Though there have been countless renditions of our personal favorite – Batman- nothing quite holds a light against the 1966 television show. Read on to learn some fun behind-the-scenes facts of one of the original live-action superhero tales.
First in Originality
Caped crusaders Batman and Robin are totally over-the-top crime fighters. The campy superhero comedy is like a live-action cartoon featuring a wide array of outrageous comic villains and femme-Fatales.
It’s like a clean version of "Austin Powers" that was actually taped in the 60s —it was revolutionary in its time and hot property. Bond, the Beatles, and Batmania, for a minute, nothing came close.
Comic to Screen
The pop-art visuals and lampoon-style satire of Batman evolved from the campy elements of the 1960s Batman comic books. Interestingly enough, executive producer William Dozier had never touched a comic book until he took on the Bat series.
After reading a dozen of them from various vintages, he couldn’t imagine how he could bring the story to television. Batman and Robin were these two straight-laced crime fighters who work legitimately, hand-in-hand, with the police commissioner of Gotham City. Then came the epiphany. Dozier made the dynamic duo so square that it would be an amusing crime series parody for adults and a superhero program for kids.
One of the most iconic vehicles ever, the Batmobile looks exactly the way we’d expect it. Jet black, fully armored, flared wings, and cockpit-style seats.
They built the Batmobile on a rumbling ’55 Lincoln Futura, a concept car. The caped crusaders stash their ride in the Batcave; where else?
Holy Dynamic Duo! Screening the Heroes
Adam West and Burt Ward were cast as millionaire Bruce Wayne and his protégé sidekick Dick Grayson. When called to action, the upstanding citizens slip into superhero suits and, properly costumed as the dynamic duo, speed off in the Batmobile to save the day.
What’s less known is that Lyle Waggoner and Peter Deyell were nearly cast as the caped crusaders. Waggoner went on to land a superhero role on Wonder Woman with Lynda Carter.
The Bat Pilot Screening Flopped
The test screening of the pilot episode scored in the forties. That’s low, embarrassingly low. Adam West said it was “the worst score in the history of pilot testing” in his memoir "Back to the Batcave." But director Dozier was confident. He couldn’t imagine the clever, avant-garde series flopping once it hit television.
And that was the thing. The program was so new and so different, bringing comic books to live acting and featuring fight scenes with cartoon exclamations; people just were not used to it. Dozier was right. Batman soared in the ratings on day one.
The Bat Movie
By the end of the first season, "Batman," the movie, was scheduled to be released. The main cast and characters of the television series populated the film. Adam West and Burt Ward headlined, Cesar Romero played Joker, Burgess Meredith starred as Penguin, and Frank Gorshin animated Riddler.
Lee Meriwether added a new face as Catwoman, taking over from the former feline femme fatale, Julie Newmar.
Holy Pay Discrepancy, Batman!
When Burt Ward auditioned for Robin, he was perfect. Dozier said that his genuine naivete was not something any other actor could emulate. When he delivered, “Holy bat trap, Batman!” it was real. Ward was young. At 19, it was his very first acting gig, and he had zero experience.
ABC sealed a deal with him for $350 a week. It seemed like a lot at the time, but they worked nonstop taping the first season. He was shocked when he found out how much Adam West was raking in.
Alfred the Butler
Alfred the Butler was introduced in the 1943 comic book series as Batman’s mentor. His character had been killed off right before Batman hit TV. Because of the television success, the comic book series brought Alfred back. Actor Jack Napier was so iconic in the role that Jack Nicholson’s Joker was named after him.
Ironically, Napier had never heard of Batman comic books. He didn’t want the role because a story about a bat-like man seemed ridiculous. Next, his agent told him he would earn over $100,000. “So,” quoted Napier, “I said I was Batman’s butler.”
Villains, Villains, and More Villains
The Joker is not the only vivacious villain in Gotham City. The fictional town is host to a veritable slew of dastardly, yet, honestly, very entertaining antagonists. With names like Riddler and Penguin, you know these characters are not your average bad guys.
In taping the show, cameramen employed the innovative use of skewed angles, held askance whenever a supervillain entered the scene. These crooked POVs were meant to symbolize the entrance of crooked criminals. People in the industry raved about the method. They were almost always used at crime scenes or to depict the secret lairs of criminals.
