Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Villains of Batman

The campy Batman series starring Adam West and Burt Ward made its debut in January of 1966, at a time when colour television was still a novelty.  It was orignially shown twice a week, in half hour segments on Wednesday and Thursday nights.  The first segment always ended with Batman and Robin in dire trouble.  Everything was resolved the next night.  After the first segment, the announcer implored you to "tune in tomorrow, same Bat Time, same Bat Channel”.
Based on the comic strip created by Bob Kane, Batman was an instant hit with a different guest villain every week.  The guest villains were big name actors and entertainers such as Caesar Romero as The Joker, Burgess Meredith as The Penguin and Roddy McDowall as Bookworm.  The Riddler was played by Frank Gorshin (except for one episode when John Astin played the part).
Three different actors took on the role of Mr. Freeze.  They were George Sanders, Otto Preminger and Eli Wallach.  The unfortunate Mr. Freeze was forced to wear a cryogenic suit to survive.  He had to wear the suit at all times, unless inside one of his sub-zero lairs.  His condition was due to an accident that occurred in a laboratory during a fight with Batman.

To watch a video clip in which Adam West as Batman discusses Mr. Freeze's condition, click on the link below.

Vincent Price appeared as Egghead.  Egghead had a pale bald head and a habit of using egg puns in his speech.  For example, he always said “egg- cellent” rather than “excellent" or egg-actly instead of exactly.
Art Carney played The Archer in an episode entitled “Shoot a Crooked Arrow”.  His character, The Archer, was a newly introduced villain dressed in medieval garb. 
Liberace appeared on the show in a dual role.  He played concert pianist Chandell and his evil twin brother Harry.  The two Liberace episodes, entitled "The Devil's Fingers", were the highest rated episodes of the series.
To watch a video of Liberace on as Chandell, click on the link below.
During the series’ run, three women played the role of the villainous Catwoman.  They were Lee Meriwether, Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt.  I will never forget the episode in which Julie Newmar’s Catwoman and Batman share a kiss.  Robin, played by Burt Ward declares, “Holy Mush!”
To watch an video highlighting the romance between Batman and Catwoman, click on the link below. 
Eartha Kitt was the third and final Catwoman on the series.  She replaced Julie Newmar who was  doing a movie at the time.  Once Eartha took over the role, the attraction between Batman and Catwoman ceased.  Eartha was African-American and Adam West was Caucasion.  Athough Eartha was flirtatious and kittenish, a romance between the two was not considered acceptable on television in the 1960s.  By the way Eartha KItt died two years ago, on Christmas Day in 2008.
Some other big names who appeared as villains on Batman are
* Shelley Winters as Ma Parker
* Ethel Merman as Lola Lasagna
* Milton Berle as Louis the Lilac
* Anne Baxter in two different roles (She played Zelda the Great and Olga, Egghead’s partner in crime)
* Van Johnson as Minstrel
* Carolyn Jones as Marsha, Queen of Diamonds
* Tallulah Bankhead as Black Widow
* Rudy Vallee as Lord Flogg
* Glynis Johns as Lady Penelope Peasoup
* Joan Collins as Siren
* Zsa Zsa Gabor as Minerva
* Cliff Robertson as Shame
* Maurice Evans as The Puzzler
Many celebrities made small cameo appearances on Batman.  They would stick their head out of a window and make comments as the Dynamic Duo climbed up a building using the Bat Rope.  One celebrity I remember peaking out of a window was Art Linkletter.
By the fall of 1967, the series had lost its lustre and ratings began to fall.  The show was cut back to one half-hour episode a week and a new character, Batgirl, was added (Batgirl is the alter ego of Commissioner Gordon’s librarian daughter, Barbara).  The character was portrayed by Yvonne Craig.  Hmmm . . . Whatever happened to her?  I will have to investigate that and report back to you.
Batman may have been the first series to have a “Fonzie jumps the shark” moment.  In the final season of the show, Batman and The Joker compete in a surfing contest and they are seen wearing bathing suits over their costumes.  By that time, The Joker had lost his edge and seemed almost benign. He was more silly than villainous. 

To watch a video clip of Batman and The Joker surfing, click on the link below.

No comments:

Post a Comment