This M*A*S*H actor played the Martian Manhunter in a failed Justice League TV pilot
Can you guess which 4077th member became an alien superhero?
DC Comics superheroes have been a part of television for as long as television has been around. Each decade has had its hit series with a member of the Justice League, from Adventures of Superman in the Fifties to Batman in the Sixties to Wonder Woman in the Seventies to The Flash and Lois and Clark in the Nineties, and so on. The Seventies also offered up Shazam! and Super Friends. And then you have deeper cuts like Swamp Thing and Superboy.
So, yes, while it seems like we are living in the age of "peak superhero," the characters have always been a big part of pop culture and TV.
But there have also been several flops along the way. The bizarre unaired pilot Who's Afraid of Diana Prince? tried to take the campy Batman approach to Wonder Woman in 1967. Likewise, there was a slightly more successful attempt to bring Wonder Woman to life in 1974 with Cathy Lee Crosby playing Diana Prince in a made-for-TV movie that radically redesigned the costume. Perhaps too radically, as Lynda Carter swiftly took over the idealized depiction of the role.
A few years later, there was that incredibly goofy 1979 special Legends of the Superheroes, which brought Adam West and Burt Ward back to their roles as Caped Crusader and Boy Wonder. It was really the first attempt to bring the Justice League together in live-action television — but in a variety show. It was the Seventies, remember.
Which brings us to Justice League of America, a failed pilot (unaired in the U.S.) that attempted to bring some B-listers into primetime. The CBS made-for-TV movie eschewed big names like Batman and Superman, instead focusing on Atom (played by John Kassir, the voice of the Crypt Keeper on Tales from the Crypt), the Green Lantern Guy Gardner, and Fire (Michelle Hurd of Law & Order: SVU).
The biggest name, superhero-wise, was the Flash, who had been featured in his own series on CBS seven years prior. However, John Wesley Shipp, who played Barry Allen on the 1990 series The Flash, did not return.
The biggest name, acting-wise, in this proposed series was hidden under mounds of green makeup. He was the leader of the JLA, J'onn J'onzz, better known as the Martian Manhunter. He was played by none other than David Ogden Stiers of M*A*S*H.
Yep, the snobby, sophisticated Winchester became a muscular Martian in a cape.
"What seems like a curse can become a gift," Martian Manhunter tells meteorologist Tori Olafsdotter (Kimberly Oja) who has recently come into having superpowers. (She would become the lesser-known hero known as "Ice.")
It's rather unlikely casting and brings to mind Kelsey Grammar becoming the Beast in the X-Men film franchise. Hawkeye may have dressed up as Superman in "Treat or Treatment," but Stiers was the M*A*S*H actor who truly became a superhero.
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As for actors playing the Martian Manhunter, my favorite is Phil Morris (a prolific actor probably mos familiar as the Johnny Cochrane-like attorney Jackie Chiles on "Seinfeld"). We were born on the same day, month and year. He was J'onn J'onnz on "Smallville".