Shazam! star Michael Gray stops by the Stash in the latest episode and talks about the resurgence of superhero fandom and why Shazam! has endeared itself to fans, old and new, for decades.
Q: You played a superhero before they started dominating pop culture. What kind of perspective does that give you now?
A: Way back in the ‘70s, I’d done a lot of work on TV sporadically… I got a call from my agent that a Saturday morning TV show called Shazam! was casting and looking for the part of Billy Batson. I said, “Why not?!” I went out there and met with the producers, but at that point, I really didn’t know. The superhero genre wasn’t that popular back then. All of a sudden, this thing took off. The demographics back then for Saturday morning TV were quite young. I was in all those teenage magazines from my first series, so now all the teenaged girls were watching the show, too. The demographics were huge and it became very popular. Little did I know, after 40-some-odd years, there would be a resurgence. I was hoping it would because I was watching the Hulk and Batman and the Avengers and all the other superheroes. Little to my knowledge, Shazam! would have resurgence as well. I’m glad it did.
Q: As more modern superheroes came out, were people rediscovering Shazam! as well?
A: They were. As a matter of fact, I got a call from Warner Brothers in 2012. They had purchased and owned the rights to Shazam! and decided to re-release and redo the DVD. It was on Betamax back then and that’s old taping. They bought the rights and redid everything and wanting me to go to San Diego Comic-Con to announce it. I was blown away when I walked into that room. It was a press conference and there were probably 1,500 people and they were all standing up and hooting and hollering. I had no ego back then — I was an actor who did my job. Now, this was giving me a whole new outlook.
Q: Do you have any favorite memories from working on the show?
A: I just enjoyed doing the show so much and working with Les Tremayne as my mentor. I used to watch Les in all of his old movies and my parents used to listen to him on the radio before there was television. Working with a guy with that caliber and history – my parents were thrilled. I brought him over to my parents’ house one night for dinner and my mother and father were floored. One of their favorite stars was having dinner at their house! So, working with him was wonderful. It was a great crew.
Q: What is it like for you to meet new fans to this day?
A: It’s a trip. These people are in their fifties now, but they were such fans that anything related to Shazam!, they can’t wait to see. They’re totally enthusiastic. I did Archer a year and a half ago. The reason I was on is because Archer was talking to Lana about Shazam! in the show. Next thing I knew, I was doing [voicework on] Archer. These are all Shazam! fans. They’re watching. I’m very humbled by all of this. I’m thrilled that it’s still going on. If it wasn’t for my fans, Shazam! wouldn’t have lasted as long as it did and it wouldn’t be as successful as it is today. I’m very grateful.
Q: What do you think it is about this show in particular that draws people in and endears it to people for so long?
A: In the ‘70s, everything was pretty clean-cut and fun. Shazam! had a moral value to it, and tried to teach kids right from wrong and to accept people for who they are. A lot of my fans have told me stories about themselves when they were of that age and a lot of them were abused or had alcoholic parents. They tell me that Shazam! helped them get through hard times in their lives and gave them something to relate to and listen to and learn from. It’s very heartwarming to hear that. God knows I don’t look like I did back then, but they still recognize me. That blows me away. I didn’t know when I was doing it that we were a major part of their lives and helping them grow up. I remember putting a towel over my shoulders and running around the backyard trying to fly. They were watching a boy and they were kids who wanted to do the same thing.
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