Bob Holiday, Broadway's First Superman
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It's a Bird
A Flop

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Entire Interview

In August of 2020, Abraham Riesman published a long article contrasting 1966's Broadway production with 2010's Dallas revised version of the show. This week we straighten out a few inaccuracies (many are documented in the comment section) and share with you the original interview.

Shortly after Bob Holiday passed away in January, 2017, noted writer Abraham Reisman contacted webmaster Toni Collins to ask a few questions about Bob for an upcoming article on Vulture.com. Three years passed. Recently, Friend-of-Bob Brian McKernan ran across Mr. Riesman's article. It turned out not to be an article about Bob per se, but a history of how the 2010 Dallas Theater Center revised and re-wrote the original Broadway show.

Read the ORIGINAL ARTICLE here.

Abraham Reisman begins his article with the sad history of the 2010 Dallas “revisal” of "It's a Bird It's a Plane It's Superman©". This writer counts herself lucky to have seen both the original Broadway production and the revised Dallas version of the show. Both were delightful, and it is disappointing that DC Entertainment will not allow the revised script from Dallas to ever again be produced—especially since that version ended with an exciting cliff hanger! Now we'll never know what happened.

A few nit-picky corrections:

Vulture.com:
[Per DC,] the show couldn’t be called Superman: The Musical, which explains its eventual unwieldy, ellipsis-filled title.

The official title of the Broadway show was "It's a Bird It's a Plane It's Superman ©". There are no ellipses in the title. Note: Despite many, many tries to correct Wikipedia, it continues to add ellipses and leave off the quotation marks. This may have been Mr. Riesman's source for the title; he is not to be blamed for Wikipedia's refusal to change.

Vulture.com:
Max has a sassy girlfriend and girl Friday who goes by the name of Sydney Carlton, eternally put-upon by her narcissistic beau-boss.

In the original Broadway production, Max Mencken’s sidekick’s name was simply “Sydney” (played by Linda Lavin), not “Sydney Carlton.” This writer has seen a few programs from revivals naming the character “Sydney Carlton,” but the original Playbill gives the character no surname. Note: This, too, may stem from Mr. Riesman using Wikipedia as a source. Until recently, Linda Lavin's character was incorrectly listed as "Sydney Carlton."

Vulture.com:
Lois realizes she loves Clark more than Jim…

In 1966, Lois Lane did not know that Superman was Clark Kent. In the Broadway show, Lois realized that she loved Superman, not Clark. In 2010, the Dallas re-write showed Lois Lane discovering Superman's secret identity (way back in 1939), which may account for the confusion.

Vulture.com:
Worst of all is the depiction of Lois: She is, to put it mildly, a bit of a sap, deprived of all agency, who belts out “What I’ve Always Wanted,” an homage to domestic tranquillity that is anti-matter to the then-nascent women’s-lib movement: What I’ve always wanted / What I’ve always wanted: / Being just a wife; that corny life / Is what I’ve always wanted.
A dogwood tree, the A&P / Conformity / Green stamps in a book / making like a cook.

It was 1966. Yes, the women’s-lib movement had begun, but in 1966 these were the feelings of many, many women in America. This was normal (though that's hard to imagine today), and it did not make Lois Lane into “a sap.” Not enough has been written about Patricia Marand’s Lois Lane. As this writer posted on the Vulture.com website: “I find myself called to defend Broadway's Lois Lane. As portrayed by Patricia Marand, she was far from "a sap," nor was she "deprived of all agency." She stood up to villains right and left, in the office ("You killed Broadway, Max. Can't you leave journalism alone?) and out ("I'm Not Finished Yet"). [Mr. Riesman] further missed the point of "What I've Always Wanted"; Lois longed for domestic tranquility with Superman but had realized this was an impossible dream. Here again she shows her strength, giving up the love of her life ("I should be thinking just of Jim, not Superman") because he can't give her the life she wants. Many women could learn a lot from this form of heroism, and mind you, she's not throwing away her typewriter. Striving to critique a production he'd never seen based on the ephemera of history, Mr. Reisman simply doesn't recognize the vibrancy of the live performance. Patricia Marand brought layered nuances to Lois Lane: tender yet strong, vulnerable yet determined, wry yet loyal. She remains my favorite Lois Lane of all time.

