Bob Holiday, Broadway's First Superman
Bob Holiday's Publicity Portfolio Article Graphic - Playbill


A look back at "It's A Bird It's A Plane It's Superman©" by the men who staged the show!

Comics Scene Magazine Official Headline

In early 1990, Comics Scene© Magazine retrospectively looked at many of the productions featuring Superman. They reviewed both the 1940s-era, Kirk-Alyn Superman movie serials (in which Noel Neill was the first live-action Lois Lane) and the Christopher Reeve movies to that date. But they didn't stop there. In researching the writers of the Reeve movies—David Newman and Robert Benton—they discovered that these movies were, in fact, not the first time Benton and Newman had written a Superman script. The first time was in the early 1960s, and the script was for the Broadway musical "It's A Bird It's A Plane It's Superman©".

The origins of Superman have always played an important part of the story, whether on television or in movies. This Comics Scene© article is unique in that it captures not the origin of Superman, but the origin of Broadway's "It's A Bird It's A Plane It's Superman©".

The article begins:

In the last decade or so, comics heroes have been serious business...Had Superman screenwriters Robert Benton and David Newman somehow time-warped their movie hit and its appreciative audience to the 1960s, the history of their first Superman effort, the Broadway musical "It's A Bird ... It's A Plane ... It's Superman©" might have had a happier ending. In 1966, Batman was bat-a-rang-ing into American homes twice a week on TV, and "it was free and a big hit," says Lee Adams, lyricist for the Superman musical. "People thought it was the same thing in the theater. It wasn't that at all. {Our show} was very straight."

Adams continues:

"So, we {Adams and composer Charles Strouse} met Newman and Benton and we asked them—and they were very funny guys—if they had ever thought of writing a musical comedy. They said no." Adams and Strouse then asked the pair to come up with a project. "They came back to us with the idea of doing Superman....We then went to the people who owned Superman, got the rights to do a musical, and we wrote it. That's easy to say, but it took us a year-and-a-half."
Lee Adams

Casting then took center stage:

{T}he production team still had to find a Superman that would adhere to the public's long-held image of the Man of Steel. Because of the physical and musical requirements for the role, "Hal Prince said that it was going to be very tough to find our lead character," Adams remembers.

And then ...

"So, we started auditions, and the first guy to walk in was a guy named Bob Holiday, " says Adams. "He was 6' 4", handsome, black hair, good singer, dumb, which didn't necessarily help, but he was a perfect Superman. We kept auditioning, saying, you know, he was too good to be true. And finally, we came back to the first guy who walked onto that stage."


Pausing for a moment, Adams corrects himself. "He wasn't dumb, he had a sense of humor. I take that back. He was sort of a methodical kind of actor, but it worked for Superman. He was terrific, wonderful. After the show, he would stay in his cape and sign autographs for kids bakstage."

The article is perhaps the best documentation of Jack Cassidy's behind-the-scenes advocacy ... for himself.

Behind the scenes, though, Cassidy was no laughing matter. During rehearsals, Cassidy would approach Prince and the others with scenes that he had rewritten to favor his character. "He was a bit of a prima donna, but he was so good," says Adams. "And, yes, he was a pain in the {tush}, to use a technical term."

The article may finally put to rest the "Who Was The Real Star" controversy:

Althought Cassidy's name figured above Holiday's on the marquee, Cassidy's Mencken never really overshadowed Holiday's Superman "because the roles were so different. Cassidy was a comedy lead, and Superman was very, very straight. That's what made it funny, but there was no camp in the show," says Adams.

Adams ends with a thoughtful take on why the show closed after only 129 performances:

Although Adams feel Superman was "a very good show" that suffered bad luck on Broadway, he speaks of his two years' participation in the project without bitterness....{H}e shrugs. "Nothing is as hard to do as a new musical. A straight play will have, mayhbe, 20 light clues; a musical has 250. Scenery is complicated. Everything has to work together....Every hit musical is a fluke," Adams adds. "A fluke of the right combination of creators, writers, directors, actors and designers. The whole thing [has to jell] together."
David and Leslie Newman

Also quoted in a side bar is David Newman:

"It's A Bird ... It's A Plane ... It's Superman©" was co-written by David Newman and Robert Benton. Both would later go on to work on the screenplay for Superman the Movie. David Newman would eventually team up with wife Leslie to polish the first film's initial script and pen two subsequent sequels (STARLOG #73).

After Adams and Strouse asked Benton and Newman to come up with an idea for a musical comedy, history was made by...

Our son Nathan was eight years old at the time and he was reading comic books. Leslie came out of his room and said, "You know what would make a great musical?" And she held up a Superman comic book. I thought, "Wow, what a great idea! Benton liked it, and then Adams and Strouse liked it, so we wrote Superman.

Newman continued to reminisce:

"It was a wonderful show," Newman enthuses, "which took a year to get on, as Broadway shows do....{We} opened in New York in March 1966 and got the greatest reviews you ever saw in your life. We thought we had a smash hit....There was a line at the Alvin Theatre, now the Neil Simon Theatre, which went around the block, and we thought, 'Here it comes, guys.'"
Everyone was shocked to learn that the show was anything but super at the box office.
"We had our own theories as to what happened," recalls Newman. "Benton called it 'Capelash,' as opposed to backlash. The Batman TV show had come out at the same time. Superman was a musical, it was fun, but it wasn't campy. We took the character very seriously, but Batman ... just because it was a time of pop art, a great deal of magazine coverage had Batman, Superman and Andy Warhol's 'Campbell Soup' all grouped together as if it was all part of the same phenomenon. I think people said, "Why should I pay 12 bucks a ticket when I can watch Batman for nothing?'
After three months, one day in July, the show just closed and that was the end of that, and I forgot all about superheroes. Many years later, Alexander and Ilya Salkind came to us to script the movie, with no idea that I had done this musical. I began to think that there was something in fate that this red-caped creature would fly into my life every 10 years and save {me}."

Isn't that exactly how all Superman fans feel?

Photos courtesy the Estate of Bob Holiday
and the personal collection of the webmaster
Text ©2023 Toni Collins and
Comics Scene Magazine #11, ©1990
Quotes are shown with original punctuation
Curly brackets indicate a 2023 edit for clarity and family friednliness
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