In 1966, a legendary set of noir comics were turned into the campy, silly, thrilling Batman television series, which spanned three entire seasons. And while it polarized fans, there’s no denying the influence it had on pop culture. Read on to discover all the groovy and zany things that went on behind the scenes of this iconic show.
1. In Search Of The Perfect Duo
The Batman series could have looked a lot different. When casting the Batman and Robin duo, producers held two different screen tests for their actors to perform a given scene in front of the camera. Those in the running were Adam West and Burt Ward, as well as Lyle Waggoner and Peter Deyell.
Unsurprisingly, West and Ward were the chosen ones. With three seasons, 34 episodes a season, and two new episodes a week, the pair sure had their work cut out for them. It’s unfair, then, to learn Ward wasn’t justly compensated for his efforts. The actor apparently earned around $350 per week, which was negligible compared to his co-star.
2. An Unconvincing Pilot
The Batman series may have turned out to be a legendary hit in the end, but it didn’t start out all that smoothly. Actor Adam West revealed in his 1994 book release, Back to the Batcave, that the show’s pilot actually received the worst score from test audiences in the history of television.
Whereas average scores usually fall in the 60s range, Batman scored in the 40s. Rumor has it that the reason for the poor score was the fact that the series was originally intended to be a crime-only drama. In an attempt to improve the dismal test results, producers added the show’s now-famous camp elements, like a laugh track and narration.
3. An Unlikely Resurrection
The Batman comic book series was made popular in the 1940s, long before the show first aired. But as it later turned out, the small screen performance would eventually influence the writing of the comics. For example, the creator of Batman, Bob Kane, killed off Alfred the Butler in the comics months before the first episode of the Batman television series aired.
But when the show’s producers announced that Alfred would be included in the televised series, Kane resurrected him for the comics! Another fun fact: Alan Napier, the actor who played Alfred the Butler, had apparently never heard of Batman before assuming the role.
4. Crooked Villains
Let’s be real — what really made the Batman series so memorable were the villains themselves. Without these colorful, diabolical, larger-than-life characters, there would be no need for superhuman crime-fighter Batman nor his sidekick Robin. Though we’ve all loved watching the 37 villains wreak havoc on Gotham City, few have noticed the work that went into filming each scene.
Each time a scene was filmed in a villain’s lair, the camera angle shifted to become crooked. This stylistic element was apparently added as a way to emphasize the crooked nature of the mischievous criminals. If you need more convincing, watch the Batman television series over. Chances are, you’ll mostly see the Penguin and the Joker, given they appear in over one third of the series’ 120 episodes.
5. Putting The Joke In Joker
Long before Joaquin Phoenix, Jared Leto, Heath Ledger, Mark Hamill, and even Jack Nicholson, there was Cesar Romero, who played the legendary Joker in the Batman 1960s television series. Rumor has it that his character’s iconic laugh wasn’t fabricated in front of the camera. Rather, it was Romero’s real laugh that he gave in response to seeing his costume for the first time!
It’s hard to imagine the series without this distinctively zany laugh. But if Romero hadn’t landed the role, it may well have never come to be. In fact, a lot of well-known Hollywood names lobbied for the part. One such name was Frank Sinatra. To accommodate the celebrities they didn’t choose for the part, like Sinatra, the producers thought of something very clever.
NEXT: These lovable characters from the series weren’t even in the comics.
6. The Many Faces Of Catwoman
Fan-favorite villainess, Catwoman was played by two different actresses in the 1960s Batman television series. Julie Newmar played the feline femme fatale in the series’ first and second seasons, whereas Eartha Kitt assumed the role for the rest of the series. Kitt’s participation was revolutionary at the time.
When Kitt debuted as Catwoman in 1967, it was uncommon to see an African-American woman in television, much less in a leading role. But Kitt’s charisma and high ponytail set her apart, and many still consider her the greatest Catwoman of all. In the first 1966 Batman spinoff movie, actress Lee Meriwether was the one to don the catsuit. She was followed by Michelle Pfeiffer, Halle Berry, and Anne Hathaway.
7. A Penguin That Quacks
It’s hard to imagine the Batman series without the “quack, quack, quacks” of the Penguin. The iconic villain was played by actor Burgess Meredith, who apparently improvised his trademark sound all on his own. And we could never have guessed the reason why.
The Penguin memorably smoked his cigarettes out of a fancy holder. But 20 years before taking on the role, Meredith had quit smoking. This meant cigarette smoke irritated his throat, making him cough. The Penguin’s quacks were thus born out of a desire to hide his problematic coughs. Meredith’s performance would certainly have been hard to top, though Mickey Rooney was originally offered the role and turned it down.
8. Riddle Me This
Another one of Gotham City’s noteworthy villains was the Riddler, played by legendary character actor Frank Gorshin. This role served as Gorshin’s big Hollywood break, and his performance was so well-received that it earned him an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.
