In June of 2002, I finally had the pleasure of talking with
one of the main people behind Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends. The Producer, Story
Editor, and even the voice of the Green Goblin: Dennis Marks. In an exclusive
SPIDER-FRIENDS.COM interview, Dennis gives the stories behind the stories and certainly pulls
no punches in doing so. What follows is the Q &A session I held with Dennis:
Q) Please give everyone some background on yourself. How did you first
become involved in the animation industry?
I believe it was 1959. I had been signed by the
William Morris Agency, along with Alan Friedman, as a song-writing team. I had done a pilot for
Mike Stokey all by myself. Alan and I had a song in the off-Broadway revue, "Fallout."
This show had the first material by us as well as Marty Charnin, who went on to do the lyrics
for "Annie." Also was Charles Nelson Reilly's show in a theatre and Tom O'Horgan who became a
top director. We were also signed by the BMI Musical Comedy program and had come up with the
idea of doing a Sherlock Holmes musical. Anyway, my agent asked if I could do cartoons and I
said sure. I was a big comic book reader as a kid. Went in to see Al
Dennis Marks in 2002
Brodax, head of King Features TV. King Features handled all the Hearst comic
strips and Brodax was trying to promote them onto TV. The first one I wrote was a six minute "Barney Google and
Snuffy Smith." It sailed through. I was all at once a cartoon writer. In those days you wrote
in TV script form: Action in ALL CAPS on the left side of the page and on the right side was the
dialogue. I wrote several Snuffy Smiths and then went on to write several "Beetle Bailey"'s while
writing songs for Holmes. Suddenly I was auditioning for the Jackie Gleason show. This was the
"American Scene Magazine" Gleason show, not "The Honeymooners." I won't go into this as it is
another complete story, but I was hired as one of three junior writers for the following
season. At the same time the Sherlock Holmes Broadway musical I co-created, "Baker
Street, " was proceeding without me. (Another story.) I got married and left the morning
after with my bride for Miami Beach. This lasted till the following February. I returned to
NYC and immediately heard that Al Brodax wanted me for his new series, "The Beatles." That
settled it. I was a cartoon writer. "Baker Street" had opened, I found a new composer and
began writing another musical on the side.
Q) It's sounds like you've done a little bit of
everything. What other animation work have you done over the years?
Dennis produced Metromedia's Wonderama for four years. Pictured: Host Bob
Marks: In the 60's I wrote a lot of cartoons including
"Batman," "Aquaman," "Justice League of
America," and half of the 100 "Batfink" 4
1/2-minute syndicated shows for Hal Seeger, and for Ralph Bakshi,
"Max, the 2000 Year Old Mouse," an educational series.
By 1971 writing cartoons in NYC had dried up. I went out to LA for
a few months in the spring or summer and landed episodes at Hanna
Barbera and with Ruby-Spears at Depatie-Freleng, things like
"The Chan Clan," "Josie and the Pussycats,"
and "The Barkleys." All this just to pay the rent. Came
back to NYC ready to tell my wife we had to move to LA where the
work was. And Bob McAllister, a man I'd met through my hobby of magic,
asked me if I'd like to produce his weekly television show, "Wonderama."
This show had been on
for 20 years, a three-hour once a week show that aired on the five Metromedia stations: NYC, Philadelphia,
Washington, DC, Cincinnati and Los Angeles. I said yes and that began my transformation
from writer to producer. Four highly successful years of "Wonderama" lead to
my being asked to produce "A.M. New York," a one-hour daily live talk show.
My dream come true! It lasted two years. (Another story.) Now out of work I
returned to cartoons and went back to L.A. to land a staff position which I got for a short
term at Hanna Barbera. Came back to NYC and my marriage had dissolved. (Another
story.) Moved to LA without a job. Got a one year contract from Filmation for whom
I had written the Aquaman/Batman stuff before and started writing "The Lone Ranger,"
one of my favorite early shows from radio! I loved doing those.
Q) That's one heck of a list of credentials. So
how did you end up getting involved with Marvel Productions?
Dennis Marks: I heard that Marvel was starting
up, but Al Brodax recommended they try me out. Stan Lee had been a guest on Wonderama and he
remembered me. I wrote a couple of presentations for them and they offered me the job of
Story Editor for the series they were trying to sell to NBC: "Spider-Man and his Amazing
Friends." I was NEVER a Spider-Man fan. I was a DC guy as a kid, mostly because my mother was
a friend of Harry Donnenfeld (the D in DC! ) who sent me every DC publication for a couple of
years when I was 10 or 11. Imagine! I had the comics BEFORE they hit the newstands! Was I a
hit with the kids! Anyway, I found out about Spidey, and here is where you'll enjoy yourself
(or not!). We went to NYC for a meeting with NBC VP of Children's Broadcasting, Mickey Dwyer,
for her comments on my presentation for the show. She wanted a dog for Firestar. (I had
given Firestar her name, by the way: Angelica Jones, based on an Angelica I had dated when I
was a teen.) My wife had had a Llhasa Apso, a rather new breed in the States at the time.
