We all know the story of Captain Marvel. Created to be a Superman clone in the comic books, young Billy Batson has only to say the magic word "shazam" and he transforms into the superhero. A perfect fantasy for any young boy. Pretty soon, the Batson family became part of the mythos, starting with Mary Marvel. And then the Captain and Billy went on hiatus due to an infringement suit from Superman's posse. Later, he would appear in many incarnations, including a stint with Marvel comics and a graphic novel reboot by Jeff Smith.
I never caught any serials at the movie houses -- they were passe by the time I came around -- but they were resurrected and played and replayed on television. My favorite was Gene Autry's The Phantom Empire. My local stations never played The Adventures of Captain Marvel, or if they did, I missed it. Too bad. It would have been something I would have loved.
The twelve-episode serial stared Tom Tyler as Captain Marvel. Tyler was a fairly popular star in the silents, mainly westerns. He had a number of small roles in other films once the talkies came about, but again his main forte was B westerns. His best known roles were probably as Frank James in I Shot Jesse James, as Kharis in The Mummy's Hand, and as the Ghost-Who-Walks in another comic-driven film The Phantom. During the early Fifties Tyler appeared in small roles on television shows -- again mainly westerns: The Range Rider, Wild Bill Hickok, Sky King, The Lone Ranger, The Cisco Kid, The Roy Rogers Show, The Gene Autry Show, Cowboy G-Men, and Steve Donovan, Western Marshal. Tyler died in 1954 at the age of 50.
Playing Billy Batson was Frank Coghlan, Jr., a child star who began his career in 1920 when he was four years old. Through the silent era and into the early talkies Coghlan appeared in over forty films as "Junior Coughlin", along with a number of uncredited roles in other films. But Coghlan's heyday was in his youth; his later career consisted of bit parts and uncredited roles. Interestingly, IMDB lists his last work as a small role in a 1974 episode of Shazam! Coghlan passed way less than two years ago at age 93.
The link below will bring you to all twelve episode of The Adventures of Captain Marvel. So grab some popcorn, sit back, relax, and become a kid again.
For more Overlooked Film, check out the blog of our organizer Todd Mason, Sweet Freedom.