Even though I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, the TV shows of the 50’s and 60’s were a big part of my childhood. Before we had cable TV, local UHF stations would fill their schedules with old shows now running in syndication. Every summer, one of the shows that would pop up on the schedule was the classic late 60’s series Batman. This was, and still is, one of my favorite shows of all time.
When I was a kid, we all took this show seriously. We didn’t realize that it was, at it’s heart, a comedy. That all changed in 1989. The series hit heavy rotation on TV, what with the Tim Burton film burning up the box office. Batman was everywhere that year, and with Burton’s darker version breaking box office records, we all started to see just how campy the 60’s series really was. It’s strange how now Burton’s film feels somewhat campy itself when compared to likes of The Dark Knight trilogy.
The series starred Adam West as Batman, and his alter ego, millionaire Bruce Wayne. West had appeared in a number of films and TV shows throughout the 60’s, including appearances on Perry Mason, The Rifleman, and The Outer Limits. However, Batman was his big break. Joining West was Burt Ward as Dick Grayson, aka the Boy Wonder…Robin. Ward was a mere 19 years of age when he auditioned for the role of Robin. Ward would detail his time on the show in a somewhat scandalous autobiography called Boy Wonder: My Life in Tights. Rounding out the regular cast were Alan Napier as Alfred, Neil Hamilton as Commissioner Gordon, Stafford Repp as Chief O’Hara (a character created for the series) and Madge Blake as Aunt Harriet (Dick Grayson’s maternal aunt).
Perhaps one of the most memorable aspects of Batman, however, was its rogues gallery. An amazing array of celebrities appeared as the bizarre villains of Gotham City. Among them were Caesar Romero as the Joker, Burgess Meredith as The Penguin, Frank Gorshin as the Riddler, Julie Newmar as Catwoman, Vincent Price as Egghead, and many more. Even film director Otto Preminger made and appearance as Mr. Freeze in season 2.
The show ran for three seasons. During seasons one and two it was unique in that it aired in prime time twice a week. Each story was a two-parter, with a cliffhanger ending separating the two. The narrator, portrayed by series producer William Dozier, would tell viewers to come back tomorrow… “same bat-time, same bat-channel.” The series was also known for it’s famous fight sequences featuring big comic-book style bursts featuring words like “POW!”, “BIFF!”, and “ZONK!”. Other famous elements included the caped crusaders scaling walls with a rope and often finding a celebrity guest star peering out a window. We also mustn’t forget Robin’s ever present exclamations of “Holy (insert word here)!”, not to mention the show’s famous, but lyrically simple, theme song.
In the years that followed the cancellation of the series, it’s legacy became clear. West and Ward would be called upon to voice the characters in animated versions of Batman. In recent years, DC comics has published a series of comics under the title Batman ’66, bringing the style of the series to comic book form.
I am so looking forward to revisiting this classic series. We’ll start next time with Season 1 Episode 1…which very appropriately introduces a villain whose status in the comics was minor until this series gave him new popularity. It’s Frank Gorshin’s first appearance in the role that would earn him an Emmy nomination, The Riddler, in Hi Diddle Riddle.