It’s very simple: if you love “Batman” (1966-1968), starring Adam West, you’re in the cool kids club. If you don’t, you’re clueless and need to go away. Only freaks are allowed here.
“Batman” is still the yardstick by which all other live-action superheroes are to be judged. There has never been another series like it. I’ll go even further: it’s not only a genre and cult yardstick, but it’s a yardstick for television, period.
Before we catapult into the Batcave, I’ll share a few childhood memories, of which I’m damned proud. Adam West’s Batman and George Reeves‘ Superman were the epitome of cool (I’ll never forgive Zack Snyder for turning them into caped white trash and making them go commando). I caught Superman in syndication and already knew that Superman had blown his brains out. For me, that was part of his appeal. (I was a tad off-kilter. In my defense, Superman was a more appealing martyr than the Pentecostal Jesus). Admittedly, however, Superman had bland villains, and his second Lois Lane was too June Cleaver-Protestant boring.
Then came Adam West’ Batman. I caught the last season in its first-run, then caught up in syndication. Of course, the show was mass-marketed. Among the most cherished mementos was Batman trading cards, which I would often lose. They meant so much to me that my poor Dad would have to drive all the way downtown to buy me replacement cards from the only store that carried them. I found my true rainbow pot of batgold, however, through a wedding. My cousin was getting married and wanted me for a ring bearer. The last thing I wanted to do was climb into a tuxedo in front of a church crowd, but when she promised to buy me a Batman suit AND a Batmobile to pedal around the back porch on, I begged Dad to call the tuxedo shop immediately so I could be fitted. For Christmas, my brother asked for a children’s Bible (he was such a suck-up). In sharp contrast, I asked for, and received, a Batman View-Master set. With all those bat-toys, I was indisputably the coolest kid who ever lived.
“Atomic batteries to power! Turbines to speed!” “Roger. Ready to move out!”
Since I’m hard pressed to come up with a single non-enjoyable episode, a “Best of Batman” list is bit of an oxymoron, although of course there are standout episodes. This is really more an exercise in cherry picking highlights, because by the time I could finish covering the entire series, we might be heading into 366 Weird Movies, the Sequel. So, without further ado, I have to start with the pilot, which features Batman dancing in a disco.
On 12, January, 1966 “Batman” premiered with “Hi Diddle Riddle” (directed by Robert Butler, written by Lorenzo Semple, Jr,) and, yes, that means… the Riddler (Frank Gorshin) is our first dastardly criminal. He pranks the World’s Fair with an exploding cake and inspires Commissioner Gordon (Neil Hamilton) to dial the batphone. Alfred, the butler (Alan Napier) answers, and rescues Bruce Wayne (Adam West) from a fatally boring meeting. Bruce uses the excuse of “gone fishing” with his ward Dick Grayson (Burt Ward) who utters his first “Holy Barracuda!”
“It’ll be a pleasure” to tackle the Riddler, Bruce tells Gordon with such square-jawed seriousness that we damn well believe him. Cue the opening animation to Nelson Riddle’s iconic theme music.
Per the soon-to-be norm, the quizzical criminal has deliberately left a riddling clue to confound us. The riddles are as much a highlight as a certain Pee Wee‘s secret word will be in about twenty years. Batman warns Inspector Mash, “the Riddler contrives his plots like artichokes. You have to strip off the leaves to find the heart!” After some brainy bat-sleuthing, the Caped Crusaders smell a sinister booby trap and—“holy ashtray!”—our boys have a sampling of scrambled eggface, much to Riddler’s giggling glee. That leaves the Caped Crusaders up to their leotards in litigation, but “great Scott, Dick,” there are two more teasers to untangle.
Back to the Batcave and “you’ve done it again, chum”… but what foul fiendish trickery are the Riddler and his Molehill Mob up to now? The hateful henchmen are hardly ever discussed, but the canvas wouldn’t be complete without their kaleidoscopic colors. Here, they provide a brief landscape of thinning hairlines, purple polyester, and cliched mobster mumbling.
The Boy Wonder is too young to go into the Way To Go-Go discotheque (“sorry, it’s the law”), so Batman has to go it alone, but he assures us “I don’t want to attract attention.” After ordering a Batman Special (orange juice), Bats does the Batusi with Molly (Jill St. John as a cleavage-bearing, mini-skirted citrus fruit. In part two, she will be one of the few villains fatally disposed of, but you gotta give her kudos for a stylish way to go-go, in an atomic puff of smoke.) The Batusi is, of course, among the most notorious highlights of the entire series—but holy spoilsport, the juice is barbed, and Batman is-a- buzzin’ while Riddler shanghais Robin. Will Robin escape? Can Batman find him in time? Is this the ghastly end of our Dynamic Duo? We’ll have to find out tomorrow because, sorry Batman, you’re too tanked to drive. “But, I gotta go after ROBBBBIN!” “Sorry, Batman. Hand over the keys.” “Yes, officer, you’re entirely correct.” Rest assured, the worst is yet to come tomorrow night: “Same Bat Time, same Bat Channel,” intones our famous narrator (and producer) William Dozier.
“Fine Feathered Finks/The Penguin’s a Jinx” (same credits as the pilot episode) marks the 19/20 January, 1966 premiere of the Penguin: Burgess Meredith, who for many is the quintessential Batman villain. Given Batman’s impressive Rogue’s Gallery, that is saying a lot.
The henchman, all dressed in black and wearing bowlers, are passing out “lucky umbrellas” at the grand opening of the House of Ali Baba. If you smell a devilish sinister hoax, you’d be right. Gordon assesses it’s the work of that “pompous, waddling master of foul play.”
Meanwhile, back at Wayne Manor, Dick is struggling with French. “I’ll get these gosh darn verbs if they kill me.” No time for that, though; “to the batpoles!” Aunt Harriett (Madge Blake) does her normal “tsk, tsk” as the spoiled billionaire boys throw out yet another “gone fishing” excuse.
The Penguin, recently released from the big house, has his eureka moment when Henchman Sparrow (delightful character actor Walter Burke) suggests: “Wouldn’t it be something if we could toin Batman into a crook?”
Henchman Hawkeye (Lewis Charles) thinks the boss has gone stir crazy, and his reward for doubting is a conk on the old bird brain. Penguin assures his fine feathered finks that Batman will be his new partner in plunder.
Robin wants to arrest Penguin for making illegal umbrellas. Penguin (prefiguring the gun cult) defends himself with “Tut, tut, Batman. I only make the umbrellas. What they do after they leave here is hardly my affair.” That tricky little creature is right. Hawkeye and Sparrow chew up the scenery when they sabotage Bruce Wayne and plan to cremate him. “Ain’t it a shame he ain’t the Batman!” Oh, the irony of it.
Having escaped the crematorium via a buncha butane, and puffing purple smoke, Batman joins Robin to muster their brain power, but the bugged batbrella betrays their batplans. In writing the dynamic duo’s dialogue deciphering feathered foolery, Lorenzo pens perfect purpled prose:
“Dawn Robin, the beautiful movie star, is on location here.”
“Holy popcorn! Could he be planning to kidnap her?”
“Dawn Robin is in a picture called the Mockingbird, produced by Ward Eagle, and she’s staying in the Pelican Arms Penthouse!”
“Birds in every bush!”
Batman pulls out his arsenal. KAPOW! “What’s that?”
“Sounds like a Batzooka!”
You know this is superior fighting when it includes the title “Zonk!”
“Up the river, you birds of a filthy feather!”
On 26 January, 1966, the world was introduced to Cesar Romero’s Joker in “The Joker is Wild/Batman is Riled” (directed by Don Weis, written by Robert Dozier). The Joker’s so reformed, they’re letting him play softball in the big pen. BOING! He literally springs out of the chicken coop, but it’s not long before Batman and Boy Wonder are spoiling sinister plans. “What’s the solution?” Jokes asks henchbabe Queenie (Nancy Kovack, known today as the wife of conductor Zubin Metha). Joker needs his own utility bely, but first he’s gotta play Pagliacci (yup, he did it before Heath did). There’s a nod to past comedians such as W.C. Fields, and the camp meter is still high, but even higher is the creepiness of this episode, no doubt supplied by Romero.
Per the norm, Batman is immune to the wiles of a vixen. For many, this is the best and darkest of the Joker episodes.
On 9 & 10 march, 1966 “True or False Face/Holy Rat Race” (directed by William Graham and written by Stephen Kandell) introduced a lesser known villain, played by Malchai Throne (viewers may remember him as the Commodore in the Stark Trek “Menagerie” episode). False Face was equally underused in the comic books, and although he’s not exactly the easiest nemesis to warm up to, he’s agile, genuinely creepy, and eccentric enough to make one wish we had seen more of him. He’s got a villainess sidekick in Blaze (Myrna Fahey) along with a trio of henchmen named fat man, thin man, and midget. Blaze isn’t the typical dumb blonde and she’s spunky enough to steal the episode, which ends with a true bonafide cliffhanger tradition of the heroes tied to a railroad track.
Blaze dons a red wig and lime green pantsuit, gets converted, and helps the dynamic duo out of an old west showdown. It’s best not to ask and just let the weirdness wash over.
Now, drop a knee to… Julie Newmar as Catwoman!
“The Purr-fect Crime/Better Luck Next Time” (directed by James Sheldon, written by Stanley Ralph Ross and Lee Orgel) aired on 16/17 March, 1966.
This one has it all, and is often cited as the series’ best. View-Master thought so, choosing it as the episode to reel batmaniacs in.
“There is evil afoot in the Gotham City Art Museum.” A cat statue is stolen. A guard gets coldcoked by a kitty, and Commissioner Gordon is mailed a gift of a kitten. Who could it be? Chief O’Hara (Stafford Repp) is stumped.
“I smell the tracks of feline predator,” intones Gordon.
Batman and Robin are on it, but not until the Boy Wonder fastens his pink safety batbelt.
Catwoman has a pair of putty tat henchman in Leo and Felix (familiar character actors Jack Mahoney and Ralph Manza) who are a hoot in cat ears and crushed velvet stripes.
The same housecat that took down the guard KOs the Boy Wonder, but hey, he’s not a wimp, because the putty tat was loaded with cat-claw poison.
While playing the waiting game, Catwoman tells Felix, “brush my pussy willows… and don’t go against the fur!” Where’s Curly Howard when you need him?
Finally, the Dynamic Duo arrive. Booby trapped chutes and rubber spikes lead to a kidnapped Boy Wonder and choice of two doors for Bat-Valentino: the Lady or the Tiger?
Will Batman ever see Robin alive again? Will Robin ever see Batman alive again? The answer to these and many terrifying questions tomorrow night, same cat time, same cat channel.
Batman fights a tiger! Whattya talkin’ about ? Robin almost gets fed to TWO tigers, and what’s the Boy Wonder gotta say about that?
“Catwoman, you are not a nice person!”
Newmar and Gorshin are unique among all the bat villains in their ability to project a sense of genuine threat while never seeming at odds with the camp.
Despite the shocking finale, we know that, with a cat having nine lives, Julie’s pussy willows are not going down for the count and will return… same bat, same bat channel.
*reprinted form 366 Weird Movies
One thought on “KAPOW! ZLOPP! TOUCHE! THE BEST OF “BATMAN” (1966-1968), PART ONE”
I was a teen in the Sixties…Never missed Batman. Thanks for making me smile.