Animation History
July 8, 2024 posted by Jerry Beck

The Line That Wasn’t There: “Superman” (1941)

The line that wasn’t there, or was it? Or was it intended – or not?

That is the mystery we are attempting to solve today – as we open this cold case with a solid piece of new evidence. But whose side does this evidence support?

Let’s start at the very beginning, the basics. The first Fleischer Superman cartoon, 1941, is a bona fide classic. I’ve owned a 16mm print since the 1970s – when a dealer or two at Comic Cons then would sell beautiful bootleg prints, sometime running the cartoon from their film projectors to attract a crowd of comics fans to their booths.

I’ve shown the cartoon publicly myself hundreds of times over the years, today it’s mainstay of my animation history class. But I cannot tell you how many times throughout the decades, I’d screen the film and like clockwork people would come up to me to let me know that I’m showing a “cut” print. “It’s missing a line”, they’d say. A line I have never heard in this cartoon. Ever.

What was missing, they’d proudly tell me, was three words: “…for a woman.”

These words were supposedly cut from a line spoken by Clark Kent to Perry White to close the scene, after Perry reads a threatening note from the Mad Scientist terrorizing the city. “I’d like a chance to crack this case on my own,” says Lois. Perry hesitates his response and Lois takes off (“Thanks, Chief!”). Clark turns to Perry and asks – “Chief don’t you think that’s a dangerous mission?”

Supposedly it was cut to appease “woman’s lib” – that was the “excuse” in 1975. Really?

You mean to tell me someone, somewhere, cared enough about such a line in this 1941 cartoon – a short that might maybe have played during intermission at a rock concert, or to several hundred people at a Comic Con? That didn’t seem very realistic to me. And the line as read sounded fine as the picture goes into fade out.

Back in those pre-digital days, making such an edit would cost few bucks, and more time, than it would today. And for non-commercial purposes – who would go to such trouble? DC Comics? Warner Bros?

The answer for me was: NO ONE would cut this cartoon over this line. Heck, you propose they would cut this line, but leave in circulation the racial stereotypes in “Jungle Drums”, or “Japataeurs”?

But the urban legend about these additional words has persisted. If only we could see the original storyboards with the dialogue affixed.

Enter Michael Uslan (“The Boy Who Loved Batman”). Michael and I have been friends since we both were employed (in different departments) by United Artists, circa 1979. Michael is the producer of ALL the Batman features (live and animated, movie and TV) since the 1989 Tim Burton/Michael Keaton classic.

This little Superman “controversy” has never come up in our conversations… but recently Michael let me know that, in the course of his travels, he actually acquired a “script” for the first Fleischer Superman cartoon! It was buried in his files. I told him I’d be VERY curious to see that! Michael dug it out of storage and sent me the pages in question. Did this answer my question?

Let’s take a look:

Now – compare the dialogue on screen in the finished film with the dialogue in the script:

Clearly, after comparing this script with the film, we can establish that this was indeed the original dialogue as intended – and you’ll notice in some very few instances the dialogue is different on the printed page. Note shot #19 has an additional line for Lois (“I’ll bring the story right back”), that is not in the film. Thus, this script is NOT a transcript of what is in the final cut. This was not compiled later for copyright purposes. This does indeed seem to be the original script, created for approval by Paramount Pictures and National (DC) Comics.

But notice the line in question DOES have one of the missing, rumored words: “for”. And it’s indicated that the dialogue is supposed to “trail off” during a dissolve to the next scene.

The bottom line: Either the sentence was recorded with the “for” and the word was snipped out. Or it wasn’t recorded at all. Anyway you slice it, the final film as released has the sentence ending with “…dangerous mission.”

That “for” in the script certainly points to the sexist additudes of the 1940s that many have assumed was the case. For now, I’ll admit to the theory “for a woman” was intended to be expressed.

However, the film never had those words, and the version that’s been around for decades was as originally released in 1941. If it was edited, that would have been in the Fleischer Miami editing room, during production. So, in the end, I stand by my assertion: “There’s nothing cut”.

What say you?

Here is a good copy of the complete cartoon:


  • “For a woman” stereotyping continued into the early 1970s in both movie and TV.

    Also dialogue dissolve looks OK on paper, but would be difficult to replicate without fading out other words as well –
    which defeats the purpose if there was an attempt to make the female reference.

    Sounds like conspiracy theories to me, similar to Donald Duck dialogue in Clock Cleaners.

    • You mean that “we’re mercilessly exploited by capitalists” line that Babbitt tried to sneak in?

  • I’ll side with Jerry on this one: while the writer almost certainly intended to imply “for a woman” with the dialog, it was never actually part of the cartoon, not even the “for–“. Perhaps someone thought that Clark expressing such a patronizing attitude was a bad look, perhaps someone thought that word didn’t add anything to the script after all, but regardless of the reason, it never made it into the finished cartoon.

  • Well, the word “for” in the script is certainly suggestive, if only because we’ve all known people who insist that they distinctly heard Clark Kent say “for a woman” when they saw the cartoon at a kiddie matinee umpteen years ago. However, there are any number of other ways that the sentence could be completed. “Chief, don’t you think that’s a dangerous mission for….”

