Pop Focus: Shazam in the 1970s

An entire generation calls the original Captain Marvel "Shazam" as a result of this show. That's because, when 1974 rolled around, people hadn't seen the Big Red Cheese (another of his nicknames) in years.

DC Comics, which didn't like the fact Cap was outselling Superman in the 1940s filed a lawsuit that essentially killed off the character in the 1950s. Fawcett Comics stopped publishing Captain Marvel comics, and the character was forgotten.

But, in the 1970s, DC got rights to their former nemesis and wanted to make hay. The result was this half-hour Saturday morning show and a new series of Captain Marvel comics, many of them illustrated by his original artist, the great C.C. Beck.

So, suddenly, Captain Marvel was back. Though most kids in the 1970s just called him "Shazam." That was the name of the TV show, after all.

Viewers never saw the real Shazam, the old wizard who gave Billy his powers. But they did learn that Shazam was also an acronym, standing for a list of mythical characters and their attributes:

  • Solomon (wisdom)
  • Hercules (strength)
  • Atlas (stamina)
  • Zeus (power)
  • Achilles (courage)
  • Mercury (speed)
But apart from the magic word, some super strength and a lot of flying around, "Shazam" as a pretty grounded show. Billy and his mentor, an older gentleman conveniently named Mentor, criss-crossed the country in a Winnebago, helping ordinary people in need. There were no super-villains to speak of.

Along the line, two different actors played the Captain: Jackson Bostwick and John Davey, while Billy was played by Michael Gray, and radio/film/TV veteran Les Tremayne starred as was Mentor.

The program is remembered fondly by a generation of kids who watched the show, paired with the also pretty neat "Isis," in the 1970s, and who spent hours shouting "Shazam!" to see if anything happened. 

And it helped revive the original Captain as a regular character for DC. For the most part, the modern comics have missed the whimsy and fun that made the 1940s series so much fun, but every now and then they get it. And it's resulted in a lot of reprints of those old adventures, which are well worth a read.

Here then, is a look back at Shazamania in the 70s: