Random Musings: Commemorating TV’s Batman 50 years later.

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Batman TV series

On Jan. 12, 1966, Batman debuted on ABC, launching a short-lived nationwide fad known as “Batmania.” The two-part opening adventure concluded the following night.

Batman was also the first network series about a comic book superhero (the 1950s Adventures of Superman having been a syndicated series). True, Batman doesn’t have any super powers (except in the TV series, where he displays the ability to recall arcane facts (and to tolerate Robin’s “holy this and holy that.”)), but he’s still considered a super hero.

Yes, the TV series has often been decried by comics purists because it made fun of the “dark knight detective”, but it’s important to remember that A) the series was a satire and B) the Batman of the comics wasn’t all that dark and brooding at the time (he had been in the 30s and would be again in the 70s, but in 1966 he was only a few years removed from having strange, otherworldly, science fiction-based adventures that didn’t really fit with his original incarnation as a pulp–inspired scourge of the underworld).

That having been said, one unfortunate side effect from Batman’s popularity was that for years ignorant newspaper and magazine articles about comics would lead off with “pow” or “zap” or other such inane declarations.

Yes, the series was a satire. At times a brilliant one. The second season episodes “Hizzoner the Penguin” and “Dizzoner the Penguin” finds Batman (Adam West) and the Penguin (Burgess Meredith) competing for the position of mayor of Gotham City. In one campaign speech, Penguin points out that unlike Batman, who is always seen with criminals, the Penguin is often seen in the company of the police.

The facts that the penguin is being arrested during these incidents (and that Batman is fighting the criminals around him) are ignored.

Penguin campaigns

The Penguin campaigns for mayor.

The series was innovative in that each hour long episode was split in half and shown over two consecutive nights, with the first part having a cliffhanger ending, emulating the movie serials of the 1930s-1950s. Narrator (and executive producer) William Dozier would ponder how Batman and Robin (Burt Ward) would extricate themselves from that week’s ghastly predicament.

The cliffhanger stories only happened during the first and second seasons. In the third season, by which time the fad was waning, episodes were cut back to a single half hour adventure. Some of the stories were good and some were bad, but the overall best thing about the third season?

Batgirl

Yvonne Craig as Batgirl.

Yvonne Craig’s Batgirl was resourceful and able to hold her own as a crime fighter (though she obviously would have been better served as a character had the series aired in later decades).

Another “gimmick” was that popular celebrities were hired to play the villains, getting a “special guest villain” credit in the opening titles. These included Frank Gorshin as the Riddler (who appeared in the opening episodes), Julie Newmar as Catwoman, Cesar Romero (and his mustache) as the Joker; Roddy McDowell (who, sadly, only appeared in one story) as the Bookworm and David Wayne as the Mad Hatter.

Other celebrities, including Edward G. Robinson, Jerry Lewis, Dick Clark, Werner Klemperer (in character as Col. Klink of Hogan’s Heroes (set in the 1940s!)) and Sammy Davis, Jr., appeared in cameos at windows as Batman and Robin “climbed” the side of a building.

In fact, Batman and Robin seemed to prefer going in and out of buildings via windows on various floors than by other means. Was there, as Superman would ask in the 1978 movie of the same name, “something wrong with the elevator?” Maybe, but Batman was probably on the money at the conclusion of the 1966 movie (based on the TV series) when he advised Robin to leave, “inconspicuously, through the window.”

My first exposure to Batman came in the early 1970s, when it was airing in reruns. I loved the show as a kid and had the Mego Batcave playset, complete with Batpole. I also met Adam West and Burt Ward at an auto show in 1976.

Ah, yes. The Batpoles. The best way to dress for work ever invented. Slide down a pole and when you get to the bottom, you’ve changed from whatever you were wearing to the appropriate clothes for your particular job. And if your job is to do the job of the police (and not actually get paid for it), then it seems you dress up as a bat.

To the Batpoles

“To the Batpoles.” Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson prepare to dress for work.

When I first saw Batman as a kid, I came up with a logical explanation for how Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson could change into Batman and Robin. I must have assumed the show aired live, because I figured that they must have gone down a short distance (to a “mezzanine level”, though I wouldn’t have known that word at the time), changed into their costumes during the commercials, then continued down the poles to the Batcave just as the commercials ended and the show resumed.

Kid logic, but since I knew you can’t change clothes while sliding down a pole, I also knew there had to be a stop somewhere.

Actually, I was closer to the truth than I realized. Adam West and Burt Ward slid down one set of poles in their regular clothes in the Wayne study set and down another pair in costume in the Batcave set.

Now, riddle me this!

In the Batman TV series, what was Bruce Wayne’s first name?

That’s absolutely correct. His first name was “Millionaire.”

Throughout the 120 episodes, practically everyone referred to him as “Millionaire Bruce Wayne.”

Just about

every.

single.

time.

Even in Bruce’s presence. In “Catwoman Goes to College”, Catwoman is brought before Warden Crichton and Bruce. The Warden tells her that her parole has been granted and that “Millionaire Bruce Wayne” will be her parole officer. Crichton refers to Bruce twice by his “full name.”

Hell, even Batman calls him that. In “The Joker’s Last Laugh”, he tells a bank manager, “I’m sure I speak for the chairman of the board, Millionaire Bruce Wayne, when I say…”

Batman, being Bruce Wayne, should know his own name. So, no, they’re not all saying he’s a millionaire. Because that would be weird to emphasize that point over and over again. No, they’re not all obsessed with Bruce’s wealth. His first name really is “Millionaire.”

Batman remains a fun and enjoyable series.

Copyright 2016 Patrick Keating.

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