20160901

SPIDER-MAN

In 1977, then 26-year-old Nicholas Hammond (Friedrich von Trapp in 'The Sound of Music') became the first actor to play Marvel comic-book hero, Spider-Man in the electronic medium on the live-action TV pilot movie, 'Spider-Man'. Born in Washington D.C., Nicholas's parents met in London during World War II. "My father, Colonel Thomas Hammond, was an aide to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had gone to London to meet with Prime Minister Winston Churchill and other Allied leaders. My mother (Eileen Bennett) was an actress in the British stage … Our family was always torn between 2 worlds – show business and the military."

Marvel Comics associate editor Jim Shooter observed, "I think one of the big problems that comic books have always had – it works both ways actually – is adaptations. You must make certain changes to adjust to the new medium. They made changes they felt they had to and in most cases I thought they were justified. I thought the over-all tone of it, kind of serious without losing the general light-heartedness of Spider-Man, was commendable." The script consultant was Stan Lee.

"You have to say this about Peter (Parker)," Nicholas made the comment in 2008. "This kid is going about his life, and has no desire to be anything but what he is – a (science) grad student and a (news) photographer for The Daily Bugle. But then suddenly Peter has this thing thrust upon him when that radioactive spider bites him. It isn't something he asked for, so to me, the interesting moral question about Peter was: If you're given a power that's something above and beyond what the average person has, then you have 2 choices - either use that power for good or for your own personal gain. Which do you choose? What I always liked about Peter is that he never uses it for his personal greed. He tries to do something for the greater good." 

The radioactive effects gave Peter extra-sensory power as well as the ability to scale walls and leaping through the air using spider web. Frank Novak designed "one of the most visually appealing super-hero costume ever created." Nicholas remembered, "I wore the costume quite a lot in the pilot. And the costume was always evolving. Spider-Man’s outfit was a never-ending issue because, for instance, the glasses covering his eyes would fog up and you could never see while wearing them, and the suits would be incredibly hot and they would tear. The wardrobe department kept experimenting with different kinds of material. The suit was almost completely airtight. To have it on more than half an hour was not much fun. Especially in the middle of summer in L.A."

The 'Spider-Man' pilot did well against 'Eight Is Enough' and 'Charlie's Angels' (Cheryl Ladd's debut episode). Producer Lee Siegel of 'The Six Million Dollar Man' told Richard Meyers at the time, "In very broad strokes, we have a younger audience in our pocket, so to speak, by reason of the comic popularity and the action aspects of the show. What we want now are adults. We're trying, in general, to do credible stories with a character who's borderline credible."

Nicholas added, "What the writers have tried to do here is to make a realistic, modern drama centered around contemporary issues." In the pilot movie, Thayer David played criminal mastermind Edward Byron who had invented a brain-washing machine to control the mind of the citizens of the town. Lee continued, "I'm doing some research on what it’s like to be a spider. The sound of what's going on inside that body must be kind of unique. I’m trying to get that sound. I’m going to introduce the sound (amplified) that a spider makes while it’s spinning a web. In addition, his spider sense will only deal with danger. We will limit that rather than expand it.

"I think they took too many liberties with it before. It won’t be as specific. I’d also like to see him moving on a web as spiders do. We have September 5 (1978) and September 12 (1978) air dates at 8:00pm. Then we'll be off for a few weeks while 'The Paper Chase' goes on. They have an option in November (1978) for 13 more shows and another in January (1979) for 5 more. If we don't do well, then I guess we won't continue." In all, the network commissioned 13 episodes of 'Spider-Man' to be shown between 1978 and 1979. 

Nicholas recounted, "It's interesting to read the mail we receive. At first it came just from young people. Then it began to come from parents who were unhappy that CBS didn't make the show a weekly series. We thought they would make it a regular series. We did 5 shows in the (North American) spring of 1978 and they did very well in the ratings." In one show, JoAnna Cameron of 'Isis' guest starred. 'Spider-Man' attracted a 22.5% rating (about 16.4 million homes were counted watching).

"I think that the show was very, very popular with kids of color because essentially Spider-Man has no ethnicity," Nicholas believed. "As soon as the suit was on he could be any of them, whereas with Superman and a lot of other superheroes there was always a white face. It's a weird thing because they look at me as Peter Parker. When I walked the streets in New York, if 10 people called out 'Hey Spidey,' 8 of them were black. Here I am this white guy and yet so many young African Americans felt a connection — and obviously it wasn’t due to my face. It’s got to be because when the suit is on, they can relate. That’s my theory. 

"I’m not exaggerating, even now on the odd occasion that I still get recognized as Peter Parker, it’s almost always by African Americans. They seemed to have a real love of the show. When I went out on these readership drives to encourage inner city elementary school kids to start reading, afterwards the teachers and the principals would invariably come up to me to say, 'To have you stand there and say that Peter Parker loves to read books means more than you can imagine. We can talk to them for a year and we wouldn’t have as much luck at getting them to go to a library and get a book out as you saying that.' Again, I can’t take any of the credit myself. If I had been on some other series they wouldn’t have listened to me. I just attribute it all to the suit. It has to be."  

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