Sunday, July 17, 2011

Super ‘70s and ‘80s: Original interviews with 100 lost stars of superhero pop culture!

One of my favorite questions is “Where are they now?”

One of my favorite periods in entertainment is the 1970s and 1980s.
And so begins a massive, often startling, and at times eclectic series I have been working on in between and around since December 2009: an oral history of (mostly) superhero entertainment of the 1970s and 1980s. It consists of 100 interviews with the people who were there, spread over 71 posts, including introductions to each of the 10 subseries.

Technically, not all 100 kind souls in this feature can be called “lost,” but most have no other interviews online and nearly none of the photos and images you’ll see have been published before. I wanted the focus to be superhero/cartoon performers you remember but have read little to nothing about. This includes actors, writers, musicians, and even water skiers. Some of their recollections are laugh-out-loud funny. Others are heartbreaking.

What does this series have to do with the purpose of my blog—the stories behind the stories I write? Simply put, the 1970s had a huge cultural influence on me—one that informs my work today. That was the decade…

  • Super Friends premiered (1973)
  • Bill Finger died (1974)
  • Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster got their settlement from Warner Communications (1975)
  • Superman: The Movie came out (1978)

…not to mention the decade in which I was born. The 1980s were equally fertile for me; looking back now, I appreciate the era even more for its lack of cynicism.

I am a nostalgia junkie and an amateur historian. This series celebrates much that has instilled me with a love of story and action. It has a direct correlation with Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman and my 2012 Bill Finger/Batman book and, in fact, serves as a bridge from one to the other.

Here’s the table of contents (10 subseries):

Super Friends (various incarnations; 1973-86)
animated TV series
28 interviews (15 voice actors, 7 writers, 2 animators, 4 other production staff)

Sea World superheroes water ski show (1976-79)
live-actor sports performance
45 interviews (37 skiers, 1 boat driver, 1 high diver, 2 announcers, 4 production staff)

Superman: The Movie (1978)
theatrical film
3 interviews (all actors)

Legends of the Superheroes (1979)
live-action TV specials
6 interviews (4 actors, 1 deceased actor’s niece, 1 director/producer)

Batman and Robin Meet Dr. Danger (circa 1979)
live-action theatre performance
2 interviews (both performers)

Bugs Bunny Meets the Superheroes (1979-81)
live-action theatre performance
6 interviews (all performers)

The Plastic Man Comedy Adventure Show (1979-81; repackaged with live-action host in 1984)
live-action segment of animated TV series
2 interviews (1 actor, 1 director/producer)

Superman (Ruby-Spears, 1988)
animated TV series
1 interview (voice actor)

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (seasons 1-2: 1969-71)
animated TV series
7 interviews (2 voice actors, 2 theme song singers, 1 music producer, 1 songwriter’s widow, 1 songwriter’s son)

Mick Smiley (“Magic,” Ghostbusters, 1984)
1 interview

Some of the people I was looking for came up on the first page of Google results. Others took months to find.

Among the warnings I was told when researching:
  • On Liberty Williams (Jayna from Super Friends): “[She] keeps a low profile. Would be hard to locate. No one knows how to find a photo of her.” (I found her 5/18/10.)
  • On Garrett Craig (Captain Marvel from Legends of the Superheroes): “Garrett is unfindable. He can’t be traced.” (I found him 1/26/11.)

Among the funny or otherwise charming responses I got after asking the wrong people:
  • No, sir, I am not that Howard Murphy, though I am somewhat of a legend in my own mind.
  • I am not but it’s given the office something to laugh about.
  • No, I'm not that Howard Murphy. But it would have been great to have been!
  • I am not that person. However, I am very intrigued in what my namesake has (or has not) done?
  • Umm, no. Not me. But this is absolutely the funniest case of Facebook mistaken identity I've received. I kind of wish it was me.
  • Sorry to disappoint you but that wasn't me, I'm afraid. Wish it was—makes my life sound very tame!
  • After we stopped howling with laughter, Danuta asked me let you know she is not the one you seek.