Out of the cast of charismatic criminals, Joker and Penguin stand out. They make the most appearances in Batman, each headlining about 20 episodes of the 120-episode television show. Penguin, aka Oswald Cobblepot, didn’t see the super popularity of Joker, but the actor who played him, Burgess Meredith, influenced the Penguin character in every Batman production since.
Joker’s character, too, by Cesar Romero, absolutely influenced every rendition and continues to do so.
The Joker’s Wild
Cesar Romero’s Joker is so clever and witty; we almost forget the supervillain is Batman’s archenemy. The happy-go-lucky Clown Prince of Crime is always shown in his bright red painted smile having a wonderfully entertaining time, until, that is, Batman tracks him down.
Fun fact: Hollywood Golden Age legend Frank Sinatra petitioned for the role of Joker, but he was too late; Romero had already been cast.
Little Miss Purr-fidy
The feline crime caper, Catwoman, is a professional cat burglar whose heists cause havoc in Gotham. But the character was not always played by the same actress. In fact, three separate actresses starred as Catwoman.
Julie Newmar brought us Catwoman in the first season, Eartha Kitt played her in the final two seasons, and Lee Meriwether as Catwoman in the 1966 "Batman" movie.
Eartha’s Amazing Catwoman
When Julie Newmar left the series to star in a movie, Eartha Kitt pounced on the opportunity to play the cat role, and she delivered one of the best Catwoman portrayals ever. She made history too. Kitt was the second black woman to appear on network television.
Great strides; however, it is a sign of the times that the love interest between Batman and Catwoman ended with the new actress. It was not okay to show interracial relationships on TV at the time.
Both Mickey Rooney and Spencer Tracy were considered to play Penguin. Obviously, Burgess Meredith filled the penguin suit perfectly, but the character could have been a lot different. Director Dozier hoped Spencer Tracey would take the role, but he basically told him only if hell freezes over. “I’ll do a Batman when it’s called ‘Death Comes to Batman.”
Mickey Rooney was also offered the part and turned it down. We wonder if they felt the same after Batmania set in?
Waddle, Waddle, Cackle, Cackle
Two Hollywood A-listers may have turned down Penguin, but Meredith Burgess was no unknown. His role as Penguin only stoked his stardom. Penguin’s cackle-laugh, cackling at the misery of his foes, was an identifying trait. The deep, scratchy laugh came from his stogie habit 20 years back.
He quit because of health issues, so that swanky cigarette holder he’s always got clenched in his teeth was just a prop, and another distinguishing characteristic at that.
The Caped Crusader’s Bat Gadgets
One fan-favorite trope of the Batman series is the bat gadgets. Like high tech super spies, the Dynamic Duo had access to tools like a brainwave bat analyzer and bat shark repellent. The bat shark repellent came in handy in the first episode, making it one of the most memorable.
The duo escapes the jaws of a great white. There was a gadget for any situation. Ahead of its time was the sci-fi bat computer. Lining the walls of the Batcave, super-powered bat tech could sort through a massive database of dastardly villains in seconds.
Dynamic Duo Costumes a Little Too Dynamic
From the perspective of the 21st century, this will be hard to believe. ABC altered Batman and Robin’s tight-fitting hero wear because some Americans were offended. Specifically by the Caped Crusaders’ crotch area. The biggest complaint came from the Catholic-sponsored League of Decency.
They were not at all comfortable with seeing an anatomical bulge. ABC did their best. Adam West stuffed a towel inside his suit. Recently, Burt Ward divulged to Page Six that the network had a doctor put him on medication that would shrink the offending organ. He quit taking them after a few days, concerned with fertility side effects.
The Line Starts Here
The troupe of Gotham villains was the envy of many a celebrity, but the show could accommodate only so many dastardly characters. In order to get some primetime bat time for big-name celebs who were waiting in line, writers came up with the idea of having one celeb each episode peek their head out of a window of a skyscraper as Batman and Robin scale the building.
Some serious names of the day made that cameo appearance, for example, Sammy Davis Jr., Jerry Lewis, and Dick Clark. In all, there were 250 cameos!
The Riddler, identified by a question mark, is less deadly than other villains, but his crimes are extra ostentatious. The flamboyant puzzler was played by Frank Gorshin in the live-action TV show for which he earned a best supporting actor Primetime Emmy nomination.
Scores of actors have played Riddler since, including Jim Carey. Gorshin set the pace for the zany-type villain with comic chops.
