Thursday, July 21, 2011

Super ‘70s and ‘80s: “Super Friends”—David Villaire, writer

Introduction to series “Super ‘70s and ‘80s.”

Introduction to subseries “Super Friends” (including list of interviewees).

Fun fact:

Villaire created El Dorado.

How did you get the job to write for Super Friends?

I was a theatre producer and writer in New York. When I came to Los Angeles with a few screenplays, I was able to make some money writing for Hanna-Barbera and Filmation. One was
Super Friends but I must’ve done twelve different shows. I was story editor on three, including Super Friends. Around 1981-82, I did several scripts and the next year I became story editor. I think we had an order for twelve or so scripts. I did about half and assigned Michael Reaves to do others. He was a pretty solid writer. When I was story editor, I also created a new character named El Dorado. They were getting a growing Latino audience and there was no Latino Super Friend.

What was the genesis of El Dorado?

One of the producers said we’re thinking about adding a Latino character—can you come up with ideas? I said sure. I thought of the name right away. I put together his super powers. I threw some premises together. They bought the whole thing.

What do you think about the affirmative action label some people have given those created-for-TV Super Friends?

I thought a lot about that. That’s why I created a character that went deep into the history of Spain and Mexico, the mythology of the past. He wasn’t the stereotypical Mexican. It was kind of the combination of a lot of Spanish cultures. I remember giving this character a lot of power and he was admired by the others. I’d already written a screenplay on the Incas. That was never produced [at least in part due to the expense of period pieces], but it served its purpose and I got a very good agent through it.

Do you get royalties on El Dorado?

You sign off on any rights. You get paid per script and you get a salary if you’re a story editor. I must’ve written over 50 stories and they were all produced and I have no right to any of them.

How familiar with the DC characters were you before you got the job?

I had at least 100 comics growing up and many were Superman but I’d have to admit that I wasn’t a real comic book enthusiast. Neither was I someone who could draw. I had quite a bit of experience as a writer in theatre in New York, translating original plays from Germany and France. I have a PhD in romance languages from the University of Michigan.

Did you come up with the stories on your own or did producers guide you in any way (i.e. “we want a story with dinosaurs,” etc.)?

You had a general idea what the series was like and what the characters could do. You’d come up with maybe 10-15 one-page premises and they’d pick maybe three or none or whatever. They wanted a premise before any outline. Premise to outline to script.

What, besides the obvious given that it was aimed at children, was off-limits for a script?

They had to deal with standards and practices. You weren’t able to have any violence, any hand-to-hand. You couldn’t have anyone hitting anyone else. Couldn’t have real guns. You had to use lasers.

How was it for someone with a substantial writing background like you to write for series with little room for characterization?

It was fun. I certainly didn’t look down at it at all. I had the kids in mind. This was about slapstick, tricks, hide and seek. [references a Sonic the Hedgehog review online that said that particular show was the only time the viewer saw a cartoon character that had real feelings]

How long did it take you to write one episode?

There were 15-minute, half-hour, and hour episodes. I was probably writing two 15-minute ones a week and editing maybe four or five.

How did writing SF compare to writing other animated series? (Related: what has been your favorite series to write for?)

Super Friends
was a lot more fun in many ways because you knew the characters.

Were there any characters you found more fun to write than others?

I’m into comedy. I really liked it when Superman had to deal with Mxyzptlk. I had one called “Super-Wimp” and he lost all his power and he’s just a real sissy. (laughs) Super Friends was one of my favorites.

Where did you write—at home, on site at Hanna-Barbera, or a combination?

When I was story editing I had an office at H-B. Other times I wrote at home.

How much interaction, if any, did you have with the voice actors? Were you there when they recorded?

Yes I was. At times I went into the recordings. Sometimes the person running the taping of the scripts wanted to consult with me. [But] I can’t remember going in for any Super Friends. I always thought Bill Woodson was very good, very funny the way he pumped it up.

The debut of El Dorado.

[I mentioned another Super Friends writer, Jeffrey Scott]

He was amazing. He wrote so fast and probably did 2-3 day. He was known as the fastest writer in the west. I may be exaggerating but he was very good and did what the networks wanted.

Do you have any other SF photos or memorabilia from the era (i.e. cards signed by cast members, candid photos, etc.)?

I never brought a camera in. I can’t remember any writer coming in with a camera. If I went into a meeting and started taking pictures, they’d kick my ass.

Has anyone else interviewed you about SF?


How aware are you of the influence that SF had on the current generation of comic book writers?

I would I know very little about that. You were probably watching my stuff as a kid.


A lot of my nieces and nephews watched it. I never even taped [any shows].

Do you have children?


What are you doing these days?

My last animation script was about 1994, a Sonic the Hedgehog. I went from writing to getting a master’s in clinical psychology. I’m a licensed psychotherapist, semi-retired. I worked with Jewish Family Service, an agency in LA, for 11 years. I worked mostly with seniors. Most of the writing I’ve been doing over the last 12 years was analytical and critical stuff dealing with psychology. I have a private practice but I have it on hold for the time being. I’ll get back into it in 2011. I’ll probably go to France to do some writing, photography, and sketching.

Next: Duane Poole (writer).


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the Super Friends interviews Marc. Very interesting read.

Captain Blog said...

Nice to see some great people interviewed who have been in the dark waaaay too long.

Valerie Parks said...

Fun to read and learn about David. xo