Captain America, played by Chris Evans in this weekend’s superhero flick Captain America: The Winter Soldier, was almost tagged with a different patriotic name by creator Joe Simon.
In 1940, when he first imagined the character, he dubbed his creation Super American. Then he had a change of heart.
“There were too many ‘Supers’ around,” he said. “Captain America had a good sound to it. There weren’t a lot of captains in comics.”
The first issue of the new Captain America comic was an instant hit. Released on December 20, 1940, and featuring Cap giving Adolph Hitler a knuckle sandwich, it sold almost one million copies.
Numbers like that should have attracted Hollywood’s attention, but Captain America’s screen debut was inauspicious. In 1943, Republic Films decided to launch a superhero serial based either on the mysterious masked character The Copperhead or the caped do-gooder Mr. Scarlet. Scripts were prepared, but before cameras rolled, the decision was made to insert Captain America into the story without radically altering the screenplays.
As a result, the character bares only a passing resemblance to the comics. In the serials he has a different secret identity and fights evildoer The Scarab instead of Nazis. His famous invincible shield is missing, as is his sidekick Bucky and there is no mention of the Super-Soldier Serum that transformed him from zero to hero.
Nonetheless, the 15-part serial — which featured exciting titles like Blade of Wrath and Vault of Vengeance — was very popular, but unfortunately did little to further the career of its star Dick Purcell. Legend has it that the strain of playing the active character was too much for him and he passed away just three weeks after filming was complete.
Despite the success of the serial, it would be half a century until Captain America was featured in another story shot for the big screen. In 1990’s Captain America, Cappy is played by Matt Salinger, son of author J. D. Salinger, who beat out Dolph Lundgren and Arnold Schwarzenegger for the part.
The movie returned the character to his comic book roots, and was originally set for a 1990 release to coincide with 50th anniversary of the character but was shelved until 1992 — perhaps because of what Entertainment Weekly called a “shapeless blob of a plot” — when it was released on home video.
Captain America is possibly the most patriotic of all superheroes, but the name also pops up in one of the most famous counterculture movies of the 1960s. In Easy Rider, Peter Fonda’s character Wyatt is nick-named Captain America after his Harley Davidson Captain America chopper.