Welcome to Comic Book Legends Revealed! This is the seven hundred and twenty-fifth installment where we examine comic book legends and whether they are true or false.
As usual, there will be three posts, one for each of the weekly three legends.
There was almost a Namor TV series in the 1950s
I'm Going With True
Reader James T. wrote in to ask, "1950s SUB-MARINER TV SHOW????
On the IMDB website biograpghy for actor Richard Egan (Love Me Tender, The 300 Spartans) it says "In the 1950s, Mr. Egan was slated to star in the title role of Prince Namor, The Sub-Mariner in a television (show) based on the Timely/Atlas/Marvel Comics Superhero. The series never materialized and it is believed that no pilot film had ever made."
Is this true?"
Well....it's definitely a tricky one.
Here's the deal. In the late 1960s, Roy Thomas finally took the opportunity to take his friend (and occasional roommate) Bill Everett up on Everett's offer to let Thomas interview him. It saw print in some form in an early issue of Alter Ego, but Thomas gave the interview the full treatment in 2005's Alter Ego #46 (from TwoMorrows Publishing). This interview is the only true evidence that we have of a possible Namor TV series. However, it is also pretty decent evidence, all things considered.
Here is the important part of the interview...
Roy Thomas: During this time, I understand that there was some talk of negotiation of a possible Sub-Mariner TV series. Could you tell me a little about that?
Bill Everett: Yes, I can tell you as little as I know about it. I was called into the business manger's office, one day, just out of a clear blue sky.
Thomas: This was about '53 or '54?
Everett: About '54, I'd say, '54 or '55. And I was introduced to a man by the name of Frank Saverstein, whose father was a producer, and he was following in his footsteps, and producer of some pretty good stuff. He was involved, I think, with Goodson-Todman and a few things. He had an idea to produce a Sub-Mariner series. He had been a great Sub-Mariner fan. He had Herb Shriner, the Hoosier comedian, who was also a Sub-Mariner fan.
Thomas: This was also during the time when the Superman show had been very popular. That was probably the influence.
Everett: Yes, they figured if you could do it with Superman, you could do it with The Sub-Mariner. And it would be different, quite a different thing and different to film, and novel. And so then they got the money interests; they had Arthur Godfrey backing them, moneywise. They went so far as to buy a PT Boat and get all kinds of underwater equipment, even before they got to the business negotiations. They were that sold on the idea of making the pilot.
Thomas: Did they have a star in mind?
Everett: Yes, they wanted to use Richard Egan. I guess he'd agreed to do it. I couldn't quite see it, but that was beside the point.
Thomas: Was Egan personally acquainted with the Sub-Mariner character?
Everett: I don't know anything about that. All I know is that Frank said they had the actor picked out. They wanted Richard Egan and he had agreed to make the pilot. That's all I know. I don't know how much interest Egan had in it.
Thomas: You never met him in connection with the negotiations?
Everett: No, no, not at all. I was only in on the sessions that determined what we could do. Actually, it was designing responsibility. I was to be the story consultant, but the scripts would be written by their company. But I was to okay them and to advise them as to what The Sub-Mariner could and couldn't do. I think that they wanted to go with the original Sub-Mariner, as I understand it. Frank and Herb both were fans of the original Sub-Mariner, as he was before the war, but wanted to bring him into modern situations.
Thomas: Probably with the same anti-Communist thing which you were doing in comics.
Everett: We didn't get as far as discussing actual story material. Main discussions were about who's going to get credit and who's going to get paid for this, how we were going to run the operation. But it fell apart somewhere along the line, in a session that I was not involved in, and nothing ever came of it. I think demands were made that shouldn't have been and acceptances were not, but that's only a personal opinion. But it never went through and maybe it's just as well. I don't know. It would have been very difficult to film it.
It is worth noting that in late 1953, Atlas revived their superhero characters, picking up the numbering from their previous series, only now with a big anti-Communist approach.
Here's Captain America Comics #77...
and Sub-Mariner Comics #33...
However, Cap ended with the next issue...
While Namor lasted until EIGHT MORE ISSUES!
That sure does support the idea that Martin Goodman kept the book going while still trying to work out the TV deal, right? If the TV deal went through, then Sub-Mariner Comic would suddenly be a huge hit! Superman continued to be a huge seller throughout the 1950s generally working off of the back of the Adventures of Superman TV show (which continued to be popular even after it was no longer airing new episodes). And, of course, the fact that there WAS a Superman TV series on the air at the time would also suggest that a superhero series would not be some crazy idea.
Egan, for his part, had a brief period in his career where this was at least a theoretical possibility that he might do it (before he became a relatively successful movie star).
