One of the best DVDs released in the past few years was the long awaited collection of the 1966 Batman TV Series. Like many TV Shows that have not been released, the show was owned by several companies, so the legal battles to what company gets a certain amount of money took years to determine. The series was only 3 Seasons long, but the collection was separately sold in 4 sections, because of the Season 2 having more episodes than the others. Unless you bought the collection all at once in the DVD or Blu Ray packaging, which was over $100, it was sold separately by season (Part 2 was in two different packages) for anywhere from $19-$30 apiece.
Regardless of how many people ridiculed the cheesiness of the show and it’s unbelievable plots (especially how Batman and Robin got out of every cliffhanger), I still enjoy the show along with the music and actors.
In his book The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture, author Glen Weldon writes that even though the show got made fun of for its plots, Season One had ten of its episodes taken from the Batman Comics, and Season Two had two of its stories from the comics (Season 3 had none). Those that thought the show was an insult to the character of Batman, some of it was straight from the comic, which Weldon says was one of the problems with the show, claiming the studio did not adapt the stories and action to the screen and left it as a 3 dimensional version of the comics. But by Season 3, the budget for the show was cut drastically from Season 1, which may also have been a factor.
In researching this topic, I decided to contact someone who I knew was a fan of the show, Chris Yambar. Yambar has painter, cook, public speaker, and comic illustrator on his resume. He also has organized his own comic conventions. A resident of Youngstown Ohio, he worked on The Simpsons Comics, is the Creator of Mr. Beat, and is well known for being a Pop Culture fan and expert.
Yambar says “The 1966 Batman was groovy and corny. Also it was designed to take the character mainstream. Let’s be honest; in reality, the whole concept of Batman and any costumed character is totally insane. So they decided to have fun with it.”
Many actors appeared during the TV Show’s run, including Bruce Lee, Liberace, Leslie Gore, Ethel Merman, Milton Berle, and Art Carney to name a few. There were several villains that were made just for the show, along with the comic book favorites. Here are my favorite Batman Villains in order.
- Egghead (Vincent Price). This character was created just for the TV Show, and is not a well known character when discussing the show, but is one of my favorites because of actor Vincent Price. Even though he had some Egg-aggerated comments, Price, like in his horror films, understood the humor in the role. I have always been a huge fan of Price, who did so many different things in his life from chef, painter, editor, actor, and Shakespearian expert.
- The Riddler. This character was played by 2 different actors during the TV Series; Frank Gorshin (Season 1 and 3) and John Astin (Season 2). Although he wasn’t a favorite villain of mine in the comics or movies (Jim Carrey was just awful in his interpretation in the movies- like everything else he does), it is Gorshin that made me like the character in the show. Astin (who played Gomez in The Adams Family) came in Season 2 after Gorshin wasn’t available, but the writers even had plots written for Gorshin if he showed up (one story was used for Maurice Evan’s The Puzzler character in Season 2). Austin’s Riddler was dry and not really entertaining compared to Gorshin’s. Also of note: Austin wasn’t the only Addams Family alum to be in the series- Carolyn Jones (Morticia) played Marsha Queen of Diamonds, and Ted Cassidy (Lurch) appeared in a wall climbing scene. Jones also was in the TV Show Wonder Woman, and had a small part with Price in House of Wax. Of the two actors, Frank Gorshin was by far the better of the two, and came back in Season 3.
- The Penguin. The rumor was that Spencer Tracy was going to play the lover of birds, but was denied after he wanted producers to agree to let him kill off Batman. Nonetheless, Burgess Meredith was cast, and was brilliant in his role. The Penguin has the most appearances in the TV series, which had to prove his popularity of the character. Just like Batman and Robin, the Penguin had many gadgets as well, such as his Pengymobile, various umbrellas, and other strange weapons. Unlike the Danny Devito’s dark and twisted version of the characters in the film, Meredith had a likeness to the character, even though he was a villain.
