The fourth of the CBS/Marvel would be the character with the longest history in Marvel, Captain America. Captain America first appeared in Timely Comics’ Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941) and was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. In 1940, writer Joe Simon came up with the idea for Captain America and made a sketch of the character in costume:
“I wrote the name ‘Super American’ at the bottom of the page. Then I decided, ‘No, it didn’t work. There were too many “Supers” around. “Captain America” had a good sound to it. There weren’t a lot of captains in comics. It was as easy as that” (2019, Captain America, Wikipedia).
The standard Cap story had The Captain and his teen sidekick, Bucky, fighting the Axis Powers and his archenemy, The Red Skull. At the beginning of World War II, Captain America became Timely Comics’ most popular character with sales of one million issues on average. Cap even had a fan-club called the “Sentinels of Liberty”. In addition to his own solo comic, Captain America was featured in titles like All Winners Comics, Marvel Mystery Comics , USA Comics and All Select Comics. As World War II ends, the superhero decline catches up with Cap, whose original run ended in 1949.
Despite a brief revival in the 1950s, Captain America was revived for good in Marvel Comics in The Avengers #4 (March 1964). It was explained that in the last days of World War II, Cap had fallen into the Atlantic Ocean while trying to stop an experimental drone. Due to the Super Soldier Serum in his blood, Cap spent decades frozen in a block of ice in suspended animation. Captain America was recast as a haunted hero stuck in the past while trying to adapt to modern day society. The hero found a new popularity as leader of The Avengers.
Captain America: The Serial
At the height of Cap’s initial popularity, his first live action portrayal was a Republic Pictures commissioned 15-chapter black and white serial. Budgeted at $182,623, Captain America was the most expensive Republic serial ever made. The serial was filmed between October 12 and November 24, 1943. The Captain America costume was grey, white and dark blue as these colors photographed better.
NOTE: The Captain America serial is notable as the first ever live action depiction of a Marvel superhero and the first theatrical release based on a Marvel character.
Republic was notorious for making changes in their adaptations. The changes made to the Captain America were very extreme. For example:
- His secret identity is changed from Army Private Steve Rogers to District Attorney Grant Gardner.
- There is no “Super-Soldier Serum” origin.
- His famous shield is replaced by a standard gun.
- The Nazis or The Red Skull are not part of the story in any way.
- Bucky does not appear.
- The costume also lost the wings on the head, the pirate boots became high shoes and the chainmail became normal cloth.
The general story has Captain America, who is secretly Grant Gardner, trying to stop the plans of a villain known as The Scarab. The Scarab attempts to acquire super-weapons like the “Dynamic Vibrator” and the “Electronic Firebolt” to rule the world.
NOTE: Actor Dick Purcell was cast as Captain America despite having a slightly overweight body type. Unfortunately, the strain of filming Captain America had been too much for his heart as he died a few weeks after filming was completed.
After the ratings success of The Incredible Hulk, Captain America was green-lit as two made-for-TV films in 1979. The task of bringing it to life was given to producer/director Rod Holcomb. As with all the other Marvel shows on CBS, the story bore little resemblance to Steve Rogers’ comic origins:
- Steve Rogers is not a skinny kid from Brooklyn. Instead, we got an already muscular Steve from California
- Steve in the comics always dreamed of serving his country. Steve in the TV movie has just finished his tour of duty in The Marines and felt he’s done his time.
- The title of Captain America is presented as a ‘legacy’ title that is passed from Steve’s father to him.Stan Lee’s first comic story
NOTE: Though Stan Lee is listed as a consultant on this show as well, Captain America is the only one of these CBS heroes that was NOT created by Stan. Stan Lee’s very first story in comics was a filler text story in Captain America issue #3 called “Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge”, (which also introduced the character’s use of his shield as a returning throwing weapon).
To bring this new version of Captain America to life, the producers cast actor Reb Brown as Steve Rogers/Captain America. Reb was a former USC fullback who turned to acting. Reb would be hired as a day player on many Universal Studios-produced television series, including Emergency! , Kojak, The Rockford Files , Happy Days , and Three’s Company. While Reb had the All-American looks and body type ideal for the part, his acting skills were as flat as flat can be. You can tell throughout the movie that he still needed a lot of coaching before they even rolled cameras. However, Reb Brown plays the action scenes with energy and gusto.
