This info may just hit you with a POW!: the classic “Batman” TV series of the ‘60s is celebrating its 45thanniversary.
In 1966 ABC introduced the viewing audience to a costumed crimefighting duo unlike any who’d hit the airwaves before: Sure, “The Adventures of Superman” had made a superhero a kiddie TV sensation a decade earlier, and Gotham City’s Caped Crusader had been icons to the comic book-reading crowd since being unleashed by Bob Kane and Bill Finger in 1939, joined a year later by his youthful sidekick, Robin the Boy Wonder.
But this was wild, heady new territory, presenting Batman’s adventures in bold "Pop Art" primary colors, punctuating punches with onscreen sound effects, outdoing even James Bond with the Bat-gadgets and the turbocharged dream ride the Batmobile. Kids loved the straight-faced heroics, while adult hipsters found themselves laughing at the sly double entendres and the endless parade of famous Hollywood stars who, by signing up to play the bad guys, were in on the jokes.
It was cool, it was campy, it was kooky – and it was phenomenally popular.
The man behind the cowl, Adam West tells PopcornBiz he thinks he knows why – even as Batman has returned in increasingly darker Hollywood incarnations – why his Batusi-ing version of the character remains close to people’s hearts nearly five decades later.
“Batman is not a character who's an alien – he's just a guy from here who went through a terrible, traumatic, sad thing,” says West, 82. “and as a result he became totally dedicated and obsessed with training and fighting crime. Now, if you do that seriously, 24/7, you're a little dingy – something is kind of wrong with you. You're maybe a taco short, but if you do it with humor and fun, I think it's lasting. It's proved right. Now the new movies like 'The Dark Knight', they make a lot of money and they're very successful, the franchise – but who knows how long those will last and be enjoyed, because tastes change, the audience changes. But our little world out there never changes. You could be three years old and see something and then as you get older you see something else and you go along with it.”
The other half of the Dynamic Duo, Burt Ward, 66, then a first-time actor who’s over-enthusiastic “Holy hyperbole” approach perfectly suited the character – agrees. “Our show was the first show where we said we put on our tights to put on the world,” he says. “Up until then all these television shows were like, 'Hey, if it's a police show it's serious. If it's a medical show it's serious.' But with us, we were serious for kids and the hero worship, and for the adults, it was the nostalgia of the comic books and for the teenagers and the college kids, we were the double meanings and the sly little innuendos and stuff like that. We played that up.”
“It was brilliantly produced,” sighs Julie Newmar, whose sinuously sexy turn at the villainous Catwoman defined the character for generations to follow. “They had something marvelous to work with. They gathered the right people: brilliant writers, the best cameramen, and the casting is highly important. They did brilliant casting in both Adam and Burt – really, really good. And also the times that we lived in contributed to it's peculiar success.”
For West, the peculiar success quickly turned frustrating when Hollywood refused to see him as anything but the batty hero.
“There was a time when I became I think a little bit bitter and upset with what happened with typecasting,” recalls West, “because if you create a character that's really successful – and especially jumping around in a mask and a cape and tights – you can't see that character readily in other roles. That's what happened for three or four years. Then I went out and did all kinds of theater, I did whatever I could – I did really stupid movies just to keep working and practicing my craft, and then pretty soon I began to be accepted in other things.”
“I learned to embrace Batman, because why not?” West says. “How many actors get a chance to still be here at this table with something that they created that the audience still finds fascinating? I'm very fortunate."
West, Ward, Newmar, and "Batgirl" Yvonne Craig are the last remaining cast members, and “Batman” remains the tie that continues to bind them, and the camaraderie they’ve shared since the 60s remains undimmed.
“We're different people,” adds West, “but the moment that we get together on the stage or whatever, that chemistry comes back just like that. You just get that playful thing going and it works. I mean, it's like Laurel and Hardy.”
Or maybe even Batman and Robin.