TV: Not always as bad as you think

It has come to my attention that less than 100% of the internet has seen the old Incredible Hulk TV series. I feel I should do my part to fix that. YouTube has several episodes, apparently at random. Among them are "Proof Positive", "Never Give A Trucker An Even Break", and "Prometheus (part 2)", the last being the one I referred to where Ferrigno actually gets lines for once. [WAG: It was probably Bixby's week off.] It probably looks oddly cheap in places, to a modern audience, even though it decidedly wasn't -- the per-episode budget was in the neighborhood of $600,000, which IIRC is comparable to the original run of The A-Team -- mostly because there was no such thing as CGI in at the time and they had to use a lot of practicals. The series debuted in 1978, so everyone dresses as if they were completely blind and every pair of flattering pants had been mysteriously wiped off the face of the planet, but if you can get over that then the show is rather enjoyable.

The role of Dr. Banner -- David Banner in this version, because one of the executives (sigh) thought the name Bruce was "too homosexual" -- went to Bill Bixby, who is less known today than perhaps he should be. Aside from this, the only credit I recognize right off the bat is My Favorite Martian. By all accounts, Bixby was genuinely the kindly, soft-spoken sort of man he played on-screen, often very funny, and, like his contemporary Johnny Carson, a bang-up stage magician. He was also of the then-unusual opinion that there was no reason all TV should be crap; a lot of the classics are classics partly because they were so accessible to the common people, and the stories resonated with a wide audience, and there was nothing stopping television from being different than serialized novels in the Strand. Bixby was not a comics fan and almost didn't read the script he was sent, but he was the creator's first and only real choice for the part of Banner, and his agent had the brains to insist that he at least skim the thing, and he eventually came to quite like the role.

Lou Ferrigno, on the other hand, is even today extremely famous for being the Hulk. He is, in fact, equally famous for being a hulk; he was the youngest winner of the Mr. Universe pageant at age 21, and thereafter reappeared at frequent intervals to basically be extremely large in public (aside from being made of large slabs of muscular beef, he is also something like 6'5") and make all of the other bodybuilders look like deflated balloons. People occasionally ask about his accent, wondering where he's from -- he's from NYC and the accent is actually Deaf, more or less. Depending on where and when you grew up, you might find it unusual on someone who is also very articulate in Standard American English; younger Americans who were raised with substantial hearing impairment where there were genuine Deaf communities often speak English essentially as their second language, their first being ASL, which has a number of stultifyingly large differences in phrasing and syntax.

Ferrigno lost most of his hearing to ear infections when he was an infant; given that apparently nobody noticed until he was like three, I would assume he was a fairly sharp kid. He's had various hearing aids throughout his life, but they don't seem to bring him all the way back up to 100%, as he does a lot of obvious lip reading during interviews. Evidently he does know some ASL, but I haven't seen any demonstrations -- back when he was a kid, if you you couldn't hear stuff you were deaf, not Deaf, and since everyone else talked to him, it was probably easiest if he just figured out how to talk back. Since the root cause is tissue damage and not neurological, he can probably hear himself through bone conduction better than he can hear sounds transmitted through air, which would help a lot.

As I mentioned before, aside from working as a professional fitness trainer and bodybuilder, Ferrigno still periodically works as an actor, and is often called back to provide Hulk roars for both animated and CGI/live-action versions. I can't help but feel there's an odd sort of cosmic justice at work, that a man who can hear very little himself has spent the past thirty-plus years providing the voice for such a well-known character. He is still quite happy to be known as the big green dude, grins whenever someone asks him to use the line "you wouldn't like me when I'm angry" for random promos, and turns up at places like ComicCon from time to time.

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