Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Interviewing James Lantz (Superman radio story reviewer)

James Lantz's work is incredible!
James Lantz is the reviewer of the entire available arcs of The Adventures of Superman radio serial over at The Superman Homepage (THE place for Superman information on the internet, bar none) and currently reviews the television series of the same name, which ran in the 1950's.

I am honored that he took the time to appear for this interview with me. If you are a fan of the radio serial, I think you will find this interview to be most-enjoyable.

OTR Buffet:  First of all thanks so much for joining us at the OTR Buffet.  I appreciate your time involved in answering my questions.  I found the Superman Homepage website and your reviews of the shows about a year or more ago and I have gone back and read your reviews each time I finished a particular story.  It's absolutely great stuff and I always recommend it often to those I know who are also listening to the series.  It's been linked on this blog since day one!

James Lantz: Wow, thank you very much. It's always a pleasure talking to Superman fans.

OTR Buffet:   I'd like to know how you got interested in Superman's radio serial?

James Lantz: I've always been a fan of comic book heroes. Superman and The Incredible Hulk were always my favorites ever since I was a boy. I discovered the Superman radio show in the summer I had graduated from high school. I had purchased CDs of the first twenty-seven episodes, and they hooked me on the series. In 2006, my wife had encouraged me to do something I enjoy. I always wanted to write for or about the costumed crime fighters that had entertained me over the years. One day, I wrote to Steve Younis asking if anyone had reviewed The Adventures of Superman radio program for Superman Homepage. He had said I could do it if I wanted to, and the rest, as they say, is history.

OTR Buffet:  The way I go through the radio series is to listen to one single episode a day (there are occasions when I can't help myself and listen to two a day.)   From reading your terrific synopsis of each The Adventures of Superman arc that's available, it looks to me as if you tried to finish each one in a week's time or less.   Was that the case?

James Lantz: Yes, that was pretty much how I went about reviewing the show. After putting together a daily block of episodes, I'd listen to each chapter in each story arc about two or three times, sometimes more if there was one that had so-so audio quality. Then, I'd write the reviews for the Superman Homepage.

OTR Buffet:  How many man hours do you think you put into listening and writing all of stuff you have over at The Superman Homepage?

Bud Collyer was a super actor
James Lantz: I never really calculated them, but there have been a bunch of hours when I'd be typing away and not realizing that it was time to eat lunch or dinner. (laughs)

OTR Buffet:  I think the cast of The Adventures of Superman is really a very good one - all the way from Bud Collyer down to Jackson Beck.  What are your opinions on the cast and is there any cast trivia or tidbits you could let us know about?

James Lantz: The Adventures of Superman, by far, had one of the best casts in radio. Flash Gordon, for example, was a good show, but sometimes it felt like the cast and narrator were reading their scripts without the emotion required for their characters' dialog. The Superman cast did not do this. They made their characters come to life in the radio speaker. This was especially true of Bud Collyer, who is the best Superman in my opinion.

As far as tidbits or trivia go, Robert Maxwell was originally going to go with two actors - one for Clark Kent, the other for Superman - to give listeners the illusion that the characters were two different people until Bud Collyer auditioned. Collyer initially only wanted to audition and not do the series, but he was eventually convinced to stay with Superman.

The Adventures of Superman also gave us some well known first appearances Perry White, who was originally named Paris White in audition shows, the Daily Planet (the comics had Clark Kent and Lois Lane working for editor George Taylor at the Daily Star before the radio serials started.) Jimmy Olsen, Kryptonite and the team-ups with Batman and Robin all started on radio and would not appear in the comics until years later.

OTR Buffet: About Batman and Robin (who show up now and again in the radio series): I know Stacy Harris played Batman (at least most times - one time it was another, unknown actor.)  But I have no idea who played Robin.  Any idea who it was?

James Lantz: According to Flights of Fantasy: The Unauthorized but True Story of Radio & TV's Adventures of Superman by Michael J. Hayde, Ronald Liss was the only actor to play Robin. Flights of Fantasy is a great book for any fan of the Superman radio show. I'd recommend it to anyone.

OTR Buffet:  And speaking of Robin, I really didn't like the radio portrayal of The Boy Wonder.  I thought he was a little too mouthy.  Do you have any feelings on that?

James Lantz: He was a bit of hot head compared to his comic book counterpart. He often reminded me of Jason Todd, the boy who replaced Dick Grayson as Robin in the comics. It didn't bother me as much as one thing that seemed to go on throughout Batman and Robin's appearances in The Adventures of Superman. In "Looking For Kryptonite" Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne know each other's secret identities. Clark also knows that Dick Grayson is Robin. Yet, Robin has no idea that Clark is Superman. For some unexplained reason, Batman does not ever reveal Superman's greatest secret to his partner. It not only feels like a gaping plot hole. It shows a lack of trust between the Dynamic Duo.

OTR Buffet:  The show was cutting-edge, dealing with numerous social maladies, including racism (specifically the Ku Klux Klan), juvenile delinquency and others.  Does the comic book get into this as well and if so (if you know) how far behind the radio series were they?

