There is an excellent chance the upcoming Spider-Man: No Way Home will feature several versions of Spidey from past iterations — but the original actor to play the web-slinger on TV will not be among them. And he is somewhat disappointed about it.
Nicholas Hammond starred as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the 1970s television show The Amazing Spider-Man, based on the iconic Marvel Comics character. And while technically the first U.S. live-action version of Spider-Man appeared in Children’s Television Workshop series The Electric Company, Hammond’s Spidey was the first with storylines.
Talking from his home in Sydney, the celebrated stage and screen actor, who recently played the memorable Sam Wanamaker in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, delights in how much fans love not only his version of the character but Spider-Man in general. And he confesses it would have been a delight to play Peter Parker in a Marvel Cinematic Universe cameo. But it’s not happening, at least not in No Way Home.
“I think it would have been huge fun. It would have been a kick in the pants to have the old guy there,” Hammond says. “I was really hoping I would be approached but unfortunately, that didn’t happen.”
The actor says he has enjoyed all the stars (Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland) who played Spider-Man on the big screen, but he sees himself in one iteration in particular.
“Tom Holland’s version is the closest to what we were doing; trying to make him very much a real guy, someone who you could actually forget he had these powers and get caught up in Peter’s story,” Hammond says. “That was what we were going for.”
And that genuineness was exactly what convinced Hammond to take the role, as he had serious reservations after being sought out by the show’s producers.
“At first, I was reluctant because the only show that had ever been on TV like that was Batman,” the actor says. “And I was not interested in being in something like that. It had its own value, but that was not really for me, the ‘Pow,’ ‘Zoom’ stuff. And [the producers] said, ‘We want this guy to be a real guy. We want viewers to get involved in his life, his story.’ And I thought, ‘What a challenge. Take a sort of fanciful character and convince the viewers he is real, make them forget that essentially what they are watching is a comic book character.’ That was something I wanted to do, and they offered me the job.
The Amazing Spider-Man ran for just 13 episodes from September 1977 to July 1979 on CBS. The pilot premiered in autumn of 1977 and was the highest-rated television pilot of the year, Hammond notes. Nevertheless, the show got the ax after two seasons (including a two-parter shot in Hong Kong) for an assortment of reasons.
“They started chopping and changing [the schedule] around and the audience just couldn’t follow us,” he says. “I think they did a very poor job of marketing the show, and it is a pity because I think we could have run for a few more years.” The show was also quite expensive to make, he notes.
“We had to run two crews all the time,” Hammond says. “There was the A crew, which was with me, and the B crew, which was the stuntmen for the fights and wall climbs. They would be off doing that with their own camera crew while we were doing all of Peter Parker’s stuff. Stunts are expensive. It was all real. All the climbs are real climbs. All the rooftop stuff was on real rooftops. And it was all done with cables and harnesses.”
But when stunts were not involved, it was Hammond in the suit, which he says was only right. “I always wore the suit if there was a scene interacting with other actors,” he recalls. “I didn’t think it was fair for the other actors to work with nonactors.”
And while not completely uncomfortable, the suit had issues that needed to be ironed out. “We went through a lot of different eyepieces because they would fog up or they would reflect the camera lens,” he explains. “It was a little frightening because suddenly you couldn’t see at all because they completely fogged up.” After a few episodes, the production found a material that worked.
And yes, Hammond was pals with the late Bill Bixby, aka Dr. David Bruce Banner on The Incredible Hulk, which also ran on CBS at that time. “We talked about crossing the TV series, making a two-parter about Spider-Man and the Hulk joining forces,” Hammond says. “But it never got past the stage of two actors talking at the end of the day over a beer.”
Marvel godfather Stan Lee made clear in later interviews that while he was pleased with the Hulk TV series, he did not care for how Spider-Man turned out. Hammond has a pretty good idea why.
“I think what Stan was disappointed by was a choice we made — that frankly, I felt was the right choice — which was to root it all in reality,” Hammond says. “Meaning, we did not have fantasy comic book villains. We had people, we had drug dealers, blackmailers, criminals. So in a way, we turned it slightly into a crime show where there were issues about pollution and nuclear waste. I think he wanted comic book villains that Spider-Man fights. We thought it was better to have this guy with his power trying to stop people who were doing serious harm to the planet and to people. So we had a parting of ways there.”
Although he may not be a part of the MCU, Hammond notes that Spider-Man has led to some interesting projects, such as Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar-winning Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The wild tale all started with a friend noticing that Tarantino’s New Beverly Cinema was screening the 1977 Spider-Man television pilot and sent a picture of the marquee to Hammond for yucks.
“Quentin had found a 35mm print of the pilot which aired as a feature film around the world outside America,” Hammond explains. “He found a copy in England, got it all remastered and cleaned up and he screened it as a feature. And I thought, ‘What a cool thing to do.’ So I asked my manager to pass the word on to Quentin’s people that I am grateful he screened it and it would be a pleasure to meet him the next time I am in town.”
Tarantino received the polite message and sent one back: Come see me. “I didn’t know he was making a movie,” the actor says. “I came to meet him and he asked me, ‘Do you know anything about a guy named Sam Wanamaker?’ And I said, ‘Sure; actor and director.’ And he said, ‘Here is a DVD of a pilot he shot called Lancer. Take it home and look at it.’ And I thought, ‘OK.’ And then we talked about a million other things.”
Calling his manager in a daze after the meeting, Hammond explained what happened. “And my manager said, ‘I think you were just offered the role of Sam Wanamaker.’ And sure enough, two days later, we did the deal,” Hammond says. “And if I hadn’t seen that photo of Spider-Man at the New Bev, I wouldn’t have reached out, and he may not have thought of me for that role. So, I owe it all to Peter Parker.”