1970s TV Live-Action Superheroes
1970s Live-Action Superheroes on the Small Screen
This article takes readers on a look-back at the live-action superheroes who were brought to life in popular (and not so popular) 70s superhero television series, movies, and specials.
Prime time wasn't the only place they could be found, Saturday mornings also had their fair share of heroes who showed off their awesome skills and powers, too.
Keep in mind that some had their origins in popular comic books, while others were created specifically for the shows they starred in and they sometimes inspired short-lived comic book tie-ins that have since become highly sought after collectable comics.
Let's get on with the list, shall we?
The Krofft Supershow's Bigfoot and Wildboy
Bigfoot and Wildboy began their TV adventure as a 15-minute segment on the second season of The Krofft Supershow, which aired on ABC television during the 1977-78 season. The plot of the segment had Bigfoot finding a young orphaned boy lost in the Pacific Northwest mountains and raising him. Years later, the duo worked together to protect the forest and animals from anything and anyone who tried to do harm. This segment was so popular with viewing audiences that it was given its own stand alone series in 1979. There are a total of 28 episodes total.
Joseph Butcher portrayed Wildboy and Ray Young donned the Bigfoot suit. Ray passed away in 1999 of lung cancer. If you are curious as to what he looked like without his costume , check out The Bionic Woman episode Iron Ships and Dead Men, he had a significant role there as Bob Richards.
The series has yet to be released onto DVD, but Embassy Video did release on VHS Bigfoot and Wildboy Volume One and Bigfoot and Wildboy Volume Two in the 1980s. The episode Return of the Vampire can be found on a The World Of Sid and Marty Krofft a compilation DVD released in 2002 by Rhino Video. There is also at least one episode on the Sid & Marty Krofft’s Saturday Morning Hits compilation disc released in 2010.
Jaime Somers:The Bionic Woman
The Bionic Woman, a two-part episode (March 6, 1975 and March 23, 1975) featured on the popular series The Six Million Dollar Man, introduced viewing audiences to Jaime Somers (Lindsay Wagner) the high school sweetheart of Steve Austin.
Jaime became the Bionic Woman after a sky diving accident left her near death. While our parachuting with Steve, her parachute malfunctioned and she plummeted to the ground receiving massive injuries: her legs were broken in so many places, that Rudy couldn't count them, her right arm and shoulder were crushed beyond repair and her right ear was hemorrhaging.
Steve asked his good friend and boss, Oscar Goldman, the head of the Office of Strategic Intelligence (OSI), to authorize Dr. Rudy Wells to perform an operation that would not just save her life, but make her bionic as well.
After the operation, all appeared to be going well, and the couple who had resumed their romance was in the process of planning their wedding, when suddenly Jamie's body began to reject the bionics and she died on the operating table as Wells worked diligently to save her life.
Fan outcry against such an unhappy ending prompted producers and the network to rethink things and soon it was revealed in The Six Million Dollar Man episode Welcome Home Jamie that she had been placed in an experimental cryogenic procedure that allowed doctors more time to repair the massive blood clot that had ended her life. When she was revived she had suffered some brain damage and memory loss. While another operation did allow her to recover much of her past memories, those concerning Steve and her love for him did not return.
- Jamie's parents, who also worked for the OSI, had died in a car accident in 1966 and Steve's parents became her legal guardians.
- Jamie went to college to get a degree in education. She also became a world class tennis player.
- Her bionic replacement cost were never officially revealed. In the episode Welcome Home Jamie, Oscar stated her bionics cost less than Steve's because they were smaller.
- Office of Scientific Information or Office of Strategic Intelligence, which do you think the OSI stood for? Also interesting to note, in The Six Million Dollar Man television movies (before it was a series) the organization Austin worked for was the OSO (Office of Special Operations).
- The Bionic Woman became a series airing first on ABC from 1976-77 and finishing out its run on NBC from 1977 to 1978.
- A total of 58 episodes filmed. The complete series is available on DVD.
In 1979, CBS aired two television movies that were pilots for a potential new super hero series Captain America (Reb Brown).
The first movie, airing on January 9, 1979, was titled simply Captain America. Rogers father, a former Marine who had worked as a government agent during the 1940s, was given the nickname of Captain America by those who knew him because of his patriotic attitude. He eventually died in the line of duty.
