En lieu of the release of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE and SUPERMAN II on DVD & Blu-ray my mind began to wander as I evaluated the extras on the discs. As I viewed the 3 newly created documentaries I seemed to recognize much of the footage, but realized it was strangely “misplaced”. Then, while listening to the Commentary with Director Richard Donner and Tom Mankiewicz there was more than one occasion when my mind traversed back to material previously documented in other sources through the years, and were originally quoted by other persons. I then remembered some of the footage used in these new WARNER documentaries was actually culled from a documentary made during the film’s theatrical release, which also aired on ABC. I began to realized between the miss allocated footage, and references made during the Commentary, that credit for various aspects of the production had been “slanted” and misappropriated. People’s memories falter, that’s a given, however it takes more than one person to make a film. SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE began its pre-production in 1975. Mr. Donner entered much later. There is an entire history prior to him accepting the project for which he was hired. His mark is clearly obvious and the film bares his signature, however Moses did not free the Israelites, God did. I’m not one for political correctness something I’ve stated, numerously, in my reviews.
Re-writing history has become fashionable to placate the masses en lieu of facing cultural weakness, civilized behavior, and inciting credit where none is due. This to me is ignorance especially when information is so readily available in today’s net/electronic culture. Unlike may writing on the net I was lucky enough to live through the decade and see the original release of SUPERMAN, and old enough to evaluate with an adult eye. Much was publicized in many periodicals. Indeed there was even a paperback “Making of” printed. (Remember, there was no Internet then!) So, what soured my ears and eyes with the “Special Edition” of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE sent me back to find those pieces of documented facts and present them here, because I feel…
SOMETHING’S AMISS ON KRYPTON
“… these are matters of undeniable fact.” - Jor-el
IN THE BEGINNING...
In May 1974, at 5:30 in the afternoon, cocktail time at the Cannes Film Festival, an airplane flew over the strip of beach trailing a long banner announcing a new movie called SUPERMAN. In May 1975, three planes flew along the beach, and the announcement was repeated. In 1976, same time, same place, same message – but now there were five planes, two helicopters and one blimp…
TIME, November 27, 1978
July 4th in N.Y.’s Battery Park, he (Salkind) showed a laser beam projection of SUPERMAN on 90-foot-high balloons, created mucho pre-pic talk. Who will play SUPERMAN? “The usual names are in the hopper – plus a few offbeat stars for this role: Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood, Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino.” Salkind says the arch villain will have an equal part and there may be four (maybe more) international super-villains, hopefully including Yul Brynner, Lee Marvin, Telly Savalas and Jack Palance.
VARIETY, July 8, 1975
“The problem with SUPERMAN is that he is unrealistic. He flies around in the air and he’s immortal. Puzo has found a way to make him vulnerable, so that people can relate to him."
LOS ANGELES TIMES, Aug. 9, 1975
British Director, Guy Hamilton, has been signed by Alexander and Ilya Salkind to direct their $20 million film, SUPERMAN. Ilya told us. “We think that Hamilton is perfect for this subject and a proven box office director, with his James Bond pictures.” It is understood that Hamilton will be leaving England to work in the States and will probably stay there for a year or more. The feeling here is that Guy Hamilton, having achieved the top of his profession with his string of James Bond hits, now feels read to work in Hollywood., where he will no doubt envisage a semi-permanent stay.
LOS ANGLES TIMES, Nov, 1, 1975
A PLAY ON WORDS
Salkind paid Mario Puzo $350,000 dollars to write the SUPERMAN script.
VARIETY, Saturday April 24, 1976
In August, the 26-year-old French producer rolled his entourage into the Beverly Hills Hotel and promptly announced that he would be making a $15 million dollar film version of “SUPERMAN” which would begin shooting “on SUPERMAN’S birthday, Feb. 29th. To select the proper leading man, Salkind took over the hotel’s private screening room for 10 days and ran the films of “major” Hollywood stars. The day he was interviewed Salkind was watching James Brolin in his movie debut, “SKYJACKED.” Nine months, later the project has been postponed and Salkind announced his intention to make “THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER” instead. What happened? “Nothing,” said the producer. “Mario Puzo is still writing the screenplay. Guy Hamilton will direct. We are still going to spend $3 or $4 million on the set. It is just that we have had script complications – nothing on a fight level for sure; just a general misunderstanding as to how to make it work. It is a very difficult balance between fantasy and reality.” At the moment, Salkind says he is “still looking for superstars and is still very open…” In the meantime he starts production on “THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER.”, May 17 in Budapest.
