Holy nostalgia! A Batman 1966 TV series retrospective


Bam! Smack! Pow! With the sad passing of star Adam West, is there any better time to rewatch his iconic 1966 Batman series?

For many fans of film, TV, and comics, it’s still a shock to be living in a world without Adam West. The man, the myth and the legend passed away after a brief battle with leukemia on June 9th. Los Angeles even paid tribute to him by shining the Bat-symbol to commemorate his most iconic role. While Adam West may be best known to younger people as Mayor West onthe clo Family Guy, he’ll always be known (for most people around the world) as the star of the 1966 Batman TV show.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

It’s hard to believe that despite the 1966 show airing in syndication around the world for decades, it’s availability on home video only occurred in 2014. That’s due to the tangled web of legal issues regarding ownership, musical rights and other technicalities. Most fans of the show only got to watch it when it happened to air on a channel they had access to. For me, it was syndicated on WPIX in New York during the 1980s into the 1990s every summer from June to Labor Day.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

I had only bought the DVD box set of the series and begun watching it a week before Adam West’s death. It made rewatching the series I’d enjoyed as a boy slightly more somber. To many of us of the millennial generation, it seems like the best adaptation of Batman was Batman: The Animated Series from 1992, featuring the voice of Kevin Conroy. And while that’s true, it wasn’t Conroy or even Michael Keaton in 1989’s Batman film who was my first Batman. It was Adam West.

Just How Did a Batman TV Show Arise?

More from TV

Usually considered a product of its time, the 1966 Batman series is often the victim of a bad rap. People commonly begin to look down upon some things that appear childish as they reach adolescence or early adulthood. In addition, the attempt by DC Comics and arguably the entire comics medium to shift public opinion away from “camp” in the mid 1980s has also had its effect. But with a mature set of eyes and a fresh perspective, Batman ’66 may have been ahead of its time.

While Superman had been a whirlwind of media success on TV, film and radio, that was over by the end of the 1950s. ABC sought a new superhero show as a straightforward adventure series. Their aim was to replicate the success of The Lone Ranger in the 1950s. Produced by 20th Century Fox involving characters owned by Warner Brothers, you can see how the rights got mingled. William Dozier and Louis Semple Jr. teamed up to craft a pilot, and, from there, history was made!

“Atomic Batteries to Power! Turbines to Speed!”

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

Although some of the most famous actors around guest starred, the main stars were unknowns. Adam West, up until 1966, had been a rising character actor. He’d appeared in a variety of films and TV shows of the era; many of them Westerns. After appearing as a James Bond satire in a Nestle Quik commercial, he impressed the producers enough to audition as Batman. Meanwhile, 19 year-old ice skater, martial artist and athlete Burt Ward won the co-starring role of Robin, the Boy Wonder.

Holy Popularity Contest, Batman!

Very quickly it became clear to network executives they weren’t getting a straightforward adventure show. Both the stars and producers of the show saw it as a comedy, and played things with that angle. While the actors may have played their characters straight, everyone’s tongue was firmly in cheek. Much of the dialogue was self-aware or self-referential. The situations were absurdly over the top, with nods to current pop culture coming fast and often.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

In fact, it would take too long to list all the spoofs and satires Batman 1966 performed from 1966–1968. Almost every popular genre or major TV series at the time was lampooned there. From Shane to Dragnet to Gidget to Star Trek to “the British invasion” to 1950s era “teenage rebel” flicks, Batman 1966 sends them all up. Not even Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was safe! And from the guest villains to the “Bat-climb” cameos, at least 250 guest stars graced the show!

Perhaps the most notable guest appearance in Batman history wasn’t one of the actors, but a writer. Bill Finger, famous co-creator of the entire franchise, wrote two episodes of the show. At the time, Bob Kane was still getting sole credit for everything related to the Dark Knight as Finger toiled in the shadows. In fact, it could be argued he contributed far more to the lore than Kane did. Finger wrote Clock King’s episodes, and I wonder how seeing his creations in live action felt.

Network Executives Are Little Wiser Today!

Yet the subsequent ratings success of the show cannot be understated. While Batman had always been one of DC Comics’ most popular stars, Batman ’66 introduced him to the masses. It exposed the franchise to multimedia opportunities he’d never had before. The merchandise bonanza which emerged alone may have moved over a billion dollars at the time. Next to Bond and the Beatles, it was the hottest thing in pop culture for its three-season run. But it was all gone almost as quickly.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

Indeed, while Batman and Robin could escape any trap or beat any villain, their show succumbed to network demands. The first two seasons from 1966–1967 were ratings bonanzas for ABC, peaking with a guest appearance by Liberace in season two. The costs per episodes were rising, and by season 3, the ratings began to dip. By spring 1968, ABC outright canceled the show. NBC had agreed to pick it up, but by then, most of the expensive sets were destroyed. And that was that.

