This week we were to begin our look at the final two-episode story of Batman season two. However, it didn’t seem right to just continue on business as usual after the passing of Batman himself, Adam West, this past Friday. The role of the Caped Crusader would define West’s career. He was one of the big reasons that this series has endured and holds such a special place in the hearts of fans of all ages.
West was born William West Anderson on September 19, 1928 in Walla Walla, Washington. He had dreams of going to Hollywood at an early age, but before making it there spent time in the US Army (where he worked as an announcer for Armed Forces Network television) and even worked as a milkman. After getting a start with local television in Hawaii, he moved on to Hollywood and began appearing on many TV shows, mostly westerns. He would also have roles on such shows as The Real McCoys, Perry Mason, and The Outer Limits. A few film roles came his way, as well, with appearances in flicks like Robinson Crusoe on Mars and the western comedy The Outlaws Is Coming, the final feature film of the Three Stooges.
His big moment, though, came in 1966 when he beat out Lyle Waggoner (the future Steve Trevor on Wonder Woman) for the role of Batman/Bruce Wayne. Though the show was, at its heart, a comedy, West played the role straight. That’s part of what made the tone of the show work, in my opinion. There’s also no denying the fantastic chemistry West had with his Robin, Burt Ward, but also the myriad of guest villains, from Frank Gorshin, to Cesar Romero, to Burgess Meredith…and especially Julie Newmar.
After Batman, West appeared on many many other shows, but he would always be associated first and foremost with Batman. He would lend his voice to several animated incarnations of the character and even donned the cape and cowl again in for a 1985 TV special called Legends of the Superheroes.
In recent years, West’s distinctive voice showed up in many animation projects. Shows like Johnny Bravo, Kim Possible, The Fairly OddParents, Rugrats, and, of course, Family Guy, introduced him to new generations of fans. Though, I have to admit, it made my heart cry just a bit to see people announcing West’s death on Twitter a few days ago accompanied by pictures of his character from Family Guy. These people don’t realize what they’re missing.
If you’ve read my series on Batman for any length of time, I’m sure you’ve seen what an important part of my childhood this series was. As a child growing up in the early 70’s, Adam West’s Batman was most likely my introduction to the character. The reruns were a staple of UHF TV each summer. For a time in the mid 80’s the episodes disappeared from the airwaves, but as the 1989 Batman film came to theaters, the episodes returned to TV. In the light of the dark big-screen version, many saw the classic series as a joke. For me, I came to a new appreciation of its campy sense of humor. Interestingly enough, with newer incarnations of the character in recent years, the 89 film has started to take on a camp quality for many. As much as I’ve enjoyed the various incarnations of Batman over the years, West’s Batman will always have a very special place in my heart.
So, goodbye and thank you Adam West. Your interpretation of this character is a part of my childhood I will cherish for the rest of my life. Farewell old chum.