This year has been a historic one for pop culture fans. For it marks the 50th anniversary of two landmark television series — Star Trek and Batman, starring Adam West as the Caped Crusader and Burt Ward as his crimefighting partner, Robin. But while the original Trek‘s universe has been explored in numerous screen adventures over the decades, fans of the ’60s Batman have had to remain content with the 120 episodes that aired during the show’s run from 1966 to 1968. This week, however, that all changed — with the release of Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders. An original home video release produced by the folks at DC Animation, Return finds West and Ward resuming their roles, joined by Julie Newmar, reprising her role as the series’ original Catwoman. It’s enough to make crimefighters of all ages weep with joy. And we were lucky enough to chat with West and Ward about their classic series, their new film, and its just-announced sequel, with William Shatner voicing Harvey Dent in Batman vs. Two-Face! Here’s what we learned…
James Bond birthed Adam West’s Batman
Before winning the role of Bruce Wayne, Adam West was a struggling actor who’d taken small roles in various films and television shows. That all changed, however, when he starred as a James Bond-like character in a Nestle Quik commercial…
“That commercial,” says West, “was responsible for them asking to see me about Batman. They cast me right away. I read the pilot script, had a conversation, and they just immediately cast me. It was wonderful, after all those rejections. Oh my God!”
Adam West gave Batman Sherlock Holmes’ DNA
It’s appropriate that the World’s Greatest Detective should be influenced by the World’s Most Famous Detective. As Adam West explains, he was a fan of actor Basil Rathbone’s series of classic Sherlock Holmes films…
“Some of my influences were Sherlock Holmes — Basil Rathbone. People like that who were always musing and deducing and pacing, and suddenly just a thunderbolt of deduction. I used that in a comedic way. You borrow from everything. You do borrow a lot of stuff as an artist or an actor or whatever. Now I’m painting, and I’ve borrowed a few things. I’ve borrowed one ear from Picasso!”
Adam West and Burt Ward ARE Batman and Robin
They may not wear capes and masks or drive around together in a car as tricked out as the Batmobile, but Adam West and Burt Ward’s personalities are almost identical to those of their characters; which accounts for a friendship that’s lasted as long as their show’s legacy.
“When we did the screen test,” says Ward, “Adam and I had an immediate chemistry. Within five minutes of meeting each other, he and I were both laughing. He was laughing at me and I was laughing at him. He found me like a seltzer water, effervescent, so much energy. He on the other hand, he thinks of himself like Maurice Chevalier or the Prime Minister of England, and he really is who he plays. So just like the great comedy teams of the past — Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello — there was a dichotomy. We got along, we had this instant chemistry.”
Adam West created the Batusi while sitting in traffic
In Batman’s very first episode, “Hi Diddle Riddle”, the Riddler leads the Caped Crusader to a nightclub, where a spiked drink prompts him to hit the dance floor. What follows became known as the legendary “Batusi.” No less a filmmaker than Quentin Tarantino paid homage to it when John Travolta and Uma Thurman’s characters entered the dance contest in Pulp Fiction.
“It was a global dance craze,” laughs West. “I was on the way in to work. I was driving, and I had the script beside me, learning lines. I noticed I had to come up with something quite goofy, because Batman has been slipped a Mickey, a poison drink. I was listening to jazz on the radio, and I switched around, got some different music. I began to move on my car seat, and people looked at me strangely. I was watusing, then batusing while I drove.”
“Now,” he points out, much as his Batman would, “that’s not as dangerous as texting.”
Robin was the first person to fight Bruce Lee on screen
Despite the frequent indignities he suffered playing the Boy Wonder, Burt Ward looks back with pride at having been the very first person to fight Bruce Lee in a film or TV show. The martial arts legend’s first screen role was that of The Green Hornet’s Kato, who, with his green-clad employer, guest starred in one of Batman’s second season episodes.
