The Line That Wasn’t There: “Superman” (1941)

The line that wasn’t there, or was it? Or was it intended – or not?

That is the mystery we are attempting to solve today – as we open this cold case with a solid piece of new evidence. But whose side does this evidence support?

Let’s start at the very beginning, the basics. The first Fleischer Superman cartoon, 1941, is a bonified classic. I’ve owned a 16mm print since the 1970s – when a dealer or two at Comic Cons then would sell beautiful bootleg prints, sometime running the cartoon from their film projectors to attract a crowd of comics fans to their booths.

I’ve shown the cartoon publicly myself hundreds of times over the years, today it’s mainstay of my animation history class. But I cannot tell you how many times throughout the decades, I’d screen the film and like clockwork people would come up to me to let me know that I’m showing a “cut” print. “It’s missing a line”, they’d say. A line I have never heard in this cartoon. Ever.

What was missing, they’d proudly tell me, was three words: “…for a woman.”

These words were supposedly cut from a line spoken by Clark Kent to Perry White to close the scene, after Perry reads a threatening note from the Mad Scientist terrorizing the city. “I’d like a chance to crack this case on my own,” says Lois. Perry hesitates his response and Lois takes off (“Thanks, Chief!”). Clark turns to Perry and asks – “Chief don’t you think that’s a dangerous mission?”

Supposedly it was cut to appease “woman’s lib” – that was the “excuse” in 1975. Really?

You mean to tell me someone, somewhere, cared enough about such a line in this 1941 cartoon – a short that might maybe have played during intermission at a rock concert, or to several hundred people at a Comic Con? That didn’t seem very realistic to me. And the line as read sounded fine as the picture goes into fade out.

Back in those pre-digital days, making such an edit would cost few bucks, and more time, than it would today. And for non-commercial purposes – who would go to such trouble? DC Comics? Warner Bros?

The answer for me was: NO ONE would cut this cartoon over this line. Heck, you propose they would cut this line, but leave in circulation the racial stereotypes in “Jungle Drums”, or “Japataeurs”?

But the urban legend about these additional words has persisted. If only we could see the original storyboards with the dialogue affixed.

Enter Michael Uslan (“The Boy Who Loved Batman”). Michael and I have been friends since we both were employed (in different departments) by United Artists, circa 1979. Michael is the producer of ALL the Batman features (live and animated, movie and TV) since the 1989 Tim Burton/Michael Keaton classic.

This little Superman “controversy” has never come up in our conversations… but recently Michael let me know that, in the course of his travels, he actually acquired a “script” for the first Fleischer Superman cartoon! It was buried in his files. I told him I’d be VERY curious to see that! Michael dug it out of storage and sent me the pages in question. Did this answer my question?

Let’s take a look:

Now – compare the dialogue on screen in the finished film with the dialogue in the script:

Clearly, after comparing this script with the film, we can establish that this was indeed the original dialogue as intended – and you’ll notice in some very few instances the dialogue is different on the printed page. Note shot #19 has an additional line for Lois (“I’ll bring the story right back”), that is not in the film. Thus, this script is NOT a transcript during a dissolve to the next scene,f what is in the final cut. This was not compiled later for copyright purposes. This does indeed seem to be the original script, created for approval by Paramount Pictures and National (DC) Comics.

But notice the line in question DOES have one of the missing, rumored words: “for”. The line is supposed to “trail off” during a dissolve to the next scene.

The bottom line: the line was recorded without the “for” and the word was snipped out. Or it wasn’t recorded at all. Anyway you slice it, the final film as released has the sentence ending with “…dangerous mission.”

That “for” in the script certainly points to the sexist additudes of the 1940s that many have assumed was the case. For now, I’ll admit to the theory “for a woman” was intended to be expressed.

However, the film never had those words, and the version that’s been around for decades was as originally released in 1941. If it was edited, that would have been in the Fleischer Miami editing room, during production. I can stand by my assertion, “There’s nothing cut”.

What say you?


Here is a good copy of the complete cartoon: