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  • Writer's pictureAaron Fonseca

Richard Donner Tricked Superman Star Gene Hackman Into Shaving His Mustache

Legendary actor Gene Hackman paid tribute to the late Richard Donner upon the iconic director's passing by telling the story about how Donner, who directed Hackman in Supermanand Superman II (Richard Lester finished the filming and did enough reshoots for the second film that he was the only director credited on Superman II), tricked the star actor into shaving off his prized mustache to play Lex Luthor in the film.

Hackman typically alternated from clean-shaven to having a mustache in his films in the early 1970s. His first Academy Award winning performance for Best Lead Actor as Popeye Doyle in 1971's The French Connection came while clean-shaven, but by 1975, Hackman really settled into wearing a mustache steadily. He wore one in 1975's Night Moves, Bite the Bullet and The Domino Principle and in 1977's A Bridge Too Far and March or Die, so that's five movies in a row where he stuck with the mustache, clearly demonstrating that it was important to him to keep it through such different types of films. However, Donner envisioned Lex Luthor as being clean-shaven, so he set out to find a way to convince Hackman of agreeing to do the role with a clean upper lip.

Hackman explained to The Hollywood Reporter, “I showed up for the first day of make-up tests for Superman with a fine Lex Luthor moustache I’d grown for the role."

He then noted, "Dick, wearing his own handsome moustache, told me mine had to go. He bargained to lose his if I did mine. True to his word, he celebrated my last razor stroke by gleefully pulling off the fake whiskers he’d acquired for the occasion." Hackman was initially angry, but then laughed at the joke and the two became good friends throughout the filming.

Twitter user Casey Malone tweeted out an extended version of that same story from Donner's perspective...

So Luthor was, in fact, clean-shaven in both Superman and Superman II (and Hackman stuck with the mustache when he returned to the role for Superman IV). When Hackman won his second Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1991's Unforgiven, though, he wore a mustache.

Hackman, who retired from acting following the release of 2004's Welcome to Mooseport, also recalled fondly that “Dick made it fun, and that’s why the films turned out that way, too.”

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