer and ventriloquist in New England, so maybe he had contacts in the field of animation through that.

  • I was a big fan of this Superman series.
    I would love to talk more about it but I’ve got to go there’s trouble in the lab!😁

  • That story of the little “Potemkin Village” animation studio that Prescott and Scheimer put together to impress Whitney Ellsworth is wonderful.

    It is interesting that Hanna-Barbera — then the most famous American TV animation house — wasn’t DC’s first choice to produce the show. Filmation was, of course, lean (very lean), ambitious and hungry. The company presumably had no problem with the idea that DC would essentially own the show and end up with all rights to it; H-B might not necessarily have embraced that notion.

    Looking back at the show, I must say that John Gart’s musical themes were absolutely integral to whatever success it enjoyed. His contribution to “The New Adventures of Superman” and other Filmation programs of the day was extremely important; his music really propels the shows.

    That splash ad for CBS’ 1966 Saturday Morning line-up was always a little startling to see when it appeared in many Marvel titles back in the day — what the heck was the Man of Steel doing in an ad running in issues of Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four?

    The ad itself is sort of interesting to consider. Big images from the Filmation Superman show, two H-B programs (“Space Ghost,” and “Frankenstein Jr. and The Impossibles” — “Dino Boy” was the other feature on “Space Ghost”) and the Format/Halas & Batchelor Lone Ranger show. No visuals from the network’s other new show, Total Television’s “The Beagles.” And no love whatever for Terrytoons — owned by CBS! — which had ambitiously revamped its flagship “Mighty Mouse Playhouse” as “Mighty Mouse and The Mighty Heroes.” Whoever assembled that ad apparently never got the memo that not only had the venerable Saturday a.m. show been retrofitted, the title of the program had actually changed.

  • Jackie Kelk was the original voice of Jimmy Olson on the Superman radio show.

  • This is great Jim, because it commits to electronic print a story that Scheimer has shared verbally on various Filmation DVD features, which if I’m not mistaken were all produced by Andy Mangels. The “Journey Back to Oz” features include the “faux studio” anecdote.

    It’s easy to picture Ted Knight swaggering around the office acting like the boss, a la Ted Baxter. He was a struggling actor and was given as much work as possible by Scheimer, Prescott and Sutherland (also some for Hanna-Barbera).

    When he became a household name for the Mary Tyler Moore show, he did what so many TV stars did at the time–recorded a record album. Filmation produced it and their logo was on the back cover. When he promoted it on talk shows, he mentioned them by name. One of the songs on his LP was “Chick-a-Boom,” a novelty hit for “Daddy Dewdrop” who was really Dick Monda and the Groovie Goolies, who also recorded the song.

    • The story has been in regular print, it’s recorded in much more detail in the biography of Lou published by TwoMorrows.

  • I love this article. I knew Lou Scheimer personally. He was a friend and mentor. Filmation’s Superman was my introduction to the DC Universe. Filmation did hire some TV writers to help with the writing chores including Dennis Marks who has an extensive TV writing resume. Another writer, Oscar Bensol wrote a bunch of Superman episodes but the Filmation DC cartoons between 1966-68 seem to be his only TV credits. I always thought Oscar Bensol was a pseudonym for DC writer Otto Binder but could never find evidence to prove my theory.

  • The reason that Filmation got the SUPERMAN gig was because of DC editor Mort Weisinger.

    “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 returned the favor, since he was one of those types who really wanted to increase his connection to Hollywood. And if he and Filmation kept trading favors, who knew where it would lead? Fortunately — Weisinger was one of the biggest asshole editors in comics, which would perfectly fit in Hollywood — he “retired” from DC in 1970, primarily due to his inability to supervise SUPERMAN material that was competitive with Marvel’s rapidly-closing-the-gap stories. He died in 1978 and no longer had any input or influence on comics or animated cartoons.

  • Filmation also animated Superman (and Batman) for a pair of inserts for “Sesame Street” ( although, ironically creator Joan Ganez Cooney wasn’t a fan of of the “cheaply made cartoons” that were being made as children’s entertainment).

    The first one, which debut in the first pilot of the show was about the Letter D for Door reusing footage from “The Chimp That Made it Big”. The second one debut in Season 2 where the Man of Steel (who is voiced by Weinrib here) talks about his favorite letter S. Both segments aired up to the early ’80’s.

    • Exactly. I remembered that one too.

  • I remember the Filmation shows as looking different from HB. They seemed to have heavier inking, which gave them more weight in my eyes. And backgrounds had more shading, especially metal stuff. My dad had read about computers someday being used in animation; he was convinced those stiff-legged walks were examples.

    Years later, “Batman: The Animated Series” and its Superman / JLA successors appeared to consciously evoke the solid Filmation look — but with better animation, better writing, and even implied sex. They were my childhood fantasy of what the Filmation shows should have been, just as the ’77 movie Superman was what the old live action show should have been.

    Yes, I now appreciate the budget-impaired pioneers for what they were and what they achieved. Still, it’s hard to look at old Filmation now without anticipating a burst of BTAS action.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *