From Cannolis To Capes: Mario Puzo On Superman By Matthew Rizzuto
The power of the New York Times bestseller list was key to the major success that Hollywood had in the 1970’s cinema.
Turning novels into cinematic greatness was the order of the day.
Even though at that time, you may not recognize the names of certain individuals by their work, but you knew of their movies from the New York Times bestseller list when you saw them.
The average person may not recognize the names of Peter Benchley, Robin Cook, William Peter Blatty, Mario Puzo or Stephen King, but you most certainly knew of the movies based on their work with films like “Jaws” (1975), “Coma” (1978), “The Exorcist” (1973), “The Godfather” (1972) and “Carrie” (1976).
If, for whatever reason, you can’t adore and respect a film like “The Godfather”, that says more about you than anything. Whether you like it or not, the movie is a masterpiece. It’s a masterpiece not because of director Francis Ford Coppola, but because of Mario Puzo.
Mario Puzo was born October 15, 1920 and grew up in Hell’s Kitchen, New York. As an Italian-American, Mario wrote about the many novels, screenplays and films that he’d happen to work on, including, “The Godfather”, its unintended and extremely successful sequel, the disaster movie “Earthquake” (1974), two extravagant films about The Man of Steel and countless others.
It should be mentioned at some conjuncture, that Mario was also friends with other individuals who became famous for writing, like his former co-worker over at Magazine Management, Bruce Jay Friedman and fellow novelist William Peter Blatty. Mario always had amazing stories about them.
If Mario wanted to share information about a topic, he wouldn’t just share a little bit about it with you. He’d tell you the whole story and then some.
Mario was involved in many movie productions with a great deal of noted directors and how a chance opportunity with a couple of European filmmakers that was interested in making a series of films based on the DC Comics celebrated superhero Superman, similar to the Saltzman/Broccoli James Bond series, became available and Mario went for it. You would too.
Of course, during this time, no one ever thought about taking something you would traditionally see within the orifices of a comic book or find in a comic strip and take it seriously. It just wasn’t done like that back in those days.
Today, superhero and comic book movies are absolutely everywhere. During those times, you rarely ever saw them and if you did, the producers and the studios never took the material seriously. That’s just how it was accomplished back then.
Don’t forget, Adam West’s campy “Batman” television show in 1966 was done as a comedy and it would be almost 30 years before anyone ever saw The Caped Crusader on a television or movie screen again after that.
In the comics published by National Periodical Publications (today DC Comics), Batman was not a humorous character at all. In fact, The Dark Knight is a dark, brooding, angst-ridden, transient loner vigilante and world’s greatest detective that serves and supports dismal Gotham City. He operates only at night and in the shadows. You never saw any of that action on the comedic Adam West Bat-program.
Many people were absolutely stunned, even by today’s standards, that Mario Puzo, the author of “The Godfather” would even consider writing not just one, but two humongous movies about Superman and his never-ending battle for Truth, Justice and The American Way.
Many ask why would Mario Puzo want to write movie about Superman to begin with? Well, to find the answer, examine “The Godfather”.
Please consider this:
We know in “The Godfather”, Don Vito Corleone is an evil man. We know that he has four children and three of those four children, Sonny, Fredo and Connie, are all involved in the family crime business, within one aspect or another.
Then, you have the fourth child, Michael.
Michael is the clean one. Michael is the good one. Michael was meant to be Mayor Corleone. Senator Corleone. President Corleone. In return, he’d become more powerful out of all of them and by the end of the Puzo novel, the end of Coppola’s movie, Michael is in charge of all five families in New York City.
They were kneeling before Michael Corleone like General Zod was in front of them. Sounds familiar? It might.
Now, reverse that.
What if the father was not evil at all, but a good man? What if he was a wise man? What if he was a scientist who believed that everyone on his crystalline world of Superpeople was going to end and he decided to save his entire civilization by sending his only begotten son in a starship, fire it off into deep outer space to a planet where his child’s gifts on that world, would be a greater gift to Humanity by becoming a superhero to help others in need?
