Fly Like an Egyptian (Goddess)

By Jonathan Padget
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 29, 2007

O zephyr winds, which blow on high, lift me now, so I can fly!

If those words mean nothing to you, then, well, that makes us sad. Because it means you weren't anywhere near a wood-grain-console television on Saturday mornings in shag-carpeted, mid-1970s America, and thus you missed out on the so-cool-when-you-were-6, now-so-bad-it's-brilliant series: "Isis."

The live-action show, created as a glamorous complement to hunky Captain Marvel on "Shazam!," featured gorgeous JoAnna Cameron as Andrea Thomas, a high school science teacher who went on an Egyptian archaeological dig and discovered an ancient amulet -- which she kept, of course, like any good tourist -- that gave her incredible mystical powers courtesy of the goddess Isis.

Whenever bad guys were around, or whenever one of her students got into a pickle (you've never seen so many kids get trapped under rocks), Andrea would pull out the amulet from underneath her blouse, utter three words -- "O mighty Isis!" -- and generate a cloud of smoke from which she would emerge as Isis. Suddenly, she's decked out in a white sleeveless mini-dress, high-heel ankle boots and Egypto-fabulous accessories that must've come straight outta Kay Jewelers at the Nile Valley Galleria.

Now you, too, can witness this transformation, as the series was released on DVD last week.

The 22 episodes were broadcast in 1975 and 1976, the dawn of a superheroine-intensive era on TV, with the likes of Isis, the Bionic Woman and Wonder Woman inspiring countless hours of reenacted episodes on playgrounds throughout the country. ( Why can't I be Isis? I never get to be Isis. Why do I have to be her sidekick Cindy Lee?)

We love Isis, and not only can we now treasure every moment on home video, there's even a movie rumored to be in the works. (Yes, we see it, too: Catherine Zeta-Jones is a ringer for Cameron, but anyone who's old enough to remember the series the first time around is too old to play the character now; sorry, CZJ.)

Why has this Minx from the Land of the Sphinx enchanted us for three decades and counting? Oh, we're so, so glad you asked.

For starters, Isis could fly (arms to the back, head held high, boobs thrust forward and . . . cue the wind machine!). And she could, oh, you know, control the elements. Sun, wind, water -- you name it, they were hers to command. And she was tight with a talking black crow named Tut. (Cameron reportedly despised the bird with a passion, but you'd never know it when they're on-camera. That's how good an actress she is.)

Nobody ever knew that Andrea was Isis, because they couldn't see past her huge, ugly aviator-on-steroid glasses. Plus, the ancient powers of Isis also apparently included the instantaneous growth of several feet of hair, giving her flowing brunette locks that reached the bottom of her mini-dress, a la Cher. (A movie studio today would be tempted to execute this effect with CGI, or elaborate hair extensions, but we urge them to employ the old-school fall, which we like to think Cameron has tucked away in her attic.)

There's also Isis's nifty ability -- a trait shared with Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman -- to change from high-heel boots to flats in the blink of an eye, if she has to run or make her way across rocky terrain where some careless child has gotten trapped -- for the 11th time in one season.

And let's not forget her lovely way with a power-summoning phrase. Isis was never the type to settle for anything as common as "Up, up and away" or "To the bat poles, Robin." No, she was poetic. To kick up the temperature so a fleeing criminal's car would overheat: O sun that changes day from night, help me stop this man from flight. Or, to guilt someone into a confession: Ancient Sphinx, all-knowing and wise, confront this man with his own lies. Or, to improvise a temporary holding cell: Trees of the forest, I need thy aid; surround these men so they behave. (No, really, she actually said that.)

Perhaps most important to the American social fabric were the values of "Isis." The show eschewed violence and emphasized education and morality. (Heck, there were no less than three UCLA advisers in the credits, including anthropologist James Sackett, because you'd never want a series about a mini-dress-wearing, Egyptian-goddess-channeling, golden-amulet-powered superheroine to, you know, lack authenticity.)

Just think: How many Gen X-ers would be running around accepting dangerous dares from "friends" if Isis hadn't told Cindy that "sometimes you have to listen to your own inner voices" -- preach it, sister -- "and let them be your guide"? And who among us would still have trouble trusting our ex-con fathers if Isis hadn't advised a girl named Jenny that if you're unsure about the motivations of someone you love, "give them the benefit of your love. Why not believe the best instead of the worst?"

And timeless is the message of two high-schoolers mixed up with a rogue developer trying to frighten away landowners by projecting images of UFOs in the sky. The boys realized the error of their ways and helped Isis, but they didn't shirk responsibility for their mistakes: "We're still at fault. . . . We knew it was wrong. We just . . . kept going 'cause we thought it was fun."

O mighty Isis, welcome back. We need you today more than ever.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company