Did Gomer Pyle say ''Shazam!'' because of the comic book character? Probably, yeah.
Golly! Gomer has more in common with a superhero than you thought.
In 1974, the Filmation animation studio made a bold leap into new territory — live action. The production house had found great success in the Sixties adapting superheroes from the pages of comic books to Saturday morning cartoons. Filmation dazzled pajama-clad kids with colorful shows like The Adventures of Superboy, Aquaman and The Batman/Superman Hour. Even the company's non-superhero hits, like The Archie Show and Sabrina and the Groovie Goolies, were lifted from the pages of popular comics.
No wonder then that Filmation looked to another spandex-and-cape-wearing hero for its first foray into live action, Shazam! The show was based on the adventures of Captain Marvel, who had made his debut decades earlier in the pages of Whiz Comics, published by Fawcett Comics. In 1972, DC Comics licensed the character of Captain Marvel, but not wanting to highlight the name of its primary competitor, the publisher used the title Shazam! instead.
But the young kids sitting on shag carpeting on Saturday mornings in the mid-'70s, they likely already knew the word "Shazam!" from a wholly different source.
It was one of the catchphrases of Gomer Pyle, of course, the naive Mayberry mechanic who famously joined the Marines. Gomer's verbal arsenal contained several dumbfounded exclamations, including "Surprise, surprise, surprise," "Golly!" and "Shazam!"
Only, on Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., when Gomer would declare, "Shazam," he would not transform into a superhero. He would only irk Sgt. Carter.
So the big question is: Why did Gomer Pyle use the word "Shazam?" Was that some kind of colloquial interjection from rural North Carolina? Was it something that actor Jim Nabors heard folks say while growing up in Sylacauga, Alabama? Did a writer on The Andy Griffith Show make it up?
Actually, by all accounts, the Captain Marvel comic books came up with the word. Both Merriam-Webster and the Online Etymology Dictionary trace the origin of "Shazam" to the Fawcett comic, circa 1940. Even the venerable Oxford English Dictionary defines it as an "invented word; earliest recorded use in the date range 1930 - 1969."
It is technically an acronym, for Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury. Scrawny teenager Billy Batson would shout, "Shazam!" A bolt of lightning would then strike the boy, granting him the powers and abilities of these ancient heroes, transforming him into Captain Marvel.
Could the comic book truly be the origin of this word? Most likely! We searched "Shazam" in Google Books to see the usage of the word over history in print.
Take a look at the graph. "Shazam" didn't take off in the English language until 1960 or so, which makes sense. That corresponds with the debut of The Andy Griffith Show. The frequency explodes about the time Gomer Pyle premieres, and then spikes with DC Comics re-introducing the character.
There is, however, a curious blip in the 1890s. We tried to trace this to a source — any source — to no avail.
This does not specifically explain the motivation for having Gomer Pyle use the exclamation. But, it's highly unlikely the word came from anywhere else but the Captain Marvel comic books. Perhaps Jim Nabors or Andy Griffith read them as kids?