Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Batman in 1960's: Adam West

Adam West is arguably the most recognizable Batman face to date. He is perhaps as associated with Batman as Christopher Reeve is with Superman, Boris Karloff with Frankenstein's monster and Douglas Fairbanks with Zorro. His portrayal represents the late 1940's/50's and the story ideas more so on the early to mid 1960's comic books. The series itself was enormously faithful to the Silver Age comics while also adding its new ideas to the mix which were later copied or absorbed to the comic books. At the time it was still close to a decade before the darkness fell again on the caped crusader in the comics.

The first episode of the series is based on 1965's Batman #171, but it was more so the plot that was inspirational for that episode, while the Batman character was more faithful to the earlier portrayal of the 50's. The character at the time was a deputized honorary member of the police force, and very much a Sherlock Holmes in a costume, closely working with the police, solving clues with Robin/Watson and bringing criminals behind bars.

William Dozier (producer): When you're working on something you begin to visualize these characters coming to life. (...)  I was impressed by [Adam West's] looks. (...) He had an immediate and a very intelligent insight in the what we were trying to do, he grasped the duality of this thing immediately, he would have to play it very straight and very square in order to have it come through as humor. (...) he turned out to be exactly right (CBS 1966)

Adam West: To me it was so enormously fresh and funny I couldn't resist it (Holy Batmania doc)
I felt I had such an opportunity to create a character that would become a part of pop culture (Batman: The Complete History) 

The show was supposed to be played very seriously in order to be 'unintentionally' funny with it's over the top translation of comic book stories of the 50s and early 60s to the screen. Some examples of where the comic books stood with their approach and storylines in the 50s/60s:

William Dozier: [The Batman comic books I've read] were all so juvenile, and so then a very simple idea struck me, and that was to overdo it. And if you overdid it I thought, it would be funny to adults, and yet it would be stimulating the kids, the daring, doing, but you had to appeal on both levels (Holy Batmania doc.)

Charles Fitzsimmons (Associate Producer): It was a tough search [to find the lead actor] because you've got to find an actor who was prepared to play Alice in Wonderland as if though it was Hamlet (Holy Batmania doc)

The yellow oval emblem appeared in comic books in June 1964 when a big revolution hit the mythology. The new look symbolized the beginning of a new, more serious era, getting rid of the camp, aliens and bringing back more serious stories, old villains and a new, more sophisticated artwork. Ironically less than two years later the TV show reversed the process and it wasn't until 1968 that Batman once again tried to get back to the darkness and stayed this way. The TV show however, used Carmine Infantino's new emblem

In the beginning though, they were about to go with the old emblem (screencap below from the screentest)

West's Batman, like his comic book counterpart, was both a great detective, being able to solve Riddler's crimes and find solutions of the problems when the Police didn't have any, and also a great chemist and technician

Worth noting is Batman's posture when he's standing still. He crosses his arms like a bat while listening to the conversation or waiting.

Also, in the comic books Batman was virtually inseparable from Robin since 1940, and the comic book relationship between Batman and his young and enthusiastic sidekick is also present in the show.

As far as visuals, the series' Batman is a mirror image of the comic book incarnation of the time, perhaps too perfect, since West's mask even retained the black front which was simply a shadow in the comics.

While intentionally fun and light hearted, the series seems to take a lot of heat from various Batman related personalities, notable in the 'Legends of the Dark Knight' and 'Shadows of the Bat' documentaries

Paul Dini (BTAS) I think Batman had been haunted by the 60's show. For years after that show had ended. And i don't think there was anyway to shake that in the public's mind. 
Frank Miller- The campy old tv show Batman was essentially mocking the source material.(...)It was much campier than the comic had ever been.

Michael Uslan: There's more to Batman than Pow, Zap, and Wham. And for about 20 years whenever anyone mentioned the word Batman. Or wrote about it in print Pow, Zap, and wham were always attached to the name.

However it seems like all of the Batman directors are, or at least were fond of the show, and Christian Bale cites Adam West as his favorite actor portraying Batman (along with Michael Keaton)

Christian Bale:  I think what Adam West did was great. I just didn’t realize when I was watching it as a kid that it was a spoof, you know? It was a very campy kind of thing, performance that he was doing. (movies.about.com 2005) 

Tim Burton: I grew up with the TV series (Washington Post 1989)

[Joel] Schumacher wanted Batman & Robin to be more of homage to the TV show of the 60s than any of the more recent, darker looks of the aptly named Dark Knight. (denofgeek.com 2010)

Rather reassuringly, leaning against another wall [in Christopher Nolan's office] is a framed poster of a 1966 Batman movie (Empire Magazine 2011)



  1. Take another look at the Riddler episodes, and you'll find Robin is the one who solves all the Riddler's riddles.
    The 6o's show is genius and Miller is a very disturbed person.


      crappy ass artwork and disgusting "story" telling.

      That guy is way overrated in Batman history.