It was because of Gorshin’s popular performance in the television series that the Riddler became a more prominent character in the Batman comics. That’s right: the Riddler wasn’t originally intended to be a main part of Batman’s rogues gallery. Additionally, Gorshin’s aversion towards the Riddler’s skin-tight suit led him to rock a business suit, which he became known for.
Another enemy of the dynamic duo was Mr. Freeze, who was said to have a heart made of ice. With his freeze ray, he froze his targets into solid ice. And while he became a well-known villain in the series, his name wasn’t always Mr. Freeze.
Mr. Freeze’s memorable name was invented solely for the Batman television series, as in the comics he was actually referred to as Mr. Zero. His blue costume as we know it was also originally intended to be bright green. Moreover, he was meant to be a criminal scientist whose ice gun flopped and sprayed chemicals onto him, thus forcing him to live at glacial temperatures.
10. Batgirl To The Rescue…Kinda
The third season of the Batman series introduced us to an important new recurring character: Batgirl. Played by actress Yvonne Craig, Batgirl was a caped crusader meant to save the dynamic duo from trouble. But that’s not all she was called to do.
Because ratings had dropped by the show’s third season, Batgirl was introduced as a way to garner attention from a new young female audience. Unfortunately, it did not go as planned. A pilot was filmed for a spinoff show based on Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl, but it never came to fruition, and the Batman series was canceled in 1968.
11. Holier Than Thou
Robin is known for more than just being Batman’s trusty sidekick. He is also remembered for his witty interjections that began with the word, “holy.” Over the span of 120 episodes, Robin used a grand total of 352 of these “holy” catchphrases, which he so perfectly paired with that distinctly nasal voice.
His “holy” moments served as punctuation marks meant to emphasize extraordinary moments. Everyone has their favorites from among his quips, but ours would have to be “holy hole in a donut,” “holy homework,” and “holy ravioli.” While many argue that Robin’s catchphrases were intensely overused in the series, there’s plenty who appreciated their quirkiness.
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12. Landing The Role Of Batman
There’s no denying that Adam West’s titular performance in the 1966-1968 Batman television series defined the character for future generations to come. Joseph McCabe’s book, 100 Things Batman Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, includes an interview with West that explains how the actor first got the role.
West explained that his appearance in a Nestle Quik chocolate milk advert was what go him his role as Batman, stating, “I think that commercial 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.” When asked how it was possible that his take on Batman remained popular for over five decades, West responded, “It could be my legs. Not too many guys can wear tights effectively.” Haha!
13. Cave Man
Hidden in a cave beneath Batman’s personal home at Wayne Manor was his trusty Batcave. It acted as both a hangar and research facility, and came fully equipped with all that Batman needed to fight crime. It was from here that the caped crusader was able to closely monitor all that took place in his city of Gotham.
The Batman production crew went under Los Angeles’ famed Hollywood sign, using Griffith Park’s Bronson Caves to film the scenes in which the Batmobile sped out from the Batcave. And while it looks like the Batmobile was traveling at lightning speed on TV, in actuality it was moving at a snail’s pace. The Batmobile prop was too wide to fit in the cave, so the production crew had to slowly film the car’s exit and speed it up in post-production editing.
14. Introducing Egghead
Arguably one of Batman’s most lovable villains was Egghead, the egg-stra quirky scoundrel that was recognized for his colossal bald head and custom white and yellow suit. He was known for being extremely intelligent and for using eggs as weapons. And let’s not forget all his egg-celent egg puns.
Having made such a lasting impression on viewers, it’s hard for most to believe that this character didn’t actually exist in the original Batman comics. That’s right: Egghead wasn’t created until the second season of the Batman television series. Played by much-celebrated quirky horror actor Vincent Price, he appeared in both seasons two and three.
15. The Key To The Series’ Success
It’s no secret that the Batman series portrayed a lighter, more humorous side of the crime-heavy comic books. But as former Catwoman Julie Newmar explained, there was a still a secret recipe to the series’ success. According to the National Enquirer, she said, “The secret of it was playing it very straight. The comment from the head producer was always, ‘Straight, straight, straight – do not play it for laughs!’ – because the straighter you play it, the more ridiculous it really is.”
Adding dry humor to silly situations definitely accentuated the campy feel of the television series. Not only that, but some argue its ironic story lines were lost in translation, especially for children who watched the show. The latter led to some backlash, which eventually brought an end to the series and a revival of the comics’ darker roots.
16. An Appearance From Bruce Lee
Professional martial artist Bruce Lee may be most recognized for his role in Enter the Dragon, but that was far from his first on-screen appearance. In fact, his small-screen debut was in the Batman episode “The Spell of Tut” in 1966. He also appeared in the 1967 episodes, “A Piece of the Action” and “Batman’s Satisfaction.”
Lee played The Green Hornet’s sidekick and limo driver, Kato. In one scene, he and Robin fight. Burt Ward, who played Robin, later said (according to Screen Rant), “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…it was funny at the time because Bruce Lee was really new.”
