Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Time Richard Pryor Was Erased From The Superman III Magazine

I'm a big fan of Superman III --me and Michel Gondry might be the only ones who are. So at a comic book convention several months ago, I was quite stoked to purchase the Superman III Poster Magazine, circa 1983, for around $3 (cover price!).

Interesting thing about this magazine -- produced by the go-to publisher for such things at the time, Starlog -- almost every trace of Richard Pryor being in the movie was omitted.

Pryor was a top-billed actor in the movie (second only to Christopher Reeve), playing computer genius Gus Gorman. This was at the height of Pryor's career, and as a result of Superman III the actor/comedian signed a 5-picture deal with Columbia. (It is said that Pryor got the Superman gig when producer Ilya Salkind saw him on The Tonight Show praising Superman II).

So why "scrub" Pryor from the Superman III magazine? I mean, there is hardly any trace of his character or his name anywhere in this publication, and no picture of the standard movie poster with Reeve carrying Pryor. No images of him in the posters, and, strangest of all, he's simply skipped over in the character profile section.

To give you some perspective on this, imagine if the high-paid "guest star" of a current blockbuster film -- his or her character integral to the plot -- was nowhere to be found in the official movie magazine. It would seem odd, no?

After reading over the magazine several times, I've found three mentions of Pryor/Gorman. The first is this sentence from the "Making Of Superman III" article, referring to the part of Gorman: "The role fell to comedian Richard Pryor, a confessed Superman fan." That's the only mention of Pryor. Then two mentions of Gus Gorman when explaining the poster images, though he is never depicted.

Concept poster art from the Superman III fan site

There can be several reasons for this. First, perhaps Pryor's handlers didn't give permission to use his image, or asked for too much money to use it. That's entirely possible, and similar things have happened in magazines and other licensed product containing the likenesses of actors. But then what was the point of spending so much money on Pryor to co-star in Superman III if he wouldn't approve likenesses for publicity reasons? It seems counter-productive. I mean, he was in the trading cards, on the cover of the novelisation, and in the UK poster magazine.

The infamous giant foam cowboy hat
Another possible reason: backlash against the character himself. Certainly, this role was not the best use of Pryor's considerable talents. In a nutshell: this was a smart, often acerbic and aggressive comedian playing a buffoonish, clown-like character, wearing different funny hats and doing wide-eyed doubletakes at everything. As a Superman fan, Pryor deserved better. And though he did have that 5-picture deal after Superman, most of Pryor's further movie roles only replicated this cartoonish, slapstick template. I guess this whole issue of him and Superman III haunts me to this day for the incredible lack of respect he got through the entire process.

And it almost looks like Gus Gorman was "grafted" onto this plot rather than being an organic part of it (supposedly Gus was was originally going to be Brainiac, and the victim of the infamous robot-transformation scene at the end). Was this done simply to make a buck off of Pryor's fame? Critics and fans alike blamed Pryor's inclusion in the picture for making it overly-campy. To this day, nobody (except maybe Michel Gondry, though I have not asked him) seems to be happy with Gorman (or, let's face it, Superman III).

So did the magazine just minimize his role in the film because he was unpopular?

Perhaps we will never know. It's a pretty small, nitpicky thing, anyway -- though the issue seems to have continued to the present day. Here is the DVD case for the latest edition of Superman III:

Again -- Pryor is gone. Though at this late date, we could simply point at the unpopularity of the Gorman character as being the culprit (Robert Vaughn seems to be the big winner in all this). I mean, almost every aspect of the Superman movies have been reflected on/winked at in the subsequent TV series, movies, and comics such as Smallville. But what about Superman III? It is almost as if, like Pryor's partcipation in the movie, everybody (except that rogue Gondry) just wishes it had never existed at all.

Oh, and in case you are wondering: there are two images of the scary robot-lady in the magazine, though, unfortunately (or fortunately), no posters.


  1. Well that certainly helps explain this Simpsons parody poster:

    Thanks for the background!

  2. Something similar seemed to hit the Star Trek franchise with Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Despite being a production greenlit by the studio and starring and helmed by Shatner, the critical and fanbase lambasting is such that many would like to forget about it, and apparently even gene Roddenberry wanted it not to be considered canon. The Superman III movie was beset with comic buffoonery throughout ala Schumacher’s Batman and Robin, and many only sat up and took notice during the Dark Superman sequence in the middle; that felt like it came from another movie altogether.

    As for Pryor in Superman III, I definitely think a number of factors were at play. Fanboy backlash certainly; retconning’s part of our toolkit already, so DVD and merchandisers will cater to us by rewriting history, removing people from covers, etc. Also, Pryor was wildly popular, but also very profane and volatile his act not family-friendly, and not that long before had nearly burned to death freebasing cocaine. I feel that the white men in the corporate suits (and yes, I will play the Race Card to discuss this period in time) saw him and wanted to make Pryor less threatening and more accessible to the general public by making him a buffoon. And yes, I think the Gus Gorman character was grafted onto the script, too; a little re-editing and it could have been some faceless lab tech who created the supercomputer.

  3. I can't remember, but didn't he get scrubbed from the DC comic adaption as well? Or at least get a diminished role?