Among the interviews you’ll read in this series:
  • both Wonder Twins (Zan and Jayna) and all four multicultural Super Dudes (as well as the creator of one of them)
  • the Boys of Steel of the big-screen—toddler and teenaged Superman from Superman: The Movie
  • the first two singers to record the Scooby-Doo theme
  • two of the few surviving members of the Legion of Doom voice cast
  • a man who reveals the discarded original lineup for the Legion of Doom
  • three long-lost performers from perhaps the biggest cult classic superhero TV show ever
  • the first performers to portray a live-action Aquaman, Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Green Arrow, Plastic Man, Black Canary, Huntress, Mera, Mary Marvel, Supergirl, and Captain Cold
  • the first performers to portray a filmed live-action Flash, Hawkman, and Huntress
  • a familiar character actor you will recognize from Independence Day and Seinfeld…who got his start playing Batman

Every one of them generously donated time and mined memories for a guy they hadn’t heard of—but mostly for fans many did not even realize they had. Some were on board instantly. More than a couple had to be coaxed into participating. Just about all were surprised that anyone would come around to ask in the first place. I even got to meet some in person, including Captain Marvel, the Wonder Twins, two Supergirls, and Superman's pimp.

While I appreciate everyone’s contribution equally, I would like to acknowledge several who sent me lengthier responses that I wish I could have included more from: Garrett Craig, Darrell McNeil, Randy Messer, and Diane Smith.

I’d also like to point out a perk of doing such a project is being able to help old friends reconnect. (Facebook isn’t everyone’s preferred method!) Among those who got back in touch (in some cases, decades after last contact): James Rebhorn and Gary Meitrott, Mike Bell and Liberty Williams, Wally Burr and Iraj Paran, Dave Madeline and Mark Gutleben, Duane Poole and Elana Lesser, Dick Ryal and Mike Rye, Cindy Barhoff and Sherry Satterfield Runion, Barry Koeb and Joel Stein, (maybe) Nicole David and Heather Kenney. 

I also found myself pointing some toward residuals they didn’t know they had.

You don’t know some or most of those names, but you soon will.

Among the quirkier discoveries I made:
  • In large part, the groups are still in their “origin” cities—Los Angeles for voicers, Orlando for skiers, New York for stagers.
  • One of the Sea World skiers has family in my small Connecticut hometown.
  • The project involved three people named Mark Taylor—a Sea World skier, the actor-comedian who portrayed the first live-action Plastic Man, and the voice actor who portrayed Firestorm.
  • I came at this via the superhero angle but quickly saw that for most of the people involved, the significance had little to do with that; I learned a lot about the worlds of water skiing, voice acting, theatre, songwriting, TV production, and more.

  • This feature will run most every day till completion, but at times, my “regularly scheduled” content (most of which relates to book publishing) will run in between.
  • I conducted most of the interviews in 2010 [so ages and other information in the responses are current as of then].
  • I got permission to post all images; if you want to repost, please do the same and ask me first.
  • As the series unfolds, use the Labels to easily navigate through the various subseries.

First up:
Super Friends.


Mel said...

I won't post comment on every post, but did read it all. Wow, what a nice job you did. The interviews, the old photos of Casey Kasem, etc. awesome. I met Alan Burnett at a con. Really nice guy. I will look forward to reading all these. When you said pimp, did you mean Bo Rucker? Cause if you did THAT'S A BAD OUTFIT!!!!!

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Mel - leave comments whenever you want. That's what this is for! Thanks for your most kind words. As for Bo...stay tuned.

Mel said...

By the way I went to the Hanna Barbera building before they tore it down. I broke off a piece of the wall and have it on my desk. Wow I did not know it was a gym now, Good thing I took photos when I did.

Captain Blog said...

I know you don't remember contacting me at my blog but I was honored as I have your book and read it to my son.
I wish I knew what you wanted me for but alas, you have managed to carry on without my sage knowledge:)
It may have had something to do with the Bill Finger article I published from a long-ago fanzine.
I cannot wait to get started on this as it crosses many of my own "obsessions"!

G.G. said...

I am really enjoying this series, and can't wait to read about Bugs Meets the Superheroes (went to see it, but was such a horrible kid we left without any merchandise!) but I'm curious why you're not covering the Wonder Woman TV show.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Thanks G the HD! I didn't include the Wonder Woman show because I feel it's gotten plenty of coverage already (i.e. a chapter in AGE OF TV HEROES). Lynda Carter is still very well known. I was more interested in people whom we haven't heard from much, if at all. But I'm sure there are great stories there - for someone else to pursue! You? : )