September 07, 2009 | By Kurt Kolka
Today, it is not uncommon to hear people using the words, “Holy Moley!” and “Shazam!” However, 35 years ago in September 1974, they came into continuous usage during a 30 minute TV series on Saturday mornings, called “SHAZAM!”.
For three years, vacationing teen newscaster, Billy Batson, travelled America’s highways with his wise, white-haired friend, Mentor, on the look-out for trouble. When a situation occurred which called for super human abilities to save people, Billy would exclaim, “Holy Moley!” Then, seeking out a secluded area, he would shout the magic word, “Shazam!” Instantly, a bolt of mystic lightning struck Billy and transformed him into adult superhero, Captain Marvel. SHAZAM! rose quickly to one of CBS’s top Saturday morning shows, with millions tuning in.
Doing the TV series became a dream come true for Jackson Bostwick, who played the role of Captain Marvel. The actor, who had read Captain Marvel Adventures comics as a boy, says the series “ was a hoot and really a truly enjoyable time in my life.”
Shortly after the program began airing, Bostwick says, “I became aware of kids and teens staring at me as I passed them on the street, and I could hear them whispering, ‘I know it’s him. You ask him.’ ‘No, you ask him.’ But the main place I really became aware of the power of that little black box was when I would go out to Disneyland or Magic Mountain. Standing in line for a ride it would take only about two passes in the back and forth lanes before someone would finally get up the nerve and ask me, ‘Are you him?’ And then, ‘Can I have your autograph?’”
The Reverend Steve Datema of Gaylord remembers watching SHAZAM! as a child. “ I enjoyed watching SHAZAM! because [Billy Batson] would always be found helping someone who was in a very serious situation and their health or life was in grave danger,” says Datema. “It would take someone more powerful than a regular human to help save this person's life - and SHAZAM! the rescue was on! I always liked a good ending.”
Another fan of the TV show was Art Baltazar, writer of the current Captain Marvel comic series,Billy Batson and the Magic of SHAZAM! “Yes, I watched the TV show! I loved the van they used to ride around in! There was a big lightning bolt on the [front]. Good thing no one figured out his secret identity! And I had the SHAZAM Mego action figure! I used to make him fight Superman all the time!”
“I’ve learned a long time ago, it’s the character I portrayed that was the hero," Bostwick says, "so I tried to give [kids] what Clayton Moore gave me with ‘The Lone Ranger’ — a magical friend.” “As a result the kids and grown-ups feel comfortable in approaching me for an autograph. I hope I accomplished my objective in giving a generation a positive role model to look up to.”
BRINGING CAPTAIN MARVEL TO LIFE
Bostwick worked hard in the role. His athleticism made him a natural for the part.
“Most of the flying was done by my doing a back arch from the front of a plank that was suspended over the hood of a camera car. I, fortunately, was able to do all of my stunts and would tell Bob Chenault, and whomever was directing a particular episode, what would be the best way for me to accomplish a certain gag. The stunts were more tricky than physically hard for me. The only gag I wouldn’t attempt was wrestling with a lion. Not that I couldn’t have done it, and was assured by the trainer it would be okay, I said, ‘Pass.’ Any animal can be unpredictable, but especially a large carnivore. Ask Roy of Siegfried and Roy if things are always 100 percent safe with the big cats.”
It was Bostwick who reminded the film group that Billy and Cap’s favorite expression in comic books was “Holy Moley,” as it was not written into the early episodes. He also came up with the idea for a tag at the end of each story where Cap would speak directly to viewers about the issues dealt with in that episode.
Beyond filming days, Bostwick’s agent set him up to make personal appearances as Captain Marvel, appearing at rodeos and other events.
Bostwick, as Captain Marvel, appears here with co-star Michael Gray who played Billy Batson.
THE CAPE REMOVED
Two episodes into the second season, Bostwick suffered an injury which had a dramatic effect.
“I was, erroneously, fired for supposedly delaying filming while holding out for more money. In fact, I had injured myself doing a stunt the day before and was at the doctors office and had the nurse notify the studio of my whereabouts. The studio said they never got the call and that I was not injured. Well, at the arbitration at the Screen Actors Guild after all the lies they brought forth, I was asked by my attorney if they would like to see the injury which I had, by luck, been filming with my own Super 8 camera that day. After objections from the studio lawyers the head arbitrator said, “I don’t know about you guys, but I haven’t seen a home movie for a long time now — let’s see it.” After viewing the film, I was asked to leave the room. I won the suit and they had to pay me for all the shows that I was schedule to do, plus residuals."
