Nearing the end of its run, the Adventures of Superman radio show switched from long serials made up of ten-minute-long chapters to half-hour standalone episodes. The anti-racist message wasn’t as prominent in this era, but it didn’t die out completely, as proven by…
“The Story of Marina Baum”
Clark (Superman) Kent is in his office trying to write a story, but suffering from a bit of writer’s block. His phone rings. It’s Jimmy Olsen’s mother, who wants Clark’s help. Jimmy got into a fight, beat up another boy, and there is talk of getting the police involved. Clark agrees to come see what he can do and is leaving when a young woman with an accent comes into his office also seeking help for Jimmy. She is Marina Baum, a name Clark recognizes, and she reveals that the fight was about her.
Jim and Marina, it turns out, have been getting close lately. They were out for a walk when another boy accosted them, asking Marina why she doesn’t “go back where [she] came from?” and that people “like her are not wanted here in America.” Jim reacted by kicking the kid’s ass. Clark tells Marina he was just on his way, so he takes her with him.
They arrive at Jimmy’s place, where Mrs. Olsen is surprised to see Marina and is not welcoming to her. She convinces Clark to go upstairs and talk to Jimmy on his own. When Jim finds out that Marina and his mother are alone together downstairs, he reveals he and his mother had been fighting about Marina as well because Mrs. Olsen had expressed xenophobic views. Back downstairs, they find that Marina has left. Mrs. Olsen says she “must have realized she was out of place.” Jim storms out to look for Marina while Clark stays to talk to Mrs. Olsen. It turns out that the story he had been trying to write was Marina’s life story. He insists on telling the story now.
In Poland in 1939, the Nazis invaded. Marina and her younger brother Peter were made orphans, and it got worse when the siblings, along with dozens of other children, were taken by the Nazis on a death march. Marina carried her brother until a chance of escape came along, a Nazi motor convoy drove by and the guards stopped to watch and wave to their fellows. Seeing the guards distracted, Marina encouraged the kids to run. Shots rang out, dogs were sicced, but Marina and Peter made it to the safety of an elderly woodcutter’s home. The old man knew of a place that would protect the children, a nearby convent. Marina was nervous at first, feeling out of place among the Christians, but the nuns consoled her and kept the kids safe until the war ended and they were adopted by a Polish family in Metropolis.
Mrs. Olsen is shocked by what Marina had been through and feels bad for how she’d acted. Just then, Jimmy returns to reveal that he’d gone to Marina’s house and she hadn’t turned up. She’s missing!
Clark ducks out to suit up as Superman and search for her, only to find her on her way back to Jimmy’s, accompanied by a local priest she’s become friends with. The priest has spoken with the parents of the kid Jimmy beat up and they’re basically fine with it and embarrassed at the bigotry their son displayed. Mrs. Olsen apologizes to Marina and they all sit down for Thanksgiving dinner together.
# of Episodes: 1
Air Date: Originally 23 February, 1949 and re-staged on 23 November, 1950
Jimmy: It’s mom.
Jimmy: I haven’t spoken to her in almost two days.
Jimmy: Yeah. She says it– it wouldn’t be advisable for me to see Marina again. That she wasn’t the sort of girl I should be going around with.
Clark: Did your mother say why?
Jimmy: Yeah, she said Marina was different. She’s wasn’t our kind.
Mrs. Olsen: Mr. Kent, surely you understand the circumstances. Marina isn’t the right kind of girl for Jim.
Clark: Because she speaks with an accent?
Mrs. Olsen: Well you– you might say that. Yes.
Clark: And because she worships differently?
Mrs. Olsen: Well, after all, it isn’t my business what her religion is. Don’t mistake me, I’m a great believer in tolerance Mr. Kent.
Clark: Mrs. Olsen, you might just as well admit you don’t like Marina’s religion and be honest about it.
Mrs. Olsen: Really, Mr. Kent, I’m very tolerant! You just won’t understand!
Mother Superior: Marina, would you like to pray?
Mother Superior: Here.
Marina: I cannot. I do not know how you–
Mother Superior: Pray in your own manner, my child.
- What I like best about this story is that Superman isn’t facing off against another overt racist who wants to rub out the “lesser races” or anything. He is dealing with internalized xenophobia that exists in one of the show’s recurring characters, Mrs. Olsen doesn’t think of herself as a racist, and Clark fights it by sharing the life story of an immigrant. This is why Clark is a journalist.
- Related to that, this story could have been told without Clark turning into Superman at all. When he does suit up, all he does is fly around looking for Marina only to find out she’s on her way back to Jimmy’s place. But I guess the logic is that you need to have the superhero in the superhero story.
- Marina is never overtly referred to as being Jewish. She just “worships differently” and such. I wonder why it was kept vague. Was it one of those things where they felt it would be easier to smuggle an anti-racist message through to certain listeners if they were less specific?
- The coincidence that Clark just happened to be trying to write about Marina’s life when she turned up in his life is just one of those things we have to accept, I guess.
- This is the first story I have covered for these articles that passes the Bechdel test. And Lois Lane is not so much as even mentioned. Poor Lois.
- The fact that the story takes place on Thanksgiving comes out of nowhere. I have to assume that the recording that exists of this episode is from the November 1950 telling and that the holiday was added there. Presumably the version that aired in February of the previous year ended in a similar manner, but without Thanksgiving.
As far as my knowledge goes, that’s the last Superman vs. Bigots plot to occur in the episodes of the radio show that still survive as recordings. So, next time I want to leave comics and radio behind for my least favourite medium. No, not prose. Not film or television either. No, I’m talking about the worst medium of all: The Real World