Friday, May 15, 2015

Super ‘70s and ‘80s: “Legends of the Superheroes”—Howard Murphy (Green Lantern)

In 2011, I posted the first-ever interviews with the men who portrayed the Flash (easy to find), Hawkman (hard to find), and Captain Marvel (batpoop-crazy hard to find) in the 1979 live-action, two-episode TV special Legends of the Superheroes.

In that same series, I asked the citizens of the Internet to help me find the people who played Green Lantern and Black Canary. Sources suggest that BC may be off the radar for good—by design, not by death—but I have bright news about GL: I found him. Rather, he found me. (If only I had known his name is not really Howard Murphy...)

“In brightest day, in blackest night, no actor shall escape my sight!”

So, unexpectedly, four years later, here is his interview…

How old were you when you appeared in LOTS?

I was 29.

What was your background before appearing in LOTS?

I had a bachelor’s and was going for my master’s in theater at University of Southern California.

How did you hear about the audition?

It was all over town—Variety, Hollywood Reporter.

Hollywood Reporter 8/8/78

What was the audition like?

The audition was held at Hanna-Barbera, in their parking lot. It was a cattle call. Back then cattle calls were a waste of time. So I passed on it. Finally my new manager called and said she set up a private audition for me with them. I didn’t realize at the time that my best friend’s sister was the assistant casting director.

So I went in and read and it was very interesting how they had us read. The sides [pieces of paper with dialogue on them] I was given to read were from The Carol Burnett Show. But it was helpful to me because I knew what they were looking for—very over the top. They called me back and said I got the role. I said “What role?” They said they’d let me know—they just wanted to see how we handled comedy. This was very early on in my career. Then they said “You’re going to be the Green Lantern.”

What was your reaction?

I went to comic book stores and bought every Green Lantern comic I could find. I’d read them as a child but didn’t remember. When we did the shoots, I was actually mimicking the comic book pages. When he shoots the ring, I’d arch my back and aim forwards.

How did you feel dressing like a superhero?

It was fun. It was like an adult going out on Halloween.

Were you already a fan of Green Lantern?

I always liked the Green Lantern but I was a fan of all of them. I had a comic book collection that filled two drawers in my bedroom. I wish I had them now. When I went to college, my mother threw them in the trash.

What was the filming like?

The thing was shot in about two weeks. It was intense. [But overall] it was a very easy shoot, a wonderful experience for everyone. Oh boy, did we have girls [meaning attractive actresses, not groupies] on that show! (laughs)

We had a meeting beforehand where [producer Bill] Carruthers and [producer Chris] Darling called us all in so the guys playing the heroes could meet the standup comics playing the villains. It was fun. We all got along. Sometimes you get egos—not so on this show. This show was a dream.

The costumes were very uncomfortable—not so much the leotards but the dance belts (worn so we didn’t show any sexuality, like putting a flattener on a woman—which they didn’t do in this thing). Under the masks none of the guys had to do makeup.

Any funny stories from the shoot?

We used the Batcave from [the ‘60s TV show] Batman, which was in Griffith Park. One night I was coming home late from Palm Springs and realized I couldn’t go home because I wouldn’t make it back [to the shoot on time] the next day. I think they wanted us there at six in the morning. So I just parked my car outside the area where the cave was and slept in my car so I would make it to the shoot the next morning. I called the production company and said “Go look for my car. I’m in the back seat.” And they did.

[The Green Lantern oath starts] “brightest day, blackest night.” [But the script had it as] “darkest night” and no one caught it. I said it only because the script said it and later realized it was wrong. [Only one] person on the Internet caught that.

We were all miked on stage during “The Challenge.” (If you look closely at the footage, you’ll see the battery pack over the top of my butt.) [Riddler Frank] Gorshin was back behind the drop with Giganta [A’leshia Brevard] and all of a sudden, someone put this over the loudspeaker. You hear Gorshin saying to her, “You’re a big girl. I like big girls.” This happened very fast before they caught it and switched it off. (laughs)

Did any onlookers call out to/interact with you in costume while shooting on location?

Not when we were on location. But “The Roast” did have a small live audience.

So that was filmed like a play, with no retakes?

I don’t recall any retakes. We just had to sit there and laugh. Not much of it was rehearsed. We just did it naturally. I think one of the reasons they hired all of us was we just did it. I think the only time we rehearsed was with Charlie Callas when he was Sinestro in drag [in the first of the two shows].

Were any of your stunts hard?

Most of the hard stuff we created for ourselves. In one scene, they said I was going to be in a rowboat on the water. I said that’s boring and suggested I stand [in the boat] like George Washington and they said do that.

The only one who had a problem was the Flash—I think he was in a kayak and it tipped over. We had no backup costume. But they got the shot.

What did you think of the storylines of the shows?

It was very corny. I think that’s probably why it still has a charm to it. We finished doing the shoot and it aired on NBC. I watched it. I called my manager and said “This thing really stinks.” I said I’ll never work again. That wasn’t the case but my manager changed my name from Howard Murphy to Howard Huston. That’s probably why you had such a hard time finding me.

[Incidentally,] I started out in this business under my real name, Reese Larson. My managers were the Hurkos, Peter and Stephanie—Peter was the foremost psychic of the era, worked on the Boston Strangler case. His wife was the manager but he ran the business. He said “Reese Larson, the name is not memorable.” I thought it was! (laughs) He said he saw two Hs. He said “Howard Murphy!” I said that’s not two Hs. So we changed it to Howard Huston. Should’ve kept Howard Murphy.

