After the War, TV caught on in a big way as young families bought a television for their homes, many for the first time. TV broadcast days typically lasted 20 hours, with sign-on around 6 am and sign-off around 2 am. That meant a lot of content was needed, and quickly. Therefore, the first shows that aired in the beginning of the boomer era were often radio shows brought to TV, short movies and variety or talent shows that were easy and cheap to produce. Sitcoms and talk shows came into the picture in the early 1950s. Throughout this time, though, television was considered a new medium, and as such, a lesser one for actors as opposed to film and stage. Actors were often labelled as “tv actors” as way of differentiating them from the “more serious” actors of the stage and screen.
By the mid-50s, though, the lines began to blur between TV and movie actors as more movie actors starred in TV shows, or guest starred on them. By the mid-60s, many popular TV shows were courted by actors and their agents for appearances, because of what it could do to boost their popularity. In essence, it was the beginning of expanding a star’s brand to the TV medium.
One program that featured many venerable actors throughout its run was Batman (1966-68). The show starred Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin, but unlike the dark and foreboding Gotham of movies, the TV version was strictly comic book tongue-in-cheek. It aired on ABC twice a week in its first two seasons, then dropped to once a week in its third and final season. Its comedic approach was hardly the type of show one would think of when talking about big-time movie stars, but the show was so popular and fun that the stars could not resist a chance to play over-the-top characters.
Of course, Mister Boomer and his siblings watched every episode, laughing at each “POW!” and “Ka-RUNCH!” Mister B recalls once the show went into syndication, reruns were on TV after school every day. It provided a great diversion from homework until dinner was served.
Just look at this list of male actors who appeared in this series, either as major villains in recurring roles or for a few episodes:
Milton Berle as Louie the Lilac
Victor Buono as King Tut
Roger C. Carmel as Colonel Gumm
Art Carney as The Archer
Howard Duff as Cabala
Frank Gorshin and John Astin as the Riddler
Van Johnson as The Minstrel
Liberace as Chandell
Roddy McDowall as The Bookworm
Burgess Meredith as Penguin
Vincent Price as Egghead
Michael Rennie as The Sandman
Cliff Robertson as Shame
Cesar Romero as the Joker
George Sanders, Otto Preminger and Eli Wallach as Mr. Freeze
Rudy Vallee as Lord Ffogg
Clint Eastwood appeared as Two-Face but the series was cancelled before the episode aired.
Not to be outdone by the men, look as the list of big-time female stars who appeared on the show:
Tallulah Bankhead as Black Widow
Anne Baxter as Olga, Queen of Cossacks and also as Zelda the Great
Joan Collins as The Siren
Zsa Zsa Gabor as Minerva
Carolyn Jones as Marsha, Queen of Diamonds
Ida Lupino as Dr. Cassandra Spellcraft
Ethel Merman as Lola Lasagne
Dina Merrill as Calamity
Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether, and Eartha Kitt as Catwoman
Shelley Winters as Ma Parker
The show also featured cameo appearances as stars opened a window in a building where the Dynamic Duo were climbing up or down. Here are the 14 famous individuals who received that honor:
Jerry Lewis, Dick Clark, Van Williams and Bruce Lee (as the Green Hornet and Kato), Sammy Davis Jr., Bill Dana (as Jose Jimenez), Howard Duff, Werner Klemperer, Ted Cassidy (as Lurch), Don Ho, Andy Devine (as Santa Claus), Art Linkletter, Edward G. Robinson, Susie Knickerbocker and Cyril Lord (an English manufacturer known as “The Carpet King”).
The TV series Batman holds a special place in the memories of most boomers, and most of the stars who appeared on the show were familiar to boomers through old movies and other TV shows. It’s amazing now to see old shows and realize just how many had appeared on TV. Take a look at Twilight Zone episodes for another real flashback to 60s TV stars; you’ll find Batman stars Burgess Meredith and Roddy McDowall among them.
Which stars do you fondly remember from watching Batman, boomers?