There is a particularly emotional moment toward the end of the MAS*H episode “Blood Brothers.”
It features Father Mulcahy giving an impassioned sermon on brotherhood just before introducing “His Eminence” Cardinal Reardon to speak to the camp.
Joining Father Mulcahy onstage, the Cardinal embraces the MAS*H priest warmly and says, “If I do say so, Father, you’re a tough act to follow.”
While your eyes start to sweat during this scene, blink hard, and you can see in the austere Cardinal Reardon’s firm brow and set jaw the first actor to ever appear as Superman in public.
Ray Middleton was an actor who never really achieved much success in movies. But as a kid growing up in a small-town family that loved singing, he became a gifted performer who caught attention in theater productions and ended up cast in movies in the 1940s.
Just before he leapt to the big screen, though, Middleton famously appeared at “Superman Day” on July 3, 1939, at the New York World’s Fair.
According to the Des Moines Register in 2006, Middleton “made history as the legendary hero,” becoming the first iteration of Superman to be introduced in real life to boys and girls.
If you’re a fan of the comic, you might laugh at how Middleton’s Superman costume came together, failing to depict the giant S on the hero’s chest.
What happened was that Middleton had been cast to play the “Man of Tomorrow” in the “World of Tomorrow” exhibit.
When the idea to host “Superman Day” was floated, they decided Middleton would make a fine Superman, too – they just needed to figure out what exactly Superman wears.
The Register reports: “Because the Superman costume was the first ever produced, no one was certain how it should look. The outfit Middleton wore during his personal appearance had Superman written across the chest field emblem, trunks that were on the large size, tights and lace-style boots.”
After playing Superman, Middleton appeared in movies, including twice as the guy who loses the girl to John Wayne.
In the Fifties, he started appearing on television, and he could be glimpsed on hit shows through the mid-Eighties, with MAS*H one of his final major TV roles.
In 1984, Middleton passed away, following a career that newspapers said started because of his distinct singing voice and ability to do cartwheels and handsprings onstage.
Those talents made him the first Superman in history, and eventually a “Blood Brother” to Father Mulcahy on MAS*H.