Playbill

For those of you who love the details of history, here is the interview portion of my correspondense with Abraham Riesman.
**Did Bob grow up a Superman fan?
He sure did. Bob was about six years old when the first Superman comic was written, and he was a true fan almost from the beginning. He also loved the Kirk Alyn serials. In fact, when Bob had the chance to audition for Superman, he found it eerie because he had been such a big fan all his life.
**What was Bob’s career like before he did the show?
Bob spent a great deal of his early career singing in supper clubs and performing comedy, as well as performing in legit stage shows. Some of the bigger names he worked with were Jayne Mansfield and Mamie Van Doren. There was a terrific article in the New York Journal-American (June 1963), reporting that Bob and Mamie had been instructed by the Westchester Dinner Theater to cut their two-minute kissing scene down to half a minute; Bob said he'd rather take a pay cut! Eventually there was enough of a public outcry that the kiss did get toned down. Bob's most infamous employer was Jack Ruby—yes, the Jack Ruby who killed Lee Harvey Oswald. Bob said Ruby was always nice to him, and Bob was stunned when he heard the news of the shooting.
". . . It's Superman" was actually Bob's second Broadway show. He'd appeared for two years in Fiorello! opposite Tom Bosley. He knew he got the role because they needed someone tall to make Tom look shorter. I thought Bob's choice of audition song was brilliant: "Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue."
**How did Bob approach the task of playing Superman? What was his philosophy?
Above all else, Bob knew he had to believe in Superman. From the audition through the end of the show, believing in Superman was Bob's number one job. Fortunately, he got a lot of support from Hal Prince, the producer. Almost a decade before Richard Donner became famous for posting "Verisimilitude" signs all over the set of Superman: The Movie, Hal Prince was telling Bob to "keep it real."
Bob also adopted a milquetoast version of Clark Kent. That seems like a "duh" statement, since we've all seen and loved the Christopher Reeve movies. But in 1966, that was a revolution from the strong, courageous, take-charge George Reeves interpretation of Kent. Bob also always played Superman. This was live theater, and Bob knew that he shared a secret with the audience: underneath his white shirt was a great big red "S". It was a part of the charm of the show.
**Did the flying scare him?
Not a bit. And that's saying a lot, because he actually fell one night when the shackle attached to his harness broke. He dropped six feet to the ground, bounced back up, turned to the audience and said, "That would have hurt any mortal man!" He got a standing o vation. He also said he wasn't scared when he reprised the role in St. Louis; they used a crane to fly him into the stadium; he thinks he was almost 100 feet in the air.
**What was the biggest challenge of the show for him?
That it got canceled after 129 performances. To the day he died, he never understood why the show ended so soon. When it ended, he went to visit Hal Prince to try to get a handle on the reasons. He was comforted that Hal felt Bob, personally, had done everything right. I would always try to make him feel better by pointing out how many shows that have become classics were running at the same time: Sweet Charity, Mame, Man of La Mancha. And really, ". . . It's Superman" has become a classic in terms of revivals. Not only are theater companies re-staging the show over and over, but the cast album has literally never gone out of print. You can still buy the CD from Sony Masterworks Broadway.
**What was his favorite part of the show?
I think it was the give and take between him and Jack Cassidy. Those two were always trying to upstage each other, and they were pretty successful at it. Bob was told to upstage Jack by eating milk and cookies when Jack was preening around the Daily Planet newsroom. It got a lot of laughs. Jack used closing night to try to get back at Bob; during the curtain call, Jack held up a white envelope and called, "Hey, Supes. Can you mail this for me?" Not to be upstaged, Bob reached out as only a Superhero can and grabbed that envelope as he flew past.
**Why did he think it didn’t last very long on Broadway?
See above.
**How often did Bob make appearances at superhero-related conventions and other fan events?
These didn't exist in 1966, and the early ones were pretty low key (I went to the third-ever San Diego Comic Con, and basically collectors were selling their Silver Age comics off rickety wooden tables). By the time comic cons were picking up steam, Bob had left show business and was starting his second career as a well-respected home builder. That all changed the day Bob decided to type "Superman Bob Holiday" into a search engine and discovered site after site that paid him tribute. He wrote thank you notes to every one, which led to him to be invited to the 2003 Metropolis, IL Superman Celebration. It brought him back into the Superman universe, and allowed long-time fans, like me, to find him again.
**Did Bob think of the role as his biggest professional achievement?
Absolutely. He loved every minute of bringing Superman to life. He loved meeting children backstage. (How many actors invite anyone backstage, let alone children?) It was his biggest role as an actor, and he even used a Superman-like figure to start his home building business. Bob was grateful for every opportunity he had in life, from singing to acting to building homes. But there is no question; Superman was definitely his greatest achievement. Fans continued to contact him right up to his dying day, and he was grateful for every single one of them. If Bob wanted to leave a legacy, it was to always be positive and always do your best. He brought these virtues to the stage and to every aspect of his life.
Thank you, Abraham, for letting me walk down memory lane a bit. Please let me know if you have any further questions.

SupermanBobHoliday.com SupermanBobHoliday.com

Quotes from https://www.vulture.com/article/superman-broadway-musical-its-a-bird-flop.html#comments
by Abraham Riesman, as of 6/18/2021
Photos courtesy the Estate of Bob Holiday
Text ©2019 Toni Collins
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