Don’t forget the immigrant experience and how that affected many people leaving the old world and finding a new life in a new one called America. If that plot worked for young Vito Corleone in “The Godfather Part II” (1974), it would definitely work for Clark Kent. You’d be surprised the amount of changes that can be made from Sicily to America and from Kryptonopolis to Smallville.
That’s why Mario Puzo wanted to write a movie about Superman.
Hard to believe, Puzo was a huge fan of watching the memorable “Adventures of Superman” television show starring the great George Reeves jump off a swimming pool springboard out of window and he kept on going, all the while Mario was reading those classic Action Comics and Superman Magazines of the 1950’s and he literally couldn’t get enough of them. He enjoyed both immensely.
Hard to believe, Mario was a geek. It’s true!!!
Now, why would the author of “Omertà”, “The Last Don”, “The Sicilian” and so many other great literary novels, want to write two films about The Man of Steel?
The startling answer?!
Because Mario was a fan of Superman.
Yeah, Mario owed the IRS some cash and the paycheck from the Salkind organization was nice, but there’s more to it than that.
Mario loved reading comics so much that he even worked for Martin Goodman and Stan Lee at Marvel Comics for a time. Unfortunately, Mario’s scripts were either too long or they weren’t in on time so, they had to part ways.
That’s a good thing when you think about it, because it made Mario finish his first book and get it published, “The Dark Arena”. Not long after that, Mario finished his another novel, “The Fortunate Pilgrim”.
The publisher enjoyed what he saw in “The Fortunate Pilgrim” so much, especially where the Mafia was involved and wanted Mario to take those small sections of book where the Mafia appeared and he was curious if Mario could expand an entire book on those style of characters. Mario chose to accomplish that in his 1969 New York Times bestseller, “The Godfather”, a novel that remained at number one for 67 straight weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.
The rest, as they say, is history.
When it came to European producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind and their producing partner, Pierre Spengler on the hiring of Puzo to accomplish something special on a film adaptation about Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman, it was more than just hiring a name. They were hiring a talent that could make Kal-El soar on a movie screen.
It shows the versatile nature of Mario that he was able to take great characters and put them within the context of interesting situations.
In other words, if you can write in one genre and be successful, simply imagine what could be achieved in other categories. Mario knew this from working with gangsters to disaster films to superheroes. Yet, Mario’s friends, Friedman and Blatty, knew this and well.
Case in point, Mario’s friend, William Peter Blatty, the author of “The Exorcist”.
It’s no surprise what William Peter Blatty’s 1971 New York Times bestselling novel and Oscar®-winning screenplay, “The Exorcist”, had upon the world. In a related story, over 40 years later, it is still the landmark horror movie that it was in 1973.
In my honest opinion, in my humble opinion, to this day, to this very day, there will never be a film that can viscerally show the evil that exists in God’s world, unlike the power of William Friedkin’s Oscar®-winning, horror masterpiece, “The Exorcist”, based upon the New York Times bestselling novel by William Peter Blatty.
It was one of the only times in movie history that a horror movie was actually nominated for Best Picture. With 10 Academy Award nominations and even though, it did win two Oscars®, Best Adapted Screenplay (William Peter Blatty) and Best Sound Mixing (Christopher Newman and Robert “Buzz” Knudson), in my opinion, it deserved to win more, including Best Picture. Sorry, “The Sting” (1973). It’s true. Deal with it.
Yes, it is that damn good of a horror movie, even over four decades later. Then again, that’s not bad for a novel and movie that was loosely based off an actual documented incident in 1948 and 1949.
The case that inspired William Peter Blatty’s New York Times bestselling novel and Oscar®-winning screenplay was based upon an actual case of demonic possession and a series of exorcisms that took place in both Cottage City, Maryland and St. Louis, Missouri. It was the same case.
Blatty was originally a comedy writer, courtesy of writing such a brilliant novels and screenplays, such as “A Shot In The Dark” (1964), a second installment to “The Pink Panther” films.
