A couple of decades ago when I spent large chunks of my summer at my grandma’s house because I had my own room, could watch baseball from the hot tub on her deck, and got channels that I didn’t have at home, I was introduce to the wonder and marvel that is Batman.
Batman was obviously based off of the comic book of the same name and featured Bruce Wayne (Adam West) and his young ward Dick Grayson (Burt Ward) fighting crime as the Dynamic Duo Batman and Robin. Loyal butler Alfred (Alan Napier) dusted the Batcave and helped keep their secret from the world, including Dick’s Aunt Harriet (Madge Blake). They’re summoned via Batphone and Batsignal by Commissioner Gordon (Neil Hamilton) and Chief O’Hara (Stafford Repp) at the first sign of a super criminal as the Gotham City police force apparently only employed the cops that weren’t capable of fighting crime much worse than traffic violations.
The super criminals in question included of The Joker, The Riddler, Catwoman, The Penguin, Mr. Freeze, Egghead, The Puzzler, Clock King, King Tut, Bookworm, Olga Queen of the Cossaks, Black Widow, Zelda the Great, Shame, Ma Parker, Mad Hatter, Marsha Queen of Diamonds, The Archer, and Louie the Lilac. Some of these were villains in the Batman comics, others were villains from other comics, and still others were made up or re-imagined for the show.
The super villains typically came to Gotham with an unbelievable crime planned and once their presence was detected, Batman and Robin would try to thwart them. Inevitably, Batman and/or Robin would get caught in a trap which would lead to them nearly dispatched by some elaborate super hero killing machine the villain came up with. However, they’d always manage to escape at the last possible second and end up catching the bad guy in the end. This drama played out over two episodes shown on consecutive nights for the first two seasons, but was cut down to one during the third and final season.
The costumes, the bright colors, the clever camera angles (the villain scenes were all filmed at a slant because they’re crooked, you now), the BAM! ZAP! BIFF! during the fight scenes, the breathless narrator (Same Bat-Time! Same Bat-Channel!), and sometimes (okay, lots of times) corny dialogue made it quite comic book-like and of course, ramped up the camp factor. And if there’s one thing pop culture loves, it’s camp.
Batman’s utility belt, his penchant for labeling everything at bat-whatevers, and Robin’s holy exclamations had staying power when it comes to clever pop culture witticisms.
As silly as this show is, it was the show to be on back in the day. The guest stars weren’t doing this gig because they didn’t have anything else going for them; they did it because they were clamoring to be on the show. Hard to believe, I know, but think of it as the precursor to the people that show up in SyFy movies that you don’t think should be there (William Katt? Why are you here and why are you wearing your mother’s glasses?).
Guest stars included Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, Frank Gorshin, Julie Newman, John Astin, Eartha Kitt, Art Carney, Ethel Merman, Joan Collins, Shelley Winters, Milton Berle, Victor Buono, Cliff Robertson, Carolyn Jones, Vincent Price, Eli Wallach, Tallulah Bankhead, Jill St. John, Anne Baxter, Doodles Weaver, Rudy Vallee, Glynis Johns, Ethel Merman, Lesley Gore, Liberace, and Roddy McDowell.
Demand to be on the show was so great, that “window cameos” were created. As the Dynamic Duo climbed up the side of a building (walked along the floor holding onto a rope with strings holding their capes out while the camera filmed sideways), a celebrity would pop out of a window. Those cameos included Sammy Davis Jr, Jerry Lewis, Don Ho, Colonel Klink (Werner Klemperer), Lurch (Ted Cassidy), Edward G. Robinson, Dick Clark and Art Linkletter.
Batman and Robin were joined in Gotham City by the Green Hornet and Kato (Van Williams and Bruce Lee) for an episode (they also appeared once in a window) which led me to nearly explode with glee. In the third season, Barbara Gordon, commissioners daughter and Batgirl (Yvonne Craig), was added to the regulars. Her lace trimmed Batgirl Cycle is truly a sight to behold.
While I love most of the villains, if I’m hard pressed to choose a favorite, I have to go with King Tut. Joker, Riddler (Frank Gorshin version), Penguin, and Catwoman are all fabulous, but Victor Buono brings that added oomph to the camp that I just adore.
This show is so much fun and it never seems to get old, no matter how many times I watch it.
I admit that when I say I’m busy on Saturday nights, what I mean is I’m watching Batman.