For three years in the mid-1990s, kids across the country tuned in every day but Sunday to watch five teenagers from Angel Grove transform into superheroes who defeated giant bad guys using dinosaur robots called Zords. The original version of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers is still beloved by many, and will be getting a movie reboot in 2017. Here are a few things you might not have known about the original series. It’s morphin time!
1. IT WAS BASED ON A POPULAR JAPANESE SHOW.
Super Sentai was created by Toei Studios in 1975. The first iteration lasted two years, but afterward, the Rangers got a new theme every year. Japanese kids got to watch Five Rangers; Turbo Rangers; Goggle Five Rangers; Battle Fever J Rangers; Ninja Rangers; and King Rangers.
America’s Power Rangers were based on the Beast Rangers of the Dinosaur Corps, the 16th version of Toei’s Rangers. According to the Los Angeles Times, Toei chose that theme “to ride on the dinosaur fever generated by Jurassic Park.” The characters and their likenesses were licensed to Saban Entertainment.
2. IT TOOK SEVEN YEARS TO SELL THE SHOW.
Before he was the executive producer of Power Rangers, Haim Saban was a concert promoter, a theme song writer, and the producer of NBC’s Kidd Video (like MTV, but for children). On a trip to Japan to meet with animation studios, he discovered Super Sentai.
“He said to me, ‘We gotta do something with this. It's so big in Japan, but nobody else around the world is looking at this stuff,’” Shuki Levy, the show's executive producer (who wrote and scored the pilot episode), told Complex.
But when Saban was shopping around the show around, no one was interested. “For seven years I've schlepped this thing, and everyone said, 'Go take a pill or something,' because this is too weird—guys in spandex suits and dinosaurs,'' Saban said in 1993. Then he met with Fox Children’s Network president Margaret Loesch, who definitely was interested—and the rest is history.
3. IT WAS ORIGINALLY CALLED DINO RANGERS.
In an interview with No Pink Spandex, Amy Jo Johnson, who played Pink Ranger Kimberly Hart, revealed that when they began filming, the show “was Dino Rangers at the time, when the show just started, before they changed the name to Power Rangers.”
4. AMY JO JOHNSON HAD DECIDED TO LEAVE L.A. RIGHT BEFORE SHE GOT CAST.
Johnson’s first six months in Los Angeles were tough. “[I was] a little discouraged, a little lonely,” she told No Pink Spandex. She had moved out to L.A. with her boyfriend, and they had broken up; she had sold everything she owned and was moving back home. Then fate stepped in: “The night before I was moving, I met this man named Walter Rainey, who ended up being my acting coach for about 10 years after that,” she said. “I went home for about two weeks. He called my parents … and was like, ‘She really should come back.’”
So Johnson came back. She had taken an acting class with Katy Wallin, who was also a casting director. “That summer ... she was casting Power Rangers in her office,” Johnson said. “She called me and said, ‘Why don’t you come in?’ So I went in and I got the job.”
5. THE ACTORS WHO PLAYED THE RANGERS WERE FOUND IN OPEN CASTING CALLS.
“Thousands of people tried out for the show,” Austin St. John, who played Red Ranger Jason, told Entertainment Tonight. “It was an open cattle call and people just came in from everywhere and I was convinced there was not a chance in you-know-what I was ever going to get anywhere near this … and I was wrong.”
The casting directors narrowed the thousands down to six groups of five teenagers. Johnson was paired with St. John, David Yost (who played Blue Ranger Billy), and Walter Jones (who played Black Ranger Zack). “We got really close, hanging out, and just sort of preparing for the auditions,” she told No Pink Spandex. “And our group ended up getting it, which was really cool.”
6. THERE WAS A DIFFERENT YELLOW RANGER IN THE PILOT.
Johnson’s audition group also included Audri DuBois, who was cast as the Yellow Ranger. The original Trini, Jones told Fusion, was “a really tough martial artist, she was really strong. She was Latin. Then she asked for more money, and after the pilot she got fired, and then they hired Thuy Trang.” You can watch the original pilot above.
