Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Once upon a time in 2001, my best friend and I chose a summertime destination different from the conventions we’d attended the two previous years. At the southern tip of Illinois and across the Ohio River from Paducah, KY, the small town of Metropolis devotes the second weekend of every June to their world-famous Superman Celebration.
Much of the Superman Celebration is like any small-town carnival party: a mix of great local foods and pro concession stands; traveling amusement park rides; amateur sports competitions; a parade or two; a group community yard sale; and things like that. But every small-town carnival party committee in America wishes it had a tourist attractor as heroic as the Super Museum.
The front room is a free-admission merchandise store filled with metric tons of toys, action figures, clothing, school supplies, upscale statues, and other licensed goods based on Superman and other DC characters throughout the decades. There’s also a selection of comics, mostly back issues of various Superman titles, and half of those were dozens of leftover copies from the somewhat famous “Reign of the Supermen” arc that immediately followed the extremely famous “Death of Superman” arc. As of our most recent visit in 2012, I believe they still had several copies left, so you may not be too late to catch up on your Superman continuity.
Past a physical paywall, by which I mean an extra door and a cash register, is the Super Museum proper. For a modest fee visitors can view thousands of Superman artifacts, movie props, rare curios, and delicate stuff-‘n’-things from the personal collection of museum owner Jim Hambrick.
If/when you visit Metropolis, you have to do the Super Museum at least once. More than once is cool, too. I imagine Hambrick probably adds new exhibits from time to time, because his thoroughness and persistence strike me as habits of the highly effective collector who will never, ever stop collecting the things they love. It helps that Superman is the sort of icon who’s inspired so many works of art, entertainment, and commerce in his 75+ years of literature and motion-picture history.
…so that’s one activity for your Superman Celebrations. The main event, though, is the gang of actors they bring in each year from Superman movies, Superman TV shows, and in recent years actors from other DC characters’ movies and shows. For example, 2014’s guests included Lois & Clark star Dean Cain (really, really, really nice guy — my wife met him at a Wizard World Chicago) and Billy Dee Williams — best known to you and me as Lando Calrissian, but he also played Harvey Dent in Tim Burton’s Batman, so he has DC cred. They’ll also invite actors who played significant bit parts in those same works, and a few writers and/or artists from the world of comics. Plenty of interesting personalities for every level of fandom.
The 2001 roster included a headlining trio of villains from the Christopher Reeve films:
* Valerie Perrine! Lex Luthor’s gun moll Miss Tessmacher from the original Superman: the Movie. In the autograph line, instead of asking hard-hitting journalist questions such as “What was it like working with Gene Hackman?” or “What was it like working with Christopher Reeve?” or “What was it like working with Richard Donner?” Anne remembered an interview she’d read a long time ago in which Perrine brought up the subject of dog training. Anne, whose dog Harrison could’ve used some of that, brought that up to her instead, and you could see her eyes light up at the opportunity to chat about something different yet dear to her. Sometimes actors get excited when they have an opening to not talk about acting or other, higher-paid actors.
At the morning Q&A Perrine mentioned her experience working with Mel Gibson on What Women Want and the tremendous pleasure of pinching his butt. Now 71, she last appeared onscreen in two episodes of FX’s short-lived boxing series Lights Out.
* Sarah Douglas! To us she’s the Kryptonian murderer Ursa from Superman II. After that she guest-starred on dozens of TV shows over the years, of which Anne’s favorite was the sci-fi sequel miniseries V: the Final Battle. When Anne asked her about that, Douglas mentioned she’d had an opportunity to come back later for the V regular series, but that she opted to keep doing Falcon Crest instead. Alas.
She was on Falcon Crest for two seasons before moving on to a variety of guest-star parts. Most recently I saw her in a season-1 episode of Babylon 5, which I’m taking years to creep through on DVD. Now 62, her work of late has been voice-acting for projects such as various Doctor Who video games (an old entry on her blog indicates she’s a bit of a Whovian) and the Green Lantern animated series.