Fast fast forward into 1979 and audiences were introduced to his son, Steve, who earned his living as an artist roaming the country side in his conversion van. Life was simple for Steve, until he was involved in an accident (which might not have been an accident adding to the plot of the movie) that almost claimed his life. He was saved from certain death by Dr. Simon Mills (Len Birman), a research scientist who had been a friend of his late father. Mills injected Steve with an experimental chemical formula which altered his body chemistry giving him enhanced strength and agile reflexes. Steve decided to go after those responsible for his accident using a disguise based on a nick name given to his father by his colleagues, and thus superhero Captain America was born.
Captain America II: Death Too Soon, the second movie aired November 23, 1979 and concluded on November 24, 1979, was the second attempt at a pilot and this time General Miguel (Christopher Lee), a freelance terrorist planned on holding the city of Portland, Oregon hostage wanting a multi-million dollar ransom or he would poison its water supply with a chemical that accelerated the aging process.
A DVD release with both movies happened in 2011.
Captain Marvel from SHAZAM!
Captain Marvel came to Saturday morning television in the form of Shazam, which aired on CBS from September 7, 1974 to October 6, 1976.
Billy Batson (Michael Gray) and his friend Mentor (Les Treymayne) traveled the country in their RV getting mixed up in one scenario after another that always ended up needing the intervention of Captain Marvel who was never far away, as Batson could transform into him by uttering the word SHAZAM (Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury, the Gods who gave Batson the power to transform into Captain Marvel).
Jackson Bostwick portrayed Captain Marvel for season one airing from September 7, 1974 to December 14, 1974. He also was in the first three episodes of season two before being replaced by John Davey.
From 1975 to 1977, super heroine Isis was added to the show and it was then known as The Shazam/Isis Hour.
The entire season was released on DVD in 2012.
Your Favorite Captain Marvel
Who was your favorite Captain Marvel
Dr. Strange the Sorcerer Supreme
This television movie aired on CBS September 6, 1978 as a pilot for a potential series.
Clea Lake (Eddie Benton) was possessed by the centuries old spirit of Morgan LeFay (Jessica Walter), and began to have strange visions and dreams. She went to see Dr. Stephen Strange (Peter Hooten), a psychiatrist. 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.
While Dr. Strange was based on the comic book created by Stan Lee in 1963, in this film, he lost much of his back story. Some sources state this film never aired nation-wide, only in select cities.
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.
You can get your own copy of this movie, it was released on DVD in 2016.
Do You Remember Seeing This Movie When It Originally Aired?
Did you see this movie when it first aired?
Electra Woman and Dyna Girl
Electra Woman and Dyna Girl was a 15-minute segment on the first season of The Krofft Supershow, which aired on ABC from September 11, 1976 to September 2, 1977.
Lori and Judy (Deidre Hall and Judy Strangis) worked as reporters for Newsmaker Magazine, but each had a secret identity, Lori was Electra Woman and Judy, her trusted sidekick, Dyna Girl. They were aided in their quest for truth and justice by Frank Heflin (Norman Alden) a scientist who manned the ElectraBase operating all of the cool gadgets he had invented for them.
The duo battled super villains with names like Empress of Evil, The Pharaoh, Glitter Rock, and Ali Babb.
The series has never been released onto DVD, but a few episodes have shown up on various compilation discs of Sid and Marty Krofft shows.
Hall went on to have success in daytime television as Marlene Evans on Days of Our Lives.
Dr. David Banner: The Incredible Hulk
The Incredible Hulk started out life as a television movie that aired on CBS November 4, 1977. Dr. David Bruce Banner (Bill Bixby) was a scientist who wanted to discover how some people, while in danger, were able to exhibit super human strength that allowed them to save the lives of their loved ones. Banner was driven in his quest because some time earlier he failed to save the life of his beloved wife Laura when the couple had been involved in a car crash.
Banner, becoming increasingly frustrated that his research was getting him no closer to the answer, conducted an experiment on himself accidentally giving himself too much gamma radiation which altered his body chemistry and when he became enraged allowed him to transform into a hulking 7 foot tall green creature that would become known as The Hulk (Lou Ferrigno).
After the series ended, with no satisfactory conclusion. NBC purchased the filming rights and three television movies aired on NBC with Bixby and Ferrigno resuming their original roles.
The complete series is available on DVD as are the post series three television movies.