Terence Towles Canote had a great take on the possibility of the show being a reality at his blog here a few years back:
I also have to wonder how likely it was that Richard Egan would have agreed to star in a Sub-Mariner TV show. I suppose it would largely depend upon when it had been offered to him. If The Sub-Mariner television show had been offered to him prior to signing with 20th Century Fox, he might have considered it. After all, prior to 1954 he primarily played secondary roles in films. It was in 1954 that he received his first starring role, in the science fiction film Gog. It was also in 1954 that Richard Egan signed with 20th Century Fox. Once that happened it seems highly unlikely that he would have considered starring in any television show. Quite simply, to do so he would have had to have broken his contract with 20th Century Fox. As it is, he would have little reason to do so. In 1954 at 20th Century Fox he played a significant role in Demetrius and the Gladiators and starred in the film Khyber Patrol. He would go on to star in several films in 1955. One has to wonder if Bill Everett confused Richard Egan with another actor or if the project was offered to Mr. Egan before he signed with 20th Century Fox. If it was offered to Mr. Egan and he accepted, then it would seem plans for the show would had to have fallen apart very quickly, otherwise he would not have signed with 20th Century Fox in 1954.
As to the likelihood that either Herb Shriner or Arthur Godfrey would have been involved, that is anyone's guess.
While no mention is made of a planned Sub-Mariner television show in any of the trade papers of the time and it seems dubious that they could have gotten Richard Egan as its star, that does not mean that plans for a Sub-Mariner show were a product of Bill Everett's imagination, especially given there is nothing to indicate Mr. Everett was prone to such things. While today Goodson-Todman Productions are best known for their game shows, they did produce a few dramas over the years. Among their earliest shows was a mystery anthology show called The Web that ran on CBS from 1950 to 1954. In the Fifties they would also produce such dramas as Goodyear Theatre (1957-1960), Jefferson Drum (1958–1959), Philip Marlowe (1959–1960), and The Rebel (1959–1961). While there appears to have been no producer named Frank Saperstein or Frank Saverstein in the industry at the time, there was a director named Frank Satenstein who worked for Goodson-Todman Productions. Mr. Satenstein directed several episodes of I've Got a Secret and What's My Line, and produced the show By Popular Demand for Goodson-Todman. Given Goodson-Todman Producitons did produce dramas, it seems possible that they could have been interested in a Sub-Mariner TV show. It also seems possible, especially as there seems to have been no producer named Frank Saperstein or Frank Saverstein working in the industry at the time, that the producer to whom Bill Everett was actually referring was Frank Satenstein.
Here's Satenstein's credits from the Internet Movie Database.
Amusingly enough, Egan then starred in the skin diving film, Underwater!, which came out in 1955, so we can pretty easily imagine what he'd look like as Namor...
So, we're really relying on Everett's memories from 1969 about something that happened in 1953 or 1954. I think it's hard to imagine that he'd invent a story of a TV producer coming to the offices to discuss making a Sub-Mariner TV show, but I think it's pretty easy to imagine that things were likely not nearly as far along as the producer might have intimated in that meeting. People pitch TV shows all the time, you know?
This certainly sounds like it was further along than most, but at the same time, it was still pretty much just a pitch. There was never anything filmed. However, like I said, this sounds a bit further along than other pie in the sky ideas, so I'm willing to go with a true on this, but really, we're talking "true" about there nearly being a Namor TV show. It's not like we're saying a whole lot here, ya know?
Interestingly enough, Thomas also asked Stan Lee about it in TwoMorrows' Comic Book Artist #2 and Lee had no memory, but also noted that he wouldn't have been told about stuff like that at the time:
Roy Thomas: The revival of Captain America, the Human Torch, and Sub-Mariner in the '50s was done, everyone assumes, because of the success of the Superman TV show. Bill Everett told me in an interview how some TV producers approached Martin Goodman and Timely in 1954 about a Sub-Mariner TV show to star Richard Egan. Bill said comedian Herb Shriner was part of the deal, and that Arthur Godfrey put up the money. Bill mentioned a producer named Frank Saverstein or Saperstein. Did you know anything about that?
Stan Lee: No. It's a funny thing: Martin never discussed business deals with me, and that would have fallen under the heading of a business deal. This is the first that I've heard about it.
Thomas: You were just the peon that kept things running? [laughs]
Lee: I was just the guy in the other room, trying to do the comics.
Thanks to Roy Thomas and the late Bill Everett for the information! Check out the Roy Thomas Appreciation Board on Facebook!
Check out some other entertainment and sports legends from Legends Revealed:
Check back on Saturday for part 2 of this week's legends!
And remember, if you have a legend that you're curious about, drop me a line at either firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com!