- Catwoman. There were 3 people who played this villain; Julie Newmar in Season 1 and 2, Lee Merriwether in the 1966 Batman Movie, and Eartha Kitt in Season 3. Merriwether took over the part for the movie when Newmar could not make the filming. Merriwether also had parts in the show as Lisa Carson in a King Tut episode. Even though Kitt was probably the bigger star when she was the character, my personal preference is Newmar, who in Season 2 showed more of her attraction to Adam West’s Batman than in the first season. Newmar’s costume is in The Smithsonian Museum, which shows her popularity of the character. Most people name Newmar when they think of Catwoman, with good reason. She was Purr-fect.
- The Joker. No surprise here. The character was Batman and Robin’s most famous enemy in the movies, TV, and comics. The TV Show was no different with the great Ceasar Romero playing the Clown Prince. Just like Vincent Price, the range of Romero’s acting shows in his character; the actor was in such films as The Cisco Kid, The Thin Man, and the original Ocean’s 11, opposite Frank Sinatra. Many laugh at the character’s face paint because the audience could see his mustache underneath the paint, but that was something Romero refused to shave for the show. To me, this makes the character even more off kilter and shows a somewhat insane look to him. Romero will always be The Joker, with Jack Nicholson coming in second of all the actors who’s played the villain.
There were many great actors that showed up on the TV Show during its run. At the time, the show was THE show actors wanted to be on, even though it only lasted 3 seasons. The skills of the actors are underrated due to comedic aspects of the show. Burt Ward’s Robin may have been known for his “Holy” comments, but Yvonne Craig’s Batgirl showed some female scrappiness to it (Let’s face it, she was in movies with Elvis Presley and was on shows like Star Trek, The Man from U.N.C.L.E, The Wild Wild West, and The Big Valley).
Weldon writes in his book that the producers wanted a co-star that was “a young female who could offer the girls in the audience a strong role model and the dads a reason to tune in for the Non-Catwoman episodes.”
When Batgirl appears in Season 3 (which became my favorite hero of the show), the ratings were so bad that it did not matter. However, Weldon writes in the book that:
“Her Batgirl was forthright, no-nonsense and, when the mood hit her, flirtatious. Craig’s dance training translated into a combat style composed of high kicks and balletic spins. The producers’ intention had been to introduce a fresh, invigorating element to the show, and Craig delivered.”
It has only become in recent years that the TV Show has gotten a second look and some new fans. When Season 1 started, the Batman Merchandise made over $70 Million Dollars, and this was in 1966! After the show, there was a decline in sales until the Michael Keaton Batman movie appeared. In the book, Weldon says that:
“DC Comics, which until very recently discouraged its creators from making even oblique references to the show in its pages, has come around, granting rights for an animated series (Batman: The Brave and the Bold) that gleefully embraced the show’s sensibility and even publishing a tie-in comic (Batman ’66) written and drawn in the series’ distinctive style.”
There were plenty of skilled actors in the show. Maybe it’s time to check out the show again, even for nostalgia purposes. To me, the Batman Series was underrated for a show, where today’s shows are all Reality Shows and shows with bad writing. At least in this show the audience knew they were getting funny lines and fight scenes.
Yambar listed his favorite villains, based on how “well they played into the classic designs established in the comics of the time.” His list: 1. Joker 2.Penguin 3.Gorshin’s Riddler 4. Catwoman (Julie Newmar, then Meriwether). He also lists Egghead and Bookworm as his “B Villains.” He also says “most of the others were just stupid.”
When I asked him to tell me his thoughts on the show overall, Yambar summed it up by saying “The Adam West dialogue was always the biggest keeper of the show. I loved the car, the cave, copter, boat gadgets. Mega-super infinity loved Batgirl. I still have a thing for librarians to this day. I have friends who are in the comics industry today because of the show, which they saw as young children. Before even having read comic books. “
Now if a respected person in the industry like Chris Yambar speaks highly of the show, shouldn’t you take another look at the series? Don’t just take our words for it, but TAKE OUR WORDS FOR IT. Or as Robin would say “Holy Binge-Watching!”
A HUGE thanks to Chris Yambar for contributing to this story and his support throughout the years. We are talking Stately Wayne Manor huge!
Glen Weldon’s book is available anywhere you get books.
(Weldon, Glen. “The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2016. Print. )
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