Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Bat-Signal Shines in Vain

Adam West, whose relatively brief portrayal of the Caped Crusader Batman in the late 1960s more or less ended his career as an actor while it offered him a whole new one as a celebrity, passed away Friday at 88.

West donned the intentionally campy version of the cape and cowl in 1966 for a version of the Batman story aiming at kids while serving up as much goofy fun as possible for the adults -- and no small amount of double entendre whenever Julie Newmar did her guest spot as Catwoman. The best way to describe it is that the show's creators and actors didn't take themselves or their parts seriously but played it as straight as an arrow for those who did -- mostly children.

Compare West's version to the 1940s Columbia serials Batman and Batman and Robin. The costumes, props, action and story are just about as silly as anything William Dozier and Lorenzo Semple, Jr came up with. Television's Joker Cesar Romero didn't shave his mustache and had white greasepaint failing to cover it up; in the 1949 Batman and Robin Johnny Duncan wears pink tights over his legs, which are rather more adultly hirsute than would be proper for Bruce Wayne's youthful ward, Dick Grayson, a.k.a. Robin, the Boy Wonder. But the Columbia pictures took themselves quite seriously. The small-screen version of Gotham City had a much more realistic view of what they were doing and thus both had and provided much more fun.

Adam West was a big part of that. You have to wonder if his ability to be the butt of a joke helped him when he found out that after the show ended, he couldn't get many roles anymore, and wound up living off that short three seasons of work from 50 years ago. Showfolks have been known to take themselves waaaaaay too seriously (such as, say, Leonardo DiCaprio on climate or Ted Nugent on foreign policy). Maybe West's sense of humor helped him settle with the idea that he would spend the rest of his life talking about that one role, with a few things coming his way now and again that themselves mostly stemmed from the notoriety it brought.

Either way, he brought a whole lot of fun to a whole lot of people and that's not a bad legacy at all.


Brian J. said...

He had a career beyond Bat-man. I find him in a lot of odd direct-to-video or cable movies. I saw him most recently in 1990's Omega Cop. Which I saw twenty-five years later.

Friar said...

I read something from him once that said most of the work he got post-show was because of Batman, when people wanted to have him in there for the sort of satirical nod.

He had a great bit part in Burt Reynolds' stuntman pic Hooper.