14 August 2011

Weekly Robin Super Friends Special

Over at Noblemania, Marc Tyler Nobleman has started to share a long series of interviews with people involved in the Super Friends (spellings vary) Saturday morning cartoons of the 1970s and early 1980s. Here’s the introduction.

I remember watching Challenge of the Super Friends with my brother, but it didn’t make a big impression on me. I saw a few episodes last summer with Godson and family, and realized why. It’s not a good show. The characterizations are flat, the action repetitive. Still, my brother and I watched it every Saturday, and so did the kids last summer.

The interviews help to explain. The writers had to work within rules that strictly limited action. Not just no hitting because of network content guidelines, but no more than one movement per shot—more would break the budget. The scripts showed practically no conflict within the Super Friends, and no glimpses of the heroes’ unmasked lives, leaving no interpersonal drama. It’s pretty impressive they were able to come up with stories at all.

Of all the voice actors cast in Super Friends, the one who became most famous was Casey Kasem, later host of a nationwide Top 40 countdown. He, of course, played Robin. The photo at top shows Kasem at a table read; it comes from Sydney Croskery, daughter of the late Danny Dark (one of the actors who voiced Superman), and was first published at Noblemania.

Kasem was a Hanna-Barbera regular, already playing Shaggy on Scooby Doo—quite a different personality. All the other voice actors interviewed so far remember him as a fun, friendly colleague.

How did Kasem get the job of Boy Wonder? Born in 1932, he was no longer young. Indeed, one of Marc’s recent interviewees, Mark L. Taylor, stated, “I remember always thinking how funny it was that Casey Kasem (Robin) was just as old or older than Adam West (Batman [or one of them]).”

So what made Hanna-Barbera look at their regular troupe and say, “Casey’s our Robin!”

My theory? The sweater vest.
These Super Friends postings are in turn a mere subset of Marc’s stock of upcoming interviews with people involved in other adaptations of DC comic books in popular entertainment [and I use that term loosely] of that decade. For example, Marc’s logged forty-four conversations with people involved in a superhero water-ski show at Sea World.

Marc Tyler Nobleman is the author of Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman and a book on comics scripter Bill Finger scheduled for publication in 2012.


Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Yes, e-interviewing 44 Sea Worlders was getting carried away...but once I started finding them, the stories were so fascinating I couldn't stop. Thanks for this sharply written (as usual) coverage, John!

J. L. Bell said...

What I've enjoyed most about the interviews so far is their behind-the-scenes details of how those cartoons were actually made. Fanboy-style questions about storylines are next to impossible since no one seems to remember much about the stories or characterizations, and they don't seem to have cared a whole lot then, but everyone remembers what it was like to work for Hanna-Barbera.

Similarly, while I'm not convinced yet that a superhero-themed water show is "popular entertainment," I'm highly intrigued by the prospect of learning what it's like to put on a costumed water show. Sound like it could be a great setting for a coming-of-age novel: the hothouse atmosphere of summer camp, the pressure of putting on a show, plus the thematic overlay of iconic characters. Looking forward to more!

Anonymous said...

It's perhaps worth noting that the "Super Powers: Galactic Guardians" cartoon was the first non-comics media to actually depict the deaths of Bruce Wayne's parents, via some pretty nightmarish imagery,

J. L. Bell said...

The Super Powers: Galactic Guardians season was the last variation of Hanna-Barbera’s Super Friends, I believe. It ran in 1985-86, in Ronald Reagan’s second term. By that time a lot of the content guidelines that restricted the original show’s violence and demanded educational content in the 1970s had been wiped off the books.

(In addition, by that time I was in college, and no longer getting up early on Saturday mornings to watch TV with my brother.)

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Yes, it is a stretch to equate the impact of SUPER FRIENDS (a nationally broadcast, long-running, mass merchandised cartoon) with the Sea World water skiing superheroes show (a regional, three-year, comparatively obscure show).

However, as you will see, superhero fans DO fondly remember it whether or not they saw it - and in either case, they tend to mythologize it due to its oddity.

You have astutely predicted what I feel will be a big part of the appeal of the SW oral history, though I myself did not predict this: the coming-of-age during a quintessential summer job aspect. It's the longest of my 10 subseries even though it is the one whose participants are the least famous. It stands alone as an engaging narrative, in which characters do come alive and there are alternating scenes of humor, actual danger (stunts gone wrong, elephants gone loose), and pathos.