As fans anxiously await Thursday’s start of the 36th annual Superman Celebration, the Metropolis Planet takes a look back at Michael Rosenbaum, Margot Kidder, Alessandro Juliani, Tracy Scoggins, Laurie Mitchell and Gregory Moffett’s 2013 visit to Metropolis.
A Midwesterner at heart, Michael Rosenbaum was born in New York and moved to Indiana when he was 8. A graduate of Western Kentucky University, he planned to perfect his craft in grad school until a professor changed his mind. “He said ‘I think you’re ready.’” Rosenbaum didn’t quite believe him, but heeded the advice. “He saved me four years and a lot of money,” he said.
A bit of an extrovert growing up, Rosenbaum found acting — whether in high school plays or impersonating the latest Saturday Night Live episode as a way to fit in. “Being me wasn’t working, so being someone else, like a character, people noticed me a little more,” he said.
After college, Rosenbaum moved to New York and did off-Broadway plays. After a role in an independent film, he was cast by Clint Eastwood in 1997’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which took him to Los Angeles and led to short-lived sitcoms and shows. “Then I got the movie Urban Legend (in 1998) — that got me in the door,” he said. That attention got him on two WB shows on a network, that at the time, was looking for an actor to portray Lex Luthor on a new show called Smallville.
“They knew me, but saw me as this comedian, so I think a lot of the execs believed I couldn’t do (Lex). I don’t know if I believed it could do it.” So, he pretended, learned his lines, “went in there, had some confidence and got the part. I think that’s what it is is confidence.”
From October 2001 to May 2008 in 167 episodes, Rosenbaum created a character fans loved to hate, growing in his craft and creating a new family.
“It was an amazing time in my life,” he said of Smallville. “They were like family they saw the ups and downs, they saw it all. I hung out with that crew and cast more than I have my family if you add the years together. It’s pretty crazy.”
Growing with him was Superman himself, Smallville’s Clark Kent, Tom Welling. For both, the series was their first big Hollywood experience.
“I think we both had a transformation. For me, it was being a serious actor. I’d done tons of plays but this was a serious, dynamic role — this villain: why does he become a villain, this huge arc,” Rosenbaum related. “Tom didn’t have a lot of acting experience, but I think by the end (of the series) you could see what a big change he had in his acting, in the character.
“We worked hard together to make it as real as possible (and not to make it) fall into that cheesy (scenario),” he continued. “You’re doing Superman, you’re doing mythology, but we wanted to respect the story.”
Almost daily for seven years, Rosenbaum shaved his head during the shooting of Smallville to provide Lex’s signature look. When he reprised the role for the series finale in 2011, he wore a bald cap. While that cap drove him crazy, he was glad to go back to Smallville.
“I did it for the fans. I never wanted to hear the question. ‘Why didn’t you go back?’” he said. “It was great.”
But it was also nerve-wracking to be back in an atmosphere he’d left behind three years earlier.
“I’m a comedian for the most part. I had to get in character, had to learn the lines. I was really nervous. I was really, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ I went over the lines with a friend who said I had it, but I wanted it to be perfect,’” he recalled.
Then he walked on set for his day of shooting.
“It’s just family and everybody’s there and it’s like you just went back in time. It felt so good,” he said. “I could just see Tom’s face: he was really excited to see me. I was working with my favorite director, Greg Beeman, who’s one of my best friends. It was a magical experience. Some people teared up; I teared up. ‘Magical’ is honestly the word to describe it.”
Just prior to his 2013 appearance at the Superman Celebration, his second since 2006, Rosenbaum wrote, directed and starred in his first feature film, Back in the Day, with Homeland’s Morena Baccarin. The independent movie, filmed in his Indiana hometown, was released in January.
Alessandro Juliani was born into showbusiness — the son of an actor/producer father and a ballerina dancing mother.
“I could have gone into something respectable like accounting, but my family would’ve disowned me,” he joked.
When college time came, the Canadian left his native Vancouver for Montreal and majored in opera. “I had sung a lot in choirs and stuff growing up. It was something I could do and thought I could do fairly well,” he said.