LOS ANGELES TIMES Sat, May 8, 1976
The film will have some 80 to 90 speaking parts as scripted by Mario Puzo, Robert Benton, and David and Leslie Newman. Producers accent that though based on a comic strip pic won’t be “campy” but played instead as solid larger-than-life drama. Ilya Salkind anticipates a PG rating. Key below-the-line elements include cinematography by Geoffrey Unsworth costumes by Yvonne Blake, and set by John Barry.
VARIETY, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 1977
I had a horrible time with the financing group. They wanted a star in the leading role. We were talking at least a $15 million dollar budget. You have two angles: One is getting the money, the other is selling the movie. My father’s sales people felt that if we had a star to play the lead it would help. I fought like a dog because I felt that the actor playing SUPERMAN himself had to be unknown. I lost the fight then, and had to give the script to a couple of starts. I gave it to Robert Redford. We made him a big offer, nothing crazy, but big. He turned it down. He’s a great actor and I think he was absolutely wise. He felt, as I knew, that to see Robert Redford flying through the air is almost impossible to accept. He had an intelligent reaction. So I was able to go back and say, “Why don’t we drop the idea of SUPERMAN as a star and put two big stars around him – one to play the villain and one to play his father from the planet Krypton.”
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, Nov. 1977
CASTING AND LOCATION PROBLEMS
Maybe producer Ilya Salkind is telling the truth when he says, “I’m using an unknown in the part of SUPERMAN.” But if he is, why has Neil Diamond already had his third meeting with SUPERMAN director Dick Donner? Neil Diamond – an unknown?! Even my mother, a Lawrence Welk fan knows his name. If Diamond does agree to play the title role (but don’t think he will), it’s because he’s a big Marlon Brando fan. And by now, even the exiles in Siberia know that Brando is going to be in SUPERMAN. FYI, director Donner has also been meeting with Shelley Duvall about the part of Lois Lane.
Shirley Eder syndicated columnist
Equity, the British actors union has warned producers Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler, currently setting up their $25,000,000 “SUPERMAN” on the Shepperton lot here, that a “fair balance of British casting” would be demanded in the production of the film. The union claims that the 10 key artists would be American, according to information received. This would not tolerated in a British studio.
London Dec. 8, 1976 reported Hollywood CA Thursday. Dec. 9, 1976
Unconfirmed but reliable report has Burt Reynolds set to play SUPERMAN in the feature edition planned by Alexander and Ilya Salkind of Paris-based Film Trust, SA.
VARIETY, Wed, May 5, 1976
MONEY, MONEY, MAKES THE WORLD GO ‘ROUND – NOT THE MAN OF STEEL
Brando will get 11.3 per cent of the box office receipts. Said Mr. Salkind, “Brando will only work for 12 days and he well get the entire amount before he shows up on the set. I am convinced he is the only actor to play SUPERMAN’S father. I didn’t flinch when we finally agreed on his price. His role is relatively minor on but I still felt it absolutely necessary to have him. I believe SUPERMAN is part of the American heritage and everybody will go to see the movie. It is a calculated risk on my part but I’m betting to make it all back – and more.”
London, Thursday December, 16, 1976
Marlon Brando is refusing to film in Rome – because of the way an Italian judge treated him over his controversial LAST TANGO IN PARIS. Brando has signed to play Superman’s father in a 15 million pound epic and set-building has been progressing in Rome for 6 months. But he is still upset over the two-month suspended jail sentence and 20 pound fine imposed when LAST TANGO was shown briefly, then banned in Italy two years ago. A spokesman for the producer of the SUPERMAN film, Ilya Salkind, said, “There’s a distinct possibility that we’ll now shoot the film in Britain.”
SUNDAY PEOPLE, October 24, 1976
It took a year but Ilya Salkind finally found his SUPERMAN. Christopher Reeve, a struggling 25-year old New York City stage actor, has been handed the role in the $25-million film which includes a sizzling love affair between Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Production begins late next month in London and New York. Reeve has been one of the earliest candidates for the part but was set aside principally because of his youthful appearance. Producer Salkind and director Dick Donner then scanned more than 10 men, many unknowns, some very known, Robert Redford turned the role down. Other big names asked for auditions and were turned for reasons varying from “too short” to asking for too much money. Bruce Jenner, the Olympic Games decathlon champion, almost locked up the role early based solely on his imposing physical stature. After a battery of screen tests, however, Salkind decided “he lacked the acting experience. The picture is so big we had to be careful.” Finally, it came down to Reeve and an acting novice named Don Voyne, a practicing Beverly Hills dentist who made a remarkable good screen test. But now Salkind felt Voyne, 38, photographed too old and a younger man is what he wanted all along. “Christopher Reeve has charisma, presence and life”, said Salkind. “He is a modern SUPERMAN.” The film, said Salkind, will delve, without campiness or satire, somewhat into the psychological aspect of SUPERMAN/CLARK KENT’s split personality and how he handles it. Clark Kent’s bond with Lois Lane will also be further explored. It will be romantic, said Salkind, “dealing with adult relationships and their love affair – but no nude scenes.” He is currently casting Lois Lane and has already seen some well-known Hollywood actresses. “Deep down, I feel we want another unknown.”
