Many of us grew up feeling like we knew the characters in the early Superman series. The series started out with Superman and it was so successful there were three sequels – Superman II, Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
McClure played Jimmy Olsen in all of these movies, alongside the fabulous Christopher Reeve as Superman/Clark Kent and the unforgettable Margot Kidder as Lois Lane.
In his role as the Daily Planet’s photographer, McClure carved out a niche for himself in this iconic movie series. He's the only actor who appeared in the same role in all four of the Christopher Reeve-era Superman films and Supergirl.
Do you remember this scene when Superman saves Jimmy?
McClure had another recurring role as Dave McFly, Marty McFly's brother, in Back to the Future, Back to the Future Part II and Part III. He appeared in other films as well, including Apollo 13, Freaky Friday and numerous television series.
So where is McClure now?
At 59, McClure is married and lives in California where he grew up. He has been in Australia for the first time, speaking at special screenings of a new cut of the Superman II film, called Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut.
At one of these screenings in Sydney last week, McClure explained that for reasons which are still not known, the original director of Superman II, Richard Donner, was taken off the movie when filming was only about 75 per cent complete.
McClure said the role of director was handed over to the second director, Richard Lester. However, in order for Lester to receive full credit as director of the movie, he had to reshoot up to 51 per cent of the scenes. This included refilming several sequences originally filmed by Donner.
As McClure explained, many diehard fans still feel the original Superman II sequences were superior to what was actually released in the cinemas in 1980. So in 2006, a re-cut version of the film was released, which restored much of Donner's original conception and original scenes.
McClure (right) posing with a fan at the Superman II screening in Australia, and Sarah Douglas photobombing from behind (Image via Supermanhomepage.com)
McClure said all the actors were told Donner had been taken off the movie but not the reason why: “We came back and were told we had a new director. I remember getting on the stage and there'd be an X and you'd be told, you say this line here and then you move over here to this X. It was just such a different world. With Donner we'd work it out. But then it became so different.”
“Richard Donner is the reason we're sitting here tonight,” he added. “He's as good as it gets. The footage we have here tonight was found in a vault in Kansas by Michael Thor and he put it together. It's so special.
“There's not a lot of people who can tell stories on celluloid. There's maybe 10 on the planet and Dick Donner is one of the best,” he added.
Looking fit and healthy, McClure went on to let the audience know he felt it had been a stroke of “pure luck” when he landed the iconic role of Jimmy Olsen.
“I did nothing for my audition,” he said. “At the time, I was living on a boat and I was just hanging out. I never really thought I was going to be an actor. I thought I was going to be a jockey because I weighed hardly anything. But a friend of my mom's told me about these auditions and so I started going to them and I started to get jobs.”
McClure played Boris Harris in Freaky Friday alongside Jodie Foster (Image © 1976 Walt Disney Productions)
For the Superman audition, he said he went in and met Richard Donner, and they talked about what it was like living on a houseboat for around half an hour. “At the end of our chat he said, 'Do you know who Jimmy Olsen is?' and I said 'Golly!' and that was it. I was just being myself.”
McClure said thought he didn't get the role because he didn't hear anything but a few months later, he was asked to come in and told he had the job.
“Just getting that part in these movies has turned into a lifetime of this…” he said, pointing to the audience who were listening to every word.
“I've been very lucky with the Superman movies and the Back to the Future movies. I don't really know how I got here,” he added.
What does he think of the new Superman movies?
McClure says he would like to say he enjoys the new Superman movies such as Man of Steel released in 2013, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, released this year, but he finds it difficult.
“I go to these new films and I'm rooting for them so I can pass on the torch. But I have to say it hasn't happened. Now they're getting so dark and serious. Before, you could escape with these characters of Jimmy Olsen, Clark Kent and Lois Lane. There was an innocence that Jimmy Olsen had – he had something special. And the Superman movies had humour. I think the new ones are missing the point,” he said.
The 1980s Superman movies are still a classic favourite for McClure
Asked if he had retired, he laughed and said: “I did retire for four years. But this year I went back to work and I'm playing a character in an NBC pilot called Powerless that's going to be a series – I'm not sure if you'll get that here. I have a recurring role.”
Dedication to Christopher Reeve
Before the special screening of the re-cut version of Superman II, McClure made a point of acknowledging Christopher Reeve, saying: “Well before we go any further, let's hear it for the man who will always be The Man of Steel and that's Mr Christopher Reeve.”
“I could get teary-eyed but, you know, to be The Man of Steel and then be in a wheelchair and yet to continue to speak to people – incredible, incredible! Maybe one day they will tell the full Christopher Reeve story. He had an incredible lifetime. And Christopher Reeve was a teacher to all of us,” he said with strong emotion.
It was obvious that over the years of playing Jimmy Olsen and Superman/Clark Kent in four films, McClure and Reeve had cemented a firm friendship.
Later, as Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, began to play, a poignant dedication to Reeve only further endorsed what McClure had said: This film is dedicated to Christopher Reeve without whom we would never have believed that man could fly.
Which of the Superman films is your favourite? Let us know in the comments below.
(Featured image: © 1978 Warner Bros)