While he had his first acting job at 13 doing voiceover work for a Nintendo movie “that gig paid my tuition through college” the career came as a fluke. “I had a choice it was just a really natural thing to fall in to,” he said.
The money he earned doing that Nintendo movie didn’t hurt his motivation. “When you realize you can do that with one cartoon, you think, ‘Maybe I should try this a little bit more,’” he said.
Juliani returned to Vancouver after graduation and “picked up where I left off,” by getting an agent and looking for parts. Among his first was a 1989 episode of MacGyver, and lots of voiceover work. His break came in 2003 with the role of Lt. Felix Geata on Battlestar Galactica — first in the 2003 mini series, followed by the 59-episode series that ran from 2004-09, in addition to Battlestar Galactica: The Face of the Enemy’s 10 episodes in 2008-09.
After such a prominent role on the just-wrapped Battlestar, Juliani’s agent was “looking for something for me that was semi-regular but not as regular as Battlestar.” Smallville “just called me up and asked if I was interested in playing this part. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into.”
Dr. Emil Hamilton was going to be a recurring role but producers “didn’t know how big it was going to be.” He was on 14 episodes from 2009-11. “Clearly they liked the character, kept throwing him in certain situations and liked the dynamic I had with Clark and Allison then later with the whole gang and with Tess,” he said referring to lead characters Tom Welling as Clark Kent/Superman, Allison Mack as Chloe Sullivan and Cassidy Freeman as Tess Mercer.
Juliani said while he and Freeman were friends off-screen, they hadn’t had any screen time together. Toward the end of the series, “it was April first and we were all on set filming something and James Marshall, the executive producer, walked by with a sort of smirk on his face, and said something like, ‘You read the first script?’ and we’re all, ‘Yeah, yeah, sure James, April fools.’ And he’s like, ‘No, you dress up as Elvis and then you shack up with Tess.’ ‘What are you talking about?! That’s crazy! That’s the most far-fetched thing I’ve ever heard,’” he recalled. “Next thing I know, they were calling to measure my inseam for my Elvis jumpsuit.”
His regret? He didn’t keep that suit from the episode titled Fortune.
After Smallville Juliani made several television, video and video game appearances. Then: “Again, I’m just a lucky guy they called me up,” he said of Man of Steel.
Juliani had worked with Man of Steel director Zack Snyder before on Watchman “so he sort of knew me and they had this part (Officer Sekowsky) the casting director thought I’d be perfect for. I put myself on tape and the next thing I knew was in this giant fake Arctic set with green screen, running around like a chicken with my head cut off,” he said. “It was really fun.”
“Being as lucky as I am to work in this profession and then to work in the genre I’ve mostly done, a lot of it is like childhood wish fulfillment,” he said. “It’s like the stuff when I was a kid I would pretend in my back yard and now I’m kind of getting to do it — it’s so wild.”
For Gregory Moffett, getting into showbusiness was easy as pie — well, technically it was cake.
Moffett is the younger brother of child actress Sharyn Moffett who in the mid-1940s to early-1950s was in several movies, including 1948’s Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, where she played Cary Grant’s daughter. The next year, she obtained fourth billing in The Judge Steps Out.
Sitting on the set with their mother, Moffett watched the filming of a birthday party scene that included a number of kids “and they kept running them through, giving this line ‘Can I have a piece of cake?’ and most of the kids were older. The director looked at my mom and said, ‘Gladyce, where’s your little boy?’ ‘He’s over here.’ ‘Have him read this line.’”
Moffett began reading at the age of 3 and used to run lines with his sister. “I came out and he said, ‘I want you to say, “Can I have a piece of cake?”’” Moffett recalled, going into a higher questioning voice. He complied and the director said, “’You’ve got the job.’ That’s how it happened.”
Moffett was 4. Over the next five years, he had parts in nine shows or movies including the 1957 episode of The Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves — The Stolen Elephant.
Growing up in Los Angeles, Moffett was able to watch Superman a year before it went national. His episode was actually filmed in 1953 and showed in some markets before 1957. A reader of the comic books and listener of the radio shows, when he got a call to audition, he went to his mother and said, “’Mom! Superman! I’m doing it!’” he recalled. “We didn’t find out for a month or so (if he got the part), but I was thinking about it every day, wondering if they were going to call.”
