Fox/Warner Bros.
Fox/Warner Bros.

15 Campy Facts About Batman

Fox/Warner Bros.
Fox/Warner Bros.

There’s never been anything on television quite like ABC’s Batman. Airing in a brief burst of pop phenomena from 1966 to 1968, the series used DC Comics’s brooding Dark Knight as the premise for a campy, vibrantly-colored farce, with Adam West and Burt Ward keeping earnest faces in the midst of their villain-of-the-week plots. With the show celebrating its 50th anniversary this month, we’ve got some facts and trivia sure to please any respectable Bat-fan.


The kitschy approach of Adam West was not on producer Ed Graham’s mind when he optioned Batman for a television series from DC Comics (then National Periodical Publications) in 1962. Figuring he could capitalize on a Saturday morning kids' series similar in tone to the George Reeves-starring Adventures of Superman from the 1950s, Graham struck a deal with CBS and enlisted former Los Angeles Rams quarterback Mike Henry for the title role. With CBS dragging their feet, Henry decided to opt out and play Tarzan instead; ABC was more ambitious about the idea, securing the license from National and moving ahead with producer William Dozier and writer Lorenzo Semple Jr., who agreed the show would work best if it didn’t take itself seriously. (Just seriously enough not to cast a football player.)


Semple’s enduring contribution to the show’s dialogue came in the form of Robin’s exclamations, which were usually preceded by “Holy.” (“Holy Cryptology, Batman!” “Holy Heart Failure, Batman!”) Robin wasn’t so effusive in the comics: Semple made up the habit after remembering some Tom Swift children’s books he had read as a youth that used a similar device.


Though Batman was already well into development at ABC, Dozier and Semple weren’t the first to think about poking fun at the character. In the summer of 1965, Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Club in Chicago screened chapters of the 1943 Batman serial to audiences full of cheering college students. The camp revival was so successful that the serial’s distributor, Columbia, took it on the road. When Batman premiered the following year, at least a portion of the audience was primed to go along with the joke. 


Dozier was unsure about how to fill the title role until he saw a television commercial for the chocolate drink mix Nestle Quik. In it, 36-year-old actor Adam West is seen sending up James Bond with droll delivery and a winking sense of humor. Though Dozier felt he was right for the part, he sent two screen tests to ABC executives—one with West and one with actor Lyle Waggoner—in order to give them a choice. West won out.


Ward—given name Bert Gervis—was given his first acting role after auditioning with West and demonstrating some prowess with Judo throws and tumbling. Over the years, Ward has repeatedly claimed the show offered him several brushes with death or disability: shooting his first scene in the Batmobile with a stunt man sitting in for West, Ward was nearly tossed out when his passenger door opened. Later, a two-by-four sailed into his face after an explosion. He also received burns on multiple occasions from pyrotechnics and once from the sparks that flew from the back of the car.


Before its January 12, 1966 premiere, ABC screened the pilot for a test audience. Using knobs that could express their approval (or disapproval), the group verified the equipment was working when they gave the “control” footage, a Mr. Magoo cartoon, a favorable rating. When Batman ended, it scored in the upper forties, a disastrous number. (Most pilots of the day scored in the mid-sixties.) The national audience, prepared with weeks of advertising to help contextualize the humor, found it funnier: the show was an immediate success.


For a DVD commentary track tied to the release of 1966’s Batman: The Movie, West recalled that Frank Sinatra once lobbied for the part of The Joker. (It went to Cesar Romero.) Sinatra, Gregory Peck, and Elizabeth Taylor later wanted to make appearances in the window of the building Batman and Robin scaled, but the guest spots were booked before they could be accommodated.


Before $30,000 in modifications, anyway. Car customizer George Barris used a concept car from Lincoln called the Futura, which the company had built for $250,000. Seeing no future in the vehicle and thinking the show might give them some publicity, Ford sold it to Barris for $1. It sat on his property for years until Fox contacted him to fabricate a Batmobile. The Futura, with its fin accents and open cabin, was Barris's first choice.


