Batmania ’66 – Episode 1 & 2 = Inventing Camp
The Adam West and Burt Ward Batman television show from 1966 is a fan favorite. It is still made fun of, talked about, and mentioned even today. Despite being the height of camp and comedy, it still contains a lot of fun elements. Until the Neil Adams Batman in the 1970s, the campy Adam Ward Batman was the definitive take on the character.
The writer for the two pilot episodes of Batman ’66 was Lorenzo Semple Jr. He was mainly known for writing for Steve McQueen, for which he wrote Papillon. He had some television screenplay writing experience before coming to Batman. The tone and the color of the show was unique, but really kinda silly. The nature of the television show is really credited to creator William Dozier, who wanted to make it a so bad that it was funny. Those are his exact words. In an interview from the 60s, he said this:
“I bought a dozen of the comic books from various vintages, so I read all these things, and I thought they must be outer their minds. It was all so juvenile and so then a very simple idea came to me and that was to over do it. And if you over did it I thought it would be funny for adults and yet would be stimulating for kids, you had to appeal on both levels to have a chance.” – William Dozier
To Dozier, Batman was not a vigilante, but the ultimate agent of good. Bruce Wayne also, is not a playboy like Hugh Hefner, but a liberal philanthropist. Every quarter Bruce Wayne spends in Batman ’66 was for the greater good. The television show had a very black and white world, but overdoes the seriousness for comedic effect and I think it works well.
In casting the show, William Dozier hired Neil Hamilton first as Commissioner Gordon. Dozier thought no other man could play such an upstanding and monolithic presence as Gordon. I think Dozier made the right choice. I don’t think any other person in the whole mythos of Batman fits as well as Hamilton, and he really comes off as a dedicated public servant, like he’s meant to. Only Gary Oldman tops him in my opinion, for the depth and drama shown in The Dark Knight.
William Dozier wanted another actor for Batman besides Adam West, but finding him unavailable, was talked into meeting with West by his agent. They both agreed that the part should be played very straight, which was the key for it to work as humorous and tongue-in-cheek. In effect, they emphasized the camp on purpose, and invented a whole new genre of camp television. For Robin, Dozier didn’t select Burt Ward because of his experience, because he hadn’t done anything. He just had the right “gee wiz” attitude.
Frank Gorshin was Dozier’s first choice for The Riddler and he is the star of the two pilot episodes of Batman ’66. He faces off against Batman and Robin by providing them confusing clues, but sets them up so he can sue them in court. Hilarious. I didn’t even know such a thing was possible, but The Riddler almost outwits the Dynamic Duo with his elaborate scheme. He captures Robin, tries to burn the Batmobile, and steal some expensive jewels. A lot happens in these two episodes and the pace is fantastic. Some people say that these episodes are more serious than the rest of the series, but I think they’re just paced much faster than the rest. The comedy, the camp, and the gadgets are all present in spades.
The unsung guest-star in this episode is Jill St. John, the perfect bad-actress for Batman ’66. She was later a bond girl in Diamonds are Forever with Sean Connery in 1971.. The real standout in this episode is Frank Gorshin and his endless, cackling laughter. You can’t help but chuckle at the guy. He looks like he’s having fun.
All in all, the first two episodes of the Adam West Batman ’66 are great. I had to dig them up out of my video collection, but hopefully I can someday buy the new remastered DVD set to see them in true color once again. It won’t be anytime soon though, because I’ve seen that set go for around 200 dollars. Gadzooks, that’s incredibly expensive, ole chum. Good thing we’ve got the bat-VHS and bat-lo-fi-DVD to tide us over.