Steve and Steve:
If the show had went to series, it looks like it was intended to be Marvel’s version of The Six Million Dollar Man, the popular ABC TV show starring Lee Majors which basically set the standard for all live action superhero shows in the 70’s. The similarities between Cap and Colonel Steve Austin are very clear:
- Both protagonists are ex-military men named Steve (Steve Austin is a former Air Force colonel; Steve Rogers is a former Marine).
- Both receive extraordinary abilities after a near-death incident. (Steve Austin was injured after an accidental crash during a test flight; Steve Rogers was injured in an assassination attempt).
- Both characters would eventually become agents for clandestine government agencies (Steve Austin worked for the OSI ; Steve Rogers worked for the NSL).
- Both characters use a distinctive sound effect to indicate to the viewer when their powers are being used.
- The character of Dr. Simon Mills is basically a hybrid of Oscar Goldman and Dr. Rudy Wells from The Six Million Dollar Man, acting as both Steve Rogers’ handler and physician.
Steve Rogers was born in California in the late 1950s to early 1960s. Steve is a former Marine and alumnus of three military schools. Having just ended his active enlistment in the military, Steve Rogers receives a letter from a family friend named Jeff Hayden stating that he needs Steve’s help. Steve also receives several telegrams from a mysterious man named Dr. Simon Mills. While on the way to see Hayden, Steve escapes an attempt to kill him for reasons he does not know. Steve finally visits Simon Mills at a government facility called the NSL or National Security Laboratories. Mills informs Steve that he was a former assistant of Steve’s late scientist father. The reason Mills has been in constant contact with Steve is ask for his help in testing an experimental serum known as FLAG. The formula was developed by Steve’s father and has the potential to allow a person to use 100% of their physical power. Along with his assistant, Dr. Wendy Day, Mills was dedicated to the sole purpose of recreating the FLAG serum. The problem is the formula is causing cell rejection in all the test subjects. Seeing as how the serum is derived from his father’s adrenal gland, Steve is genetically the perfect candidate to take it. However, Steve refuses because he feels that he has done his obligation to the country and wants to go on a journey of self-discovery.
“I just want to get out on the road, look at the faces of America. I don’t want to report in or check out. I don’t want to look forward to weekends…I want every day to be the same. I just want to kick back and find out who I am.”-Steve Rogers
After refusing Mills, Steve goes on to see Hayden but finds him dead. Dr. Mills arrives and reveals to Steve that Hayden was working on a secret government project known as Project Zeus ( the construction of a neutron bomb). After leaving Hayden’s place, Steve is subjected to another assassination attempt while riding his motorbike. This time, however, it is almost successful as Rogers is forced off a road into a valley and gravelly injured. Mills and his team recover Steve’s body and try every possible medical method to save him. However, without life support, Steve is declared medically dead. Mills takes the opportunity to test the FLAG serum on Steve as Mills believe its regenerative properties are the only means to save him. After administering the serum, Steve flatlines. Suddenly, Steve not only revives on his own, but grabs Mills’ arm in a death grip. While recovering, Steve is visited by Mills in hopes that Steve will join his organization. Steve refuses seeing as how he was not given a choice in the administration of the serum and now doesn’t even know what his life expectancy is as a result. After another attempt on his life, Steve discovers his new superhuman powers and accepts Mills’ offer. Steve also learns that his father was more than just a scientist: The elder Rogers tested the FLAG serum on himself and became a patriotic super operative for the government called ‘Captain America’ by criminals. Mills has Steve’s personal van outfitted into a mobile base, complete it with a specially designed motorcycle. As the neutron bomb plot plays out, Mills creates a fireproof costume with a red, white and blue color motif based on an earlier sketch Steve himself did: a superhero he imagined his father would be. Mills then gives an inspirational speech to convince Steve to take on the name of Captain America from his father and become that superhero:
“They ridiculed your father, called him Captain America and ultimately killed him. BE Captain America, Steve. Shove Captain America down their throats and, at the same time, protect yourself”,
Steve’s first mission is eventually successful and he helps to avert a nuclear disaster. Steve gets a redesigned uniform and becomes the newest operative for the NSL.
The First Captain America
“Your father could do things that most people could only dream of.”- Dr. Simon Mills.