Reeves “was a very pleasant man. He was always very professional, very friendly. He was a nice man as far as I was concerned,” Moffett recalled, noting he’d been in the business long enough not to have any illusions about Superman’s flying. “We rehearsed most of our scenes in advance. He gave me a feel for how he wanted me to proceed through the scene — what attitudes I should strike, poses and stuff like that. I didn’t do that well, but I had a great time. It was a fun cast and crew.”
Moffett’s acting career ended when the family left Los Angeles. “We moved. I couldn’t do any interviews anymore,” he said. And while he doesn’t miss it — “It’s forever ago.” — he added with a smile, “I’m probably still a ham, but in far different ways.”
Growing up in Canada, Margot Kidder’s exposure to comic books wasn’t vast. In fact, the first Superman comic she read was on her way to her Superman: The Movie audition.
For Kidder, Superman: The Movie was an escape.
“I was in a bad marriage and I knew I had to get a part because that was the only way I was going to be able to get out. I didn’t have a clue it was going to be iconic,” she said. “I flew there knowing my main job in the screen test was to look like I was in love with this guy and I would probably get the part. I got on the set and here’s the skinniest, geekiest guy you’d ever see in your life — Christopher (Reeve) before he ever got his muscles. It was like, ‘This is Superman?! Just look like you love him,’ and it worked. When we were making it, I thought ‘What is this? I don’t get it.’ We were hanging from wires for 14 hours a day. When I first saw it, I cried at the flying scene because I thought it was so great. It was a big surprise for me. “
It wasn’t until Kidder saw Superman: The Movie with her 4-year-old grandson that she really got it.
“When he watched it for the first time, he did what all little boys do — he had to have the cape and the outfit, he was jumping off chairs, sleeping in the outfit,” she said. “I went ‘Oh my God, I really get it!’ (Superman) is the first movie that kids get — there’s a bad guy, there’s a good guy, the good guy has to fight the bad guys and he has to protect the women and children. In that sense, it’s a primal fable. I’m so proud at this point to be a part of such a classic.”
Kidder noted it was the fans love of Lois that brought her back for an appearance on Superman III. She credits Lois to writer Tom Mankiewicz. “At least half of getting to create a good character is good writing, and writers are treated so badly in Hollywood. I had (Mankiewicz) writing some of the funniest, most flippant, 1930-like lines for Lois. I think the writing that I got to use in creating that character was the best writing of any Lois. I know I wouldn’t have been nearly as good without it,” she said.
Kidder noted that while she and Reeve had very different acting styles — she loved to improvise and he did not — they developed a close friendship.
“Chris was amazing in a different way. The thing about doing four movies with someone is you get to know someone very well and they become like family,” she said. “There were times we’d be terribly annoyed with each other — usually when we were stuck to the ceiling bickering away until they yelled ‘Action!’ — there’s a lot of that. We hung out a lot together. . . . Chris was a good guy, and he became like a brother, but I had to pretend he was Harrison Ford when I kissed him.”
The 2013 celebration marked Kidder’s fourth visit to Metropolis. The first was in 1984 when she was campaigning for U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, then the 2000 and 2005 celebration. She complimented the celebration staff. “That you put this together with volunteers and do this every year is one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever seen and you guys are amazing,” she said.
When it came to landing the part of Cat Grant on Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Tracy Scoggins knew what she was getting into.
It provided a stepping stone to her favorite genre — science fiction.
A former model, Scoggins’ first acting role was in 1979 playing a fake deputy sheriff in The Dukes of Hazard. That led to guest roles in Remington Steele, TJ Hooker, Blue Thunder, A-Team and Nip/Tuck. But it’s her roles of Cat, Capt. Elizabeth Lochley in Babylon 5’s final season and Gilora Rejal in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode Destiny that she holds dear.
“I am a big geek,” she confessed. “Getting genre shows has always mattered to me. Auditions I can take or leave, but when it’s a genre show, I’m devastated if I don’t get it. I love sci-fi. I think it’s the best genre there is.”
Scoggins was on the first season of Lois & Clark with Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher in 1993. She was given the liberty to make Cat her own.
