70s Television:Live-Action Superheroes
1970s Live-Action Superheroes on the Small Screen
In this article, we visit again, the live-action superheroes who populated some of the 70s most popular (and forgettable) television series.
You will recognize some of these heroes as being brought to life from popular comic books, other heroes were created especially for the series they starred in (and a few of those actually inspired short-lived comic books series of their own, too).
Both prime time and Saturday morning live action heroes are include on this list. Let's get stared.
The Krofft Supershow's Bigfoot and Wildboy
I never viewed Bigfoot as superhero material, but Sid and Marty Krofft had other ideas. As part of their Krofft Supershow airing on ABC on Saturday mornings beginning in 1976, Bigfoot and Wildboy had a 15 minute segment that proved to be popular enough to make it as a stand alone 30 minute series starting in 1979.
Bigfoot played by the late Ray Young (he died of lung cancer in 1999) found a young child and raised him as his own. He would become known as Wildboy (Joseph Butcher) and together they would fight crime.
There were 28 episodes, total, 16 segments on the Supershow and then another 12 from the stand alone series.
This series has never made it to DVD release, but you can find an episode on the Sid & Marty Krofft’s Saturday Morning Hits compilation disc released in 2010.
Jamie Somers Was The Bionic Woman
I think Lindsay Wagner will always be best remembered as Jamie Somers, the Bionic Woman, even though she is a talented actress who did a lot of TV movies after she left the role that made her into a household name.
As the childhood sweetheart of Steve Austin (Lee Majors), the Six Million Dollar Man, she was fitted with bionic legs, arm and ear after a tragic parachuting accident. When her body rejected her bionics, she died and the outcry was so great, she was brought back to life (actually she never really died, just went into a coma) and was given her own show in 1976. It ran for two years on ABC then finished it’s third season on NBC in 1978.
It took forever or so it seemed for this show to finally make it to DVD. Fans waited patiently and in 2010 their wait came to an end when the first season was released onto DVD.
Captain America the Reb Brown Way!
Prior to seeing Reb Brown as Captain American in the made for TV movies, I have never heard of him as an actor. But a quick look at his resume shows he did make appearances on other 70s TV shows prior to being cast as our patriotic superhero.
The first Captain America TV movie to air on CBS in 1979 was a ratings success and inspired a second, Captain America, Death Too Soon, that aired in November of 1979. There was talk of a TV series, but nothing ever came of it.
Just as a side: If you collect photos and are looking for poses of Reb as Captain America, please be careful that you are not, instead, getting photos of Matt Salinger who starred in a 1990 big screen film that tanked at the box office. I have seen numerous photos of Matt being mistaken for Reb's on places like EBay (the weird thing is some have Reb's autograph on them, pretty sad when even he can't tell them apart, eh) There are several differences to look for: Reb's head piece doesn't cover his eyes. Matt's head piece covers his eyes and also has those little white wings attached to the side. Reb's shirt has vertical stripes with a star, Matt's shirt is solid blue with a star and a red and white vertical stripes at the bottom. And of course, if that fails just take a careful look at the facial features, I think you will be able to tell them apart.
Captain Marvel from SHAZAM!
Superhero Captain Marvel was brought to the small screen thanks to Filmation. Airing on CBS from September 7, 1974 and finishing on October 6, 1976, Billy Batson (Michael Gray) traveled the highways and byways in an RV accompanied by Mentor (Les Tremayne) who acted as his guardian. The duo often found themselves in situations that were beyond their ability to handle, that is when Batson would use his special ability, he would utter the word SHAZAM (Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury) and transform into Captain Marvel.
For the first season and two episodes into the second, handsome actor Jackson Bostwick handled the role of Captain Marvel. If you were like me though, you began to wonder what happened to him when he was suddenly replaced with another actor, John Davey. The story goes that Bostwick was fired when the producers accused him of holding out for more money when he failed to show up for filming one morning. The reality was that he was at the local hospital receiving treatment for an injury he had suffered the previous day on set. He sued Filmation and won and they had to pay him for the remainder of his contract plus residuals. Unfortunately, they also decided to replace him with actor John Davey. Although Davey did a good job, I still preferred Bostwick.
Dr. Strange the Sorcerer Supreme
Based on the comic book character who was created in 1963 by Stan Lee, this television movie aired on CBS September 6, 1978. It was the pilot for a series that was never picked up. Perhaps it was the fact that the character had been watered down for television, losing much of his comic book back story. Or, maybe another reason is that supposedly this movie never aired nationwide, but instead in select cities across the country? I, for one, have no recollection of this TV movie, how about you?
When Clea Lake (Eddie Benton) becomes possessed by the centuries old spirit of Morgan LeFay (Jessica Walter), and begins to have strange visions and dreams (we can only wonder why, eh) she is taken to see Dr. Stephen Strange (Peter Hooten), a psychiatrist. As it turns out, Strange is no ordinary person, thanks to a ring that belonged to his father, he is the next in line to become the Sorcerer Supreme, a superhero who protects Earth from all attacks using magical and mystical powers. The current Sorcerer Supreme is an old wizard who feels it is time to transfer the Guardianship of the Light to Strange, but of course, Le Fay wants to stop this process because she has this crazy desire to allow demons loose to take over the earth.
