Adam West and Burt Ward, stars of the 1960s Batman TV series, drive the Batmobile all the way to the Montreal ComicCon
Even though I understand why some loathe the 1960s Batman series, which utterly negates everything about the Dark Knight as he was first envisioned by Bob Kane and Bill Finger in 1939, I still adore it. I endlessly watched reruns of it as a kid, and to this day I still get great pleasure from taking in its intentionally goofy plots, ridiculous action scenes and hammy performances.
This year marks the 45th anniversary of when Batman first went on the air, in January 1966, starring Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin, as well as a great roster of outrageous villains (Cesar Romero’s Joker, Frank Gorshin’s Riddler, Burgess Meredith’s Penguin, Julie Newmar’s Catwoman, etc.). One hundred and twenty episodes as well as a theatrical feature were produced before the show was cancelled in 1968, but to this day, thousands line up to meet the actors who played the Dynamic Duo at events like the Montreal ComicCon.
"You have to go out there and service your fans, because they’re the ones that put you there," reminds Adam West, who’s set to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2012. "I love meeting everybody," says Burt Ward. "People ask me to say a Robin line, this or that… Like, ‘Holy strawberries, Batman, are we in a jam!’"
West has nothing but great memories from making the show, which was a dream come true for him. "When I was growing up I loved the Batman comic books, never realizing I’d end up as the classic Batman. But I did!"
Things weren’t so easy for Ward, who wasn’t actually familiar with the source material. "My agent said, ‘Go over there, try out for this part,’ he didn’t even tell me what it was. I did some of the stuff as Dick Grayson [Robin's secret identity], which was fine. But then they said, ‘We have one more thing for you to do…’ And oh boy, they made me wear that costume… I said, ‘This is the most uncomfortable thing in the world!’ Little did I know I would end up getting the part, and I had to wear that costume during three years of my life!" In addition, he also had to do a lot of his own stunts. "And I got hurt a lot! The reason I did my own stunts was because my stuntman didn’t look like me, they could never use him. So I had to do all the dangerous stuff myself… I was in the hospital constantly!"
PLAYING IT STRAIGHT
Produced during the swinging 60s, when golden age superheroes were seen as a joke by many, the Batman series played up the camp factor and went for an over-the-top, pop art style. All the same, for the actors, it was important to play it relatively straight.
"We played it seriously so kids would think it was serious, but teenagers and adults got the double entendres and the humour," remembers Burt Ward. "We made a real effort to make it work on several levels, so that when you’re a little guy, you really enjoy all of the adventures and excitement, but if you’re older, you see the absurdities and the ironies," adds Adam West. "You have to give the audience the feeling that behind that mask, there’s someone that’s looking at this world in a way that might be quite odd or amusing. But you never wink at the camera, you never play that you’re funny."
While Ward doesn’t have a particular favourite episode ("I was just thrilled to be able to survive every week!"), West, who revisited all of them while making Adam West Naked!, a DVD available on adamwest.com in which he talks about the making of the series, picks the very first one, Hi Diddle Riddle. "That first episode really established the style, the intent, the mood of the show." And it featured the Caped Crusader dancing the Batusi! "It was so ridiculous and funny, people love that," laughs West. "You know what else they like? In the feature, in our Batman movie, they love that sequence when I’m running with the bomb on the pier. The writers set that up beautifully for me, I could do what I wanted, and it’s now become a comedy classic."
These past few years, Adam West has been quite busy doing voiceover work for animated series, most notably Family Guy, in which he plays himself more or less. "Less!" stresses the actor. "What I do there is simply take the quirkier aspects of my personality and exaggerate them. But it’s really fun to play Mayor Adam West!"
Meanwhile, Burt Ward and his wife operate Gentle Giants, "the largest giant breed dog rescue in the world," which could soon become the subject of a reality show. "We shot the pilot and now we’re meeting with various networks," says the former Boy Wonder.
"Burt and I have different lifestyles, we live in different places," says West of his old chum. "But the moment we get together for a ComicCon, or like when CBS did a TV movie [2003's Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt] based on a book of mine, as soon as we get together, that chemistry comes right back, just like it must have done for Laurel and Hardy."
At Place Bonaventure