Other notable works include, “The Man From The Diners Club” (1963), “John Goldfarb, Please Come Home!” (1965), “Promise Her Anything” (1966), “What Did You Do In The War, Daddy?” (1966), “Gunn” (1967), “The Great Bank Robbery” (1969), “Darling Lili” (1970) and other hilarious pieces, mostly in the genre of slapstick.
By 1970, comedy had become a lost art, due to The Vietnam War and Blatty actually felt that he could write in a different genre and decided to make an attempt at it.
While Blatty was going to Georgetown University in 1949 when he heard of the famous case that had taken place off campus and that later appeared on the front page of The Washington Post on August 20, 1949.
Through a series of phone calls and letters, he managed to contact his old teacher, Fr. Thomas Bermingham, who would later become a Technical Advisor on the movie version of Blatty’s book and appear in the film as The President of Georgetown University.
Fr. Bermingham contacted Fr. Eugene Gallagher who was well acquainted with the priests involved in that case that inspired “The Exorcist”, Fr. Bowdern and Fr. Halloran.
During this time, Fr. Bermingham contacted another priest, Fr. John J. Nicola, who was the assistant director of The National Shrine of The Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. and had an ear to The Vatican in Rome, who also would become a Technical Adviser to the film adaptation of Blatty’s novel.
After a few meetings, these priests told Blatty, “You can write about anything you want, but you can never reveal the boy’s name or his family’s identity. Everything else is fair game.”
That’s why “Ronald”, which is the boy’s real name, became a girl named “Regan” and the plot of the novel and the movie is set up the way that it is.
The novel and the movie is 80% accurate to the real account. The movie is more of a cartoon than the actual case because the actual case was far more terrifying and horrific.
This aspect appealed to Blatty and his novel. It’s one of the reasons why the novel was at number 1 for 57 straight weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, as impressive as that sounds.
Also, probably the only reason that a two picture deal about Superman was ever greenlit in the first place was because Warners biggest film at that time was only a couple of months old and it was raking in millions upon millions of dollars around the world at the box-office and it was a movie that the studio did not believe in at all.
It wasn’t a western, a musical, a comedy or a cartoon, but a horror movie that took the studio and the entire world by storm: William Friedkin’s Academy Award-winning, horror masterpiece, “The Exorcist”. Once Warners saw a film that they didn’t believe in was making the studio its first multimillion dollar paycheck, they wanted to find what other properties and what else they owned that they could produce into profitable movies.
The power, the controversy and the shocking success of “The Exorcist”(1973) made Warner Bros. Pictures do two things immediately:
First, they opened up their desk drawers and took out all of their scripts that they didn’t fully believe in and put them to work. Secondly, the studio greenlit everything. Absolutely EVERYTHING. Warners wasn’t sure if they’d had another Academy Award-winner or a box-office mega-hit or what on their hands. It was like throwing anything against a wall and see what would stick.
It took certain films to make that happen. Movies like, “Blazing Saddles” (1974), “The Towering Inferno” (1974), “Barry Lyndon” (1975), “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975), “All The President’s Men” (1976), “The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie” (1979), “The Shining” (1980), which turned into films like, “Full Metal Jacket” (1987), “Driving Miss Daisy” (1989), “Batman” (1989), but to get to that point, the studio needed a massive kick-off and they found it in two very unlikely places: The back-end of a DC comic book and in the mind of an Eastern European/Mexican wandering the streets of Paris on a lightly rainy day named Ilya Salkind.
It was Salkind’s idea for superhero movies to exist and have them taken seriously on a movie screen.
When you went to the movies back in the early 1970’s, you saw one movie, in one area of town, at a specific time and that was it. The demand was so ferocious from the general public to see something as unbelievably frightening, like “The Exorcist”, that show times and the accessibility for viewers to see the film had to be added, practically on an hourly basis. That was completely unprecedented in motion picture viewing at that time.