Batman Fans Owe More to This Series Than They May Know!

When watching the series now, it is easy to underestimate how much it’s changed the whole Batman franchise. Its most popular reoccurring villains — Joker, Penguin, Catwoman and Riddler — would immediately become Batman’s arch rogues forevermore. Believe it or not, this wasn’t always the case in the comics at the time. For example, before the smash hit of Batman ’66, Catwoman hadn’t appeared in any DC Comics for roughly 13 years. That’s impossible nowadays.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

In addition, Batman ’66 also all but reinvented the villain Mr. Freeze. First appearing in Batman #121 circa 1959, he’d originally been called “Mr. Zero.” The producers of the Batman ’66 show found that a bit lame, and renamed him “Mr. Freeze.” His origin was also changed to involve an element of revenge for being forced to live in subzero temperatures. While Batman: the Animated Series naturally took this a step farther, it all began with Victor Fries’ appearances in this show!

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

Furthermore, it’s debatable how much of an influence this series had on Frank Miller, who redefined Batman and comics with 1986’s The Dark Knight Returns. After all, Carrie Kelley looks a lot like Jill St. John in a Robin costume, aside for the goggles. And in 1979, Adam West donned the Batman suit one last time, at age fifty, for a pair of Hanna-Barbera produced Legends of the Superheroes TV specials. A middle-aged Batman out of retirement for one last hurrah? You decide.

The “Dare Doll” Who Got Her Own Theme Song!

The biggest addition to the Batman franchise by the TV show may have been Barbara Gordon, the most famous Batgirl. While Bette Kane had been “Bat-Girl” in the comics in 1961, she’d been written out in 1964 by editor Julius Schwartz. However, the producers of the Batman ’66 show wanted to introduce a heroine to the series for the third season, and teamed with Schwartz to create her. Yvonne Craig played her in the TV show, only five months after Batgirl’s comic debut.

However, discussion of legacy and nostalgia mitigates the real focus of a retrospective. That is, how does the series appear to an audience now? The utterly brilliant fact is that its status as an action-comedy allows it to work on two levels for two audiences. For young children, they can see it as the sort of straightforward adventure ABC wanted. Yet for adults, they can catch all the references and spoofs of Hollywood and politics, and get extra enjoyment as a result.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

Over time, the formula of the series quickly establishes itself. Before the credits, a super-criminal will commit a fantastic crime. Commissioner Gordon and Chief O’Hara will be baffled, and contact Batman on their “hot line.” The dynamic duo will race to their office for clues before investigating. At the end of the first chapter, one or both of the heroes will be caught in a death trap. Viewers will be encouraged to watch the next episode, where the duo escape and thrash the villains in a brawl.

More Than Just Formula!

While this formula would be altered by the 3rd season (when the show aired only once a week rather than twice), the broad strokes would remain. Initially, it seems like this would be limiting. However, once the show established this formula, the writers and actors became comfortable with it. The routine allowed everyone to be at their best, and even spoofed or lampooned their very routine. The death traps became progressively more outlandish and insane, for example.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

Perhaps the most famous aspect of the routines were the brawls. Highly choreographed and mostly performed by stuntmen, they were unlike most shows of the time. The part everyone remembers are the sound effects which would show on screen for every blow or crash against scenery. In fact, this very website takes its name upon that sort of thing. It was an attempt to pay homage to the sound effects of comic books (onomatopoeia) in a more fluid medium like film.

One cliche of the series is the standalone nature of the series. And while this is mostly the case (in that arcs longer than three episodes are rare) past events are frequently referenced. Previously defeated villains are referenced frequently, with some of their schemes mentioned on occasion. For example, the Joker tries to effect Gotham’s water supply twice in the series, and his first attempt is referenced in the second. The third season took this further, linking all the episodes.

Holy Advanced Technology, Batman!

The biggest way in which Batman ’66 proves itself is through technology and forensics. In both of these categories, the show was very ahead of its time, predicting techniques and gadgets which would come in later. What may have seemed like science fiction from 1966–1968 became fact later on. While both of these aspects would be portrayed in very exaggerated and simplistic ways, their existence alone proves Batman ’66 deserves more credit than it gets, even by fans.

From the first pilot episode until the third season, the much maligned Batcomputer was frequently used for analysis of materials. From analyzing paper to paint, and especially fabrics and fibers, it was a simplistic version of the tropes that later crime shows like CSI or NCIS would make routine. In fact, in episode 16, Batman admits the voice analysis machine he is using wouldn’t be admissible in court — and he was right. Vocal analysis technology wouldn’t be a thing until the 80s.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

In addition, the Batcomputer was utilized for data mining purposes. While this was cutting edge in the 1960s, it would be used for greater lengths later on. Even using computer data to come up with profiles to predict crimes, or to locate the likely range of a crook, would become common FBI techniques by the 1980s. Batman also had plenty of soon to be common gadgets, from car-phones to portable phones to GPS locators, and even a Bat-Drone! It was more than punch cards.

