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SUPERMAN VS. HOLLYWOOD: HOW FIENDISH PRODUCERS, DEVIOUS DIRECTORS, AND WARRING WRITERS GROUNDED AN AMERICAN ICON


 

This hugely entertaining and well-written book takes a behind-the-scenes look at Superman in his various media guises beyond the comic books . . .

It kicks off with the popular radio show from the 1940s, the Richard Fleischer animated cartoons shown in cinemas and the George Reeves TV show before it moves on to the 1970s movies starring Christopher Reeve, the various attempts to revive the movie franchise which ultimately led to Superman Returns and today’s Smallville TV series . . .

Unsurprisingly much of the book’s focus is on the Alexander and Ilya Salkind-produced big screen movies of the late-1970s early-1980s starring Christopher Reeve. After all, the book is subtitled “How fiendish producers, devious directors, and warring writers grounded an American icon.” According to this book and most other accounts for that matter the father-son producing team of Alexander and Ilya Salkind would definitely be classified under “fiendish producers.”

They often come across more as hucksters and conmen than they do as Hollywood producers, leaving behind them a trail of law suits and irate debtors who often swore that they would never again work with the Salkinds again. Some of them did though often against their better judgment. Thus director Richard Lester went to finish Superman II after the producers had a falling out with original director Richard Donner. However the Salkinds still owed him money from when he directed The Three Musketeers for them a few years back and had to pay up before he agreed to go ahead.

Along the way author Jake Rossen throws in all kinds of info nuggets that would surprise even the most dedicated fan boy. In his foreword comic book author Mark Millar admits to as much. This coming from a guy whose dedication went as far as buying the “sadly deceased” Frisky the cat, which Christopher Reeves rescues from a tree in Superman - The Movie. “Fisky is now stuffed and mounted on top of my piano, where he stares at guests every time we have a dinner party.”

Since it isn’t an authorized book, Superman vs. Hollywood dishes on all the dirt that you won’t find on any studio-sanctioned DVD featurettes and audio commentaries. Just how much dirt does it dish? Not even Christopher Reeve is safe. At one point the book quotes former heavyweight boxer Jack O’Halloran who played Non, one of the Kryptonian supervillains in Superman I and II: “Christopher had never done anything [before Superman – The Movie]. His claim to fame was a soap. Being Superman was a big step into the limelight. He thought he was a superstar. Chris started believing his own press. He wasn’t the nicest of people until he got hurt. And when he got hurt, he became a nice person. He helped a lot of people with a lot of courage. Prior to that, he snubbed kids, he was too busy for this, too busy for that.”

"Christopher Reeve wasn’t the nicest of people until he got hurt . . ."

Non, sorry, O’Halloran obviously isn’t a guy to mess with. On dealing with the infamous Salkinds, he tells of how was supposed to be paid weekly salary but haven’t received anything for two months: “I pulled [producer] Pierre Spengler right across the desk and I said, ‘This is bullshit. I signed a contract to work. I worked. Now pay me.’”

Rossen’s book also spends a lot of time on some of the aborted efforts in the 1990s to bring another Superman movie to the big screen. Here the “fiendish” producer who grounded the iconic superhero was hairdresser-turned-Hollywood big shot Jon Peters. Peters had brought Tim Burton’s visionary Batman movie starring Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton to multiplexes in 1989. The movie discarded all the camp of the old 1960’s Adam West television series and made a fortune for Warner Bros. So he seemed to be a no-brainer choice to revive the Superman franchise after it had stalled with the disastrously bad box-office flop Superman IV - The Quest for Peace in 1987.

The only problem was that Peters (a former boyfriend of Barbara Streisand) despised the character. He even hated the iconic red and blue costume, and told screenwriters to ditch it along with the cape and replace it with a black costume that had chains coming out of it. Peters probably wanted to make Spawn and not Superman. Considering all the changes he wanted to make to the character one has to wonder why they bothered with making a Superman movie in the first case. He also didn’t want Superman to be able to fly, for instance. At one point he told Kevin Smith, the Clerks director, to throw in a gay robot sidekick and an ice bear for Superman to battle. (The logic being that the robotic sidekick and ice bear could be made into action figurines the real source of revenue when it came to the Batman movies.)

Smith was a comics geek who loved the Superman character and tried to steer the character into the right direction. Of the script draft they had before hiring him, he said: “There was a scene in which Superman was visiting his analyst, and telling him he, Clark Kent, was indeed Superman, and the analyst opens his office door and says to his secretary, ‘Mister Kent is gonna need a lot of appointments…’ or something along those lines. My impression of that was, ‘This can be better.’”

However when Warners approved of Smith’s (rather good) script, they brought in director Tim Burton who promptly threw it out again and (mis)cast Nicolas Cage as Superman. Luckily it was not to be. The studio didn’t like the new script Burton came up with and grew nervous with the budget approaching the $200 million mark. They pulled the plug on the ironically titled Superman Lives. “The studio spent upward of $50 million without shooting a single frame of film. It went beyond disaster, into fiasco,” Smith summed it up.

If you love behind-the-scenes Hollywood stuff and the Superman character, then Superman vs. Hollywood is a must-read. It is also a great companion piece to the recent Look, Up in the Sky - The Amazing Story of Superman documentary that was recently released on DVD. If you want to go further, then also check out the special features on the full-length animated Superman: Doomsday.

Recommended.
 

 


Superman vs. Hollywood: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors, and Warring Writers Grounded an American Icon (Cappella Books) (Paperback)
by Jake Rossen (Author), Mark Millar (Foreword)

Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Chicago Review Press (February 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1556527314
ISBN-13: 978-1556527319
 


 

 



 

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