all those who have donned the cape as Batman, none fit the role so
well as Adam West. But what seemed like a blessing came to be a
stranglehold, for he became so identified with the character that he
ended up being horribly typecast, even though the show only lasted
two and a half seasons.
died on June 9 in Los Angeles at the age of 88. The cause was
attributed to leukemia.
was born William West Anderson on Sept. 19, 1928, in Walla Walla,
Washington. His father, Otto, was a wheat farmer; his mother,
Audrey, nee Speer,
was a pianist and opera singer. He moved to Seattle when he was
15 with his mother after his parents' divorced and his mother
from Whitman College in Walla Walla with a major in English
Literature, West served in the Army, where he worked as an announcer
on American Forces Network television. Later he worked as the station
manager at Stanford while a graduate student.
moved to Hawaii on the advice of a friend, where he co-hosted a
two-hour live variety weekday show called The Kini Popo Show,
One co-star was a diaper-wearing chimp named Peaches. While in Hawaii
he got a bit part in the Boris Karloff B-horror, Voodoo
1959, West moved with his wife and two children to Hollywood,where
he took the stage name Adam West. In his autobiography, Back
to the Batcave, he explains he chose "Adam" simply
because he liked the way it looked and sounded with “West,"
his middle name.
landed a contract at Warner Bros., paying him a grand sum of $150 a
week. He spent his time there as a guest star in such fare as the TV
series Colt 45, Bronco, Lawman, Maverick, Hawaiian
Eye, 77 Sunset Strip, Cheyenne, etc.
He also appeared in two Warner Bros. movies (both in 1959): The
Young Philadelphians (as Bill Lawrence) and The
F.B.I. Story (uncredited).
years of this sort of knocking around he split from Warner Bros. and
got a break when he was cast as Detective Sgt. Steve Nelson on Robert
Taylor’s ABC/NBC series The Detectives (1959-62),
joining the cast when the show expanded to one hour in color.
Detectives was canceled, West appeared in such
forgettable film fare as Geronimo (1962) starring
Chuck Connors, Tammy and the Doctor (1963) with
Sandra Dee, The Three Stooges film The Outlaws Is
Coming (1965), and Mara of the Wilderness (1965),
in which he had the lead with Lori Saunders (Bobbie Jo Bradley
on Petticoat Junction). He also traveled to Italy to star
in a spaghetti western called The Relentless Four (1965).
in the United States, his fortunes were about to change. Producer
William Dozier spotted him in a commercial for Nestle’s Quik,
playing Captain Quik, a James Bond-type character with a sailor’s
cap. West returned to the States, where he read the pilot script
for Batman and signed a contract on the spot, asking
only that he be allowed to approve who would play his sidekick. He
selected Burt Ward, who had a brown belt in karate, but no acting
which premiered on ABC in 1966, was based on the popular comic book
character created in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. He was the
crime-fighting alias of Bruce Wayne, a bachelor millionaire in Gotham
City, and was soon joined by a young sidekick, Robin the Boy Wonder,
aka Dick Grayson, Bruce Wayne’s ward.
show was an immediate hit, quickly spawning such imitators as Mr.
Terrific (CBS), Captain Nice (NBC) and even
a Broadway musical titled It's a Bird...It’s a Plane...It's
Superman. When West appeared in costume on the cover
of Life magazine, it marked the highest tribute to
national popularity at the time.
series, filmed in color in an era of black-and-white, featured a
revolving cast of villains headed by the Riddler (Frank Gorshin),
Joker (Cesar Romero), Penguin (Burgess Meredith) and Catwoman (Julie
Newmar). As the show ran on, new guest villains were added. It aired
twice a week; the opening episode, a cliffhanger episode, played
Wednesday nights, with the cliffhanger resolved the next night. “Same
Bat-time! Same Bat-channel!” the narrator intoned. It was
originally planned as an hour-long show, but ABC split it up when it
found it had two time slots available on its primetime schedule. The
ratings attested to its popularity: the Thursday installment was No.
5 in the Nielsen ratings for the 1965-66 season, and the Wednesday
edition was No. 10.
for the Emmy Award for outstanding comedy series in its first year,
it lost to CBS’ The Dick Van Dyke Show. To take
advantage of its burgeoning popularity, 20th Century Fox commissioned
a movie, directed by Leslie H. Martinson. Rushed into production, it
played in theaters during the summer before season two kicked off in
made Batman so appealing was that it was a comedy disguised as a
drama; it was essentially played as a farce. The show’s
brightly-colored costumes and sets, along with off-kilter camera
angles, superimposed ear-popping dialogue balloons for fight-scene
sound effects, and the wealth of irresistibly wacky gadgets that
would get them out of any situation were among the elements that
would later lead it to be seen as high camp. Winks, nods and double
entendre jokes are strewn throughout, but are played straight. Even
its theme song, one that only offered a single word repeated by a
chorus, was itself campy.
