For over twenty-five years, the Power Rangers franchise has captured the imaginations of millions, spawning twenty-three TV seasons in various incarnations and three feature-length movies. The newly released film, Power Rangers, has tried to distance itself a bit from the original series’ Japanese-inspired campiness in exchange for Marvel-level, comic book movie style action and less wholesome “teenagers with attitude.” Although it’s garnered mixed reviews, fans are still gobbling up the fresh new look of the Rangers, inevitably shoving more money into Haim Saban’s deep pockets and making Bandai execs squeal with delight.
However, the Power Rangers franchise has had a long history of exploitation at the expense of its cast. In fact, a number of highly questionable stories have been told about what’s gone on behind the scenes, especially in regards to Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Since Power Rangers has come back into the public eye, it's time to shed some light on the skeletons the franchise has stashed away in its closet.
Here are the 15 Darkest Behind The Scenes Secrets Of The Power Rangers.
15 Power Rangers was supposed to get canceled multiple times
Power Rangers was originally supposed to have ended with the two-part finale from Power Rangers In Space, “Countdown to Destruction.” All of the villains (and their minions) from previous seasons appear and are destroyed by a wave of Zordon’s energy, effectively wiping the slate clean as it were. However, because the ratings from that season were so high, Saban decided to continue with more stand-alone Power Rangers series featuring new villains and allies.
Ten years later, after Disney had held the rights for a while, they too were looking to end the show. Power Rangers Jungle Fury was supposed to have been the last Disney-era season of the franchise despite its continued popularity. In an interview with former Power Rangers RPM executive producer, Eddie Guzelian, he remarked that Disney seemed ashamed to be producing the series.
Nevertheless, they continued on with Power Rangers RPM, which was constantly plagued with dismissals of both writers and producers. Allegedly, Disney had given the show a ridiculously low budget, which caused Guzelian and his staff to use it all up by mid-season. Although they did stop airing new shows after RPM, Saban rescued the franchise from destruction and bought the rights back in 2010.
14 The original series cast was poorly paid and never got residuals
Amazing as it seems now, the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV show was a non-union production and none of the main cast had agents. As a result, they were given pretty crappy contracts that effectively worked out to little more than minimum wage at the time. The original Pink Ranger, Amy Jo Johnson, told the Power Rangers podcast No Pink Spandex in 2012 that they got paid something like $600 a week.
Despite the show’s huge popularity, she, along with many of the other actors, worried that once it was over, they’d have to go back to crappy jobs in food service just to make ends meet. In fact, after Austin St. John left the show in 1994, he hit a bit of a rough patch financially. “I ended up sleeping out of my jeep for awhile with my dog,” he told the Huffington Post back in 2014. Part of the reason for his dire straits was the fact that the Rangers were effectively bought out and their contracts did not include residuals. As a result, every time an MMPR episode airs, a little part of the cast dies inside at what could have been.
13 A 1994 appearance at Universal Studios shut down a Los Angeles freeway
Not even Haim Saban himself could have foreseen just how popular the Power Rangers were to become, especially during their very first season. A 1994 appearance at Universal Studios quickly assured Saban, as well as parents and the media, that the Power Rangers were cool and here to stay. Initial estimates for the appearance were around a few thousand tops, with the Rangers scheduled to appear in a small theater at the theme park. They were quickly moved to the Universal Amphitheatre after it became a logistical nightmare, with fans lining up hours beforehand and traffic congesting the entrance into the park.
The appearance gained national news coverage, not just for breaking attendance records at the theme park (35,000 people showed up), but for the awful traffic it ultimately caused. Los Angeles’ traffic had already been known as a menace, but the Power Rangers’ appearance alone shut down the 101 Freeway for approximately 8-10 miles as families tried to get into Universal for one of the six scheduled shows. Many young fans' dreams of seeing their heroes were crushed that day as they never even made it past the parking lot.
12 The franchise has a long history of censorship
From the very beginning of the first series’ development, Power Rangers has experienced concern from parents, executives, and government officials about the series' violence. Margaret Loesch, who got the series greenlit on FOX in the first place, explained to Inverse Entertainment, “We believed in it, but by that point, we were second-guessing ourselves. That pressure was on me, knowing advertisers hated it and that our big affiliates wouldn’t air it.”
Even after the show became a success, it was still constantly under fire. Both Canada and Norway pulled it off the air when a young girl was beaten to death while play-fighting scenes from the show with her friends. Malaysian officials also tried to ban the show because "morphin" was too similar sounding to morphine (a drug that kids were apparently familiar with already?).
Funny enough, even then-Vice President Al Gore said it projected “an image of violence that is simultaneously sugary and sociopathic.” Along with First Lady Hillary Clinton, he tried to impose government approved kid’s programming on broadcasters like FOX and take shows like Mighty Morphin Power Rangers off the air. That's pretty amazing when you think of what passes as a kid's show these days.
11 The Yellow Ranger from the pilot was fired for asking for more money
When most Power Rangers fans refer to the original Yellow Ranger, they immediately think of Thuy Trang who played Trini Kwan for about a season and a half. She left the show along with Walter Jones and Austin St. John after they had supposedly tried to get a pay raise and couldn’t come to an agreement with the show’s producers. However, even before that dispute, there was another Yellow Ranger who had asked for more money.
