Journey back to Yesteryear and the evolution of superheroes of the small screen. From Automan to Man From Atlantis to Xena Warrior Princess, these are the tales of shows you loved as a kid or didn’t even know existed…Please Stand By!
The Invisible Man
13 Episodes 1975-76 NBC
Created by Harve Bennett
Starring David McCallum, Melinda Fee, Craig Stevens
There have been four shows about invisible men on television over the years. The first, a British series called The Invisible Man, aired in the states in 1958. The second series bearing the title The Invisible Man is this series starring David McCallum, well known for his series Man From U.N.C.L.E. from the 60’s, as Dr. Daniel Westin, a scientist working for the Klae Corporation. Dr. Westin, aided by his wife, was attempting to invent a teleportation device only to meet with a series of failures. One of those failures, however, turned out to be successful in rendering objects invisible for short amounts of time. To prove a human can survive the process and to test a serum to restore visibility, Daniel decides to use himself as a test subject. When he reveals everything to his boss, Walter Carlson (played by Jackie Cooper in the pilot), Carlson immediately sees military applications.
Not wanting his work to be used for war, Westin decides to break into his lab and delete his research. In order to escape, Dr. Westin makes himself invisible for a second time then triggers an overload and destroys the machine. When his visibility returns it’s only for a few moments then he turns invisible again. He tries using the serum but it doesn’t work. Daniel is now permanently invisible. He seeks help from a plastic surgeon friend (Henry Darrow) to create a face mask and pair of hands with a material called dermaplex. The lack of stability in the invisibility process makes it useless to the military and Dr. Westin convinces the Klae Corporation to rehire him in a research capacity while he seeks a permanent cure for his invisibility. He is code named The Klae Resource.
The television series that followed the pilot took a lighter tone, putting off Westin’s tragic predicament in favor of more invisibility sight gags. Also, the role of Walter Carlson was recast with Craig Stevens playing a more compassionate character. Westin’s plastic surgeon friend made only one more appearance (a shot of Daniel’s closet reveals several sets of masks).
The Invisible Man only fought crooks and industrial saboteurs. Most of the science fiction aspects focused on the invisibility. After 13 episodes NBC canceled the show before Dr. Westin ever found a cure.
Blue screen was the color of the day. A TV Guide article entitled “Am I Blue” examined the expensive blue screen effects used on the series. Modern film and television now use a green screen process.
McCallum was also well known for another British sci-fi series called Sapphire and Steele. He has appeared on NCIS since 2003 as Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard, the team’s chief medical examiner and one of the show’s most popular characters. Craig Stevens, who came from a huge movie/tv career, died in 2000 at age 81. Episodes of the show can be found on YouTube.
Man From Atlantis
4 TV Movies and 13 episodes 1977-78 NBC
Created by Mayo Simon and Herbert F Solow
Starring Patrick Duffy, Belinda J Montgomery, Alan Fudge, Victor Buono
In 1977 the Man From Atlantis was not Arthur Curry the Aquaman nor Prince Namor The Sub-Mariner. An amnesiac man is found on the beach and nursed back to health by Dr. Elizabeth Merrill. He has webbed hands and feet, a strange light sensitivity in his eyes and he can breathe underwater, swimming at fantastic speeds in a fashion much like dolphins. He has superhuman strength and can withstand the enormous pressure of the depths. He also possessed a sonar ability. He did have one weakness, though…if he was out of the water for too long a time or exposed to high temperatures he would become gradually weaker and could die. Given the name “Mark Harris” and played by Patrick Duffy who went on to great fame on the TV series Dallas, he went to work with Dr. Merrill at the Foundation For Oceanic Research. Together with Alan Fudge as C.W. Crawford jr they roamed the vast oceans aboard the super sub, Cetacean.
Man From Atlantis held closer to its science fiction roots than other shows of the time. In the pilot, as a gesture of gratitude for saving him, Mark Harris agrees to help the United States Navy locate a missing submarine. Mark discovers a large habitat erected under the sea by mad genius and Renaissance man, Mr. Schubert who had kidnapped scientists and was mind controlling them. Schubert was always either trying to control the world or bring about its end.