“Chicks Dig the Car!”

Speaking of cars, how can anyone forget the iconic Batmobile? In 1965, the producers hired Dean Jefferies to build them an iconic car in 3 weeks. He was inspired by a concept car from 1955, the Ford Futura. Modifying it heavily by adding wings in the back and elements of the mask in front, it became the most memorable Batmobile ever put on film. Five versions of the car were used for the show, and almost all the gadgets had to be functional in each of the cars for filming.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

Even the characters in the show adored the Batmobile. Most of the villains in the show at one point or another tried to steal or destroy it. Some, such as the Penguin or King Tut, succeeded briefly. Riddler’s gasps of “It’s alive!” when its automatic theft alarm and flame retardant thwart his attempts to blow it up are the stuff of legend. It became an event when additional characters, such as Batgirl or Commissioner Gordon, got a rare ride within the Batmobile.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

A discussion of the show’s themes and tropes also should include how progressive it was. Batman ’66 included some genuinely gutsy casting choices. Chief among them are the archetypal “Latin lover” Cesar Romero as the Joker, and Eartha Kitt as the third Catwoman in season three. In addition, it came at a time when the notion of infallible law enforcement was rising. In this show, the police were often at a loss for crime and had to rely on Batman and his futuristic deduction.

Progressive with Crossovers!

Perhaps the best example of this is episode #101, “Louie the Lilac.” The plot involved the titular villain (played by Milton Berle) seeking to manipulate the “flower children” of Gotham. In the 1960s, these were better known as “hippies” and they were being lambasted on nightly news shows and cop shows like Dragnet. Yet on this show, while the cops disliked them, Batman and Robin were very much in favor of them. Even Louie the Lilac saw them as the next generation.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

In addition to themes and trends, Batman 1966 featured the first live-action superhero crossover on TV. Nowadays with all of the shows on The CW Network, that’s become common. But in 1966 it was rare. ABC and William Dozier were producing a TV show based on The Green Hornet, starring Van Williams as the title hero and Bruce Lee as Kato. It was the role that introduced the martial arts guru to the west. More serious in tone than Batman, it struggled in the ratings heavily.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

As such, ABC and Dozier decided to try to use Batman ’66 to help promote Green Hornet. The show was referenced in one episode, and the pair even had a cameo during one of the dynamic duo’s “Bat-climbs.” But this wasn’t enough, so in episodes #85–86 in season 2, the two pairs of masked crime fighters met! This proved to add an interesting wrinkle in Green Hornet, where the duo are believed to be masked gangsters by the general public, and fight crime from within.

The Green Hornet and a Hint of Darkness!

While Batman was intentionally campy and comedic, The Green Hornet was more serious. Virtually every episode involved a murder, and not all of their villains survived. While there were fantastic elements (such as the Green Hornet’s car and gadgets), it was more grounded. The pair had to lighten up to appear in Batman, but it was all in good fun. The pairs of heroes even fight in the finale! It’s a shame the villain for the episodes is the one off Col. Gumm (Roger C. Carmel).

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

Colonel Gumm was a crooked factory manager who ran a counterfeit stamp racket. He’d actually successfully avoided detection by Batman and never tried to deliberately entrap him. It’s only the arrival of Green Hornet and Kato in tracking down his organization which brings the masked men to bare on him. While he was a martial artist, Burt Ward was petrified upon having to fight Bruce Lee, especially since in an early draft, Kato loses. Fortunately, the heroes fight to a draw at best.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

Speaking of murder, while Batman ’66 features no graphic violence or any hint of blood, some deaths did occur to minor characters. Riddler’s assistant Molly (Jill St. John) in the pilot impersonates Robin to sneak into the Batcave, only to accidentally fall into its nuclear reactor. In episode #10, two “syndicate” (mafia) hit men try to gun down the dynamic duo as they escape a deathtrap, but end up killing each other. And seven henchmen bite the dust in the 1966 feature film.

Adam West Put More into the Role Than You Think!

Any retrospective wouldn’t be complete without focusing on the characters. The best place to begin is with the series star himself. Adam West played Bruce Wayne as smooth, and he worked hard to make Batman different. He always had Batman speak in a musing, deductive tone before leaping into action. He did his best to retain utter conviction, confidence and dignity as Batman. regardless of the silly situations, akin to Cary Grant. West made the costume work for him.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

Thanks to Batman always succumbing to the effects of a variety of gases, West got to display some range. In the pilot, Batman is drugged by spiked orange juice, beginning the first of two infamous “Batusi” dances. Later episodes would see the character zapped by “laughing gas,” “tear gas” and even “fear gas.” More than that, there was an utter genuineness to West’s portrayal as Batman. It was something to admire as a child, and to respect as an adult. He was kind, but firm.