“I knew Bruce Lee outside of Batman,” says Ward. “He and I lived in the same condominium complex, and he and I used to spar together. Because I was a black belt in karate and he was the ultimate martial artist. But a piece of trivia for you is that Bruce Lee’s first filmed fight scene of his career was fighting me… See our executive producer, William Dozier, was producing The Green Hornet. There was an episode, a two-parter, where Van Williams and Bruce Lee as the Green Hornet and Kato were introduced into our show. We had a great fight scene. It was funny at the time because Bruce Lee was really new. But after his movies like Enter the Dragon, people would go back and watch that first scene of him fighting me, and it was like, ‘Wow, you fought Bruce Lee!’ People ask me a million questions.”
Frank Sinatra could have been the Joker
Countless famous faces appeared throughout Batman’s three seasons, from Vincent Price to Joan Collins. But the most famous of all perhaps was the one that almost appeared.
“Batman, because it was such a hit,” says Burt Ward, “everybody was so excited to be on the show. I would talk to the producers and they would tell me they were deluged with requests from every major star. Frank Sinatra wanted to be the Joker. Well, he couldn’t because they’d already cast Cesar Romero… But every major star wanted to be in that show, because their own kids were hammering them. ‘Dad, you gotta get on the show!’ ‘Mom, you gotta get on the show!’ So because there was no way you could have that many villains, they created this walking-up-the-wall [routine]. Where we’re climbing the wall and a window opens and there’s Sammy Davis Jr. There’s Dick Clark. There’s Betty White. There’s all these different stars that they see in all these other television shows and feature films. Everybody wanted to be a part of something that was so big.”
It’s easier playing Batman when you don’t wear tights
While Adam West has voiced The Family Guy’s “Mayor Adam West” for over ten years, Return of the Caped Crusaders finds him returning to his most famous role in animated form. West says it’s a lot easier than running through the streets of Gotham City in actual cape and cowl.
“Not too many guys can wear tights effectively,” he laughs. “Errol Flynn maybe. Or Nuryev.”
Animation, he adds, is easier… “Because I had no cape to fool with, and no itchy tights and no utility belt that cut into me. [Laughs.] It was much easier, because other people drew me. It really is a wonderful thing what they’ve done. You can do so much more than live-action, even live-action that’s computer-enhanced and all those wonderful digital things they do now. The simple, clever, artistic animation, I think it’s really good. They did a great job in this movie.”
William Shatner’s Two-Face is getting a warm welcome
Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders has proven such a hit with fans and critics that its sequel has already been announced — Batman vs. Two-Face — featuring the debut of Harvey Dent in the Batman ’66 universe. When he meets Adam West’s Batman, the villain will be voiced by another icon of ‘60s pop culture, William Shatner, a friend of both West and Burt Ward.
“I love it,” says West. “I think when you can pull two people who’ve had the kind of success we’ve had together, from the ‘60s — who were on a very limited time and yet had shows that have lasted and people have really enjoyed for so many years — and get us together, it’s probably a good idea. And Bill has a great sense of humor. We get along beautifully. But I think I hate him now. I’m preparing!”
“I don’t think any actor on Earth could have been better to bring on to play that character than Shatner,” says Ward. “Because it is the best of the best. You’ve got the two most iconic shows in television history [in Batman and Star Trek]. I’m very thrilled, and I’m lucky to be a part of it.”
After fifty years, Adam West has become a Batman artist
In a case of things coming full circle, Adam West has recently joined the ranks of famed artists to illustrate Gotham’s guardian, in a series of paintings depicting Batman, his friends, and his foes.
“As a matter of fact,” says West, “my new painting I just had framed is a large oil painting of Penguin. I’m doing a series of Batman-related paintings. Some of the prints, limited editions, will be on my website, AdamWest.com. The larger paintings, I’m in a gallery coming up soon. I think I’ll probably put it on the website, where you can get them.”
“The original paintings,” he laughs, “they’re quite expensive — a buck ninety-eight now!”
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Images: Warner Bros.