James Lantz: Most of my Superman comics are from 1970 to the present. I started reading some of the early Golden Age stories in the Superman Chronicles trade paperbacks recently. I currently own the first two volumes. They do not discuss racism much, if at all, in those, but there was an Action Comics story by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster that dealt with juvenile delinquency. Often the villains in the early tales of the Man of Steel were corrupt politicians and business men. The 1940-1942 serials seemed to reflect that before World War II.

In my reviews, I often compared the Superman radio show to Star Trek: The Original Series as they both tackled the social issues of their respective time periods. The two shows, along with The Twilight Zone, in my opinion, were able to get away with this because they were done in the guise of science fiction. The Gunsmoke radio show did this from time to time, but I honestly don't feel that Marshall Dillon would have had much of the impact on children that Superman did.

OTR Buffet:  Anyone who has heard a lot of the show is no doubt familiar with Poco.  It's pretty obvious you didn't like the character (neither do I) and in fact, the character is so silly, you wonder why such a dumb character could have ever been created to begin with.  Would you tell us first, exactly how you feel about Poco and secondly, why do you think the writers took that same horrible character and used him over and over?  (Do you think the audience thought of him as horrible in the 1940's?)

James Lantz: I could really say so much about Poco. However, you'd most likely have to censor the language. (laughs) Poco is a character that I feel was completely unnecessary to the Superman radio show. I wished a bus would hit him on a few occasions. I think the powers that be thought Poco would be something adorable for the kids to like. Unfortunately, the result of their brainstorming irritates and insults the intelligence of the audience, something television still does to this day.

(Below is a clip of Poco - the clip will start in a few seconds after you press play...)

OTR Buffet: It probably goes without saying that most fans of Superman (young and old) have bypassed the radio serial, even though it's freely and easily available.  Do you feel that's a mistake the true fan is making?

James Lantz: As the radio show is my favorite version of the character outside of the comic books, I feel that it's a shame more people don't listen to The Adventures of Superman. They really should get it a try.

OTR Buffet: The Voicechasers database says that Jackson Beck played the part of Beanie, the copyboy. It's hard to tell just from hearing the part but I would bet instead of Beck it's actually Mason Adams. Do you have an opinion on this?

James Lantz: There are times when Beanie sounds like Jackson Beck, and other times, it seems like Mason Adams is playing him. It's possible that they could have both been Beanie in different periods.

OTR Buffet:  I have really enjoyed the series.  So far (I am only about 75% finished) my favorites have been The Super Sleuth and all of The Atom Man stories.  What are your favorites?

James Lantz: The whole "Scarlet Widow/Atom Man" story arc is one of the best of the entire series. "Superman Versus Kryptonite", "The Mystery Of The Stolen Costume" and The Voice Of Doom" are also among my favorites. I wish the Scarlet Widow would have been brought into the comic books somehow. She was my favorite villain in the show.

OTR Buffet:  There are two story arcs  that I really didn't like.   One was "The Mystery of the Sleeping Beauty."  The other one that I couldn't stand was "The Talking Cat."   Would you mind telling us a couple of the arcs you really didn't like and why?

James Lantz: "The Radar Rocket" and "The Disappearance Of Clark Kent" are the ones that really come to mind at the moment. In addition to Poco, there's the irritating Professor Twiddle in "Rocket". Sterling Holloway did a better job playing Twiddle on television. The radio version was poorly conceived. The title of "Disappearance" leads the listeners to believe that gangsters will kidnap Clark, which does not happen. Being misled like that made me feel cheated. The story was ridiculous, too.

OTR Buffet:  On this blog I've talked about the fact that Superman is a systematic liar.  That goes against "Truth, Justice and The American Way."   What say you about all of this?

James Lantz: I think they also bring this up when Clark Kent asks Lois Lane to marry him in the Lois And Clark series. Anyway, I always felt that the Clark Kent persona was Superman's way of being closer to humans. Now, he technically has no choice but to lie in order to keep those he cares for safe. Peter Parker went public with his Spider-Man identity during Marvel's Civil War crossover, and all heck broke loose for him then. That being said, I'd probably change Truth, Justice and The American Way to Protection, Justice and The Humanitarian Way. The American Way sounds like Superman should only fight only for Americans instead of the entire world. That's just the way I see it though.

OTR Buffet: Do you like old-time radio other than The Adventures of Superman?  If so, would you care to share how you got started in that and some of your favorite shows?

James Lantz: I discovered old-time radio shows when I was about 15. Some of my favorites include The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet, The Shadow, Dimension X, X Minus 1, Lights Out and Dark Fantasy just to name a few.

OTR Buffet:  This is kind of a dumb question but I have to ask it and well, you're the expert: where does Superman get his new suit and hat when he changes from Superman to Clark?

James Lantz: I'm not sure if I'm an expert, but my theory is that he hides them somewhere - a locker or in Clark's apartment - and travels at super speed to get them when he needs them again.