But none of this ignores the tragedy behind Batman’s origin. In the pilot, Bruce Wayne speaks of his parents’ murder at the hands of criminals twice. In episode #81, Bruce Wayne is pretending to be a crook to trick the Joker, but mentions murder as a line he could never cross due to his parents’ loss. Rather than be morose or angry all of the time, Wayne utilizes it to motivate his desire to confront and capture criminals. He may be square, but is never a grim avenger or cynical.

More of a Caped Crusader Than a Dark Knight!

While Bruce Wayne is sometimes called a “millionaire playboy,” this incarnation is an utter gentleman. Although this was due to the time in which the show aired, it also worked for comedy. The show was full of double entendres. Despite all the lovely women on the show, only one successfully gets Wayne in for a nightcap. That would be Lisa Carson, played by Lee Meriwether, who invites Bruce in for some “milk and cookies,” despite it being after ten o’clock.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

While Bruce Wayne may be a square tycoon, women within the show were often gaga for Batman. Even as Batman enters a nightclub in the pilot and “wishes to avoid attention,” the women instantly notice him. It became a frequent trope for the token woman in the villain of the week’s gang to do a number of things: fall for Batman; have pity on him; or seek to reform upon meeting him. Batman’s pure goodness and natural charm was able to make women nearly melt.

Furthermore, Batman utterly believes in rehabilitation here. While he and Robin are hardly shy about clobbering crooks with fists and set scenery, Wayne does his all to fight crime in other means. Viewers see his charity work with the Wayne Foundation often. Bruce is involved in prison politics, and even funds some reformatories. Whenever it seems as if some of his enemies could be reforming, despite some initial wariness, Batman always retains hope they will change for the better.

The Kid out of Nowhere!

Burt Ward plays Dick Grayson, a.k.a. Robin the Boy Wonder. Unlike Batman, his origin involving the circus and losing his folks is never mentioned. He is frequently called Wayne’s “youthful ward,” meaning Bruce is his legal guardian. Despite this, his aunt Harriet Cooper lives in “stately Wayne manor” alongside them. The particulars about Grayson’s legal status aren’t never detailed. He’s an overachieving student of Woodrow Roosevelt High School, and Batman’s sidekick.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

While West had been an up and coming actor with a variety of roles, this was Ward’s first gig. He won out over some 1100 other actors due to his genuine enthusiasm mixed with naivete. Easily the most memorable bit of his portrayal is his exclamations. Robin is always saying “Holy [something or other]!” While Batman may be calm and collective, Robin is often impulsive and energetic. Yet he’s every bit a detective in training. In fact, Robin usually solves Riddler’s riddles.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

Whether in tights or not, Grayson is always involved in some sort of training. Wayne is a stickler for homework and is always there to aid with lessons or play chess. Frequent bits involve comments on Grayson learning more of women “when you get a little older,” or him saying “Gosh, when you put it like that,” when Wayne explains some moral. At school, Grayson has a rep of being a bit square and also among the elite due to Wayne’s fortune. This leads to quite a few fun bits!

The Role of Robin Has Been a Rare One!

The most notable is in episodes #15–16, when the Joker’s plot involves Grayson’s school. Eager to recruit teenagers into a life of crime, Joker’s managed to manipulate Grayson’s classmate, Suzie. This ultimately leads to Grayson trying to go undercover to get some of Joker’s plans out of her and a juvenile delinquent named Nick. This results in Dick trying to “act tough” and dress like a 1950s era greaser. It is jaw-droppingly hilarious. Grayson was the hippest, yet squarest, teenager.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

Unlike West, Burt Ward did most of his own stunts. Part of this was due to the producers seeking to save money, as well as his assigned stuntman looking nothing like him. This is evident in the fighting sequences. While Batman usually works with wild punches or straight kicks, Robin is more athletic. It’s common for him to land drop-kicks with some assists from Batman. Ward got hurt a lot, although the show was usually good with hiding any signs of these injuries for the most part.

Despite there being many actors who have played Batman or Bruce Wayne in live-action, few have played Robin. It’s amazing to think within the last half century, the only other person who has besides Ward is Chris O’Donnell. Other shows have paid homage to Ward’s Robin, from Joel Schumacher to the animated Teen Titans. Here, Robin is every bit the eager partner to Batman. He helps him deduce crimes and find clues, and is utterly devoted and loyal to the end.

Chemistry and Aunt Harriet!

The chemistry and timing between West and Ward isn’t to be underestimated. They play off each other like some of the best comedy duos of legend. Ward’s overeager enthusiasm plays off perfectly with West’s aloof confidence and conviction. Yet both can retain their dignity escaping utterly ridiculous death traps or facing no end of gut busting situations. A rejected screen test with Lyle Waggoner and Peter Dyell only proves how key Burt and West were in their performances.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

Out of the entire cast, Aunt Harriet played by Madge Blake sometimes gets the most criticism. Many people seem to think she was a creation of the show, intended to refute allegations of homosexuality with the title characters. In reality, her placement was a case of the show trying to be accurate to the comics. The character debuted in 1964’s Detective Comics #328 at a time when Alfred was dead. All the TV show did was give her a last name, which was Cooper.