17. The Groovy Batusi
Arguably one of the series’ most iconic moments happened in the very first episode called “Hi Diddle Riddle.” In the episode, Batman drinks from a spiked drink that was given to him by the Riddler. His inhibitions are lowered and he busts a move on the dance floor. The caped crusader’s groovy dance was later named the “Batusi,” a spoof on the 1960s dance craze called the Watusi.
Speaking of his improvised dance, Batman actor Adam West told Nerdist it all began learning lines in the car on the way to work: “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.”
18. Batman’s Source Of Sleuthing
There’s no denying that Adam West’s interpretation of Batman was one of the best. With his professional sleuthing skills, his performance was hard to beat. Because let’s face it, no other Batman rendition has placed so much importance on this characteristic. What was his inspiration?
According to 100 Things Batman Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, West said, “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.”
19. Batman’s Important PSA’s
During the show’s run, Batman made a number of public service announcements in the UK that aired before each episode. These PSAs were predominantly targeted towards children. The first PSA, for example, was made to motivate children to support the Vietnam War. Batman did this by encouraging kids to purchase American savings stamps.
In his second service announcement, Batman urged kids to be safe on the road. Sadly, within the first year of the series’ debut, there were reportedly a number of stories in which English children jumped from high surfaces in an attempt to be like Batman. So Batman and Robin had to film a PSA stressing the fact that Batman is unable to fly — and so are they.
20. The Gotham City Building Trick
At the time the Batman series premiered in the ’60s, nearly every celebrity in Hollywood wanted to join the cast. As Burt Ward explained to Nerdist, “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…[they] wanted to be in that show, because their own kids were hammering them. ‘Dad, you gotta get on the show!'”
There were only so many villains the producers could create, so how could they include those celebs? And that’s how the iconic Gotham City wall-climbing scene came about. In the scene, Batman and Robin scale a building and while they’re on their way up, different celebrities like Sammy Davis Jr., Dick Clark, and Betty White pop their heads out of windows. Problem solved!
21. The Beginning Of The End
Towards the end of the series’ third season, ABC saw that Batman‘s ratings had fallen by a significant amount. Because of this, they cancelled the show on March 14, 1968. Still, ABC hoped another network would come to the rescue and purchase rights to the show so that it could continue on.
But after waiting an extensive amount of time, they assumed they were out of luck and decided to dismantle all the sets. Just then, NBC announced their desire to take over the series. However, they rescinded their offer once they heard that all the sets had been destroyed. Talk about poor timing!
NEXT: The legacy of the series continues in many ways today.
22. The Legacy Lives On
Thankfully, the end of the Batman television series didn’t mean the end of its legacy. 50 years after the premier of the show and the first movie, the original cast — Adam West as Batman, Burt Ward as Robin, and Julie Newmar as Catwoman — reunited to voice their characters in the 2016 animated movie, Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders.
But that was only the beginning. One year later, a sequel movie hit screens: Batman vs. Two-Face. Newmar, Ward, and West voiced their characters, but new actors were added to the cast. Willian Shatner was the voice of Two-Face/Harvey Dent, and Lee Meriwether, the Catwoman actress from the original 1966 movie, was the voice of Lucilee Diamond.
23. The Iconic Batmobile
Name a more iconic part of the Batman television series and films than the Batmobile itself…we’ll wait. The original Batmobile, an altered Lincoln Futura, was auctioned off in 2013 for a staggering $4.2 million. And while thinking of the Batmobile takes most viewers back to one of their favorite series, it doesn’t elicit the same fond memories for the actor who played Robin, Burt Ward.
Because Ward wasn’t always given a body double, this meant he had to perform some dangerous stunts, which left him with a good number of serious injuries. In one such incident, he was ejected from the Batmobile while making a sharp, fast turn around a corner, landing him in the hospital. Ouch!
24. A New Antagonist
Remember the episode when a Robin Hood-esque villain named the Archer, played by Honeymooners actor and future Oscar-winner Art Carney, escapes from the police and heads to Wayne Manor? He and his accomplices, Crier Tuck and Big John, gas the manor, steal money, and then go to attack the police headquarters.
The Archer made a name for himself in this episode, in what was a memorable start to the series’ second season. He also appeared in the following episode, where again, he acted as a troublesome antagonist to Batman and Robin. Though fans fell in love with the Archer’s unruly ways, his character was created entirely for the series, meaning there’s no trace of him in the comics.
25. Joker, The Movie
The most recent addition to the Batman franchise is the 2019 film Joker starring Joaquin Phoenix. After just a few weeks in theaters, the psychological thriller crossed the $1 billion threshold, making it the most profitable movie based on a comic book, ever. It seems Batman fans appreciated the film’s return to the story’s darker roots.
But even so, it is still not Phoenix’s most successful movie. According to Forbes, when looking at domestic gross for the actors’ films, Joker takes the number one spot. But taking into account the inflation of ticket prices changes things. With this as a factor, his M. Night Shyamalan-directed 2002 drama mystery film Signs comes out on top.
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