The man of steel is an invincible alien sent from the planet Krypton who’s duty bound to save humanity. In our reality, we would quickly learn that the son of Jor-El was more human and not as invincible as we had hoped. Created in 1933 by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, Superman has always sat atop the pantheon of super heroes ever since 1938 when he first appeared in Action Comics #1.
Sent to Earth after the destruction of his home world, Kal-El was found and adopted by two Kansas farmers. With the powers given to him by the Earth’s sun and the strong moral character provided by his adoptive parents, Superman would become the embodiment of strength and values that made him the prefect superhero. And Superman has been continually been adapted for film and television. Over the decades many actors have donned the blue suit and red cape. Unfortunately, many of those who have assumed the role (and those who have appeared as supporting characters) have been the victims of strange events and tragedies. Many people believe in what is called The Superman Curse, a strange force that surrounds the franchise and continues to affect those who play a part in bringing Superman to film or television.
Some believe the curse began with Kirk Alyn, the forth actor to play Superman, but the first actor to play him in a live-action series in 1948. Although the series only lasted 15 episodes, Alyn became heavily associated with the character, which made finding other work extremely difficult. Finding only bit parts, Alyn became bitter about what “the man of steel” had done to his career, prompting him to turn down the role when a new Superman adaptation was slated in 1951. He would eventually reunite with his former alter ego in 1981 when he was cast to play Lois Lane’s father in Richard Donner’s SUPERMAN.
George Reeves was the man most closely associated with the Superman curse, as documented in the 2006 film HOLLYWOODLAND. Reeves played the titular character in the ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN from 1952 to 1958. Just like Kirk Alyn, George had trouble ditching the Superman character and finding other work. Recently married to socialite Leonore Lemmon, George soon found himself experiencing financial troubles.
During a party at his home, a depressed and upset George Reeves went up to his room as the party continued below. A few minutes later guests heard a gunshot. Rushing to his bedroom, they found Reeves lying across the bed with his feet still on the floor. On the ground was a recently fired Luger pistol. George Reeves died of single gunshot would to the head. However, George’s legacy would not end there. His death would be mired in controversy, and for decades many would contest that he did not commit suicide, but was actually murdered.
In 1978 Richard Donner released his Superman adaptation, SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE. A huge success, the film starred Christopher Reeve in the lead role and would spawn three more films. In 1987, Reeve hung up the cape, but could never leave behind the character, finding lead roles few and far between. Then in 1995, a horseback riding accident would leave him paralyzed with a broken neck. In 2004, Reeve would die from complications stemming from this accident. His wife, Dana Reeve, would die two years later from lung cancer despite never having smoked a cigarette.
There were those who did not even wear the cape that are also believed to be victims of the curse. Marlon Brando who played Superman’s father Jor-El in the 1978 film had several misfortunes befall him. In 1990, his son Christian began a ten-year prison sentence after murdering Dag Drollet, his half-sister Chyenne’s boyfriend and the father of her unborn child.
During the trial, Marlon sent his daughter to an asylum in Tahiti to prevent her from taking the stand in her brother’s case. Then in 1995, Cheyenne Brando committed suicide. Marlon would become increasingly reclusive and unpredictable on set. He died on July 1, 2004, four months before Christopher Reeve.
Another star of the 1978 film, Margot Kidder who played love interest Lois Lane, was also believed to be a victim of the curse. For years Kidder has suffered with an extreme bipolar disorder. In 1996, Margot went missing, turning up four days later living on the streets. Unlike other victims, Margot was able to find other work, appearing in a long list of films and television shows. Further shaking the curse, Kidder is now a political activist and staunch environmentalist.
Perhaps the biggest victims were probably the creators themselves. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had sold the Superman rights to DC Comics for very little. After the initial success of the comic, Siegel and Shuster made several unsuccessful attempts to regain legal ownership. By the 50s, artist Shuster’s declining health had left him nearly blind and unable to draw. Forced to take a job as a deliveryman, Shuster ended up suffering further insult by making deliveries to the same DC office that had been built off of the success of his character. By 1975, a completely blind Shuster was living in a nursing home. Co-creator Siegel launched a campaign against DC Comics and its now parent company Warner Brothers. Warner Brothers eventually relented and gave them both a pension that would last until their deaths. They would also be given “Created By” credits on all further Superman Incarnations. Joe Shuster passed away in 1992 followed by Jerry Siegel in 1996.