Of Superman and Kellogg’s Pep

When I saw that it was National Cereal Day, one thing sprang immediately to mind to blog about, almost a no-brainer. One of the first Old Time Radio shows I ever listened to was The Adventures of Superman, which aired in syndication and on various networks between 1940 and 1951. (I heard it about a quarter century after it went off the air of course; on vinyl in the school library, or something like that). The early debut of the show is to me a measure of how popular the Superman character was. There were countless superheroes being introduced into the comics during these years, but they weren’t all automatically adapted to other media. Superman had made his first appearances in Action Comics in 1938; a newspaper comic strip began in 1939; the radio show debuted just a few months after that.

The part of Superman was voiced by actor/announcer Bud Collyer. The radio show introduced the famous intro later adapted by the better remembered tv series:

Up in the sky! Look!
It’s a bird!
It’s a plane!
It’s Superman!

“Yes, it’s Superman–strange visitor from the planet Krypton who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman, who can leap tall buildings in a single bound, race a speeding bullet to its target, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great Metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth and justice.”

The show’s sponsor was Kellogg’s Pep Cereal, a wheat flake concoction not unlike Wheaties, which had debuted in 1923. The two cereals were essentially rivals for many years, like Coke and Pepsi. In The Adventures of Superman, the marriage between product and program was seamlessly perfect. It was more than implied that eating Kellogg’s Pep would give you Superman-like health, strength and vigor so you could go out and fights robbers, spies, Nazis, or whatever. Unless you were a grown-up, in which case you ate it in order to attain regular bowel movements.

In 1951, production began on The Adventures of Superman television program, which supplanted the radio show. By the late 70’s Wheaties had won the cereal war and Pep itself was discontinued. But it must have been phased out of my local market prior to that point. I first heard old recordings of the Superman radio show around the time Pep had been discontinued, and I hadn’t heard of the cereal or seen it on shelves prior to that point. Today it is symbolic of another era; Wheaties remains a fact of everyday life.  On the other hand, screen adaptations of Superman have proliferated to success an explosive extent, I’m not certain all the versions can be be tracked or counted. At any rate, I’m just glad they didn’t make a cereal out of Kryptonite.