Just a side note: Eddie Benton would change her name to Anne-Marie Martin and you might remember her as Dori Doreau on the series Sledgehammer. She was also married to writer, director and producer Michael Crichton. Most all roles the Anne worked on prior to 1981 she would use the name Eddie Benton and all roles after she was Anne Marie.
The TV movie is available on DVD.
Electra Woman and Dyna Girl of The Krofft Supershow
Catching bad guys on Saturday mornings in the 70′s was Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, products from the warped and wonderful minds of brothers Sid and Marty Krofft.
As part of The Krofft Supershow, that began it’s run in 1976, Deidre Hall and Judy Strangis kept kids on the edge of their seats as we watched this dynamic duo battle such villains as the Empress of Evil, Ali Baba, The Pharaoh and more.
While some of the Krofft shows have been released onto DVD, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl has never been. There have been single episodes released on Krofft compilation discs in the past, but the complete series has yet to see DVD light of day. Sad really. Let’s hope that these guys soon come to the realization that many of their shows not on DVD, should be and we fans are waiting patiently for their release!!
Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno in The Incredible Hulk
In 1977 after a successful airing of two TV movies, Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno got their own series The Incredible Hulk which ran from 1978-82.
Dr. David Banner (Bill Bixby) is a man on a mission, he wants to figure out a way to access the superhuman strength that all humans can exhibit in times of great need. He experiments with gamma radiation and when an accident at his lab exposes him to high amounts of the radiation, he discovers that when he becomes enraged, he transforms into a huge green creature that is labeled The Hulk.
Banner is believed to be dead because of the accident that happened at his lab and he begins a nomadic lifestyle, traveling from place to place hoping that he will eventually find a cure. He also finds himself struggling, at times, to keep one step ahead of investigative reporter, Jack McGee (Jack Colvin) who has taken an interest in the Hulk and Banner, too.
Joanna Cameron as Isis
Filmation was delighted with the success of their Shazam series and decided that a companion show was needed. Instead of going with Mary Marvel, they created their own superhero in the form of Andrea Thomas as Isis. This new character allowed them creative control as well as being able to retain the merchandising rights.
Andrea Thomas (Joanna Cameron), a high school science teacher was on an archaeological dig in Egypt when she found an ancient amulet that allowed her to access the super powers of the goddess Isis when she uttered the words "Oh Mighty Isis". Her super powers were varied, she could fly, control the elements, had super strength, could stop time, reverse time, control the weather and more. Hey, she was a goddess, remember?
The first season of the show aired as part of The Shazam/Isis Hour, but with the show's increasing popularity, it was given it's own slot and the name changed to The Secrets of Isis.
The show aired on CBS from September 6, 1975 – September 3, 1977 and is available on DVD in case you missed it the first time around!
Mark Harris The Man From Atlantis
Patrick Duffy starred in a short lived science fiction show (it is open to debate as to the genre, really, or so I think) that aired on NBC during the 1977-78 TV season.
His character washed ashore onto a California beach and was saved by marine biologist Dr. Elizabeth Merrill (Belinda Montgomery). Sporting webbed hands and feet, having gills instead of lungs and having super strength, Merrill realized he was not just different, but special. With no memory of his name, he was given one, Mark Harris and he went to work with Merrill at the Foundation for Oceanic Research. All superheroes need an arch villain to be a thorn in their side, and Harris got his in the form of Mr. Schubert (Victor Buono).
Comic book fans were a little disappointed because producers simply "borrowed" some ideas from the well established Sub-Mariner comic book series from Marvel. This allowed them to give their creation similar characteristics, all the while avoiding any licensing fees.
The first season of the show was a series of two-hour movies and they competed with ratings winners Hawaii Five-O on CBS and Barney Miller on ABC. The second season found Harris setting into a regular time slot (Tuesday nights) and competing with ABC's Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley. The show was unable to find its audience and was soon cancelled. .
The complete series (13 episodes) as well as the television movies are finally available on DVD!
Steve Austin The Six Million Dollar Man
This classic science fiction show was based on the novel Cyborg by Martin Caidin and starred handsome Lee Majors as Colonel Steve Austin, an astronaut severely injured in a horrific plane crash. Losing both legs, his left eye and right arm, Steve is fitted with bionic body parts that give him super strength, speed and vision.
Steve worked for the OSI (Office of Scientific Intelligence) as a secret agent going on dangerous missions that were best suited for a bionic man.
After several successful TV movies, the series officially began in 1974 and lasted until 1978 with a total of 99 episodes filmed. This series has finally been released onto DVD, after years of delay.
The Amazing Spider-Man
Nicholas Hammond brought our web slinging superhero to life in 1977 on CBS. The Amazing Spider-Man started out as a TV movie and then in 1978 when five episodes were shown as a summer replacement series. It always did well in the ratings, but CBS never really took it too seriously as a series and it came to an end in the fall of 1979 after having only 13 episodes to it’s credit.
