Is Mister Mentor, the wizard Shazam?


Fall 1974 was an exciting time for fans of the original Captain Marvel as a live action Saturday morning TV show premiered on September 7. The show starred 31-year-old, relative newcomer Jackson Bostwick as The Big Red Cheese himself, Captain Marvel, 23-year-old Michael Gray as Cap’s alter ego, Billy Batson, and 61-year-old veteran actor, Les Tremayne as Mister Mentor or simply “Mentor” as he was often called.


Taking a “vacation” from his job at radio station W.H.I.Z ( the call letters never explicitly stated in the series), Billy is joined by Mentor, who drives an Open Road motor home around various suburbs, ranches, horse farms, construction sites, grocery stores, mining facilities and national parks of Los Angeles in search of various children and young adults who need help.


Early on in each episode, Billy is contacted by the six Elders (Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury -- the grantors of Captain Marvel’s powers), who give the boy vague predictions about who and what they will encounter. These predictions have a moral slant that are designed to teach Billy a life lesson. Billy and Mentor then meet the young people who are often caught in a dilemma such as getting in with a bad group of people, committing petty crimes, taking the law into their own hands, or some other type of trouble.


Billy attempts to help them as much as he can, but eventually he has to resort to shouting the magic word, “SHAZAM!,” and transforming into the World’s Mightiest Mortal, Captain Marvel. Cap saves the day with the troubled young person being set back on the road to righteousness and Billy learning a moral lesson. Captain Marvel, or Billy, closes out the episode by recapping the moral lesson and that’s it until the following week.


None of the three main characters are given much of a backstory in the series, other than Billy taking an extended vacation from his job, leaving the viewer to fill in the gaps as the series progressed.


Michael Gray as Billy Batson along with Les Tremayne as his Mentor.


Mister Mentor, Billy’s traveling companion, as he is often introduced to the various people they encounter, has two roles: drive the Open Road motor home and provide cryptic guidance to Billy following up on the vague overview given by the Elders.He is a good-natured, gregarious, sort who protects Billy but also advises or confirms when it is time for Billy to change into Captain Marvel.


Les Tremayne as Mentor


For readers familiar with the original Captain Marvel, one character seemed remarkably absent… the old Wizard, Shazam, who bestowed the Elders’ powers on Billy Batson. But was he truly absent?


It’s time to answer that burning question and reveal that Mister Mentor was none other than the ancient wizard… SHAZAM! How could this be? Wasn’t Mentor really Billy’s faux-Uncle Dudley? Why wasn’t he called “Shazam”? Where were his powers? Why did he look like a middle-aged man? These and other sticky questions will be answered. Read on!

Why wasn't he called "Shazam"?

This one is pretty easy to answer. Billy Batson can't refer to Mentor as "Shazam" as it would cause him to transform into Captain Marvel. Billy also can't introduce Mentor to others as the "Wizard" because that would be stretching the suspension of disbelief too far. So, to solve both of these problems, the Filmation creators simply named him Mister Mentor, or Mentor for short.

Why did he look like a middle-aged man?

For the same reason that the creators of the TV show chose to call him, Mister Mentor, they also tidied up the old Wizard and made him presentable for a audience who would see him interacting with children and adults. By trimming the Wizard's long hair and beard down to a haircut and mustache style of the time, Shazam, as Mentor, could pass for a middle-aged man and not draw any attention to himself.

Mentor has powers?

He sure does! The first of which is either flight or teleportation!

During the fourth episode of the first season, "The Lure of the Lost," Billy is counseling a young girl named Holly after tracking her to a horse farm on his motorcycle. As they are discussing her predicament, Mentor pipes in with a question.

Startled by Mentor's voice, Holly and Billy turn to see him sitting in a crook in a tree. Holly asks Billy how Mentor arrived at their location and Billy responds, "Oh, he has a habit of popping up when you least expect him." Mentor does not explain how he found Holly and Billy's location nor how he ended up in the tree.

Mentor in a tree from Episode 104 - The Lure of the Lost
Mentor sitting in a tree in episode 104, "The Lure of the Lost"

Sadly, this power of Mentor was never revisited or explained as Mentor was always playing catch-up with Billy or Captain Marvel by driving the motor home to their location.

Mentor was also able to communicate with the Elders at will and without the help of the Eterni-Phone! This power is seen in episode 109, "The Doom Buggy". Mentor must help in alerting the authorities and to do so he rides a motorcycle. As he complains that "The Elders never told me that I'd have to do this!," a thunderclap is heard and Mentor looks to the skies apologetically. This exchange also confirms that Mentor, by his own admission, is an agent of the Elders. Shazam was also an agent of the Elders.

Mentor looks to the skies after complaining about The Elders in episode 109, "The Doom Buggy"

Mentor was also a master of disguise! This power was only utilized in episode 114, "The Past is Not Forever." Mentor, disguised as a gardener, overhears Vinnie admit to his sister, Mellie, that he framed her boyfriend, Jackie.

