Henry Cavill takes his place in the 'Superman' pantheon

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Henry Cavill was, like legions of fanboys, home playing "World of Warcraft" when director Zack Snyder called.

"I thought he was calling to let me down easy. But then it dawned on me that he was giving me the part," the British-born actor recently told Details magazine and repeated to Jay Leno and other interviewers.

"I had to play it cool. Be appreciative, respectful, professional. But the second we hung up, I just sprinted up and down my stairs cheering and whooping like a madman. I kept looking in the mirror, going, 'I don't believe it. I'm Superman? I'm Superman!' "

And so he is, as the world will discover at midnight when "Man of Steel" opens 75 years after Clevelanders Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created an infant from the planet Krypton sent to Earth by his parents for safekeeping and who proved to be Superman.

Mr. Cavill, whose credits include the Showtime series "The Tudors" along with the films "Immortals," "Whatever Works," "Stardust," "Tristan + Isolde" and "The Count of Monte Cristo," joins an elite club of actors who have played the screen role of Clark Kent/Superman.

Brandon Routh -- At the time of "Superman Returns" in 2006, he was a 26-year-old with a resume heavy on TV, including "One Life to Live" and prime-time guest spots.

Director Bryan Singer picked the 6-foot-3 Iowa native for his resemblance to the comic book icon and his Midwestern roots. In fact, he looked and sounded so much like the late Christopher Reeve that it was eerie and oddly comforting.

The bottom line: He was one and done in this movie that grossed $391 million worldwide, and offers haven't been faster than a speeding bullet. He scored some film roles -- a vegan musician in "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," half of a gay couple in Pittsburgh's "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" -- but gravitated to TV shows such as "Chuck" and "Partners."

Tom Welling -- Some fans of TV's "Smallville" think the model turned actor should have graduated to the big screen. Mr. Welling starred in the 2001-11 WB/CW series about the journey from Smallville to Metropolis, from Clark Kent to Superman.

His Clark sometimes seemed like a dimmer bulb than other portrayals, but Mr. Welling brought an inherent sweetness to the heroic character. "Smallville" holds the record as TV's longest-running superhero series and paved the way for current CW hit "Arrow."

Bottom line: Mr. Welling's post-"Smallville" career hasn't amounted to much yet, but he has two movies ("Parkland" and "Draft Day") slated for release this year and in 2014.

Dean Cain -- The hunky actor starred alongside Teri Hatcher in ABC's romantic comedy "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman" from September 1993 to June 1997. He earned a reported $30,000 to $60,000 an episode, or more than 50 times what TV pioneer George Reeves made, according to Larry Tye's 2012 book "Superman."

Bottom line: Ms. Hatcher found success on "Desperate Housewives," but Mr. Cain has bounced around, landing in lots of TV movies or series, including VH1's "Hit the Floor," a new scripted drama about a basketball team's dance team.

Christopher Reeve -- He borrowed Clark's shyness, vulnerability and charming goofiness from Cary Grant's paleontologist in "Bringing Up Baby." His chiseled features, good looks and athletic body made him a natural to don the cape and tights, and he did that for four movies (1978-87).

After a horse-riding accident in 1995, he became a champion of spinal-cord research and a beacon of hope. On "Smallville," he turned up as a mysterious scientist who helped young Clark Kent better understand his alien origins.

Reeve, 52, died in October 2004, and today, his worlds mingle in the sale of Superman dog tags benefiting the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation and carrying the words "Go Forward." You can find them at wbshop.com for $10 or go to christopherreeve.org and click "Shop" in upper right.

Bottom line: He is Superman for moviegoers of a certain generation, although we admire his courage, grace and refusal to bemoan what he called "just a twist of fate" above all else.

George Reeves -- He played Brent Tarleton in "Gone With the Wind" and seemed headed for movie stardom with 1943's "So Proudly We Hail" but is best remembered for TV's "Adventures of Superman" (1952-58 and in reruns long after). Hired for his acting talent, classic profile and strong jaw, he became one of television's earliest superstars.

The 45-year-old, found shot to death in June 1959 in what was ruled a suicide, had complained he was wasting his life. Mr. Tye reports the actor suffered lingering pain from a pair of car accidents, had to strap on a girdle and dye his hair for filming and increasingly liked his martinis or brandy outside his usual 4 p.m. cocktail break during production.

Bottom line: The 2006 movie "Hollywoodland," starring Ben Affleck as Reeves, showed what a complicated personal life he led, but he will always hold a special place in boomers' hearts.

At the time of his death, Kennywood Park had put up posters advertising an expected July 4, 1959, appearance. Mr. Reeves, who had drawn tremendous crowds there in 1956, had personally signed the contract the park received a few days before the fatal gunshot.

Kirk Alyn -- A New Jersey native, he was a dancer and actor who followed pal Red Skelton to Hollywood and became the first actor to play the role on screen in "Superman" and "Atom Man vs. Superman." Each was done as a 15-chapter serial, run mainly at weekend matinees in theaters in 1948 and 1950.

Mr. Alyn frequently recounted appearing for his initial interview, stripping to the waist and flexing his muscles but responding "Whoa!" when asked to remove his trousers. It was so producers could see what the 37-year-old's legs would look like in tights.

Bottom line: He returned to New York after the serials and appeared in four plays and about 125 commercials but clearly relished his historic role. He had an uncredited cameo as young Lois Lane's father in 1978's "Superman" and died in 1999 at age 88.


Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.


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