to all this was a Batman who was extremely clean-cut, a
milk-drinking, wholesome-living model citizen who might exclaim “Darn
it!” at times of extreme stress. West underplayed his part, leaving
the histrionics to Robin, and leaving the villains to supply most of
an interview conducted almost 40 years after the end of the TV show
for an article in The Independent of London, West
said that he played Batman “for laughs, but in order to do [that],
one had to never think it was funny. You just had to pull on that
cowl and believe that no one would recognize you.” He continued,
“What I loved about Batman was his total lack of awareness when it
came to his interaction with the outside world. He actually believed
nobody would recognize him on the phone when he was Bruce Wayne, even
though he made no attempt to disguise his voice.”
1968, however, the allure wore off, and the show began to tank in the
ratings. Batman – despite adding Yvonne Craig as
Batgirl in order to boost ratings – was canceled in March 1968
after 120 episodes.
West found himself unemployed with no prospects in sight. As Robin
might have said, “Holy typecasting, Batman!” For a time, he made
a living doing personal appearances as Batman, including an
appearance in the Memphis, Tennessee-based wrestling territory, where
he engaged in a verbal feud with Jerry “The King” Lawler while
dressed in the cowl and a track suit. As these dried up, he did the
only thing he could do under the circumstances – swallow his ego.
An actor acts.
He moved his family from the plush Pacific Palisades
to Ketchum, Idaho, and went back to the days of guest shots on
television shows interspersed with forgettable movies such as The
Marriage of a Young Stockbroker (1971), The
Specialist (1975), and The Happy Hooker Goes
Hollywood (1980). He even appeared in a softcore porn
movie, Young Lady Chatterly II (1985), starring
Harlee McBride, wife of actor/comedian Richard Belzer.
also lent his voice in such cartoons as The New Adventures of
Batman, Legends of the Superheroes, and SuperFriends:
The Legendary Super Powers Show. He also voiced Batman in an
episode of The Simpsons.His
contribution to the animated Redux Riding Hood (1997),
helped it receive an Oscar nomination for best short film.
his formidable array of guest shots, he was never able to parlay them
into another hit series, as, for instance, William Shatner, who,
after Star Trek, found stardom on T.J. Hooker and
later, Boston Legal.
fortunes took a decided turn for the better after Tim Burton’s
1989 film starring Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader revived
interest in the character. (West was considered to play the role of
Thomas Wayne, Bruce Wayne's father, though originally, he wanted to
play Batman.) Though he never appeared in any of the theatrically
released Batman franchise motion pictures, West later had a recurring
role as the voice of Mayor Grange in the WB animated series The
Batman (2004). He also voiced Batman for the CGI-animated
short film Batman: New Times (2005), co-starring
with Mark Hamill, who voiced The Joker.
it all West continued to accept guest shots, movie parts and
voice-overs. His voice-over work culminated in a long guest run
(2000-17) on the animated series Family Guy playing
Mayor Adam West, who could best be described as sadistic, corrupt,
vacant, clueless, but utterly charming. In 2014, Warner Bros.’ DVD
release of ABC’s Batman brought him back to his
old fans and made him new ones. As late as last year he appeared in
an episode of The Big Bang Theory playing himself.
Hired to appear at a private birthday party where everything goes
wrong, he utters the best line: “I still get paid, don’t I?”
his work, West received a few honors. In 1985, DC Comics honored West
in their 50th-anniversary publication Fifty Who Made DC
Great for his work on the Batman series.
And in the documentary Starring Adam West, the film ends
with him receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2012.
1994, with Jeff Rovin, West wrote his autobiography, Back to
the Batcave, which was published by Berkeley Books.
married three times: to Billie Lou Yeager (1950-56), Ngahra Frisbee
(1957-62), and Marcelle Tagand Lear in 1970, who he met when they
posed for a publicity photo at Santa Monica Airport with him in his
Batman costume. She survives him, along with their two children, Nina
and Perrin West. He is also survived by two children from his second
marriage, Jonelle and Hunter Anderson; two stepchildren; five
grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
better or worse, he remains for many the only Batman that ever
mattered, permanently associated with the part in a way that others
who played the role are not. That he came not only to realize this,
but to accept and embrace it, is illustrated by a speech he gave at
the 2014 ComicCon: “When Batman was canceled, “The
only thing I thought is that it would be the end of me, and it was
for a bit. But then I realized that what we created in the show...we
created this zany, lovable world. I look around and I see the adults
– I see you grew up with me, and you believe in the adventure. I
never believed this would happen, that I would be up here with
illustrious people like yourselves. I’m so grateful! I’m the
luckiest actor in the world, folks, to have you still hanging