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  • Writer's pictureKurt J. Kolka

Collecting Memories

Courtesy photo John Davey as Captain Marvel in SHAZAM!

(Originally Posted: Friday, October 2, 2015 9:12 am)

By Kurt J. Kolka

Are you a collector?

I guess I am. It depends on your definition, I suppose. Some people are into collecting for its monetary value. And that's not me. My collections either have sentimental value or worth-reading-over-again value for me. They include book series I've enjoyed; certain comic book series; some artwork.

In recent years, I started another collection –– collecting autographed photos of celebrities I enjoyed watching on TV or in movies.

It started back during the mid '90s when I became part of the Artists Alley at the Motor City Comic Con. We were a group of artists who weren't working for the big-name companies, but were creating our own comics. Motor City also invited big name guests — not only comic creators but also some classic TV and movie celebrities.

Over the years, especially after my daughter came along, meeting celebrities became part of the fun of going to cons. We met people like Lou Ferrigno (the Incredible Hulk), Katherine Leigh Scott (Dark Shadows), Kate Jackson (Charlie's Angels), William Katt (The Greatest American Hero), Lindsay Wagner (the Bionic Woman), Lee Majors (the Six Million Dollar Man), the surviving cast members of "Lost in Space" and many others.

I have found it interesting to meet the actual actors in person; they are often so different from the characters they play. Most are very nice. Some were very business-like. Others were what I would I might call even neighborly. There was only one I met who seemed stuck on himself.

Some of the more memorable experiences included meeting TV's Batgirl, Yvonne Craig, who placed my daughter Rebekah on her lap for a photo. Colin Baker, the sixth actor to play the role of Doctor Who, was fun to talk with. He'd joke with you and could remember all kinds of information about the episodes he played in. Kristy McNichol was the actress I was most nervous about meeting ever. She had been my teen heartthrob back in the '70s when I fell in love with her character "Buddy" Lawrence in the TV show "Family." It took two Xanax to get her autograph, but she proved to be a very calming person.

This year, I had a chance to interview, for an all-comics newspaper downstate, my TV hero, John Davey, who played the role of Captain Marvel in the TV series, "SHAZAM!" SHAZAM! ran on CBS on Saturday mornings from 1974 through 1977 and reran in the summer of 1980. Based on a comic book, it followed the adventures of teenager Billy Batson, who "in time of dire need" as the narrator said at the beginning of each show, could turn himself into adult superhero Captain Marvel by shouting the name of the ancient wizard, Shazam.

Captain Marvel was endowed the wisdom of Solomon, strength of Hercules, stamina of Atlas, power of Zeus, courage of Achilles and speed of Mercury. (Note the first letter of each benefactor's name listed combines to form the word, Shazam.)

John Davey had been painting houses back in 1975 when he received the call from his agent offering him the part of Captain Marvel, he told me through our email interview. He turned to his 8 year-old son, who he was watching, for advice. There was no doubt in his son's mind that he should take the part.

John took over the role from another actor, Jackson Bostwick, who had been fired by producers.

Within two hours of the job offer, John was in costume and leaping in front of the camera to lift a car out of a roadway before it was struck by semi. It was a transformation almost as miraculous as in the comic books.

"Once I got over the shock of being cast as Captain Marvel, since I was a hurry-up replacement, it was a lot of fun," John said. "The producers, cast and crew, all welcomed me wholeheartedly and made the job so much easier. It was a lot of fun to work on the SHAZAM! TV series. Looking back, I believe the show holds up well, considering budget restrictions, technology advancements since then, etc. And I think it was a great show for kids to lose themselves in. Wholesome fun and imagination."

And, almost as quickly as he became the character, he went from being a bit part actor to a favorite superhero of millions.

"I really enjoyed the interaction with kids," he said. "There were kids on the set all the time and I did a few personal appearances."

The SHAZAM! TV series was probably the first time a superhero was taken serious on the small screen. The producers were particular about their special effects, wanting them to look real. And they dealt with real-life issues facing kids including drugs, bullying, respect and more. For once, producers downplayed the fighting aspect of superhero genre. It was meant to be educational program and became one of the top-rated Saturday morning children's program during its three-year run.

I remember falling in love with the show from the first episode. There hadn't been a superhero program on TV in several years. As a comic book fan, I missed the many superhero cartoons TV stations showed back in the mid '60s. But it wasn't just the fact that the show featured a superhero which made it so appealing. It had heart. The guest characters, even the "bad guys," were not portrayed as totally evil, but people who made bad choices in life. And reconciliation played a role in many episodes.

The SHAZAM! TV show led me to read the SHAZAM! comic book series produced by DC Comics from 1972 through 1978. It's a complete collection I retain today as one of my worth-reading-over-again series. In one issue, SHAZAM! No. 32, Captain Marvel even visited Michigan and played baseball with the Detroit Tigers. What other comic book hero has done that?

When the show ended in 1977, John went back to doing bit parts for a short time before leaving Hollywood to become a real estate agent. He had hoped the role would be a jumping point for a bigger acting career, but instead it was the high point of his career. Still, today John, retired and living in Northern California, is not bitter about the way things worked out and he is proud of the role he played.

"I only hope the fans of 'SHAZAM!' had as much fun watching the show, as I did working in it, and that they hold fond memories."

A couple years ago, I bought the SHAZAM! series on DVD. I hadn't seen many of the episodes in almost 40 years. I think I appreciate them more today than when I watched as a kid.

An autographed photo of John Davey as Cap hangs on my wall in my art room, a Father's Day gift from my daughter. While his photo might not be the most recognizable of the celebrity photos I have, it means more to me than most others. He gave me one of my favorite heroes to look up to.

And watching those old episodes now, I've also come to realize how much the show influenced me as a comic creator. Today I can see elements in it which helped inspire the creation of my own superhero, The Cardinal. It just goes to show how much influence others can have on our lives even years later.

Happy 40th anniversary as Captain Marvel, John!

And happy 75th anniversary to the comic book character, Captain Marvel, who has entertained many of us for generations!

You will both always be a part of my collections.


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