Harriet Cooper doesn’t get to do too much in the series, but she has her moments. She is ever the doting aunt to Dick Grayson; even Bruce calls her “Aunt Harriet.” She usually is there to talk to Alfred or be given a litany of lame excuses for why Bruce and Dick have to dash off to answer the Batphone. Most of the time they claim they’re off to go fishing or bird-watching. At other times, the excuses are more elaborate. As with most things in the show. her gullibility is played with a wink.

“The Batphone, Sir!”

Stately Wayne Manor was the sporadic target of a variety of criminals, so Aunt Harriet saw some exciting moments. In fact, her most exciting outings came in season two. In episodes #49–50, she is wooed by pianist Chandell and menaced by his evil twin Harry (both played by Liberace). Here, she gets to carry a gun and aid in the final battle. In episode #58, she helps thwart Marsha, Queen of Diamonds’ scheme to marry Batman by claiming to be his secret wife! Holy bigamy, Batman!

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

The third resident of “stately Wayne Manor” is Alfred the butler, played by Alan Napier. His most frequent duties involve telling Bruce and Dick that the Batphone is ringing, or aiding in their cover to Aunt Harriet. He dusts the Batcave and helps maintain it, and is always ready with some fresh snacks or a few helpful words. Before Robin gets his driver’s license in season 3, he even drives the Batmobile when Batman is indisposed — with a tiny domino mask under his glasses!

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

There are plenty of times when Alfred aids the dynamic duo throughout the series actively. He occasionally goes undercover to plant bugs in a villain’s lair or otherwise aid in a mission. In the first season finale, Alfred is kidnapped and brainwashed by Penguin — who, in the next season, recognizes him in an undercover job. He dons the Batsuit to aid in maintaining Wayne’s identity on two occasions. Alfred even engaged in fisticuffs, such as against the Joker in episode #92.

Gotham City Has a Police Force?

While his role as Wayne’s own mentor as a youth is never mentioned, his doting nature and kind heart are always evident. Alfred even has a cousin named Egbert (also played by Napier), who is the security guard at the Gotham reservoir. His already large role got larger in season 3, when Alfred becomes a mentor to Barbara Gordon / Batgirl. As the only one who knows her identity, Alfred occasionally aids her in escaping traps and coordinating her alliance with Batman.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

Rounding out the mainly male cast are two cops. Neil Hamilton plays Commissioner Gordon; his first name is never given. Much as the president had a “hot line” to the Kremlin during the Cold War, Gordon has the red Batphone directly to Batman during crisis. And by crisis, I mean “every super crime ever.” Gordon is among Batman’s most ardent supporters. Even when another criminal has framed Batman, or it seems as if the duo has been killed, he never loses faith.

During the first season, Gordon usually makes a show of asking if other cops are able to handle a super criminal. Later on, this ruse was ditched for the sake of brevity. Naturally, one of the consistent bits is the fact Gordon cannot figure out who Batman is, despite being a friend of Bruce Wayne. In season three, he can’t even recognize his own daughter’s voice! This is lampooned in episode #94 when Wayne and Batman seem to speak to each other via phone.

Wizard Magazine Was Wrong about Something!

I remember one criticism of the show, levied by Wizard magazine, was that Gordon could have traced the Batphone’s line. During episodes #74–75, Catwoman used a new potion to take control of Robin and (seemingly) Batman. Thinking Batman turned on them, Gordon tries to trace the Batphone’s line. However, Batman is able to divert the trace to other dummy phone lines from the Batcave. So much for what “the world’s greatest comic book magazine” knew!

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

While Gordon visits the Batcave twice, only once does he come close to uncovering their identities. In episode #97, the Siren (Joan Collins) used her sonic cry to hypnotize him into sneaking into the Batmobile’s trunk. While the Batmobile had an anti-stowaway device in a previous episode, Batman didn’t expect it this time. Hamilton plays up the devilish glee over the knowledge before Napier’s Alfred. Fortunately it, like most problems in the show, is resolved with some Bat-spray.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

Last of the main cast, at least until season three, is Stafford Repp as police chief O’Hara. Out of the entire cast, O’Hara may be the biggest stereotype — an Irish cop who says the word “Begorrah” after every other line of dialogue. Much like Gordon, he never has a first name — even when he’s unemployed for a hot minute in season three, he’s “Chief O’Hara.” Most of the time he’s there to give Gordon someone else to talk to at police headquarters. He typically isn’t very smart either.

“Begorrah” and Batgirl!