I told Mickey Dwyer about the Llhasa being the Temple Lion Dog of Tibet, and, because this was
right in the middle of the feminist revolution, I said we could call the dog "Miz Lion."
She smiled and said: "Perfect." We left the meeting, my first with a network VP, and I
asked David Depatie, "You think it went well?" and he replied with a very big smile, "That's
about as well as it can get, Dennis." We had just sold the show. And it was that damn
little feminist dog that sold it. Without a drawing. Without an image...for a cartoon show!
Q) Ugh. I've ALWAYS thought Ms. Lion was the single
detriment to the show. It's quite a slap in the face to find out that the show never would
have existed without her. Next question: According to the TV special Spider-Man: On the
Move, Firestar was created as a female replacement for the Human Torch. I'm assuming the
third character had to be female since NBC was attempting to broaden the viewership. Were
there any other concepts created for a female character before Firestar?
Dennis Marks: When I came
on board Firestar was a given. No other concepts. Stet. Set. Done. The show was designed
with the other characters because almost every other Spider-Man just featuring him had not
been a success. One of the reasons, I'm sure, is that when Spidey talks...HE DOESN'T HAVE
A MOUTH TO MOVE!!! I had to explain this over and over to Stan Lee and to the other writers.
Yes, we made mouth movements, a little, because the hero has to talk. But
giving the Goblin his voice
not a lot! Or only
if he's moving! Notice how the movie uses voice-overs and very little Spider-Man on camera talk.
It amazed me how supposedly intelligent people didn't realize this basic fact.
Q) Ha! Well, in the movie that situation was
only made worse by NOT having the Green Goblin's mouth move as well. Explain the situation
between the 1980's solo Spider-Man cartoon and Amazing Friends, both made by
Marvel Productions. I know the solo show was syndicated to various TV stations and
Amazing Friends ran on NBC. Did all of the same people work on the two shows?
If so, why did Spider-Man have different voice actors for the two shows?
A wrap party for Spider-Man & his Amazing Friends. (Dennis is the guy in REALLY
Marks: When I joined Marvel the syndicated show was either half or two-thirds finished.
They had one writer, Larry Parr, whose work needed work. They had hired a voice director I
was not thrilled with, working out of a tiny hole in the wall. And they had a director who seemed
to want to be doing something else. The reason for all this skimping? Marvel ITSELF was
putting up ALL the money for this syndicated series...just to get Spider-Man off the ground!
It worked. NBC was interested. (I hope you recognize the difference between a syndicated show
and a NETWORK program. Particularly back then!) I joined the company and began
Parr's work while working on developing the network show. I don't remember if I wrote any of
those shows or not, but I certainly could have. I know I re-wrote Parr a lot.
Q) Which brings to mind something I have been curious
about for years: The Green Goblin episodes of both shows were extremely similar. Was the
similarity related to budgetary concerns or time constraints?
Dennis Marks: You're completely correct
about the story-line resemblances of the Green Goblin stories. It was because of time constraints
and my unfamiliarity with the Spider-Man canon. I believe I did it with permission, but perhaps
not. The production staff was augmented for the network as the company grew. I hired Alan
Dinehart as the new voice director because I had heard good things about him from June Foray
(among others) and because he had completely charmed me when we first met. He became a close
friend. And he thought I did a good Green Goblin!
Q) No argument there. Amazing Friends was
certainly well cast, the best of ANY Spider-Man cartoon. Of all the writers of the show, you
created most of the original characters that showed up in the series. A friend of mine LOVES
Hiawatha Smith from "Quest of the Red Skull". With access to the vast Marvel Comics universe of
characters it almost seems that one would not bother. Was it requested that new characters be
created or did you just enjoy creating them? Were any of them attempts to start a spin-off
Dennis Marks: Hiawatha Smith was my
Indiana Jones. Sort of obvious, yes? This was when the first Indiana Jones film came out and
I wanted to take advantage of it. Red Skull was a Marvel character and, I believe, a Nazi.
So the story situation with a Hiawatha (Indiana) character seemed a natural play off of the
movie. Glad somebody else liked him. I thought he might be a spin-off character, but we
weren't spinning off characters then. No requests were made to create new characters.
I was in full charge of the stories and if I thought a story needed one, it was done.
If adventure has a name...it must be Hiawatha Smith.
Q) Can you remember any unused
episode ideas that you had or any of the writers may have had?
Dennis Marks: The only idea I remember
was one from a writer I never used: he had Spidey "drowning" in a vat of ketchup.
[In the Spider-Man solo show episode "The
Incredible Shrinking Spider-Man"] I wish now
I had kept it, but at the time it was a little too campy. On second thought, I don't think Stan
would have gone for it no matter how hard I might have pressed for it.
Q) SMAHAF had three seasons of
episodes. The Incredible Hulk only had one season of episodes. Both shows stayed on the
air for a few years after their original runs. Why were no new episodes created if the show
was popular enough to keep on the air?
Dennis Marks: Ask NBC. I have no idea.