Mr. Schubert, played by Oscar-nominated Victor Buono from “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane” (see the story in Ryan Murphy’s “Feud: Bette and Joan”) was an absolute delight and the most fun part of the show. When he learned of Mark’s existence he had to add him to his treasures. “I got me a water-breathing man!” he exclaimed. Mark destroyed Schubert’s underwater castle and Schubert was last seen about to drown. But like all great villains, Schubert escaped a watery demise to turn up again and again to plague the Man From Atlantis.
At the end of the pilot, Mark is about to return to the sea but changes his mind, telling Dr. Merrill “I have not yet learned enough”. Three more episodes of Man From Atlantis aired in early 1977 before a full series began in the fall. The show failed to garner much of an adult audience and star Patrick Duffy was rumored to be “difficult” to work with. The series was canceled after 13 episodes. During the series run, Mark Harris fought aliens and giants and killer spores and an Imp. And, of course, Mr. Schubert. Victor Buono, sadly, died at a young age of 43 of a heart attack January 1, 1982.
In the twelfth episode of Man From Atlantis, Belinda J Montgomery was replaced as the female lead of the show by Lisa Blake Richards who did not appear in the 13th and final episode.
In 1978 Marvel Comics published 7 issues of a Man From Atlantis comic book and there were also paperback books of the series.
Unsold Television Pilots
TV Movie 1974 ABC
Directed By Vincent McEveety
Starring Cathy Lee Crosby, Ricardo Montalban
Wonder Woman was a 1974 TV movie starring Cathy Lee Crosby and loosely based on the comic book. Wonder Woman did not wear her comic book uniform, did not display any superhuman powers and was blonde. She was paired with government agent Steve Trevor (Kaz Garas) and fought villain Abner Smith who was played by Ricardo Montalban. She also battled a rogue Amazon named Angela in the only real action scene in the movie. The ratings were respectable but not high enough to warrant the series they wanted. Wonder Woman was down but not out and would return in 1977. More on the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman next time in the conclusion of our look at 70’s TV Super Heroes.
The Questor Tapes
TV Movie 1974 NBC
Created By Gene Roddenberry
Starring Robert Foxworth, Mike Ferrell, Majel Barret, Lew Ayres
The Questor Tapes was Gene Roddenberry’s best story since Star Trek and has amassed a huge following. It begins at a university where a man named Vaslovich, who has gone missing, has created Project: Questor, the attempt to create an artificial human (an android). Fearing that Vaslovich may have had ulterior plans for the android, the university attempts to decode the Questor Tapes but winds up erasing part of them. Later, the android comes to “life” and sets about finishing his exterior look.
He then kidnaps Vaslovich’s assistant, Jerry Robinson (played by Mike Ferrell) and the two go off in search of Questor’s missing creator. Questor needs Jerry to help him navigate the outside world because the portion of his tapes that were erased contained Questor’s emotions. If Questor doesn’t find Vaslovich in a certain amount of time, his interior nuclear furnace will explode.
Once they find Vaslovich (Lew Ayres), who is an android himself, Questor learns he is the last in a line of caretakers whose purpose is to help guide mankind through its “infancy” stage. NBC was gung-ho on making The Questor Tapes a series but it was on the condition that Roddenberry drop the human companion (Ferrell). Fearing the series would be nothing more than an Android version of The Fugitive, Roddenberry passed. He never forgot about Questor, though, and incorporated elements of the character into Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Robert Foxworth’s performance as Questor is brilliant and gave the android a unique, surreal element of life-likeness.
TV Movie 1977
Directed By Richard Irving
Starring David Ackroyd, Jose Ferrer
Exo-Man starred David Ackroyd as Dr. Nicholas Conrad who witnesses a Mafia killing. After the mob sends a hit man after him he is left paralyzed. He builds an armored exoskeleton and goes smashing through walls and chasing bad guys who never have the sense to run away from this slow-moving, clunky hero. Quite laughable, even during its time.
The Clone Master
TV Movie 1978
Directed By Don Medford
Starring Art Hindle, Robyn Douglas
To test his theories on cloning, a scientist clones himself but faces unforeseen difficulties.
NEXT TIME: Marvel and DC finally burst upon TV screen, as we wrap up the 70s!
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