Friday, August 28, 2009

In Rockford, Ill., one day last week, a ten-year-old named Jack Hill trudged along the street without looking where he was going. His nose was buried in a comic-strip magazine devoted to the exploits of Superman. He started absently across a street. A car missed him by a hair; bystanders yelled at him. Jack moseyed on regardless, smack in front of another car. In the hospital, to everyone's amazement but a Superman's, he proved to have no injuries to speak of.

What Jack Hill and his fellow fans find so absorbing about Superman is not simply their hero's imperviousness and giant strength but his ability to fly through the air. Last week Superman took to the air in earnest, as a three-a-week serial.

Scarcely more than a year ago Superman was just a comic-strip nobody from an obscure planet called Krypton. Now, as almost every kid in the U. S. (and many a grownup) well knows, Superman is THE man to have around in a 1940 pinch. He can outswim a torpedo, outfly an airplane, outdistance a streamliner train, outrun a speeding automobile, punch his way through armor plate. Also he can get down to brass tacks as Clark Kent, reporter, write superscoops for his paper.

Almost as phenomenal as his comic-strip career is Superman's vogue with U. S. youth. He appears in 77 U. S. dailies, 36 Sunday papers. With Superman its ace, the magazine Action Comics' net paid circulation has whooped since June 1938 from 130,000 to 800,000. Superman Quarterly is gobbled up at the rate of 1,300,000 copies an edition. The Superman Club has 100,000 members, including Eric & Jean LaGuardia, Spanky McFarland (Our Gang Comedies), a La Follette, a Du Pont, eleven middies from Annapolis, 16 students at Hiram (Ohio) College. In the works are Superman rings, sweater emblems, a Superman watch, a Superman radio (with super power).

Superman comes on the air with a shrill, shrieking sound effect (combination of a high wind and a bomb whine, recorded in the Spanish war). Voices hail him with: "Up in the sky—look! It's a bird. . . . It's a plane. . . . It's SUPERMAN!" Superman or no superman, he has to watch his step on the radio. Mothers' clubs have their eyes on him, the Child Study Association of America feels that his occasional rocket & space ship jaunts are a bit too improbable. By radio's own war rules, he must remain neutral, may mix in no international intrigues, rub out no Hitlers. So last week Superman cleaned up a local mob bent on wrecking the Silver Clipper, a streamliner train; caught them after a quick repair job near Denver, heaving 20 tons of rock off a trestle and replacing missing rails in a jiffy.

Radio's Superman is six-foot-two, 184-lb. Clayton Collyer, brother of Cinemactress June Collyer. The episodes are produced in Manhattan by Superman, Inc., recordings expressed to stations using them. Superman has a sound effect about every four lines. For many of his righteous crushers, jumping on various sized berry baskets suffices. For the disintegration of a steel ball bearing in an episode recorded last week, the sound men finally got the oomph they wanted by tossing a dinner plate in the air, busting it with a hammer on the way down.

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