Here is a vintage interview with former DC Comics Production Manager Jack Adler in which that gentleman makes clear that using a photographic background on this and other covers was his innovation (and did you know that the recently deceased Mr. Adler was a cousin of broadcaster Howard Stern?).
But the background was never affixed to the original artwork. Rather, a photostat of the Superman figure was pasted onto the New York City background on a separate, camera-ready production copy. A couple of years back I saw that page of production artwork in a gallery show, and it was somewhat striking to see the complete black-and-white cover image after having been so accustomed to seeing the white-background artwork that I had owned for so many years.
In 2006 I decided to downsize my art collection and I did allow this fabulous page to be grabbed out of my clenched fingers. While it was up for bid on ebay I received a very generous Buy-It-Now offer from Stephen Fishler of New York's Metropolis Comics and I even got a phone message from the son of Neal Adams, but the auction carried on to its closing seconds.
The winning bidder was a nice gent named David Mandel. Maybe you've heard of him? He was a writer and co-director of the movie Eurotrip (David receives one-third of a nickel for every copy sold of the DVD!) and he also wrote for ten episodes of Seinfeld. Just about every page of artwork I sold back then I packed for shipping myself (between two masonite boards) but this gem I left to the professionals at The UPS Store; David commented to me when he received the package that it was amazingly well packed (which it was; I think there was even a trap door in there someplace) and at that point I went back to UPS and passed the compliment on to the young man who had packed it (and gave him a little tip!).
So that was years ago, but then last week I happened to be searching online for the Action 419 image. Look at what I found:
By the way, David's collection on display at comicartfans.com is incredible. You can view it here.
UPDATE ON 15 OCTOBER 2011
If I were a proper journalist I would have thought to contact David Mandel about this matter beforehand rather than inviting him to read the article after it went live. David wrote me a note this afternoon saying that he did not permanently affix the background onto the artwork. "It is not attached, I would never do that to art," David explained to me in a gentlemanly manner. Rather, the cityscape is on an OVERLAY. I hereby apologize to David for having jumped to an incorrect conclusion.