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"Faster than a speeding bullet!  More powerful than a locomotive!  Able to leap tall buildings at a single bound!  Look!  Up in the sky!  It's a bird!  It's a plane!  It's SUPERMAN!"

When we think of mythology, we tend to recall tales of ancient Greece - Zeus and the gods of Olympus, for example - or, moving forward to the Middle Ages, the legends of King Arthur, Merlin and the Knights of the Round Table.  Gods and heroes of stature and power.

In truth, every culture and time has its own mythology.  And in the 20th century, one myth stands above the rest:  Superman.  Not just a comic-book character, he has endured for more than six decades in print, radio, television and movies.  The familiar red, blue, and yellow costume; the stylized "S" emblazoned upon his chest; the dashing superhero and his alter ego, mild mannered reporter Clark Kent, are known the world over.

Artist Jim Steranko, in his otherwise definitive History of Comics, says "Superman's origin must be as familiar to every American boy as Washington's stand at Valley Forge."  We would suggest that the average American kid knows a good deal more about the exploding planet Krypton and the rocketing to Earth of its sole survivor than anything about General Washington and his role in the Revolutionary War.

Superman was the brainchild of two teenage Ohio science-fiction fans:  writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster.  They first dreamed him in 1933 and spent years trying to sell the concept as a newspaper comic strip.  The Man of Steel, as he would come to be known, finally made his public debut in Action Comics No. 1, dated June 1938.  Within a year, his popularity would win him his own comic book; within a decade, he would be, as Steranko correctly states, "the most popular and powerful folk hero in American fiction."

National Periodical Publications (later known as DC Comics) parlayed its flying, nearly invincible hero into an empire.

First came the radio show, beginning in February 1940, with Bud Collyer as the voice of Superman.  Max and Dave Fleischer followed in September 1941 with the first Superman cartoon - exciting and sophisticated Technicolor storytelling that Leonard Maltin, in his animation history Of Mice and Magic, calls "among the best fantasy cartoons ever produced."  Kirk Alyn played Superman, and Noel Neill was tart-tongued Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane, in Columbia's 15-chapter serial in 1948; they reprised their roles in the sequel Atom Man vs. Superman two years later.

Low-budget studio Lippert released the first Superman feature in 1951: Superman and the Mole Men starring George Reeves and Phyllis Coates, which effectively served as the pilot for the long-running syndicated television series that went on the air in early 1953.  Reeves became the best known of the several actors to play Superman and was a hero to every youngster and young-at-heart who sat transfixed before their TV set.

The last son of Krypton made an unlikely but surprisingly successful transition to Broadway in the musical It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman, which opened March 29, 1966 and ran for 129 performances.  Bob Holiday had the dual role, with Patricia Marand as Lois Lane, Linda Lavin (later TV's "Alice") as Sydney and the redoubtable Jack Cassidy as opportunistic Daily Planet gossip columnist Max Mencken.

By the mid-1970s, media conglomerate Warner Bros. had acquired DC and joined forces with European moguls Alexander and Ilya Salkind to make the biggest, splashiest Superman of all: the 1978 blockbuster that reinvigorated the legend and made a super-star of Christopher Reeve - even though Marlon Brando (as Kryptonian scientist Jor-El) and Gene Hackman (as villain Lex Luthor) got higher billing.  Reeve reprised the role in three sequels.  Helen Slater joined the franchise as his cousin Supergirl in 1984.

Almost from the beginning, the adventures of Superman and friends have demanded music.  Sammy Timberg composed the first Superman theme; as musical director for the Fleischer animation studios, he also supplied songs for Popeye and Betty Boop on a regular basis.  His music for the "strange visitor from another planet" opened with a three-note fanfare that has served as the model many times over.

Mischa Bakaleinikoff, musical director for the Columbia cliffhangers of the 1940s, supplied a dark-hued march designed to suggest the menace that faced the Man of Steel on a weekly basis.  Composer Leon Klatzkin combined elements of both -- the heraldic fanfare and strong martial rhythms - in his Superman television theme, one of the earliest and most enduring original compositions for the small screen.

For the Broadway show, veteran songwriters Charles Strouse and Lee Adams (Bye Bye Birdie and Applause for the stage, Bonnie and Clyde for the movies) created an entire song score around the exploits of Clark and Lois.  A very 1960s vibe infused these tunes, as the show fell neatly into the campy, comic-strip mode that was making TV's Batman a hit at the same time.  Librettists David Newman and Robert Benton (the latter, the director of Kramer vs. Kramer and other films) would take their treatment to the movies a decade later and be co-credited with the screenplay.

John Williams - coming off such successes as Jaws and Star Wars - had just become the hottest composer in Hollywood when he wrote the Superman film score, a 1978 Oscar nominee.  His theatrical fanfare and soaring main title music, his beautiful love theme ("Can You Read My Mind", with it's clever Leslie Bricusse lyric) and his comic march for the villains are among his most memorable works in a career filled with outstanding musical accomplishments.

Williams was unavailable to score the sequels, but his music was already such an integral part of Superman that British composer Ken Thorne was brought aboard to adapt Williams' themes and supply additional original music for Superman II (1980) and Superman III (1983).  Another Hollywood legend, veteran composer Jerry Goldsmith, composed a stirring march for the adventures of Supergirl in 1984.

Here, then, are musical highlights from half a century in the annals of the greatest mythical figure of our time: Superman.

- Jon Burlingame

Order the CD, $12.99, proceeds benefit the CRF

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1. The Adventures of Superman from Superman: The TV Series (Leon Klatzkin)
2. Superman: The Movie - Main Title (John Williams)
3. The Trip to Earth from Superman: The Movie (John Williams)
4. Leaving Home from Superman: The Movie (John Williams)
5. Superfeats from Superman: The Movie (John Williams)
6. Love Theme from Superman: The Movie (John Williams)
7. Superman: The Columbia Serial (Mischa Bakaleinakoff)
8. It's Superman from It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman! (Charles Strouse, Lee Adams)
9. Fanfare and Clark Kent Screws Up from Superman II (John Williams, Ken Thorne)
10. Love Theme and Flying from Superman II (John Williams, Ken Thorne)
11. Phantasmagoria on themes from It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman! (Charles Strouse, Lee Adams)
12. Honeymoon Hotel from Superman II (Ken Thorne)
13. March of the Villains from Superman: the Movie (John Williams)
14. Supergirl - Main Title (Jerry Goldsmith)
15. Main Title (the Streets of Metropolis) from Superman III Ken Thorne / John Williams)
16. Superman: the Max Fleischer Cartoon (Sammy Timberg)

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