Thursday, January 12, 2012

Secrets of Isis (1975-77)

Executive Producers: Norm Presscott and Louis Scheimer/ Filmation Studios
Starring: JoAnna Cameron, Brian Cutler, Joanna Pang (Season 1) Ronalda Douglas (Season 2)
Genre: Live action Superhero Kidshow

"With this amulet, you and your descendants are endowed by the Goddess Isis with the powers of the animals and the elements. You will soar as the falcon soars, run with the speed of gazelles, and command the elements of sky and earth."

I don't know how I remember the CBS Saturday morning live-action show THE SECRETS of ISIS, but I think it has a lot to do with the fact that ISIS star JoAnna Cameron was a dead ringer for my second grade teacher Ms. Cooper, of whom I had one of my first boyhood crushes on. Now mind you, I was around seven years of age, and even though I think I knew about the mechanics of sexual intercourse by that time (after having learned it from the same place where all God-fearing Ohioan have for years...from the high school kids who sat in the back seat on my rural school bus route), there was nothing carnal about my interest in Ms. Cooper. I just hoped one day she'd turn into Isis and we'd have an adventure that involved fighting dinosaurs. Or aliens. Or Commies (this was the Reagan Era, after all). Whatever hi-jinx we would become involved in, I'd certainly be the only male second grader in her class joining her on it, and then we'd get married. After that, I'd spend my days getting into misadventures in which Ms. Cooper would have to save me from bad guys, and on our off days I'd hang out with Steve Trevor (who looked a lot like Lyle Waggoner) while Ms. Cooper and Wonder Woman would enjoy a much needed "girl's night out".

I was a pretty imaginative kid. Plus, I think my school was riddled with asbestos, which I might have ate on a dare, leading to those funny headaches I have these days.

The Secrets of Isis is your typical superhero formula kids show, with JoAnna Cameron portraying high school teacher Andrea Thomas, who after finding a magic necklace, gains the ability to transform into Isis, basically a feminine version of Captain Marvel. A full option package of superpowers came with the deal.....Isis' more than human abilities are a little difficult to define because it seems that she, well, pretty much could do anything the episode in question called for.

The general plot of the bulk of the 22 episodes of the series usually involves the kids of Andrea's class making bad decisions and then needing Isis to bail their sorry asses out of the fire. It's kinda like an Afterschool Special that at some point takes a turn for the bizarre when the flying chick in the toga shows up and starts juggling Chevys or disintegrating bank robbers....with Isis every once and a while breaking the fourth wall to tell kids to not take drugs, drink their milk, cross only at designated crosswalks,.....y'know, whatever floats yer boat.

The Secrets of Isis was the brainchild of Lou Scheimer and Filmation Associates, a mainstay in 1970s Saturday morning television, and a personal favorite of mine, and was a spin-off of sorts of their earlier live-action superhero success, SHAZAM!, based upon the lovable DC Comics property Captain Marvel. DC followed suit and launched an ISIS comic book tie-in around the same time as the show was hitting the airwaves.

One thing I've always found kinda odd is that JoAnna Cameron didn't really go on to do anything else of merit after her time on ISIS. She retired from acting around 1980 and went into the home health care industry. These days she makes occasional appearances at comic book and sci-fi conventions, signing autographs and seems to take the whole ISIS thing in stride, but I've always thought she had a fairly interesting look and had some decent acting chops. She was in an episode of the 1970s Amazing Spider-Man live-action show in a bikini, so that's worth something, I guess...

The Secrets of ISIS is an enjoyable enough time-waster, sometimes much better than many it's contemporaries in the 70s live-action kiddie show arena (I seem to remember loving Jason of Star Command as a small child, then recently picking up the BCI DVD release of it and actually becoming physically ill watching it, probably due to the massive cheese content the show contains). JoAnna Cameron provides some much needed live-action eye candy that's sorely missing from children's television programing, and holds a significant place in TV history as the first costumed superheroine to grace the idiot box in a regular ongoing series, pre-dating Lynda Carter by a few years.

Above: Cameron in B.S. I Love You (20th Century Fox, 1971)

In 2007, BCI Eclipse released the entire series on DVD, and even though it's currently out of print (as are all of BCI's titles since the company shut it's doors), it still can be found for fairly affordable prices online. Or, you can just watch it for free on Hulu, and recently made it's way to Netflix's streaming services. So, if ladies in togas, the speed of gazelles and magic necklaces are your thing, The Secrets of Isis might just fill that need to see a little leg in your Saturday morning entertainment.

- Hong Kong Cavalier 

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