Thursday, September 20, 2012
The Mystery of Cindy Lee
Okay, that video isn't all that helpful, and the "Personal information unknown" subtitles seem a little ominous. As far as I know, the always awesome Brian "Rick Mason" Cutler seems to be doing fine (I've been giving ol' Rick the business here on this blog, but it's the way DC's writers characterized him in the comic and doesn't reflect at all on Mr. Cutler or my warm feelings towards his role on the show), I haven't had time to look into Joanna Cameron. But what of that other Joanna? The one who played Cindy Lee? And why didn't Cindy appear in the truncated second season?
It's not much of a mystery, and it didn't take Isis and her magical goddess powers to solve it. Obviously, I'm on something of a The Secrets of Isis kick lately, having rediscovered this childhood favorite of mine. I was a huge fan of Filmation's live action shows and watched both Isis and Shazam! each week. I adored them uncritically. Low budgets and clunky special effects didn't matter to me, and I took to heart the simplistic yet valid moral messages.
But through all the years, my only solid memory of either of these shows was the minor personal trauma caused when Cindy Lee vanished from its second season. Rennie Carol? Who are you jokers trying to fool? Hey, I was eight years old and Cindy was my favorite character on the show. Not having her in the mix changed the character dynamics. It destroyed my sense of continuity.
That was my first experience with that kind of change. TV and comics can be harsh on young psyches. Networks abruptly cancel shows you love, actors quit due to contract disputes so producers write out their characters, comic book creators kill off others or turn them into villains, or the publishers re-boot their universes and consign any number of fan favorites or marginals to oblivion. Nothing against her replacement Ronalda Douglas, but I gave up on Isis when it became apparent Cindy wasn't simply absent from school due to the flu-- although given her personality, I doubt anything short of a coma would have kept her away from good ol' Larkspur High.
So, what happened to Cindy Lee? This was 1976, years before the Internet and fan blogging. If she'd appeared in Starlog magazine, I missed it. And I had no idea the DC comic book-- the letters page being a potential info source-- even existed. I probably could have written to Filmation or CBS and asked for an explanation, but the idea never occurred to me. By then I was busy with school, Halloween, Ark II and eventually Isis, Rick Mason and even Cindy Lee passed from my conscious into the scrapbook of my subconscious and I lost the tiny key to its little lock. Until this month. And I remembered. Cindy Lee! What the heck happened to Cindy Lee? Got herself into a jam but even this time Isis couldn't save her, huh?
Fortunately, Joanna Pang, the actor who so charmingly brought her to life in all her enthusiastic, perpetually cheerful glory, is very Cindy Lee-esque in real life. The Secrets of Isis complete series DVD contains a chatty, informative interview with her, and just like the character she once portrayed, she came prepared. She re-watched the old shows, found her diary from the time-- she apparently thought she was auditioning for Ices, a show about frozen Italian desserts-- shares production anecdotes and details her failed request of either Norm Prescott or Lou Scheimer to change Cindy's hairstyle from pigtails to something, anything, else. It's good stuff. But the heart of the matter comes towards the end when she good-naturedly addresses the issue of that second season.
After all this suspense, you're probably going to be disappointed to learn there's nothing sinister involved. She completed filming on the first season, returned to New York and waited for the call to start the second. It never came. She phoned her agent in California, who got in touch with Filmation and learned they'd decided to "go in a different direction." Pang says this is the reason you get when there isn't really a reason. And that was that. She moved on.
We moved on. Then, for the purposes of this dumb blog, I moved back to the old neighborhood. The old school is still there, only it's being used strictly for storage these days.