LOS ANGELES TIMES, MON., FEB.28, 1977
PROBLEMS WITH DIRECTION
SUPERMAN is seeking director Dick Donner (THE OMEN) to take over as the epic shifts from European locations to England – thus KO’ing Guy Hamilton, who Donner said, would have had a heavy tax load on his British home base. An Italian setting was also discussed – by Marlon Brando can’t work there – problems due to LAST TANGO’s censor subpoenas. Donner declared the England site’s OK by him but he and agent Steve Roth departed yesterday for London-Paris to talk script-other ideas with Alexander and Ilya Salkind. The offer for Donner will be hard to turn down 1 million plus a percentage of the gross… Brando who has director approval, gave it from his vacation site in Tahiti. Who will play SUPERMAN? Sylvester Stallone is being considered, result of the initial screenings of ROCKY .
Variety, Friday, Nov. 5, 1976
“We went to just about all the top directors in America.”, Ilya Salkind recalled, recounting how they had first been interested I Steven Spielberg before JAWS came out. “Billy Friedkin was already committed to SORCERER for Universal. Coppola was at work on APOCALYPSE NOW. And John Guillermin, who had done TOWERING INFERNO a while back, was set for KING KONG. By then we were starting to get worried. We send through most of the list – Robert Aldrich. Norman Jewison, Arthur Hiller. “They were all either involved with some project or just didn’t think it was their type of movie. Finally, we went to an Englishman, Guy Hamilton who had directed some of the biggest and most inventive of the James Bond series. He was thrilled with the idea and we made a deal. Sadly, we lost him when we switched the picture from Rome to London. And we lost a small fortune when we shifted in the midst of pre-production. Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of sets had already been constructed. As I said, we also lost our director, who’s a tax exile from his native Britain. But unquestionably, I think, we gained in the long run by moving the production to England. Without a doubt, we have here the finest craftsmen in the entire film industry. We were at work way before anyone had heard of STAR WARS or CLOSE ENCOUNTERS. We were the first kids o the block to foresee this renewed fascination with science fiction, space an fantasy. It’s just taken us a little longer to get it on the screen.
Pierre Spengler summed it up-
“Some people are talking about an undercurrent of resentment in the U.S. because we are European producers who shouldn’t be tampering with this scared part of American folklore. I don’t think that’s at all true. Quite simply, we were the ones who had the idea and initiative and stamina to put this film together. And rather than tampering with anything, our first goal has always been to make an entertaining movie that totally upholds the legend. That’s why we put Americans in al the key cast and crew positions… I think people all over will be gland that someone finally made this into a feature film.
NEW YORK POST, Thursday, December 28, 1978
THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES
Reflecting on the film’s success before embarking on a series of personals in France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, and Holland at openings of SUPERMAN, Donner also insisted that exec producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind “negotiate in good faith” for the sequel if he is to direct it. “That means no games”, Donner elaborated. “They have to want me to do it. It has to be on my terms, and I don’t mean financially. I mean control.” “A great deal of work remains to be done on the second SUPERMAN.”, Donner revealed. Although three-quarters of the footage has been shot, and assembled in rough-cut form Donner said, it will take a month for him to review all the dailies and begin cutting again. “I’ve forgotten the story.”, he joked. The death of British Cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth, who shot SUPERMAN, has caused considerable concern about meshing the visual look of the original with the sequel, but Donner revealed he has asked Peter MacDonald, Unsworth’s camera operator for 15 years, to take over the director of Photography spot on Part2.
VARIETY, Jan. 31, 1979
“I don’t really see how much more SUPERMAN can do after this second one. Though I do think the sequel is a better story than the first. For one thing, there’s a better villain – Terry Stamp. Lex Luther was a comic villain. This one has the intelligence of SUPERMAN and almost equal skill. It’s a more worth-while challenge. If it’s properly done there’s four or five month of work left to do. For there’s a major aerial sequence still to be filmed. It’s the climax to the film, with four or five people in the air at the same time. Now there’s a rumor that Dick Donner (who directed the first) won’t be finishing the sequel. The mind boggles at the prospect starting it with someone else, because Dick was so marvelous to work with, and it was his patience that saw it through.”
