January 18, 1979: I was six years old and in pure comic book mania, as Superman had come out, there was a DC ski stunt show at Sea World, The Incredible Hulk was on CBS, the Captain America TV movie would be airing the very next day and there had already been a few Spider-Man TV movies. It was an amazing time to be a kid and get free superhero stuff sent over the airwaves and often, we’d have no idea what we were about to get other than what TV Guide told us.
The Justice League of America were all showing up on my TV! And not just Batman and Robin, played by Adam West and Burt Ward, but the deep cut heroes I loved, like Hawkman (Bill Nuckols, Wally from Supertrain), Captain Marvel (Garrett Craig, the third man to play the man who says “Shazam!” in the 70s after Jackson Bostwick and John Davey), Huntress (Barbara Joyce) and Black Canary (Danuta Wesley, who took over as the Tea Time Matinee Lady on The Tonight Show after the death of Carol Wayne), plus more well-known ones like Flash (Rod Haase, Candy Stripe Nurses, If You Don’t Stop It… You’ll Go Blind!!! and the sequel Can I Do It ‘Till I Need Glasses?) and Green Lantern (Howard Murphy, the gardener in Young Lady Chatterley II, which would become another important memory in my young life for different reasons).
A party for the retirement of Scarlet Cyclone (William Schallert from Inner Space and In the Heat of the Night) when the Legion of Doom spoils everyone’s fun by announcing they’ve hidden a bomb, so everyone must get de-powered, split into smaller teams and save the day. If that seems like a Gardner Fox story, it’s not a bad thing. The bad guys are Riddler (Frank Gorshin, who else?), Weather Wizard (Jeff Altman, who a year after this would star in one of the most baffling TV shows in broadcast history, The Pink Lady and Jeff), Sinestro (comedian Charlie Callas), Mordru (yes, a Legion of Superheroes villain! He’s played by Gabriel Dell, doubling down on oddball kids shows, as he had just been the voice of Boba Fett on The Star Wars Holiday Special), Doctor Sivana (Howard Morris, whose voice was all over the cartoons I grew up on), Giganta and Solomon Grundy (Mickey Morton, who was also in the aforementioned Star Wars nightmare, playing Chewbacca’s wife Malla).
While the show looked cheap and kind of silly, I was six. So I was beyond excited because there was another episode the very next week.
The next week is why I grew up to be the cynical person who will go on at length about why I hate Wed Craven or how no good slasher has been made with minor exceptions after 1984. All my pain came from this show, in which the adventure format was ditched to instead present a celebrity superhero roast of the superheroes hosted by Ed McMahon.
Now, I love celebrity seventies roasts.
I love Ed McMahon.
But I had been laughed at — and would be laughed at my entire life — for knowing too much about comic books.
Now, even comic books were abandoning me to the void of ennui. Yes, I was the kind of six year old that often asked for an Anacin because I claimed life was giving me a migraine.
New characters were added, including stand-up comic black hero Ghetto Man (Brad Sanders), Captain Marvel’s Aunt Minerva (Ruth Buzzi), Hawkman’s mother (Pat Carroll, the voice of Ursula in The Little Mermaid) and superhero reporter Rhoda Rooter (June Gable, Estelle on Friends) who lets the world know that Giganta (early trans actor Aleshia Brevard, who played one of the female creatures in Bigfoot) was marrying The Atom (Alfie Wise, who was Batman in Cannonball Run).
If it sounds horrible, well — it was. And it still is.
I mean, didn’t the producers realize that Captain Marvel lived on Earth-S, I wondered? Yet even I knew that this was above Wonder Woman, who had her own show, and Superman, who at one point eclipsed Batman, who bided his time and worked with the right directors obviously.
In his book Back to the Batcave, Adam West said that he regretted doing these shows. They couldn’t even get his Batman costume right.
But hey! Gary Owens showed up!