There are plenty of reasons to be happy about the 1960s “Batman” TV series these days. A complete collection containing every episode will finally get the royal box set treatment on November 11, delighting fans of all ges. While classic, nostalgic merchandise still exists, plenty of new memorabilia including trading cards and pinball machines in Vegas have been introduced more recently. Lead actors Adam West and Burt Ward frequently attend conventions such as this weekend’s Fan Expo Canada.
Most importantly, at least today, Ward jumped on the phone in advance of his visit to Fan Expo with CBR News to discuss his first day on the “Batman” set, wearing the iconic costume, painful stunts and interacting with the fans.
CBR News: The energy between you and Adam West was undeniable. Did you ever test with anyone else for the series?
Burt Ward: No, only with Adam. They pretty well knew when they put us together there was magic. There were other people testing, but they put us together intentionally.
You knew what you were getting into in terms of wardrobe. What was your initial impression of the Robin costume?
No, actually, I didn’t know what I was getting into. Literally. It was horrendous. Let me step back. I was selling real estate, studying acting and going to UCLA. I sold a home to a well-known producer, who sent me to an agent. The agent said to me, “Look, I can’t get work for my other client. The only reason I’m going to take you is this producer asked me to, but don’t expect to get any work for a year. If you do get any work, you are liable to get one line.” The first thing they sent me for was Batman, but I didn’t know what it was. They just gave me a call and said, “There’s something over at 20th Century Fox. Can you get over there this afternoon? They are seeing people around 4 p.m.” “What’s it for?” “I don’t know. Just go over there and see the casting director.”
Later, the casting director said, “Would you like to meet the executive producer?” I said, “Sure.” I figured everybody did, but obviously not. I went to see the executive producer and I still didn’t know what this project was. I walk in and met executive producer William Dozier, who says to me, “I guess you’ve been playing parts between 16 and 17.” I go, “Yes.” He said, “You’re kind of big for this part.” I said, “Oh, but I promise you sir, I won’t grow anymore.” He laughed and thought it was funny. He said, “Let me see if I can arrange something.”
It was a week or two later when I heard I should go over there and test for this thing, again not knowing anything about it. Because I hadn’t done anything and was brand new, my agents didn’t think I had a chance of getting anything. I go back there and they said, “Here’s the script,” which was really two pages. All it said was, “Bruce and Dick” on it. They asked me to memorize the lines so they could put me in front of the camera.
I get there and the director said to me, “Okay, I’m going to have you come down these steep stairs.” It had a rail and was coming down from the second floor. I’m ready to come down and he says, “You know what might be interesting? You think you can slide down that balcony on the edge?” I said, “I guess I can.”
We roll camera and I slide down. I’m so worried about not falling off and breaking my neck that by the time I get down to the bottom, I forget what I was supposed to say. I was very upset with myself because I really knew it. I was so focused on not falling off because it was steep.
Which is understandable. What happened next?
We redid our lines and they said, “We understand you do martial arts, so we’d like to see a demonstration.” I had a friend come with me because I knew they wanted me to do some kind of athletic demonstration. So, I did that. I actually broke a board with my hand. This was back in 1965. Karate had only come to the States in 1959. Then they said they had one more thing for me to do. “We have a trailer on the other side of the stage. There will be some wardrobe men to help you get dressed.”
I go over and there are these wardrobe guys. On this couch, they had the costume, but it’s not laid out like it’s all assembled. The cape was in a pile and then a vest. I didn’t necessarily know what was going to go where. Let me tell you, putting those tights on was the most horrendous thing I’d ever done. They picked the heaviest skin-tights. They were super heavy. Apparently, somebody in the wardrobe department thought that the color of the tights wasn’t exactly the right color he wanted, so he then dyed those tights. Any bit of air that might have come in, now would not come in because every strand was swollen up from the dye on the outside. Within two minutes, I had a film of water between my legs and tights, like a sauna.
Then they kept putting things on. This heavy wool vest. It penetrated the t-shirt I was wearing, so it wasn’t terribly comfortable. Then they put this cape on my shoulders. This thing pulled my neck back like you couldn’t believe. Later on, I was able to get snaps and things to minimize the agony. I’m in this thing and I’m like, “Is this some kind of Shakespearean piece?” Nobody said anything about comic books.
Then when I came out, I saw Adam, but I didn’t recognize him right away because he had this cowl on. I said, “What the heck?” The funny thing is as a kid, I read “Superman” comic books, but where I lived, there were no “Batman” comic books. I was unaware of Batman and Robin.
They gave us this dialogue and we did it. Then I didn’t hear anything for six weeks and figured I didn’t get it. But then I started getting phone calls. “This is 20th Century Fox. We want to know your shoe size. Thank you. Bye.” They didn’t say why and I figured maybe they kept record of shoe sizes. I had no idea. What happened was the studio thought my agents had told me I had the part and my agents thought the studio had told me. I ended up having the part four to six weeks without me knowing about it. That’s what happened.
Every new show has growing pains. What needed to be tweaked or tinkered with for “Batman?”
My life. You have to understand, this was a very dangerous show. I was always a careful person. I had never been to an emergency hospital. The first four out of five days of filming, I ended up at the emergency hospital.