A disguised Mentor overhears Vinnie admitting a frameup in episode 114, "The Past is Not Forever"

Mentor is also an incredibly quick student, claiming to have learned the piano and violin in "two whole days!" Now, Mentor might have been sarcastic but, with his powers, his claim is not beyond the realm of possibility.

Mentor tells Billy that "It took me two whole days to master the piano and violin," in episode 109, "The Doom Buggy"

Mentor also boasted that he taught Cupid how to shoot an arrow in episode 112, "The Delinquent", even though Cupid missed!

Mentor boasts that he taught Cupid archery in episode 112, "The Delinquent"

But isn't he really Billy's faux-Uncle Dudley?

With the success of the TV series, DC Comics decided to rejuvenate the SHAZAM! comic book which had fallen on hard times. While still being published, its frequency had dropped to quarterly and was reprinting older stories from the 1940s and 1950s. By adding the SHAZAM! title to its newly launched "DC TV" comic line, the comic would contain new stories again, this time loosely modeled on the TV show. 

SHAZAM! #26 (Dec 1976)
In SHAZAM! #26, writer E. Nelson Bridwell, repurposed Billy's kindly, old, fraudulent Uncle Dudley into the Mentor role while side-stepping the idea that he could be Shazam. Wearing an outfit similar to TV's Mentor and growing some lip-spinach, Dudley took the driver's seat in W.H.I.Z. provided motor home as he and Billy prepare to tour the United States at Shazam's direction and with the aid of Station W.H.I.Z. owner Sterling Morris. Morris assigns Billy the task of creating a series of specials about America's young people although covertly, and at Shazam's bidding, Billy and Dudley embark on a mission to track down the evil Dr. Sivana who boasts that he will destroy America, city by city!

This series of stories continued through the SHAZAM title's thirty-fourth issue, it's penultimate issue -- even though the DC TV branding was dropped!

The stories were, in some respect, a throwback to Captain Marvel's Golden Age city-spanning adventures and were a clever way to tie in to the TV series.

All in all, Dudley and Billy (and Captain Marvel, of course) visited Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Boston, Buffalo, NY and Niagara Falls, Pittsburgh, Columbus, OH, Detroit, Indianapolis, and Chicago!
 
Uncle Dudley sports some newly acquired "Lip Spinach" from SHAZAM! #26 (1975)

Okay, time to take a break... what the heck is lip-spinach? In this case, it's a mustache and does anyone in the real world call it that? Apparently so, as this article from the Calgary Herald attests...


Yes, people do say "Lip Spinach" as this article from the Calgary Herald attests!

Okay, that's pretty recent. Here's something a bit older., purportedly from 1955...

No Lip Spinach in Vegas because crooks wear them in movies reports Walter Winchell

Now that that's been cleared up, why did E. Nelson Bridwell choose Dudley to stand-in for Mentor? The answer to that question is coming up!

Isn't this just circumstantial evidence?

It is! And it's a pretty good case and it could be left right there, except...

Retro Fan #4 (Spring 2019)
There's cold, hard evidence for it! You heard that right! This isn't just idle speculation. Way back in the spring of 2019, TwoMorrows Publications released Retro Fan magazine #4 with a cover story on the SHAZAM! TV show. Author Andy Mangels detailed a bit of the history of the show and revealed some of the 3-page SHAZAM! TV show bible. The SHAZAM! bible is basically an overview of the series for writers, directors, and production people that details how the stories should be structured as well as the breakdown of the cast of characters as well as a bit of their various backstories. And as can be imagined, Mentor's is pretty fascinating. Mangels writes:
Young Billy Batson was summoned by Mister Mentor to a secret underground lair, because he had been selected, in "mystical fashion by the Six Elders." Mentor had previously been Captain Marvel, but now needed to pass his powers on.
That's basically the Captain Marvel origin if the name Mentor is swapped out for Shazam. In two sentences, Mangels reveals that Mentor is Shazam!

You can read this yourself, in excerpted form at The 13th Dimension website or you can purchase of copy of Retro Fan #4 at the TwoMorrows website.

SHAZAM! TV Show Presentation Piece

But is that enough? Maybe not. What else does the SHAZAM! TV bible say about Mentor? Here it is, for the first time...
As a young orphaned lad, BILLY BATSON was summoned to the secret underground lair of MISTER MENTOR, having been selected, in mystical fashion by THE SIX ELDERS, to be the successor to MISTER MENTOR, the previous possessor of the magical ability to transform himself into CAPTAIN MARVEL.

MENTOR--himself, a sage-and-wise man--had progressed, in years; the time had come to prepare a successor-to-the-task of bringing CAPTAIN MARVEL to "life" at times of great human need.

MENTOR told BILLY to utter the word--"SHAZAM!"; BILLY did, and, for the first
time, became CAPTAIN MARVEL.
Wow! That's even clearer! There's no doubt that Mentor is Shazam in all but name! The bible even details a couple of Mentor's powers:
  • he is able to communicate, at will, with THE ELDERS (Always, THE ELDERS are "limbo" voices, in these communications; always, these communications are outside of BILLY's hearing range; frequently, these communications are richly comedic); 
  • he is the absolute master-of-disguise. (This latter "power" enables him to keep check on BILLY and the evolution of events without BILLY being made aware of MENTOR's presence.)
Now these powers didn't quite end up in the show, as described, but they did make it into the show in an altered form as described earlier in this article.

