The Greatest American Hero
Real Name: Ralph Hinkley (later temporarily changed to Ralph Hanley after a real-life man named John Hinckley attempted to assassinate President Reagan)
Identity/Class: Human technology user (the technology is of extra-terrestrial origins)
Occupation: High school special-ed teacher
Affiliations: Bill Maxwell (FBI liaison), Pam Hinkley (wife), Whitney High School (his employers), Holly Hathaway (the Greateat American Heroine)
Enemies: Nelson Cory (megalomaniac billionaire), Johnny "the Dancer" Damanti (mobster), Gordon McCready (arms dealer), the government of the USSR, Tracy Winslow (corrupt cop), Robert Moody (corrupt US bureaucrat), Clarence Carter II (corrupt lawyer), the 4th-dimensional beast, Kelly Kim (Vietnamese communist plant in US), the electric squid from outer space, Carlini (magician)
Known Relatives: Paula Hinkley (mother), Pam Hinkley (wife)
Aliases: The Red Stallion (in South America); various other ways of referring to him were used through the series to hide his identity (such as calling him "the messenger") though these really don't count as proper aliases.
Base of Operations: His house and Bill's house, Palmdale, California.
First Appearance: Greatest American Hero #1 "The Greatest American Hero" (ABC, March 18, 1981)
Powers/Abilities: Ralph kept discovering new abilities the suit could provide him as time passed - among them were flight (not that he was very good at it), superhuman strength, holographic vision (through walls, of current events from vibes on objects and clothing, and through time), telekinesis, pyrokinesis, super-speed, super-breath, trans-dimensional perception and travel, super-hearing, invisibility, ability to shrink to microscopic size, super-heating (of hands) and probably many more which he never got round to discovering during the series. He was also bulletproof and immune to fire while wearing the costume.
History: Ralph Hinkley was a high school teacher who took his class on a field trip to the desert. When their van broke down, Ralph went for help and encountered Bill Maxwell (an FBI agent). The two were then both approached by a UFO. Communicating over the radio and via Bill's dead (but reanimated) partner, the aliens, whom Bill calls 'the greenguys', asked Ralph to accept a supersuit providing "unearthly powers". The suit was to be used to help save Earth from eventual destruction by man. Ralph agreed to use the suit, and he, his lawyer girlfriend Pam, and Maxwell, teamed up to solve cases and right various wrongs in the USA and around the world. The big catch - Ralph lost the instruction book, leaving him unsure of how to operate it, or what it's full powers are!
Comments: Played by William Katt. During his time on TV the character never made it into comic books. DC comics (owned by Time Warner) filed a lawsuit against ABC (the network airing the show) for infringement on the Superman concept. The court found that the characters of Superman and Ralph Hinkley, as well as the circumstances surrounding their superpowers, were "sufficiently dissimilar" that ABC should not be held liable. Though ABC won, the would-be licencees that would have produced a variety of marketed toys and other products were scared away by then. A true shame.
Thanks to Helen Stanford for clarifying the details of Ralph's brief name change. She notes "His name was changed to "Hanley," toward the end of Season One. You can at least see it in the season-ender, "The Best Desk Scenario," when it's his name on his new office door (he'd just been chosen Vice Principal of the school). The reason was this: John HINCKLEY (note the spelling difference) attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan. Out of respect to the President, ABC or Stephen J. Cannell, I'm not sure which, decided "Hinkley" in the show as a little too close for comfort, and changed it. They relented after a few episodes and changed the character back to Hinkley."
A Greatest American Hero action figure was eventually released as a convention exclusive around 2005, and in 2008 Arcana Studios released a one-shot comic written by William Katt himself.
Profile provided by Anthony Bufort, who also maintains a Yahoo group for the character.
Any Additions/Corrections? Please let me know.
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