The LEE MERIWETHER INTERVIEWS: The actress recounts how she got the Catwoman gig — and what it was like being part of the Fearsome Foursome.
In this installment, the gracious Lee Meriwether talks about how she got the Catwoman gig to begin with, how rewarding it was to work with her fellow villains — and what she learned.
NOTE: Parts of the interview are edited and condensed for clarity.
Dan Greenfield: For readers who are unaware, how did you end up with the role? Of course, Julie Newmar played Catwoman in the first season and the film was in between the first and second seasons…
Lee Meriwether: Well, Julie got a film job long before they were doing the movie and so she was already ensconced in that and couldn’t get out of it. So they had women reading for the part and I read for the part. And luckily I got it.
Dan: What do think it was that sold them on bringing you on?
Lee: Well, luckily I grew up with cats. I love cats, and so I sat in a chair — it was wonderful that they gave me a rather big armchair, so that I could kind of snuggle up. And I started kneading my knees and licking my hands (laughs), brushing my face and everything while I was talking to them and reading the part.
I’ve been lucky in that I can pretty much fake most accents (from) playing them in different plays and all that, so that it was relatively easy to do Kitka — Kitanya Irenya Tatanya Kerenska Alisoff.
Dan (laughs): That’s great that you even remember that off the top of your head. I don’t even think I could remember the whole name.
Lee: It took me 15 minutes to learn it on set. They changed the (shooting) sequence. And all of a sudden they were doing a scene that I hadn’t really worked on. And there it was, it’s when I say that name and I said, “Oh, please give me 10 minutes, please can I have 10 minutes?” And they said, “Sure, go.” And so in 10 minutes I learned “Kitanya Irenya Tatanya Kerenska Alisoff.” Every once in awhile it comes back to me again.
Dan: What else do you remember about being on the set of the movie?
Lee: I just loved working. I think I’m the luckiest Catwoman ever because I got to work with Burgess Meredith, Cesar Romero and Frank Gorshin. And Adam and Burt, of course. But, those three gave me so much in how they comported themselves around the set. How they came prepared. How they would work on bits.
For example, Burgess, when we were in the submarine, he had his ever-present cigarette holder and the cigarette hanging from his mouth. And I watched him, and he’s off in the corner (mimes Meredith’s Penguin growl practicing the line): “Run silent. Run deep.” And he’s trying to get the holder to fall on “deep,” but not lose it out of his mouth.
And he’s doing it (repeatedly) and I watch and I thought that is dedication. That is dedication.
And then Cesar Romero worked any number of times with his buzzers that make sparks and things like that. And he was trying to figure out how he was going to do it too. He worked out (the gag). And I thought, “Oh, this is wonderful.” I’m being schooled in technique.
Dan: When was the last time you actually saw the movie?
Lee: Just a very short time ago, here in Los Angeles, they played it as part of a film festival here and Adam and I were interviewed afterwards. It was fun. It was really great.
Dan: What do you think of it now, 50-plus years later?
Lee: I still laugh at it. I mean I still have great memories of it and thinking about Burgess and Cesar and Frank gone now, and it was a joy to see them yet again just really there and having fun and all those wonderful memories. I count myself as being very fortunate to have had that experience. I really do.
NEXT: Meriwether returns to Batman — but not as Catwoman.