O’Hara is usually more aggressive than Gordon, eager to lead a squad of cops at a moment’s notice. Unfortunately, a running gag is him arriving too late with the cavalry. In fact, the meatiest bit with O’Hara is in episode #40, when the sound manipulating Minstrel is ruling Gotham. He notes how little they know about Batman, and that he’s “just a voice on a phone,” who could be running a similar sound-wave con. He and Gordon briefly argue, and it’s his highlight for the series.

Both O’Hara and Gordon are on the receiving end of quite a few insults by the villains of Gotham. It’s an open secret how helpless they usually are without Batman and Robin. O’Hara is Gordon’s sidekick at best, and if you took a shot every time he said “Begorrah,” you’d be drunk in no time. Yet it, like most bits from the show, is played up for progressive comedic effect. Such as episode #104 (a Gidget spoof), the pair go undercover as surfers and O’Hara says, “Cowabunga, Begorrah!”

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

The final member of the supporting cast is the aforementioned Barbara Gordon / Batgirl, played by Yvonne Craig. In another case of the show’s serialization, Barbara is mentioned twice in the second season. In fact, Commissioner Gordon specifically exits to pick her up at the airport in the second season finale. Her creation was a cooperative effort between Batman ’66’s producers and DC Comics, and her addition easily propelled both Batgirl and Yvonne Craig into super stardom.

The Rise of a Controversial Ship!

A ballet dancer turned actress, Craig had appeared in a variety of character roles (such as Star Trek) beforehand. Her addition was intended as a bit of progressiveness during the near peak of the women’s liberation movement. In addition, Craig also served to replace Madge Blake, as failing health limited her to two cameos in season three. A fresh faced college graduate and librarian, Barbara turned her admiration of Batman into becoming a purple clad crime fighting ally.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

Unlike some subsequent adaptations and comic book appearances, Batgirl is not Batman’s partner per say. Barbara assembles her own costume, motorcycle, gadgets, and hidden base in her apartment on her own. Batgirl forms an alliance with the dynamic duo, but is more of an independent ally more than a second sidekick. Batman sees her with a sense of romantic wonder, while, at times, Robin is both frustrated and curious about her undercover identity.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

Barbara’s other subplot is being set up on dates with Bruce Wayne by her father. The “ship” between Batgirl and Batman as imagined by animation producer Bruce Timm saw its synthesis here. While in 1967 it may not be quite as awkward to have a character in his early 30’s paired with a woman a day over 21, it is one angle which hasn’t aged well. The caveat is neither Wayne nor Barbara are especially interested in each other beyond her dad’s zeal to hook them up.

Rise of the Guest Villains!

This made some degree of sense since, in this incarnation, Wayne is the utmost gentleman. He only spends late nights with women rarely, and only for milk and cookies. In one episode, Bruce even insists he and Barbara shouldn’t hang out without a chaperone. While Batman and Batgirl give hints of romantic fascination with each other, they don’t know each other’s identities. And as an independent heroine, the power dynamic is different than in most future cartoons and comics.

As wild and wacky as the series regulars were, Batman ’66 was even better known for its guest stars. As the hottest show on TV at the time, the series producers were able to get no end of A-list actors or celebrities onto roles there. Whether as guest villains or cameos, a film buff or historian can have a field day re-watching the show. It was a common practice to have celebrity cameos poke their heads out of windows while Batman and Robin did their famous “Bat-climbs.”

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

The most popular “guest villains” are the aforementioned Batman villains everyone knows. Frank Gorshin as the Riddler was first. Next was Burgess Meredith as the Penguin, followed by Cesar Romero as the Joker. The last of this quartet, Julie Newmar as Catwoman, only turns up once in season one. The series had a mixture of original villains designed to cater to a particular actor, as well as other villains from DC Comics like False-Face, Archer, Puzzler, Mad Hatter and Clock King.

“Riddle Me This, Batman!”

Frank Gorshin’s Riddler is among one of the most inspired performances of the show. From his maniacal laugh to his impish movements, Gorshin utterly owned the role. He was the series’ first villain in the pilot and helped boil down the surreal comedic tone that the series intended. Gorshin tore through the dialogue with excited glee, and utterly defined the character forever. Even Jim Carrey in Batman Forever more or less cribbed from Frank Gorshin’s wild performances.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

In fact, the only downside, which most fans forget, is 95% of his appearances are in season one. Frank Gorshin held out for a higher salary in season two and only appears as Riddler in one episode of season three. The Riddler only turned up in two episodes in season two, and the role had been recast with John Astin (Addams Family). Astin is usually hilarious and charismatic, but performing a poor man’s Gorshin didn’t serve him well. Yet he’s the first to use Riddler’s question mark cane.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

No One Else Could Do That Waddle!