The Other Riddler
John Astin played Riddler during the 1967 series due to Frank Gorshin’s schedule. And though Astin appeared in just two episodes, Gorshin was furious about it. The Emmy and Oscar-nominated John Astin are best recognized as Gomez in "The Addams Family."
He’s also known for formerly being married to Patty Duke and for his son Sean Astin.
Three actors portrayed the villainous Mr. Freeze during the reign of the Batman television series. Aka Dr. Schimmel, Mr. Freeze possesses the dreaded freeze gun that can freeze anything in its path in seconds. The character was portrayed by George Sanders in the first season.
But in the second season, Otto Preminger and Eli Wallach, pictured here, played Mr. Freeze. Though the diabolic Mr. Freeze only appeared in six episodes of the 120-episode TV show, this character yet reigns. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger portrayed him!
Believe it or not, by the third season of Batman, Batmania was starting to fade. There had also been the big-screen Batman, and, frankly, bat burnout was rearing its ugly head. When it first aired, there was not enough commercial space for the lineup of sponsors. The show made room by cutting back credits and bumping the commercials up to four instead of three. But, lo and behold, by the third season, they were looking for ways to make Batman big again.
The answer? Batgirl. Batgirl is Commissioner Gordon’s daughter. The youthful caped crusader was played by actress Yvonne Craig. Showrunners hoped she’d boost the ratings and bring girls and women to the audience; alas, Batman was flat-out canceled by the following season.
Robin the Boy Wonder was introduced as Batman’s sidekick and ward in Detective Comics #38, published in 1940, a year after Batman came to comics. The trusty hero apprentice was only 16 when Batman took him under his wing.
Naïve and young, he couldn’t curse at the dastardly villains, so he took the everyday expression, “Holy smoke!” to comic proportions. In all, 352 “Holy!” exclamations punctuate the series.
Adam West Turned Down 007
Adam West got the role of Batman largely because of a 1965 Nestle Quick TV commercial. He played a spy in the ad, and the persona was just what Dozier was looking for. Later, West was approached by Bond producers to play the iconic spy in "On Her Majesty’s Secret Service" (1969), but he turned it down.
Maybe he was tired of playing a super-awesome hero. The reason he gave is that he thought Bond should have an English accent. Later, he regretted the decision as roles began drying up.
Creating the secret crime crunching lair took a lot of ingenuity and expense. At $800,000, it was one of the budget’s costliest items. The high-tech den is plastered with pricey equipment. Constructing the epic scene in which the Batmobile flies out of the cave in hot pursuit required some innovative photography and even some sleight-of-hand techniques.
The filming site at Branson Cavern in the Hollywood Hills was the widest cave they could find, but it wasn’t quite wide enough for the Batmobile. To create the illusion, the action scene was taped at very slow speeds and then sped up during playback.
Holy Product Placement!
Advertisers had to be creative to get their products bat time. Commissioner Gordon recommended Lava soap to Chief Miles O’Hara, and Alfred Pennyworth (Alan Napier) cites Fact toothpaste. Public service announcements (PSA) were not uncommon. In them, a character would break the fourth wall to endorse things like public safety and US savings bonds. In one rather extraordinary PSA, Batgirl shows up to rescue Batman and Robin from a ticking time bomb.
As the bomb ticks away, she asks for equal pay. “I’ve worked for you a long time, and I’m paid less than Robin.” Robin: “Holy discontent!” She goes on, “Same job same employer means equal pay for men and women. It’s no joke; it’s the federal equal pay law.” Robin: “Holy act of congress!”
A Very Important PSA
After Batman debuted, tragic incidences in the UK found kids leaping from buildings to be like Batman. In response, Adam West and Burt Ward recorded a PSA which was aired prior to each program for UK audiences.
In this one, Robin’s interjection was, “Holy broken bones!” Yikes!
Batman: Take Two?
ABC canceled the bat series in 1968. Hoping to sell products to another network, they held off on dismantling the set. Finally, giving up hope, they bulldozed it down. The $800,000 Batcave, gone.
Wouldn’t you know it? Not much longer, NBC made an offer. According to Yvonne Craig (Batgirl), two weeks after ABC bulldozed the Batcave, “NBC said; ‘Listen, we’d like to take a shot at Batman if you still have the sets.'” Holy twist of fate!
A Reunion Bat Movie 50 Years Later
It sounds impossible, but it happened. In 2016, Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders came to the big screen with the original Batman and Robin.