    “…for just one reporter working alone?”
    “…for the love of Mike?”
    “…for the lousy salary you pay us?”

    We all know that Lois Lane is headstrong, fearless and independent, but it’s unlike Perry White to equivocate so when she asks to crack the story on her own. “No, it’s too risky! Kent’s going with you, and that’s final!” That’s the Perry White I know. I wonder who tipped Lois off as to the location of the mad scientist’s secret laboratory. It couldn’t have been an inside source, as the mad scientist apparently has no employees or accomplices other than the bird, whose loyalty is beyond question. As far as that goes, how can Lois afford an airplane on a reporter’s salary? It seems that the Superman cartoons, for all their awesome imagery, simply cannot withstand the kryptonite of cold logic.

  • I had to laugh upon reading this, because I recognize this in myself as well. When I first heard the cartoon, I thought the scene was oddly and abruptly cut. Interesting that it turns out it is not. Actually, the more I listen to it the more I believe it is intact. Hopefully, one day these Max Fleischer “Superman“ cartoons will be really restored so we can see the different openings and closings as they are supposed to be. Thank you for clearing up the mystery of that one scene, however.

  • The burden of proof is on them. They’re making the claim. The problem is people get offended, believing they’re being called a liar when you don’t accept what they say.

  • Whatever the intention, which nobody will ever know (why don’t these things ever come up while the creators are still alive to say one way or the other?), it’s certainly a dangerous mission, regardless of who takes it on. It could speak to Lois’ relative inexperience, or the general danger of trying to deal with a mad scientist (they’re the worst kind), as well as her gender. Lois has been likened in animation books to Rosalind Russell in “His Girl Friday,” who’s every bit as tough as her male colleagues (and a better writer), so perhaps it was decided not to make an issue of her womanhood. The fade-out does seem abrupt, as if something had been cut, although not quite as obvious as the endings of “The Heckling Hare” and “Stupid Cupid.”

  • The “. . . for a woman” clause pops up regularly in live-action features of the 30s, 40s and beyond, particularly in B-movies and programmers. Since those were on TV a lot from the 50s all the way up to the 80s, I think it’s easy to conclude that memory conflation is the culprit here. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever *not* thought and/or called out “… for a woman,” at that point whenever I’ve watched the cartoon, and that started back in the 70s.

  • Odd, Jerry. I never noticed, but it does feel like a cut, upon my revisiting. I guess it’s bad editing, which isn’t that uncommon at Fleischer’s.

    Tell Michael Uslan I grew up on his intro to my paperback of Batman: The TV Stories.

  • The late Fleischer animator Gordon Sheehan had a nice 16mm print of the first SUPERMAN cartoon that he showed for his animation class at Columibia College sometime in the late 1980s. I had not heard of any rumors of the line being cut back then, or I would have asked him about it. It’s something I’ve always wondered about – whether it was cut for later TV syndication or not. It seems as if the line “for a woman” wasn’t in the original version at all, but it DOES SOUND as if it was originally intended to be there – especially to our more modern sensibilities, when so many older cartoons seem to exist only in edited form on TV and film re-releases. However, in 1941, who would have thought that the line would be considered insensitive to women? Clark Kent was just being thoughtful for Lois’ safety and the line was implied, rather then fully spoken – so I’m glad Jerry’s done some research and checked – and so, it appears it was never there at all. Like the “Spider Sequence” in KING KONG (1933) people have claimed they saw it in “reneagade prints” but all proof seems to be that the sequence was cut BEFORE the. film was officially released.

  • Kind of annoyed the editor is unnamed in the script. Would settle the minor fan debate if he’s meant to be George Taylor or Perry White

    • Wasn’t he “Perry White” by this time in the SUPERMAN comic books? Julian Noa – who did the voice for “Perry White” in the radio series – is credited by most SUPERMAN historians as doing the voice of the editor in the first SUPERMAN Fleischer cartoon.

      For a while, I thought Jackson Beck might have done the voice of the newspaper editor, and I asked him about it. He didn’t remember doing ANY voices for the SUPERMAN cartoons, but the IMDb credits him for doing some voice work on the last few SUPERMAN cartoons made by Famous Studio. I’ve never been able to pin-point EXACTLY when Beck went to work for Famous Studios, but we do know the first POPEYE cartoon he did “Bluto”‘s voice for was THE ANVIL CHORUS GIRL (Release Date: May 26, 1944), The previous POPEYE cartoon was WE’RE ON OUR WAY TO RIO (Release Date: April 21, 1944) and I believe “Bluto” was done by voice artist Dave Barry? So, Beck may have started to work at Famous Studios around the Spring of 1944?

  • Upon reading the script and seeing the cartoon itself, I barely noticed until I kept replaying the scene on repeat a few times. It does seem like there was a cut, but it’s so subtle. Who actually knows what the “for…” was supposed to lead to? It could have been anything.

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