Burgess Meredith was already a well known film and TV star when he was cast as the Penguin. He proved to be so popular that the producers always made sure to have an extra Penguin script handy for whenever Meredith was available. The waddle, the cackle, the fancy smoking, it was all perfectly acted by Meredith. While Riddler loved his riddles, Penguin’s schemes revolved around manipulating society. Either politics, the law or blue bloods, Penguin plays with the establishment.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

Two of the series’ best episodes are Penguin’s. Episodes #51–52 feature the Penguin running for mayor of Gotham, seeking to unseat Mayor Linseed (a spoof of New York’s mayor Lindsay). It’s a classic political satire, complete with spoofs of Gallup polling, TV critics, political mud-slinging and so forth. Not only did Tim Burton crib this angle for 1992’s Batman Returns, but it also still works as a biting political lampoon. Meredith utterly relished his role as the Penguin.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

The Clown Prince of Crime!

Cesar Romero may have been cast against type as the Joker, but it utterly worked. Having seen the Joker devolve into a horror film villain, it’s great seeing Romero’s clown prince of crime. He had a great cackle and captured this incarnation’s zeal for chaotic crimes. In some episodes he was obsessed with theater or comedy, and in the next, signs of the Zodiac. Joker and the Penguin were the only two regular villains who took over some of the rare three-episode arcs Batman 1966 had.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

Romero famously demanded never to shave off his mustache, which was painted over. It is noticeable in close ups, although as a child I rarely did. In episode #57, the Joker becomes obsessed with the art world and goes on a rampage in a gallery. This includes him spraying graffiti over famous paintings. If this sounds familiar, it should — Tim Burton was once again inspired by this series, having this bit as a major sequence in 1989’s Batman film. Romero was terrific.

While Romero’s Joker was more about cackling then being brutal, one line of his gave me pause. In episode #10, the Joker says words to the effect of, “Life in the end is one long impractical joke.” Sounds like something Alan Moore would have written in The Killing Joke in the 1980s, doesn’t it? While the Joker was easily among one of the popular villains in the show, he doesn’t overwhelm the franchise here, either. Penguin, Riddler and Catwoman are considered just as vital.

“I Feel Strange Stirrings in My Utility Belt!”

Things get trickier in regards to Catwoman. The actress who played the role the longest was Julie Newmar. Yet much like Riddler, most of her work is limited to one season. In her case, most of her appearances are in season two. Newmar had played sultry figures before in her long career, and as Catwoman, she is once again in her element. Yet the focus on comedy allowed her to flex some comedic chops which few of her other roles had, and the result were some fun bits in disguise.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

Catwoman is one of the few villains to go through a major character arc in the series. In her second appearance, Batman saves her from falling off the ledge of a building while trying to flee. Ever since, Catwoman is more smitten with him, to the point that her schemes change. From then on, major components of her plans involve getting rid of Robin to have Batman to herself. In addition, the interplay between Adam West and Julie Newmar has since become the stuff of legend.

The series is full of double entrendres, and many of them revolve around Catwoman episodes. Newmar reportedly bought two cats in anticipation for her role, and in her performances, tries to pantomime some of their movements. Newmar’s Catwoman even offers to marry Batman and become his partner on two occasions — she just always suggests killing Robin afterward. And this says nothing of Julie Newmar’s form fitting black outfit. It speaks for itself upon seeing it.

The Movie and Catwoman Number Two!

After season one wrapped in 1966, a feature film of Batman was produced by Dozier and Semple Jr. It was originally intended to sell the TV series, but ABC bought the series sooner than expected. Instead, the film was used to help promote not only season two in the states, but the syndicated version of the show overseas. The movie united all four of Batman’s famous rogues, yet there was one problem. Newmar was busy with a film elsewhere, so Lee Meriweather took over the role.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

Meriwether did her best in the role for the film, playing off Romero, Gorshin and Meredith. Much of her time in the film is spent playing an undercover identity as Miss Kitka. Pretending to be a Russian journalist, she helps the villains trick Bruce Wayne into a trap to lure out Batman. The film has a bigger budget and, therefore, a bigger scheme involving submarines and dehydrated United Nations diplomats. Meriwether turns up in a guest role in the TV series, but not as Catwoman.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

The 1966 Batman film, incidentally, is a hoot. Because 20th Century Fox owned the rights to it completely, it saw frequent home video releases and TV airings. All four of Batman’s greatest foes are united in one plot with a bigger budget than any TV episode. We got to see a Bat-Copter and a Bat-Boat, and three of the series’ best guest stars play off each other. Batman’s comedic efforts to get rid of a bomb are famous, and basically became the last act of 2012’s Dark Knight Rises.

A Trend Setter for Diversity!