Another actor, John Davey, took over the role of Captain Marvel for the remainder of that season and the six final episodes of the third season. During these two seasons, the show became part of the
SHAZAM!/Isis Hour, co-starring Captain Marvel and superheroine, Isis.
THE APPEAL OF SUPERHEROES
During the past several years, people have made it clear they love superheroes. Superhero movies have been among the grossing movies in the nation. But humankind’s enjoyment of super-human characters goes beyond their first appearances in comic books. The ancient Greeks told tales of Heracles (Hercules) and the Old Testament of the Bible tells of the exploits of Samson. What is it about these heroes we find so appealing?
“Throughout history humans have all witnessed that there are a lot of bad things that happen which often are out of our control — and we hope for a better future in spite of those bad or evil things,” says Datema. “Deep down most of us want the ‘good’ side to win. We want to see people bravely rescued from the hands of danger and evil. So we have always had a passion for someone ‘larger than life.’ We are drawn to superhero characters because they accomplish and do what is good and through them we often see the good side winning and the dark side losing.”
Walt Grogan, administrator of The Marvel Family [Captain Marvel] Web site , says the appeal of characters like Captain Marvel is “it's the wish fulfillment of every kid (and I'm guessing most adults) — to have the ability to overcome obstacles by saying a magic word and transforming into a more powerful version of oneself. This, certainly, was the major attraction of Captain Marvel but it would have floundered without fantastic stories and masterful art that the Fawcett staff [during the 1940s and ‘50s] brought to the typewriter and drawing table.”
Bostwick believes the appeal of superheroes in comic books is “pure fun and escapism. What a great way to while away those pre-television days than with a magical friend. Especially, one where a little boy could say a magic word and, instantly, transform into an exciting superhero in a colorful costume. ‘Shazam!’”
A MARVEL-OUS HISTORY
SHAZAM! was based on comic book hero, Captain Marvel, who debuted in Whiz Comics No. 1, February 1940. During the 1940s and early ‘50s, Captain Marvel was a hot-selling hero, outselling even Superman. The publishers of Superman started a lawsuit against Fawcett, Captain Marvel’s publisher, which went on for years., claiming Cap was a rip-off of Superman.
Comic historians debate whether there was any truth to the claim. Both wore no mask, a cape and skin-tight outfit. However, whereas Superman was a serious science fiction character, Cap was a whimsical fantasy character. Cap lived in a world where magic reigned, mythical creatures exisited and animals talked. Some have even compared Cap stories to J.R.R. Tolkein’s fantasy stories.
When sales of superhero comics began winding down in the ‘50s, Fawcett surrendered to the lawsuit and agreed to discontinue publishing their characters.
In the late 1960s, Marvel Comics, the publishers of Spiderman, the Hulk and X-men, created and trademarked their own superhero called Captain Marvel.
So it was later, in 1972, DC Comics, the creators of Superman, revived the original Captain Marvel after a 20-year publishing hiatus. Since they could no longer use Captain Marvel as the title of a comic, they called the new publication SHAZAM!
Shortly thereafter, Filmation Associates approached DC with the TV series concept.
SHAZAM! continues to be a marketable product for DC Comics. Billy Batson and the Magic of SHAZAM! continues to be sold as an ongoing comic series. According to writer Art Baltazar, “[It] is continuing the story that Jeff Smith and Mike Kunkel started. There are lots of story elements and characters that carry over. As far as being different, I think its different because its intended for a younger audience with stories that stand alone from regular DC Comics continuity.”
Also, a hardcover book DC Classics Library: Shazam! Monster Society of Evil will be released to bookstores and comic shops on December 29. The Monster Society of Evil was a 1940s serial within Captain Marvel’s comics which spanned about two years. In it, Cap battled a mysterious unseen villain Mr. Mind and his league of villains. Comic fans regard it a classic story from that era.
DC Comics previous printed a black and white collects of the 1970s SHAZAM! stories in a book titled Showcase Presents SHAZAM! The book includes stories based on the TV series.
According to writers of the TV show Batman: The Brave and the Bold, the second season will feature an episode with Cap and the Marvel Family. The show is reported to be broadcast this fall on Cartoon Network.
Perhaps the biggest news, however, is coming from Warner Brothers. An August report by The Hollywood Reporter noted a SHAZAM! movie is in the works. The script for the movie has been rewritten a few times. Bill Birch and DC Comics’ Geoff Johns are working on the current script. Peter Segal is set to direct.
“ I couldn't be happier,” says fan Grogan of the new movie writing team. “Geoff has demonstrated that he understands the character as well as his nemesis, Black Adam, and that bodes well for a Captain Marvel movie.”