The First Ghostbusters

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It’s a blast from the past as the 1975 live action series The Ghostbusters finally comes to DVD.

If you mention Ghostbusters most people probably think of the 1984 movie, its sequel, or the catchy song by Ray Parker, Jr..  Few probably remember or realize that there was another batch of Ghostbusters almost a decade earlier.

Produced by Lou Scheimer and Norman Abbott of Filmation, this live action Saturday morning series had been intended to appeal to a slightly older demographic and be a show that parents could watch with their kids.  It may surprise some to find that it still is a show parents can share with their kids or grandkids.

Actors Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch were tapped to star in the series and although both men had long and varied careers they will probably be best remembered as Sergeant O’Rourke and Corporal Agarn respectively from the T.V. Series F Troop.  With The Ghostbusters Tucker played Kong, a loose leader who often found himself frustrated and occasionally bewildered by his wacky and empty-headed partners.  Storch portrayed Spenser, a somewhat cowardly and gullible nitwit.

Novice Bob Burns who climbed into a gorilla suit to play Tracy “the gorilla” joined the veterans Tucker and Storch.  Interestingly, Burns was not really an actor but instead a longtime Hollywood worker having been a film editor as well as working in special effects.  Being a collector of various kinds of memorabilia, Burns had some special effects friends make him a gorilla suit and he was known to play gorillas in commercials and in backgrounds for movies just for fun.  He auditioned for the series without fully realizing what he was getting into and The Ghostbusters would mark his first episodic television work.  

The series premise was simple but wacky; Spenser, Tracy and Kong eliminated the ghosts of former famous people and monsters such as the Flying Dutchman, Dr. Frankenstein and his monster, and an Egyptian queen and her mummy.  Their assignments came from the mysterious “Zero” (voiced by Lou Scheimer) – who left taped instruction in odd objects from a curio shop.  Some of the items the messages were hidden in included a model plane, a pedestal sink, a clock, and a whipped cream pie.  Once the message was played the tape exploded, usually in the face of Burns’ Tracy, in a series of sight gags.  It was an odd little spoof on Mission Impossible but Burns and Storch played the sequences to the hilt. 

Each episode featured a different ghost to be eliminated and many of the guest stars behind the ghostly characters were high comedy spirits themselves.  There are many names which are still well known today like famed “little person” Billy Barty, Bernie Kopel, well known for his roles on Get Smart and the Love Boat, the late, great Ted Knight, and Jim Backus, fondly remembered from his roles as Thurston Howell on Gilligan’s Island and as the voice of the animated Mr. Magoo. 

The plots to each episode are unsophisticated and somewhat repetitive but the fact is that the plots were only there to hang the jokes on anyway since comedy is the main thrust.  The Ghostbusters featured a mix of one-liners, satirical insults, sight gags, puns, and physical comedy, some of which can be traced all the way back to vaudeville days.  While some of the jokes have been around for years there are many scattered throughout the episodes that still seem fresh.  Additionally, the physical comedy is refreshing even after all these years mainly due to the fact that it has become something of a dying art and is so rarely seen on television today.  The sets and special effects are crude by modern standards but when the actors inhabiting them are so over the top and larger than life the viewer really does not notice. 

BCI, the company behind this box set has also done an outstanding job here.  All fifteen episodes of the series are on two, double-sided DVDs in two slimline cases.  The episodes themselves are, if anything, brighter, crisper, and cleaner than they were in 1975 and the sound quality is good as well.  In addition to the episodes, the set is packed with extras.  There is a booklet containing episode synopsis and trivia, promotional and behind the scenes photo stills, scripts for all 15 episodes on DVD-ROM, interviews with Lou Scheimer and Bob Burns and more.  In particular, the remarks by Bob Burns are informative and entertaining for fans.

Those who recall this series fondly are in for a treat and, while older kids may roll their eyes, younger children are likely to be charmed by the broad slapstick.  The series also gives viewers another chance to enjoy the work of the often under-praised comedy duo of Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch.  As the line in the theme song went: “The Ghostbusters do it again!”

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