Jackson Bostwick - Captaim Marvel
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Jackson Bostwick - Captaim Marvel

It’s not really a secret, but few residents of Wilson County recognize that a superhero hangs his cape in a Mt. Juliet neighborhood.


ShazamJackson Bostwick aims to make films in Tennessee

Story and Photos by KEN BECK

It’s not really a secret, but few residents of Wilson County recognize that a superhero hangs his cape in a Mt. Juliet neighborhood.

Actor Jackson Bostwick starred as Captain Marvel in the 1974-1976 Saturday morning TV series Shazam! on CBS. He was the secondJackson Bostwick with a Captain Marvel doll. man in history to play Captain Marvel, following in the steps of Tom Tyler, who starred in the 1941 Republic Studios serial The Adventures of Captain Marvel.

Bostwick acted or did voiceovers in such feature films as TRON, The Devil and Max Devlin, The Cat From Outer Space, Gus and The Apple Dumpling Gang.

A resident of Mt. Juliet since 2005, he is polishing off his autobiography, Myth, Magic, and a Mortal, and has completed production of a horror film, Bloody Mary-Lite (An Urban Faerie Tale), which he wrote, directed and produced.

Born in Carlisle, Pa., and raised in Montgomery, Ala., where his father practiced as just the third neurosurgeon in the State, Bostwick was a super fan of the superhero back in the 1940s, the Golden Age of comic books.

“I was into Captain Marvel big time. I had all the comic books, which my mom threw away. I had a fortune. I had stacks of them. The only ones she saved were the Classics Illustrated,” bemoaned Bostwick, 68, who looks a good 10 years less his age.

Amazingly, Bostwick won the role that brought him overnight fame his first year out of the University of Southern California (USC). When he went to audition for the role, he mistakenly believed he was testing for a cereal commercial.

“My agent called and told me to go read for Captain Marvel,” recalled Bostwick. “He told me it was a serial for a company called Filmation.

“OK, so I’m thinking it’s a commercial like Captain Crunch cereal, so I wore my commercial uniform which was a white T-shirt, jeans and cowboy boots. I get there and wonder, ‘Where is everybody?’ I go into the studio and there’s nobody there. Momentarily, a guy comes out and said, ‘Jackson, come on back.’

“I’m still in the dark. We go back in and start talking, and I realize this guy is the producer, Bob Chenault. I show him some pictures. Then I realize this is a serial, not cereal. After I showed him pictures of my flying sidekicks in martial arts, he said, ‘Jackson, did you notice that guy sitting on the bench when you came out?’ I told him, ‘Not really.’ ‘Well, when you walked past, he said, “Wow, now there goes Captain Marvel.” As soon as I heard that, I knew from your smile and your voice that you would be the one.’

“That guy was Mark Harmon (star of TV's NCIS). He had just graduated from UCLA as their star quarterback and was one of the final four on call backs for the part of Captain Marvel when I arrived that day,” said Bostwick.

Shazam! producers had been searching for their leading man for four months. Bostwick, at the time, worked out with weights, was into kick boxing and weighed a firm 217 pounds. (He had learned judo in the Army and later trained with Chuck Norris and Dan Inosonto, Bruce Lee’s best friend.)

WLM - James Bostwick & daughter ErinBostwick, his wife, Elizabeth, and their daughter, Erin, eight, moved to Mt. Juliet six years ago. “I wanted to get back to the South and raise a family. Hollywood was becoming more and more left and going against the way I was raised,” he said. “There the traffic was bad, there was the smog. It was not the way it was when I first got out there. “I knew I wanted to be back here but in an area that could get some action. I didn’t want to go to Atlanta. I didn’t want to go to New Orleans. It was either Chattanooga, Knoxville or Nashville. I was doing a personal appearance, and we came to Nashville and loved the skyline. We stayed a couple of days and asked around where the best place to live was. An actor friend who lived in Mt. Juliet, Jim O’Rear, said he loved it, so we came up here.”

Over the past few years Bostwick has put most of his energies into an independent horror film, Bloody Mary-Lite (An Urban Faerie Tale), which he scripted, directed and produced. He also portrays the role of The Stranger in the movie, which was shot in 2006 in and around Townsend, Tenn., next to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

“It is complete and being rendered,” he said. “I’ve got a final cut and just need to see it and then start shopping it. It’s a fairytale of a boy who finds a mirror and is led to believe if he says ‘Bloody Mary’ five times into a mirror at midnight that he will see Bloody Mary. The boy finds a mirror that has out-of this-world powers, and he mistakes some of the stuff that he sees for Bloody Mary coming out of the mirror. So he has to figure out how to get Bloody Mary back into the mirror.”

The actor-turned-moviemaker has four or five more scripts. The next he would like to get on film is titled Southern-Fried Shakespeare (In the 25th Century).

Bostwick, a pre-med student and in ROTC at the University of Alabama in the mid-1960s, went into the Army in 1967 where he served in a mobile surgical service unit in Fort Irwin, Calif. While there, a secretary submitted his name to TV’s The Dating Game.WLM - Captain Marvel memorabilia

“I went down and I was brilliant in the interview. I had them rolling in the aisles,” he recalled. “I got on the show and didn’t get the date. I was scared to death. My answers were dumb.”

However, a Paramount scout liked what he saw in the young lieutenant and told him to get some acting training and then come look him up. Bostwick heeded the advice and enrolled at USC where the school had just begun a new program called the Masters Company.

“We were doing Shakespeare, Shaw and Chekhov. I was Southern fried and all and still had my accent. During the second year we had a class called experimental theater, which consisted of actors, directors and costumers. We would rehearse a play for two weeks and put it on for a week,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do. I waited until the last minute and took a portion of a Shakespeare play and put it in my own Southern words.

