A chat with Joe Desris, co-writer of Batman: A Celebration of the Classic TV Series.
When Batman: A Celebration of the Classic TV Series came out a few weeks back, I kvelled. This is the coffee-table book that fans deserved after decades of waiting for this second wave of ’66 Batmania.
I wrote three pieces on it, including a video review, and the links are below. But I did have some questions about how they were able to acquire some things — like the brilliant Leslie Thomas concept art — and why certain things were left out, like coverage of the movie, which I surmised was largely due to separate rights issues.
I’m sure you have questions, too. So, below is an interview with Joe Desris, who co-wrote the book with Bob Garcia. I’ve edited it for clarity because this came together through a series of emails.
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For starters, Joe contacted me in response to the first review I wrote, which you should check out here:
Joe: Hi, Dan. Here are some details regarding some points you brought up:
— Bob and I submitted substantially more than Titan Books asked for in words and pictures, and things had to be trimmed and cut to fit everything into one book.
— You mentioned all the licensing generated by Batman’s popularity. I blocked out and wrote about 10 pages covering merchandising directly related to the series (for example: record albums and Topps’ 4th and 5th series gum cards), but there just was no room. Of course, the topic of all the 1966 Batman licensing probably deserves its own 256-page book.
— The episode guide was indeed brief, as you observed. It was written by me and brevity was intentional since I didn’t want to give away cliffhangers. Not everybody knows what Rosebud is, or perhaps even who is Luke’s father and I feel it’s more respectful to those seeing episodes for the first time to not have everything clearly defined.
— If Batcopter coverage was reduced, it was so we could do more about the Batmobile. … But in addition, the copter had a significant role in the movie, while on TV it was mentioned in passing during Episode 32, and then appeared in, as I recall, five episodes during seasons 2 and 3. (Bob Garcia added, via Joe: “The real reason the coverage was slight, was that most of what we had on the copter pertained to the movie, and never got in.”
— Those “Holy –“ phrases: Robin wasn’t the only one who uttered Holy whatever. There are just over 400, plus repeats. Since I never encountered a complete list over the years, I decided to build one for this book, copying nobody else, starting from scratch, even searching scripts to verify spellings when the soundtrack was a tad garbled. Plus: you even get those in the screen test, the presentation of Batgirl and the movie. And let me be the first to point out to the world that Holy Mesmerism! is actually from episode 55, not 89.
— Regarding movie coverage, (separate) rights are part of the picture as you surmise, but 15 pages covering the movie would have meant 15 fewer pages covering the TV show. Since the focus of the book was the series, we glossed over the movie.
And here are some follow-up questions I had:
Dan: What was the best find for you in doing this book? Y’know, the biggest score?
Joe: No single piece, but I think the 1965 memos and correspondence were things I found fascinating. Those documents came from several sources but all were immensely helpful in working out the history and early progression of events. Having recorded interviews we did with folks back in 1992-93 for the Cinefantastique magazine project also proved incredibly valuable; many of those people are now deceased and it was akin to having a time machine available when we needed quotes and details.
Dan: How did you collect all the documents and photos? How did you get your hands on the Leslie Thomas and Pat Barto illustrations?
Joe: I already had some material and we supplemented with things from the Dozier archives, Fox and several private collections. We ultimately assembled an archive with about 9,000 documents and 10,000 images. Probably more. I stopped counting.
As far as Leslie Thomas, I bought a batch of set paintings decades ago directly from Leslie Thomas’ son. A few turned out to be from Dozier’s Dick Tracy pilot and there were a few from the Batman feature, but most were from the TV series. At the time, there was only a handful that I was aware of, probably no more than 10, that existed in private hands, so they were not common. I suspect most went in the trash after the series ended, except for what Leslie kept or perhaps gave away.
I believe Bob located a painting of the Batcave hanging in Dozier’s home and that was used in Cinefantastique. The Barto Batgirl was an image (not Barto’s actual original) in Dozier’s archives with awful color, but we got a hi-res scan and I made a few tweaks in Photoshop and brought it back to life.
Dan: What’s your favorite photo or illustration in the book?
Joe: Don’t have just one. I ended up with numerous faves. Generally, I prefer behind-the-scenes images with crew, cameras, ceilings, chalk marks, clapboards, cranes, extension cords and all the stuff you don’t see on screen.
Dan: What was the most surprising thing you learned?
Joe: That William Dozier flew to ABC’s New York offices in December 1967 and attempted to convince the network of doing a fourth season. Nobody has ever written about that and we had no idea it had occurred. There was nothing hinting at such a trip anywhere in the Dozier archives. The info came from an unexpected batch of Fox memos we were able to access. Dozier obviously was committed and wanted the show to evolve and continue; he did not just give up and make an appearance in the final episode.
Dan: Was there anything you wanted to do more of?
Joe: Have the publisher double the book’s page count!
Dan: Besides rights issues, can you clarify why the movie got such little coverage?
Joe: Bob and I originally had at least one chapter devoted to the movie, and I selected quite a few photos from it as well, but Titan and Warner Bros. wanted/required more regarding the TV show. Rights issues are overwhelming, overshadowing, all encompassing, more powerful than a locomotive and superhuman. I think what did get in was a safe amount from a “fair use” standpoint.
Dan: OK, so what’s your favorite episode?
Joe: My favorite Batman villain from any medium or time period is Joker. However my favorite TV episode was False Face. Constantly outwitting and eluding Batman, even to the end. Seems to me that False Face had enormous potential but somehow just did not click with the folks who made decisions.
Batman: A Celebration of the Classic TV Series, from Titan Books, carries a list price of $50, but you know the drill: Shop around.