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….
As shown in the TV Special ‘The Making Of Superman III’, the conclusion of the movie is shot at one of the capital’s most iconic landmarks just before its decommissioning after supplying a fifth of the city’s power for decades.
Swaggering onto set in a bright red towelling robe, star Christopher Reeve meets & greets before being consulted about a new flying rig being trialled for an upcoming shot. Stuntman Mark Stewart is strapped into a seesaw-like contraption that elevates him simply by applying the weight of two men the opposite end. The result is admittedly unimpressive, and Reeve dismisses it as ‘useless.’ Stewart offers that it might be better for landing than taking off and Reeve walks away, literally leaving Stewart hanging. Later, an even more primitive solution of a wooden board is employed to bring Reeve and co-star Richard Pryor back down to Earth.
The highlight of the day, however, overlooked by bemused Power Station staff is Superman’s flight to exit the scene, to be achieved with the assistance of the Flying Unit and a large crane. Tenured SFX technician Bob Harman snaps the hooks onto Reeve’s harness as he’s done so many times previously while cinematographer Robert Paynter (top pic, far right) lines up the shot. Pre-flight checks done, the giant pulley is turned and Reeve gracefully ascends, banking over the skyline before saluting the ground crew. Below, Stunt double and friend Paul Weston shouts “180!” though the megaphone to confirm a successful rehearsal…”
The above was originally intended as an introduction to a page dedicated to the late Bob Harman, whom SUPERMANIA had been in contact with for a year before his sad passing in 2020. Bob was very modest about his incredible contribution to the ‘Super’ series of films but had nonetheless agreed to tell his story – unfortunately we never got the opportunity – however I was glad to offer his family some rare footage and images of Bob in action back in the day from the SUPERMANIA archives.
Its also bittersweet to realise that only the stuntmen (Weston & Stewart) are the only men from this tale to still be with us – hopefully one day we get to share their stories before they are lost to time. Paul Weston is still active in the industry and is a simply wonderful guy – I’ve also made contact with Mark Stewart who is similarly gracious but to date has not gone on record to share his experiences – I ask all Superfans interested in hearing from him to make it known in the comments section below..!
“Scholastic Action® features celebrity profiles, and read-aloud plays and high-interest content to help low-level readers build the skills they need to succeed….”
Still publishing to this day with a focus on introducing young people to reading by way of popular culture, Scholastic Inc. were one of the first childrens periodicals to feature the fresh-faced star of the upcoming Superman movie and also provide a handy double-page timeline of his origins.
For middle-schoolers, Christopher Reeve would also appear on the cover of Scholastic Scope In January 1979 and their definitive volume – The Great Superman Movie Book – would first be published in 1981, and again in 1983 to incorporate the newly-released Superman III
While there may have been no reprint to incorporate Superman IV in 1987, Scholastic nonetheless released both a tie-in Novel and a childrens storybook (by Nancy E. Krulik and B.B Hilller respectively) to commmerate the character’s 50th anniversary.
As quick Google search provides no result for the issue above, one must presume its a rarity so SUPERMANIA is proud to archive the feature here – meantime the GSMB continues to be a staple of ANY Superman Movie collection – just make sure the poster is present before adding it to yours…!