Getty Images

West originally screen-tested wearing a distinctly-different Bat-costume: he was missing the yellow oval behind his emblem, and the ears on his cowl protruded much higher up. Designers wound up clipping the ears because they realized the tips would be cut off during close-ups.  


Ward, who fancied himself something of a martial arts expert, once boasted to West that he had sparred with Bruce Lee. When Lee made an appearance on the show as part of a crossover with Dozier’s other series, The Green Hornet, he and Robin were scheduled to have a fight. According to West’s autobiography, Lee showed up to the set wearing a dour expression and looked ready to kill Ward, who put his hands up in a defensive reflex. Lee cracked a smile and called out, “Robin’s a chicken!” Everyone but Ward found this funny.


Bat-Mania flared for only a brief time, lasting roughly a year before ratings began to dip in the second season from both competition (Lost in Space) and viewers skipping the first of the weekly two-part episodes. After the introduction of Batgirl failed to salvage the expensive show in its third season, producers got a cancellation notice from ABC; NBC was interested in picking it up, but the sets had already been demolished. With the network unwilling to rebuild them, Batman wound down after 120 episodes.


After the show had cooled down, West was on vacation in Maui for a celebrity tennis tournament when he spotted a man wielding a machete approach a couple on the beach. To his amazement, he realized the man had criminal intentions, and was preparing to take a swipe at the woman. West sprung up and waved the man off with his lounge chair, then pinned him to a wall until the authorities arrived.


In a departure from the good taste that typified the 1970s, NBC aired two one-hour specials featuring DC heroes in January 1979. Produced by animation studio Hanna-Barbera, the live-action Legends of the Superheroes was a low-rent affair that brought West and Ward back as Batman and Robin alongside Hawkman, Flash, and Green Lantern; the second of the two hours featured Ed McMahon and a roast. West would later call it a “degradation” of the character.


In a 1966 Life magazine profile on the success of the show, it was noted that one Detroit-area hair stylist was offering patrons a “Bat Cut,” which consisted of shaving down a woman’s eyebrows and trimming her bangs to match the arch of Batman’s cowl. It's unknown how many customers took him up on the offer.


In 2015, Warner Bros. announced that West and Ward would be providing voices for a straight-to-video animated film based on the 1960s series aesthetic. The project is part of a recent campaign by the studio—including comics, collectibles, and a DVD box set—to capitalize on the continued popularity of Batman’s camp years.

Additional Sources:
Back to the Batcave; Billion-Dollar Batman.

Space Goat Publishing
These Evil Dead 2 Comics Will Look Groovy on Your Bookshelf
Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Bruce Campbell has been quoted as saying the gallons of fake blood poured into his face during filming of the 1987 cult classic horror film Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn led to a week of red-tinged mucus leaking out of his nostrils. Fortunately, no Campbells were harmed in the making of two new comic collections from Space Goat Productions that are now being funded on Kickstarter. The Evil Dead 2 Omnibus features over 300 pages of stories set in the Necronomicon-plagued universe featured in numerous comic book miniseries; The Art of Evil Dead 2 reveals never-before-seen production art from both the comics and ancillary projects.

The campaign is the latest from Space Goat, the Bellingham, Washington-based company that’s made a cottage (or cabin) industry from products spinning out of the Sam Raimi-directed film, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. In addition to the new collections, the publisher has also issued an Evil Dead 2 coloring book; a comic where Campbell’s demon-fighting hero, Ash Williams, encounters Adolf Hitler; and a forthcoming board game where players can navigate Deadite threats while shaking their head at Ash’s questionable competency. (No matter the iteration, he seems ill-equipped to deal with the threat of his own possessed and lopped-off hand.)

