Today, the Warner Archive Collection is releasing a 3-disc Complete Series collection of the 1970’s television series Shazam! Based on the Shazam!/Captain Marvel comic books first published by Fawcett Comics and later DC, the series follows young Billy Batson, who would say the magic word “SHAZAM!” at least once an episode to become the powerful Captain Marvel.
On Shazam! the TV series, Billy Batson was a few years older than the child of the comics. Casting an older teen (even though in reality, the actor was in his early twenties) gave the series a chance to give kids a Billy they could look up to. It also created a teen idol in actor Michael Gray, who played Billy Batson.
Gray was featured last month at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills, California for a special “Retro Action-Adventurethon” which featured cast appearances from several heroic series of TV’s past. He spoke in a very entertaining panel that was paired with a screening of a [remastered] classic Shazam! episode, “Little Boy Lost.” Before the panel, though, we were able to speak with Michael Gray about the legendary role.
KSITETV: The DVD release of Shazam! is one of the first times the show has been able to be seen in decades. What is it like to be able to see the show again, and were there any things that you didn’t remember?
MICHAEL GRAY: Let me say something first about that: Getting strangers that come up to me, who heard about it on the Internet, who heard about it though their friends… they want their kids, some of them may have grandchildren… they want them to see the show. So that, to me, is amazing, that people can see it again. And they’re upgrading it. It was on 16mm film back then
The fact they’re doing it again, it’s heartwarming. It makes me feel good. I like it. I’m not doing that any longer; it’s a part of my life in the past. But the fact that someone’s interested in it, makes me feel really great.
When Billy would meet with the Elders, how was that shot?
They did it a couple of ways. When I, as a live actor, did it, I was sitting in the motor home or somewhere, and the little half-red dome would start to blink and you’d hear the sound that means the Elders were calling me. So I’d go back in front of that thing and call them up, and then I would just look up into the sky, basically, and talk to them. Later on, they would put a sight behind me, a blue screen or a green screen, and then they would superimpose the animated elements at that point.
How far did you guys actually go to shoot? You kept in this area, didn’t you, even though Mentor and Billy were driving all around the country?
We kept in this area. We never did anything in the studio. It was all outdoors or on location. Whether it was Vasquez Rocks or down in San Pedro, or somewhere else, it was all within a couple-hour drive of Los Angeles.
Did you have a particular favorite episode or moment throughout the show?
One of my favorite episodes is the one I asked them to show tonight. It’s called “Little Boy Lost.”
To your left you can see the online-exclusive Shazam! DVD cover that looks a lot like Jerry Ordway’s artwork to us. You can purchase that cover (and the DVD collection, of course!) at WBShop.com. Our thanks to the Paley Center for making this interview happen, and to Michael Gray for speaking with us. Photo up above courtesy of the Paley Center.