  2. In 'Hi Diddle Riddle' Robin solves them all if I remember correctly, but in other episodes Batman shows his abilities to solve them as well (like the chilliest 12 inches in the world, kitchen cabinets or bear like falling tree riddles)

  3. Robin is the Boy Wonder! Or Teen Wonder...

  4. I grew up with the dark Batman but I enjoy the 60s show nonetheless. It looks like comic book onscreen. I like the vibrant colors and the dead ringers for comic book characters

  5. Gothamstreets where has it been said that Christian bale liked Adam West portrayal?
    Do you have quotes? You once said Nolan liked the 60's show, where's the proof?

    1. Jokers mask from the beginning of TDK is from the show. Also the notes that Bale plays on the piano to open the door to the batcave in begins are BAM ZAP POW music cues.

  6. Bale's quote:
    "Q:which one of the previous Batmans added the most amount of credibility to the role?
    Bale: You know, they did it in different ways. I think what Adam West did was great. I just didn’t realize when I was watching it as a kid that it was a spoof, you know? It was a very campy kind of thing, performance that he was doing. After that, I would say Michael Keaton because of Tim Burton and the way that he approached the movie"

    As for Nolan, it would take me a bit more doing to find it but its very recent. Eventually Ill add them all to the article

  7. Gothamstreets I want to know how popular was Batman before the 60's show? Did he become popular because of the 60's show?

  8. Superman was the most popular, Batman could never catch up to him. People were aware of him but it was the 60s show that made Batman a truly recognizable figure. Before that he was only popular amongst comic book readers

  9. Would you say Batman is more popular than Superman now Gothamstreets? Or are they the same?

    Also Gotham-streets who's your favorite Superhero after Batman?

  10. I think ever since 1989 Batman is by far the more popular one. As far as my second favorite, I really cant think of any other comic book hero that I would enjoy as much or almost as much as Batman, not even close. If I had to pick something it would be Superman

  11. No love for Spidey Gotham-streets.
    Where is he in your list?

  12. Oh yes, I enjoy the character. But to put it shortly, Im only a fan of Batman. Others I like but its Batman Im crazy about

  13. Gothamstreets what do you think is the more iconic piece of American pop culture Batman or Star Wars?

  14. Hard to say. Everybody knows Darth Vader at the same time everybody recognizes the Bat logo. I guess Batman has the edge cause literally everybody knows who Batman is

    1. The yellow logo was added in 1964, a new marketable look for the 25th Anniversary of BATMAN.

  15. Say maybe why not do a blog about Bat's status as a figure in pop culture, like show readers his various phases of his popularity?

    Also Gotham-streets I know your the Batman expert but can you explain how Spider-man got so popular? Did he go through the 89' Batman mania like jump?

  16. I dont know about Spidey, but before Raimi's movies there wasnt really any proper theatrical Spiderman movie and the character was always the most popular Marvel character

  17. For those of you who want to share your love and interest in the 1966 Batman TV show, why not check out http://www.66batman.com

  18. Some people are really hard on the '66 series, but really, thats what Batman was back then -From an 11 year old

  19. A quote from Max Allan Collins:

    In Amazing Heroes#119 in 1987 (two years before the Michael Keaton film), Max Allan Collins had an interview. He said the following:

    “I’m afraid what I’m running smack up into is the old Batman TV show controversy: the old business about, Gee that was a TV show that made fun of Batman and made fun of comic books, so we have to show people that Batman and comic books are serious and they’re adult and accordingly all the fun goes out of it. There was a reason why that TV show was played for laughs and that is when you put actual human beings in those costumes and act out those stories, it looks stupid. They betray their juvenile roots. It can’t be done straight. I defy them to do the movie straight”.

  20. AnonymousJan 11, 2012 08:58 AM
    Gothamstreets I want to know how popular was Batman before the 60's show? Did he become popular because of the 60's show?

    Many people like to think that SUPERMAN and BATMAN have been of near equal stature since their debuts in the late 1930's. But prior to the Adam West TV series, Batman was in a very distant second place to Superman. In fact, during the 1940's, Batman was in a distant third place behind rivals Superman & Captain Marvel. By the 1950's, Superman was the star of a long running radio show and a long running newspaper strip. He also had appeared in several innovative theatrical cartoons in the early 40's. Batman on the other hand, had only guest started in a handful of episodes of the Superman radio show, his newspaper strip only lasted a few years and he hadn't made the jump to cartoons. In the 1950's, Batman just didn't have anywhere near Superman's name-recognition and multimedia clout.

    Well, I was unable to find sales figures for BATMAN for the 50s, so let's go to the nearest thing, 1960.

    In 1960, the eponymous titles sold:

    BATMAN ... 502,000 (avg circulation)
    SUPERMAN 810,000 (avg circulation)

    So, I guess you were correct in that Batman was just not as popular as Supes.

    To bolster the effect the Batman TV show had on sales, look at 1965 (pre-TV show):

    BATMAN ... 453,745
    SUPERMAN 823,829

    But in 1966 (after the first season):

    BATMAN ... 898,470
    SUPERMAN 719,946

    Regarding the Metropolis Rogues Gallery, by and large, live action adaptations of the Kryptonian have given them short shrift. The George Reeves show used none of them.


