when the manager richard donner was first taken aboard to direct Superman, they offered him a million dollars and gave him a script that was said to be “perfect”. The script was delivered to her house along with a Superman costume, but the script was far from perfect. In a previous interview with THR, Donner said of the script:
“It was the longest I’ve ever read. He was indulgent and heavy and had no point of view and tried [the comic books] with disrespect It was derogatory. It was just a free action. I’m reading this and Superman is looking for Lex Luthor in Metropolis, and he’s looking for all the bald guys in the city. And then he flies down and taps a guy on the shoulder and it’s [Kojak’s] Telly Savalas, who hands her a lollipop and says, ‘Who loves you, honey?’”
Needless to say, Donner wanted to rewrite the script before he started filming it. He explained that if he made this movie, it would be to defend the character in this script. He said:
“I was raised with Superman as a kid. There was a point in my life where I read Superman. So when I was done, I was like, ‘Man, if they make this movie, they’re destroying the legend of Superman. I wanted to do it just to defend him.”
So he called the scriptwriter. Tom Mankiewicz to ask him to help develop a suitable script for Superman. He initially didn’t want to get involved because he didn’t want to make a movie based on comics. But Donner told him that “it’s more than a comic” and asked him to come.
This is where the story gets fun! Before Mankiewicz appeared, Donner said: “I got a little high, smoked a little weed, put on the Superman costume. So he was in very good shape ”. Then, when Mankiewicz showed up, Donner “ran across the grass and Tom turned and looked at me and ran back to his car.” Donner continues the story, saying:
“Tom says, ‘You’re crazy. Get out of me!’ I said, ‘Tom, listen. You have to read this. I gave him all my feelings about what we should do. I told him, ‘The most important thing when you look at it is this: make a love story.’ And prove that a man can fly. So he read it and he called me that night and he said, ‘You know, there’s a lot we can do with this.’”
So, they got to work! But it was a tough sell for the producer. Alexander Salkind. When Donner and Mankiewicz met with him, Donner said:
The first thing I said was: ‘Mr. Salkind, this needs a major rewrite. He said, ‘No, no, no, this is a perfect script. I told him, ‘It’s not a perfect script.’ So I started telling him all my feelings and he said, ‘You’re wrong. I said, ‘Thanks for the trip to Paris, but I can’t do this.’ And we started dating. He said, ‘Okay, tell me what you would rewrite.’
After the release of the new script, the producers agreed to go ahead with Donner’s plan, and they made a great Superman movie! I love finding these behind-the-scenes stories from Hollywood!