Classic Television Memories: Batman 1966 - 1968
Hi, I'm glad you're here. You must have an interest in classic television shows. In a moment, we're going to climb into my Classic TV Time Capsule, but first let me lay out the Plan.
We're going to embark on a journey. We're going to enter the Capsule and travel back in time to relive some of the television shows from the years 1960-1969. I chose this decade because in my opinion, this era spawned some of the greatest shows ever; making household names of the shows and its stars, and becoming the patterns for some of the television shows since. So if you're looking for "reality shows", you're in the wrong place. If you're a lover of classics like Bonanza, Mannix, Hawaii Five-O (the original), The Dick Van Dyke Show, then come along with me.
Enough talk, let's go!
Follow me as we go inside this bullet-shaped metallic structure. In the middle of the Control Room are two very comfortable reclining chairs. surrounding the chairs on the walls are individual television screens, each with a classic show running on it. As we take our seats, I grab my remote control, and aim it at one of the screens. I think we'll choose for our first trip, my personal favorite, Batman. I point and click, and in the words of Jackie Gleason, and awaaaay we go.
Since his creation in 1939 by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger, Batman along with his sidekick Robin, The Boy Wonder, were featured in a wide array of media during the 30's and 40's. The character first appeared in the pages of Detective Comics #27; he was a featured guest on the Superman radio shows of the 40's, and also in this era made it onto the silver screen in two Saturday matinee cliffhanger serials, Batman (1943), and Batman and Robin (1949), both produced by Columbia. The Caped Crusader also fought crime in the daily newspaper comic strips.
In 1966, The Dynamic Duo was brought to the relatively young media of television, and Batmania was born.
The series from 1966-1968 focused on Gotham City's resident crime-fighters, Batman, alias Bruce Wayne, played by Adam West, and Robin, aka Wayne's youthful Ward, Dick Grayson, played by Burt Ward. Joining the pair are Alfred the Butler, (Alan Napier) the only person that knows Wayne's true identity, and Dick's Aunt Harriet (Madge Blake), who is always kept in the dark of her nephew's extracurricular activities.
Rounding out the cast are veteran actor Neil Hamilton (Commssioner Gordon), and Stafford Repp (Chief O'Hara).
Gotham's criminal element were portrayed by a veritable cast of then Hollywood's Elite, but the recurring characters were The Riddler (Frank Gorshin), later played by John Astin, who played Gomez Addams of the Addams Family, Catwoman (Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt, and Lee Meriwether in the feature film), The Joker (played by Latin romantic leading man, Caesar Romero), and The Penguin (played by veteran actor Burgess Meredith), who later played Mickey in the Rocky movies.
Other villians include Vincent Price (Egghead), Victor Buono (King Tut), Cliff Robertson (Shane), The Mad Hatter (David Wayne), False Face (Malachi Throne), Mr. Freeze (Otto Preminger, and George Sanders), The Bookworm (Roddy McDowell), and the list goes on.
Batgirl was added in 1967, and played by Yvonne Craig.
Back to the show:
Each week at 7:30 on Wednesday and Thursday nights, one of Gotham's super-criminals commits a crime that's too difficult for the police to handle. Batman and Robin are summoned either by the Batphone, or the Bat-signal located on the roof of police headquarters. Bruce and Dick access the Batcave via the batpoles, magically changing into their costumes as they reach the cave. They hop into the Batmobile, and speed off to police headquarters.
There they figure out the criminal's plot, and they're on the case. Catching up with said perp, a fight ensues, but the tables are turned and the Dynamic Duo are trapped in a cliffhanger ending that's resolved the next night,
After escaping the death trap, the pair resume tracking down the villian, finally subduing him or her, making Gotham safe until next week. This is the basic scenario for each show, with a few variations.
The show was played tongue-in cheek, in contrast to the character's earlier incarnations, and by today's standards is just plain silly. However, for a nine year old kid in 1966, this was high art.
The Series started out as a phenonmenon, leading to a marketer's paradise in merchandising, (toys, games, etc), and even a feature film was produced in 1966, showcasing all the main characters, pitting Batman and Robin against all four villians, (Joker, Catwoman, Riddler, and Penguin), whose plan was world domination. The film followed the same format as the series, and did well at the box office.
The rollercoaster ride for the series ended in 1968, due to budget constraints caused by sagging ratings. Even the introduction of Batgirl wasn't enough to save the show. I thought her addition sealed the series' fate.
Today, the series remains popular in syndication. Althougn the show hasn't officially been released on DVD as yet. There are other products featuring the cast that will whet your Bat-Whistle.
Until next time.
Adam West and Burt Ward weren't the only actors to try out for the series. Lyle Waggoner (of Carol Burnet's troupe), and a young actor named Peter Deyell vied for the roles, and through the courtesy of Youtube and the generous person who uploaded the videos, the screen tests featuring all four actors are presented for your enjoyment. In my estimation, physically, Waggoner was a better Batman, although West had the voice. Deyell came off more like a kid, but his fight demonstration was impressive. What do you think? Please feel free to leave a comment.
Gone But Not Forgotten
Alan Napier (Alfred) Jan 7, 1903 - Aug 8, 1988
Neil Hamilton (Commissioner Gordon) Sept. 9, 1899 - Sept. 24, 1984
Stafford Repp (Chief O' Hara) April 26, 1918 - Nov. 5, 1974
Madge Blake (Aunt Harriet) Nov 31, 1899 - Feb. 19, 1969
Frank Gorshin (Riddler) April 5, 1933 - Nov. 5, 2005
Caesar Romero (Joker) Feb 15, 1907 - Jan 1, 1994
Burgess Meredith (Penguin) Nov 16, 1907 - Sept 9, 1997
William Dozier (Announcer, Producer) Feb 13, 1908 - April 23, 1991