By the third season, both Newmar and Meriwether were gone, and the role had to be recast a second time. In an era when the civil rights movement was playing out in the streets, and Nichelle Nichols’ Lt. Uhura was one of few notable roles for black actresses on TV, the producers were bold. They cast Eartha Kitt, who at the time was better known as a singer and actress on Broadway than on TV. Out of all of the Catwomen, Kitt easily “purred” the best with her dialogue.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

Unlike Newmar, Kitt’s Catwoman was more aggressive and less flirty with Batman. Yet one notable bit revolves around her debut in episode #108. It wasn’t nearly enough to be bold with casting Kitt in the role. In one scene, Robin issues an insult regarding Catwoman as she begins a crime. At that point, Batman says something to the effect of, “She may be a criminal, but she is a beautiful woman; you’ll understand it when you’re older.” Holy acknowledgement, Batman!

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

That’s right, in 1967, you had as iconic a hero as you could get on TV at the time acknowledging the beauty of a black woman. And this was not out of any malice or hint of a fetish. Batman was as pure a hero as you could get, and he meant it in pure factual terms. This was huge at the time — and risky. Kitt only appears in three episodes, and shares two of them with Romero’s Joker. Even in those episodes, she dominates her performance, leaving Joker to become her henchman!

Ra’s Al Ghul Is Much Better!

While these four villains dominated the series, they weren’t the only notables to appear in Batman 1966. The only other villain who appeared in all three seasons and appeared anywhere near as often was King Tut, played by Victor Buono. Unlike most of the criminals, he suffered from a genuine mental illness, albeit in crude fashion. He was a Yale college professor who would develop a crazed alter ego every time he was hit in the head. In his case, believing he was the legendary King Tut.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

As a kid I can’t say I cared for King Tut much, and upon watching it now, my opinion didn’t improve any. Buono puts in passionate, over the top performance, mixing between super villain and carnival huckster. In season one, Batman performs his most elaborate “Batusi” dance in Tut’s debut episode. Later episodes in season two and three would flirt with King Tut learning the dynamic duo’s identity. Why the producers chose him for this meaty subplot is baffling to me.

Prepare to Be Egg-Cited!

While King Tut had his moments, one reoccurring villain I could have used a lot more of was Egghead. Played by horror legend and character actor Vincent Price, Egghead is one of the additional unmitigated pleasures of the show. Another original character like Tut, Egghead was introduced as a cerebral villain with an egg motif. He’s best known for inserting the word “egg” into words with similar sounds, such as “egg-sit” or “egg-cellent.” He mostly appears in season three.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

Egghead had the pleasure of being the second villain on the show who flirted with discovering Batman’s identity. Unlike King Tut, he relied on deductive reasoning rather than luck. In episodes #47–48, Egghead deduced Bruce Wayne had to be Batman by comparing the Caped Crusader to Gotham’s similarly aged male millionaires. His only downfall was wanting to confirm it with a brain-drain machine. Some 25 years later, Batman fans gave Bane credit for something similar.

Egghead’s season three appearances were alongside Anne Baxter, who played Olga, Queen of the Cossacks. A Russian parody which was common at the time, Baxter had actually played a one-off villain named Zelda in season one. Olga was more her speed, and she and Egghead play off each other very well. Like most of the villains in the show, Egghead flaunted about being oversexed. If a woman called him “Eggy,” he usually replied, “Don’t call me that here, baby,” or something similar.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

Bookworm Wasn’t Bad, Either!

Aside for these six, there were plenty of villains who earned single or double appearances. Some were more notable than others. Among my favorites was David Wayne as the Mad Hatter, who arguably comes the closest to taking credit for killing the dynamic duo. Cliff Robertson as the walking Western parody, Shame, is amusing if only to compare it to his role as Ben Parker in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy. One of my favorite moments comes from Marsha, Queen of Diamonds.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

Played by Carolyn Jones (Addams Family), she appears in her own two-part story before sharing a three-part arc with the Penguin. Like most female villains on the show, her schtick involved mind controlling or seducing men. In one exchange, she tells Batman, “Half the men in the world would fight to kiss Marsha, Queen of Diamonds!” To which Batman, with West’s perfect delivery, replies, “They would not have to fight against me.” Holy rejection, Batman!

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

Tallulah Bankhead also has a memorable episode late in season one as Black Widow. As one of the first major “grand dames” in Hollywood cinema, she was in her mid 60s and in poor health by the time she came to Batman ’66. Yet despite her age, she was cast in a seductive part controlling men. The episode even plays on her infamous drinking habit, with her choking when Batman suggests they each drink a glass of milk instead. “Oh, so that’s milk!” she sputters. Great fun.

Image by Warner Brothers and Fox Studios

Next: Check out a review of the first season of Static Shock!

They Did It, Old Chum!

And that about sums up what I or anyone else should think of Batman 1966. It is great fun. Dismissed by many for too many years as camp, its time in the sun has now come. It should be appreciated not simply as entertainment for children, but high quality comedy for adults. As a brightly colored snapshot of the mid to late 1960s, it has entertained both kids and adults around the world for decades. If ever there is a way to honor Adam West, it’s to honor his great work here.