Christopher Reeves, LOS ANGELES TIMES March, 20 1979
Richard Lester, who coordinated second-unit work on SUPERMAN (uncredited) reportedly will take over producer’s reins on the sequel. Lester who directed the Salkinds’ THE THREE MUSKETEERS and FOUR MUSKETEERS two-parter would presumably also directed whatever footage remains to the shot on SUPERMAN II although a Donner spokesman said the pic will still be billed as “A Richard Donner Film”, and that Donner would retain full director’s credit.
VARIETY, March 21, 1979
Guy Hamilton who was originally to have directed the pic back in 1975 was mentioned by on source as a definite choice to succeed Donner this time, but another source familiar with the talks said Hamilton was not a definite pic yet, though much is in the running.
VARIETY, April 4, 1979
Spengler allows that he and SUPERMAN director Dic Donner differed during filming, but he says all’s now well and Spengler expects to return to complete SUPERMAN II. Donner, however, declares, “If he’s on it – I’m not” …Sounds like a problem for SUPERMAN to solve.
VARIETY, July 3, 1979
The decision to drop Marlon Brando from the film- although he had already filmed 20 mins of Part 2 – was, Salkind says, only partly financial. “When we came to look at the footage which had already been shot we came to the conclusion that we didn’t really need him, he said. “We needed him for the first film; having him in it made all the difference. But now we have a star of our own, Christopher Reeve. He was an unknown actor when we started. Now he’s shown he’s capable of being as big as Errol Flynn or Gary Cooper.” But surely the main reason for dropping Brando from Part2 was the fact that, had they used him again, they would had to pay him a second fortune. (With 11.3% of the gross, Brando stands to make around $8 million from Part 1.) “That was obviously a consideration”, said Salkind. “But I promise you if it had been a purely artistic decision, without money involved, I’d still have said we didn’t need him. The second film is much faster and quicker than the first. In an odd sort of way, Brando’s footage slowed it down, and was repetitious. I know Chris Reeve doesn’t agree, but there it is.”
Although Richard Donner, who directed the first SUPERMAN and some of the material for Part 2 was in Cannes, the two men did not meet, which was just as well. Since the producers dispensed with Donner’s services for the completion of Part 2, there has been no love lost between them. “Most of the trouble was between Donner and Pierre.”, said Salkind. “They just didn’t like each other. Pierre was even barred from the set. I myself have a great deal of respect for Donner, who created the concept for SUPERMAN. But it made it impossible when he began criticizing Pierre, who has been my friend and associate for 15 years.” Who will get directing credit for Part 2, which was finished by producer-director Dick Lester? “That’s for the Director’s Guild to decide”, said Salkind. “At the moment it looks as if Lester has been responsible for about 60% of the actual shooting and Donner for about 20%. Both were responsible for about 10% each of the other unit work. Under his contract Donner was entitled to have his name on the second film. But, as I say, it will be up to the DGA to decide the credits.”
LOS ANGELES TIMES, May, 27, 1980
A recent amendment to the complaint unveiled an intriguing new theory about Warner’s role in the making of the SUPERMAN movies in 1977 and 1978. The complaint said that the big studio schemed – and schemed most successfully – to use it’s financial leverage to keep the SUPERMAN project “teetering o the brink of financial disaster,” enabling Warner not only to buy large chunks of the producer’s share at bargain prices but to wrestle control of the actual production of the first picture away from the Salkinds. As an example of Warners flexing its financial muscle, said the complaint - the studio caused a major scene to be shot on location in the US rather than on a prepared back lot at Pinewood Studios in England, where much of both films were shot.
Warner executives also influenced script changes, including using the ending originally written for SUPERMAN II to conclude the first movie, the Brando filing said.
The portrayal of Warners as the heavy-handed exploiter and manipulator of the Salkind group makes an ironic contrast to the allegations made earlier about the Salkind’s 11th – hour delivery of the first SUPERMAN film to Warners barely in time for its Dec. 1978 premieres in NY and Washington DC, and the US opening s 750 theaters.
LOS ANGELES TIMES, Sunday, Sept. 13, 1981
The above compilation is not meant to be a definitive retrospect of the events that occurred before, during and after SUPERMAN I, II, but rather allow a more peripheral vision into some of the issues broached in the SUPERMAN DVD release. It is not meant to present a picture against, or for any specific person, but to arouse within the reader (viewer) other possibilities, and events, which were not broached on the DVD.
There are many sides to the many stories and somewhere in between there is a truth – a truth that will differ upon the perspective. However, political implications aside, a much more complete view of the making of this now classic film was more richly deserved. Things are more often than not less simple then they seem, and much more complicated then we would like. The essential thing is to always allow an open podium for all concerned and give credit to where it’s due.
- Scott Michael Bosco