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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March 19, 2008 - 12:26pm
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