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Captain Marvel Shazam live action 1970s series - Michael Gray as Billy Batson

Captain Marvel

(1970s Saturday Morning Show Version)


Power Level:
Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game

Context

This profile is about the 1974-1977 live action Shazam! TV show, based on DC Comics’ Captain Marvel (Billy Batson). During most of its run it was packaged as the Shazam!/Isis hour, paired with another ½ hour show about Isis.

This children’s show was my introduction to the whole Billy Batson/Captain Marvel concept. True it came across like an Afterschool Special with Captain Marvel doing things that any good truant officer could do. But it was still somehow fun.

If you were looking for another Captain Marvel, see our guide to Captain Marvels.


Background

  • Real Name: William Batson
  • Other Aliases: Billy Batson, Captain Marvel, the Mightiest of Mortal Beings
  • Marital Status: Single
  • Known Relatives: None (it is unclear if Mentor is legally a guardian though he was clearly appointed Billy’s guide by the Elders)
  • Group Affiliation: None
  • Base Of Operations: the Highways and byways of the land
  • Height: 5’8” (estimated), Weight: 150 lbs. (estimated), Hair: Black, Eyes: Brown (as Billy Batson)
  • Height: 6’2” (estimated), Weight: 190 lbs. (estimated), Hair: Black, Eyes: Brown (as Captain Marvel)


Video

The intro sequence in 720p.


Powers & Abilities

Billy Batson is an intelligent and brave young man. His precise age is uncertain but he is probably at least eighteen in this show. He has no powers in his normal human form.

He has been “Chosen from among all others by the Immortal Elders: Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, Mercury…” for his good and caring qualities and granted Wisdom, Strength, Stamina, Power, Courage and Speed apparently equivalent to the abilities possessed by these beings or at least a fraction of the abilities the Elders possess.

Jackson Bostwick as Captain Marvel

He gains these abilities by speaking the magic word “Shazam” and transforming into a different form. The show never explains that the word is an anagram of the first letters of the names of each elder nor that, in spite of the Elders being ancient Greeks and one Israelite, the anagram works only in English or similar languages.

He transforms back to his normal human form by again speaking the magic word.


History

In the first episode, we see that a teenage Billy Batson is on vacation from his job as a newscaster of some sort. He is traveling with an elderly man known only as his “Mentor”.

The precise background of how Billy became Captain Marvel can only be guessed at. Mentor may be an equivalent to Shazam, the Wizard. Or maybe he’s an equivalent to the robed and hooded assistant who, in the original comics, led the orphaned Billy into the subway car and to his meeting that led to becoming Cap. It is never explained.

We only know that Billy, directly or through Mentor, was contacted by the six “Immortal Elders”, Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury and was given the power to become Cap by speaking the word, “Shazam”.

Billy Batson (Michael Gray) and Mentor (Les Tremayne)

Billy is able to contact the Elders and they are able to let him know they want to contact him by use of a strange device with flashing lights like a Christmas tree. When he speaks the phrase, “Oh Elders, fleet and strong and wise, appear before my seeking eyes”, they appear.

Whether he is physically transported to them at the Rock of Eternity (though that name is never mentioned, they do seem to be standing on a rocky surface) or sees an image of them in his mind or through this communications device is not clear because it sometimes seems one and sometimes the others.

It is all guesswork. Other than a narration at the beginning of the episodes, there is no specific origin story ever told.

Format

The premise is the same each week. Apparently on a very long vacation or a new mission, Billy and Mentor travel about the nation in a van. They find people in trouble, especially children and teenagers. Billy tries to help but eventually has to become Captain Marvel to resolve the situation.

There is always some moral to the episode. While the morals seem obvious and even trite, equivalent to “Just say ‘No’”, I’m going to present this seriously even if I can’t help but secretly smile.

It would be easy to spend the whole “History” making fun of this but, for all its silliness and simplistic approach, I did find it fun.

Shazam !

In his first adventure, Billy helps a boy realize that stealing is wrong and, more importantly, that he should not give in to peer pressure. He then goes on to a situation where he has to reveal his secret identity to save a life.

Yet, it is a blind boy who he reveals it to and it seems very forced as he could easily have become Cap without the boy knowing. It seemed more about Billy learning to trust someone. He later went up against drug pushers.

Okay it was one drug pusher who seemed to have no organization but himself and a hired kid but still. He went on from there to help a number of young people learn valuable lessons about life.

Captain Marvel (Jackson Bostwick), flying

A two-parter that seemed slightly above the rest involved Billy helping a boy realize that physical aggression is not a good solution to problems, “a lesson some people never learn”.

However, even when dealing with rival street gangs, we never see a gun, a knife or any sort of weapon. Fights amounts to grabbing and grappling, not punching or striking in any way. Much of this had to do with the restrictions the networks were putting on children’s shows at the time due to the pressure groups (nowadays called Special Interest groups).

As was mentioned by Sean MacDonald in his writeup on Isis, it is amazing how normal people nonchalantly react to a real, live superhero landing in front of them and chatting with them. They react as if it were just another passerby or as if this happened every day.

At least with Isis, she was based in a relatively small city and maybe she showed up at the P.T.A. meetings as Andrea Thomas one month and Isis the next. But, with Captain Marvel, whose adventures took place while “traveling the highways and bi-ways of the land” (mostly the land of Southern California), people react as if talking to Captain Marvel was about the same as a teenage boy walking up and talking to them.

