PLUS: Curator Wally Wingert picks the 13 Greatest BATMAN ’66 Bad Guys…
One of the coolest parts of the Batman ’66 exhibit at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Museum is the section on the bad guys — filled with memorabilia and dead-on replicas of the villains’ wonderfully colorful costumes:
The nefarious ne’er-do-wells were an essential part of what made the show tick and they get their full due at the museum. (Click here for more info.)
With that in mind, we asked voice actor and Batman superfan Wally Wingert, the exhibit’s curator, to select his 13 favorite villains. He did, but under one condition — that they all be tied for first!
Who are we to argue?
Wally’s list is below — along with a few more shots of the villains section of the exhibit.
By WALLY WINGERT
When Dan asked me to list my 13 favorite Batman 1966 villains, it was a bit like being asked to rank your favorite children. I had become friends with a few of the actors who portrayed those villains, so it would make me feel a bit skeevy to have to place their portrayals in any sort of preferential order. I was also blessed to have voiced two classic Batman villains in the recent animated films, so there was the additional risk of being perceived as showing favoritism among those.
While it would be considerably easier for me to list my LEAST favorite villains, listing my MOST favorite villains proved to be a bigger challenge. So, for the first time ever in 13th Dimension history (I think), we have A 13-WAY TIE!! 13 of my fave villains in a 13-way tie for first place! They’re ALL my absolute, top favorites for their own special reasons.
So, in no particular order, the first villain in my 13-way tie for first is…
1. The Riddler: Frank Gorshin. Maybe it’s because he was the very first villain of the series, and the subsequent tone for the rest of the series was cemented upon the Gorshin metric. Maybe because it’s the manic, bouncing-off-the-wall energy he imbued into every line he was given. I always wondered if it was just a simple coincidence that Ritalin (a drug used to treat hyperactivity) sounds an awful lot like riddlin’! Perhaps the name of the drug was secretly bestowed upon it in honor of Frank’s electric performance as the Prince of Puzzles!
Frank’s Riddler holds a very special place in my heart. When I bought the mono soundtrack album at Woolworth’s for $1 in 1970*, it was the track from Hi Diddle Riddle that I played over and over. When I was cast to play a different Riddler in the series of Arkham games back in 2008, I would occasionally let my character’s laugh propel ever so slightly into Gorshin territory as a humble tribute (with the kind permission of voice director Collette Sunderman, of course). And when I was cast to play him in Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders, I was over the moon with joy.
All I could say was, “Huzzah! Huzzah!”
1. False Face: ?. Of course, we all know by now that the marauding master of devilish disguise was played by the surly and eminently talented Malachi Throne. While hardly ever cracking a smile in his countless appearances on television and in movies, in person he was always up for a good, hearty laugh. I have so many funny Malachi stories they can’t possibly be contained here. A kind and generous soul.
Quite simply, the character scared me. And it was a “good” scare. As a cost-cutting measure, the costumers were forced to use a series of modified translucent Halloween masks to facilitate False Face’s multiple disguises. (Prosthetics would have been too time-consuming for a television show’s shooting schedule, and much too costly for a television show’s relatively small budget!) The masks, made by the Topstone Company, were off-the-rack fare that are now forever engraved in Batfan history. While the newer versions of the mask are from the same molds, (yes, they’re still being sold today!) the quality of plastic isn’t as good as it was in the ’60s. The masks added an eerie sense of threat in an indescribable manner.
Not goofy or funny like the Riddler, Penguin or Joker, False Face conveyed a true sense of danger to the Dynamic Duo. I was disappointed the character never returned for more episodes. But I love seeing him cosplayed at conventions in any number of his murderous manifestations!
1. The Joker: Cesar Romero. Of all the villains in the series, his costume was probably my favorite. The way designer Jan Kemp juxtaposed the colors against each other (color TV was new back then!) simply blew me away. Staying away from the purple theme used for the Joker in the comics — I believe Jan thought the Joker’s purple would have conflicted too much with Batman’s color scheme — the dazzling fuchsia tuxedo and Kelly green shirt made the TV series Joker his own unique force to be reckoned with in Batman lore.
But aside from the character’s trademark wardrobe, Cesar’s portrayal of the Joker remains unsurpassed to this very day (except, perhaps, by Hamill!). He had the energy of the Riddler, but he was different; not as moody and self-absorbed. His make-up and hair were as vibrant as his characterization. I didn’t know whether to be afraid of Cesar’s Joker, or be inclined to hang out with him. Despite his felonious aspirations, he seemed like a generally fun guy to be around!