So there you have it! A good strong case for Mentor being the wizard, Shazam. And it could have ended there, except...

Maybe Mentor wasn't Shazam after all

The Amazing World of
DC Comics #3 (Nov 1974)
Wait! What? There's a good possibility that Mentor wasn't Shazam but actually another character in the SHAZAM! canon. During my research, while I was building a strong case for the Mentor/Shazam connection, I came across an article by E. Nelson Bridwell in The Amazing World of DC Comics #3 (Nov-Dec 1974). Bridwell writes this about Mentor in "The Cap-Shazammer Kid,":
Which brings up another question -- who's Mentor?
As originally planned, Mentor was to replace Shazam as Billy's predecessor . This was nixed as tampering with the hero's origin. The approved version was to identify him as the mysterious figure who led Billy into the abandoned subway tunnel to meet the old wizard and gain his powers. However, on the tube, there was no explanation at all of Mentor's identity. That he is old seems quite obvious. In one script, he speaks of Beethoven as if he had personally known the composer. In another, he claims to have instructed Cupid in archery. And he is an agent of the Shazam gods, the Elders, as they are called on the show.
So, it makes sense that E. Nelson Bridwell turned Uncle Dudley into Mentor in the SHAZAM! comics. He could have used the Mysterious Figure, but that character, up until that point, had been notoriously absent since his first appearance and only appearance in WHIZ COMICS #2 and any subsequent retelling of Captain Marvel's origin.

So, who's right? Should the SHAZAM! TV bible be taken at its word or should DC Comics historian extraordinaire, E. Nelson Bridwell be believed? While I would normally subscribe to any proposal the late Bridwell put forward, I must side with the SHAZAM TV bible. Everything about the choices made point to Mentor being Shazam including giving him a name that Billy could say without transforming into Captain Marvel. In comics, Shazam often served as a guide for Billy... who's to say he didn't get a shave and a haircut and a driver's license to taxi Billy around the suburbs of Los Angeles?

Updated 8-November-2020

Another piece of evidence has been found. In Animation by FILMATION, authors Michael Swanigan and Darrell MacNeil say this about the 1974 SHAZAM! TV show on page 143:
The show starred teen idol Michael Gray as young Billy Batson, who traveled across country in a motor home with his friend, Mr. Mentor, played by Les Tremayne, loosely based on the comics' actual Shazam! character.
And in Episode 126 of the podcast, Comic Book Central, from 2016, titled "Shazam Commentary with Michael Gray and John Davey", the interviewer, Joe Stuber, at the 28:15 mark asserts that Mentor may be the Wizard Shazam.



Joe Stuber: I still think Mentor was the Wizard.
Michael Gray: Yeah.
Joe Stuber: I-I still think that, that he was the Wizard, Shazam. I don't know if they ever... that, that was never like canon in the show, right?
Michael Gray: No, it was not.
Joe Stuber: Is that the sense you got, when you were shooting it, that he was the wizard, Shazam?
Michael Gray: I had a feeling, yeah, I really did, but they never brought that to surface.
Joe Stuber: It would have been nice if they would have explored that a little bit better.
Michael Gray: Yep.

Updated 15-November-2020

Further evidence comes from the magazine, TV's Dynamic Heroes (1976), in an article titled, "SHAZAM!: They Don't Call It 'The Captain Marvel Show'" by Jim Harmon:
"If one were being a bit fanciful, one might think that the crafty old magician had trimmed his beard down to a neat mustache, climbed into a hunting jacket-style sports coat, and appeared on the screen as Mr. Mentor, young Billy's new companion in the TV series. Actually, Mr. Mentor is supposed to be the person who previously had the power to become Captain Marvel, and who is now helping train his young replacement, Billy."
Since Shazam had picked Billy to be his successor in the comics, here's another example, and one that aligns with the SHAZAM! Bible that Mentor is the live action Filmation Universe's old wizard, Shazam! 

This article, outside of The Shazam! Bible, is in the show's time frame!






Comments

  1. OK, you have me convinced that, allowing for inevitable variance between source material and screen version, Mentor is the TV version of the wizard Shazam.

    Do you think this inspired Jerry Ordway's tale of when the wizard came to Earth in PowerofSHAZAM!?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, Zorikh! I thought about that a lot while I was researching the article. I kept picturing Shazam wearing a New Kids on the Block jacket. I don't know if Jerry thinks Mentor is Shazam but it sure seems that he liked the Billy/Mentor dynamic enough to apply it or something like it to his Power of Shazam! stories. Good question, sir!

      Delete
  2. The mysterious figure turns out to be the spirit of Billy's father in Jerry Ordway's Power of Shazam series.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Indeed! And it was a great addition by Jerry! At the time of SHAZAM! TV show, however, the Mysterious Figure had not returned other than being seen in flashbacks to Billy's origin.

      Delete

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