I often wondered if it was really Nicholas in the Spider-Man suit. The series has never been released onto DVD, but I have seen VHS tapes on Amazon and Ebay.
As a bit of trivia. A live action version of Spider-Man debuted as a segment (74-77) on The Electric Company in Spidey Super Stories, Danny Seagren wore the spidey suit.
Wonderbug From The Krofft Supershow
Wonderbug, a Ruby-Spears creation that was produced by Sid and Marty Krofft, was a 15 minute segment on the Krofft Supershow which was part of ABC’s Saturday morning lineup in 1976.
Schlepcar was an old beat up rusted out dune buggy that had been pieced together by three friends, Barry (David Levy), Susan (Carol Anne Seflinger) and C.C (John Anthony Bailey). Imagine their surprise when they added an old horn that gave Schlepcar the ability to turn into Wonderbug, a souped up dune buggy who had the ability to fly, drive himself and talk (although it was really just a bunch of nonsensical mumblings). Frank Welker supplied the voice.
Another fun and silly show that has yet to be released onto DVD.
Cathy Lee Crosby as Wonder Woman
Before Lynda Carter took on the role of Wonder Woman, Cathy Lee Crosby starred as our Amazon princess in a campy and corny 1974 TV movie.
Critics and even some fans of the movie complained that this Wonder Woman wasn’t so wondrous as she didn’t have many of the superhero qualities we had come to admire in our favorite Amazon. But you have to remember, that even in the comic books, there was a period of time when Wonder Woman had lost most of her super abilities and it’s this character that was portrayed in the TV movie.
When studio executives saw this movie,they weren’t all that impressed and she was taken back to the drawing board so to speak, revamped and they came up with Lynda Carter’s version.
This TV movie also stars the suave and handsome Ricardo Montalban as the evil villain by the name of Abner Smith...what a horrible name for a villain especially one to be played by Ricardo!
Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman!
Beautiful Lynda Carter brought the Amazon princess to life on ABC beginning in 1975. The show became a series in 1976 and was shown under the title The New Original Wonder Woman and was set during World War II. The show then moved to CBS where it received an update with the setting being changed to modern day and given a new title The New Adventures of Wonder Woman . I admit that I liked the update to modern times a lot better than the World War II setting.
The series lasted for two years on CBS and was never officially canceled when it was taken off of CBS schedule.
Debra Winger as Wonder Girl
The character of Wonder Girl, from the Lynda Carter series Wonder Woman was portrayed by actress Debra Winger, who would go on to have a successful movie career.
Wonder Girl was seen three times in the first season, first in the two part episode titled The Feminum Mystique and in the final episode of the first season titled, Wonder Woman in Hollywood . Although, we were told that Wonder Woman herself was an only child, it was a bit of a shock to learn she has a younger sister, Drusilla.
It was rumored that Debra was unhappy with the role and broke her contract. At the time, it was also hinted that there was to be a Wonder Girl spin off starring Debra, but after she left, the plan was scrapped. I have to admit that I loved Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman and watched the show faithfully, but I wasn’t too impressed with the addition of the little sister. While Debra has matured into a decent actress over the years, in her role as Drusilla, you got the impression that she was wishing she was somewhere else.
The Challenge of the Superheroes
I was a bit hesitant to include this information on this page as the show wasn't technically a weekly series but since it did have some very popular superheroes in live action form, I thought I would. It is a bit obscure, so I wouldn't be surprised if you never heard of it.
Hanna-Barbara had the popular Super Friends cartoon series that aired on ABC on Saturday mornings and they also produced The Challenge of the Superheroes, a two part live action special airing on NBC that utilized some of those same characters from the series. The first part of the special aired on January 19, 1979 and the final part on January 25, 1979.
The Challenge, the first segment of the special, brought together Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin, Garret Craig as Captain Marvel, Howard Murphy as Green Lantern, Danuta Rylko Soderman as Black Canary, Bill Nuckols as Hawkman, Rod Haase as The Flash and Barbara Joyce as Huntress. The plot of this part of the special was that the heroes gathered to celebrate the Scarlet Cyclone's (William Schallert) birthday when it is interrupted by members of the Legion of Doom (Riddler, Weather Wizard, Sinestro, Mordru, Doctor Sivana, Giganta and Solomon Grundy) who announce they have hidden a bomb and it's up to the Super Friends to find it and prevent it from exploding.
The Roast, the second installment, was hosted by Ed McMahon. All of those from part one return with a few new characters; Ghetto Man (Brad Sanders) a superhero, who does stand up comedy, Atom (Alfie Wise), and Aunt Minerva, (Ruth Buzzi) one of Captain Marvel's arch enemies.
I am not certain as to why something like this was put together, perhaps they were hoping for big ratings and that they could make this into a weekly thing. Anyway, if you missed it the first time around or if you simply want to see it again, it is available on under the title of the Legends of the Superheroes.
Oh, and if you are wondering why two very popular superheros are missing; Superman and Wonder Woman, each of those characters was enjoying a revival in popularity, Superman was on the big screen starring the late Christopher Reeve in the title role and Wonder Woman was being portrayed on the small screen by Lynda Carter.
© 2014 Glory Miller