As noted before on this site, an actor who portrays an iconic character has some pretty big shoes to fill…or in the case of Superman, big red boots. Two of the most famous actors who played the Man of Steel, the similarly-named George Reeves and Christopher Reeve, had tragically short lives.
But are these misfortunes enough to base an entire “Superman Curse” impacting the comic book franchise in its many incarnations? Or is there more to it? Consider the evidence:
Out of the seven main actors to play Superman in TV and the movies—Kirk Alyn, George Reeves, Christopher Reeve, Dean Cain, Tom Welling, Brandon Routh, and Henry Cavill—only two have confirmed “tragic” circumstances. Reeves died of a self-inflicted (supposedly) gunshot wound in 1959, and Reeve, after being paralyzed from the neck down in a horse-riding accident in 1995, died of a heart-attack in 2004.
But Alyn lived to be 88. And Cain, Welling, Routh, and Cavill are not only quite alive, but don’t seem to have suffered any major crises that might be linked to a “Superman Curse” (Cain’s gig as host of 10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty notwithstanding.).
Buuuut, if we start moving away from the “core” actors things take a slightly different turn.
Margot Kidder, Lois Lane in all four “Superman” movies starring Reeve, suffers from an intense bipolar condition. She went missing for days in 1996, and found in a paranoid and disheveled condition.
Dana Reeve, wife of Christopher, died a couple of years after her husband at the age of 44. She hard an aggressive form of lung cancer, though not a smoker.
Lee Quigley, who played the baby Kal-El in the 1978 “Superman” film, died at the age of 14 in 1991. Cause of death was inhaling solvents.
Then we have the sad case of the Superman creators themselves, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who sold off the rights to the character for pennies and ended up in poverty. Should we properly include Siegel and Shuster in any “Superman Curse?” Well…funny thing is, Siegel himself might have started it.
From the book Our Hero: Superman on Earth by Tom DeHaven:
No, the only verifiable Superman curse is the one that Jerry Siegel swore in April 1975 against Warner Communications, the Salkinds, and his old archenemy Jack Liebowitz.
Apparently Siegel, incensed at the news of an impending Superman movie, issued a press release that said, literally:
I, Jerry Siegel, the co-originator of SUPERMAN, put a curse on the SUPERMAN movie.
Well…I guess that’s settles it then. I can just pack this post up and go home.
But seriously, think about it…by the time of the Reeves Adventures of Superman TV show in the 1950s, both Shuster and Siegel had been unceremoniously cut off from the powerhouse “Superman” empire. Shuster, suffering from deteriorating eyesight, had to give up comic book art and become a deliveryman. Siegel stayed in the comic biz, even getting a gig to write some uncredited Superman stories for DC in 1959. But it was clear the creators of the Man of Steel were not going to be sharing in the wealth or fame generated by this character. Perhaps this is how the curse unofficially started, hitting Reeves in ’59.
But then the whole thing with Siegel doing the “PR curse” on Superman, particularly in connection with the film…and so we have Reeve, Kidder, Reeve’s wife, and the baby who played Kal-El all impacted. That’s not to say this was Siegel’s intention, by any means. But curses—if they do exist—have a funny way of ricocheting.
(That net can be cast wider to include the unfortunate later lives of “Superman” movie franchise actors Richard Pryor and Marlon Brando, though I think they had so much else going on outside of those flicks that it’d be unfair to include them.)
DC Comics, under public pressure, did start crediting Siegel and Shuster in with creating Superman starting in the mid-1970s. But this was after the Siegel “curse” was put in place. Then starting in 1999, the Siegel estate brought a number of legal claims to the character against DC/Warner Bros.—all or most of which, if I’m understanding things correctly, have been overturned and denied in favor of the media conglomerate by 2013.
So between the end of the original “Superman” movie franchise, at the late 1980s, and 1999, when the new court cases against DC were filed, things were actually kind of “quiet,” in terms of the “curse.” Thus, Cain, Welling and Routh have all been “spared” (though some accidents on the set of Superman Returns and Kate Bosworth’s failed relationship with Orlando Bloom have both been blamed on the curse).
Buuuut, Man of Steel, with Cavill, came out in 2013…right at the end of a bitter decade or so of legal wrangling between the WB and Siegel’s heirs.
So would the “curse” act up again? Or was Siegel’s ghost finally at peace?
Well, Man of Steel’s 2016 sequel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, seemed to be plagued with a degree of scorn…best summed up by the “Hello Darkness My Old Friend” video meme of Cavill and co-star Ben “Batman” Affleck in an uncomfortable press interview:
Of course, who did Affleck play in the 2006 movie Hollywoodland? George Reeves.
One last angle to the “Superman Curse” mythos. In 2012, DC Comics published an issue of the rebooted Action Comics called (wait for it) “The Curse of Superman.” Written by Grant Morrison, it is chock full o’ references, both overt and hidden, to the idea of a Superman Curse.
According to Morrison in his essay “POP MAGIC!,” what we say and write (such as in a comic book) can have an influence on reality, especially if it can be mass-produced:
The “hypersigil” or “supersigil” develops the sigil concept beyond the static image and incorporates elements such as characterization, drama and plot. The hypersigil is a sigil extended through the fourth dimension. My own comic book series The Invisibles was a six-year long sigil in the form of an occult adventure story which consumed and recreated my life during the period of its composition and execution. The hypersigil is an immensely powerful and sometimes dangerous method for actually altering reality in accordance with intent. Results can be remarkable and shocking.
The issue in question, Action Comics #9, showcases the origin of the “fictional” Curse of Superman—a thinly-disguised metaphor for Siegel’s sale of Superman.
This is pretty heavy-handed stuff, with the wicked “Overcorp” strong-arming Kent and his “co-creators” Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane into a crooked contract. The company’s symbol is vaguely reminiscent of both the old DC “swoosh” and the new “peel” logos and, more shockingly, the Overcorp logo itself is done in the familiar Watchmen font and yellow color. It can even be said that the head of Overcorp bears a resemblance to Siegel “arch enemy” Liebowitz himself.
Did Grant Morrison plant a “hypersigil” in Action Comics #9? And if so, did it manifest shortly thereafter in a new cinematic Superman who some have criticized as being too cold, too violent, and too morally ambiguous?
Some curses are subtle.