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Holy Info, Batman! Behind-the-Scenes Facts About TV's Batman

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Batman, the TV series, made its debut as one of TV's first mid-season replacements on January 12, 1966. Featuring Adam West in the lead role and Burt Ward as Robin, his co-crime fighter, the show became a breakout hit.


Batman was everywhere, and the show quickly developed into the biggest marketing campaign in television history up to that time. Not only was every kid in America talking about Batman, but Batman magazines, T-shirts, costumes, posters, banners, records, etc., were everywhere—the biggest marketing craze since the Beatles themselves. The series success was short-lived, however. The fad quickly burned itself out, like a meteor shooting through the sky.

Now, though, Batman holds its rightful place in TV history as a genuine campy TV classic.

Let's take a look at some facts you may not know about Batman...

Audience Reception

Before going on the air, Batman received the lowest test score ratings from test audiences in the history of the ABC network.


Batman was originally planned to be a very serious show. Prior to the show's debut, ABC held 2 test screenings: one with a laugh track dubbed in and one with additional narration. According to Adam West, both fell flat, and the "campy" approach was eventually decided upon instead.

Comic Book Savior

Batman's success as a TV series actually saved the Batman comic book from cancellation. Bob Kane, Batman's creator, has said the show's success gave the slumping Batman comics a much-needed boost in sales. Diehard Batman fans, however, never liked the series because of its campiness. After the show was cancelled, the Batman comics deliberately took a much more serious turn to placate upset fans.

Alfred's Return from the Dead


Alfred the Butler had already been killed off in the comic book 18 months before the TV show originally aired. He was brought back to life for the show and was played by Alan Napier. After the show's huge success, Alfred was resurrected in the comics as well.

Bat Who?

Alan Napier was the show's only cast member who had never heard of Batman and had no idea who the character was before the show began filming.

The Role of Aunt Harriet

There is an urban myth that the Aunt Harriet character (played by Madge Blake) was added to the show to fend off viewers from thinking Batman and Robin were gay. According to most reliable sources, though, this story is indeed just a myth.

The Bulge in the Crotch

In the guy equivalent of Barbara Eden having to "hide her navel" on I Dream of Jeannie, there was a huge controversy about both Adam West's and Burt Ward's "bulge in the crotch" during the show's run. Several different methods of crotch "inhibition" were used on West and Ward during the series' run to fend off complaints from complaining conservative and religious organizations.

Adam West has admitted that Julie Newmar as Catwoman caused "strange stirrings in my utility belt." Burt Ward also admitted that Lesley Gore (as Catwoman's assistant, Pussycat) caused him a great deal of intense male feelings because she kept rubbing up against him.

The Value of a Sidekick

Burt Ward reportedly earned just $350 a week for the first season of Batman.

"Quick! To the Batmobile!"


The Batmobile was actually several vehicles: 5 different Batmobiles were used during the series' run. (The iconic car was a customized 1955 Lincoln Futura.)

Quack, Quack, Quack


When Burgess Meredith took the role of The Penguin, he hadn't smoked in 20 years. His trademark cigarette (in holder) irritated his throat, which caused him to ad-lib his trademark "Quack, quack, quack" croaking voice.

Batgirl, Harbinger of Doom


During the show's third and final season, a new character, Batgirl, was added. The character never quite fit in and helped toll the death knell of the show.

What Could Have Been...

Lyle Waggoner was the other actor considered to play Batman, but ultimately lost the role to Adam West.

Mickey Rooney was originally offered the role of the Penguin, but turned it down.

Frank Sinatra was a big fan of Batman and supposedly expressed interest in the Joker role.

Because of his great success as Batman, Adam West was offered the role of James Bond in the 1969 movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service. West declined, saying the role should be played by a British actor. George Lazenby, an Australian, got the role instead.


Eddie Deezen has appeared in over 30 motion pictures, including Grease, WarGames, 1941, and The Polar Express. He's also been featured in several TV shows, including Magnum PI, The Facts of Life, and The Gong Show. And he's done thousands of voice-overs for radio and cartoons, such as Dexter's Laboratory and Family Guy.


Read all Eddie's mental_floss stories.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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science
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

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