“They let the Cat run wild with me. A lot of me, except for the clothing, was part of it. I got to improvise lines and because there was so much strife on the set, nobody bothered with me. I tried to make her (Cat) as feline as possible — perching myself on bookshelves, smelling people like a cat would, sneaking up on someone,” she said. “It was very much fun to create that character. She came across very superficial, but . . . I’m very proud to have been a part of it, even though (Cat) had somewhat flexible ethics.”
In 1998, Scoggins found her way back in sci-fi in the final season of Babylon 5. A fan of the show, “when I got it and wasn’t immediately accepted by the fans, it really hurt my feelings. But I understood because I am one,” she said. “The first time I sat down and looked at me on Babylon 5, I went, ‘Who’s this?! Oh, it’s me. I gotta like her.’ It was hard because I cared so much. My intent was to create a character that maybe you don’t love me, but at least at some point you’ll respect me.”
The two roles were a world away from one of her other characters — Monica Colby on The Colbys (1985-87) and Dynasty (1985-89) — where she played the daughter of Charlton Heston’s character and niece of Barbara Stanwyck’s.
“After The Colbys was off the air, I’d be doing a play in a 99 cent theater that almost nobody knew about. and on opening night without fail, I’d get red roses from Charlton Heston that said ‘Love, Daddy,” she reflected.
Stanwyck was on the first season of The Colbys and, noted Scoggins,”was in very ill health by that time. She came from an age when people sat on the set and didn’t go to their trailer or dressing room. It was my first day with Miss Stanwyck, who I’d admired forever. The second assistant director was supposed to come get me. I was ready knew my lines, was dressed and they forgot to come get me. My first day and the first thing I hear her say is: ‘Where the hell is that young woman?’ It was suggested to me that I apologize to her. I said, and I knew this could cost me my job: ‘Please tell Miss Stanwick I’m sorry she was kept waiting, but I don’t apologize for other people’s mistakes.’ And she punched me in the arm and said, ‘You’re a good kid, you know it?’”
Laurie Mitchell was a sci-fi queen whose professional career began with an appearance in the 1954 feature film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. She appeared in many iconic television shows including The Addams Family, Hogan’s Heroes and Bonanza. She had roles in Attack of The Puppet People, Some Like It Hot, Queen of Outer Space with Zsa Zsa Gabor and Missile to the Moon. She also appeared in a 1957 episode of The Adventures of Superman — The Man Who Made Dreams Come True.
Mitchell grew up in the Bronx but moved to the Hollywood area after graduating from high school. Her father, after seeing The Al Jolson Story, “decided he had to move to California because every street had palm trees, he thought, and that was his life. My poor mom — it drove her nuts; she thought it was the worse thing my father ever did.”
It was there she met her first husband, Larry White, who was a trumpeter. They married when she was 19. By his sending her to dramatic school, she got her break into showbusiness and the opportunity to work with Hollywood greats like Kirk Douglas in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe and director Billy Wilder on Some Like It Hot. “I had no idea, not being a musician, that Billy Wilder would hire me, but he did. That was the thrill of my life, being introduced to this great director,” she said.
She recalled how she got the part after a two-week call back because Larry taught her how to “play” the trumpet. “Little did I know (Wilder would) give me a speaking part or that I’d be sitting in the upper berth feeding Jack Lemmon salami and crackers in the drinking scene — it was heaven to me because I’m an actress, not a musician,” she said.
And, of course, there’s her super connection. Mitchell didn’t actually have any scenes with Reeves “but he was very pleasant to be on the set with. We’d kid around, have coffee and doughnuts and do our scenes. But he’d go fleetingly in one door and out another and joke around. I had scenes with Noel (Neill, who portrayed Lois Lane) — she was very nice and accommodating, even when I was tying her up.”
The Man Who Made Dreams Come True was the first Adventures of Superman in color. It was also Mitchell’s first introduction to the Man of Steel, so to be a part of what the franchise, “I can’t even explain to you how I feel. I am so beside myself. I’m so beyond touched,” she said.
“I would love to do it all over again,” Mitchell said of her showbiz career. “I’m so grateful to God every day of my life that I’m here to be able to talk about it, that He gave me the opportunity to do all of those things.”