According to Space Goat publisher Shon Bury, licensing the Evil Dead 2 property from rights holders StudioCanal in 2015 has been a buoy in navigating the difficult waters of comic book publishing. (Even Marvel, which rakes in billions through its film franchises, struggles to sell more than 60,000 to 70,000 copies of its most popular monthly titles.) One day into its Kickstarter launch, the Evil Dead titles had reached 50 percent of their $20,000 funding goal.

“It’s definitely our flagship on the publishing side,” Bury tells Mental Floss. “The board game is our top seller in the Evil Dead category, and the coloring book sells really well. They’re our evergreen products.”

The cover to 'The Art of Evil Dead 2' from Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Exploring Ash’s adventures in other media comes with a few caveats. While Space Goat is free to explore the characters and situations portrayed in Evil Dead 2, incorporating ideas from the rest of the series (including 1993’s Army of Darkness or the Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead) is generally off-limits. And while the StudioCanal rights include a likeness of Campbell, the actor has veto power over how he’s depicted on the page. “For some reason, he doesn’t like the dimple on his chin to be drawn,” Bury says. “But he’s very insistent that the scar on his face from the movie is always there.”

Other actors featured in the film—like Richard Domeier, the future home-shopping host who portrayed “Evil Ed”—may not have granted their likeness rights, but his Deadite character design is part of the deal. “You want to inoculate the owner or licensor of the rights,” Bury says. “So we submit drawings and they might say, ‘No, too close to the actor.’”

That development process is part of what makes up The Art of Evil Dead 2, one-half of Space Goat’s current Kickstarter project that follows a successful Evil Dead 2 board game launch in 2016. The campaigns, Bury says, help target Ash fans with material that might not get enough attention if it were released directly to retailers. “Kickstarter is basically social media. It’s direct engagement, our way of saying to fans, ‘Hey, you’re really going to like this.’”

Bury expects fans to be just as enthused about Evil Dead 2: The Doppelganger Wars, a limited series due for release in 2018 that sees Ash and sidekick Annie Knowby enter the mirror dimension glimpsed at in Evil Dead 2 to discover the true origins of both the demon-summoning Necronomicon and the cult surrounding it. A meeting with H.P. Lovecraft may also be on deck, along with other narratives that would carry the license through the end of the publisher’s current agreement with StudioCanal in late 2019.

Still to be decided: whether Ash will ever encounter the werewolves of The Howling, Space Goat’s latest horror license. “Those conversations have occurred,” Bury says. “It would be a natural. But it’s also challenging because the royalties [for the licenses] double.” 

Digital versions of The Art of Evil Dead 2 and the Evil Dead Omnibus will be available to backers pledging $20 beginning in December. Softcover, hardcover, and Necronomicon slipcase editions ($30 and up) ship in May 2018. The Kickstarter runs through November 25.

Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
How Superman Helped Foil the KKK
Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images

The Klansmen were furious.

Dozens of them had congregated in a nondescript room in Atlanta, shaking cloaked heads at the worrisome news that their sect leader had just shared: An act of gross subterfuge had transpired over the airwaves. Millions of Americans had now become privy to their policies, their rankings, their closely guarded methods of organized hatred.

All of it fodder for some comic book radio show. Their mission had been compromised, sacrificed at the altar of popular culture. Kids, one Klansman sighed. His kids were in the streets playing Superman vs. the Klan. Some of them tied red towels around their necks; others pranced around in white sheets. Their struggle for racial purity had been reduced to a recess role play.

Stetson Kennedy listened, doing his best to give off irate body language. He scowled. He nodded. He railed.

The covert activist waited patiently for the Klan to settle down. When they did, he would call radio journalists Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson, offering the results of his infiltration into the group for public consumption.

He’d also contact Robert Maxwell, producer of the Superman radio serial. Maxwell, eager to aid the humanitarian mission of the Anti-Defamation League, would promptly insert the leaked information into his show’s scripts. In between fisticuffs, his cast would mock the KKK’s infrastructure, and the group’s loathsome attitudes would be rendered impotent by the juvenilia.

