Jul 29, 2017

Karol Krauser, the First Superman

The first Superman cartoons appeared in 1941, only three years after the Man of Steel first appeared in Action Comics.  They were produced by the Fleischer Studio, which also gave us Betty Boop and Popeye.  The Fleischers liked to work with real models, rotoscoping their movements to guide the animators, but for many years the model for the 17 Superman cartoons was unknown.

He turns out to be Karol Krauser, real name Karol Piwoworczyk, a young bodybuilder and wrestler.  The Superman website and wikipedia give few other details, but I managed to find some newspaper articles about him.

He was born in Krakow, Poland in 1912, attended the Polish Cadet School in Gniezne and the University of Krakow, and then worked as a physical education instructor at the Zwiazek Strzelecki, Polish military academy.

 At the beginning of World War II, he moved to New York and became a professional wrestler, dubbed the "Polish Apollo."   His first recorded match is in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on February 24, 1939.  By 1941, a newpaper article calls him the "popular Polish heavyweight champion."

He worked as a model for the Fleischers in 1939 and 1940, posing whenever they needed a muscleman, as in the Superman cartoons.

In 1945, Karol married female wrestler Zosia or Zoska Burska.   The best man at his wedding was none other than Stan Laurel of the comedy team Laurel and Hardy.

Most professional wrestlers retire in their 30s, but in 1953, at age 42, Karol and Edward Bogucki began a tag-team act as the Mad Russians, Karol and Ivan Kalmikoff.  During the Cold War, they became popular villains, winning several NWA competitions.

In 1962, Karol split from  Ivan and teamed up with Eric Pomeroy, billed as Stan or Igor Kalmikoff.  They appeared in several matches.

Karol died of a heart attack on September 12, 1964, after a match in Salt Lake City.

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