OTR Buffet:  Here's another hard-to-answer question: Clark often drives his car on an assignment, taking one of his fellow workers with him.  Often, while investigating the matter, he has to change into Superman and often will wind up someplace else altogether.   Meanwhile, his fellow employees can't find him and (though it's never said) are bound to notice his car is still where he left it.  They really don't ever ask him about this.  Why not?

James Lantz: I've always thought that deep down inside, those closest to both Clark and Superman suspect that the two are one and the same. Sometimes, in the radio show, and more often in the George Reeves series, Lois was especially trying to prove that Clark Kent is Superman. My personal belief is that Lois, Jimmy, Perry and Inspector Henderson know the truth subconsciously, but, with the exception of Lois, they are willling to pretend to believe that Clark and Superman are two different people.

OTR Buffet:  It's obvious from reading your reviews that you are no fan of Tumbleweed Jones (a charcter in 2 different story arcs.)  I actually liked him better than most guests on the series.  Do I hold a low place on your friend list now?

James Lantz: Not at all, I may disagree with your opinion, but I respect it. I mainly feel the cowboy characters of Tumbleweed Jones and Gunner Flinch (from "The Bully Of Dry Gulch" episode of the television series starring George Reeves, which I'm currently reviewing) were out of place as they were written in their respective stories. At least Tumbleweed can make fudge. (laughs) Putting Superman in a western setting might work in some stories, but I felt it didn't in the radio serials. I did like the character of Comanche Joe. He was more proof that radio's Superman was ahead of his time.

OTR Buffet:  If I asked you to describe The Adventures of Superman in just one word, which word would that be?

James Lantz: It might br obvious, but I'll have to say SUPER.

Thank you, James!

James Lantz: Thank you, Jimbo. It was fun talking about The Adventures of Superman.

©Jimbo 2010/2011


  1. Loved your interview, Jimbo. He could certainly talk about Superman with authority. JImbo, good job inserting the voice of Poco. It is annoying. I am one that do not listen to the Superman series, but, just recently downloaded a bunch and plan to start listening. That made it especially interesting reading your interview and I too, thank your guest for being here.

  2. Thanks. But Mr. Lantz deserves all the credit. He was professional and top-notch the whole way through.

  3. Loved this!

  4. A wonderful article that made me curious about the Superman Radio Show. Thank you for this very interesting interview that was fun to read and informative.

    p.s.: Listening to that clip made me really annoyed about the Poco character LOL. Jimbo, mister Lantz and Boston Blackie were so right about it! :D

  5. Thanks for the comment, Elisabeth!

    You should go read what James Lantz wrote about Poco at the Superman Homepage.

    If it's possible, James dislikes Poco more than I do!

  6. LOL Jimbo, I surely will ;)
    I love you site!

  7. Hi! Interesting and informative interview, and I've used James' guides considerably when trying to piece together the Superman radio history.

    To clarify, however, regarding Beany (although certainly it was common on the series for some roles to be shared or alternate, even within the same serial, with Inspector Henderson one of the more obvious examples). I'm an administrator/lead contributor for Voicechasers, by the way (and put together the Superman radio entry in particular, though it's still a work in progress as far as many of the episodic/serial-specific roles go), and every source, as well as my own ears, identify Beck as Beany, including Jackson Beck's own interviews and recollections in the Radio Spirits liner note booklets. It's even discussed in an interview Brian McKernan conducted with Jackson Beck elsewhere on the Superman site:

    He uses a strangled "adenoidal" voice (not one he otherwise used much on radio, but it pops up on occasion in the cartoons he voiced for Famous Studios) but at times some of the underlying pattern squeaks out, compared to a more naturally higher pitched actor. As narrator, Beck was the only cast member required for every episode so that's how he acquired those minor recurring roles like Beany (who would often be used in the Thursday shows when Jackie Kelk had Aldrich Family rehearsals) or Sgt. Healy (who in a short serial like "Skin Game," even replaces Inspector Henderson entirely).

  8. That's fascinating stuff Andrew and I am so very pleased to have you at my blog.

    Your insight is invaluable. I hope you won't be a stranger.

  9. Thanks! I just discovered your site the other day, and I'm slowly going through it. I especially appreciate the vintage articles and cast photos, which of course add to one's own research efforts (and fits your "stuff yourself with stuff you can use" slogan on top!)

    I created most of the Voicechasers radio cast lists. CBS Radio Workshop is the most complete and accurate, though still with some gaps (and the alphabetical by character format doesn't work so well for anthologies, but I'm still proud of it).

    Anyway, more recently I've also been contributing to the Superman Wiki (, slowly expanding the radio coverage. I even created a page for Poco (, though the one for Candy Myers needs expansion pending a lot of relistening/filling in, and so on. Anyway, I found this thread yesterday precisely *because* I was expanding the Jackson Beck page, discussing and detailing his Superman work (and as I listen or relisten, I need to keep track of the per-serial bits or fill-ins for other actors, which are darn near innumerable thanks to economy; since Beck had to be there for every show anyway, why bother to hire someone else for a two to three line part or a character who will only be in that one installment?)

  10. Andrew, I can help by keeping track of Beck voices from where I am in the Superman Serial.

    If you want some help, email me and I'll begin passing that along to you.


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