7. THE ACTION SEQUENCES CAME FROM THE JAPANESE VERSION OF THE SHOW.
Rather than film their own action sequences, the show’s producers chose to keep the Japanese action “and create an American show for the rest,” Levy told Complex. “When it finally got to air, the main challenge was, because all of the action in the show came from Japanese footage, we were obligated to follow that storyline. For example, we'd get an episode where they were fighting some type of rubber-looking pig. We had no idea what the story was about, and so had to build our own around the Japanese footage … In time, we got more in sync with the Japanese, and when they saw the success of the show in the U.S. they started adjusting their work patterns to accommodate us.”
The actors would go into a recording studio to dub their lines. Jones told Fusion that the actors were rarely even in their Ranger costumes. “Only for transitioning,” he said. They never even got to be in the Zords. Frank, meanwhile, told Complex that “Because we had all of the Japanese footage, the only time we wore our suits was in the Command Center, with our helmet off.”
8. THE ACTOR WHO PLAYED ZORDON WAS FILMED ONLY ONCE.
David Fielding told Complex that his inspiration for Zordon (originally called Zoltar) was “a mythical character like Zeus or Oden, so that's the voice I was projecting when I was doing the audition.” He auditioned against just one other person, and, after auditioning with the actors cast as Rangers, booked the role.
But instead of a regular gig, he was filmed just once for a couple of hours. “For budgetary reasons they never filmed the character again,” Fielding told The Huffington Post. “They shaved all my hair off and glued my ears back. And used makeup to make my eyebrows stand out, and then painted the top half of my chest and shoulders green. I sat in front of a green screen while they filmed me because they were just going to use my head and that was it. ... If you watch the character in the show, his movements and his actions seem to be really sort of out of sync with everything.” The rest of his time playing Zordon was spent in a recording studio.
9. THEY FIRED THE WOMAN WHO VOICED RITA REPULSA—THEN RE-HIRED HER.
Barbara Goodson was part of Saban Entertainment’s stable of voice actors, and when they cast her as Rita, they told her they needed “a Wicked Witch of the West-like voice, so I did exactly what they asked,” she recalled to Complex. But after a poll, they determined she wasn’t scary enough—and fired her. “I asked them if I could try something else, but they said they would open it up to other people,” Goodson said. “And at the point, I had already done the pilot. So I said, ‘Come on guys, let me audition at least.’ I was pissed off. … I came up with that [hoarse Rita] voice out of being annoyed, and it lasted for five years.”
10. THE GREEN RANGER WASN’T SUPPOSED TO STICK AROUND.
The five original Rangers had already been cast when Jason David Frank came in to audition for Tommy, the Green Ranger—a character that was initially only supposed to appear for a few episodes. But the fans loved him, and sent letters to Saban saying so—so Saban brought him back. Frank would go on to play the White Ranger and appear in 217 episodes of the show.
11. THE SHOW WAS CRAZY SUCCESSFUL.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers began filming in September 1992 and shot for six months; the show wouldn’t debut until August 28, 1993, and when it did, it was a massive hit: By the end of 1993, the show—which aired six days a week—was the top-ranked weekday show for kids aged two to 11, and in November it took the top spot for six- to 17-year-olds on Saturday mornings as well. “The Power Rangers have captured the highest Nielsen ratings for a network children's TV show,” The Baltimore Sun wrote in December 1993.
“It's beyond anyone's expectations,” executive producer Haim Saban said at the time. “We've had so many parents write us, saying this show has created a bond between them and their kids. The parents look at it on one level, the kids on another.”
12. THE RANGERS’ COMMAND CENTER ACTUALLY EXISTS.
The exterior of Zordon’s lair is actually a building at the American Jewish University’s Brandeis-Bardin Campus in Simi Valley, California. Dubbed the “House of the Book,” it was designed by Sidney Eisenshtat and opened in 1973.
