Merry Christmas from Superman, 1945

Cover of Supermancomic39-1“Christmas today is very extra-special,” the Man of Steel announced to listeners seventy years ago, at the start of the “Adventures of Superman” episode broadcast on the first Christmas Day after the end of World War II.

With Germany and Japan defeated, the holiday message set the stage for later “Adventures of Superman” public-service messages and storylines encouraging young listeners to view hate and intolerance as their real enemy.

Actor Bud Collyer, whose own identity was a bigger secret than Clark Kent’s, stayed in character to deliver Superman’s “personal message” to listeners, opening the daily program. Superman was speaking, he said, on behalf of the Daily Planet’s Clark Kent, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Perry White: “Once more ‘peace on earth, good will to men’ is more than just a beautiful phrase…” (His speech filled the time slot usually allocated to a promotion for some “mail in your boxtops” Kellogg’s premium.)

“On this Christmas Day, let’s all determine to do everything we can to see that this remains  a lasting peace on earth, through the everyday practice of ‘good will to men.’ You see, wars grow out of misunderstanding, hate and intolerance, all things that were preached against by the Prince of Peace, whose nativity we celebrate today. Now, if we try to understand our fellow man, if we avoid hate and banish intolerance, we would do away with the cause for war and this scourge would forever disappear from the earth…”

“Regardless of race, creed or color, we’re all humans, entitled to the same respect and privileges. Here in America, all of us — black and white, Catholic, Protestant and Jew — are all Americans, and we must live together peaceably at home if we are to live at peace with the world.”

Unfortunately — holiday deadline pressure on the radio program’s script writer? — in another part of his speech, the refugee from Krypton managed to attribute the phrase “all men are created equal” to Abraham Lincoln, instead of the Declaration of Independence. I wonder how many young fact-checking fans of the Daily Planet journalists caught the error?

Although reporter Kent conducted a few interviews as part of the plot, there wasn’t much journalism practiced in this episode, day 16 of a 25-episode continuing story, “Searching for Kryptonite,” in which he enlisted the help of his pal Batman to track down stolen chunks of the radioactive element that could kill Superman.  In the past few months, Nazis had used kryptonite to create a powerful Atom Man who almost destroyed Superman in story lines that ran from September through November of 1945. Before the tale was over, Superman would face another echo of the war, in the form of an evil Japanese scientist.

But with the real war against Germany and Japan ended, where could radio script writers find forces of evil for Superman to fight? The opening three episodes of “Searching for Kryptonite” hinted at a possible enemy — one that would have fascinated Edward Said, author of the book “Orientalism“: One of the Nazi Atom Man’s associates left behind a coin or seal marked with a star and crescent. After discovering it, Kent and Olsen were attacked by a swarthy, sandal-wearing, knife-wielding assassin who wore the same symbol as a brand on his heel. Kent subdued him without even changing to Superman, but the “Arab” — as Jimmy identified the man to an Irish-accented policeman — killed himself while in police custody.

Did the post-war spirit of brotherhood squelch some writer’s original idea for the villains in this plot? In another episode, the Daily Planet’s expert on symbolism, Harry Goldman, gives Kent and Olsen a lecture on crescent and star symbols, finally assuring them that “there’s nothing distinctly Turkish or Moslem in the combination.” Keeping only a vague xenophobia alive, a “Hindu” boy is identified as part of the gang later, but other members have American or European names like “Sydney,” “Smith,” “Jones” and “Phillips,” although they also have connections with former Nazis and that the Japanese scientist. (The character “Sydney,” killed in an earlier story, was reminiscent of the mysterious world-traveling conspirator played by Sydney Greenstreet in the movie The Maltese Falcon.)

Ultimately, the radio serial dismisses the evil-doers as just “spies and crooks,” the “Crescent and Star mob” and “one of the worst confidence rings in the country,” with no national or religious significance in its membership symbol. And within a few months the “Adventures of Superman” radio series would be fully committed to fighting intolerance,  taking on “The Hate Mongers’ Organization” in the spring and, famously, “The Clan of the Fiery Cross” in the summer, and characterizing these domestic villains as echoes of the defeated Nazis for preaching hatred and intolerance.

If the one 15-minute episode has you curious, all 25 parts of “Looking for Kryptonite” are downloadable from page eight of the Internet Archive’s Superman collection, complete with Kellogg’s commercials and daily plot summaries. For a quick read, James Lantz’s plot summary and review are available at the Superman Homepage.

About Bob Stepno

mild-mannered reporter who fell deeper into computers and the Web during three trips through graduate school in the 1980s and 1990s, then began teaching journalism, media studies and Web production, most recently as a faculty member at Radford University.
This entry was posted in 1940s, adventure, Superman, World War II. Bookmark the permalink.

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