Before there was Michael Keaton's Batman and Christian Bale's Dark Knight, there was Adam West's Caped Crusader.
The Batman TV series that was produced and aired on ABC-TV between January 1966 and March 1968 -- starring West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin -- became one of the enduring pop-culture symbols of its era. Colorful and outrageously campy, the show may have initally offended some comic-book purists for casting off Batman's darker edge, but it was embraced by millions of new fans for its tongue-in-cheek humor and sheer entertainment value. Over time, even its toughest critics among diehard Batfans came to appreciate the show as simply another take on a character open to wide interpretation.
Although the show was a hit in syndication for years after its network run, a maze of legal and copyright issues prevented it from ever being released officially on home video. But someone finally decided that enough money was being left on the table, so the legalities were sorted out and last week the complete Batman series -- all 120 episodes -- came to Blu-ray and DVD in a lavish box set that has restored every single segment to brilliant, eye-popping color and detail probably not even seen on TV sets in the 1960s (the set also includes hours of bonus content, a scrapbook, an episode guide and even a Hot Wheels Batmobile!)
Blastr had the chance last week to sit down with Adam West -- still a pop-culture icon himself at 86, thanks to his work on shows like Family Guy -- who shared some of his memories about playing Batman and working on this classic and still vastly entertaining series.
So many of us have been waiting for the show to come out on home video. It must feel great for you to actually see this.
It does. It makes me very happy, because, you know, people have asked for years when, when, when. I’m tired of it. At last it’s here, and Warner’s has done such a good job with this. My gosh, when you look at the episodes, Blu-ray or DVD, high definition, it’ll just knock your socks off.
Do you remember how they looked originally on TV at the time?
Yes, I did and, you know, at the time they looked pretty good to me. But no comparison to now and what they’ve done. You know, there were bootleg copies. You’re probably aware that there were knockoffs from China or whatever and people were buying those and watching them. But there’s no comparison between that and this genuine article.
In a way I almost feel that the fact that the show wasn't always easy to see in recent years added to its legend. Do you feel that people became more interested in finally getting a chance to see them because of that?
I’ve never been asked that. Nobody has ever mentioned that. Thank you for being different. And you’re on to something. I think it has. When people have to wait to see something they love and to see it in a way that’s better, I think they’re going to want it more. And as kids grow up and their parents talk about it, now they can see it in a way that they’re used to, which is great.
The show for a long time divided Batman fans. Do you feel like the fact that we’ve seen so much of the dark side of Batman in the past 25 years has made the timing for this perfect, so that people could enjoy watching this side of Batman for a little while?
Yes, I think that there is a pendulum swing operating here. You know, when people have fond memories of a show and a show that has longevity because folks have a certain affection for the characters, they become impatient to see it again when they’re surfeited with the other. You know Batman can be done on so many levels. The new Dark Knight movies, they’re wonderful in their own way. But, you know, we just did the Bright Knight, and it seemed to work. It has the kind of longevity that occurs when you can get kids to really believe in the adventure and the splash, the excitement and then the adults to get the social satire and the gags. That’s a winning combination. And I think the people who shaped Batman in the beginning, Lorenzo Semple Jr., the writer, and Bill Dozier, the producer, were brilliant in their ability to see this. When I read Lorenzo’s script and when I talked to Bill Dozier I realized that this is the kind of character that I wanted to bring to life because I really enjoyed delivering the laughs, you know. I think funny, but I was doing very serious drama and I was doing psychopathic killers or whatever and cowboy heroes up until that point. And then I had a chance to do comedy, tongue in cheek, which I just loved to do.
Do you remember one of the toughest lines to ever say on the show because it was so ridiculous that you had to struggle to keep a straight face?
There were several occasions when it was tough not to just totally crack up and lose it. And one of those may have been when Robin was in trouble somewhere up high in a building or whatever and Batman threw him the Batarang, I believe it was, and Robin grabbed it in his teeth and was able to come down to ground and be saved because of that. And Batman says something like, "See Robin, good dental hygiene." Those things were so ridiculous, absurd, outlandish that we just broke up.
Do you have a favorite episode?
I think the first one with Frank Gorshin as Riddler, because we were setting the tone of the show and all kind of getting married with the same concept and attitudes. Yeah, that was my favorite. And, of course, I had a chance to create the dance craze of the country -- the Batusi. When Jill St. John fell into the atomic pile and was cremated and Batman had a little tear and she was a go-go dancer and Batman said, "What a way to go-go." It worked.
What’s your favorite memory of Frank Gorshin? He defined that role so well.
Well, I think one of my favorite memories is that Frank and I were invited to a party one night and we decided to go, a Hollywood party we didn’t know anything about. We were kind of laughing and having a few beers and said, "Let’s go over there." We walked in ... and it was an orgy. So I immediately went into the Batman character, and Frank went into the Riddler character, because we were getting the big giggles. It was so funny to us, what we walked into. And we were kicked out. We were expelled from the orgy.
