12 actors who almost played superheroes and villains on TV
Can you imagine Batman versus… Ol' Blue Eyes?
Sinatra image: AP Photo
Lynda Carter and Adam West are synonymous with Wonder Woman and Batman. It's tough to imagine other actors filling those iconic costumes on television. Yet in some alternate universe — a very DC Comics concept — those classic action series starred David Bowie's wife and Lyle Waggoner. A different bodybuilder became the Hulk. A Dynasty diva turned into the Bionic Woman.
And who played the villains? A Rat Pack crooner and nine-time Oscar nominee.
Here are some notable names who were offered major roles in TV superhero shows. Some of them even made it to pilot episodes.
1. Arnold Schwartzenegger as the Incredible Hulk
Believe it or not, Arnie was not big enough. Well, heightwise, in the producer's eyes. Lou Ferrigno, who stands at 6' 5", beat out the Austrian bodybuilder for the Hulk, as Schwartzenegger only measured to 6' 2". It's hard to image he stayed green with envy for long, as he became Conan and the Terminator.
Image: AP Photo
2. Lyle Waggoner as Batman
Two screen tests were filmed to decide on the casting of Batman and Robin in the classic 1966 TV series. One, obviously, featured Adam West and Burt Ward. The other starred Lyle Waggoner and Peter R.J. Deyell, as you can see in the image. While Waggoner would ultimately lose the role to West, he would end up as another prominent DC Comics hero, playing Steve Trevor on Wonder Woman.
Image: Greenway Productions / 20th Century Fox Television
3. Frank Sinatra as the Joker
Yes, Ol' Blue Eyes could have been Ol' Green Hair. Burt Ward himself confirmed this rumor years later. "From what I understand, Frank Sinatra was very upset because he couldn't play the Joker," Ward said in an interview. "Cesar Romero had already been signed." This is just one of many What-If's when it comes to the original Batman series, as you will see.
Image: AP Photo
4. Mickey Rooney as the Penguin
Rooney was originally offered the role of the Penguin but turned it down. He looks pretty good in a top hat, no? Burgess Meredith would be hard to top, however.
Image: AP Photo
5. Angela Bowie as Wonder Woman
Angie Bowie, the model who married David Bowie and mother to Warcraft director Duncan Jones, was itching to play a comic book character in the 1970s. She shot test photos as Black Widow for a proposed Daredevil show. She also slipped into a Wonder Woman suit to audition for a TV movie gig that eventually went to Cathy Lee Crosby. The February 11, 1974, issue of Newsweek reported that Bowie lost the role for refusing to wear a bra.
Image: The Everett Collection
6. Ray MacDonnell as Dick Tracy
William Dozier, the visionary producer behind Batman and The Green Hornet, took a couple other cracks at comic heroes on the small screen. Alas, they never made it past pilot. His Dick Tracy, which also featured Eve Plumb of The Brady Bunch, would have aired in 1967 had viewership not flagged in his aforementioned series. Instead, MacDonnell played Dr. Joe Martin on All My Children for 40 years.
7. Richard Kiel as the Incredible Hulk
The man best known as the formidable Jaws in James Bond movies did technically appear as the green monster on The Incredible Hulk. Filming of the pilot began with Kiel, before producers decided the giant actor was too skinny for the role. However, one shot of him in Hulk makeup remains in the pilot.
Image: AP Photo/Jean Jacques Levy
8. Spencer Tracy as the Penguin
The screen legend was offered the role of the Penguin, though he never seemed to take it quite seriously. He would only do it if he could kill Batman. "...I got a letter from William Dozier, saying perhaps I had some grandchildren who would be thrilled to have me do a cameo in Batman," he recalled. "My reply cited what Maggie Sullavan said when she was offered an Andy Hardy family picture. She said, 'I'll do it when it is titled 'Death Comes to Andy Hardy.' I'll do a Batman when it's called 'Death Comes to Batman.'"
Image: AP Photo/Anthony Camerano
9. Jose Ferrer as the Joker
Another Academy Award winner was offered a Batman gig. The Puerto Rican actor lost out to Cesar Romero, who even refused to shave his mustache. His son, Miguel Ferrer, would go on to voice a handful of DC Comics characters in cartoons, including Martian Manhunter, Sinestro, Aquaman and more.
Image: AP Photo/Harry Harris
10. Linda Evans as the Bionic Woman
In November 1976, Evans told Marilyn Beck's syndicated Hollywood newspaper column, she was "glad" she turned down the role. "Being the only lead on a weekly show would have been just too much." Meanwhile, Lindsay Wagner was earning $500,000 per season.
Image: AP Photo
11. Linda Harrison as Wonder Woman
While William Dozier's Dick Tracy showed promise, his misguided attempt at a camp take on Wonder Woman is best lost to history. His 1967 production Who's Afraid of Diana Prince? turned the Amazonian into a lighthearted sitcom character. Ellie Wood Walker played the mild mannered Diana Prince, living on an Air Force base with her mother. When Diana gazes into a mirror, she sees herself as the goddess Wonder Woman, played by beauty Linda Harrison. You best know Harrison as Nova in Planet of the Apes.
Image: 20th Century Fox
12. Billy Curtis as Superpup
There were a few unwise attempts at crafting spin-offs from Adventures of Superman. After the death of George Reeves, producers floated the idea of continuing the show as Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen. Jack Larson, who played Olsen, respectfully nipped that right in the bud. Instead, two goofy pilots were made. One featured Johnny Rockwell in Adventures of Superboy. The other was the bizarre Adventures of Superpup, which cast little people as dogs. Billy Curtis, who appeared as a Munchkin in The Wizard of Oz, scored the lead role of Superpup and his alter-ego Bark Bent. Groan.
Image: Whitney Ellsworth Productions
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