Things That Bring Back Memories – “Greatest American Hero” #MondayMemories 16

Things That Bring Back Memories

For this week’s “Things That Bring Back Memories” post, I am going to pick something in the topic of “TELEVISION” and go with “The Greatest American Hero“.  This is a television show that started in 1981 and was over in 1983.  My Dad was a real Sci-Fi guy and anything that had to do with flying, so we always watched this show together.  Had some funny things in it, and still to this day – how many of us women are telling our men to read the directions?? ha/ha  Being that he had lost the directions to the suit, he never learned how to land, which was a crack-up!!!

This television show also has one of those theme songs, that no matter what, if you hear it on the radio (old folks station, of course), you can sing right along!!  I still love it!!

For those of you, who are either too young, or just don’t remember it, here’s a video of one of the “The Greatest American Hero” shows:

The Greatest American Hero
was one with a really great cast, as well.  I know my Dad was “in love” with Connie Sellecca and I really thought that Robert Culp, was really cool!!  I couldn’t believe it, when we lost him in 2010.  What a great actor, as well as the rest that were in this show.  I so love looking back on things from back in the day that were safe to watch as a family, ones that you didn’t need to worry about the “bleeps”, etc.  That is when television meant a lot, in my opinion.  I think it takes extra skill to make a show suitable for everyone with a clean script.  To me, as a parent now, that means so much more!

So, did you ever watch this show when you were younger? or have you seen it on TV later in life?  Let me know what you thought of it, and if you have any memories of it in your life!

More Info on the Television Series:

heroThe Greatest American Hero is an American comedy-drama television series that aired for three seasons from 1981 to 1983 on ABC.  Created by producer Stephen J. Cannell, it premiered as a two-hour pilot movie on March 18, 1981.  The series features William Katt as teacher Ralph Hinkley (“Hanley” for the latter part of the first season), Robert Culp as FBI agent Bill Maxwell, and Connie Sellecca as lawyer Pam Davidson.

The series chronicles Ralph’s adventures after a group of aliens gives him a red suit that gives him superhuman abilities. Unfortunately for Ralph, who hates wearing the suit, he immediately loses its instruction booklet, and thus has to learn how to use its powers by trial and error, often with comical results.

Ralph Hinkley is a Los Angeles public school teacher of special education high school students who speak with Brooklyn, NY accents. Determined to teach them well, Ralph takes them on a “geological survey” field trip to the desert. Coming back from the field trip later that night, the school bus breaks down. Ralph starts to walk back through the desert to get help and encounters a swerving car driven by FBI Special Agent Bill Maxwell (Culp) that stops just in time to avoid hitting Hinkley. Maxwell insists that he could not control the car. An alien spacecraft appears and the aliens tell Ralph and Bill (by way of the car radio) that they are to work together to save the world from its own destruction and Ralph will be given the power to change it. They are given a black case. Ralph takes the case, but drops a component which later turns out to be the instruction manual. Later Ralph opens the case and finds a red suit (with cape), which endows him with superhuman abilities. Pam Davidson is an attorney who handled Ralph’s divorce and later becomes his wife. She often joins Ralph and Bill on their adventures.

Ralph’s uniform grants him the powers of flight, super strength, resistance to injury (including direct bullet hits to areas covered by the suit), invisibility, precognition, post-cognition, E.S.P., telekinesis, X-ray vision, super speed, pyrokinesis, holographic vision, shrinking, psychometry, and a sense to detect the supernatural. Often, without the manual, these powers are a surprise to Ralph. Notably, while the suit enables Ralph to fly, it does not endow him with any particular skill at landing, so he frequently crashes in an undignified (if undamaged) heap. In the episode “Fire Man” he herodisplays resistance to fire/heat and uses “super-breath” (blowing out a flamethrower), he also uses it in “There’s Just No Accounting…” to extinguish a Molotov cocktail. He also shows signs of being able to control minds when he is exposed to high doses of plutonium radiation. In the season two finale episode, “Lilacs, Mr. Maxwell”, Ralph is shown to control a dog by a holograph. This may have been an improvisational power of the suit, but is never tried again. In “The Shock Will Kill You,” he (or the suit) becomes strongly magnetized.

