Kenneth Johnson is already something of a man of legends in the world of TV. So he might as well write the book.
Johnson has a storied career as a writer, producer, and/or director of shows such as V, Alien Nation, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Incredible Hulk, and more. Now, with The Man of Legends, he adds to his own legend in prose.
The novel, Johnson’s fourth, hits on July 1 and focuses on a seemingly immortal man and how a catastrophic event over New Year’s weekend in 2001 brings the lives of a disparate cast of characters together. But the focus is on our immortal character.
“In the book, he’s called Will. But part of the mystery of the book is who this guy is, and how did this happen?,” Johnson said. “I became intrigued by this legendary character that you have heard of. It had been in the back of my head for some time to dig a little deeper into who he was.”
Will was born during the reign of Augustus Cesar, but according to Johnson, “He then made a mistake. It brought down on him this curse, in that he cannot die. He also has to move every three days, and he cannot go back. So he’s become a traveler.”
Will’s travels have compounded over time. Johnson promises readers will see Will’s influence over a variety of historical characters including Percy Shelley, Mark Twain, Levi Strauss, James Watt, Teddy Roosevelt, and Gandhi.
The book also features a variety of narrators: No fewer than 12 point-of-view characters narrate different chapters and sections, fleshing out Will and the narrative’s action. And of course, there’s a major adversary.
“There’s someone else Will has encountered over the years who I’ve just called in the book ‘the sleek young man,’” Johnson said. “He’s a person who’s offered many times, ‘I can help you; I can get you out of this, but clearly, he’s a messenger from darker forces who has been dogging out hero’s heels.”
Despite his long history in film and TV (see below), Johnson thinks his 472-page novel is the proper venue in which to tell Will’s story.
“I was going to write a film script for it, but then I realized it was too rich a vein of gold to try to compress into a couple hours,” he said. “It needed to be a more fleshed-out story so that I could really explore some of the people who he could have came in contact with. Think of all the people he could have encountered in those 20 centuries. What a profound effect he could have had on our history.”
—The Man of Legends is available in bookstores and on Amazon Kindle on July 1.
Work on fan-favorite TV shows for 40 years and you can accumulate…a pretty impressive memorabilia collection.
Kenneth Johnson was kind enough to share some of his treasures, and the stories behind them.
“There’s a historic painting that hangs in the Salem Witch Trials museum, and I needed a version of that for an episode of The Bionic Woman that I directed. For story purposes, I needed the person in the lower right corner, who is a man in the original, to be a woman. I gave the art department at Universal a photograph of it, and they transformed it into this painting that still hangs into my office to this day.”
“Chuck Davis, my great production person, made a frame for the painting and also made it so that you could open it up to a dry erase board and work out storylines. These storyboards are works-in-progress for V: The Movie, which will be a theatrical motion picture remake of my original 4-hour TV mini-series for V. We’re in process of lining up funding for that now. If you want to be an executive producer, all you have to do is bring me a check for $60 million.”
“If you go to PaperFoldables.com, you can look for Visitor: My V Friend, and it’ll give you a printable sheet you can print out, fold up, and you get a three-dimensional little guy. The detail is great. If you take his hat off, you can take his face off as well, which reveals the startling face underneath.”
“This is a cast of the actual foot of Andre the Giant from when we did the “Secret of Bigfoot” episode of The Six Million Dollar Man. I also used the same cast of the foot for the Incredible Hulk movie pilot in 1977, so Andre did double duty.”
“The Hulk head was created by Werner Kepler, who was one of the chief makeup guys at Universal in ’77. I was doing the pilot for the Hulk, and this is Werner’s very first model concept of what we thought the creature might look like. This is the original, one-of-a-kind.”
“This was a gift from Larry Csonka, who was a guest-star on the first episode of the Six Million Dollar Man on which I was a producer. The title was ‘One of our Running Backs is Missing.” Another co-star was Dick Butkus. Larry was a great guy and was so excited about the WFL, the new football league. Now, I guess it’s a collector’s item.”
“In Short Circuit 2, Johnny 5 was making little toy versions of himself. A fan made replicas, and asked if I’d like one as he was seen at the end of the movie where he was all gold-plated. I thought that would be really special, so he sent one along. It’s a really lovely labor of love from a fan.”
“When doing V in 1983, there was no CGI. Visual effects had to be done physically. If we wanted a spaceship to fly, well, we needed to build a spaceship. This is a fighter manifestation of one of the ship designs that Chuck Davis originally created for the series, and it could be modularized, opened up in the middle so we could put different sections in it to get different looks and different ships. This one is about one foot long, but we had a tanker craft that was, no lie, 65 feet long in reality. That one cost $25,000 to make.”