Monday, June 25, 2012

Catwoman Onscreen Part I: Newmar, Meriwether & Kitt


The first live action Catwoman appeared in 1966's Batman episode called "The Purr-fect Crime". The first shot that we see her in reveals her nature as a professional thief. As in the comics, she is shown as a quiet, swift and graceful cat burglar, both intelligent and highly physical, as she can sneak and run in high heels better than most people can in more comfortable outfit.

She is not only a seasoned and very good professional thief, but also commands her crooks and comes up with very clever and inventive plans to get to her treasure and confuse and defeat Batman
That matches her depiction in the comic books as well, where she also had her own gang and took care of all the creative thinking

Panel from Batman #10

Catwoman is also evidently bipolar, as she instantly switches moods from anger or fury to melowness and satisfaction. She can be extremely agressive and blood thirsty, but calm and flirty the next moment.

Panel from Batman #3

The confrontations with Batman bring this side of Catwoman more upfront, when Batman often witnesses her ever surprising mood swings

Julie Newmar: It's just the right amount of aggression and seduction and sassiness." ( int)

Her fascination and crush on Batman has also been present since the character's first appearance in the comic books, and is carried over to the TV series
Panels from Batman #1 and #3

But in the series, her love to Batman came a little later. At first she wanted to kill Batman and toyed with him first, like a cat with his prey, but then when Batman saved her life in "The Cat and the Fiddle", she developed an affection for him and started fantasizing about the hooded avenger. On the other end, Batman also could barely resist his strange affection to Catwoman's charms either, sometimes even giving up to them.

However, Julie doesn't think it was a true love
Julie Newmar:  I don't think Catwoman loved Batman. She just wanted to play around with him.(USAToday int 2004)

Robin always stood between Batman and the Catwoman and she hated him for it. She said she couldn't bring herself to kill Batman, but she couldn't wait to get rid of the "Boy Blunder"

Q: Did Catwoman wonder about Robin's relationship with Batman?
Newmar: Hell, no. Who cares? Let's kill him. He's annoying. (USA Today int)

Since the very first issue, Catwoman was a master of disguise, and that trace was not lost in Julie's version of the character

Catwoman's real name has never been revealed in the series, same goes for her origins and backstory.

The very first time we see Selina Kyle/The Cat in the comic books in her real appearance, she is described as 'beautiful young woman' and she turns heads in almost every issue, so does the TV series' version.

What's very interesting is the fact that it was Newmar who developed and popularized Catwoman's nature and behavior as we know it today. It was Newmar who made Catwoman extremely seductive in both her speech, mannerism and moves, a very important and now signature trait of the character adapted to the comic books and subsequent incarnations ever since. It was an original addition from the actress, since she was not very familiar with the character prior to the series and brought her own spin and personality to the character. The Catwoman had been using her great looks and sex for distraction from the get go, however it was Julie who popularized her seductivness in a physical way, moving, moaning or stretching

Julie Newmar: Never heard of [Catwoman's character prior to being cast]. My mother wouldn't let me read comic books (Reality Check TV)

This wasn't the only addition to the character. Julie also created rolling the r sound in certain words to make it sound like she's purring, and the use of feline double entendres (e.g. "You may stroke my pussy willow"). Also, she was the first Catwoman to make a good use of campy sense of humor, which the comic book version imitated

Doziers' Catwoman also touches upon the supernaturality and the 7 lives myth that the Golden Age comic books introduced early on. Catwoman seems to die and mysteriously reappears in several issues and her powers are attributed to the feline 7 lives (although in one issue she's faking it by wearing a bulletproof vest). In her very first appearance, Catwoman fells of a cliff into a deep abyss. Her body is nowhere to be found at the bottom of the pit, and Batman and Robin find a single black cat instead

Newmar's costume was an original creation, not based on any of the previous Catwoman outfits

The idea of a skin tight suit was adopted to the comics and remained even to this day, while the mask and overall look was imitated almost instantly by comic books in the late 60's, starting with Batman #197


Lee Meriwether continued the sexiness and teasing aspect of Newmar's performance, but also added her own twist to the character. No two actors would play the same characters exactly the same, even if they have the same guidelines and script. It's the little touches and nuances in actor's unique personality that make the difference.

Lee meowed even more than her predecessor, and it was her own idea to do so: "As a matter of fact they didn't even suggest in the script that she meows, they had other ideas and all but I said 'couldn't I just try and meow here or purr here', or do this and that and they were willing to go along with it" (Jean Boone '66 TV interview)

Meriwether was even more catlike with her poses and behavior. In the movie, she is even seen licking herself as cats do, taking Catwoman a bit more to the cat side

Lee also recognized the double nature of Catwoman, something very essential to the character :"People love villains especially when they have some saving grace somewhere along the line" (Studio Kaiju int)

However, while Newmar said her Catwoman didn’t really love Batman, Lee's version did
"I did fall in love a little bit with Batman, I mean it was a love/hate relationship, and always has been" (studio kaiju int) 

"Q: Was Catwoman more attracted to Batman or vice versa

Meriwether: Catwoman more to Batman, I think." (USA Today int)

Lee's Catwoman was a master of disguise as well, another essential characteristic of the feline thief. Meriwether was also a Miss America in 1855, continuing Catwoman's portrayal as a stunning pinup girl



Eartha Kitt is often described as the most evil Catwoman of the series. She isn't as playful as Newmar, or as seductive as Meriwether, but she is more vicious and more demonical. 

Charles FitzSimons (producer): "She was a cat woman before we ever cast her as Catwoman. She had a cat-like style. Her eyes were cat-like and her singing was like a meow. This came as a wonderful off-beat idea to do it with a black woman."

What was lost when Eartha came in was that the "romance" between Batman and Catwoman was no more. What followed that was the fact that the character also lost a lot of its seductiveness and sexy behavior was cut down. The reason behind it all were that since Batman and Catwoman were of a different race, it would have been too controversial at the time. Eartha's Catwoman only loved Batman "like a cat does its toy" (USA Today)
Naturally, her disguising abilities have been toned down as well