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Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

Holy Schnikies, Batman is Gone!

Our boomer flags were lowered to half staff this week with the passing of Adam West. He was born William West Anderson on September 19, 1928, in Walla Walla, Washington, but for boomers, he was and always will be, Batman.

Anderson’s mother moved him to Seattle after divorcing his father when he was 14, but he went back to Walla Walla after high school to attend Whitman College. After graduating with a degree in literature, he worked a variety of jobs, including as a radio DJ, before doing post-graduate studies at Stanford University.

When he was drafted into the Army, he worked as an announcer for American Forces Network television and was part of a team tasked to create TV studios for the military, first in California, then in New Jersey.

After leaving the army in 1954, an old friend from Walla Walla, Carl Hebenstreit, suggested he move to Hawaii. There, Hebenstreit was hosting a local children’s TV series called The Kini Popo Show with a chimpanzee as his co-host. Anderson got his first acting job when he signed on as a sidekick, and later replaced Hebenstreit as the host. He had never studied acting.

The same year he worked in Hawaii, he appeared in a series of roles on The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse. His first movie role arrived in 1957’s Voodoo Island, though his role was uncredited. After moving to Los Angeles in 1959 he changed his name to Adam West and quickly landed a contract with Warner Bros. There, he appeared in his first credited film, The Young Philadelphians (1959,) along with Paul Newman, Barbara Rush, Brian Keith and Robert Vaughn. A series of Western roles followed, and a slew of television appearances that reads like a Who’s Who of popular boomer TV shows, including 77 Sunset Strip, Bonanza, The Rifleman, Perry Mason, Laramie, Gunsmoke, Bewitched, Maverick, The Outer Limits, Petticoat Junction and The Virginian, to name a few.

As a spokesperson for Nestle’s Quik in 1965, he had more than 70 roles to his credit. Casting agents saw him in a commercial and he became Bruce Wayne/Batman on the Batman television series (1966-68). His campy, deadpan delivery as Batman was the perfect nonsense to appear in a cultural landscape that was increasingly chaotic. The Generation Gap was widening between early boomers and their parents’ generation as the Vietnam War escalated to produce the beginning of the protest movement.

Mister Boomer was a teenager when the series began. He enjoyed the pun-filled dialogue, big star appearances and the tongue-in-cheek nod to comic books with OOF! BLAM! and POW! spinning onto the screen during the inevitable fight sequences. It would be a decade later before Mister Boomer saw the show in color, at which time he saw that the brightness of the colorful sets were clearly designed with comic books in mind. His whole family enjoyed watching Batman, but it was his sister who would walk around the house singing, Da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da…Batman!

There may not be a boomer anywhere who didn’t enjoy some portion of what was clearly a ridiculous portrayal of the Dark Knight. Right from the start the show brought in big stars as villains; Burgess Meredith was the Penguin, Cesar Romero was the Joker, Frank Gorshin was the Riddler, Vincent Price was Egghead, and Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether and Eartha Kitt played Catwoman. By the second season stars asked to be on the show. The list of stars looking to act alongside Adam West is long and impressive. (See Da Da Da Da Da Da Da Da … Guest Star!)

After the show ended in 1968, West was typecast and could not find work. It was two years before he was able to land a role on TV’s The Big Valley. After that he picked up where he left off before becoming Batman, making more than 80 appearances on TV shows and in movies. Boomers recognized his later cartoon voiceover work in SpongeBob SquarePants, The Simpsons and The Family Guy.

Adam West had an accomplished career in movies and television without his role as Batman, but would boomers everywhere remember his name and mourn his passing as they are now if he didn’t don those ill-fitting tights?

What roles do you remember Adam West in, boomers? Were you a fan of the Batman series?

posted by Mister B in Film & Movies,Pop Culture History,TV and have Comments (2)

Da Da Da Da Da Da Da Da … Guest Star!

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?

posted by Mister B in TV and have Comment (1)