13. THE ACTORS CAME UP WITH THEIR OWN FIGHT SEQUENCES.
Saban made sure to hire actors who could do the kinds of things superheroes might do, without a ton of direction from him: Yost and Johnson were gymnasts; Jones, St. John, and Frank were martial artists. Saban tasked Jones with coming up “hip-hop kido.” Jones told The Huffington Post that “It was something I had to go put some thought to and figure out why I was doing what I was doing and how it would be most effective … That was one of the funnest parts of the job for me, coming up with new ways to dance and fight at the same time.”
But they didn’t have much time to shoot the fight sequences, and Jones didn’t have much time to figure them out. “It wasn't like a film production where you get two weeks to do a fight and it's choreographed properly,” he said, continuing:
“It was like, ‘OK, so in the script today, you're going to be fighting in the park. Hey, how about you fight on this park bench, can you come up with something?’ And so I got 15 minutes, 20 minutes, a half hour, to figure out what I wanted to do. They give me a couple putties ... It was all really improvised and choreographed spontaneously.”
14. THE ACTORS DID A LOT OF THEIR OWN STUNTS ...
“It was fun, but it was a non-union show, so I had to do a lot of the stunts, and the helmet had three holes in it, so it was hard to breathe,” Johnson told Sharon Osbourne. “They would hang me over fire pits and things; it was very dangerous ... We did a lot of very scary things.”
Johnson told Complex that in the first season, the actors wore the suits and the helmets, and “after almost suffocating in them because the helmets only had three tiny holes to breathe through, we got stunt doubles.”
15. ...BUT THEY WERE NOT PAID WELL.
“Literally, we were being paid, I think, tops $600 a week," Johnson told No Pink Spandex of the non-union show. "No residuals; absolutely not one residual.”
St. John told The Huffington Post that “I could have worked the window at McDonald's and probably made the same money the first season. It was disappointing, it was frustrating, it made a lot of us angry … We had a lot of fun. We worked around the damn clock. We worked long, long hard hours on a non-union show. And we'll just never be paid what we should have been paid.”
The situation didn’t change much after that first season. Saban Entertainment was still raking in loads of cash from merchandising, video games, and theme parks, all capitalizing on the actors’ likenesses. “I figured after two seasons we deserved to be a union show,” Jones told The Huffington Post, “and the conversation basically went that we should all get together and talk to representation and have someone represent us for these contracts as [a] group. And that didn't work out. So three of us ended up negotiating and three of us stayed. And eventually what happened is that we just negotiated out of the contracts and moved on.”
Trang, Jones, and St. John didn’t return for the third season—which would end up being the last for this iteration of Rangers. They were replaced by Karan Ashley, Johnny Yong Bosch, and Steve Cardenas, who donned the Yellow, Black, and Red Ranger uniforms, respectively.
16. THE ACTORS WERE CALLED INTO WORK RIGHT AFTER THE DEVASTATING 1994 LOS ANGELES EARTHQUAKE.
At one point, Trang and Johnson became so close that they often slept over at each other’s houses—and they were having one of those slumber parties when a devastating earthquake hit Los Angeles. “We went through that earthquake together, me and her,” Johnson told No Pink Spandex. “The morning of the earthquake, they called us into work!”
While Johnson agreed that it was crazy, she said that “We were all so young and alone in California … all these people were our home, basically, so it was kind of nice to all gather on that morning ... just to make sure that everybody was OK.” They didn’t shoot an episode that day, though, because the crew didn’t show up.
17. THE THEME SONG WAS INSPIRED BY INSPECTOR GADGET.
Composer Ron Wasserman wrote the Power Rangers theme in two hours to a rough cut of the credits. “They said, 'If you can, use the word go,' and the reason being that they had such success 15 years prior with Inspector Gadget with ‘Go Gadget Go,’” Wasserman told Complex. “I think they considered it a lucky word. The next day, Fox heard it and loved it, and then the show took off. I ended up working on that show day and night, and became the go-to-guy.”
