July 3 – Anniversary of Superman Day

Posted on July 3, 2014

Today is the anniversary of the very first actor to play Superman.

(His name was Ray Middleton.)

In the very first Superman costume.

(It said “Superman” above the “S” on his chest.)

(And it included lace-up boots.)

Middleton played Superman at the World's Fair on this date in 1940 (or some people claim 1939). There was a special edition of DC Comics on sale at the fair, and publicists were hoping that a personal appearance of the man of steel would spark interest and promote sales.

There was a Super-boy and Super-girl contest, a live radio show, and a parade with floats, elephants, and of course Superman himself! There was also a release of 10,000 balloons, some containing coupons for Superman-themed prizes. (I'm pretty sure that wouldn't be allowed now, since balloons are dangerous for wildlife.)

By the way, some people celebrate a modern Superman Day (sometimes called Man of Steel Day) on June 12, and there is a four-day festival called Superman Celebration in Illinois each year, also in June.

My favorite story about Superman in the 1940s is the one about the fictitious hero bringing down the real-life villains, the Ku Klux Klan. Of course, Superman had a lot of help – a real-life hero named Stetson Kennedy.

After World War II was over, the white-supremacy organization the Ku Klux Klan had a huge upswing in popularity. Membership was increasing by leaps and bounds, local law enforcement was loathe to take on the well-connected group, and the Klan's political power was growing as well.

Kennedy decided to infiltrate the Klan so he could expose its secrets, but like I said, the police didn't want to even try to build a case against the Klan.

That's when Kennedy got creative. He turned to the writers of the hugely popular Superman radio show. It was one of those right-places-at-the-right-time situations, because the Superman writers were in need of villains. The Nazis had been battled and vanquished (by Superman and in real life) – what now? the writers wondered.
Thanks to Kennedy's research, the Superman writers crafted a 16-episode series titled “Clan of the Fiery Cross.” The villains of the series were men in white hoods – men who had all manner of secret code words, special handshakes, and solemn rituals that were exactly the same as the ones used in the real KKK.

Superman fought against the Clan, and he won. Little boys who wanted to be just like the Man of Steel playacted some of the action that they'd heard on the radio show, and in so doing made those secret code words and rituals seem silly and childish. People began to laugh at the KKK's ceremonies, seeing it as a bunch of grown men wearing sheets and indulging in overdramatic foolishness. Rather that the KKK losing favor because it was anti-human rights, it lost favor because it was ridiculous.

But the good news is, it really did lose a lot of its mystique and popularity. Recruiting fell to zero, the organization's charter was canceled, members started skipping meetings in droves, and whenever the members tried to appear in public in their white hoods, onlookers didn't shrink away in fear or clap their hands in support – instead, they laughed and pointed fingers.

Some historians say that Superman (and Stetson Kennedy) pretty much destroyed the KKK's growth and vastly reduced its size and influence.

That alone is a very good reason to say hooray for the Man of Steel today!

Also on this date:

Plan ahead:

Check out my Pinterest boards for:
And here are my Pinterest boards for:

No comments:

Post a Comment