Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Real Superman


Superman. The real Superman. This figure looks like George Reeves, the man who played Superman in the late 1940s and early 1950s. For those of us over a certain age, this is the real Superman.

"...Look up in the sky, it's a bird, it's a plane, no... it's Superman!"

"Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound"

 He stands in that famous pose which was part of the opening of the Superman Show. At that point the announcer would say  "The never ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way."

George Reeves stood in his Superman costume with Old Glory as these words were read.

Superman was not one of the buff cut Schwarzenegger type strongmen. He was the older style strong man with thick torso, and these days the muscle-heads* would think him out of shape. Nonetheless, he was our Superman.

But on to another story. Back in 1957, the Louis Marx company manufactured  one of its playsets with a tin-litho structure. It was a toy skyscraper, complete with toy office furniture, workers and accessories. All the desks have ashtrays on them. From the outside, it looked like a multi-storied skyscraper. Inside were four floors.  The first floor had a bank, a drug store, a lobby and an elevator to the roof. Second was a floor with offices, then a floor with a gym, and lastly a stockroom.

Wow! Exciting! In the words of our mentor, “Yes, indeedy, boys and girls!”

It was a complete flop.

How could the folks at Marx not anticipate that? If you have lived anywhere that skyscrapers abound, you might be wondering why anyone would make a toy one. In the movie "Big", the adult toymakers came up with a skycraper toy. The main character told them it would not sell because it was not fun.

Anyone can see that.
Skyscraper photo courtesy of Mike Prendergast. Warhorse Miniatures

One item could have transformed a boring skyscraper into an exciting playset. One item. One figure. And here he stands before you: Superman. A skyscraper playset might be a dull day of play, but add this one figure and it becomes a Superman playset complete with the Daily Planet building. All you need is a toy Lex Luthor, a handful of plastic play Kryptonite and two or three old-style thugs to fill it out. Yet even without Luthor and his goons, Superman turns a dull toy into a fun toy.

Marx intended to make a Daily Planet / Superman playset. The company had everything in place: building, figures, accessories and Superman. Licensing fees were too high, so they scrubbed that idea. Rather than scrap the whole thing, they made it without Superman.

This figure of Superman is unique. Copies of him have been recast. Recast? Aside from a few sample figures, he was never cast in the first place. This is a toy figure for a playset that never happened. And had it not been for collectors, he might never have been cast again.


The Warhorse Miniatures site is at

Superman Figure aquired from James Wozniak at

*people like Jimmy Caruso.

** Louis Marx was notoriously cheap about licensing. He even disliked giving a few train sets to executives from railroad companies who allowed him to use their logos and liveries. One has to wonder if that cheap streak was behind his inability to secure licensing for Superman.
Louis Marx’s philosophy insofar as products was to make them cheap but make them sturdy. He was always looking to cut costs without sacrificing quality.


  1. Great idea. "Able to leap tall buildings at a single bound!"

  2. George Reeves portrayed Superman in the 1950s. Kirk Alyn was the serial Superman in 1948 and 1950.

  3. I meant George Reeves. I had seen a couple of the Kirk Alyn shows on TV about 20 years ago. For me, George Reeves will always be Superman.

  4. It's true, the Reeves Superman may LOOK flabby next to hypermuscle steroid poisoned Newsuperman, but it's like Coke and New Coke. Everyone agrees, New Coke didn't cut the mustard!

  5. This is one of those "...
    We were this close..." stories of collecting! So sad it did not happen with the licensing.