In the original unaired pilot of the show, which was shown to FOX and ad execs, another actress had been hired to play the Yellow Ranger. Audrey Dubois was chosen from a large cattle call audition along with other members of the cast. At 25, she was the oldest member of the cast, who were all hired to play high school students. However, Audrey still had a career in Arizona at the time and wasn’t quite ready to take a risk on a brand new kid’s show. According to Black Ranger Walter Jones, Audrey asked for more money and was fired as a result. Since none of the actors had representation at the time, they were (unfortunately) very easily replaceable at the time.
10 The Japanese version of Rita Repulsa got her powers from Satan
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was developed from the long-running Japanese Super Sentai franchise. Footage from the Japanese show was used in the American version, mainly when the Rangers were in their suits or when villains appeared. As expected with any adaptation, characters were modified to suit an American audience.
In Japan, Rita Repulsa’s character was called Witch Bandora, and her backstory was a lot darker than her American counterpart. Whereas the Rita we all know and love was always an evil sorceress hellbent on conquering the universe, Witch Bandora turned evil due to a personal tragedy.
In Super Sentai, Bandora had a son, Kai, who was killed by a T-Rex. To get her revenge, she sold her soul to Satan in order to gain magical powers and drive the dinosaurs to extinction. As a result of her pact with the devil, all memories of her son have been wiped, like a warped version of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It’s ironic, since she’s known for hating children so much, but it might explain why she always has such a headache.
9 Rita Repulsa’s voice was a result of the actress' annoyance at getting fired
Speaking of Rita, most early fans of the Power Rangers know her as a combination of Machiko Soga’s appearance (the Japanese actress from Super Sentai) and Barbara Goodson’s dubbed voice. However, Rita was nearly voiced by someone else entirely after Barbara was fired for not sounding scary enough. According to Barbara, she was asked to do a Wicked Witch of the West type voice, but it didn’t poll well with kids.
“And at the point, I had already done the pilot. So I said, ‘Come on guys, let me audition at least,’” she told Complex. Barbara had been one of Saban’s go to voice actors at that point and had just been given Rita to play with. “I was pissed off. I said, ‘You want it scarier?!’ I came up with that voice out of being annoyed, and it lasted for five years.” Now, it’s hard to imagine Rita with any other voice, although Elizabeth Banks has certainly put her own edgy spin on it.
8 The original cast had to come into work after the 94' Northridge earthquake
Seeing as how the original series was produced on a minuscule budget, it’s no surprise that Saban milked every second of the cast and crew’s time to make things come together. Austin St. John talked about the insane work weeks they were put through during a 2014 HuffPo interview. “We worked around the damn clock. We worked long, long hard hours on a non-union show. And we’ll just never be paid what we should have been paid.”
To get a sense of just how overworked the cast and crew were, however, one only needs to recall the events of January 17, 1994. A magnitude 6.7 earthquake rocked Los Angeles that morning, causing widespread damage, thousands of injuries, and fifty-seven confirmed deaths. According to Amy Jo Johnson, she and Thuy Trang had been having a sleepover and were called into work despite the quake. “We go down there — we ended up not shooting because the crew didn’t show up, but…It was crazy. They just, kind of…pinched their pennies, that’s for sure.” You’d think with a natural disaster destroying a good portion of the city (including a lot of the roads and freeways), they could have a day off, but not on Haim Saban’s watch.
7 Jason David Frank and Austin St. John have a real life beef
Although many of the Power Ranger actors have expressed how they were like a mini family when they were together, things weren’t always hunky dory. At some point, a real life beef started up between Mighty Morphin Power Rangers’ Red Ranger, Austin St. John, and Green Ranger, Jason David Frank. It seems to have started on the show when ASJ told crazy stories involving underground fights where he supposedly killed people in the ring. While it could have easily just been teenage braggery for the sake of looking cool, JDF didn’t seem to think so.
Then a few years ago, he took offense to a comment ASJ made in a video taken at a convention. In it, ASJ mentions that “guys with long hair who call themselves martial artists and fighters, that’s a bitch grip. I’m going to throw you around like a ragdoll.” Apparently, JDF took that personally and felt it was directed at him, sparking a Facebook rant that made the rounds online. “If you would have tried to grab my ponytail I would have taken you down to Chinatown pal!!!” he jabbed back. Some things never change.
6 David Yost was driven off the original series for his homosexuality
Aside from the pay disputes and long hours, which drove many of the original actors off the show, there were also some questionable things being said about Blue Ranger actor David Yost that inspired his departure. David was interviewed by No Pink Spandex in 2010 about his experience on the show, including the reason he finally left. “I walked off set one day, during the middle of lunch...and the reason I walked off was because I was called ‘faggot’ one too many times,” he explained.