The Secrets of Isis
Encouraged by the success of their SHAZAM! series, Filmation created a companion show, Isis, which starred Joanna Cameron as high school science teacher Andrea Thomas. While on an archaeological dig in Egypt, Thomas found an ancient amulet that had been given to Egyptian pharaoh, Queen Hatshepsut, by the Royal Sorcerer, Thuhaupee. The amulet allowed the wearer to posses the powers of the Egyptian goddess, Isis. Thomas decided to use her new found powers to fight evil and simply by saying the words, "Oh Mighty Isis", she would be transformed into 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.
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 (although some sources claim this title was used only when the show ran in syndication).
Andrea lived at 21306 Baker Place, Apartment 4A and had a pet crow named Tut.
She drove a red sedan that was stolen in one episode and was painted yellow by the thieves.
Filmation created the character of Isis so they could maintain the rights to the show and any and all of its merchandising and there was a short-lived comic book series that was published between 1976-78.
The series is available on DVD having been released in 2007, but be prepared to shell out some series cash, as on Amazon is can sell for hundreds of dollars.
The Man From Atlantis
Patrick Duffy starred as Mark Harris, the last surviving member of the Atlantis civilization and who was saved by Dr. Elizabeth Merrill (Belinda Montgomery) after he washed ashore onto a California beach. 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).
The first season of the show was simply 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 the show getting its own 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.
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 complete series (13 episodes) as well as the television movies are finally available on DVD!
Of course, Duffy went on to star as Bobby Ewing on the highly popular show Dallas for CBS.
Steve Austin:The Six Million Dollar Man
The Six Million Dollar Man began his TV life as several popular made for TV movies on ABC; The Six Million Dollar Man (March 1973), The Six Million Dollar Man: Wine, Women and War (October 1973) and The Six Million Dollar Man; The Solid Gold Kidnapping (November 1973). Lee Majors starred as Colonel Steve Austin, an astronaut severely injured in the crash of an experimental aircraft. He lost both legs, his right arm and left eye. He received bionic replacements which gave him super speed, strength and super vision in his left eye.
Steve received the following bionic replacements:
- Bionic Visual Cortex Terminal (catalog number 075/KFB); Ratio: 20.2 to 1.3135 Line, 60 hz. Extended Chromatic Response: Class JC.
- Bionic Neuro Link Forearm (Upper Arm Assembly) catalog number 2921LV.
- Neuro Link Hand, Right (catalog number 2822/PJI).
- Power Supply: Atomic Type AED-4 (catalog number2031 AED-4) 1550 Watt Continuous Double Duty Gain Overload Follower, Class M2.
- Bionic Neuro Link, Bi-Pedal Assembly (catalog number 914 PAM).
- Power Supply Atomic Type AED 9-A, 4920 Continuous Duty Overload Follower, 2100 Watt Reserve, Intermittent Duty, Class CC.
Austin would then go on to work for the OSI (Office of Scientific Intelligence) as a secret agent going on dangerous missions that were best suited for a bionic man.
In the November 7, 1976 episode The Bionic Boy, the world was introduced to Andy Sheffield, a teenager given bionic implants to restore the use of his paralyzed legs. 70s teen idol Vince Van Patten starred as Andy and rumor had it that producers were thinking of creating a spin-off for Andy, but nothing ever came of it.
Jaime, Steve and Andy weren't the only bionic humans. Monte Markham played Barney Miller (later changed to Hiller) in two episodes; The Seven Million Dollar Man (November 1, 1974) and The Bionic Criminal (November 9, 1975). Miller's bionics were implants and not replacements. Author Martin Caidin (whose book Cyborg inspired the series) had originally wanted Markham to play the character of Steve Austin, but the part went to, of course, Lee Majors, instead.
The Amazing Spider-Man
Nicholas Hammond was Spider-Man on the small screen in 90-minute television movie that aired on CBS in September 1977. The movie did well in the ratings prompting CBS to order five more episodes from April to end of May in 1978. Those episodes, too performed well ratings wise, but the network was still hesitant to order a full season as the show was expensive to produce and it didn't do well with older viewers.
The second season, beginning in September of 1978 and ending July 1979 saw only seven episodes produced and they aired sporadically on the network making it difficult for viewers to find the show. What sealed the fate of the show was the executives didn't want the network to become known as the "superhero network".
The series has yet to be released on DVD.
Wonderbug, a Ruby-Spears creation, was a 15 minute live-action segment on The Krofft Supershow during the 1976-77 ABC Saturday morning television season.