I picture them kicking themselves later for not even asking for his autograph and wondering what came over them. Maybe this was intended as a message to kids that you shouldn’t go crazy over celebrities.

New Captain at the helm

The biggest change in the show occurred when an unfortunate misunderstanding caused Jackson Bostwick to be replaced in the role of Captain Marvel by John Davey. As silly as the show was, that was still hard to take as Bostwick had become my live action image of Captain Marvel.

Then again, maybe it’s a case of your favorite actor in a role being whichever one you saw first. Upon reading some background, I like both actors.

Billy Batson faces the Greek gods in the 1974 TV series

Davey was in the role when Captain Marvel finally did his first crossover with Isis which was aired after Shazam! became The Shazam!/Isis Hour. The first crossover took place on Shazam!.

There was a huge forest fire and Cap simply did not have powers that could stop it. So the Elders gave Mentor the information about who Isis really was so he could contact her. She showed up and easily stopped the fire with rain using her weather control powers.

This resulted in Mentor knowing both of their secret identities while they did not yet know each other’s identities. In later episodes, they learned one another’s identities.


Description

Billy Batson is a young man wearing sneakers, bluejeans and a red pullover shirt with yellow trim. He has long hair in the 1970s style.

As Captain Marvel he has shorter hair but with sideburns. He wears the standard Captain Marvel costume with a lightning bolt insignia on the chest. He and Mentor drive around in a white van that has a yellow lightning bolt on a red background to cleverly disguise his identity.


Personality

Billy Batson is a well-meaning young man who represents a pre-1970s and possibly pre-1960s culture.

Although he loves Rock music, he feels compelled to save people from all of the standard pitfalls and peer pressures of growing up in a changing culture. But he likes to joke around and has an ongoing friendly disagreement with Mentor over what sorts of music are good.

He is essentially the same person as Cap but puts on a slightly more adult personality – or maybe it just feels that way because the form is that of an adult.


Quotes

Mentor: “What are you so cheerful about this early in the morning ?”
Billy Batson: “Well, for one thing, I don’t have to worry about delivering the morning newscast as long as we’re on vacation and, for another, it’s just a far out day.”

Billy: “Oh Elders, fleet and strong and wise, appear before my seeking eyes.”

Billy: “Holey Moley. They better be stopped before someone’s hurt.”

Captain Marvel: “I hope you kids have learned a valuable lesson today.”


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Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG Print Friendly

Tell me more about the game stats

Billy Batson

Dex: 03 Str: 02 Bod: 02 Motivation: Responsibility of Power
Int: 05 Wil: 04 Min: 04 Occupation: Newscaster
Inf: 04 Aur: 04 Spi: 05 Resources: 004
Init: 012 HP: 010

Powers:
Detect (Lies)*: 04

Skills:
Charisma (Persuasion)*: 04, Detective (Clue Analysis): 01, Medicine (First Aid): 02

Advantages
Buddy (Mentor), Insta-Change

Connections:
Isis/ Andrea Thomas (Low), the Immortal Elders (High)

Drawbacks:
Alter Ego (Controllable), Secret Identity


Captain Marvel

Dex: 07 Str: 07 Bod: 10 Motivation: Responsibility of Power
Int: 05 Wil: 04 Min: 04 Occupation: Super Hero
Inf: 07 Aur: 04 Spi: 05 Resources: 004
Init: 021 HP: 020

Powers:
Comprehend Languages: 08, Detect (Lies)*: 05, Digging: 06, Extended Hearing*: 05, Flight: 10, Invulnerability: 10, Recall: 05, Sealed Systems*: 10, Superspeed: 05, Telescopic Vision*: 05

Skills:
Charisma (Persuasion)*: 07, Detective (Clue Analysis): 01, Medicine (First Aid): 02

Advantages
Buddy (Mentor), Insta-Change, Lightning Reflexes

Connections:
Isis/ Andrea Thomas (Low), the Immortal Elders (High)

Drawbacks:
Alter Ego (Controllable), Secret Identity


Design notes

I was not sure about the Charisma skill. It was really just the genre but Billy managed to persuade some pretty tough and cynical characters to come around and see the error of their ways very quickly at times.

His low connection to Isis is because he did not meet her until well toward the end of his series and they only knew one another’s true identities at the very end.

Comprehend Languages and Recall were a means of reflecting the fact that he has the Wisdom of Solomon. He did not officially have Extended Hearing and Telescopic Vision but there were too many episodes where he looked to be a mile up in the air and yet heard things and saw things on the ground that he could not possibly have detected with normal human senses.

I thought about making up the van as a headquarters and also making up the device he uses to contact the Elders but as the van is just an ordinary vehicle and the device serves no purpose except to hear homespun philosophy from the Elders and to tell him things he’s going to find out in five minutes anyway, I let it go.

Cap’s durability is hard to estimate because the show took place in an era when violence was almost non-existent on children’s shows. But he has enough feats of punching through solid rock and other feats to give a general idea.


By Doug Mertaugh

Source of Character: The Shazam television series that ran for 28 episodes over two seasons (1974-76) and was also referred to in the second season as The Shazam/Isis Hour.

Writeup completed on the 28th of March, 2014.

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