Least favorite episode?
It’s hard for me to say, because there were several that I felt fell a little bit short. And I really can’t think of my absolute least favorite. It might have been in the third season, but I can’t quite remember the name. I’ll have to get back to you on that one.
Favorite villain outside of the big four (Joker, Catwoman, Penguin, Riddler)?
Maybe King Tut. Victor Buono. Because I just fell down. I mean, it was so funny to me that this professor of Egyptology would get knocked on the head and think he was an ancient king in Egypt and behave the way he did. And Victor Buono was a very funny cat, yeah. He was remarkably humorful, and he did a great job with the role.
Favorite guest actor -- someone you always wanted to work with or somebody who you were excited to meet yourself?
I think it might have been Burgess Meredith, because he’d done such wonderful work and I enjoyed watching him as a kid and so on. That when I stood face to face with him in scenes, you know, we were there. He was using everything around him, and I was trying to do the same. And when he let that smoke curl up under my cowl, you know, these little things kind of help you with your character.
Favorite Bat-gadget was probably the Batboat, because it was fun to get out on the ocean and run that thing around at high speed. Otherwise it would have been the Bat-shield, because it was so outlandish and clowny that Batman would pull out of a small pocket in his belt a huge bulletproof shield.
What was your favorite cliffhanger deathtrap that you had to get out of?
I think it might have been with Cliff Robertson as Shame. "Shame, come back Shame." The cliffhanger had Burt and myself tied to stakes in the middle of this western street and they stampeded cattle to crush us. That may have been one of my favorite cliffhangers. It was one of the most difficult.
What do you remember most about Alan Napier (Alfred)?
What a gentleman he was. And he was apparently, usually, very serious in demeanor. But under that, he was a very funny guy, and then ensuingly I saw him in all of these old MGM movies and so on. I thought, wow, I had no idea that Alan Napier had done all of those roles in pictures and that he was playing a butler in a way that totally knocked me out. When he put on the Batman cowl and tried to represent himself as Batman, that to me was really fun. And he did it with such a kind of an involvement.
What do you remember most about working with Neil Hamilton (Commissioner Gordon)?
Well, very little, because he was intensely serious, and that’s exactly what was required for Commissioner Gordon. He was just very intent on crime solving, and if he couldn’t do it he had the telephone, the red phone, and he would call Batman. And Neil, bless him, was so involved in that role that you believed him.
What is your favorite moment that you and Burt shared?
I think there were no single favorite moments, because Burt and I always had a rapport, a chemistry that we had from the very beginning. He tested with me, because I wanted to see the chemistry with him. And indeed I knew, in five minutes, that he was the guy to do this. And whenever we see each other, on a stage at Comic-Con or whatever, that chemistry comes right back, because Burt is funny, and he keys for me and then we kind of get crazy and it works.
Do you have a favorite fan encounter?
Well, I think maybe one night on Halloween I left the studio in costume and decided to go to a random neighborhood and go trick-or-treating. I knocked on the door, the lady opened the door and as Batman I said "Trick or treat!" And she fainted. That may be one of the funniest fan moments. Others ... maybe in airports or wherever, when they come up and insist on playing entire scenes as the characters. I mean, that is really amusing.
You have a multi-generational career now, where there are people who know you from Family Guy that may not even necessarily know about the history of Batman.
Oh, absolutely. Yes. I think I've said I’m the luckiest actor in the world. I mean that. I’ve been able to reinvent myself and to keep an audience going at whatever age. This is terrific. I mean, how many actors get that chance? That’s why I ended up liking Batman and embracing it even though it typecast me for a while. Because it just made so many people happy and it gave me so many laughs.
Was there a period of time when you didn’t like him? Leonard Nimoy had a period where he didn’t like Spock.
Well, the same with me. It was immediately after the show was over in prime time and I began to be up for some very big pictures. And it would always end up, "No, no, we can’t because the moment Adam walks on screen people will be distracted and they’ll say oh, there’s Batman." That just killed me for a while. But, you know, I went out and I did theater and the Mark Taper Forum, a lot of things. I kept working at it, and if anyone’s listening who wants to do something important to them -- perseverance. Very important that you hang in there and be ready when you get the opportunity.
Your thoughts on the next person carrying the Bat-torch, Ben Affleck?
I’ve thought about Ben a little, and I think these people who are quick to be negative about it are wrong. I think he’ll probably bring in something to it that will work, that will be affecting, because Ben is a very good actor. He’s really matured as an actor, and I think he’ll be splendid.
Batman: The Complete Television Series is out now on Blu-ray and DVD.