Three teenage friends, Barry (David Levy), Susan (Carol Anne Seflinger) and C.C (John Anthony Bailey) while exploring a junkyard found an old clapped out dune buggy that looked as though it has been put together using bits from various other vehicles. When Susan added an old horn she found, as a finishing touch, imagine their surprise when Schlep Car ( who ran poorly, huffed and puffed, sputtered and seemed to struggle to carry the weight of it's passengers and on occasion, bits of it fell off, too), transformed 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 mumbling). Frank Welker supplied the voice.
The series gave no back story to the teenagers, such as their age, if they went to school, etc and Susan was really the brains of the trio and when she came up with a sensible solution to any of their problems, Barry (whose own ideas were usually silly or much too complicated) would simply repeat it and get the credit.
The theme song was composed by Jimmie Haskell.
Cathy Lee Crosby as Wonder Woman
On March 12, 1974, ABC aired Wonder Woman a television movie about criminal Abner Smith (Ricardo Montalban) who had gotten his hands on a book that contained the names of all of America's top spies. It was up to Wonder Woman to get it back.
The movie was the pilot for a potential series that would star Cathy Lee Crosby as the lovely Amazon. The movie did well in the ratings, but ABC wasn't happy with how the character was presented. Gone were the super hero abilities and now Wonder Woman resembled more of a super spy than super heroine. ABC ordered a revamp and the next television movie to air in 1975, had our favorite Amazon looking more like the comic book version so many were familiar with and it would make Lynda Carter a star.
Technically, Cathy Lee wasn't the first woman to portray Wonder Woman. In 1967, Ellie Wood Walker starred in a 6 minute test film called Wonder Woman: Who's Afraid of Diana Prince. In this version, Diana was 27 millions years old, lived in an apartment with her domineering mother. She was accident prone and very vain loving to look at herself in the mirror. Needless to say it was a ridiculous offering and one can be glad it never aired. The test film can sometimes be found on Youtube, if you are intrigued enough to see it for yourself.
Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman
The New Original Wonder Woman aired as a pilot on November 11, 1975 and was set during World War II. It starred the lovely Lynda Carter in the title role.
ABC was pleased with how it performed in the ratings and order two more one hour episodes in April 1976. It would then take a break and not be seen again until October 1976 where it was given weekly status with 11 episodes.
Eventually, the network lost interest in the show because it was time period specific (World War II) and was costly to produce and it had limited story line potential. Warner Brothers then took it to CBS and it was brought into present day (why didn't ABC think of this is beyond me) and the series ran for two more seasons as The New Adventures of Wonder Woman.
Drusilla is Wonder Girl
Debra Winger starred as Wonder Girl (Drusilla) the younger sister to Wonder Woman and she appeared in three episodes of of the first season; the two part episode The Feminum Mystique and in the final episode of the first season titled, Wonder Woman in Hollywood.
It was a shock to discover the Wonder Woman had a younger sister as we were lead to believe she was an only child. Queen Hippolyta came to think that Diana had spent enough time in America and she needed to come home, so she sent Drusilla to find her. She possessed the same abilities as her older sister, but she didn't wear as flashy of a costume.
It was hinted that Winger as Wonder Girl would get her own spin off series, but she was unhappy with the role and wanted out of her contract and the spin-off idea was scrapped.
The Challenge of the Superheroes TV Special
While not a weekly series, this two part (two one hour specials) prime-time special was a product of Hanna-Barbera. Feeling inspired by the success of their ABC Saturday morning cartoon venture The Super Friends, viewers were treated to seeing some of their favorite heroes in live action form.
The super heroes have 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.
- Aired on January 19, 1979.
- Cast List: The Heroes: 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 Villains: Frank Gorshin as The Riddler, Mickey Morton as Solomon Grundy, Jeff Altman as Weather Wizard, Charlie Callis as Sinestro, Aleshia Brevard as Giganta, Gabriel Dell as Mordru, Howard Morris as Dr. Sivana
- Gorshin reprised, in the first special only, his role as The Riddler from the popular campy 60s Batman series.
- Aired on January 25, 1979.
- 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.
- Superman and Wonder Woman are missing from both specials as they were enjoying a revival in popularity. Superman with Christopher Reeve in the title role was a hit at the box office and Wonder Woman starring Lynda Carter was a popular TV series.
- Released on DVD in 2010 under the title Legends of the Superheroes.
As you can see from the listing, the 70s was the decade of the superhero, or so it seemed. Provided below is a guest book in which you are encouraged to leave a comment if you so desire. Comments are moderated in order to keep this page reader friendly, so please keep them on topic.
© 2014 Glory Miller