* Jack O’Halloran! The silent, hulking Non from Superman II isn’t nearly as silent in real life. For autographs I’d just bought a photo from some street vendor that appeared to have been taken at some recent charity function. O’Halloran grimaced and didn’t seem too thrilled to see it. It wasn’t till years later that I learned that some actors don’t like signing large copies of unauthorized photos. In hindsight I’m guessing this was one of those times. It’s something we’ve been mindful of ever since.
O’Halloran spent several years as a heavyweight boxer before he switched career tracks to acting. At the Q&A I was sorry to hear O’Halloran had suffered chronic back pains as a result of the excruciating harnesses that were required for flying effects in those times. Hollywood has come a long way since then and possibly saved later actors a lot of medical bills, but that’s little comfort for those who endured more primitive times in big-budget filmmaking. Now 71, O’Halloran still does the occasional podcast interview in which he’s rather candid about the multiple difficulties that came with his most famous role.
* Noel Neill! Not actually a villain. Neill was Lois Lane to George Reeves’ Clark Kent in the old Adventures of Superman TV show, seasons two through six. She was a sweetheart to meet and became like a patron saint to the Superman Celebration, appearing as a guest for several consecutive years, at least as late as our third visit in 2008. Metropolis eventually erected a Lois Lane statue in her honor, a photo of which we posted as part of our Superman Celebration 2012 adventure.
Neill had a cameo in 2006’s Superman Returns but otherwise doesn’t read a lot of scripts these days. At 94 she’s older than Betty White and absolutely entitled to relax now.
* Jeff East! Also not a villain. East appeared for several minutes of Superman: the Movie as the teenage Clark Kent, enjoying the chance to play a young Kryptonian power-leaping for joy, then grieving for his adoptive father’s passing.
Now 57, East has acted intermittently over the decades, but was last seen working as a Midwest real estate agent, though his Facebook profile says he’s since moved to France.
Superman Celebration attendees were given the chance to meet all five guests for autographs and such. The actors were seated inside the Metropolis Chamber of Commerce with plenty of electric fans for company while we energized, flesh-‘n’-blood fans waited in line outside in the cloudless, 90-degree day. We were still young in our traveling fandom and not yet used to such grueling lines. If we’d known, we would’ve brought a cooler of bottled water with us, as we do on our vacations today. Unfortunately for us rookies, the next three hours of our lives were spent in a brick alley roasting and maybe dying a little.
As of today I’m technically pleased to report the 2001 Superman Celebration autograph line would later prove not to be the worst line of our entire lives. The current, regrettable record holder was another major geek event due for its own updated write-up another time. Not all the autographs are free today as they were back then, but those sessions are held in much more comfortable indoor environments. If/when you visit, I strongly recommend keeping tabs on their official sites, feeds, and announcements, because today they enforce a timed-ticket system that requires a certain level of planning to navigate and win.
Prior to the autograph line, there was a half-hour Q&A in the big tent out behind the Superman Museum. I’m sure a lot of subjects were covered in such a short time frame, but heck if I recall them now. The important part here was the shade.
At far right in that photo is a speck we failed to photograph separately, the highest-profile comics-related guest: Irwin Donenfeld, son of DC Comics co-founder Harry Donenfeld. In adulthood Irwin held various management and executive positions in the company his dad helped build. If you believe his Wikipedia entry, several legendary creators produced some of the company’s most important works during his tenure, but his three biggest personally attributed contributions were: (1) hiring talented creators; (2) spearheading the initiative to begin saving negatives of all their artwork for future reprints; and (3) decreeing that artists draw more gorillas on their covers. Donenfeld left the company and the entertainment field in 1968 and passed away in 2004.
A review of our records confirms this lone shot from the Q&A is the closest we have to a Superman Celebration cosplay pic. In future years the cosplayer population steadily increased in attendance with each subsequent visit, and expanded to encompass a broader character selection than just Superman suits. The fiery summer weather can make it challenging for some, but we salute those who represent anyway.