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Holy Kitsch! 5 Campy Facts About TV's Batman

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The live-action Superman had had a decent run on network television, so in 1966, ABC pondered the ratings potential of another comic book hero: Batman. The production techniques used for Batman were far different than those used on the Superman series; bright colors, stilted dialog, and the POW! BAM! graphics used during the fight scenes all combined to make the series look like a comic book brought to life. Immediately after the pilot episode was aired, Batman was the topic of discussion on American playgrounds. A double entendre here and there (not to mention Julie Newmar in a catsuit) also helped to keep adult viewers interested.

1. The Batmobile was originally a Bargainmobile

batmobilex.jpgAn integral non-human "character" on the show was the Batmobile. In 1955, the Lincoln division of the Ford Motor Company designed a futuristic concept car called the Futura. The prototype was hand-built in Italy at a cost of $250,000. The car was never put into production, and 10 years later, George Barris of Barris Kustom City bought it from Ford for the bargain price of one dollar. A few modifications here and there, a custom paint job, and voilà! Barris was able to present the world's first Batmobile to the studio just three weeks later.
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2. The Boy Wonder and the Problems with his "Boy Wonder"

Picture 4.pngWhile casting the show, producers ended up with a choice between two Dynamic Duos: Adam West and Burt Ward versus Lyle Waggoner and Peter Deyell. Every Batman script included fight scenes as well as other very physical stunts. In the case of the main character, most of his face was covered by his cowl, so a stunt double could be used. But the Boy Wonder's Lone Ranger mask made too much of his face visible for a double to be used. Ward snagged the role by virtue of a very athletic resume, which included a black belt in karate and a stint as a professional figure skater. Not long after the series began, however, the network was inundated with letters of complaint about Ward's, er, bat-bulge, which was clearly visible in his form-fitting costume. Ward claimed in his autobiography that a studio doctor eventually gave him some mystery pills that shrank his manhood for hours at a time. He also wryly pointed out that Adam West needed no such "modification."

3. The Riddler Gets a Promotion

The pilot episode of Batman featured a villain who had rarely appeared in the comic book series "“ The Riddler. Frank Gorshin portrayed the Prince of Puzzlers in that first two-part episode, and received an Emmy nomination for his effort. Of the many special guest villains that would infiltrate Gotham City, only Gorshin's maniacally laughing Riddler gave the impression that he was just unbalanced enough to be a bona fide threat to the Dynamic Duo. Interestingly enough, after Gorshin's appearance on the show, the Riddler became an A-list rogue in the DC comics universe and regularly rubbed elbows with such legendary criminals as Two-Face and The Penguin.

4. What Kept The Joker from Smiling

Picture 5.pngLatin American lothario Cesar Romero was tapped to play The Joker, but he only agreed to the role under one condition "“ he would not have to shave off his trademark mustache. The makeup department tried with varying degrees of success to cover up Romero's cookie duster with layers of pancake, but it was still quite visible in close-up shots. Romero would later state that it took about one hour to transform him into The Joker, and that his least favorite part of the get-up was the green wig; something in the glue that was used gave him a throbbing headache.

5. The Most Prolific Villain

Picture 6.pngWhen Bat-Mania was in full swing, it became the "in" thing for celebrities to appear on the show. This explains why such diverse performers as Ethel Merman, Roddy McDowell, Liberace, Milton Berle, Vincent Price and Shelley Winters all put in time on the Bat-Stage. But the villain who made the most appearances was Burgess Meredith as The Penguin. He wasn't the first choice for the role, but when Spencer Tracy turned it down, he stepped up to the plate. One problem, though; the role called for the character to constantly have a cigarette holder in his mouth, and Meredith had quit smoking a few years prior. Much like President Clinton, he didn't inhale, and the resultant coughs and clearings of the throat became part of his Penguin schtick.

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The Time Douglas Adams Met Jim Henson
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On September 13, 1983, Jim Henson and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams had dinner for the first time. Henson, who was born on this day in 1936, noted the event in his "Red Book" journal, in characteristic short-form style: "Dinner with Douglas Adams – 1st met." Over the next few years the men discussed how they might work together—they shared interests in technology, entertainment, and education, and ended up collaborating on several projects (including a Labyrinth video game). They also came up with the idea for a "Muppet Institute of Technology" project, a computer literacy TV special that was never produced. Henson historians described the project as follows:

Adams had been working with the Henson team that year on the Muppet Institute of Technology project. Collaborating with Digital Productions (the computer animation people), Chris Cerf, Jon Stone, Joe Bailey, Mark Salzman and Douglas Adams, Jim’s goal was to raise awareness about the potential for personal computer use and dispel fears about their complexity. In a one-hour television special, the familiar Muppets would (according to the pitch material), “spark the public’s interest in computing,” in an entertaining fashion, highlighting all sorts of hardware and software being used in special effects, digital animation, and robotics. Viewers would get a tour of the fictional institute – a series of computer-generated rooms manipulated by the dean, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, and stumble on various characters taking advantage of computers’ capabilities. Fozzie, for example, would be hard at work in the “Department of Artificial Stupidity,” proving that computers are only as funny as the bears that program them. Hinting at what would come in The Jim Henson Hour, viewers, “…might even see Jim Henson himself using an input device called a ‘Waldo’ to manipulate a digitally-controlled puppet.”

While the show was never produced, the development process gave Jim and Douglas Adams a chance to get to know each other and explore a shared passion. It seems fitting that when production started on the 2005 film of Adams’s classic Hitchhiker’s Guide, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop would create animatronic creatures like the slovenly Vogons, the Babel Fish, and Marvin the robot, perhaps a relative of the robot designed by Michael Frith for the MIT project.

You can read a bit on the project more from Muppet Wiki, largely based on the same article.

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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

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