On one side of a coin, you have the shattering of box office records and millions upon millions upon millions of dollars being made and on the other side of that same coin, you had The Catholic Church flipping out and individuals from all over the world as well as theater goers going crazy, fainting and in a few cases, vomiting in their containers of popcorn over what they were seeing on the movie screen. Yeah, horror movies can do that to some people.
It’s a safe assumption to make that Warner Bros. Pictures was quite satisfied with the reaction to the film even though, it was unusual for a film that they would release that would have such an interesting reaction from people. You never saw that reaction from a western, a drama, a comedy or even a cartoon from Warner Bros. Pictures.
After all, it was the success and the power of “The Exorcist” that literally possessed Warner Bros. Pictures to be involved with the Salkind organization to make a film called…“Superman: The Movie”!!!!
To make any film work, you need a great script and The Salkinds and their people knew this and well.
Enter Mario Puzo.
Making “Superman: The Movie” (1978) would be one of the most ambitious comic book and superhero adaptations of all time, but also, one of the most excruciating, especially in the terms of special effects because no one ever really flew on screen before and looked realistic. No offense to Julie Andrews and George Reeves, but if you wanted someone to fly on screen and it looked real, you needed special people to make that happen. This is why we now believe that a man can fly and that man is Christopher Reeve.
Going back to Puzo, that’s why it pays, quite literally, to be able to write in one genre and in another as well. If you can work on a piece that involves New York mobsters, just imagine what Puzo could do with employees that work in the city room of the Metropolis Daily Planet.
If you happen to have the ability in one screenplay and film to talk about how Tom Hagen was not a wartime consigliere, but you could still discuss the intricate workings, the rudiments and the craft of the superpowered adoptive son of farmers Jonathan and Martha Kent and his superheroic secret identity, it goes to show you know what you’re accomplishing, especially when it comes to great and epic storytelling.
Obviously, Mario knew that and all too well.
In 1975, Puzo was hired by The Salkinds and their organization to write the initial screenplay and treatment for the film adaptation of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman.
Shortly after Puzo was signed, he had a meeting at National Periodical Publications (today DC Comics) with the writers of the Superman comics of the era, like Elliot S. Maggin, Cary Bates and Marty Pasko.
During the writers discussion with Puzo about Superman, Puzo stops talking, looks up at the writers and says, “WOW!!! Superman is like a Greek tragedy!!!”
Some time after that, Mario accomplishes two treatments for the “Superman” movie. One version had Lois & Clark working as reporters for the Daily Planet and the other version had Kent as a newscaster and Lane as the weathergirl, as it was in the Superman comics of the 1970’s.
According to Legend, Puzo’s monolithic Superman script was vastly immense (About several old phone books in length!!!) and supposedly Warners and his European producers were telling him, “Mario, Mario, Mario, we love you, we love you, we love you, but no one is gonna make a 8 to a 9 hour movie about Superman. It’s just won’t happen.”
Mario’s response and smoking his big Cuban cigar: “Oh, yeah? Just cut in half!!!”
And so, they did.
Half the script became “Superman: The Movie” and the other half became “Superman II: The Adventure Continues”.
The story is one aspect. That’s all Mario.
The screenplay is a different tale altogether.
Once Mario’s script when fell into hands of different screenwriters to do the screenplay, that’s when things became interesting, especially with David Newman, his wife Leslie, Robert Benton and Norman Enfield.
If you’re a fan of Superman, David Newman and Robert Benton should sound familiar. Benton and Newman together co-wrote the 1966 hit Broadway Musical, “It’s A Bird…It’s A Plane…It’s Superman”, starring Jack Cassidy, Linda Lavin, with Patricia Marand as Lois Lane and Bob Holiday as The Man of Tomorrow.
The Broadway Musical adaptation of Superman was loaded with silly scenarios. The team of Newman and Benton continued the laughs with Puzo’s Superman script, but whatever was contributed by David and Leslie Newman, Benton and Norman Enfield (Enfield was the Salkinds screenwriting guy.), was set aside, courtesy of the brilliant Tom Mankiewicz.
