The Pop-Culture Legacy of ADAM WEST, by J.J. Sedelmaier

Animator J.J. Sedelmaier looks at the cultural impact of TV’s enduring Caped Crusader from a personal perspective.

For ADAM WEST: A Celebration, a series of interviews and tributes to the greatest Caped Crusader, click here.

J.J. Sedelmaier, perhaps best known for Saturday Night Live’s Ambiguously Gay Duo, is among the most knowledgeable people I know when it comes to pop culture. I invited him to take part in our ongoing Adam West tribute and he graciously agreed. Enjoy. — Dan

A portrait of the artist as a young bat.


I was sad to hear of Adam West’s passing — he’d seemed fit enough and quite a spry man for 88 years old! It’s also nice to see that he was ultimately able to translate the typecasting he experienced after portraying Batman on ABC-TV from 1966 through 1968 into a marvelous presence as animated characters in The Simpsons, Rugrats and of course as Mayor Adam West on Family Guy. My friend Robert Smigel (along with Conan O’Brien) appreciated West’s value as a pop-culture icon by casting him in their series pilot Lookwell, a washed-up action star who becomes falsely convinced that he can actually solve crimes in real life.

People who didn’t live through the 1960s Batmania experience might find it hard to believe how all consuming the show’s success was. There was Batman-related material (though very little with West’s likeness) offered up on a scale that was only equaled by the Disney machine. It also transcended the customary “kid’s only” realm, and was eagerly (and equally) adopted by young, hip adults as well! Another unique aspect of the program was its initial, twice a week (Wed/Thurs) airing schedule.

Personally, I think the three events in comic-book history responsible for converting the industry from an unappreciated sector of publishing into a force in pop culture, were:

  1. The Pop Art work of Roy Lichtenstein.
  2. The release of The Great Comic Book Heroes, by Jules Feiffer.
  3. The 1966-68 Batman show.

Perhaps William Dozier deserves credit for pitching the show to ABC, but he also deserves credit for casting Adam West in the role. Because comic-book heroes were still considered somewhat silly, the show used a “campy” approach in its presentation, and West pulled off the tongue-in-cheek superhero character parody as best as could be expected from anybody. He put his all into the role, and as kids we gobbled it all up. Especially whenever he’d appear in costume on other shows (usually ABC programs) like Hollywood Palace.

Because I grew up with a Dad who still had his comics from when he was a kid, (Batman #1 among them) I was totally primed for the debut of the show. Besides my own comics collection, I had a Batman pillow, a Batman beach towel, Batman posters, Batman drinking cup, and made my own Batman costume for Halloween.

I also have a special Batman story to tell. My dad worked in Chicago advertising at the time and one day he said that Bob Kane, Batman’s “creator” (apologies to Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson) had visited the ad agency he worked at — and he had asked him if he’d do a sketch and sign it. I freaked! My dad then said it would probably come in a few weeks.

Well, sure enough, a few weeks later I was given a large, flat package to unwrap, and to my delight, there was a watercolor of Batman saying “Crime Doesn’t Pay!!” signed by Kane. One problem — it said, “To Jay Jay, Best Of Luck.” JAY JAY?! He misspelled my name, dammit! Regardless, it’s always been my favorite autograph.

The other aspect of the Batman TV show that’s had somewhat of an effect on my career is the undeniable influence on The Ambiguously Gay Duo I did with (again) Robert Smigel. It’s not only the two stereotypical comic-book superhero characters, but their performances as well. The instructive attitude that West’s Batman had with his ward, Dick, and Ace’s tutorial behavior toward Gary inhabit the same parody and satire realm.

R.I.P. Adam West! Thanks for everything and always with a sense of humor.

P.S.: I guess I should mention that in the mid-1980s, after telling my dad that I was going to loan that signed Batman watercolor to an exhibit of illustrated autographs, he sheepishly admitted that HE had done the signed painting for me.

And THAT’s why it’s my fave!

For ADAM WEST: A Celebration, a series of interviews and tributes to the greatest Caped Crusader, click here.


Author: Dan Greenfield

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  1. Well, if that really was your dad’s work and not Bob Kane it’s impressive. It’s good work.

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    • It’s actually better than anything that Kane ever did…

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