It’s 11:44 pm
As many of you know (except for my UK blogging pals) I am full-fledged fanboy.
I love comics,sci-fi,pulp heroes,superheroes,fantasy,creature features. I have been a fanboy for 40 years. When I was growing up,we had a lot of superhero cartoons but live action shows were very rare. We had “The Adventures of Superman” from the 1950s and of course the classic Batman series with the late Adam West.
For some reason,I never saw the The Green Hornet show other then the two parter that they ran with Batman show. By now you’re getting the picture,there wasn’t live action superhero shows,well this until 1974 when “Shazam!” debuted on Saturdays on CBS’s Saturday morning line-up.
Each episode started with the following narrative:
” Chosen from among all others by the immortal elders – Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, Mercury – Billy Batson and his mentor travel the highways and byways of the land on a neverending mission: to right wrongs, to develop understanding, and to seek justice for all! In time of dire need, young Billy has been granted the power by the immortals to summon awesome forces at the utterance of a single word!”
Due to legal problems that surrounded the name “Captain Marvel”,Filmation (which had help from DC Comics) wasn’t allowed to call the show “Captain Marvel”.
Instead they used the names of the above Greek gods above in the order they were listed to come up with the word “Shazam”!
While this isn’t the true origin for Captain Marvel it was the best Filmation could come up with and honestly,we kids didn’t care,we had a live action superhero show to watch!!
The premise of Shazam! was pretty simple,Billy Batson (Michael Gray) along with the wise and mysterious Mentor (Les Tremayne) traveled across the country in a huge RV along with Billy’s motorcycle. As the two chatted away,suddenly the Elders (aka Gods) would signal Billy.
Billy then would wave his hand across a half shell of blinking lights and say:
“Oh, Elders, fleet and strong and wise, appear before my seeking eyes!”
The Elders would appear as animations and share a upcoming problem and how Billy might want to deal with it. Mentor also seems to have been able to access the Elders as well and even know their thoughts.
The episode then would start in earnest with some young person in trouble. Billy and Mentor would get involved and try to help. The danger would elevate and Billy would have to say “Shazam!!” and change in Captain Marvel.
Jackson Bostick was Captain Marvel for the first 17 episodes. When he was injured,the producers Lou Scheimer and Norm Prescott thought Bostick was holding out for more money and fired him,Bostick won and was paid for the entire series run as well as royalties from reruns.
John Davey took over for the last 11 episodes.
Captain Marvel then would end up saving the day and the lesson that the Elders had talked to Billy about in the beginning of the show would more or less be learned.
This was the first time I had watched the series since the 70s and I have to tell you,the stories were pretty strong,in fact they are the best part of Shazam!. The action scenes are the weakest and not because of the low budget of the show. Captain Marvel is severely underpowered even by 1970 standards,it doesn’t help watching him struggle to stop a car from going over a cliff or lifting a car when a truck that coming from two miles away can’t stop in time. Or my personal favorite,Billy and Mentor would see trouble happen,Billy would turn into Captain Marvel and then he would FLY!! when instead all he would need to do is jog over to make the rescue. The action scenes would be better edited in the third season but they would be cheesy as Velveeta no matter who played Captain Marvel.
But I said,the stories were the heart of Shazam! and they really were quite adult in their telling. Issues such as bullying,bragging,stealing,drug dealing and bigotry all were covered in a even handed way and treated serious and with respect. Not every story had happy endings as many of the young people would had caused the trouble ended up being saved by Captain Marvel but still had to face the authorities and answer for their actions. Each episode ended up with a morals finale featuring either Captain Marvel or Billy.
The two main actors,Gray and Tremayne has a real easy rapport with each other. Both really looked they had fun not only playing their roles but the friendship they seemed to have on screen seemed genuinely real. With each episode you can see how comfortable they were in discussing current events like baseball and music. Their relationship as father figure and son was a real highlight of Shazam!
What made these stories pop is the excellent directors that Shazam! (and the sister show “The Secrets of Isis”) managed to get. Two of the names that jumped out were Arnold Laven who produced “The Rifleman” and Hollingworth Morse whose storied TV directing career included “Adam-12″,”Lassie” and the cult favorite “H.R. Pufnstuf”.
Having such skilled veterans directing casts of relatively unknown actors helped the show retain its seriousness,the young actors for the most part were solid. And taking a peek at who popped up on Shazam! was a real surprise to me. A lot of respected actors either cut their acting teeth here or jumped in to help the show,they surely didn’t do it for the money!!
Some of the guest stars that popped up on Shazam!:
Dabbs Greer (Saving Private Ryan)
Jackie Earle Haley (The Human Target,The Dark Tower)
Butch Patrick (The Munsters)
William Campbell (Star Trek: TOS)
Lisa Eilbacher (Beverly Hills Cop)
Danny Bonaduce (The Partridge Family)
Linden Chiles who appeared on just about every TV show that counted.
Lance Kerwin (James At 15)- For a couple of years,Lance was just HUGE .
Andrew Stevens (ended up producing over 100 movies)
James Daughton (Animal House)- he was really good.
Adam West – he voiced Hercules in one episode!!
Due to the popularity of “Shazam!”,Filmation came out with the mentioned “The Secrets of Isis” with the lovely Joanna Cameron. The shows had several crossover episodes which was always a treat to see. Hopefully I’ll be able to do a review of Isis soon.
Shazam! lasted 28 episodes. The first season was 15 episodes and Filmation split the second and third seasons in half,the second was only 7 shows and the last season was even less at 6 episodes.
The Warner Brother Archives release of Shazam! looks very clean in its transfer,a couple of episodes came out a little fuzzy but that to be expected for a 43 year old show.
Sadly,there are no special features other then a option to watch the show with the morals message or not.
I completely loved going back and show the cheetah the first superhero show that came out when I was growing up. Shazam! may have been made on the cheap but the messages and lessons taught and shared still hold up strong today. And based on how the cheetah was wolf howling over Isis,he loved Shazam! as well.
Shazam! – The complete series is a winner and we give it a thumbs/paws/wolf whistle up.
What live action superhero series is your favorite? Drop us a comment below and share it with us.