Adam West, Burt Ward, and Julie Newmar (Catwoman) voiced their prospective animated characters. Then, in 2017, they were back with the sequel Batman vs. Two-Face. Also, Lucille Diamond from Batman vs. TwoFace was voiced by Lee Meriwether, who played Catwoman in the original 1966 movie.
The Caped Crusader Will Return No More
There is only one cast member still living from the original 1966 television series. Burt Ward, who was Batman’s trusty sidekick. He’s married to Tracy Posner and living in Los Angeles.
As the last living cast member, he’s said goodbye to them all. The most recent death was Adam West. He died in 2017 at age 88 from complications of leukemia.
Batmania peaked and plummeted, and in 1968 ABC pulled the series from its time slot. All was not lost, however. In the fall of 1969, bat fans could still tune into the Dynamic Duo on syndication. Reruns aired into the early 1970s.
But then, Batman was nowhere to be found. VCRs had not yet been invented, and no TV stations aired them. The 1966 series came back to life on TV in 1989, syndicated again, finally, to promote a new Batman movie. Michael Keaton’s Batman would both animate Batman nostalgia and inject some excitement back into the Caped Crusader.
Gorshin Gets Rid of Skin-Tight Riddler Costume
Just like Batman and Robin, DC Comics depicts Riddler in a tight-fitting leotard. But Actor Frank Gorshin was not having it. He complained about the tight-fitting look enough that ABC tailored him a trademark green question mark-covered suit. His new costume came with a bowler hat.
They didn’t want to lose him. Gorshin’s portrayal became so popular with audiences that the comic book series began increasing Riddler’s appearances. In editions prior to the late ‘60s, DC Comics’ Riddler had been a minor character.
Who is Mr. Zero? In the comic series, Mr. Zero was the name of Mr. Freeze’s character before a chemical experiment went south, making it impossible for him to survive in temperatures above 50 degrees.
He blamed Batman and committed his life to vengeance. It wasn’t exactly Batman’s fault as he was trying to save the scientist at the time, but Mr. Freeze is diabolical.
Gotham Looks a Lot Like. . .
If you look closely at the Giant Lighted Lucite Map of Gotham City found in Batman’s Batcave, you will notice that Gotham bears a strong resemblance to St. Louis. This is because the map of the Dynamic Duo’s city is a map of St. Louis flipped in reverse.
Looking at it, you’ll see St. Louis clearly marked, as well as sites like Lafayette Park and Tower Grove Park; you just have to be dyslexic to read it.
When Batman pulls back the head of a Shakespeare bust, presses a button, and the bookshelves in his private study slide open, you know it is superhero time. The opening reveals two poles, and with the exclamation, “To the Batpoles!” they slide down to the Batmobile.
To shatter the illusion, what really happens when Bruce Wayne flips the switch is this: a light flicks backstage, and the set crew slide open the bookshelf doors.
He Did His Own Stunts
But only because he had to. Not only was Burt Ward paid just $350 per week, but the studio also forced him to dangerous stunts rather than hire a stunt double. When a stunt double got in the Batmobile as Batman, that’s when Ward felt expendable.
Ward said that racing around with Batman in the Batmobile caused injuries like being flung from the vehicle and being pelted with shrapnel. He said he was also burned and ended up in the emergency rooms a few times.
‘Beware the Gray Ghost’
Adam West guest-starred on the 1992 "Batman: The Animated Series," but not as Batman. West portrayed the Gray Ghost in the episode called “Beware the Gray Ghost.”
The Gray Ghost, as it turns out, had been a TV show Bruce Wayne watched as a kid, and it serves as a link to solve a crime.
The Batcave Soundstage
The Batcave has a history in TV, but it’s unrelated. The soundstage is famous in itself. Past titles to utilize the ABC set include King Kong and Gone With the Wind. It’s one of the most famous soundstages in the business.
Only a sound stage home to such classic masterpieces is worthy of Batman.
One Hollywood rumor says Batman producers hoped to get Robert F. Kennedy on board. It’s said that they wanted him to play a character named Attorney General. Subtle. (RFK served as US Attorney General from 1961 to 1964).
Even some of the most important American politicians wanted to get in on that Batman action.
Nowadays, we expect crossovers between Marvel and DC. The very first crossover story featured Superman vs. Spiderman, published in 1970. Perhaps Dozier’s Batman pioneered the crossover concept when, in 1967, Bruce Lee from "The Green Hornet" showed up in Gotham City in a fight scene.