The main Captain America in this film is the 2nd Captain America. The first one is Steve’s unnamed father. Dr. Rogers was a scientist working for the US government (specifically National Security Laboratories). During this time, Dr. Rogers developed the FLAG serum from his own cells and tested it on himself. The serum was successful and gave the elder Rogers extraordinary physical abilities. Dr. Rogers then apparently became a secret operative working for the US government as a “super crime fighter”. Dr. Rogers specialized in going after mobsters, crime bosses and racketeers to look out for the little guy. Rogers’ overly patriotic attitude caused many of the criminals he encountered to nickname him ‘Captain America’ in a mocking fashion. Through unknown circumstances, Dr. Rogers was killed sometime during Steve’s youth. For Steve, the only indication of his father’s importance came in the form of a personal letter that Steve received from the President of the United States, stating that his father’s loss was a loss to the country.
It is unknown if the elder Rogers wore the uniform and carried the shield. However, the 2nd version of Cap’s uniform presented at the end of the first film is designed by Steve to ‘look like his father’ and it is more faithful to the comic book version of Cap.
The FLAG Serum
“Your father developed and perfected the ultimate steroid. He synthesized it from his own adrenal gland. He called it FLAG. That’s right. F.L.A.G. Full Latent Ability Gain”. – Dr. Simon Mills
This movie’s version of the Super Soldier Serum is presented by the name of FLAG. FLAG is an acronym that stands for Full Latent Ability Gain. The serum described as a super-steroid derived from the doctor’s own adrenal gland. FLAG operates on the theoretical notion that the average human being uses only one third of their potential at any given time. With FLAG, the recipient is altered to allow them to use one hundred percent of his or her capacity. Mills illustrates the capabilities of FLAG by using two lab mice injected with the serum:
- The first mouse is easily lifting a weight that would be the equivalent of 2500lbs for a regular sized human.
- The second mouse is running a wheel at the human equivalent of 56 miles per hour.
The problem is that FLAG was developed from Dr. Rogers’ cells. To any other person (or animal), FLAG only works for two weeks and then the subject dies from cell rejection (like the early heart transplants). The only person on whom it would work would have to be a direct blood relative of the original donor. Because of this, Steve Rogers is the only person on whom FLAG has worked on permanently.
Artist: Steve Rogers is a talented artist who can draw and paint using several methods including watercolors and figure drawing. Steve also specializes in landscapes and portraits of women and animals. When on cases as Captain America, his usual cover is that of a traveling artist.
Expert Bike Rider: Steve Rogers is very proficient in operating various types of motorcycles. Mills mentions that Steve is a champion motocross rider and the first film highlights Steve’s skills on a test course. Steve can even ride the motorbike through the corridors of a building.
Superhuman Strength: After the infusion of the FLAG serum, Steve possesses a great level of superhuman strength (second probably to The Incredible Hulk). Steve is strong enough to be able to engage a half dozen full grown men in combat and win easily. Steve is also able to lift heavy objects like his motorcycle over his head and then throw it on top of a wall. Steve is also able to turn over a forklift. Steve is even seen at one point being able to crush a safe door open and bend the bars of a jail cell. Steve can also push several large sides of beef each weighing hundreds of pounds. Steve strength goes into his legs as well giving him remarkable ability to jump several stories into the air. The second TV movie shows him jumping from the bottom to the top of a five-meter wall. He is also able to jump from the ground up to a top floor balcony in an apartment building.
Superhuman Durability: Steve Rogers became more durable to pain and the other stimuli than the average human. Though he was still able to maintain cuts and bruises, his overall constitution increased. The second TV movie shows a thug running smack dab into Steve and knocks himself out as if he ran into a brick wall. Steve also survives a fall from a Hoover Dam-sized reservoir.
Superhuman Speed: Steve could propel himself in speeds greater than the average human. The second film has the best example of this as it shows Steve being able to catch and outrun a dune buggy going over 40 miles an hour on a beach.
Enhanced Senses: The FLAG serum enhanced all of Steve’s natural five senses including sight, sound and smell. Steve’s sight allows him to see an 18-wheeler truck from miles away while flying in a helicopter. His hearing allows him to hear the background of Dr. Mills’ phone call or a radio conversation in a helicopter while being shot at. Steve can also hear a person’s heartbeat and if it’s slow or erratic.
Captain America’s Van
Dr. Simon Mills re-built the personal van in an attempt to convince Rogers to become Captain America. As Captain America, he also makes use of the specialized reconstruction of the van as a mobile base while on missions. Out the rear of the van can be launched a modified motorcycle with a rocket thrust for a fast start.
