Of all the innumerable variations of the Superman “S” logo or symbol used on the screen and in the comics, my favorite, as you might guess from the blog entry below, is the one used on George Reeves’ costume on the Adventures of Superman TV show in the early-to-mid 1950s. I say “one,” but obsessive fans have documented how many variants were used in the six-year filming of that show; I seem to remember reading somewhere that there were 17 different ones used on the show. All had a strange but cool horizontally-stretched quality, like a CinemaScope movie.
The figure/ground aspects of that logo lend themselves to neat variations and sometimes confusion; the comic-book artist John Byrne, who grew up in England and never saw the comic books, remembers that it wasn’t until he was an adult that he realized the logo represented an “S”— he saw it on the TV show and thought it represented two fish swimming past one another! Byrne was later the first to reboot the Superman comic book series.
Of course, the main difference in the TV-show symbols was that, in the first two years when the show was filmed in black-and-white, they used brick-red- and beige-colored materials for the symbol and sewed it onto a light-gray shirt, so it looked right on a B&W TV. In the last four seasons, filmed in color, they used red and yellow on a blue shirt, as in the comic books.
These Adventures of Superman costumes were routinely tossed when they got too ratty to film with; you can see some show episodes where quick-and-dirty repairs have been made to the costume. The very few costumes that still exist are in museums or in the hands of wealthy collectors; the last one that sold on auction went for a stunning amount of money:
The firm who made these costumes, and almost every other costume you ever saw in the movies or on TV, was Western Costume Company in the San Fernando Valley. They’ve been in business since 1912, outfitting thousands of costumes. They’ve fitted entire armies of extras and evidently they would make whatever a production company asked for and then rent it to them. They’d also rent them to other production companies later on; that’s why if you look at some TV shows with a keen eye, you’ll see costumes you’ve seen elsewhere. On the Adventures of Superman, the costumes used for the Science Council of Krypton were originally used on the 1930s Buck Rogers movies.
When the movie, Hollywood Kryptonite, about the life and mysterious death of actor George Reeves was made, they had to get permission from DC Comics to allow the Superman costume to be shown on film. They recreated the costumes (both the black-and-white and color versions) exactly, as shown in this photo:
Well, as a confirmed Superman fan, I had to get me some of those!
I lucked out by finding, after an exhaustive Web search, a woman out in the Midwest who was, if I remember correctly, the daughter of a Western Costume seamstress. She had the original templates, or at least one of the originals, the original felt and satin materials in the correct colors— and especially— the skills to recreate the TV-show emblems exactly for me. She agreed to make me two shirts each in the B&W and color versions if I supplied the T-shirts to sew them onto. I seem to recall she only charged me $17 per, which was a super-bargain!
Here are my cotton short-sleeved versions of the TV-show shirts, which were wool and long-sleeved (except for one episode, where you see Reeves wearing a short-sleeved variant under his suit jacket). My gray version is a tad too pale a shirt color, perhaps, and the blue shirt a bit too bright, but what the heck!
My dry cleaners love to see these when I bring them in for cleaning, and when I wear them somewhere, folks always ask, “Who do you think you are; Superman?!??!”
I, of course, reply, “No; this is to protect my secret identity; I’m really the Green Lantern!”