1. Catwoman: Julie Newmar. As a kid, I was intrigued by her danger, but was as yet immune to her generous helping of feline feminine wiles. (Holy mush!) When I got older and revisited the series, I was rooting for the Caped Crusader to “seal the deal” already! After all, man cannot live on crime fighting, purple leotards and buttermilk alone! Send Dick to camp for a week, give Alfred the week off, let Aunt Harriet visit relatives on the West Coast, and let’s get Wayne Manor rockin’ already!
I honestly don’t believe that I’ve ever seen Catwoman portrayed badly (Halle, who?), but she was particularly enchanting in the hands of the ever-stupefyin’ Julie Newmar!
1. The Penguin: Burgess Meredith; Since his costume wasn’t much to write home about, Burgess had to make up for the deficit almost solely in his portrayal. While other villains may have relied too heavily on their costumes to convey the character, Burgess would have still been the Penguin even if forced to wear a Snuggy. It was all attitude, facial expressions, the voice — and that quacking cackle!
Burgess was well-known for a wide variety of other monumental film and television performances (Of Mice and Men Twilight Zone, etc.). And in retrospect it’s fun to take note of how the Penguin is vastly different from Mickey Goldmill, who’s vastly different from V.C.R. Cameron, who’s vastly different from Henry Bemis. He was one of the truly gifted actors of our time, and seeing an 80-something Burgess Meredith waddle across the stage at a screening of the 1966 Batman movie in 1989 is something I’ll never forget.
1. King Tut: Victor Buono. I for one enjoyed some of the villains in the series who had no comic-book provenance. The best of the group was King Tut. Most of the more commonly known villains didn’t have dual identities to deal with; they were 100 percent villain, 100 percent of the time. But the cleverest device in his back story was that Tut would manifest when a mild-mannered professor of Egyptology named William Omaha McElroy was clonked on the head.
As wonderfully exploited in the recent animated film Batman Vs. Two-Face (is my bias showing?) McElroy had to live with the burden of a dual identity in much the same way as Batman. I loved that aspect of this villain. But as Yoda would say, “There is another.” Which leads us to…
1. Catwoman: Lee Meriwether. The 1966 feature film Catwoman gave us a glimpse into what a Selina Kyle/Catwoman dynamic might have looked like within the universe of the TV series. But instead of Selina becoming Catwoman, Catwoman became Kitka as a necessary device to gain access to people and events where Catwoman wouldn’t be privy. Kitka was a deliberate creation of Catwoman’s, unlike McElroy’s transmografication into Tut.
And don’t forget that the feature film gave us our first Batman/Catwoman kissing scene (even though they weren’t clad in the wardrobe of their costumed identities when said kissing occurred). But it sure was fun to see both the protagonist and the antagonist wrestling with the dual-identity dynamic.
Though Lee came into the role after Julie had already blazed the trail, I felt that Lee filled those black stiletto-heeled boots more than capably, and made the character her own.
1. Egghead: Vincent Price. It’s hard not to love Vincent Price, even when he’s at his most malevolent. Be it House of Wax, House on Haunted Hill, The Oblong Box or other horror classics, there’s always a sense of fun and whimsy to his evil. This is the very reason Egghead was such a perfect fit for Vincent Price… and he for it.
By the time Egghead came onto the series, the writing wasn’t quite as crisp as it had been in previous episodes. But even though some of the lines he had been assigned weren’t exactly poetry, he executed them with aplomb and Shakespearean eloquence. And who else could ride a mule with such class?
1. The Mad Hatter: David Wayne. What kid didn’t want a Super Instant Mesmerizer? It would have come in handy at school! Jack Arneson wants to beat me up after school again? ZAP! He’s mesmerized and will forget all about his Neanderthalic intentions. Miss Wolter just gave us a tough homework assignment? ZAP! She’s mesmerized and will forget all about needing a 500-word essay on the origins of geometric shapes. Susie Squire rebukes the affections of my childhood crush? ZAP! She’s mesmerized and is putty in my hands! (Maybe she and Jack secretly had something going on and that’s why he wanted to beat me up?)
