The Adventures of Superman — “One Minute to Death”

The Adventures of Superman (1940-1951) aired “One Minute to Death” on November 19, 1949 as the 4th episode of its ABC run in the late 1949–early 1950 season (all of which were of the half hour variety as opposed to the many multi-part, 15-minute serials that ran through most of the 1940s). Since we’ve showcased only three other episodes of this program (the last being in November of 2021) I felt it would be helpful for newcomers to this fun adventure series if I reprised the generic background information that preceded those other episodes.

(Cover above left: Superman #60, Sept./Oct. 1949.)

The Superman character, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, first appeared in Action Comics #1, dated June 1938. That superhero strip in the comic was one of several strips in that now famous first issue, but turned out to be popular enough that a newspaper comic strip debuted in 1939. It also proved immensely popular, popular enough that a stand alone comic book was spun off and added to the ever-growing franchise, with the now iconic title of Superman #1, with a cover date of Summer 1939 (cover below left).

But the comic strip and magazine were only the beginning for the Man of Steel. Things were moving quickly, and as Wikipedia explains: “The serial came to radio as a syndicated show on New York City’s WOR on February 12, 1940. On Mutual, it was broadcast from August 31, 1942, to February 4, 1949, as a 15-minute serial, running three or, usually, five times a week. From February 7 to June 24, 1949, it ran as a thrice-weekly half-hour show. The series shifted to ABC Saturday evenings on October 29, 1949, and then returned to afternoons twice a week on June 5, 1950, continuing on ABC until March 1, 1951. In all, 2,088 original episodes of The Adventures of Superman aired on American radio.” Wikipedia also notes that many of the elements that have become staples of Superman’s fictional world were first introduced in the radio show, among them kryptonite, Daily Planet editor Perry White, copy boy (later cub reporter) Jimmy Olsen, and police inspector Bill Henderson. Also worthy of mention is the first meeting between Superman and Batman (and Robin) which took place in the March 2, 1945 episode.

Bud Collyer (1908-1969, photo top right) was the voice of Clark Kent and Superman on radio, lowering his voice slightly when speaking as the Man of Steel. He is arguably best known, however, as the host of the popular television game shows of the 1950s, Beat the Clock and To Tell the Truth.

Joan Alexander (1915-2009, birth name Louise Abrass) played the spunky Lois Lane character for more than one thousand episodes of the program’s 11-year run.

From 1940-47 Jack Kelk (1923-2002) would play Jimmy Olsen, and from 1948-1950 it was Jack Grimes (1926-2009) who would play Jimmy Olsen. An interesting bit of trivia concerning Grimes is that though he was an old man of 22 when he began playing Jimmy Olsen, by the age of 12 he was acting in 35-40 radio shows a week. Grimes also worked in film and television in later years. A film of note in which he appeared was 1945’s noir crime film Lady on a Train (starring Deanna Durbin and Ralph Bellamy), based on the Leslie Charteris story. His television work included roles in Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, Maude, and All in the Family.

(Left: Joan Alexander – Center: Jack Kelk – Right: Jack Grimes)


“One Minute to Death” shows how a wrong decision made in the name of love can have dire unforeseen consequences. A young couple in love wants to elope and get married, but need to sneak out of town to do it. The problem is, they don’t have transportation. The young man “borrows” a car, vowing to his beloved that he will return it that evening after they are married. A problem arises when the young man is stopped by the police for speeding and it is discovered that the car he has “borrowed” has been involved in a murder. Convicted of the murder he now sits on death row awaiting execution. Clark Kent, as the crime reporter for his large metropolitan newspaper, takes an interest in the case and is convinced of the young man’s innocence. With time running out Clark (and Superman) must untangle the events surrounding the murder in which the car was involved and find the real killer while minutes and then seconds tick down to the young man’s execution. With “One Minute to Death” Superman must resort to drastic measures to save the young man’s life, and the Man of Steel’s solution will surprise you.

Play Time: 29:50

{“One Minute to Death” aired on a Saturday evening, which meant the neighborhood gang would assemble the next morning soon after they had changed out of their church clothes to meet at the nearby newsstand. Eager to find more stories of mystery and crime like the previous night’s Superman episode, they were in luck. All-Story Detective (1949-51), a new magazine they had just discovered and found to their liking, would last but 15 issues, alas. It was a bi-monthly in 1949. G-Men Detective (1935-53) was a more established crime pulp and featured the kind of action-filled stories the gang always loved when in the mood for the Good Guys against the Bad Guys. It began as a monthly but during and after the war years its schedule gradually decreased to a bi-monthly, then managed only 5 issues in 1949. From 1950 through its demise in 1953 it would published only 8 issues, and only one in both 1952 and 1953. The Phantom Detective (1933-53) was launched by Ned Pines’ Standard Magazines as a response to Street & Smith’s The Shadow magazine. According to a reliable source, though it ran longer than The Shadow magazine, its less frequent schedule produced far fewer issues. But its 20 year run nevertheless gave it the honor of being “the longest-running single character pulp” of them all. Though a bi-monthly in its two previous years, 1949 saw only 5 issues.}

[Left: All-Story Detective, Oct. ’49 – Center: G-Men Detective, Fall ’49 – Right: Phantom Detective, Fall ’49]


To view the entire list of weekly Old Time Radio episodes at Tangent Online, click here.