Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Super ‘70s and ‘80s: “Legends of the Superheroes”—introduction

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

In back-to-back weeks in January 1979, two hourlong, primetime, live-action superhero specials called Legends of the Superheroes aired on NBC; they were called “The Challenge” and “The Roast.”

Produced by animation studio Hanna-Barbera, these shows have sometimes been described as a live-action version of Saturday morning cartoon Super Friends, which was near or at its peak of popularity at the time. Deliberately hokey to begin with, the shows were ratings failures and have dated even worse…which in part explains why they’ve become cult classics.

The character lineup included only two of the five mainstay Super Friends; rights to Superman and Wonder Woman were tied up in bigger and better ways and much-maligned Aquaman was probably not even considered.

Hollywood Reporter 8/8/78

Though Adam West and Burt Ward reprised their iconic 1960s roles as Batman and Robin and most of the villains were portrayed by established comedians of the day, I was more interested in talking to those performers whom we had not heard of before—or heard from since. Meaning just about everyone else in the cast.

The show featured the first live-action film portrayals of Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Black Canary, Huntress, and Atom and the first-ever live-action portrayals of Hawkman, Huntress, and Atom (Flash, Green Lantern, and Black Canary were in the Sea World superheroes water ski show, which began in 1976).

This unused studio shot is especially charming because the two ladies at right
are laughing and Sinestro is sticking out his tongue.

Interesting to read “comic book heroes are very much in vogue.”
We hear that a lot these days, but this article was written in 1979.
Also interesting to note that the superhero the paper chose to show was
the least well-known of the bunch. And I loved the zinger presuming
that Adam West and Burt Ward “evidently have decided to give up
their fight against typecasting.”

Though these performers were superheroes only on TV, it felt like they were now operating under real-life secret identities. The easiest to find was Rod Haase (Flash). The hardest was everyone else (including two whom I have still not found).

In the first year of searching (sandwiched between more urgent projects), I found only Rod and Bill Nuckols (Hawkman).

Rod Haase today

Photos courtesy of Rod Haase and Bill Nuckols.

On that search, this is one tactic I tried with some of the performers (using Howard Murphy [Green Lantern] as an example): I sent a blanket e-mail to the most common e-mail formats (howardmurphy, howard.murphy, howard_murphy) at the biggest domains (gmail.com, yahoo.com, hotmail.com, aol.com, and so on...even juno.com, for heck’s sake). I got some perplexed responses but none from the right people.

In January 2011, a year after I began my own personal “Challenge” to find these guys, I felt I was almost out of options. But rather than stick a fork in my Roast, I decided to place an ad in Variety, figuring even as I did it that it was more than a long shot.

Within a couple of weeks of the ad running, I’d found both Garrett Craig (Captain Marvel) and Barbara Joyce (Huntress)…but the ad had nothing to do with it. I heard from no one in response to the ad.

And with Barbara, I was too late. More on her in her own post

As with many others I tracked down for this blog series, the LOTS performers were astounded that someone would bother. None suspected that more than a handful of people would even remember the shows, and most answered my interview questions skeptical that anyone today would care about the answers. (Hence some of the responses are brief.)

The two I have failed to track down are Howard Murphy and Danuta Wesley (Black Canary). [1/12/15 update: I found Howard!]

Before we get to the interviews themselves, a bit more on two of the performers I did find.

How I found Bill Nuckols:

  • Thanks to Andy Mangelss article about this show in Back Issue #25 (12/07), I knew Bill had been a bodybuilder, so I poked around on bodybuilding forums. (Yes, for the first time.)
  • I contacted a commenter named Joe because he was clearly knowledgeable about bodybuilders of the 1970s, when Bill had been active in the scene.
  • Joe wrote back. He didn’t know where Bill was now but did pass on details from the two articles about Bill in his possession.
  • I used those details to try to get closer, but to no avail.
  • Joe then gave me names of three of Bill’s former competitors; I e-mailed the two for whom I could find e-mails.
  • The third is a Hollywood stuntman, and apparently a well-known one. SAG gave me his contact information and he most kindly shared what he remembered. The key piece of information was that Bill and his wife (whose name he remembered) had divorced and had no kids.
  • I checked California divorce records, which gave me the hinge I needed: Bill’s middle initial. (Yes, I, too, was surprised that there were more than one Bill Nuckols in the country.)
  • Searching multiple public records databases, I found who I thought was my Bill Nuckols, but there was no contact information. However, the record listed names of relatives, and I could find a phone number for some of them. The first I called turned out to be Bill’s mother.

She said “He doesn’t look the same,” but then, who would after 30 years? Through her, I was soon able to speak directly with Bill. Somewhat cautious at first, he rather cryptically said that when one has spent time in California (he left in 1983), all kinds of people might come around looking for you. Once I further explained why I had been looking for him, he opened up.

He lives a block from a comic shop and has never gone in there.

Finding Garrett Craig:

I got almost nothing out of SAG, as per their protocol, but I was able to squeeze from them
that the most recent time mail had been returned from Garrett’s last known address was in 1998. In other words, I was squeezing a dry lemon. SAG did also mention that there were “significant funds” waiting for Garrett, and since they weren’t looking for him, it made me all the more determined to find him.

Ultimately, through channels that must remain hidden, I managed to obtain that former address, which proved to be the vital link to Garrett. After finding him, I urged him to contact SAG…and he did…and was sent a check for $130.

