I’m Sorry VICTOR BUONO, I Was Wrong About You

A (very) posthumous birthday salute.

UPDATED 2/3/21: This first ran in 2018. I wouldn’t change a word. — Dan

My love of the Batman TV show is deep and abiding, just as it was when I was a child.

Of course, it’s a different kind of love. As a kid, the show was an immersive experience, a source of adventure and whiz-bang action. It’s still those things, but now it’s all tinged with a certain nostalgia, knowingness — and appreciation for campy kitsch.

As I’ve rewatched the show over the last several years, and written extensively about it, I’m repeatedly struck by how my tastes have changed since I watched it on Channel 11 after school in the 1970s.

There are things I loved then and roll my eyes at now, and things I could barely tolerate then that I have come to realize were some of the greatest parts of the show.

One of the best examples? Victor Buono’s King Tut.

When I was a boy, I watched his episodes with a bit of a set jaw, annoyed by his high-pitched declarations and broad displays of criminal haplessness. It was still Batman, so I watched, but it wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience. Bring me more Riddler, I’d think. Enough with this guy.

Oh, how wrong I was.

For starters, those bombastic pronouncements that put my teeth on edge when I was, oh, 8 years old, now make me laugh out loud — especially when set against his W.C. Fields-like sarcastic asides. Buono didn’t just walk through scenes; he thundered through them.

Then there are the outfits — all bright reds, golds, blues and purples — a cacophony of faux Egyptian grooviness heaped on a larger-than-life frame. Whether he’s calling for Robin to be boiled in oil or bursting triumphantly into the Batcave, Buono’s robust physicality commands your attention: King Tut will not be ignored.

Oh, and let’s not forget that he set the stage for a Batusi even better than the one in the show’s premiere:

It’s remarkable to me that Buono was only 28 when he joined the show. He looked — and behaved — like a much older performer. It’s tragic that he only lived to 43. He was born Feb. 3, 1938 — he would have been 80. (For Lee Meriwether’s wistful recollections of working with him in Season 2, click here.)

I’m often reminded of all that when I watch the show now, but at the same time, I can’t help but get swept up in the boisterousness of his tour de force performance, a masterpiece of chaotic control.

Because, in the end, Victor Buono’s magnificently magnetic portrayal was one of the absolute highlights of Batman.

It just took me 40 years or so to figure that out.

MORE

LEE MERIWETHER on the Sadness of VICTOR BUONO. Click here.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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9 Comments

  1. Bravo Dan. Tut was my favorite non-comic book villain in the series.If Buono is channeling WC Fields, then Edward G Robinson’s Dathan channeling one of his gangster roles, particularly with statements like: “Where’s your Moses now?”.

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  2. Victor may have looked older than his age, but he also acted with more abilabilities than professionals with far greater experience. He was, indeed, a treasure to all.

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  3. Here, here! I started watching BATMAN back in the 60s, and King Tut was ALWAYS my favorite non-comics villain. He was insane, he had a fantastic gimmick/theme, and, more than anyone else the Dynamic Duo fought, he actually had an overarching vision. He wasn’t about robbing banks or jewelry stores. He saw himself as a conqueror with a kingdom to reclaim! If Buono was grandiose, well, the character demanded it! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I feel the need to rewatch one of his episodes coming on….

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  4. I remember him showing up on the show Taxi. I’m like, “That’s King Tut!” A great talent for sure.

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  5. Did you know he was a published poet? I was watching a 70s late night show wheere he performed several of his hilarious poems. Who knew!

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  6. I kind of had a similar reaction as an adult. As a kid, I lumped all the non-comic book villains on the show as “lesser.” Frankly, it mystified how the likes of Marsha, Queen of Diamonds or Louie the Lilac made it over Two-Face, Scarecrow or Poison Ivy. Even Tweedledum & Tweedledee would have been an improvement. But when I watched the show as an adult years later, I was struck by the sheer comic genius of Victor Buono. He was right up there with Romero, Meredith, Gorshin and Price.

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  7. I think you put a great article together that even made me think of why I disliked his portrayal of King Tut. I think you stated very well why his performance was good to you. It did make me think about it. For me, when I saw it originally aired his acting did not match the character. To me he played a poor Jay Robinson playing Julius Ceasar. The acting was too close to his portrayal of Ceasar. Then and now I have not enjoyed the King Tut episodes.

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  1. LEE MERIWETHER on the Sadness of VICTOR BUONO | 13th Dimension, Comics, Creators, Culture - […] bittersweet recollections of working with Buono on Batman. For more on Buono’s King Tut, click here. — […]

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