Q) Please keep in mind as I ask the next
question that I am someone who knows VERY little about the animation industry. Marvel
Productions was involved with Dungeons and Dragons, Spider-Man and his Amazing
Friends, The Incredible Hulk, G.I.Joe, The Transformers, J.E.M.
and even the Care Bears, I believe. How does such a company, that seemed as dominating
in the animation field as Marvel Productions did in the 1980s, lose itself? Where did it go
Dennis Marks: I was fired from Marvel during
the production of or after the production of "Dungeons and Dragons" so I really can't tell you.
I can tell you a great "DnD" story though. I won the rights battle for Marvel to acquire "DnD."
I got along remarkably with Gary Gygax, the creator, and his VP in charge of selling the rights
(who passed away at least 10 years ago) a man whose name I should remember but I don't. He was
a good friend of Orson Welles and believe it or not he pitched the idea to Mr.
Dennis was heavily involved in conceiving the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon.
Welles of doing the voice of The Dungeon
Master. He said no. Gary and this man loved my verbal
presentation and my written presentation. My written one was re-written by a couple
of other writers to satisfy the network.
[The original presentation had the kids
gaming in an old stage theater with the watchman as Game Master, and the theater morphed
into the DnD world each session.]
FADE IN: Another one of those meetings with a VP of children's broadcasting,
this time at CBS. The woman's name was Judy Price and she was a known terror to all
story editors, creative directors, et.al. She wasn't stupid, she just had to have
everything HER way, even though she
was far from a creative individual.
She was HATED. Well, this was another case of me just blurting out something
I had been thinking of: "How about a normal bunch of teenagers, visiting an amusement park.
They get on a ride called 'Dungeons and Dragons.' They go into a tunnel,
you see wild special effects and then they suddenly pop out onto a bizarre landscape
and they are in different costumes, each according to their personality.
We don't know if this is a dream or a Twilight Zone sort of thing." Well, Judy Price
sort of went bizarre-o as I recollect, and ended up saying, "That's it!!!!" Marshall
Karp, Marvel TV's salesman was in the room and when we left, this extremely tall guy
grabbed me and lifted me almost over his head. "You did it! You did it!" he yelled.
And that's how DnD got on the air in that form.
Q) That's a great story.
Dungeons & Dragons is one of the all-time best Saturday morning cartoons.
Beside the point... I'm stunned. Why did Marvel fire you? You accomplished SO
MUCH for them.
Dennis Marks: Both NBC (Phyllis
Tucker Vincent, VP, Children's Broadcasting) and CBS (Judy Price, VP Children's Broadcasting)
told David DePatie, Pres. of Marvel Productions, Ltd. that they couldn't get along with
me. They never told ME they couldn't get along with me. As David said when he
almost tearfully told me, "One network I could live with, but two!!! I have to let you
go." Both VP's were either fired or retired within the next 12 months. All I can say
on my own behalf is that I just didn't simper and bow and scrape when I disagreed with
something the networks wanted me to do. I fought for my position. Sometimes I
won, sometimes I lost, but if I believed in something, I fought for it. They didn't
like that. They were used to "their" story editors just saying, "Yes, Ma'am!
Whatever you say."
Q) What have you been up to since the show
and what are you looking forward to in the future?
I was out of work for about six months during which Jack Mendelsohn and I wrote a treatment
for a movie that didn't sell. I had brought Jack into Marvel and he brought Hank Saroyan
in. Saroyan helped to get rid of us both before he was gotten rid of. (Great
business, yes?) I was then hired on a week to week basis by Hanna-Barbera.
I wrote "Galtar" for Joe's son, Neil Barbera. Neil became a close buddy and we
developed "The Green Hornet" together, a damn good treatment that didn't sell. I
also wrote for "The Paw-Paws" and "The Flintstone Kids," and some dog whose name I can't
remember. Then I was put on a yearly contract for much better money and wrote most
of the bible series, "The Great Adventure," followed by the full-length direct to TV
movie, "Yogi and the Mysterious Flight of the Spruce Goose." And that was followed
by the two movies: "Jetsons -The Movie," and "Tom & Jerry -The Movie."
And then I was let go as the studio went through a retrenchment before it collapsed
entirely. I wrote a movie that didn't sell (as a matter of fact I'm still rewriting
it, maybe for the 8th time) and am currently also working on a new treatment of a movie
treatment I originally wrote with the late Willie Gilbert. I have not made a buck out
of animation in almost 10 years! What am I looking forward to? My 70th birthday
and somebody in animation who thinks I can still write even though I have a grey beard,
the curse of the Hollywood writer.
Sadly, I've heard the same from others.
It is certainly a loss for animation lovers. Dennis, it's been a pleasure talking
with you. Best of luck to you in the future! I can't thank you enough for
sharing your time and for ALL the great shows in which you have been involved.
Dennis Marks: And thank you for asking
these questions. I've had fun reliving this part of life.
succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of 73 on January 10th,
2006. A service was held at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles where he
had appeared regularly. Magic had been a hobby since he was