As part of my occasional series of entries about favorite seventies-era Saturday morning kids' shows (starting with Thundarr the Barbarian) I've decided to write a bit about Shazam!, a live action Filmation series that ran from 1974-1976. The television show shared almost no similarity to the comic book, but I didn't care; it had cool music and awesome effects. Shazam! followed the adventures of Billy Batson and some old dude named Mentor (that's right: "Mentor") as they traveled "the highways and byways of the land on a never-ending mission: to right wrongs, to develop understanding, and to seek justice for all." Actually, as I recall, Shazam! generally focused its attention on other kids getting into trouble: joyriding, falling into mine shafts, disobeying their parents, that sort of thing. The dialogue was pretty awful.
Technician: "This is a restricted area. They're testing missiles today."But the threats seemed real enough to me. Fortunately, Billy and Mentor would drive by in their Winnebago and lend a hand. Inevitably things would get rough and Billy would be compelled to evoke that magic word: "Shazam!"
Boy: "You mean the kind that explode?"
Technician: "That's right."
Suddenly lightening would strike the teenager, and Billy would receive the awesome powers of Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury -- and become Captain Marvel. And I was struck too. Billy's transformation, the swelling music and those special effects, was the point of the whole show. I remember waiting impatiently for Billy to accept the inevitable and call for the powers of the world's mightiest mortal. That's when Captain Marvel would take over, flying around, smashing through walls, and chasing off mountain lions that threatened the neighborhood children. Afterward, Captain Marvel would chat with the kids, sharing some moral lesson about pride or prejudice or something similarly heavy. Then Billy and Mentor would board their RV and hit the highway in search of new adventures. Thereafter, I'd usually go outside after a long morning of cartoons and live action shows (skipping Isis) and run around the apartment complex with a jacket tied around my neck, pretending to be Captain Marvel.
Looking back, I can vaguely remember that the "Big Red Cheese" was played by two guys, Jackson Bostwick and John Davey. The former looked the part and seemed like a pretty cool dude. That latter was a bit chunky and never seemed too happy in the role. These days Bostwick is fairly busy on the convention scene and trying to publish a book called Myth, Magic and a Mortal, promising tantalizing details about his early departure from the show. John Davey worked in television through the seventies and eighties, but I have no idea of his whereabouts now. I think it'd be cool to have a low budget Shazam! comeback featuring both actors in a sort of Jekyll and Hyde struggle for the soul of Captain Marvel, maybe even with competing "morals to the story," but that nerd-dream will never come to pass.
See the Shazam! intro - Sorry, it can't be embedded.
Learn More: Epguides Shazam! episode guide