How Slim Goodbody Helped Kids Discover Their Inner Superhero

Slim Goodbody had all the superhero staples: a secret headquarters, a robot sidekick, and an identity he kept hidden behind a shimmering outfit. He even had a spandex costume that materialized behind a puff of smoke when he was called to action—though it’s safe to say he was the only superhero of his time that resembled a page from an anatomy textbook.

The main mission of the "Superhero of Health" wasn’t fighting bad guys (though he did that as well); it was teaching kids to understand and care for their bodies. John Burstein, the man responsible for bringing Slim Goodbody to life, didn’t initially intend to make a career out of the character. "When I was younger my goal was to be a Shakespearean actor," he told mental_floss. Burstein studied drama at Hofstra University, and in 1973 the 23-year-old took a job as a performer aboard the Floating Hospital in New York City. Playing guitar in front of audiences was something he had been doing since age 13. Using his musical talents, he was able to present health concepts to children in an engaging package.

The response to his songs was so positive that Burstein felt inspired to devise a character to go along with the act. "I wanted to do a body suit but I didn’t want it to be gory,” he said. “I wanted it to be superhero-esque." To create the style he was going for, he started with a leotard purchased from a dance supply company. An artist painted organs onto the suit (with him in it) and set the design through a special heating process (without him in it). The result was Slim Goodbody, possibly the only character in history capable of pulling off the skinless look.

From there, his one-man show moved beyond the Floating Hospital. He began performing at local schools, and in 1976, he landed the gig that would launch his television career. On Captain Kangaroo, Burstein played Slim (alter ego: Chief Hale and Hearty) in biweekly installments of "The Adventures of Slim Goodbody in Nutri-City." Slim Goodbody and his friends fought to uphold the laws of good health and protect the citizens of Nutri-City from villains like the mind-controlling mad scientists Sarah Bellum and Lobe. His four-year stint on the show proved to viewers and networks alike that health-centered programming didn’t have to be bland. Burstein’s work caught the attention of PBS, and in 1980 they offered him his own series titled The Inside Story With Slim Goodbody.

If Captain Kangaroo introduced Slim Goodbody to kids at home, Inside Story brought him into their classrooms. Teachers loved the show for its information-packed episodes told through catchy musical numbers. But unlike other mnemonic devices meant to remind students which parts go where, the songs in Inside Story made biology feel personal. During "The Smart Parts: The Inside Story of Your Brain and Nervous System" Slim walks through a tinsel-like webbing of nerves, singing: "You couldn’t laugh, read, think, dance, dream, have fun, or sing. Without your brain you couldn’t do anything."

And during the tune "Down, Down, Down: The Inside Story of Digestion," he tells the viewer: "When you were a baby your body was smaller, now you grow bigger and very much taller. Because your body takes food you chew and changes some of it into you." Slim was the face of the show, but by placing the wonders of the body center stage, any kid watching could feel like they had a starring role.

In addition to Inside Story and Captain Kangaroo, Slim Goodbody made appearances on Nickelodeon, Good Morning America, The Richard Simmons Show, and various other talk shows. By 1985 he told The Morning Call that "millions, maybe tens of millions" of children knew him by sight.

Even after making it big on TV, John Burstein never abandoned Slim's live performance roots. Over the past four decades he’s played the character everywhere from school assemblies to symphony shows. The 66-year-old continues to get on stage today, albeit much less often than he used to (for him that means 10 to 12 shows a year). He still performs to sold-out theaters of students, thanks in part to the teachers who grew up watching Slim when they were kids.

Burstein’s act has evolved since the 1970s: The visuals he incorporates into the show now include computer animation, and his songs have been remixed to sound "a little hipper." His body suit, originally a glorified art project, has been upgraded several times over the years. Slim’s latest outfit comes from the same costume designers behind Star Trek: The Next Generation and is worth roughly $4000.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the message Burstein hopes to impart on his young audience. According to him, the purpose of Slim Goodbody is to create "some positive feeling about what it means to be a human being." When asked what he wishes kids to get out of his shows, he said, "I hope they take away a sense of how wonderful they are, how wonderful the body is, and that possessing a body that’s so wonderful means there’s something marvelous about themselves."