Without naming names, he goes into detail about the bullying and intimidation he received on a daily basis from crew members, producers, and potentially even certain members of the cast. This video in particular shows David becoming extremely serious and visibly upset when Jason David Frank comes near him. He also appears to be taunting David offscreen with a crew member. It’s an unfortunate story not just because of what happened, but because Saban and members of the crew have refused to acknowledge any incidents occurred. In fact, one producer told TMZ that David was the “only one no one got along with ... he was a pain in the ass.” Deflection at its finest.
5 Haim Saban once referred to the Power Rangers as “five retards in spandex.”
For many of the actors involved in Power Rangers, a lot of their compensation problems seemed to come from the man at the top, the man credited with creating the franchise—Haim Saban. Austin St. John once commented that “Saban just had absolutely zero conscience about making billions using our faces because it was his idea and he owned it.”
To Saban, the Power Rangers were just another income stream. Although he knew a hit when he saw one—even when no one else did—the extent of the show’s success was a surprise for him too. A spotlight article on Saban in The New Yorker included many anecdotes from his friends and associates in the industry, including his former financial advisor, Matthew Krane.
After the initial success of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Krane was invited to Saban’s new home in the Hollywood Hills. As the story goes, during a tour of the house, Saban discovered a staircase he didn’t even know about. His response? A shrug and a comment that pretty much sums up his feelings on the franchise, “five retards in spandex.” It’s pretty crazy to think that those five retards turned into a multi-billion dollar industry.
4 One of the Japanese stuntmen became a cat burglar
Sometimes, even stuntmen can’t separate their real life from the one they’re portraying on TV. A Japanese stuntman from the series Tensou Sentai Goseiger, which Power Rangers Megaforce took footage from, used his skills for cat burgling after he left the show. Apparently, even the Power Rangers' Japanese counterparts can’t make a living wage.
Yasutomo Ihara was arrested in 2014 for breaking and entering along with stealing nearly $77,000 worth of cash and valuables from multiple homes. Reports say Ihara earned the nickname “Spider-Man” after allegedly breaking into the homes by climbing up the walls or using poles and trees to get in through the second stories.
The best part of this story is that Ihara had to retire from stunt work after injuring his knee. How on God’s green Earth did he shimmy up the side of a house then? Even better are the reports on how he intended to use the money. Since he couldn’t be a stuntman anymore, he decided to do the next best thing and save up for acting school. Hey, it’s not like he’d be the first actor with a jailbird past. (More on that in our #1 entry.)
3 The original series nearly killed members of the cast on multiple occasions
Although the Power Rangers TV shows use footage from their Japanese Super Sentai counterparts—namely the scenes when a character is in a full body suit or doing complicated stunt work—on occasion, the US actors performed their own stunts. This happened a lot during Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, whose producers (as you’ve probably realized by now) pinched pennies in every possible way.
In fact, the show was so cheap, they didn’t even hire stunt doubles until the actors nearly suffocated from leaving their helmets on for too long. Amy Jo Johnson has been particularly vocal about a number of times when she and other members of the cast nearly died from doing their own stunts, even mentioning it in an open letter she penned to Haim Saban in Variety.
The second Power Rangers film, Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie was particularly dangerous, hanging AJJ over a volcano and using lights near water that could have electrocuted the cast. Both AJJ and David Yost also had the unfortunate experience of catching fire during the “Switching Places” episode in season one. Can anyone really blame the cast for wanting more money and a guarantee that Saban wasn’t trying to murder them?
2 14 actors from the various series have died to date
While no one actually perished during filming, fourteen actors from the various series have died since appearing on the show. It wouldn't seem like such a big deal if most of the actors were in their seventies or eighties, but sadly, the majority died relatively young. As a result, some fans speculate that there's a Power Rangers curse, but there doesn't seem to be any sort of similarities in the deaths to warrant jumping to that kind of conclusion.
Perhaps the most well-known death is that of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers' Yellow Ranger, Thuy Trang, who died in a tragic car accident in 2001 at the age of 27. Jason David Frank's older brother, Eric, who also played his brother on Power Rangers Zeo, also died the same year at the age of 29. Bob Manahan (the voice of Zordon), Machiko Soga (Rita Repulsa in the Super Sentai series), Richard Genelle (Ernie, the owner of the Youth Center), and Maurice Mendoza (Richie in Season 2) also sadly passed away unexpectedly, ranging in age from 39-68.
1 Two of the shows produced murderers
Unfortunately, cat burglary wasn’t the only crime committed by a member of the Power Rangers family. Two different actors grew up to become real-life murderers many years after their appearances. One of the men, Skylar Deleon, was only an extra in a scene during Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, but apparently, that was his only claim to fame until he was arrested for murder. Deleon currently sits on death row for the murder of three people and has now transitioned to female since her sentence in 2009.
And then there’s Ricardo Medina Jr., who was recently sentenced to six years in prison for the 2015 voluntary manslaughter of his roommate. Medina Jr. played the Red Wild Force Ranger on Power Rangers Wild Force, which aired for one season in 2002. While that character was a kind hearted animal lover, Medina Jr. also played the villainous Deker in Power Rangers Samurai. Sadly, it seems he took the latter role to heart, since his murder weapon of choice was a sword he just happened to have in his apartment.
What other dark, behind the scenes secrets do the Power Rangers have hidden away in their closet? Let us know in the comments!