Editor’s note: The story was originally published in the Chicago Sun-Times on Aug. 17, 2001.
Holy how time flies, Batman!
It’s been 35 years since Adam West and Burt Ward donned those unforgettable capes and tights and brought to life Batman and Robin, the comic book superheroes battling the forces of evil in Gotham City in the hugely successful television series “Batman.”
The series also featured over-the-top guest-star villains dressed in equally wacky costumes and ridiculous makeup, perpetrating outlandish crimes only to be thwarted in the end by the Caped Crusaders and their arsenal of utility belt weaponry. The show was awash in vivid comic book colors and the now-classic animated exclamations, which gave it a very ’60s psychedelic and undeniably fun spin.
It was also 35 years ago that theatergoers flocked to “Batman” the movie, the only feature film based on the campy television series. The series aired twice a week (each episode was a two-part cliffhanger) during its first season on ABC, which originally intended to release the feature film before the series began. (Those plans tanked when the network needed a new series to boost sagging ratings). And what a boost the series was. Every original episode landed in the top 10 for the week, guaranteeing a box office hit for the movie which featured four of the series’ greatest villains: the Penguin (Burgess Meredith), the Joker (Cesar Romero), the Riddler (Frank Gorshin) and Catwoman (Lee Meriwether).
While the series lives on in syndication, (not to mention its cult classic status), the movie may have eluded some fans (and the uninitiated curious). Next week, Fox Home Entertainment will release “Batman: The Movie 35th Anniversary Special Edition” DVD packed with bonus features including a new interview with West and Ward, running commentary by the reunited duo, a tour of the original Batmobile, a behind-the-scenes photo stills gallery and the original theatrical trailers.
West , who splits his time between his farm home in Idaho and a second farm in Washington state, talked to WeekendPlus about the release of the DVD and the undying appeal of the television series.
Q. Are you sick of talking about “Batman”?
A. [Laughing] I get that way from time to time. However, I’m so thrilled with the DVD. I just think they did a splendid job. And as I watched the DVD for the first time I also said, “Who is that nut, [laughs] running around in a cape and cowl?”
Q. Did you think that all these years later people would still be so passionate about your Batman character as well as the show?
A. Oh my God, no. I was so busy doing it, and then after “Batman” trying to get out of the cowl, [laughs] and do other things. What I knew instinctively was after reading the first script that we were on to something that might be successful. I mean, how many actors get the chance to create a character that becomes a classic part of pop culture?
Q. What was the shooting schedule like for each episode?
A. Five and sometimes six days a week if we were on location, until about 7 or 8 at night. The weekends, I tried to keep for my children, but there were a lot of demands by the studio to do press. When that brilliant “Batman” movie opened, then it was a 24-7 job.
Q. Did you ever take Batman really seriously?
A. Batman was crazy, you know that [laughs]. But it brings such enjoyment to so many people. I mean it was a job. Albeit a weird one [laughs].
Q. What was the atmosphere on the set?
A. What I tried to do personally every morning when I got there was keep the environment very absurd, lighthearted and fun, because I thought that went with the tenor of the show. And this thing was such an absurd presentation, and that’s why a lot of the actors wanted to do it.
Q. How long did it take you to become Batman each day?
A. I actually had a cottage on the lot where I could sleep and work because I had a lot of pages to study and learn every day. I’d wake up with the script on my chest and my stereo playing jazz, and I’d get up and dance around the room and pretend like I was Batman.
Q. Okay, but he was the worst dancer ever.
A. [Laughing] Right. Wasn’t that awful? Then my makeup guy would come in, and the wardrobe assistant, and they’d help me dress, because there was actually one key zipper–I know this is just fascinating–[Laughs] that I couldn’t reach, and if you didn’t find a way to get to it later, you were in trouble. Then it was set time.
Q. Did they arrange the shooting so that you’d do all your Bruce Wayne shots one day and the Batman shots the next, or were you constantly changing between the two?
A. We tried to stack scenes so I wouldn’t have to change so much, but sometimes it just didn’t work that way, so I’d have to be changing back between cape and cowl and the Bruce Wayne smoking jacket.
Q. Was the Batman costume heavy?
A. It wasn’t that heavy, but it was just very itchy. And the cowl was really hot which made it annoying. If you think the humid Chicago weather is hot, the temperature inside there was like 140 degrees at all time. And I had a guy in wardrobe who was assigned to follow me with a hair dryer between setups and dry any perspiration that popped out. Look, superheroes don’t sweat. [Laughs]
Q. Did everybody in the cast get along?
A. Pretty much. Burt Ward exploded occasionally. He would climb into a rafter and yell.
Q. Were you guys fighting over who got the best lines?
A. There really wasn’t any of that. We had a wonderful working relationship. It’s funny. We sat down to do the commentary for this DVD and the chemistry just all came back instantly.
Q. Who was the coolest movie star that guest-starred as a villain?
A. Probably Burgess Meredith [the Penguin]. Cesar Romero [the Joker], certainly. Frank Gorshin [the Riddler], because we made each other laugh so much.
Q. Was the movie more fun to do than the series?
A. In one way, yes. Part of my contract agreement for the movie was that I could be Bruce Wayne more. I really felt I was getting buried in that cowl, so it gave me a chance to get out and do some fun scenes with Lee Meriwether.
Q. Were there ever any mishaps on those bat poles?
A. Sometimes it was surprising, because they’d just put fresh paint on them. Which was always fun because we’d end up with nice Bruce and Dick wardrobe with this yellow stripe down the front. [Laughs] Or the [Wayne Manor] library doors wouldn’t slide open and we’d land splat against the wall. [Laughs]