Known as the first Superman, Kirk Alyn himself could not believe the producers were serious when they first approached him. 70+ years later, many other actors have stepped in his shoes, and we remember the legend with these 10 facts.
1. Kirk Alyn was born John Feggo Jr on 8 October 1910 in New Jersey to Hungarian immigrant parents. He grew up in a borough named Wharton, in Morris County, and served in the US Navy during World War II.
2. As a young man, Alyn started as a chorus boy for Broadway plays, and he was in the 1930 musical “Girl Crazy,” which turned American icon Ginger Rogers into a star. Additionally, he performed on “Of Thee I Sing” and “Hellzapoppin’.”
3. Before Hollywood, he tried making a name for himself as a singer and dancer in vaudeville, a type of comedy theatrical entertainment without psychological or moral intentions.
4. Kirk Alyn moved to Hollywood in the early 1940s to get roles in feature films, but he only got to play small parts in low-budget films, many of which were uncredited. He played Police Sgt. Reynolds in the 1946 crime film “The Trap”.
5. When Producer Sam Katzman approached Alyn to play the title role in the 1948 film “Superman”, he (Alyn) thought Katzman was joking. He recalls the encounter in a widely published interview:
“I thought it was a publicity stunt. I didn’t think you could ever put Superman on film. They brought the people from D.C. Comics over and they said, ‘Hey, he looks just like Clark Kent.’ They said take off your shirt, so I did and flexed my muscles. Then the guy said, ‘Take off your pants’ and I said, ‘Wait a minute.’ I was 37 when I played Superman. I picked up that girl and ran up that flight of stairs like it was nothing.”
6. Up until the 1948 serial film, there had only been Superman in comic books, newspaper strips, animated shorts, and radio shows. Then, Kirk Alyn played the character in the 1948 film and in the 1950 “Atom Man vs. Superman” film.
7. Equally important, when Alyn played Superman, he seemed to be a different person from when he was playing Clark Kent. His portrayal of the two different personalities helped the element of disguise that the serial film needed.
8. To show superman flying, the actor jumped up with his arm(s) outstretched, then an animated character takes his place and flies away. Alyn tried using hidden wires to appear to be really flying, but the technology back then could not erase it completely, and the wires showed in footages.
9. Despite the success of the 1948 Superman film, Kirk Alyn had trouble finding acting jobs. He went back to playing uncredited roles and rejected offers to reprise the superhero character in the 1951 television roles. Since then, he has had a brief cameo in “Superman” (1978) and “Superman 50th Anniversary Special” (1988). His last known film role was the 1983 horror flick “Scalps”.
10. Kirk Alyn married actress and dancer Virginia O’Brien in 1942, and they had three children: Terri O’Brien, Elizabeth Watkins, and John Feggo III. The couple divorced in 1955.
Before his death in March 1999 from Alzheimer’s disease at 88, DC Comics named Alyn as one of the honorees in the company’s 50th anniversary publication Fifty Who Made DC Great. He also received Comic Con’s Inkpot Award in 1974 and was the Grand Marshal of the Metropolis, Illinois Christmas parade and Annual Superman Celebrations many times.
Since playing the first Superman in a DC live-action production, Kirk Alyn handed over to George Reeves and several other actors after him.
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