18. BRYAN CRANSTON VOICED TWO VILLAINS.
Listen closely to the villains in two 1993 Power Rangers episodes—“Foul Play in the Sky” and “A Bad Reflection on You”—and you’ll hear the one who knocks. “I did voice work for the Power Rangers years and years ago,” Cranston said in a Reddit AMA. “Someone once told me they named the Blue Power Ranger after me, his last name was Cranston. I found out years later that was true.”
19. KIDS WENT NUTS FOR THE TOYS.
In December 1993, Entertainment Weekly declared Power Rangers toys “the hottest toys of the Christmas season.” Nearly a year later, the craze hadn’t let up: According to an August 1994 Newsweek article, “Toys that normally retail for $10 are often scalped in the classifieds for as much as $65 ... The mania has prompted Toys 'R' Us to limit sales; some stores will sell only one action toy to a family. ‘Other than the Cabbage Patch craze of '83,’ says the company's chief executive, Michael Goldstein, ‘I've never seen anything like this.’” These days, people smart enough to hold onto their action figures and Zords can make a pretty penny on eBay.
20. THE SERIES WAS BANNED IN OTHER COUNTRIES.
In 1994, the series was outright banned in New Zealand, dropped from two Canadian TV stations and edited on others for being too violent. It was also banned in Malaysia in 1995, but for another reason entirely—because authorities though that “the use of the word ‘morphin’ could have a ‘negative influence on children’ who associate it with the drug ‘morphine,’” according to ITN. The word was eventually censored out, and the show was allowed back on the air.
It wasn’t just the show being banned: The series’ clothing and merchandise was banned at one pre-school in New York, where teachers said kids were fighting and that it was “worse than anything [they] had seen with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or prior fads.”
Many parents thought the show was too violent from the get-go, but Saban was dismissive of their concerns. “If anybody in the world can tell me that a flower-spitting monster or a pig that tries to eat all the food on Earth is violent—oh, please, give me a break,” he said in 1993. “Our aim is to teach kids a concept like teamwork, in an entertaining way. We know kids are fascinated with martial arts, so we have that. But we show that martial arts develop self-control and inner strength, and should only be used for self-defense.”
21. THERE COULD HAVE BEEN A BULK AND SKULL SPIN-OFF.
Let’s be happy this series starring Angel Grove’s two hapless bullies never happened. According to Jason Narvy, who played Skull, in the spinoff “Bulk and Skull kind of ran, I think, their grandmother’s hotel. And we had gotten a Mexican Elvis impersonator named Elves and wacky things were going to happen.”
22. THE SCRIPT FOR THE MOVIE WAS WRITTEN AS THE FILM WAS BEING SHOT.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie filmed for five months in Australia and, like the show, was non-union. Unlike the show, it didn't feature any recycled Japanese footage.
“The film started off as a fairly modest project, around $18 million, and seemed to get bigger and bigger as we went along,” Paul Freeman, who played the film’s villain, Ivan Ooze, told the Los Angeles Times in 1995. “The script developed as we were making it, and at one point the producer Suzanne Todd would be sitting in the corner on set, writing the script on her laptop. In the middle of speaking lines, I'd get handed rewrites, and a producer would say: ‘Here, say this instead.’ Well, what was I going to say? There I was playing a character called Ooze, and anything was possible.”
23. THERE ARE 20 SERIES OF THE AMERICAN VERSION OF POWER RANGERS ... SO FAR.
Much like its Japanese inspiration, Power Rangers spawned many iterations, including Power Rangers In Space, Power Rangers Ninja Storm, and Power Rangers Jungle Fury. The total number comes to 20, which doesn't include Mighty Morphin Alien Rangers, a miniseries that ran between the original MMPR and Power Rangers Zeo, or the confirmed 2016 reboot, Power Rangers Dino SuperCharge.