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Broadway Memories

Visit here often to learn about the great 1966 Broadway show

"It's a Bird It's a Plane
It's Superman"


Superman Flies in Kansas City, MO

Today's Feature
A Golden Oldie Article

On-Stage Antics

or ... What Can Go "Wrong" in a Live Show


See a Broadway production 20 different times, and you're sure to know every line by heart. But you're also likely to see 20 different versions of the show. Live actors enjoy a give and take with the audience and with each other. It's part of what makes live theater such a great experience.

Sometimes, things don't always go as planned. Other times, there's a bit of good natured scene stealing. And in a show as physical as It's a Bird It's a Plane It's Superman, sometimes what goes wrong can be more than a little dangerous.


Bob Holiday and Jack Cassidy

Jack Cassidy as Max Mencken

In the years since It's a Bird It's a Plane It's Superman appeared on Broadway, a lot of ink has been spilled criticizing the production for billing Jack Cassidy, the formidable villain Max Mencken, as the star of the show. It's often questioned why Bob Holiday, as Superman, wasn't given top billing. But such second guessing didn't seem to be a problem for these two men. They relished their roles, enjoyed working with each other, and had a great deal of fun at each other's expense.

Like all great performers, Jack Cassidy knew how to grab an audience. But sometimes the subtlest thing could undo even Jack Cassidy's command of the stage. Bob Holiday did it with milk and cookies. As Max Mencken paraded and preened around the Daily Planet, Bob Holiday as Clark Kent made sure that no one forgot who really mattered. Front and center on Clark's desk were simple milk and cookies. No matter how important the egotistical Max Mencken thought himself, Clark Kent could realign everyone's priorities just by enjoying those cookies and milk. Rumor has it that Jack Cassidy ate it all up.


Bob Holiday as Clark Kent

Ask Bob Holiday about his favorite on-stage memory, and he'll tell you about the day Jack Cassidy got him back. After over one hundred performances, Jack Cassidy found his moment. Every night, Superman would fly off stage one last time during the curtain call. It was always an electrifying moment, and audiences loved it. (After all, how many Broadway stars actually leave the stage during curtain calls?) Then, one night, just as Superman was three feet off the ground, Jack Cassidy held up a white envelope. "Hey Supe!" he cried out for the audience to hear. "Would you mail this for me?" Despite the ambush, Bob Holiday managed to grab that envelope as he flew by. Jack probably wasn't surprised; by now he knew that Superman could do anything.


Up, Up, and Away!

Since 1884, Playbill Magazine has been bringing theater programs to Broadway, surrounding these lists of cast and crew with interesting articles. Feature editor Joan Alleman Rubin used the June, 1966, issue to immortalize those hard working craftsmen who made Superman fly in front of live audiences. In the process she also recounted a couple of mishaps that occurred in trying to make our favorite hero take flight.

"UP, UP, AND AWAY," shouts Superman, assuming the traditional man-flying pose – knees bent, one arm forward, one arm back. At that moment he is lifted (by the wire attached to his waist) gently like a feather in the wind from the center stage and whisked in a high arch toward the top of the proscenium.

Backstage the flight of our blue-clad hero is equally exciting. Peter Torts, a twenty-eight year old Englishman ... stands poised on a 15-foot perch. At the very moment he hears the cue – “up, up, etc.” he grabs the heavy rope dangling above him and leaps to the floor. (It’s a little like see-saw, one man down and another up). Simultaneously, Up, Up, and Awayhis assistant pulls on yet another rope which gives the strongest man on earth the necessary forward motion.

For the most part, it’s been smooth flying and happy landings at the Alvin – “although one night a shackle broke and poor Bob was dropped six feet onto the stage in a heap.” Another time, to the audience’s enormous amusement, the stagehand, whose job it was to fasten Superman to the wire which lifts him from the stage, let go of the wire so that it swung out on the stage. Bob Holiday, keeping his cool, said to the audience “excuse me,” walked calmly across the stage, retrieved the wire and handed it back to the stagehand who was hidden behind a piece of scenery. “The audience roared and when Superman flew off the stage there was a deafening applause.”


Bob Holiday had a bit to say about that drop from a wire in his book Superman on Broadway written with Chuck Harter.

I didn’t actually take a long fall when the shackle broke. I was flying in on an entrance, about six feet off the stage, when I felt this crack behind me. Thank God I had been working out, because I hit the stage and sprang back up again. I put my hands on my hips, looked straight at the audience and said, “That would hurt any mortal man!” The audience screamed, cheered and gave me a standing ovation.

Despite the fall, Bob agreed to perform as Superman in two open air venues in the great state of Missouri. For these performances, Bob flew onto the stage suspended from an industrial sized crane. At times, he would be flying over one hundred feet in the air.


Please check back next week to learn more about Bob Holiday's 1967 performances as Superman in St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri.


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Photos Courtesy of Bob Holiday
Text courtesy of: Playbill, Volume 3, Number 6, June 1966
Superman on Broadway, © 2003, Bob Holiday and Chuck Harter
SUPERMAN and all related elements are the property of DC Comics. TM & © 2008
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