For example, the first day, I’m in costume, I’m in makeup. They say to me, “The first shot we’re going to do is this Batmobile coming out of the cave. We want you to go over to that cave. The car is in there. Get in the car and in a few minutes, you’re going to be driven out and we’re going to do our first shot.”
I go in there. It’s dimly lit. I get in the car and I looked over and thought it was Adam. I looked closer and realized it wasn’t him. I said, “Who are you? What are you doing in a Batman costume?” He said, “Oh, I’m a stuntman.” I said, “Really? A stuntman? What do you do?” He said, “I do dangerous stunts, things where the actors don’t want to get hurt. That’s why they hire me to do them.” “Oh, that’s very interesting. What are you doing here?” “Well, we have to come out of this Batcave. It’s 55 miles an hour, then go straight into camera, make a sharp left turn and go in the other direction, down this road after the sign goes down.” “Is this dangerous?” “Of course.” Then I started thinking. “You’re Adam West’s stuntman? I wonder if I have a stuntman?” “Oh, you do. He’s over there drinking coffee with Adam West.” “And this is dangerous?” “That’s why they hired me. They don’t want to take a chance of Adam getting hurt and going to the hospital.”
Now, they are all ready to shoot and I say, “Wait a minute. Can I see the assistant director please?” The assistant director comes over and says, “Yes, Burt, can I help you?” “I’m talking to this gentleman, who is a stuntman, and he says this is a very dangerous stunt.” “Absolutely, that’s why we hired him. We don’t want to take a chance of Adam getting hurt.” “Okay, but I don’t have a stuntman?” “Yes, you do. He’s over there.” I said, “Why aren’t you using him instead of me?” “Oh, because he doesn’t look like you.” “You mean you hired someone to be my stuntman, but he doesn’t look like me?” “That’s right.” I said, “Then how can you use him?” “We can’t use him. That’s why we’re using you.” They also said because I was coming closest to the camera, they could see my face. Adam’s face was a cowl, so he wasn’t readily recognizable.
I figured all we were going to do was come out fast and I’d have to hold on. We come out at 55 miles an hour and the stuntman does exactly what he’s supposed to do, but unexpectedly, my door flew open. When my door flew open, it actually knocked a huge lamp over, hit the guy sitting right by the camera, knocked him over and the camera. As I was flying out of the car, because of centrifugal force, I reached my left arm back and was able to wrap my little finger around that gear shift knob. I didn’t fall out, but I pulled my finger completely out of joint, which I had never had happen before. My hand was instantly four times the size it is normally. It was incredibly painful.
They rushed over, picking people up and getting those huge lamps up because they could catch fire. Finally, two guys come over to me and said, “Are you all right?” “I’m all right, but my hand is killing me.” They said, “It’s been pulled out of joint. We have to get you to the hospital.” “Oh, thank you, because it’s really killing me.” “We’ll get you to the hospital just as soon as we get this shot.” “Will that take long?” “It will be another 45 minutes to an hour to get it lit and then we have to get the shot.” It was four hours later when I got to the emergency hospital. That was day one.
Were you ever surprised by the caliber of guest stars that appeared on the series?
I was blown away. I was like a kid in a candy store. Here’s all these people I remember seeing in films and on television and I was working with them. It was fantastic.
Season 3 expanded the Bat Family with Yvonne Craig’s Batgirl. What did she add to the series?
She added having a pretty girl on set and a little tension between Batman and Robin and her. There was a little competitiveness. It was to spice things up a bit.
There’s a good chance you could star in “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” and still be known as Robin to most people. How does that sit with you?
I don’t have anything against it at all. It was a wonderful show. I go out now and sign autographs. People stand in line for hours to get an autograph. The show has brought so much happiness to everyone.
Was there ever any talk of you and Adam making cameos in any of the “Batman” movies?
Not that I’m aware of. The reason why is the people making them wanted to stay away from our family-type of programming. They wanted to focus on the edgy Dark Knight for a much tougher audience. They felt they had to make it for the heavy-duty blood and guts gamers, as opposed to something mom and dad and the kids could all watch and have fun with. There were people who took their children to the first Batman movie that came out. There was a big problem because a lot of people didn’t want their kids to see that much violence.
Will you be tuning into the new “Gotham” TV series this fall?
If I get a chance. I work seven days a week. I’m interested to know more about it.
You are attending Fan Expo in Toronto this weekend. What’s fun about still doing these conventions?
I have a great time. First of all, my assistant is from the Toronto area. He’s been with me for 19 years. I love Canada. People are very nice and more polite than here. There’s wonderful food. I love Canada and I have another very dear friend that lives in Montreal. I’m not too thrilled with the new things at the airport going through the security, where they just about insult you and grill you. Other than that, once I’m in Canada, I have the best time.
Look, what’s exciting about these conventions is you see these people that are now grown up, that are supposed to be all mature. These are the people who watched me as kids. The will come up with their child. When the father sees me, it’s like he’s no longer the adult for a few moments. It’s like he’s a kid again. He says, “Oh God. You were my superhero.” His son looks at him and he sees his father acting like he’s never seen him act before. Then the mother will say, “Oh, I was in love with Robin.” It is wonderful to see adults become child-like again. And remember, we were in people’s homes twice a week, for 120 episodes. That’s a big chunk of some people’s lives.
“Batman: The Complete Television Series” arrives on Blu-ray and DVD November 11.