Pantheon of Plastic: #4

He was the son of TV actors, and a TV actor he became, but he achieved much more than his parents. He missed out on the role of Luke Skywalker, but he became a hero who is much better-loved than that whiny teenager – and the smiling face behind the most sing-alonga theme tune of all time. Ladeez and gennulmens, I give you the fourth inductee to the Pantheon of Plastic, also inducted in 1982, it is William Katt!

Sundance Kid, Butch and Sundance: The Early Days
(Movie, 1979; figure released 1979 by Kenner)

William Katt is Robert Redford is the Sundance Kid, back when he was kid. These figures were made by Kenner in support of the film, hoping to repeat the success of the Star Wars phenomenon. They tried some technical innovations: these were Kenner’s first figures with knee joints, because this was the Old West and the characters needed to be able to line dance ride horses.

And heck, that ol’ “Western Cafe” playset that was good enough for Butch and Sundance would do just fine when it was reissued as Mos Eisley Cantina for Star Wars.

Also, here’s the trailer for the film. And here’s a review from 1979 that gives the film credit for the word “prequel”. There’s another Star Wars connection – the first Star Wars film was only called Episode IV in 1981, after Empire Strikes Back had been released as Episode V. So the idea of a prequel may have only hatched in Lucas’ brain after he sat through Willaim Katt as the Sundance Kid. Thus, we have the true legacy of Katt in this role: Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Ralph, The Greatest American Hero

(TV show, 1982; figure released 1982 by Mego)

The first episode of G.A.H. is quite surprising. It’s almost gritty – there are villains murdering people, and William Katt’s lead character Ralph is going all Dangerous Minds inspirational on a classroom of troubled yoof. There is no hint that he’s going to end up being one of the great clown characters of American TV, complete with a hilariously cowardly FBI sidekick.

The figure was released with sidekick as part of a playset with a convertible “Bug”. The box art features a great caricature by legendary MAD-magazine artist Jack Davis.

Ralph Hinkley had a name-change soon after the Greatest American Hero debuted, on account of some other Hinkley trying to assassinate the U.S. President. The crew went through and overdubbed mentions of the name with “Mr H” or disguised it with sound effects, including on one occasion the sound of jet engines. They changed his name in unfilmed scripts to the less-offensive Hanley, and made a new nameplate for the character’s office door so when the camera lingered, everyone could see that his name was not at all like that of the would-be Reagan-killer. A great disaster was avoided and Americans could watch the bumbling curly-blond hero without being reminded of the assassin!

Until season 2, when they changed his name back to Hinkley.

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