The Klan roared, demanding revenge on their traitor. “Show me the rat,” their leader said, “and I’ll show you some action.”

Kennedy cheered, just as they all did.

And when he returned home, his Klan robe would be traded for a cape.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Kennedy, born in 1916, was an unlikely undercover operative. After a back injury kept him out of World War II, the Jacksonville, Florida native decided he wanted to combat anti-American forces on the home front. With Klan members alleged to have assaulted his family’s black maid when he was a child, the Klan—once again gathering steam in an era of segregation and racial divisiveness—was a favored target.

Having convinced a “Klavern” in Atlanta, Georgia that he shared their bigoted views, Kennedy donned the ominous attire of a Klansman, attended cross burnings, and covertly collected information about the group that he would then share with law enforcement and media. Radio journalist Drew Pearson would read the names and minutes of their meetings on air, exposing their guarded dialogues.

Revealing their closed-door sessions was a blow—one that Kennedy didn’t necessarily have to confine to nonfiction. In 1946, Maxwell, who produced the Superman radio serial broadcast around the country, embraced Kennedy’s idea to contribute to a narrative that had Superman scolding the racial divisiveness of the Klan and airing their dirty laundry to an enraptured audience.

“The law offices, state, county, FBI, House Un-American Activities Committee, they were all sympathetic with the Klan,” Kennedy said later. “The lawmen were, ideologically at least, close with the Klansmen. The court of public opinion was all that was left.”

Ostensibly aimed at children, Superman’s daily radio dramas were often broadcast to assembled nuclear families; one phone poll showed that 35 percent of its audience was composed of adults.

But regardless of whether parents listened, the activist believed the younger demographic was worth attending to. “Even back in the ’40s, they had kids in the Klan, little girls dressed up in Klan robes at the cross burnings," Kennedy said. "I have photos of an infant in a cradle with a complete Klan robe on. It seemed like a good place to do some educating.” 

In “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” a 16-part serial airing in June and July of 1946, Superman opposes an organized group of hatemongers who target one of Jimmy Olsen’s friends. Exploring their network, Clark Kent uncovers their secret meetings and policies before his alter ego socks the “Grand Scorpion” in the jaw. The idea, Kennedy wrote in his account of his work, The Klan Unmasked, was to made a mockery of their overblown vernacular.

When traveling, for example, Klansmen might identify one another by asking if they “knew Mr. Ayak,” an acronym for “Are You a Klansman?” Although Kennedy may not have actually shared their code words on air—a longstanding myth that was debunked in Rick Bowers’s 2012 book, Superman vs. the KKK—their histrionics were perfect for dramatization in the breathless structure of a radio drama. Given shape by actors and sound effects, all the clubhouse tropes of the Klan seemed exceedingly silly.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As Kennedy continued to serve up Klan secrets to Superman, he watched as Klan morale dipped and membership enrollment ebbed. Desperate, the Klan tried calling for a boycott of Kellogg’s, a new sponsor of the show, but racial intolerance was no match for the appetites of post-World War II homes. Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes remained breakfast table staples, and Superman’s battles with the close-minded continued. Emboldened by his success against the Klan, Superman took aim at Communism, a favorite target of the show’s anti-Red star, Bud Collyer.

Kennedy would go on to burden the Klan using proof of uncollected tax liens, and eventually convinced the state of Georgia to revoke their national corporate charter.

Kennedy died in 2011 at the age of 94. While some of his accounts of subterfuge in the Klan later came under fire for being embellished, his bravery in swimming with the sharks of the organization is undeniable. So, too, was his wisdom in utilizing American iconography to suffocate prejudice. Fictional or not, Superman may have done more to stifle the Klan’s postwar momentum than many real people who merely stood by and watched.

Portions of this article were excerpted from Superman vs. Hollywood: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors, and Warring Writers Grounded an American Icon by Jake Rossen with permission from Chicago Review Press. Copyright (c) 2008. All Rights Reserved.


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