ABC's wildly successful batman show in 1966 created a Bat-mania across the US and led the other networks to develop their own superhero offerings.
Mr. Terrific, on CBS, premiered on January 9th, 1967, just like Captain Nice and followed a Gilligan-like bumbler named Stanley Beamish who, with his partner Hal Waters, ran a gas station in Washington, D.C.
Stanley was targeted by the US government's Bureau of Special Projects to test a special pill in its battle against crime. The premise is explained in Mr. Terrific's theme song (recited, not sung):
"A scientist both wise and bold, set out to cure the common cold.
Instead he found the power pill, which he said most certainly will
Turn a lamb into a lion
Like an eagle, he'll be flyin'
Solid steel will be like putty, it will work on anybody
But then 'twas found this potent pill, made the strongest men quite ill
So the secret search began, to find the one and only man
What they found made them squeamish, for only Stanley Beamish,
A weak and droopy daffodil, could take the special power pill
When he took the pill specific, it made him the most prolific, terrific, Mister Terrific!"
Stanley had a special costume- it wasn't very garish and was more like a space suit than a traditional superhero costume. Sporting a shiny, silvery jacket with wing-like sleeves and a pair of goggles, he also wore a scarf which often obstructed his vision when he flew. And when he flew, he had to flap his arms like a bird!
Of course, Stanley had the requisite super strength, super speed, and invulnerability from harm to boot. But flying brought out much of the show's humor, as the bumbling Stanley couldn't navigate very well and his landings were more like belly flops than graceful touchdowns.
The "Power Pill," candy coated and resembling a giant jawbreaker, gave Stanley powers for 60 minutes at a time. He also had two booster pills, good for 10 minutes each. However, he could take only 3 pills per day so this limitation impacted upon his crime fighting ability also.
The pills were delivered by two agents of the Bureau, Barton J. Reed, played by veteran character actor John McGiver, and Harley Trent, played by Paul Smith.
In keeping with the super secret nature of the scheme, they usually came disguised as hoboes, businessmen, dog catchers or other characters to lure Stanley away from the gas station, since his partner Hal had no idea Stanley was a superhero.
The show's cast was stellar. Hal was played by Dick Gautier who also played Hymie the robot spy on Get Smart. Stephen Strimpell, a Phi Beta Kappa at Columbia College and a member of the New York Bar before embarking on an acting career, played Stanley.
He was also a popular acting teacher with HB Studios and in private classes and later appeared in dozens of films and Broadway plays.
Alan Young of Mr. Ed fame was originally cast as the lead and reportedly starred in the never-aired (publicly) pilot which sold the show but popular belief has it that he was too old (47) and this led to Strimpell's casting.
Mr. Terrific is hard to find today, though a TV movie called "The Pill Caper" was cobbled together from episodes 1, 3, 5, and 9 and sold into syndication. It still occasionally shows up on television but various bootlegs are out there for sale.
Why Mr. Terrific was cancelled after only 17 episodes remains a mystery. Being sandwiched between Gilligan's Island and The Lucy Show on CBS' Monday night schedule, one would think it would have garnered astronomical ratings in an era with only three broadcast networks and not many remote controls yet in viewers' hands.
Perhaps CBS just anticipated the demise of the superhero genre, a full year before Batman was pulled from the air. Or was it the troublesome origins of this hero's powers?
Whatever the reason, there wasn't enough Power Pills to protect Mr. Terrific from the persons who really yielded the power- not super villains or super spies but regular men- network executives in grey flannel suits who saw the end of a trend and got on board with the next big thing.
About the author: David Galassie is a human resources specialist in Columbia, South Carolina. In his free time, he pursues popular culture- comic books, animation art, and music. A frequent contributor to Rewind the Fifties, he chronicles the more notable acts of the 1960s as well as many obscure bands and one hit wonders.
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