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Action Hero Firsts

The Original Action Hero: Douglas Fairbanks” looked at how Douglas Fairbanks’ adaptation of pulp hero Zorro was the inspiration for other action heroes.

Here are some other action hero firsts: Dick Purcell as Captain America in ‘Captain America’, a 1944 Republic Studios serial. A serial is a film story that is divided into chapters meant to be seen in order at movie theatres each week until its conclusion. Each chapter would end in a ‘cliffhanger’, leaving a heroic character in peril which would not be resolved until the next week. Sadly, Purcell died of a heart attack before ‘Captain America’ was released.

Kirk Alyn as Superman in ‘Superman’, a 1948 Sam Katzman Production serial. In an interview about his audition for the part of Superman, Alyn said:

“I had done about six films for Sam Katzman, the man who was going to produce Superman. One day, he called and asked me if I’d like to do Superman. I had never heard of it and didn’t know what he was talking about. ‘Is it a movie or a publicity stunt?’ “He told me it was a motion picture and if I was interested to go down to the studio right away and meet a couple of guys from the National Comics Syndicate. They wanted to approve the guy who was going to play Superman on the screen. When I got down there, they stared at me and said, ‘Yeah, he looks like Clark Kent, but let’s see what he looks like with his shirt off.’ Fortunately, I was in good shape at the time. ‘Kirk,’ the guy said, ‘take your pants off.’ “I was shocked. ‘Now, wait a minute…’

Kirk Alyn

Ralph Byrd as Dick Tracy in ‘Dick Tracy’, a 1937 Republic Studios serial. Byrd also played Dick Tracy on an ABC television series from 1950 to 1951.

Gordon Jones as The Green Hornet in ‘The Green Hornet’, a 1940 Universal Studios serial. Jones had been a star football player at UCLA and later played professional football. He mainly played rugged physical roles during his acting career.


Tom Tyler as Captain Marvel in ‘The Adventures of Captain Marvel’, a 1941 Republic Studios serial. Republic had failed to acquire the right to do a Superman film, so they acquired and developed Captain Marvel as the first superhero serial.

Tom Tyler as The Phantom in ‘The Phantom’, a 1943 Columbia Pictures serial.

Lewis Wilson as Batman in ‘Batman,’ a 1943 Columbia Pictures serial. Lewis Wilson was the father of Michael G. Wilson, producer of many James Bond films.

Barry Nelson as James Bond in ‘Casino Royale’, a 1954 episode of Climax!, a CBS Television Network show. In an interview, Nelson said:

“At that time, no one had ever heard of James Bond… I was very conscious of the fact that there wasn’t much to go on.”

Barry Nelson

Thanks and a tip of the hat to Wikipedia for the image of Barry Nelson as James Bond in 1954’s TV version of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale.

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