by Neil A. Cole
The first man to provide the voice for Superman on the original 1940's radio program was born Clayton Johnson Heermance Jr. on June 18th, 1908 in Manhattan, New York. A special actor was required to pull off the role of the dynamic Man of Steel and the mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent. Producers Bob Maxwell and Frank Chase found such a performer in Mr. Heermance who now went by the name of Clayton "Bud" Collyer.
Mr. Collyer had become one of the busiest actors and announcers on the airwaves and stood out as a superman among radio performers. Five days a week, Collyer would burst out of one door in the RCA studios in New York's Radio City at 10:45 a.m., sprint 100 feet down the hall and disappear into another studio. The overworked announcer had only 30 seconds between his closing messages on NBC's Road of Life and his opening lines on ABC's Listening Post.
"It's a good thing both studios are in the same building," Collyer stated at the time, "If either of those programs ever moved to another floor, I'd have to make like Superman and fly in and out of windows or crash through the ceiling!"
"When we came to audition for this new idea, this Superman thing, we knew about the comic strip but they didn't know whether they wanted one man for both of the parts, Clark Kent and Superman, or if they wanted two - they didn't know how he should be played or anything." explains Collyer.
A master of radio acting, Bud Collyer easily won both roles with his ability to differentiate the two characters vocally, using his training as a singer to create distinct vocal registers for the mild-mannered reporter and for the powerful Man of Steel. The difference between Kent and the Man of Steel was unmistakable, yet there was no doubt that both voices came from one man.
As the first actor to portray Superman and Clark Kent in any medium, it was up to Bud Collyer to create the audio shorthand that would define the character to the listening audience. Collyer explains, "I played Clark Kent just a little bit higher to give my self somewhere to go with the 'UP, UP AND AWAY!'" Collyer portrayed Clark Kent as a tenor; dropping an octave in mid-sentence into Superman's deep baritone as he proclaimed: "This looks like a job - FOR SUPERMAN." Bud Collyer's portrayal of the Man of Steel remained the definitive interpretation throughout the 1940s.
Beginning in 1941, Collyer also provided the voice of Superman in the popular series of theatrical cartoons produced and directed by Max and Dave Fleischer and released by Paramount Pictures. The first of the Paramount Superman cartoons achieved new heights of realistic animation and was nominated for an Academy Award. Collyer's masterful portrayal of Clark and Superman served as an inspiration for Kirk Alyn's performance of the roles in the 1948 and 1950 Columbia movie serials. Collyer received no billing in the role and kept his superheroic alter ego a secret from the listening public, much as Superman conceals his dual identity as Clark Kent. Superman, Inc., the licensing arm of DC Comics, wanted the true identity of radio's Man of Steel to remain a secret to encourage the belief that the real Superman was starring in the broadcasts.
In addition to providing the voices of Superman and Clark Kent for the Superman radio show and the Fleischer cartoons, Bud Colyer also performed the roles during the 1960s on record albums and on television's animated The New Adventures of Superman (1966-1967), Superman-Aquaman Hour of Adventure (1967-1968), and Batman-Superman Hour of Adventure (1968-1969).
"Of course, it grew into a magnificent career-within-a-career. It was great fun and a great way to get out all your inhibitions real fast. I love Superman, the guy who can fly through the air. It's the ultimate. So many people get the least bit embarrassed by fantasy when they're directing it or performing it and it loses all the great charm it should have, but if played honestly and whole-hog all the way, it's great."
Just before Mr. Collyer was to return to work for season two of the "Batman-Superman Hour of Adventure", he suffered a severe heart attack from an ongoing circulatory ailment. He passed away two days later on September 8th, 1969 in Greenwich, Connecticut and was laid to rest shortly afterward in Putnam Cemetery - also in Greenwich.