Apparently, the West Coast has a different definition of

I had been prepared to accept no substitute for Garrett…until I learned he is a substitute. A resident sub at an elementary school, to be exact—and from what I can tell, one beloved by students and staff alike.

I have a feeling that from this point on, upon entering classrooms, he will sometimes be greeted by a collective and good-natured

Photos courtesy of Garrett Craig. As you may have noticed.

I have since had the good fortune to meet the saintly Garrett Craig in person.
I was bearing a small gift.

In late 2010, Warner Bros. released the DVD of the show. None of the performers I’ve been in touch with heard from Warner beforehand, nor are any receiving residuals.

I got permission to post all personal images; if you want to repost, please do the same and ask me first.

Special thanks to Andy Mangels.

Welcome to the first-ever oral history of Legends of the Superheroes.

Production staff interviewed:

Chris Darley, co-producer/associate director

Performers interviewed (2 parts):

Garrett Craig (Captain Marvel)
Rod Haase (Flash)
Bill Nuckols (Hawkman)

In memoriam:

Barbara Joyce (Huntress)

Performers I’m still looking for:

Howard Murphy (Green Lantern) [1/12/15 update: I found Howard!]
Danuta Wesley (Black Canary)

Danuta Wesley on The Tonight Show, 1984

Howard or Danuta or anyone who knows either of you: if you’re reading this, no matter when, please contact me at the e-mail address at top right!


R.A.M.'67 said...

I'm impressed with the tenacious detective work on what people you found, Mr. Nobleman!

I look forward to the up-coming interviews.

Anonymous said...

A quick search of people finders shows a 58 year old Danuta Helena Wesley living in Michigan, either in Manistee, Beulah or Interlochen. Try this phone, from InfoSpace:

Danuta Helena Wesley
12810 Homestead Rd
Beulah, MI 49617
(231) 882-9617

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Thank you, but I did contact her a while ago and was bummed to find that she's not the Black Canary Danuta. I know, hard to believe there is more than one with that name!

rob! said...

The amazing posts continue!

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

R.A.M. '67 - thank you! Rob! - ditto! Thus exceeds my daily quota of exclamation points.

Xav said...

I posted this on a different page also, but I'm sure the Danuta who played Black Canary later ended up on The 700 Club as Danuta Rylko Soderman. She now goes by the married name Danuta Pfeiffer. She and her husband run a wine vineyard on his family's farm in Oregon. Aleshia "Giganta" Brevard has her own website; and considering she has two autobiographies and a one-woman stage show about her life, she'd probably thrilled to talk about it more.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Xav - thanks for commenting. I've asked the vineyard Danuta (multiple times) about this and, unfortunately, she is not the same. As for Aleshia, it's precisely because she has a site, etc., that I didn't pursue her. I was interested in people we have NOT heard from since the '70s...

Xav said...

Okay, then IMDb has it wrong. Funny how two blond women with that unusual name were around around the same time. I actually found a video of Wesley on You Tube when she took over Carol Wayne's "Matinee Lady" role on The Tonight Show in one sketch with Johnny Carson. If it was made during the same period Pfeiffer was on The 700 Club, then she's close but I see now clearly not the same person.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Xav - yes, IMDB is wrong (about Howard Murphy as well, and in the same way: combining two Howards into one). I saw the same YouTube clip and I talked to almost a dozen people connected to the Carson era of THE TONIGHT SHOW hoping someone would remember something that would help me find Danuta...as you know, no luck...!

Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed reading the interviews. I was 4 when this show was released, but I loved superheroes and watched THE INCREDIBLE HULK religiously, and even caught an episode or two of SPIDER-MAN. Growing up, I thought that maybe I had dreamed about a show with all of these characters (Captain Marvel, Flash, Batman, Robin, Green Lantern, etc.), because I never heard about LOTS again... until now. Thanks for the trip down memory lane... and confirming that I'm not crazy (at least not for this reason)!

Anonymous said...

Wondering why you referred to Captain Marvel Garrett Craig as saintly.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

In my experience, he has been extremely kind. I meant nothing more than that. Why do you ask?

Anonymous said...

How much time did you spend with him?

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Extensive time over email.

Unknown said...

HI Marc Just wondering if you still have any contact emails for the following:
Bill Nuckols
Garrett Craig
Alfie Wise
Howard Murphy

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

We knew Danita back in the 70's when she was on the tonight show. She was living with Robert Ginty. Later she was living with Steve Cropper. She has a son, Seamus McCarthy-IMDB, who's father, Dennis, owned Chicago's Max tavern. The last contact we had was in 1979. Steve was playing with the Blues Broters at the Concord Pavilion. Danuta Suski was her maiden name.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Rod has her correct history, last I knew she was in New Mexico, that was maybe 15 years ago

wbhist said...

I think Ms. Wesley was only the Matinee Lady twice in the "Art Fern Tea Time Movie" sketches on The Tonight Show, both in 1982, only one of which popped up on the syndicated Carson's Comedy Classics as I saw; the screencaps of her were from that show. (Her other appearance had her wearing a different hairstyle.) They would also, I.I.N.M., have come in-between Carol Wayne's last two appearances (1981 and 1984). I think by the time Ms. Wayne drowned in 1985, Carson already snapped up Teresa Ganzel to be his Matinee Lady.