Bookshelf: Captain Nice

Captain Nice
By William Johnston
First Published in 1967 by Tempo Books
155 Pages

I must preface this review with a caveat: I haven’t actually finished reading this novel. Nevertheless, I feel confident discussing it because, frankly, the plots in novels like this one really aren’t all that important. Really, when the protagonist is, as the title boldly declares, a “mild, meek, mother’s boy,” the only thing Captain Nice has to deliver is outrageous humor. And boy, does it deliver. Some of the humor is so outrageous, in fact, that it’s almost painful to read. But it reflects the tone of the series.

Like dozens of other TV tie-in novels, Captain Nice was written by William Johnston. By the time it was published the program it was based on, NBC’s Captain Nice, was probably already off the air. It ran for just 15 episodes between January and May of 1967. William Daniels starred as Carter Nash, a feeble, unimposing scientist who lives with his domineering mother. Using a secret formula he devised, Carter turns into the inept superhero Captain Nice and fights crime in Big Town.

As Captain Nice opens Big Town is being threatened by Thomas Fidget, a man who used to work with Nash at the police laboratory. Fidget was fired. To get his revenge he built a time machine and is threatening to disappear the town’s top politicians sideways into time if he isn’t paid a billion dollars. Captain Nice is soon on the job.

Captain Nice Front
Captain Nice Front – Copyright 1967 Tempo Books

I can’t say whether Captain Nice captures Fidget (I assume he does) before the mayor and the chief of police disappear. I can state unequivocally that Carter is depicted as a complete and utter buffoon. Here’s a choice excerpt:

Carter had risen, holding the lamp. Carefully, he placed it on the table, then inched away. Finally, confident that the lamp was safe, he turned and strode toward the television set. An instant later he felt a tug at his ankle. His foot was caught in the cord. Behind him, the lamp crashed to the floor once more. Carter, off balance, lurched into another table, knocking a second lamp and a candy dish from their perch. Ricocheting off the table, he tripped over a footstool, did a perfect somersault, performed a belly-whopper across the coffee table, and ended up where he had started–on the couch; but with his head buried under the cushions instead of sitting up.

I rest my case.

Captain Nice Back
Captain Nice Back – Copyright 1967 Tempo Books

As I said earlier, some of the humor is a little painful. The above paragraph wasn’t too bad, to be honest, but later on when the Mayor and the Chief of Police were having their pictures taken right before a raid on Fidget’s presumed hideout, there was an attempt to make it seem as if the photographers were having a hard time taking their last photographs: “For the sixth time, the photographers were taking the last picture” and “No more than a half-hour later, the photographers finally snapped the final picture.” I found this particularly weak. Perhaps it would have played out better on the television screen.

If anything particularly unexpected occurs during the rest of the novel I’ll be sure to mention it. From what I’ve read, though, Captain Nice the novel seems like the perfect tie-in to Captain Nice the television show.


1 Comment

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    I have a copy of this paperback buried somewhere: some, if not most, of the humor in Johnston’s original story matches the satire of the TV show: for example, at the end of Thomas Fidget’s interruption on every TV set in Big Town, declaring what he fiendishly intends to do, an announcer concludes, “This has been a paid criminal announcement” {a wink at the endless “this has been a paid political announcement” ads at election time}.

    Buck Henry, who co-created “GET SMART” with Mel Brooks [and was the show’s story editor for the first season and a half], created and produced “CAPTAIN NICE” for NBC, but it was no match for “THE LUCY SHOW” on CBS and “THE RAT PATROL” on ABC. This novel was published in the spring of ’67, just as the network decided to cancel it.

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