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Early female TV superhero JoAnna Cameron lived quietly in Hawaii, dies at 73

  • COURTESY PHOTO / 1975
                                JoAnna Cameron portrays Isis, who has superpowers, in the CBS action series “Isis.”

    COURTESY PHOTO / 1975

    JoAnna Cameron portrays Isis, who has superpowers, in the CBS action series “Isis.”

JoAnna Cameron, who in the 1970s portrayed Isis, the first female character on television with superpowers, and appeared in more national network television commercials than anyone else, died Oct. 15 on Oahu. She was 73.

The cause was complications of a stroke, said Joanna Pang Atkins, who starred with Cameron on the Saturday morning children’s series “Isis.”

Cameron, who broke into the movies in 1969 with a small part in a Bob Hope film, blazed a trail when she arrived on the small screen as Isis in September 1975, two months before Lynda Carter made her first appearance as Wonder Woman. “The Bionic Woman,” starring Lindsay Wagner, began in January 1976.

“Isis” starred Cameron as Andrea Thomas, a high school science teacher who had acquired the powers of Isis, the Egyptian goddess of healing and magic. Running with the speed of a gazelle, flying like a falcon and displaying superhuman strength, she used her extraordinary powers to fight crime.

The series ran on CBS from 1975-77; reruns were later syndicated as “The Secrets of Isis.”

Cameron’s other television roles included appearances on “Columbo,” “Marcus Welby, M.D.” and “The Bold Ones: The New Doctors.”

A lithe brunette, she also received tremendous exposure as a television model for scores of commercial products. The Guinness Book of World Records said in 1979 that she had appeared in more than 100 commercials on network television, more than anyone else in advertising history.

Advertisers spent more than $100 million “using JoAnna as the beauteous centerpiece of their commercials for cosmetics, shampoo, wine, beer, pantyhose and breath freshener,” TV Guide reported in 1979, adding “she certainly has a face that can sell a product.”

Cameron was outdoorsy and athletic, and she appeared in commercials skiing, scuba diving, piloting a jet, driving a race car and romping through a field of flowers. She flew with the Blue Angels and worked to promote the U.S. Navy. But many of her other commercials were for personal products. In an ad for pantyhose, she struck a Mrs. Robinson-like pose. In a cigarette spot, she smoked. She also made a brief foray into directing commercials but did not enjoy it.

When she appeared on “The Merv Griffin Show,” Griffin said that if all her commercials were strung together, they would run for 150 hours, or six days of continuous viewing. He noted that advertisers said she had “the perfect face,” although he did not specify what that meant.

When Griffin asked her if she felt pretty, she demurred. “Pretty,” she said, “comes from being healthy and feeling good about who you are and what you do.”

Patricia Kara Cameron was born Sept. 20, 1948, in Greeley, Colo., where her parents, Harold and Erna (Borgens) Cameron, operated a drive-in restaurant. She showed an interest in acting from an early age. While in high school, she worked with the Little Theater at Colorado State College, where she had a part in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Moving to California in the 1960s, she worked part time at Disneyland as a tour guide. She was a winning contestant on “The Dating Game” and a finalist on the televised beauty pageant “The Dream Girl of 1967.”

Her big break came when she became friends with Bob Hope’s daughter, Linda. Bob Hope cast her in “How to Commit Marriage,” a 1969 comedy in which he starred with Jackie Gleason and Jane Wyman.

On Gleason’s advice, she dropped the name Patricia and started calling herself JoAnna Cameron, although her screen credits list her variously as Jo Anna Cameron, Joanna K. Cameron, Joanna Kara Cameron and Joanna Cameron.

Her other movies included “Pretty Maids All in a Row” (1971) and “B.S. I Love You” (1971). She was under consideration for the role of Jenny Cavilleri in “Love Story” (1970), but it went to Ali MacGraw.

After her last movie, in 1980, she moved permanently to Hawaii, where she had often visited. She lived a quiet and anonymous life there, a friend in Hawaii said by email, and few people knew about her Hollywood career or that she had starred in “Isis.”

With a nursing degree she had earned in California, she turned to patient care, working in private facilities or patients’ homes and providing comfort and care — similar to hospice work. She also had a marketing degree, and she later became a marketer for two major hotels.

Information about survivors was not immediately available.

Asked in a 2002 interview for an “Isis” fan website if she had ever been afraid of being typecast by her role as Isis, she expressed no doubt.

“Who’s afraid of being typecast as a superhero?” she responded. “If you have to be typecast, take superhero. Or Egyptian goddess.”

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