March 31, 2012

Superman Saturday: You said you've been threatened by gangsters

After a two-week blogging hiatus, we return with the next instalment of Serial Saturday, and a new adventure for Superman—as well as a new introduction of a familiar name!

Rounding out the four core Daily Planet staffers, Jimmy Olsen makes his first appearance ever on The Adventures of Superman radio program, on April 15, 1940. He was introduced to the Superman comic book in issue #13, about six months later for a handful of appearances, and became a permanent fixture about a decade later after the character was again introduced on the Adventures of Superman television series, portrayed by Jack Larson. Eventually he was also given his own comic title, Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen, beginning in 1954. In addition to Jack Larson, Jimmy has also notably been played by Mark McClure in the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, and by Aaron Ashmore on the TV series Smallville.

Most often labeled a cub reporter or photographer, Jimmy is introduced in this series as a 14-year-old, "red-headed, freckle-faced copy boy." So, without further ado, sit back and enjoy "Donelli's Protection Racket" . . .

Episode 28: Donelli's Protection Racket, Part 1 (1940/04/15)


Clark Kent is accosted by Jimmy Olsen, the copy boy of the Daily Planet, who has a personal problem: the candy store run by his mother is being victimized by racketeer Chip Donelli, who sends a collector around weekly for $20 in protection money. All the stores on the street pay Donelli protection; when Mr. Schultz the butcher refused, a brick was heaved through his window. The police can do nothing because of a lack of evidence.

Clark promises Jimmy he will help to "fix" Donelli, and together they go to the candy store. Mrs. Olsen is upset that Jimmy told someone about their problem. She wants to close down the store, thinking no one can help them. Clark tells her not to give up hope, and that he will help her. He and Jimmy hide behind the counter and wait for the collector.

When the collector arrives (we find out later his name is Spike), Mrs. Olsen refuses to pay him the money. When Spike threatens her, Clark comes out from the counter and says that he and Donelli will go to jail unless he pays the Olsens back. Spike punches Clark on the jaw and he goes down, and a frightened Mrs. Olsen pays him her $20. "So long, wise guy," says Spike on the way out. Getting up off the floor, Clark promises to get back all their money, and walks out. "Too bad I had to take that punch in the jaw," he says in his Superman voice. He flies off to have a "little talk" with Donelli at his hideout.

Spike has also come back to the hideout, and he hands over $600 in protection money to Chip Donelli. He reports the trouble that he had at the candy store. Donelli, worried about his criminal enterprise getting negative publicity in the newspapers, calls "Louie" on the phone and instructs him to buy up all the copies of tomorrow's Planet in case Clark Kent has written an exposé.

Just then, Spike comes back in and says that Clark is there and wants to talk to him. He is waiting in the "soundproof room," which seems to come standard in every villain's lair on this program. However, Donelli finds the room empty. Superman swoops in, but Donelli isn't impressed: "Spike said there was a reporter waiting, not a guy in a circus outfit." (Which is, in fact, what the classic Superman costume is based on: a circus strongman's costume.) Superman demands the Olsen's money, but Donelli pulls a gun and shoots him, with the usual effectiveness. Superman picks him up and starts bouncing him against the walls of his soundproof room until he relents and hands over $120, all the money the Olsens have paid in protection thus far. After further threats of severe bodily harm, Superman leaves.

Rather than learn his lesson, however, Donelli calls in Spike and tells him to lie in wait for Mrs. Olsen after her store is closed, and "teach her a lesson" . . .

Has Superman gotten in too deep this time?

What will happen to Jimmy Olsen and his mother?

Did you seriously expect the villain of the piece to learn his lesson that quickly?

Find out what happens next—right now!

Episode 28: Donelli's Protection Racket, Part 2 (1940/04/17)


Meanwhile, back in the store, Mrs. Olsen is crying and Jimmy is annoyed that Clark didn't put up a better fight. But, then, Clark walks in and gives them back the $120 he took from Donelli. He says that he doesn't think Donelli will bother them again. This seems doubtful, as there are still four episodes to go in this serial. Nonetheless, Mrs. Olsen is happy that her store is saved.

I think Bud Collyer's voice is slipping a little bit in this scene: Clark sounds an awful lot like Superman. Then again, maybe he just has a cold.

After dark, Spike and another of Donelli's thugs, Charlie, are waiting in a car outside the store. After Mrs. Olsen and Jimmy close up, they follow them on foot to a dark street (avoiding street lights and police cars on the way), where they stop them and prepare to administer Donelli's "lesson" about snitching to the press. Mrs. Olsen calls for help, but faints as he sees them go to hit Jimmy. At the last minute, Superman flies in and beats Spike and Charlie off.

Changing back to Clark Kent, he helps Jimmy bring the unconscious Mrs. Olsen into their house, and when she comes to, sort-of apologizes for getting them into this mess. He hadn't realized that Donelli would still try something like this after the, er, "talk" he had had with him earlier. He promises to splash the story across the front page of the Planet, instructs Jimmy to take care of his mother, and offers to send Lois Lane over to keep them company. As he is leaving, Clark is asked by Jimmy whether he really did chase the crooks off. It seems Jimmy remembers being saved by a man in a red cape. Clark tells him he's obviously tired—but he realizes he's being seen by too many people in his Superman rôle.

Back at the hideout, Spike again reports to Donelli that they had tried to deal with the Olsens, but Superman fought them off. Donelli thinks that Clark Kent is the brains behind this. He's actually right. He calls the Olsen residence and, posing as Clark Kent (although Jimmy thinks he sounds funny), lures Jimmy and Lois out of the house by claiming he has important info about Donelli. He plans on abducting them and taking them for a "nice little ride in the country" . . .

Will the usually resourceful Lois fall into the trap?

What will happen to her and Jimmy?

When will Clark realize he's not actually helping anyone?

Find out next week, when "Donelli's Protection Racket" continues!

My earliest experiences with Superman were childhood Saturday-morning reruns of The New Adventures of Superman, Super Friends, the occasional comic book, and of course 1978's Superman movie. Back in 1978, my hometown didn't have cable TV, but one of the two channels available did play old reruns of the 1950s Adventures of Superman series—to cash in on the success of the Christopher Reeve movie, I would guess. Like the Golden Age Superman, George Reeves rarely encountered larger-than-life supervillains; as far as I know, he never faced any of Supe's classic nemeses, even Lex Luthor, let alone Brainiac or Mr. Mxyzptlk. Especially in its earliest, black-and-white years, The Adventures of Superman had a film-noir feel to it, in which Superman would routinely smash through walls, laugh at bullets (though of course inevitably ducking the thrown empty handgun), and start punching out gangsters. This adventure is very much in line with those early TV episodes. It was nostalgic, and I couldn't help cheering when Superman started bouncing Chip Donelli off the walls of his own hideout.

Next week: What else? More violence.