Kit Harington Reveals Which Harry Potter Character He'd Want to Play in a Prequel

Kit Harington is clearly drawn to dark, brooding characters.

Winter is Coming reports that Harington, who is best known for his role as Jon Snow in the hard-hitting HBO series Game of Thrones, spoke on a panel at ACE Comic Con this past weekend. Though he was there to discuss his upcoming role as Dane Whitman, a.k.a. Black Knight, in the upcoming Marvel Studios film The Eternals, his involvement in—and love for—other franchises came up during the conversation.

The moderator of the panel surprised the audience by bringing up Harington’s love for the Harry Potter series, and, of course, asked him which Hogwarts house he aligns with. The 32-year-old actor responded, “I am a Gryffindor. I’ve thought very deeply about it.” Though Harington himself identifies with the lion-hearted, he does believe that Jon Snow would be a Hufflepuff because of his undying loyalty.

Harington was then asked which character he would want to play in a hypothetical Harry Potter prequel movie about the Marauders—a group of Gryffindors that included James Potter (Harry’s dad), Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew, who attended Hogwarts a generation before Harry and his friends. And who were often at odds with Slytherin Severus Snape.

Harington's response was immediate, and enthusiastic:

Severus Snape is the most tragic, wonderful, brilliant [character] ... He’s a character you hate, and then end up loving. He’s just phenomenal. I don’t think I’m right for him, so I’ll play Sirius. But, whoever gets to play Snape, that’s a great character.”

[h/t Winter Is Coming]

Disney's 10 Scariest Movies

Lynn-Holly Johnson, Bette Davis, and Kyle Richards in The Watcher in the Woods (1980).
Lynn-Holly Johnson, Bette Davis, and Kyle Richards in The Watcher in the Woods (1980).
Walt Disney Pictures

Disney: Known for catchy songs, cute animal sidekicks, brave Princesses … and occasionally scarring children for life. A lot of Disney’s more famously upsetting moments have to do with deathBambi’s mother and Mufasa’s father, for instance—but sometimes the studio goes plain horror movie with it. As Halloween approaches, here are 10 of Disney’s scariest movies.

1. Return to Oz (1985)

Return Oz establishes its “wait, what the hell am I watching?” cred early on, when Dorothy Gale—back in Kansas following her adventures in Oz—is shipped off to the doctor for a round of electroshock therapy to cure her insomnia and “delusions.” Dorothy is saved from her One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest fate and whisked off to Oz again, where she finds that the Nome King and Princess Mombi—Nicol Williamson and Jean Marsh, who also played the doctor and head nurse—have destroyed the Emerald City and turned most of its inhabitants to stone. Playing Dorothy in her first feature film role is Fairuza Balk, who would go on to star in perpetual Halloween favorite The Craft. Return to Oz is the only film directed by legendary editor Walter Murch, most famous for his work on Apocalypse Now.

2. Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

The collected works of Ray Bradbury have been adapted into dozens of films, only a handful of which were written by the late author himself. The final feature film to be written by Bradbury is 1983’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, which in its first act is a typical, sweet—if somewhat dark—drama about two young boys growing up in a small town in the Midwest. Then a carnival rolls into town, and things get real messed up. Running the carnival is Mr. Dark (Jonathan Pryce), who grants the townspeople’s wishes in ways that … well, let’s just say they’re not very nice.

3. Mr. Boogedy (1986)

“Made-for-TV ‘80s movie about a gag gift salesman and his family” doesn’t scream terror, but Mr. Boogedy defies the odds to have some legitimately creepy moments. Granted, it’s not a subtle film: a family that moves into a dilapidated mansion in a town called called Lucifer Falls shouldn’t really expect to have an easy go of things. The mansion, believe it or not, is haunted by not one but three spirits: a widow, her child, and the eponymous Mr. Boogedy, who back in Colonial times sold his soul to Satan for a cloak that gives him magical powers. It’s Mr. Boogedy’s character design that gives the movie its biggest ick factor; the film’s makeup designer, Rick Stratton, would go on to win two Emmys. Mr. Boogedy’s cloak is eventually sucked into a possessed vacuum cleaner.

