Written by: Jennifer Kathleen Gibbons
Adam West defined the word suave.
Tall and lanky, he could walk in a room and all the women would look at him. He had style, he dressed well, and had a James Bond flair about him that was hard to capture.
Yet, he never played a secret agent.
He played a superhero, one that would be played by many men, but never with as much panache and charm as West.
In 1966, ABC premiered a new sitcom that kicked Ozzie and Harriet to the curb. It starred comic book/ Saturday night serial staple Batman (played of course by West) and his sidekick Robin (Burt Ward). Of course, the dynamic duo was really Bruce Wayne and his ward Dick Grayson.
The show had a nice steady format:
- We are introduced to the Special Guest Villain (or Villainess) setting up their crime.
- Chief O’Hara (Stafford Repp) let Commissioner Gordon (Neil Hampton) know what’s going on. Get thee to the Batphone!
- The Batphone rings. Sometimes Albert our favorite butler (Alan Napier) answered while Bruce and Dick chatted with Aunt Harriet (Madge Blake). I always wondered how dense Commissioner Gordon was because he must’ve met Alfred while going to the Wayne Manor and never put two and two together. But I digress…
- The duo get their call of action. They must once again save Gotham City. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. To the Bat Poles! Song cue!
The famous Batman theme would come on. When I was little I used to hide in the bathroom until it was done. To me it felt like Batman and Robin were running right towards me, out of the TV set. The fear didn’t make sense, but they seemed so real it could happen.
Of course the show wasn’t real and that was its charm. With Vietnam becoming more serious and the civil rights movement taking flight, Batman was a definite respite from the rigors of the world outside.
The first weekly episode always ended with a cliffhanger with the Dynamic Duo in danger, but the viewer knew the next day they would be okay; they would catch the Super Villain and all would be well in Gotham City until next week. We needed that familiarity, that knowing everything was going to be okay. We needed the show’s bright colors, the superstar villains, the fact everything else was so uncertain, but as long as Batman and Robin saved the day, at least that was something.
West became a fixture on variety shows. He guest starred on The Hollywood Palace, where in one episode he joked around with Milton Berle and Martha Raye, then when he came back to host he dressed as Batman and sang “Orange Colored Sky.” During the Christmas show, he sang “This Old Man” with Bing Crosby’s kids and Louis Nye. He did a Public Service Announcement imploring children to do their American duty and buy savings bonds, reading a letter from President Johnson. He did a Batman movie, where Bruce Wayne was tempted by Miss Kitka (Lee Merriweather) not knowing she was really Catwoman.
If there was one woman who could tempt Batman from the superhero life, it was Catwoman.
Be it Julie Newmar, Merriweather, or Eartha Kitt, if she purred or meowed towards his direction, there was that temptation for him to throw off that cowl and cape and run off. But he couldn’t. He was Batman! But one time he was tempted to kiss her, and came oh, so close, but Robin came in and blew it.
When the show ended in 1968, West found that once you play a superhero, odds are you were going to be typecast.
He did appearances as Batman, while guest starring in TV dramas. For several animated shows starring Batman he did his voice. He developed a sense of humor about the character, showing off the Batusi to Bart and Lisa Simpson. On The Big Bang Theory, he was a surprise guest for Sheldon’s (Jim Parsons) birthday party, getting tipsy and crying out “Happy birthday, Sherman!”
When Batman regained his popularity in films, West was never asked to make an appearance (although for Tim Burton’s Batman he was considered to play Bruce Wayne’s father Thomas). Yet no matter what, he knew he was Batman. When West’s death was announced by his family, they called him the Bright Knight. Who else could do the Batusi, surf with Joker, flirt with Catwoman, and give fatherly lectures to Robin?
Only Adam West, who socked his role to the stars.