8 Early Versions of Famous Fictional Characters
By Rudie Obias
Every popular movie and TV character has to start somewhere. Here are 8 early versions of famous fictional characters.
1. James Bond
Before Sean Connery played British Secret Service agent James Bond in Dr. No in 1962, a live black-and-white TV adaptation of Casino Royale appeared on CBS in 1954. CBS briefly obtained the film rights to Ian Fleming's first James Bond novel and placed Bond in an episode of the anthology TV series Climax! (or Climax Mystery Theater). The TV version of James Bond was very different from the 007 we know today, with Barry Nelson playing the role. Most notably, James Bond was an American working for "Combined Intelligence" and not an Englishman exclusively working for the British Secret Service. He also went by the name "Jimmy" and not James Bond.
Ian Fleming used the TV adaptation as a backdoor pilot to drum up interest in a new TV series featuring Bond. Fleming shopped around his work to CBS and NBC, but both broadcast networks passed on it because general audiences didn't react favorably to the live TV production.
Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli and Harry Saltzman bought the film rights to the James Bond catalog and eventually formed Eon Productions in 1961. While Eon Productions obtained James Bond's film rights, the production company didn't own the rights to Casino Royale because of the CBS TV production. Columbia Pictures secured its film rights and released a comedy version of Casino Royale with English actor David Niven as James Bond in 1967. A new version of Casino Royale with Daniel Craig as James Bond then hit theaters in 2006.
While we're more familiar with Michael Keaton, Christian Bale, or Adam West as Batman and Bruce Wayne, the first iteration of the Dark Knight to hit the big screen was featured in a black-and-white 15-chapter film serial from Columbia Pictures in 1943. Lewis Wilson played Batman, who was a U.S. Government agent trying to stop Dr. Daka, a Japanese super-villain, with the help of his sidekick Robin, played by Douglas Croft. Since it was released during World War II, Batman was used as propaganda against the Japanese.
It was a very low-budget production, with a black Cadillac used as both Bruce Wayne's car and the Batmobile without any accessories or masking to disguise it. The film serial was re-released as one long feature film called An Evening with Batman and Robin in 1965. The re-release was a big hit across the country and its popularity helped spawn a new TV series with Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin in 1966.
3. Boba Fett
Although Boba Fett appears in The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, the bounty hunter actually made his debut in the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special in 1978. He appeared in an animated short film as a mysterious ally that Luke Skywalker meets during a rescue mission of Han Solo and Chewbacca. While Luke thinks the Mandalorian is a friend, it is soon revealed that he's working with Darth Vader to capture members of the Rebel Alliance. Don Francks voiced Boba Fett in the animated short, while Jeremy Bulloch and Jason Wingreen played him in the movies. Boba Fett is actually more chatty in the TV special than he is in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
4. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
In 2004, Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton, Charlie Day, and Jordan Reid (McElhenney's then-girlfriend) used a few cameras, two apartments, and $200 to shoot two video shorts that ended up being It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. McElhenney then shopped around the video shorts, which were originally called It's Always Sunny on TV, to a number of networks with the hopes of selling it. FX expressed interest in a possible series and wanted to re-shoot the shorts as a professional TV pilot.
Unfortunately, Jordan Reid was pushed out of the gang after she broke up with McElhenney, and her role was re-cast with Kaitlin Olson as Sweet Dee instead. The comedy's setting shifted from Los Angeles to Philadelphia where McElhenney grew up, and the gang went from out-of-work actors to bar owners. McElhenney, Howerton, and Day were made executive producers and series regulars, and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia became a cult hit on cable TV.
5. The Simpsons
While episodes of The Simpsons started to air on Fox in 1989, the animated family actually made their debut on television as a series of shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987. The Simpsons were so popular that James L. Brooks worked with their creator Matt Groening and TV producer Sam Simon to create a new TV show that centered on the animated family. Animation for the Simpsons series was less crude and more polished with a bigger budget, and it quickly became the highest rated TV show on the new broadcast network—Fox was only three years old at the time. Currently, The Simpsons is the longest-running primetime TV show of all time with an impressive 26 seasons.
6. Jason Bourne
Before Matt Damon played Jason Bourne in three movies, Richard Chamberlain played the amnesia-stricken spy in a made-for-TV version of The Bourne Identity in 1988. While the feature film has a tightly packed two-hour running time, the made-for-TV counterpart was a slow three hours that aired over two nights on ABC. Richard Chamberlain earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Television Film for his performance as Jason Bourne.
7. Lieutenant Detective Frank Drebin
Although the Naked Gun film trilogy is one of the most successful comedy franchises in movie history, Police Squad!, its original source material, was canceled after airing only four episodes on ABC in March 1982. Tony Thomopoulos, then network entertainment president, believed that Police Squad! was too smart for viewers at the time. Much like The Naked Gun, each episode of Police Squad! was so packed full of subtle sight gags, clever wordplay, and deadpan humor that there was just no room for a laugh track. "Without a laugh track," an ABC executive believed, "the viewers won't know when to laugh."
Seven years later, the writers behind Police Squad!—David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker, and Pat Proft—reunited to bring The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! to the big screen in 1989. Leslie Nielsen would also return to reprise his role as Lieutenant Detective Frank Drebin. The Naked Gun went on to gross more than $78 million at the box office in 1989.
8. Kermit the Frog
Before Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, Jim and Jane Henson created a TV show called Sam and Friends for local television in Washington D.C. in 1955. The children's variety show ran for 10 years and featured a lizard-like Muppet named Kermit who would eventually become the beloved and famous Kermit the Frog. While Kermit featured the same eyes and face structure that we know today, he didn't feature his iconic collar. His feet were also rounded instead of webbed. Kermit didn't officially become a frog until he made his debut during the first season of Sesame Street in 1968.