As the very proud custodian of the ‘Big Red Book’, any follower of SUPERMANIA will be aware of my affinity for the UK national treasure that is Martin Asbury. Most notable for his long-running newspaper strip ‘Garth’, Asbury went on to storyboard some of the most popular movies of the last few decades, culminating in the as-yet-unreleased latest Bond film ‘No Time to Die’.
Last seen here in vintage footage working in his studio at Elstree, a catch-up with the man himself was long overdue and courtesy of Superfan Philip Hawkins, we finally got the chance to ask the burning questions in the Superman IV Live Watch Along Event. Laughingly referring to it as ‘The Greatest Film Ever Made’ Asbury’s candid and frank recollections are a fascinating insight into the production. As if this wasn’t enough, during the Zoom call another Hollywood legend logged on to contribute – Mr Harrison Ellenshaw! To hear the old friends reminiscing was a joy in itself but for Superfans there were revelations aplenty about the making of Superman IV. For example –
• Asbury was credited as concept and Matte artist but for not his main duties as storyboard artist.
• He designed the opening credits of the film under the direction of Sidney J. Furie – Clive Mantle’s credit as Nuclearman 1 was cut.
• Storyboarding was completed before the role of Nuclearman was cast, explaining why he’s drawn like the ‘Silver Surfer’
• Asbury was also the artist for the matte painting of the Volcano – it’s still in his possession and is currently used as a ramp for a catflap at his home(!) The Lava in the Volcano scene was porridge lit from below.
• Harrison Ellenshaw brought his father Peter out of retirement to help finish the Matte paintings due to the tight schedule
• According to Asbury, besides Lex Luthor’s lair, most of the sets for the film were ‘tiny’
• Sidney J. Furie couldn’t watch the test screening and sat waiting in a restaurant across from the theater. Harrison Ellenshaw said the audience were ‘throwing things at the screen’ in protest
• The test screening was a ‘rough cut’ of 134 minutes. Based on the audience response, Warner Brothers immediately ordered ‘whole reels be dropped’ to bring the runtime down.
• Even though he knew the picture was collapsing around him, Christopher Reeve ‘Never had a bad word to say about anybody’ and ‘was a very pleasant and approachable man – not grand in any way’.
• The production began shooting at Pinewood Studios as the first three had done – it was then re-located to Elstree
• Christopher Reeve suffered an allergic reaction to his new Superman costumes and came out in an uncomfortable rash all over his body
• Mark Pillow had twisted his ankle during filming so an insert showing Superman stamping on Nuclearman’s foot was shot to explain the limp.
• Nuclearman’s demise was filmed at the now-demolished Didcot Power Station and the entrance to the Boys School where Lenny is dropped off are the gates to Elstree Studios
Philip will be making an edit of the event available on Facebook shortly – I urge both Superfans and anybody with an interest in the movie business to give it a listen….