Batman ’66 #4 comes out this week. What better time to trot out this Julie Newmar interview?
By my count, there have now been five actresses who have played Catwoman but there is only one who matters — Julie Newmar.
Before Newmar, Catwoman had been off the grid for about 12 years by the time “Batman” premiered, due to oppressive comic industry prudishness.
Then came Newmar and the two-parter “The Purr-fect Crime/Better Luck Next Time” which debuted March 16-17, 1966, well into the first season.
And, oh, good lord, did everything change after that.
Long of leg, full of bust and slinky and limber in a ridiculously tight-fitting, sparkly catsuit, Julie Newmar gave Catwoman such palpable sex appeal and allure that all who followed have really just been pretenders.
Lee Meriwether was, and is, beautiful. Eartha Kitt was exotic and menacing. Michelle Pfeiffer, loony. Anne Hathaway, credible but better as Fantine.
At over 6 feet tall in her Catwoman heels, Newmar, literally and figuratively, towers above them all.
She’s now living in semi-retirement in Los Angeles. She still does public appearances and just two years ago, her advice guide, “The Conscious Catwoman Explains Life on Earth,” brought her a measure of renewed fame. Newmar also tends to her lush garden.
Oh, and she’s also one of the sexiest 70-somethings you’ll ever come across.
On the phone from California, she was flirty, funny and utterly charming. When asked what her favorite memory of the show was, she didn’t hesitate, recalling a scene where she tried her best to draw Adam West’s repressed Batman over to the wild side, vamping her way down a flight of stairs, suggestively playing with a fur stole and bending herself this way and that.
“It was the seduction of Batman,” she said. “What I did was I went into wardrobe and found the rattiest fur piece I could possibly find and used it in a kind of flip, off-hand way. … It was pretty seductive.
“I was just bending over backward, sticking my tush into the camera and hoping they wouldn’t yell ‘Cut!’ she noted with only thinly veiled glee. “We did it in the first take and I see it more often than not on YouTube or wherever they show those things.”
Newmar played Catwoman for the first two of the show’s three seasons and had to give up the role in the 1966 theatrical film, released between seasons 1 and 2. Scheduling conflicts for a working actress and dancer.
But, she said, she has no regrets about her truncated time in the catsuit.
“I did the perfect thing and they gave it to me,” she said. “And here’s the thing: Catwoman will go on beyond me, beyond everyone else. It will go into the history of show business; it will always be performed because it’s now been established. In other words, it’s like ‘Carmen.’
And, she added, “Men turn into little boys. They instinctively want me to toy with them, play with them.”
Newmar is one of the actors from the show who has given approval for her likeness to be used in a massive wave of Batman TV show merchandise just now starting to hit the market.
In a bit of cosmic casting, there’s a new Barbie and Ken set where the idealized woman is decked out like Newmar and her ultimate square companion is dressed like Adam West’s Batman.
Newmar, like the other actors, gets to approve how her dolls and action figures look.
“As a matter of fact, they sent me one today,” she said. “They keep sending these things to me to ask my OK. And they look pretty good! I have one of them in front of me, that came out in the Barbie collection. And happily at the top it says ‘Legendary Treasures’ and there I am.”
But then, she mused, “I’m wondering if my legs are long enough. Those aren’t quite long enough but we’ll forgive them because it’s Barbie.”
Which of course begged the question: How does it feel to be a Barbie?
“I’ve always been a Barbie,” she purred. “Oh my god, I’ve been in the Tate Museum and the Louvre. As a Barbie. Dressed by others. I have always been a Barbie. Mm-hmm. Oh my gosh, yes.”
Since her portrayal has taken on such iconic status, it was natural to wonder what she thought of Hathaway’s turn in last year’s “The Dark Knight Rises,” in which the long-tressed, leggy brunette was basically doing a 21st century version of Newmar.
“Well, good taste,” she deadpanned. “(But I) love her, she’s such a beauty. … Such a beauty.”
Decades after her last turn in the catsuit, Newmar said she has no problem being so closely identified with such a singular role.
“What fun it was. What fun it is,” she said. “Most actors are identified by one part or another no matter how many they’ve done.
“I’ve done hundreds: stages, screen, films, all the mediums, whatever they are,” she added. “I’ve done them all since the age of seven. But this one is juicy, it’s choice, it’s lovely how blessed I am to have something fit me so well.”