    Note that the Superman family of titles had six titles by 1965 or so (Superboy, Adventure, Superman, World's Finest, Action Comics, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen)

    Suddenly BIFF! POW! ZAP! began appearing in media headlines, and the Batman craze was upon us. The TV and print news media were abruptly afloat with the word "Batmania," which they doubtless believed they had coined. Sales of the Caped Crusader's comics spiked. (Batman even outsold Superman for a while, something it wouldn't do again [regularly and consistently from year to year] until the 1990s.) [Reportedly, Hal Jordan/Green Lantern outsells Superman these days, at least in the US.]


  21. Thats true, if one reads about it, Batman was popular but couldnt hold sales for specials on his own. Whenever something needed a boost in sales, Superman was put on the cover. The 60s show was monumental to cementing Batman's popularity, recognizability and iconic status

  22. A poster named Count Karnstein once commented on the 1960's show.

    It did not stray that far from the feel of the comic books from 1944-to-1964. As the poster Count Karnstein pointed out, those comic books:
    “had giant pennies and stuffed dinosaurs, was wearing caveman, zebra, and rainbow costumes, teamed up with Bat-Mite, split in two, melded with Superman, fought a living #2 pencil, drowned in giant gravy boats and menaced by giant sized water pistols, tennis rackets, [had a boy sidekick with shaved legs and pixie shoes] and all sorts of insane absurdities long before the Batman movie or tv show were released….Dozier was bringing the characters to the screen in the manner in which they had been portrayed in the comics. Was there ever a silly, absurd, ridiculous Green Hornet comic book? If so, it’s escaped my attention for the better part of 40 years. Did we ever see a Caveman Green Hornet or a Green Hornet in a rainbox/zebra/dayglo red suit? Did we ever see Green Hornet being drowned in a giant gravy boat or being chased by aliens and dinosaurs? Was there ever an Ace the Green Hornet Dog? How about a Hornet-Mite?

    No? I didn’t think so. There’s your answer. It’s literally that simple. Dozier was taking characters and putting them on the screen. Green Hornet was always played straight and serious in the comics/strips/radio, so he was done that way for tv. Batman was as absurd, silly, goofy, and ridiculous as anything else that has ever appeared in comics, and so that’s how he appeared on-screen”.

  23. Absolutely. With all the talk about playing it as a spoof, it was simply the way the stories and Batman was in the comic books at the time for close to 2 decades

  24. Each version of Batman-grim vigilante, straight super hero and detective, science fiction, New Look, camp comedy, grim vigilante again-was a reflection of its time. In the 1960s, the fad was for action-adventure mixed with comedy. The trend may have started with James Bond, and increased with the action movie series (Flint, Matt Helm) that followed. The camp fad in general and the Batmania in particular influenced other TV adventure shows; Lost in Space, Wild Wild West, and Man from U.N.C.L.E. all got sillier and more juvenile by late 1966. The Avengers (I mean the TV series about British Secret Service agents) also became increasingly tongue-in-cheek at about that time. Meanwhile, The Green Hornet was played fairly straight, and lasted only one season.

  25. Spider-Man was Marvel's most popular comic, but, AFAIR, the character never had much success in other media before the Raimi movies. There was an animated cartoon TV show in the mid-1960s, but it was aired in kids' time slots (originally on Saturday mornings, and later on weekday afternoons in reruns). There was a live action TV series in the late 1970s, but it did not last long or make much of an impression. Batman was popular with adults who liked the camp comedy, and with kids who watched it for the action and adventure.

    1. The 90s cartoon was very popular

  26. Agree that Frank Miller is overrated in Batman history. The comic abandoned the camp comedy approach after the TV show ended. Neal Adams and Denny O'Neil began to return Batman to his Dark Knight image long before Miller first worked on the character. Also, you are right in saying that the TV show made Batman familiar to the general public. Before the TV series, I don't think I had ever heard of the character, although I had some idea of who Superman was.

  27. Surprisingly good! Much better than I could expect. It is very well filmed and there are very nice action scenes, particularly for a production from the 40’s: footage of fighting, climbing, spying, falling down, disguising… Although lightly plump, Lewis Wilson not only did a good job as the dark knight but also had one of the best representations of Bruce Wayne ever in my opinion, as the fake playboy. Batman was already frightening on the eyes of the criminals, as he intimidated them (the bat’s cave has been created for this movie serial, > reviews batman 1943
    though it was not his back office yet, but kind of a psychological torture and interrogation room, accessed through the clock). Batman fights a lot, most of the time against two or three thugs, but he is far from the skillful martial artist he would become in future versions; indeed, he receives lots of punches and loses the fights a lot of times, not dying by luck. There was already a charming black car, though it was not properly a batmobile, but a 1939 Cadillac, generally driven by Alfred. Douglas Croft was a typical Robin, and although his visual was true to the character, we got accustomed to the hair and the mask of Burt Ward decades afterwards, making his upright curly hair and his pointed-nose mask a bit strange
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