If you’re reading this, you can thank (or blame) Adam West.
(UPDATED 9/19/15: This story was one of the first I wrote for 13th Dimension. Getting to interview Adam West that early on was extraordinarily fortuitous timing. Since then, I’ve spent the better part of two years writing about Batman ’66 from just about every angle. I’ll continue to do so until my fingers fall off. But today being Adam West’s birthday, I wanted to bring this one back to the surface. Parts of it are dated, obviously, but so much of it remains fresh. If you’ve never read it, enjoy! If you’ve read it before, enjoy it again!)
Without Adam West, I don’t discover Mego action figures.
Without Adam West, I don’t discover Filmation’s Batman cartoons.
Without Adam West, I don’t fall in love with comics and comics culture so deeply and so profoundly that I throw caution to the wind and start hollering about them from the rooftops of the Internet with this here website.
I can’t tell you when I first saw “Batman” but I know it was on Channel 11, a local New York station, and I was probably all of 4 years old, or maybe, just maybe, 5. It was on every day after kindergarten and I refused to miss it.
Why? The action? The bright colors? Maybe. It’s difficult to say. It may have been as simple as that.
Or maybe I was just a young boy whose parents were going through a loud divorce and I needed a refuge, a place where the line between right and wrong was clearly marked, and the good guys always won and they always got along.
Paging Commissioner Freud!
I could go on but I won’t. In my fairly short time as a bona fide comics commentator (still waiting for that correspondence course diploma!), I’ve had the great opportunity already to interview Burt Ward and Julie Newmar. I’ve visited the Batcopter. I’ve collected the action figures.
Now, finally, comes the bucket-list interview to end all bucket-list interviews for Li’l Dan Greenfield: Adam West.
I spoke to Mr. West (honorific added because, you know, I can’t not) as part of the press coverage of PBS’s “Superheroes” program. He was in the documentary briefly (though memorably, reading latter-day, grim-and-gritty Batman comics text) but I was afforded the opportunity to chat with him on the phone from his Idaho home (“Right now, I am sitting in my back garden out in Idaho, the stream going by and I can see the mountains,” he said).
He talked about a lot about his life in Gotham. He talked about Ben Affleck. Most importantly, he talked about the chances of “Batman” finally making its way to home video after all these years.
It was, it turned out, his 85th birthday – a birthday he just happens to share with my mother — he actually suggested they go out and dance the Batusi together.
I would have paid good money to see that.
The show has come and gone 45 years now and you can argue that it’s as popular as it’s ever been. What do you make of the enduring legacy of that TV show?
Adam West: You know it’s hard for me to answer why. I think it’s because, in a way, and I’ll make it very simplistic really, we appealed to all ages. In other words, it was tongue-in-cheek, and it was a parody, an homage, if you will, to the comic books. And we did it on levels that would entertain the kids and … the adults around them, they would laugh themselves silly.
How gratifying is it now to have come as far as you have come? You now have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Oh, I’ve got stars on sidewalks everywhere. … But, look seriously, I am so gratified and happy about it, in that I struggled for years with Batman because I was so nailed to it. And then I said, “Hey, people love it, I’m going to love it.” And that started a whole different direction for me. And I feel that I’m just very fortunate because how many guys, how many actors my age, get a chance to create a character that becomes iconic?
That’s very true. Now what do you make of Ben Affleck?
… And they’re still paying me!
Are they really?!
Yes. A lot of people. Do you wanna borrow 20?
No, that’s OK (laughing).
Have you ever accepted a bribe?
No. I’ve never accepted a bribe (still laughing).
Anyway, what do I think of Ben Affleck? Well, lemme tell ya. I feel that if he shaves his beard, it might work. Or he can use it in a couple of scenes if he’s down and out, and a ne’er-do-well, whatever’s happened to him. But, you know, for 20-mill, he can shave his beard.
(Laughing again). Now are you interested in being in the next movie or have you talked to anyone about that or is it not something you’re considering?
Can I tell you something? I keep hearing that I’m going to be (but) nobody’s contacted me.
They don’t understand that if I play Batman’s father, and one terrible evening, when Batman, Bruce Wayne himself — the young one — is desperate, and the thunder’s crashing, the lightning, I come in through the library window, which kind of springs open in the storm and I say, “Bruce, I’m your father. And at one time I was Batman. I want you to look in that volume over there.” You know what I’m saying?
People would stand up and cheer. But that’s just, you know, a cock-eyed idea of mine.
That’s a wonderful idea. Now, has there been any movement on getting the show released on video?
Yes, and I understand that they have been talking about it for about 55 years, and I don’t know, maybe it’s just a matter of legality, you know to clear, writers, musicians, actors and so on, and how do we slice up the pie?
Anything imminent or is it still far, far away?
No, I think it’s relatively imminent. Yeah, I think it’s going to come soon. And I have been asked about this by the fans for years.
Have you recorded an audio track?
I have recorded something that could be used and also I think if they don’t get busy with this, then (there will continue to be knock-offs). I get letters from fans who have bought the entire video series.
With all the new merchandising related to the show, what’s it like to have an action figure who looks just like you?
Well, at the moment I have to say that it’s a little embarrassing that I’m sitting here undressing and dressing me. (Laughter)… You know, the truth is, Mattel and the others, and Warner Brothers’ merchandising, they’re doing so many things now with the classic Batman. Which is nice, it makes me feel kind of warm and fuzzy in a way. Because finally we’re getting the recognition that many people think we deserve.
Do you have a favorite memory of doing the show or is it all just a blur now?
No, it’s not a blur. It reoccurs because people prod me about it occasionally and a lot of good things are fun to remember. For example, you said you interviewed Burt Ward. When Burt and I worked together as a young man his enthusiasm about what we were doing in the show really translated through the character. And I remember funny things: Batman and Robin running out of a taco shop or somewhere chasing one of the heinous villains and Batman stops before the parking meter and says, “Oops, we have to put a quarter in the meter.” You see, there were so many things like that … they were little moralities, ethics for the kids. But they were really theater of the absurd for the adults.
Do you ever have contact with anybody else from the show?
Yes, occasionally I’ll email Julie or she’ll email me and she’s got a lovely little book out. And Burt, I’ll see him at some of the comic cons and then the moment Burt and I get together, no matter how different our lifestyles are or whatever, the moment we get together on stage, the chemistry is back. It becomes like Batman and Robin, Bruce and Dick again.
Tell be about your involvement and how you got involved with the documentary.
They just called and I thought it was a wonderful project. And I’m kind of narrating and being part of it, and this and that. But you know for people to really examine this incredible thing that happened with our Batman and what it started, I think it’s worthwhile, that’s all. And then it goes on and of course it expands into the entire comic book and superhero genre.
When was the last time you saw one of the episodes of the show?
Well, I was in a hotel room, I believe, in Hong Kong. And they turned on the television and there I was. And I speak amazing Chinese! But Batman speaking in Chinese has a very high voice. And Robin has a very low voice. It’s a strange, strange place.
Anything else you wanted to say about your time in the mask?
You know as tiring and as difficult as it was from time to time and all the stunts and running around and the itchy tights and the cape that caught occasionally … through all of that, it was a great, great experience. We had so many wonderful guest stars that just getting to know them and work with them and the challenge of it, to me, it was a terrific thing for a younger actor. … And they sent me a check. Very sizable for the time.
And that’s why I can sit on this mountain in Idaho.
NEXT TUESDAY IN THE GOTHAM TRIBUNE: An ode to Arkham.
ON THURSDAY IN THE GOTHAM TRIBUNE – NEAL ADAMS INTERVIEWS: Adams talks about a Super cover.