“I came out and set it up. It was the Marc Anthony speech from Julius Caesar. They thought I was a klutz. I started off, and by the end, they were thunderously roaring. I stunned them. From then on, I was doing as many as four leads a semester, going from one play to the next.”

While acting in the play A Streetcar Named Desire, Bostwick’s co-star messed up her lines leaving him to ad lib his way out of the situation. Sitting in the audience was movie star Karl Malden, who had starred in the film version of the play.

Malden came backstage to chat with Bostwick, and the young thespian asked him, “Did you notice where we goofed up?” When Malden answered, “No. Where?,” Bostwick learned a lesson: “I realized nobody in the audience knows if you goof up unless you let them. I knew then that you could ad lib your way out if you stayed in character.”

WLM - Captain Marvel in the 1974-1976 CBS SeriesFrom USC, he went straight into making Shazam! The production company filmed two episodes a week across the Los Angeles area with a budget of about $75,000 per episode. The plot of the Saturday morning TV series centered on teenager Billy Batson, who traveled in an open road camper with an elderly mentor and learned about life while helping people along the way. Whenever disaster needed to be averted, the teen would yell the magic word, “Shazam!” to call down the magic lightning bolt that transformed him into “the World’s Mightiest Mortal,” Captain Marvel.

Bostwick, simply a mortal, performed most of his own stunts, and there was one injury which led to complications that cost him his job after 17 episodes.

“They fired me because they thought I was holding out for more money when I didn’t show up on the set one day,” he recalled. “It was the third episode of second year, and they called me out at 7:30 to do a flying shot early in the morning, just a takeoff.

“I go out and do the takeoff shot. They got it, and I went back to my trailer and was taking off my costume, when I get a knock on the door. They told me, ‘The director wants to see you do that again.’ I put the costume back on and go out and take off.

“I had the head cinematographer taking film of my takeoffs with my Super 8 camera that day. Then my stunt box collapsed on me and a corner of it nearly ripped my eye out. I busted a blood vessel in my eye as I hit the asphalt. I was dazed. I had all of this on film.

“The nurse gave me ice for the swelling, and so I stuck around for lunch while they filmed the next scene. There was no way Captain Marvel could film that day with a mouse. After I took the ice pack off, there was a big whelp under there, and my eye was all bloodshot. The next day I went to the doctor, and at 12 o’clock my lawyer called and informed me, ‘The studio called and told me if you’re not on set by 1 o’clock, you’re fired.’ I called CBS as soon as I got out of the doctor’s office, and they told me, ‘You better get out there, or you are fired.’

“I didn’t know what to do, but I couldn’t make it out there, and by 3 o’clock they had a guy out there to replace me, John Davey, a nice guy, a good actor, but he’s no Captain Marvel.” After 11 more episodes, Shazam! was canceled.

“It’s just a shame because they ruined the show, they killed it,” said Bostwick, who took the production company to court in a lawsuit. With the film in his Super 8 camera as proof of his injury, he won the lawsuit, and Filmation had to pay him for the episodes they didn’t use him in as well as residuals.

Besides bittersweet memories of the show, he also took away his Captain Marvel costume, a red suit with a yellow silk cape, boots, gauntlet and belt cape, which he has stored away in a safe location.

Professional life after Shazam! included about a half dozen Disney movies, other films and teaching theater at Auburn University atWLM - Jackson Bostwick in horror flick "What Waits Below" the Montgomery campus in the late 1980s. He played the prime hunter of a race of albino cave dwellers in the 1985 horror film What Waits Below, much of which was filmed at Cumberland Caverns in McMinnville, Tenn. In what is perhaps his best-known movie, Bostwick played the head guard in TRON, which has evolved into a cult classic.

“It was way ahead of its time with CGI (computer-generated images) and special effects and is beloved by the geeks and people who know that stuff. I had Jeff Bridges by the arm in a scene, and we’d be walking these cat walks, but there was nothing down below us but big sodium screens. Later they laid those things in. It’s not an actors’ movie but a tech movie.”

WLM - Jackson Bostwick in the 1982 Disney sci-fi classic TRONThe actor appears at about a dozen movie and sci-fi conventions annually and was a guest at a TRON reunion at D23 Expo: The Ultimate Disney Fan Event in Anaheim, Calif., this past August.

Summing up his career, the man once known as Captain Marvel, said, “When it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. You’ve just got to wander and bump into things and let it happen.”

Who is Captain Marvel?

Fictional comic-book superhero Captain Marvel, aka “the World’s Mightiest Mortal,” was likely the most popular superhero of the 1940s. Created in 1939 by writer Bill Parker and artist C.C. Beck, the crime fighter was first published by Fawcett Comics and then by DC Comics. The Captain Marvel Adventures comic-book series outsold Superman during the mid-1940s and sold 14 million copies in 1944.

Captain Marvel served as the alter ego of newsboy Billy Batson, who had been picked by a wizard named Shazam. When Batson says the wizard’s name aloud, he is hit by a magic bolt of lightning and transforms instantly into the adult superhero who possesses the powers of six legendary characters: S for Solomon’s wisdom, H for Hercules’ strength, A for Atlas’ stamina, Z for Zeus’ power, A for Achilles’ courage and M for Mercury’s speed.

Captain Marvel was the first comic-book superhero to leap onto the silver screen as actor Tom Tyler carried the role in the 1941 Republic Pictures serial Adventures of Captain Marvel. When the character debuted in 1974 on TV in the Saturday morning TV series Shazam!, Jackson Bostwick filled the bill.

In recent years there has been talk of a new Captain Marvel feature film with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson co-starring as Marvel’s archenemy, Black Adam, but the project appears to be in limbo

For more info about actor, writer, director and producer Jackson Bostwick, go to his Web site: www.jacksonbostwick.com

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