The scene where Robin fights Bruce Lee’s Kato, sidekick to the Green Hornet hero, shows off Lee’s karate moves. The face-off with Boy Wonder helped popularize martial arts on television and in movies. The short-lived The Green Hornet television series was directed by Dozier as well.
‘It’s My Party’ Singer Crashes Catwoman’s Den
Despite Catwoman’s disapproval, a hench cat woman played by Leslie Gore got to perform her song “California Nights” on Batman in 1967. She also appeared as Robin’s love interest.
It may have helped that her uncle was a producer for the series.
The Batman Theme Song
Music can make or break a TV show. The Batman opening credits sequence, composed by Neal Hefti, was an instant classic and an integral factor of the cultural phenomena of Batmania. To give an idea of how hot this show actually was, the theme song, unoriginally titled “Batman Theme,” was the most covered song in the world in 1966.
Not only that but also, every kid in the country would be running around singing, “Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na, Batman!”
8 Bands Covered ‘Batman Theme’
In all, the opening song was recorded by eight bands. With tannins of secret spy movie riffs and horns blasting to cartoon bubbles of “Pow” and “Zonk,” this song is punctuated by just one word, “Batman!” Nevertheless, it was recorded by significant acts like The Who and The Kinks, who included the jazzy, surf rock-inspired tune on their albums.
David McCallum, Al Hirt, The Standells, The Ventures, and surf rock band Jan and Dean also covered it, to name a few more.
A Delayed Video Release
Batman went off the air in 1968. Forty-six years later, it finally came out on video. Can you imagine waiting 46 years to stream your favorite TV show? Well, Bat-fans had to wait. News of the video release surfaced at the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con event. With Bat merch circulating the convention, comic fans got a taste of Batmania. Finally, at long last, the Batman DVD was released in 2014.
Ironically, the only reason a copy of the 120 episodes existed was Mark Hamill, using his star power, convinced FOX to videotape a box set for his personal library.
FOX and Warner Hold ‘Batman’ DVD Hostage in a Perfidious Standoff
Holy quagmire! It seems audiences were lucky Batman was even released. Here’s the problem. The 1966 TV show was trapped in a legal snare, a dastardly tug-of-war like no other. ABC owned the television rights, DC Comics owned the characters, FOX owned distribution rights, and Greenway Productions (William Dozier’s company) shared ownership with FOX. Later, Warner-owned DC.
This lead to a fight to the death between FOX and Warner over distribution rights. At one point in the standoff, a Warner Bros. exec said he would never allow FOX to release a Batman home video. His exact words? “Over my dead body.”
Batman’s Origin Story
The Bat story goes back to his childhood when young Bruce witnessed muggers murdering his parents. The boy vowed vengeance on all criminals forever. These early editions depict Batman as a ruthless vigilante, much darker than his ‘60s renditions. During that time, the TV show and the comics mirrored one another.
But back in 1939, in DC Comics #33, Batman was just revealing his mission: “Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot, so my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts. I must be a creature of the night, black, terrible…a…a…A bat! It’s an omen! I shall become a bat!”
William Dozier Voiced the Narrator
William Dozier played a major role in creating and producing Batman, but what many people don’t know is that he was also the narrator. The role is uncredited, but the voice is unforgettable. “Tune in tomorrow: Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!”
Dozier stepped out of the box creating the show; he knew it was something special, something avant-garde, something original. One modification from the average sitcom is that it does not have a laugh track. Instead, like cartoons, it has music. At first, when it flopped during screening, he tried adding a laugh track but took it off.
Just Don’t Call It Campy
In general, the first word people use to describe the TV series is “campy.” The 1960s comic book Batman is also called campy. Yet when Adam West wrote his 1994 memoir "Back to the Batcave," he said he didn’t think the show should be called campy.
In his behind-the-scenes tell-all, he said the show is more like a farce or a lampoon. And it’s true; there is a bat cave full of lampoons!
A Batcave Full of Lampoons
With the extraordinary pop culture frenzy called Batmania, celebrities themselves were vying to get in on the action. The show had more cameos than episodes. But Batman commented on Hollywood and celebrity in its own way. It parodied old 1940s show cliffhangers with extra drama, finishing off with “Tune in tomorrow!”
Batman lampooned shows like Gidget and Dragnet. Political satire is also injected into some episodes. The UN Security Council is useless for defense but efficient for villains. As for the Navy, Penguin easily secures a pre-atomic sub from the Navy commander.