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“Superman”‘s 1978 American Premiere at the Kennedy Center Was…Something

Original Superman actor Christopher Reeve on set. Photo courtesy of Flickr user PSParrot.

The Superman film franchise has lived through a lot. The superhero has been the focus of seven different movies—including the new Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which is shaping up to be a notable bomb. Because of the series’ now-middling reputation, it’s easy to forget that American cinema welcomed the Man of Steel with a lavish reception: a $1,000-per-ticket premiere at the Kennedy Center on December 10, 1978, that was attended by President Jimmy Carter.

Even though the event featured politicians and also doubled as a benefit for the Special Olympics—ticket sales helped raise nearly $200,000 for the charity—it apparently wasn’t the most clean, professional, buttoned-up evening. In his book Superman vs. Hollywood: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors, and Warring Writers Grounded an American Icon, writer Jake Rossen recounts the night as a boozy, sloppy affair that was more memorable for crewmember antics than good reactions to the film. Here are some of the wacky things that happened during the premiere:

  1. Upon his arrival at the Kennedy Center, producer Ilya Salkind was served a lawsuit from screenwriter Mario Puzo, who claimed he wasn’t being paid enough.
  2. Salkind got to take a photo with the president, but his father—Alexander Salkind, also a Hollywood producer—later cropped out his son’s head out of the photograph and replaced it with his own.
  3. Arnold Schwarzenegger, once up for the film’s titular role, let Salkind and director Richard Donner know that he was no longer angry about not being cast as Superman. Rossen referred to it as “good natured ribbing” but one can only assume the sarcastic diatribe from Schwarzenegger in his prime was still somewhat intimidating.
  4. Everyone got really, really tanked. “We were all friendly as hell at the premiers. We were all getting drunk in Washington,” said Salkind.

More potentially disastrous things happened after that night. Superman: The Movie stars Marlon Brando and Margot Kidder, who, along with Donner, filed their own lawsuits, claiming they were not earning their promised percentages of the film’s overall earnings. But considering the early reviews of Batman v Superman, at least they got to be part of a good movie.

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