The only reason this was done was simply because Mankiewicz felt that what the other writers wrote was far too comedic for the film. You can’t have almost three hours of a parody on a parody on a parody and expect individuals to take the movie seriously.
Out of all the writers, the odd-man-out was Robert Benton. Benton is an Academy Award-winning (“Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979), “Places In The Heart” (1984), “The Late Show” (1977), etc.) writer and director and has every right to be, but “Superman” was definitely not his forte at all. Also, the infamous Kojak stuff in the script was not written by Mario. It was written by the Newmans.
Seriously, it’s like Stephen King writing James Bond. It looks great on paper, then you start to film it and it looks terrible. Absolutely hideous. The last thing I’m sure anyone would want to see in a Bond movie is Blofeld hanging out with Cujo in Salem’s Lot, know what I mean? It just wouldn’t work.
Surprisingly, Mario was a stunning writer, but not a very good screenwriter. Thank goodness on “The Godfather”, he had Francis Ford Coppola.
Coppola already won an Academy Award for screenwriting: He wrote “Patton” (1970).
On Richard Donner’s Oscar®-winning, epic masterpiece, “Superman: The Movie” and Donner’s “Superman II”, Mario had the writer of three James Bond films, the brilliant Tom Mankiewicz to properly help him out and from there, together, they created breathtaking greatness. Seriously, Thank Krypton for Mario Puzo and Tom Mankiewicz!!!!
Mario Puzo wrote the Story for “Superman: The Movie” and Donner’s “Superman II”. The official shooting script Screenplay for both films was accomplished by Tom Mankiewicz.
As the story goes, in 1976, veteran television and film director Richard Donner was hired by The Salkinds to direct “Superman: The Movie” and “Superman II”. At the time, the script drafts by David Newman, Leslie Newman, Robert Benton and Norman Enfield were combined more than in excess of over five hundred pages long (an impossible length to shoot) and Donner felt they were much too campy as well. Again, this goes back to the campy “Batman” television show aspect.
Donner brought Mankiewicz aboard to do a complete overhaul in terms of length, dialogue and tone. Mankiewicz stayed on the production for more than a year, assisting Donner in other departments as well.
Donner gave Mankiewicz a separate credit in the main title sequence: “Creative Consultant”. The Writer’s Guild strenuously objected on two grounds: First, that the traditional script arbitration process was being bypassed and second, that Mankiewicz’s credit came after the original screenwriters and not before them, implying that his contribution was more important. The dispute went to a legal hearing. Mankiewicz won. His credit remained where it was on “Superman: The Movie”, but he agreed to have it come just before the listed screenwriters on “Superman II”.
Now, like I stated previously, even though other writers, like the Newmans, Benton and Enfield were credited for contributing to the screenplay of “Superman: The Movie” and “Superman II”, when it came to the official shooting script, Mario was in charge of the scripts story and the screenplays was all Tom Mankiewicz.
Later, Mankiewicz helped Richard Donner reconstruct Donner’s version of “Superman II”, restoring all of the original footage he had shot which had been altered or replaced by the producers, including multiple sequences with Marlon Brando which were seen by the public for the first time. “Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut” came out in 2006 and won the Saturn Award as the best DVD of the year.
Even though back in the 1970’s, the rest of Hollywood, including Warner Bros. Pictures, did not exactly take Alexander and Ilya Salkind, Pierre Spengler and their organization completely seriously when it came to making an epic within the realm of two parts about Superman, his epic exploits and further adventures on Earth, but Puzo did and that’s the appeal that drew people in.
From there, the process went like this: The idea (Ilya Salkind), the basis (Mario Puzo), the body (Tom Mankiewicz) and the execution (Richard Donner) of the piece.
Because of the ideas of Ilya Salkind and the writing skills of Mario Puzo, the cinematic birth of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman, was assured.