Captain America’s Motorcycle
Captain America’s motorcycle is a customized Yamaha TT 500 with many different special functions:
- Rocket Booster: The bike had special rocket propulsion to launch it from the van. The booster allowed it to perform ramp-less jumps over several places and for increased speed during chases.
- Silent Mode: This setting allows the bike to be ridden with less noise for stealthier movement.
- Hang Glider: After a ramp less jump from a high distance, this setting activated the instant construction of a hang glider structure. This allows the bike to glide to the ground with some forward momentum, although it must be jettisoned upon landing.
The bike has a round windshield, described as being made of “Jet-Age plastics”, with concentric circles that alternate between red and transparent around a centered star (blue in color). The shield has no white in it, with that part being instead transparent. The wind shield is detachable and can be used in combat. Cap is an expert in the use of his shield and used it mainly to withstand multiple bullets. One special feature of the shield is that it can be thrown with a boomerang effect. This allows the shield to hit his enemies either in the way out or in the way back. However, if the shield misses, it simply fell to his feet; he must grab it by hand or push it with his foot. This shield could not ricochet off different surfaces like the comics version.
Debut: January 19, 1979 on CBS
Steve Rogers is a former Marine now making a living as an artist and traveling the countryside in a conversion van. His father was a 1940s government agent whose patriotic attitude earned him the nickname “Captain America”. After receiving potentially fatal injuries in an attempt on his life intended to seem like an accident, he is administered an experimental chemical called the FLAG formula; FLAG is an acronym for “Full Latent Ability Gain”, a kind of “super-steroid” (Rogers’s father had developed the FLAG serum from his own glands). The formula not only saves his life, but also enhances his strength and reflexes. Rogers is inspired by his father’s story to sketch a superhero. These new abilities inspire Dr. Simon Mills, who was once a friend of Steve’s father, to recruit Steve and give him a costume based on his drawing.
- Most of the film was shot on the Universal Studios backlot on the same sets as The Incredible Hulk.
- The motorcycle scenes were filmed in Valencia where Six Flags Magic Mountain now stands.
- The love interest of the movie, Dr. Wendy Day, was played by actress Heather Mendiez who was also one of the Von Trapp children in The Sound Of Music along with CBS’s Spider-Man, Nicholas Hammond.
Captain America II: Death Too Soon:
Debut: November 24, 1979 on CBS
Now a full-fledged operative, Steve Rogers is first shown springs the trap as Captain America on a gang of muggers who have been stealing Social Security checks from the elderly in Venice Beach. In the meantime, a well-known revolutionary terrorist calling himself Miguel has managed to formulate both a chemical that accelerates aging and the antidote to the same chemical, Miguel, posing as the warden of a prison in Oregon, plans to use the chemical to hold Portland hostage for a multimillion-dollar ransom. Miguel first tests the formula on a small town that Steve investigates. Ultimately, Rogers and Miguel directly clash face-to-face, and when Miguel throws a glass bottle of the aging accelerant into the air, the Captain’s shield shatters the bottle and splashes him. Miguel ages to death in less than a minute.
- The film’s villain, Miguel, is played by legendary horror actor Christopher Lee. Lee is best known for his many portrayals as the fiendish Count Dracula in the Hammer film series.
Lee and Reb Brown later starred together in the 1985 horror film The Howling II: Your Sister Is A Werewolf.
- Wendy Day was replaced in this movie with actress Connie Sellecca.
Though the Captain America TV show never came to be, Sellecca would go on two years to star in a much more successful superhero show, The Greatest American Hero.
The intention of the two Captain America movies was to eventually get a series out of the character. However, that was not meant to be. Reb Brown describes what happened in an interview on YouTube:
“Yes… And what happened is THE INCREDIBLE HULK was running at the time, and Marvel Comics, when they got down to it… they were charging twenty-five hundred dollars an episode, a licensing fee for THE HULK, okay…And then they got around to us, and CBS wanted to buy it for fifteen episodes, and they said they wanted fifty thousand dollars a licensing fee per episode… So they didn’t do it… They just took the budget away… They could not do the CAPTAIN AMERICA series, only the two made-for-TV movies, and I ended up riding my motorcycle around the living room”.
NEXT TIME: THOR, DAREDEVIL and The Conclusion.