In the season two episode “Don’t Mess Around with Jim,” Ralph and Maxwell learn that they are not the first duo who received such a uniform. Jim “J.J.” Beck had received the suit, and Marshall Dunn was his partner, much like Ralph and Maxwell operated. But Jim was overwhelmed with the power of the suit, and he used it selfishly until it was taken away. It is unknown if there were others before Jim who were visited by the aliens. In “Divorce Venusian Style,” the pair meet the alien, whose world was apparently destroyed (which hints as to why it wants to protect humanity) and calls Earth one of the few remaining “garden planets.” Ralph is given another instruction book—- supposedly the aliens’ last copy, but he loses it as well, when he and the book shrink to a fraction of their normal sizes, and he is not holding the book when he returns to his original height. In the episode, “Vanity, Says the Preacher”, it is also revealed that there are several other people in seeming “suspended animation” aboard the aliens’ ship (Bill speculates that they are possible replacements for them).

The hero persona never receives a “superhero name,” either, although Scarbury sings the Elton John song “Rocket Man” in the pilot. However, in the episode “The Shock Could Kill You,” Ralph refers to himself sarcastically as “Captain Gonzo.”

Like his own character of Ralph Hinkley/Hanley, William Katt found the suit very uncomfortable and hated wearing it. Producers made various modifications to the suit to help him, and accommodated him by scheduling filming so he would not have to wear it all work-day.



heroWilliam Katt (Ralph Hinkley) was born on February 16, 1951 in Los Angeles, California, USA as William Theodore Katt. He is an actor and director, known for The Greatest American Hero (1981), Carrie (1976) and The Man from Earth (2007). He has been married to Danielle Hirsch since April 10, 1993. They have two children. He was previously married to Deborah Kahane.  

Katt attended Orange Coast College before pursuing a career as a musician. Inspired by his father, he then started an acting career, appearing in summer stock and in small television roles. His earliest film credits include the role of a jock, Tommy Ross in Brian De Palma’s 1976 horror film adaptation Carrie, which allowed Katt to make a name for himself. 

In December 1975, Katt had auditioned for the part of Luke Skywalker in 1977’s science fiction blockbuster Star Wars, and footage of his audition has been featured in many Star Wars documentaries. He was seriously considered for the role, which instead went to Mark Hamill, and Katt instead starred that year in First Love, playing a college student who experiences his first romantic relationship.

After The Greatest American Hero, Katt starred in Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend (1985), about explorers searching for apatosaurs in Africa; the cult horror/comedy film House (1986) (reprising his role for the third sequel, House IV in 1992), and played the recurring role of detective Paul Drake Jr. in the periodic Perry Mason TV movies of the late eighties. These co-starred his mother, Barbara Hale, who resumed her Della Street role from the original show, and Katt collaborated on some of the later scripts. Katt starred in the 1989 TV series Top of the Hill and made a guest appearance on the first episode of the short-lived 1991 series Good Sports.

Robert Culp (Bill Maxwell) (August 16, 1930 – March 24, 2010) was born in Oakland, California to Crozier Cordell Culp, an attorney, and his wife, Bethel Martin (Collins) Culp. He graduated from Berkeley High School, where he was a pole vaulter and took second place at the 1947 CIF California State Meet.  He attended the College of the Pacific, Washington University in St. Louis, San Francisco State College, and the University of Washington School of Drama but never completed an academic degree.  He was an American actor, screenwriter, voice actor and director, widely known for his work in television.  Culp earned an international reputation for his role as Kelly Robinson on I Spy (1965–1968), the espionage series in which he and co-star Bill Cosby played a pair of secret agents. Prior to that, he starred in the CBS/Four Star western series, Trackdown as Texas Ranger Hoby Gilman from 1957-1959.  The 1980s brought him back to television. He starred as FBI Agent Bill Maxwell on The Greatest American Hero and also had a recurring role as Warren Whelan on Everybody Loves Raymond.  In all, Culp gave hundreds of performances in a career spanning more than 50 years.


heroConnie Sellecca (Pam Davidson) She was born Concetta Sellecchia in The Bronx, New York, New York to Italian parents.  At age twelve, she moved to Pomona, New York and attended Pomona Junior High School. While attending Ramapo High School in Spring Valley, she first became interested in the performing arts. Although she matriculated at Boston College, she withdrew to pursue a career in acting.   Sellecca first worked as a fashion model before her acting debut in the film The Bermuda Depths in 1978, followed by Captain America II: Death Too Soon, a TV movie starring Christopher Lee and Lana Wood. She then starred in a CBS comedy “Flying High”, about an airline then as lawyer Pam Davidson on The Greatest American Hero, the girlfriend and foil to the main character. After Hero ended, she was released from her contract in time to audition for the part of promotions manager Christine Francis on the television drama Hotel, opposite James Brolin. She played this role from 1983 to 1988.  Sellecca plays lead roles in several made for television films.  More recent work includes a role in the 2009 film The Wild Stallion.