One fact that was never assured was the movie novelization to “Superman: The Movie” and Donner’s “Superman II”. The head of Warner Communications, Jay Emmett, did not want that to become a reality.
You would think as successful as both “Superman” movies were that a movie novelization and a comics adaptation with the name of Mario Puzo attached to it would’ve happened. It never came to fruition.
Other issues such as the original cover of Action Comics #1 was supposed to be used in the movie, but that idea was shot down. It wouldn’t surprise me if Jay Emmett had a hand in this decision because Emmett also didn’t want the names of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster on the movie poster or even mentioned in the movie at all.
Why didn’t Emmett want Siegel and Shuster’s names attached to the film? It is a mystery, but only he would know. Despite his heart attack, Emmett was still being loyal to his moron uncle, the noted putz Jack Liebowitz and everyone knows how sweet and generous Liebowitz was to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
Director Richard Donner and Executive Producer Ilya Salkind fought back, especially Donner and said that their names would be on the movie credits, no matter what.
Supposedly, the reason was because of a disagreement between Mario Puzo and Jay Emmett, the former CEO of Warner Communications (today WarnerMedia) and the disagreement involved Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster as well.
It should be mentioned that Emmett’s uncle was the noted putz Jack Liebowitz, the man who screwed over Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster for 27 years at National Periodical Publications (today DC Comics) and he was just following his uncle’s orders.
As it was, Emmett was an prominent and important behind-the-scenes individual in comic book history and built a formidable career in motion pictures and sports marketing. He was a goyim, because he was the nephew of noted putz Jack Liebowitz, one of the owners of the company now known today as DC Comics and the guy who called the shots there for years until he moved upstairs to assume a seat on the corporate Board of Directors for Warner Communications (later known as Time Warner and currently identified as WarnerMedia). Emmett had another uncle on the other side of his family who was involved with DC Comics. That was the legendary Ira Schnapp, the amazing letterer who was responsible for the iconic logos for most of DC Comics comic book covers from around 1938 until 1968.
Emmett got his start early, working in the mailroom for his Uncle Jack at National Allied Publishing (today DC Comics), the family-run comic book publishing company that owned the rights to a number of world-famous superheroic personalities, including Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman and several other classic characters iconic superheroes. Eventually, Emmett moved from the mailroom upward. When your uncle runs the company, you can expect anything positive to come your way. Sort of.
It was during his time in the family business that Emmett learned the skills of marketing and licensing, which would carry him throughout his storied career and later help bring these beloved characters to life in film, while working for Warner Bros. Pictures, as an executive vice president.
Emmett went on to found the Licensing Corporation of America, DC’s merchandising division, which expanded from licensing comic book and Looney Tunes cartoon characters, such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, the Tasmanian Devil and Tweety Bird into sports marketing, leading to partnerships with Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association. There were years there when the licensing folks brought in a lot more revenue than the publishing department at DC Comics.
In 1964, Emmett joined Warner Communications, where he ultimately became President under direction of the company’s then-Chairman, the legendary kind and generous, Steve Ross.
As President of Warner Communications, he oversaw soaring growth in the company’s music and movie divisions during the 1960’s and 1970’s and when the company established the original New York Cosmos in an effort to increase soccer fandom in America, Emmett insisted they sign international soccer star, Pelé. The franchise went on to draw more than 70,000 fans each game. Emmett’s close friendship with legendary Washington attorney Edward Bennett Williams led to his meeting Larry Lucchino, a Williams protégé. The two would become best friends as Lucchino took over the Baltimore Orioles, San Diego Padres and Boston Red Sox. Emmett, a board member by title, helped Lucchino’s clubs set historic home attendance records with each franchise. Emmett was also instrumental in the development of the careers of current San Diego Padres President and CEO Mike Dee and Boston Red Sox Executive Vice President and COO, Sam Kennedy.