4. The Watcher in the Woods (1980)

Director John Hough’s The Watcher in the Woods isn’t only scary because it gives Bette Davis and current Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star (and then-child actress) Kyle Richards a decent chunk of shared screen time. Based on a 1976 novel, the film—like Mr. Boogedy—follows a family that moves into a mysterious house haunted by some mysterious presence. In The Watcher in the Woods, that presence is thought to be Karen, the long-disappeared daughter of the house’s owner, played by a collecting-those-paychecks Davis. Spoiler alert: There are actually two presences. One is Karen. The other is an alien. The original ending of The Watcher in the Woods actually showed the alien, but the effects were so bad that the premiere audience broke out laughing, causing Hough to reshoot the climactic final scene with the aliens as a vague blur of light.

5. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)

Released in 1949, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is made up of two half-hour, kid-friendly literary adaptations, the first from The Wind in the Willows and the second from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Neither segment is particularly scary … up until the last few minutes of “Sleepy Hollow,” when the animators went all-out to make schoolteacher Ichabod Crane’s flight from the Headless Horseman a contender for Disney’s scariest scene. Clyde Geronimi, who with Jack Kinney directed the “Sleepy Hollow” sequence, would go on to co-direct Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, and 101 Dalmatians.

6. Pinocchio (1940)

Jiminy Cricket hopping around and The Blue Fairy singing “When You Wish Upon a Star” might be the most enduring images from Disney’s second-ever animated feature, but let’s not forget that Pinocchio could be scary when it needed to be. The film’s most potent bit of nightmare fuel comes in the scene where a bunch of children are magically transformed into terrified, crying donkeys so they could be sold away as slave labor. Looks like Disney had a taste for causing childhood trauma early on.

7. “The Skeleton Dance” (1929)

Spooky and cute: Why not both? The 1929 short “The Skeleton Dance” threads the needle deftly, with its depiction of a quartet of skeletons dancing around a graveyard maintaining the goofy tone that marks most of the early Disney shorts while still providing an ample dose of the shivers. “The Skeleton Dance” was drawn by Ub Iwerks, who several years earlier had designed Mickey Mouse.

8. Fantasia (1940)

Most of the segments in Disney’s Fantasia are markedly un-creepy—unless you consider ballet-dancing hippos disturbing, which makes a fair amount of sense—but with “Night on Bald Mountain,” Disney went full dark and stormy night. Set to the title song by composer Modest Mussorgsky, the film depicts the ancient Slavic deity Chernabog (whose name means “black god) calling all sorts of assorted demonic creatures to him before being driven away by the rising of the sun. Bela Lugosi served as a live-action reference for Chernabog, spending a day at Disney Studios striking a series of ominous poses. Nothing that Lugosi provided was ultimately used, as animator Bill Tylta was unimpressed by it.

9. The Black Cauldron (1985)

The Black Cauldron was an infamous failure for Disney, earning a mere $20 million domestically against a budget that made it, at the time, "the most expensive animated feature ever made.” With the film, Disney ditched the songs and lighthearted feel that marked its animated features up to that point in favor of a darker fantasy epic; notably, The Black Cauldron was the first Disney animated feature to earn a PG rating. Though it’s notoriously regarded as a flop, there’s one area in which The Black Cauldron is quite successful: making its villain, the Horned King, absolutely terrifying. Even the way he dies is nightmare-inducing: The magical black cauldron that the Horned King hoped would give him power to take over the world with an undead army instead melts his flesh off. It’s a bit more gruesome than the typically death-by-falling most Disney villains get.

10. Hocus Pocus (1993)

Initially released in 1993 to middling box office returns (Disney made the odd choice to release this Halloween-themed movie in July), director Kenny Ortega’s Hocus Pocus has gone on to achieve cult status. Omri Katz, since retired from acting, stars as Max Dennison, who with neighbor Allison and younger sister Dani must defeat the Sanderson sisters, a trio of witches who were hanged during the Salem witch trials. One of the witches was played by Sarah Jessica Parker, whose ancestor Esther Elwell was accused of being a witch in 17th-century Salem; she escaped execution when prosecution from witchcraft was done away with.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER