13 QUICK THOUGHTS: The Greatness of FRANK GORSHIN’s RIDDLER

A BIRTHDAY TRIBUTE: Riddle me this…!

UPDATED 4/5/22: This first ran in 2018 but it’s as timeless now as it was then. Enjoy! — Dan

The late, great Frank Gorshin was born April 5, 1933 — 89 years ago.

To this day, his performance as the Riddler remains one of the very brightest highlights of Batman ’66.

Here are 13 QUICK THOUGHTS on why Gorshin, who died in 2005, was so great:

1. That laugh. That maniacal, sinister laugh. Few could match it. None have surpassed it.

2. Growing up, his Riddler episodes were like special occasions, in the same way Batgirl episodes or Julie Newmar Catwoman episodes were. Gorshin was tuned to that special frequency that mesmerized kids.

3. I like the jacket-and-tie look…

4. … but I still prefer the jumpsuit:

5. Gorshin was nominated for an Emmy in the best supporting actor in a comedy category. He was up against Werner Klemperer from Hogan’s Heroes; Don Knotts from The Andy Griffith Show; and, Morey Amsterdam from The Dick Van Dyke Show. Who won? Answer below.

6. In those childhood years, my love for the Riddler translated to comics too. Eventually, I came to understand that it was the Joker who was Batman’s Big Bad, but these remain some of my all-time favorite issues:

7. Same went for Megos. The funny thing is that when I did voices, my Mego Riddler sounded like Ted Knight’s Filmation version. But then Knight was just doing a riff on Gorshin. So go figure.

8. This:

9. Sure, Ring Around the Riddler is a soft episode, but I still think it’s a hoot to see Batman and the Riddler in the ring, going toe to toe.

10. Don Knotts won that Emmy, by the way. I suppose it’s hard to argue. He was pretty damn funny on Andy Griffith. (But he was no Gorshin!)

11. Like several of his castmates, Gorshin came to define his character for generations — and his portrayal is still the best version of the Riddler in any medium, whether it’s movies, TV, animation or, yes, comics. I’m a fan of DC’s contemporary comics, but nobody’s written a decent Riddler in a long, long time. All of Gorshin’s manic kineticism has been stripped away because, I think, editors don’t want him to seem like Joker Lite. But if Gorshin made it work then, it’ll work now.

12. When I was Young Dan, the Riddler was it. Batman’s baddest adversary. But in the subsequent decades, I’ve come to better appreciate Cesar Romero’s Joker and, to an even greater extent, Burgess Meredith’s Penguin. And Newmar’s Catwoman was another animal entirely. So it’s hard for me to say now whether Gorshin’s Riddler still tops them all…

13. … though that kid in me whispers in my ear, “Yeah. He was the best.”

MORE

— Dig This UP-CLOSE LOOK at an Original RIDDLER Costume. Click here.

— 13 QUICK THOUGHTS: Why the RIDDLER Was the Perfect Childhood Villain. Click here.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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14 Comments

  1. Great post! Mr. Gorshin elevated The Riddler to A-level status. I never knew the character was a comic book B-level. The Riddler was my favorite rogue because of Gorshin.

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    • Excellent point. The Riddler was a minor villain until Gorshin portrayed him. The Joker, Penguin, and Catwoman were all major league villains (although Catwoman had disappeared after 1954 due to the Comics Code, only to be revitalized by the TV series)

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  2. The issue 179 was I think the first real silver age comic I ever saw. The concept of old comics setting around for us to find opened my eyes as a 7 or 8 year old. And, the latter issue of the 3 you posted, to this day I still use the riddle that went along with the cover scene. Great memories.

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  3. I think we can all agree that Mr. Gorshin elevated The Riddler from a “B” to an “A” rogue. Even though The Joker is Batman’s Number One, Prime adversary. I’ve always thought The Riddler and The Batman were a match of wits. I really like the final segment of “Hush” where Batman confronts Edward in his cell.

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  4. My favorite Batman ’66 villain was and still is Burgess Meredith’s Penguin. To me, no one has done the character as well. But I feel the same way about Frank Gorshin as the Riddler – no one has done the character better. I love John Astin’s take (far better the Jim Carrey’s way overblown version) but Gomez was no Frank. While I loved “Gorham”, those were neophyte versions of the Rogues Gallery at best.

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  5. Frank Gorshin was a great Riddler and he definitely elevated the character. In addition to the maniac laugh I love the measured funny but psycho way his Riddler used to speak.

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  6. I think he was my favorite male villain on the show. I bet we never thought of that laugh reading the comics before the show. It was great to see him in Return to the Batcave for that final encore. He started the series and ended it to.

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  7. Like a lot of people, the Riddler was my favourite villain. My first Batbook was #317 and I was five – I saw the Riddler on the cover (I’d already started watching the Adam West show on Saturday mornings) and asked my mum for it; the princely sum of 15 UK pence!

    Frank Gorshin was THE Riddler (gutted I never met him at a con) but I can understand the Animated Series going with that different, supercilious take on him. After seeing that incarnation, I envisioned a pre-scandal Kevin Spacey as the Prince of Puzzlers.

    Also like a lot of people, I’ve never seen the Riddler’s debut in colour – I’m a 30s to the 70s kid – and I’d still like to see the Riddler’s other Golden Age appearance – #142, IIRC?

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  8. Most people don’t realize that Gorshin’s Riddler was an over-the-top impression of Richard Widmark’s character Tommy Udo, from the 1947 noir film “Kiss of Death”. Funny and yet at the same time very chilling.

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    • I had never put two and two together, but it makes sense for such a talented impressionist to do that for one of his acting gigs if it fit.

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  9. The Riddler is my favorite Batman villain, and I saw him first as portrayed by Gorshin. Is Patrick Broderick the great artist who drew “Batman: Year Three” and early issues of Firestorm?

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