It’s a safe assumption to say that Emmett was the last member of the founding families of DC Comics to be actively involved with the company, serving as the Warner Communications ‘Office of The President’ exec responsible for both the publishing division and the Warner Bros. movie studio at the time of the first “Superman” movie. Later on, Emmett was instrumental in also negotiating the famous settlement with Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster that gave them pensions and restored their credit to the Superman property they created, thanks from an assist from Neal Adams and Jerry Robinson in support of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
Emmett left the company of Warner Communications in 1981 after pleading guilty to charges of fraud in connection with a bribery scandal. He became a powerful figure in the world of professional sports, including time working in being more involved in the excecutive branches of the Baltimore Orioles, the San Diego Padres and the Boston Red Sox and he was also instrumental in the founding of the Special Olympics and Emmett’s love of sports led him to partner with Sargent and Eunice Kennedy Shriver in the early 1970’s as they worked to develop the Special Olympics into one of the most important charitable institutions in the world. The organization benefited from his leadership for decades to follow, as he served in a number of capacities, including as a member of its International Board of Directors, and as a member of the Executive, Audit & Finance and Public Education & Awareness committees, which is ironic because, speaking of “Superman” movies, the first three Christopher Reeve/Salkind produced “Superman” movies, all had special premieres for the Special Olympics.
The only individual who can answer for Emmett’s actions is Emmett and he can’t answer for anything because he died in June 22, 2015 at age 86.
Was all this excitement even necessary to make a superhero movie and take it seriously?! You bet!!!!
On December 15th, 1978,Richard Donner’s Oscar®-winning, epic masterpiece, “Superman: The Movie” hit movie screens and shattered box-office records in massive numbers and after four decades, it’s appropriate to say that specific aspects that measured out to a certain hearty American rightness are found in Donner’s “Superman”, because of Mario Puzo.
There’s truckloads of optimism in “Superman: The Movie” to which even our most lighthearted superhero movies of today pale in comparison. While filmmakers have become fascinated with the question of what happens when a superhero loses, “Superman: The Movie” was primarily concerned with Kal-El winning. Superman’s godlike confidence and belief in Truth, Justice and The American Way, seem like a far cry from where global superhero cinema is today.
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman lives in a world of smiling politicians, truth of press and open-minded citizens who are overjoyed at the arrival of an alien with powers and abilities far beyond those of mere mortals.
Even as an international production, Donner’s Academy Award-winning movie is a distinctly American feature. Donner’s film presents the best versions of us. In the midst of our questions about the existence of God, our celebration of The Civil Rights Movement and the trauma left over from The Vietnam War, Donner’s “Superman: The Movie” was the film we felt like we deserved and needed.
We love “Superman: The Movie” because it’s part of our cultural identity and a reminder of how we once felt when we saw Christopher Reeve fly over the world and smile at the camera at the film’s end to suggest he’s protecting us too and even though identities change, as do worlds, we still believe in Superman and his message, because of Mario Puzo.
Just as Donner’s “Superman: The Movie” re-envisioned the character after 40 years of the superhero’s existence, we still accept “Superman: The Movie” and its influence on superhero films, John Williams’ breathtakingly score, the crystalline structure of Krypton and the imitations of Christopher Reeve.
Other filmmakers have tried to replicate it across every medium, but it never works in quite the same way because Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman is so neatly tied to our and who America was then and who we wished it to be.
It’s our commendation of ourselves, a love story for us just as much as it is for Lois & Clark, but in 40 years, we’ve discovered new wishes, found new loves who ask us to aspire to something greater as people and as moviegoers, just as Donner’s film once did, it continues to do so and does to this very day.
“Superman: The Movie” was the light that showed us the way and now that we see the path in front of us, we can chart a new course and discover where the next 40 years of Superman stories may take us and what superhero story will form our next cinematic culture shift. Obviously, a brilliant script and stunning filmmaking can have that effect.
In other words, this is what happens when you make Mario Puzo a SUPER offer that he couldn’t refuse by writing a two-picture treatment about Superman.
Unfortunately, Mario Puzo died on July 2, 1999, leaving our world a legacy of legendary novels, thrilling screenplays and amazing stories that he shared with everyone.