Holy Heartbreak Batman: Adam West Passes at 88

The Bright Knight

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Adam West was born William West Anderson in Walla Walla, Washington, on September 19, 1928. Sadly, the masked hero of the 1966 Batman television series passed away in Los Angeles on June 9, 2017. Although West found himself typecast as Batman, he was able to carve out a niche career for himself as America’s Bright Knight Caped Crusader.

In 1965, the Playboy Club in New York City was showcasing an extended screening of the original Batman serials from the 1940s. ABC tv executives happened to see these shorts and were looking for a super hero to feature in a new tv series. They decided to present Batman as camp without an audience background laughing track and borrow the concept of the cliffhanger from those black and white serial chapters.

Same Bat Channel, Same Bat Time

Adam West and Burt Ward were paired together as the Dynamic Duo in their screen test auditioning for the roles of Batman and Robin. The producers of the program chose them over Lyle Waggoner and Peter Deyell also vying for the roles. Waggoner would succeed in landing the role of pilot Steve Trevor in Wonder Woman a decade later in 1975. Neal Hefti composed the exciting Batman theme, and George Barris built the impressive Batmobile.

Batman starring West and Ward debuted on January 12, 1966, as two 30 minute episodes airing each week with Frank Gorshin appearing as the guest villain The Riddler in the pilot. Batmania ensued as the camp crusaders became a smash hit on ABC. Major Bat villains included Burgess Meredith as The Penguin, Caesar Romero as The Joker, and Julie Newmar as The Catwoman. Yvonne Craig was introduced as Batgirl/Barbara Gordon during the third season in 1967.

After the series launch, producers moved ahead on plans to shoot a feature length Batman film, which premiered in American cinemas on July 30, 1966. The engaging high-octane Bat-movie highlighted the use of the Batcycle, the Batcopter, and the Batboat. Lee Meriwether replaced Newmar as the villainous Catwoman. West and Meriwether exuded chemistry together on screen.

My personal favorite Batman episode is the one that hosted a cliffhanger with the Green Hornet and Kato imperiled at the hands of the diabolical Colonel Gumm. Batman and Robin faced off against the Green Hornet and Kato! Van Williams who had starred as the Green Hornet from the 1966 tv series recently passed away on November 29, 2016; the 80th anniversary year of the Green Hornet. The 1966 Batman and Green Hornet appeared together in their own DC comic book title in 2014.

Holy Batmania Syndication

After Batman was cancelled by ABC in March 1968, there were rumors NBC wanted to sign the series onto its network, but their hesitation doomed a fourth season. The Batcave was demolished when word arrived NBC had expressed interest. Batman would next explode in syndication as mandatory afterschool viewing and solidified Adam West as America’s beloved Batman.

West disclosed in his 1994 autobiography that Albert Broccoli had offered him the role of James Bond 007 for the film Diamonds Are Forever in 1970, but West declined appearing as the suave secret agent on the basis of his belief that James Bond should be a British actor. West’s portrayal of Captain Q in a 1965 Nestle Quik commercial was an ace in the hole that bolstered his chances in being chosen as Batman.

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West’s association with Batman and his star power appearing as the Gotham City guardian resulted in DC Comics acknowledging West as one of Fifty individuals who contributed to the success of DC Comics during its 50th anniversary in 1985. Bob Kane, the cartoonist who created Batman, inked Batman’s debut in comic book format with Detective Comics #27 in May 1939.

West would continue to reprise his role as Batman several times in various versions during his lengthy Hollywood career. West appeared in motion pictures, on television programs, and has voiced many animated characters including Mayor Adam West, a recurring role on Family Guy since 2000.

To the Batmobile!

Burt Ward joined West who reunited with Gorshin, Newmar, and Meriwether for Return to the Batcave, a 2003 tv movie that was a camp spoof on the 1966 series. Unfortunately, the late Yvonne Craig declined to participate as her alter ego in the televised Bat-memoir.

Adam West became an American tv icon with his portrayal as Batman and rivals the popularity of Christian Bale’s performance as Batman in opinion poles. The latest Batman played by Ben Affleck is an alternative dark knight presentation to the camp 1966 Batman. Thankfully today, DC Comics recognizes that multiple Batmans can exist at the same time.

West, Ward and Newmar all voiced their classic DC characters in 2016’s animated parody Return of the Caped Crusaders. But Bat-fans will be pleased to learn that Adam West will reprise his animated role as Batman posthumously in Batman vs. Two Face with William Shatner voicing the villainous Two Face with a projected October 2017 release date.

Timothy Tilghman
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