How do you follow in the footsteps of Gorshin, Romero, Meredith and Newmar, and make your villain memorable in its own right? The aforementioned provided some pretty stiff competition. But David Wayne made the Hatter a force to be reckoned with in his own right. The way he chewed his dialogue and spat it out with a quasi-effeminate disdain for the Cowled Crusader was a delight to behold. And the fact that he gave the Hatter a Chicago-esque accent (I’ll get you Bee-at Mee-an) was a bonus!
1. Mr. Freeze: George Sanders. Like False Face, Sanders’ Mr. Freeze was another truly frightening villain. There was a darkness and edge to his Freeze that wasn’t present in the subsequent portrayals by Otto Preminger and Eli Wallach. In fact, Sanders’ Freeze was Adam West’s favorite villain to impersonate. “Revenge, I will have revenge! How does it feel to frrrrrrreeze to death?!” Listening to Sanders’ glorious line readings on the Batman TV soundtrack sent…ahem…chills down my spine. It was like listening to a German version of Shere Khan!
Sadly, the dark edge that fueled Sanders’ performances as a multitude of villains was all too tragically evident in his real life.
1. Catwoman: Eartha Kitt. Much like Santa Claus and Jesus, Catwoman is one of those characters that can be portrayed by a wide variety of types and ethnicities, while still maintaining the integrity of the image. And it was a stroke of pure genius to cast the silky-voiced singer as the Felonious Feline.
As a talented artist who was capable of performing vocal acrobatics, Eartha’s main contribution to the character was adding an Orbison-esque glottal roll to the word “purrrrrfect.” It’s this contribution that’s still widely acknowledged today as a common affectation of the character that people love to imitate.
The physicality of Eartha’s Catwoman shared nothing in common with her two predecessors, save for the costume. But Eartha was just as much Catwoman as Julie and Lee. If there could be two different Riddlers, three different Mr. Freezes, and two different Darrens on Bewitched, what harm is a third Catwoman? They’re all delightful! And purrrrrrfect!
1. Shame: Cliff Robertson. I actually like Cliff Robertson more than I like Shame. With a career that spanned characters like Hugh Hefner; the mentally challenged science experiment Charly; Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben; and other great roles, Cliff was one of the greats. But Shame is mostly in my Top 13 because of his excellent choice in henchmen.
Shame’s henchman Fred was played by my pal Barry Dennen, whom we lost this past year. I often commented to Barry that I wish there was a way I could download his brain. Barry was one of the few actors who was blessed to have had in-person encounters with Adam West in character as Batman, (The Great Train Robbery/The Great Escape); Lynda Carter in character as Wonder Woman, (Anschluss ’77 — where he played the resurrected Hitler!); and Christopher Reeve in character as Superman (Superman III). Plus he was in Dark Crystal and Jesus Christ Superstar. But back to Shame…
I did enjoy the fact that Shame was one of the only villains in the Batman series allowed to brandish a real firearm, though he wasn’t very good at its utilization.
1. Bookworm: Roddy McDowall. Like Cliff, I actually like Roddy more than I like Bookworm. While I felt that the Bookworm was a skosh annoying, his ultra-cool costume more than made up for his whiny affectations. But it’s hard to hate Bookworm too much, considering that at his fundamental core was the genius behind Cornelius and Caesar in most of the Planet of the Apes series, and Peter Vincent in Fright Night. (Don’t forget he performed another Batman villain — the Mad Hatter — in the animated series of the ’90s!) But Roddy will always have a soft spot in my heart because he worked with my dog’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather in Lassie Come Home.
Overall, the Batman TV series was most adept at giving us villains we loved to hate; villains who weren’t too threatening. Villains who posed danger, but weren’t all that dangerous. Though the show was called Batman, and it starred Adam West and Burt Ward, I suspect that a good majority of viewers actually tuned in because of the wide, splashy array of fantastical villains, molls and goons! I know I did!
To the Batpoles!
— Major BATMAN ’66 Museum Exhibit Opens in January. Click here.
— FIRST LOOK at the BATMAN ’66 exhibit, click here.
— The 13 GROOVIEST THINGS at the BATMAN ’66 Museum Exhibit. Click here.
— Wally Wingert Takes You Behind the Scenes With the BATMAN ’66 Exhibit. Click here.
— For the Hollywood Museum ticketing info, click here.
* This very LP is on display at the Hollywood Museum’s Holy Hollywood History: Batman ’66 exhibit!