There are shows I watched on TV as a child and have seen repeatedly in the years since, through reruns and/or home video (e.g. “The Twilight Zone,” “Adventures of Superman”). There are shows I watched on TV as a child but haven’t seen since and don’t know how well they hold up (“Peter Gunn,” “Sea Hunt,” “Yancy Derringer”). There are shows that were on when I was a child but didn’t see at all until I was an adult and now consider among my favorites (“Bonanza,” “The Untouchables”). There are shows I saw as a child and have only recently rewatched for the first time in over five decades that have held up very well (“The Adventures of Robin Hood,” “Wanted: Dead or Alive”). Finally, there are shows that were on in my childhood that I never saw at all, some I’ve heard of (“Adventures in Paradise,” “Richard Diamond, Private Detective”) and some I’ve discovered only by poring through the IMDB credits of actors I’m interested in. For instance, when I did the piece on Lisa Lu in the “Day of the Dragon” episode of “Bonanza” (January 8, 2013), I discovered among her TV credits in the 1950s and early ’60s such unfamiliar shows as “Tightrope,” “Dante,” “Cimarron City,” “Hong Kong,” “Checkmate,” and “Coronado 9.” I’m curious to see them all.
This past Tuesday, January 7, 2014, Sir Run Run Shaw died in Hong Kong at the age of 106. Shaw was a mogul who built a movie empire in Asia, with the Shaw Bros. movie production and distribution company, based in Hong Kong, as its centerpiece. The company was Hong Kong’s biggest movie studio from the late 1950s to the mid-1980s, when it shifted its focus from movies to television, creating numerous popular series under the company name, TVB, the dominant television network in Hong Kong, with distribution throughout Asia. Shaw patterned his movie studio in the style of the old Hollywood studios like Warner Bros. and MGM. His counterparts in Hollywood were men like Jack Warner, Louis B. Mayer, Adolph Zukor and Harry Cohn. He had numerous stars and production personnel under contract, an array of soundstages with lavish sets for interior scenes, and sprawling backlots filled with standing sets for the numerous historical dramas and adventures the studio made. Many of the top directors of Hong Kong cinema in the 1960s and ’70s worked at Shaw Bros., including Chang Cheh, King Hu, Chor Yuen, Li Han-hsiang and Lau Kar Leung.
George Reeves would have turned 100 today, January 5, 2014. He’s most famous, of course, for playing Superman on the TV series, “Adventures of Superman,” which ran original shows from 1952 to 1958, for a total of 104 half-hour episodes, half of which were in black-and-white and half of which were filmed in color. These shows ran in syndication for decades afterward and are showing somewhere in the world right now as I write this. I watched the show on TV as a child and was a devoted fan. When I learned to read, I began reading Superman comics also, but my first exposure to the character was via the TV show. Reeves died on June 16, 1959, after the show had finished its sixth season. My siblings and I had begun watching the show well before then. I don’t remember hearing reports of Reeves’ death at the time, which came not long before my sixth birthday. At some point a neighbor girl from the apartment next door told me that the actor who played Superman thought he was really Superman and died when he jumped off a building thinking he could fly. I’m not sure when I learned the official story—that he’d gone upstairs during a party at his home and shot himself in the head. In recent decades, that account has been disputed by investigators who believe he was murdered. I read a book about it once that argued the latter point, but I have to confess I need more information before I can find this theory convincing.