They never reran it. The only people who saw it were kids.

Were you starstruck by any of your fellow performers?

Not really. The one person I really liked was Adam West. Shortly after I did LOTS, I did a film called Young Lady Chatterley II and Adam was on the shoot. I don’t know if he had anything to do with it, but the minute I walked on the set, he said “Greenie, how you doing?”

What do you remember about your fellow performers?

Charlie Callas (Sinestro) was an okay sort of guy but we were playing nemeses so there was a friction between us. After the fortune-telling scene, he took off his dress and mooned me. I didn’t know how to take that, but he was cool. Gabe Dell (Mordru) was a very nice guy. Rod Haase, we became friends for a few years afterward. I liked Garrett [Craig, Captain Marvel]—really cool. Hawkman [Bill Nuckols] was a lovely fellow. He had a very good physique. Sometimes we were all in the changing room changing into our tights and I thought “Why am I cast in this thing?” The girls were fabulous. Barbara Joyce [Huntress] didn’t talk much. Danuta [Black Canary] was cool.

I couldn’t find Danuta.

I don’t think that’s her real name.

Do you remember any other name she used?

We all referred to each other by the stage name.

Was there any romance among actors that you know of?

No. [After shooting,] we all just wanted to go home.

What did you get paid for appearing in LOTS?

Not much more than $1,000 a week. I’m sure Adam and the others got more.

Did you think the concept would get picked up as a series?

That’s what they wanted. Charlie Callas said if this is picked up, they’re going to have to pay him a salary. I didn’t think it was going to be. It was expensive to do that show at the time. It might not look it. Only one studio in town had the green screen. That’s where they did Captain Marvel flying, which I think was the most elaborate sequence of the whole thing. I think the glow around me was done later, in the lab.

What did you do professionally after the shows?

I worked on Dallas; Dynasty; Murder, She Wrote. In that period there wasn’t a major show that I wasn’t on. They tried to use you twice a year, you were passed around—like the studio system used to do. We’d audition once and they’d have you do four or five shows. I actually made good money back then. Nowadays, I feel so sorry for the kids doing it.

I didn’t think I was going to be a big movie star. I did a lot of stage. I did commercials like crazy. I was singing in a Burger King commercial that aired during LOTS! I probably made more off the commercial! You could make about $10,000 a year off a good commercial.

Was it in that post-LOTS period when you being credited as Howard Huston?

I don’t know. I’d have to look at IMDB. They don’t have all my credits. If they could merge Howard Murphy and Howard Huston, that would be nice. Most of my residuals from the period, I never got.

Have you looked into that?

It’s rather difficult to get an answer from the union. They did put out a residual for the DVD, but I didn’t get it.

When did you stop acting?

I always had a day job. My USC degree was in lighting and set design and costume design. That pays as much as being an actor. I worked on Melrose Avenue for antique stores. I have a photographic memory and could remember an entire inventory. They’d call me up when there was a robbery and ask if I remembered what was in a certain cabinet. This was all in the eighties and partially into the nineties.

[Then I became unwell.] That’s why I’m no longer in the business.

Did you stay in touch with any of the other stars after the show?

Not besides Rod. [For a while after the show,] Rod would come over to talk.

What memorabilia, if any, did you save from LOTS?

I’ve got a whole file full of stuff. I’d like you to have the script.

I’d be thrilled! Have you ever heard from writers (before me) about the shows?

No. First of all they’d have to find me.

What was your reaction when you heard I had found you and wanted to interview you?

Someone sent me one of your blogs that said you’re looking for me. But my computer wasn’t working so I couldn’t email. So for a while I said this isn’t going to work. Then I talked to my brother. He said let my wife and I try. They found you. 

Reese in June 2015

Did you know what a cult following the show has today?

I had no idea.

Where do you live now?

Los Angeles.

Do you have a family—wife, children?

All that’s left is my mother, my brother and his wife. [I believe this means he has no wife and kids, not that he did but they’ve passed away. You got that.]

If a comic book/pop culture convention paid your way, would you attend and sign autographs for fans?

That’s difficult. [Due to my health,] I’d need to hire an attendant to get me on the plane and pay for his room. It’d probably not be possible.

What if it’s in LA?

Let’s take that one step at a time. I have an open mind about it.

How do you look back at your experience on this show?

It was a highlight. I loved it.

Do you have a favorite memory about the LOTS shows?

Lots of the stuff we did, we were just left to ad-lib. I mean action—we all stuck to the script. I think the only one who didn’t always stick to the script was Adam, but that was okay because he’s very quick, very good.

Anything else you’d like to add?

At that point, at the age I was at, it was a standard shooting job. I did enjoy doing that corny comedy. You could do over-the-top double takes. I think my best double take was with Howard Morris [Dr. Sivana]. He worked with Sid Caesar for years so he was used to it.


Ciaran McNulty said...

Thank you so much for getting an interview with this guy. Comedy or not, this was the first live-action performance of a lot of these characters. That's important.
Ones I can never find out about are the guys who played the Superheroes on the red carpet in the Superman 50th Anniversary special in 1988. Have you looked into any of these?

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Fun idea, Ciaran, but I have not pursued those people... Thanks for your kind words.

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