Show Business: Up, Up and Awaaay!!!

America's favorite hero turns 50, ever changing but indestructible

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Behold, I teach you the superman. The superman is the meaning of the earth.

-- Friedrich Nietzsche

"I'm lying in bed counting sheep when all of a sudden it hits me. I conceive a character like Samson, Hercules and all the strong men I heard tell of rolled into one. Only more so."

-- Jerome Siegel

Where do enduring legends come from? Where do mythical heroes come from? Where do classic works of popular art come from?

"As a high school student," Jerry Siegel once recalled, "I thought that some day I might become a reporter, and I had crushes on several attractive girls who either didn't know I existed or didn't care I existed . . . It occurred to me: What if I . . . had something special going for me, like jumping over buildings or throwing cars around or something like that?"

Great ideas, even when they seem to come all at once, actually emerge from a tangled undergrowth. Siegel, a scrawny, bespectacled teenager who was then drifting through Cleveland's Glenville High School, worked as a delivery boy for $4 a week, gave part of the money to help support his impoverished family and invested much of the rest in the adventures of Tarzan, Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. Imitating and burlesquing such heroes, he began concocting science-fiction tales that he mimeographed and sold to other students. One of Siegel's lesser creations was a story called The Reign of the Superman, which featured an evil scientist with a bald head. Superman as villain? The thought is enough to make posterity shudder. But this was not the stuff of greatness. It was only during a sleepless summer night in 1934, after Siegel had graduated, that the grand inspiration came: Superman as hero.

It was a heroic scenario: the explosion of the doomed planet Krypton, the miraculous escape of the infant son of a Kryptonian scientist, the discovery of the baby's spaceship by an elderly couple near the Midwestern town of Smallville. And the gradual revelations of the child's superhuman strength, the foster parents' exhortation that he "must use it to assist humanity," the youth's adoption of a dual identity -- the mild-mannered, blue-suited newspaper reporter, Clark Kent, and the red-caped, blue-haired Superman, the man of steel. And Lois Lane, the toothsome fellow reporter who attached herself to the Superman-Kent duo, loving the one and snubbing the other.

Siegel went running to the house of his classmate and neighbor, Joe Shuster, the equally penniless son of a tailor from Toronto, and the two of them worked all day -- Siegel writing and Shuster drawing -- until they had finished no fewer than twelve newspaper strips. Then they set forth to sell their new hero to the waiting world, which proved utterly indifferent. "A rather immature piece of work," said United Feature. "Crude and hurried," said Esquire Features. Even at Detective Comics, which finally bought the feature after much argument and delay to help launch Action Comics four years later, Publisher Harry Donenfeld looked at the first cover, of Superman lifting a car over his head (a treasure that now can fetch $35,000 from collectors), and delivered his verdict: "Ridiculous."

Woke up this morning, what do I see?

Robbery, violence, insanity . . .

Superman, Superman . . .

I want to fly like Superman.

-- The Kinks

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