Did You Know?

The main character’s name was originally Ralph Hinkley, but after the assassination attempt of Ronald Reagan by John Hinckley, Jr. on March 30, 1981, the character’s last name was changed to “Hanley”. For the rest of the first season, he was either “Ralph” or “Mister H”.

The emblem on the suit which a lot of people thought was an Chinese symbol, was actually just made from an outline of a pair of scissors, that the producer had on his desk (those were some weird scissors).

During July 2008, it was announced that Katt was writing a comic book series based on the television series for his publishing company, Catastrophic Comics, in conjunction with Arcana Studios. The three-issue mini-series debuted later that year, featuring an updated retelling of the original pilot episode set in the present. Katt also contributes to the show’s Facebook page.

According to Stephen J. Cannell, the emblem on the suit (and also on the clothing of the aliens) was inspired by the square-handled scissors on Cannell’s desk.

In the pilot when Ralph is taken to a mental hospital wearing his super outfit, a man tells him, “That’s a bad suit, Jim!” A similar line (“Say Jim, that’s a bad out-FIT!”) was said to Christopher Reeve in Superman (1978) movie.

Initially Pam was only to be featured in the Pilot, as a recurring gag was to be Ralph having a different girl friend in each episode. ‘Connie Selleca’ impressed the producers so much with her performance that she was made a regular on the series.


Thanks for stopping by today.  Please be sure to leave a comment, if this show meant something to you, too.  Or to just let me know what you think of the story in this post!   TigerStrypes claims no credit for any images used on this post, unless otherwise noted.  Images in this post are copyright to their respectful owners. If there is an image appearing on this blog that belongs to you and do not wish for it appear on this site, please email us with a link to said image and it will be promptly removed.  Thanks and have a great day!!

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Rose Powell
9 years ago

I am very unfamiliar with this show. When I was younger I remember some Saturday Morning Cartoons like ThunderCats, Jem, and yes, I did even watch WonderWoman!

Linda Kinsman
9 years ago

You finally shared a TV show I didn’t watch. It’s fun to read about it now and remember those years.

Jamie @ Life of Creed
9 years ago

I’m to young to know the show, but love the fun facts you list. I think the scissors as the inspiration of the emblem on the suit, is very interesting. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

Heidi Bee
Heidi Bee
9 years ago

Boy, the actors all still look really good! i don’t remember watching the show but I remember the commercials for it!

Kim @ This Ole Mom
9 years ago

I remember that ! Forgot all about it . Thanks for jolting my memory. I think I would have changed my last name too . Thank you for sharing and teaching me something new about the show and characters. Always wondered if the symbol meant something!

Tove Maren
9 years ago

I can’t stop laughing at these images and this series. I didn’t grow up over here – so I missed this one. But I love watching some of the shows we watched at kids – they are so funny now – and back then it was all serious business to us. Thanks for sharing.

C. Lee Reed
9 years ago

I used to think he was so cute. And I still know the words to that song. They should bring these good shows back; not this reality crap!

9 years ago

I can’t believe I’ve never seen this show. I am such a sucker for the older stuff! Guess I’ll have to check it out now!

Thanks for linking up with Momma Told Me!

tara pittman
9 years ago

I dont remember this show. This would be a great show that my boys will like.

Toni-Lynn Barber
9 years ago

Wow!! I totally forgot about that show lol That is one of many I’d love to see come back. Buck Rodgers was a great show too.

Patty H
Patty H
9 years ago

I remember this show and the theme song too! Wow memories. I love things that jar good memories of childhood. Thanks for the post.

Kim @ 2justByou
9 years ago

I’ve never heard of this TV series, but I really find it interesting how they changed the main character’s name.