CineSavant Column

Tuesday April 27, 2021



The fifth anniversary of the passing of old friend, editor and film authority Robert S. Birchard is coming up. I was reminded of Bob yesterday when I bumped into Frank Thompson’s The Commentary Track page, and discovered Frank’s long list of Podcast-style interviews with film people — archivists, historians, authors, also some directors and actors — a selection of very familiar names and some I didn’t know. And there in the middle of list page is a downloadable talk with Bob Birchard, preserved and easily accessible. I didn’t catch the year it was recorded.

I have to say that Bob’s talk on Thompson’s interview told me more about his background than I learned from knowing him for thirty-forty years — Bob always had an opinion ready for anything, but his personal life was a closed book. I drove back and forth to Arizona with him, and all we talked about were movies. I knew Bob was something extraordinary when I’d see correspondence on his coffee table from Kevin Brownlow, and he’d run his 16mm print of Paramount on Parade — which couldn’t be seen anywhere else.

I also recommend DVD commentaries by Robert S. Birchard — the one I’m thinking of is for Fox’s old DVD of The Razor’s Edge, a great track he shares with Anthony Slide. A quick read and a good sample of Bob’s historical photos can be checked out at a page called Living Vicuriously.

 The photo of choice is from the day of my wedding — Robert (on the left) was one of my ushers, and in this picture can be seen with an incredibly young, thin Steve Nielson.  Bob’s legs were normal, he’s just posed awkwardly… The three of us had a hell of a good time in 1975, editing an independent adventure film that never had a full release, Lost on Paradise Island. When I had contact with an IMDB employee, I made sure the more-obscure-than-obscure film got listed … Bob, typically, resented me for doing so. I think he wanted to pretend he hadn’t worked on it, but he helped when we three had to rack our brains to come up with all the credits. I ought to write an article about it — all I have is a poster and one 35mm film clip of the leading lady María Grimm, one of the stars of the PBS children’s bilingual TV series Villa Alegre.



And an extra special item forwarded to us by correspondent “B” is this fairly amazing color movie (3.5 minutes) entitled Superman Day New York World’s Fair July 3 1940. During the fair, a whole morning’s activities were set up by D.C. comics on the fairgrounds, and a special comic book was published as well. Comic book ‘celebrities’ were there including Superman’s creator Jerry Siegel — get ready to see a nice Kodachrome shot of him. The experts think that actor Ray Middleton may have portrayed Superman for the special day, riding around on a float in a big parade. They even got his cape to blow nicely. Did Middleton get the job because he was willing to risk breaking his neck, riding around fifteen feet in the air?  The movie is terrific just to see what everybody is wearing to ‘look good’ at the fair. Bleachers full of kids were all given little ‘S’ tags to go on their chests. (But was it just the boys?)


Superman had been around for less than a couple of years, so this special day pretty much proves his popularity. The sample of the World’s Fair commemorative Superman comic book that I saw is pretty funny. After cruelly insulting poor Clark, Lois Lane shamelessly throws herself at Superman, who must make excuses to avoid her romantic ovetures. Lois is almost as coldly dismissive of Clark as is her satirically oversexed counterpart in Mad Magazine’s cartoon takeoff Superduperman, thirteen years later.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson