TV URBAN LEGEND: Perry White was nearly played by a black actor on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.
The issue of color-blind casting for film and television adaptations of comics has long been a controversial subject for fans. The simple fact of is that most famous comic book properties are 50, 60 and, in some cases, nearly 80 years old, and back in 1938, 1956 or 1961, it was highly unlikely that African-American characters would be included in the supporting casts. Therefore, studios casting these films and TV series today take that into account and look for more diverse actors.
That’s nothing new, of course. Batman Returns was originally going to include Billy Dee Williams as Two-Face, and had Tim Burton remained on franchise, it’s likely Marlon Wayans would’ve played Robin in the third film. Both of those roles were eventually cast with white actors (Tommy Lee Jones and Chris O'Donnell, respectively). Recently, however, there have been some changes. The late Michael Clark Duncan cast as Kingpin in the Daredevil film, and Laurence Fishburne played Perry White in Man of Steel. Just last week, Mehcad Brooks was hired for the role of James "Jimmy" Olsen in the upcoming CBS series Supergirl. Interestingly enough, though, Perry White was nearly played by a black actor 20 years ago on ABC’s Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Find out what happened!
TV writer and producer Deborah Joy LeVine was the creator of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, which debuted in fall 1993. As you can tell from the title of the series, the show was originally intended to be more about the relationship between Lois Lane (played by Teri Hatcher) and Clark Kent (played by Dean Cain) than about Superman himself. As LeVine recalled to Larry Tye in his excellent book Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero:
Just doing a show about a heroic guy who helps people was not that interesting to me. I was much more interested in what his problems were emotionally, how he falls in love with Lois, who is pretty horrible to him. I told ABC I didn't want to do Superman but I would love to do a show that was a love story between this alien and this Earth woman he knows he probably never will be able to have a real relationship with. I wanted to do it as a romantic comedy.
In a lot of ways, LeVine was echoing the changes John Byrne had made to the Lois and Clark dynamic when he led the reboot of DC Comics’ Superman titles in the mid-1980s. So in that sense, her take on Clark and Lois wasn’t dramatically different from what fans were somewhat used to (and it wasn’t as if Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder's interactions weren’t already key parts of the Superman series of films).
A more noticeable change came when LeVine pushed for actor James Earl Jones to play Perry White. She told Tye that Jones was very interested in the role, but she ended up not getting anywhere with either Warner Bros. Television or ABC. She recalled, "The fact that he was black was anathema to a lot of people." Lane Smith was eventually cast and, to be fair, he was excellent as Perry White.
Jones ended up playing a role at the end of Season 1 (LeVine's only season as the showrunner), as Franklin Stern, who becomes publisher of the Daily Planet after Lex Luthor purchased the newspaper and shut it down.
The legend is...
Thanks to Larry Tye and Deborah Joy LeVine for the information!
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