While comic books are entering a renaissance in television — but when it comes to comic book characters on TV, there are few shows beloved as the original “Batman.” Starring Adam West, the series fostered a whole generation of fans to follow the adventures of West’s portrayal of the Dark Knight. At New York Comic Con 2014, West took the stage to discuss his time donning the cape and cowl.
Moderator Damian Holbrook started off the panel, quickly detailing details about the set, and then going on to introduce the man of the hour. West entered to the classic “Batman” theme, taking his seat amidst a standing ovation from panel-goers.
“What are you doing in my room?” West asked. “Thank you! This is the best intro I’ve had all day. I’ve been Batman for 40-some years. Did you realize I’m a senior super hero? It’s amazing. You people have been so good to me for so long! I am the luckiest actor in the world, believe me, to have this kind of warmth. That’s really lovely.”
West said he was “thrilled” that Warner Bros. and Fox got together, and that the entire set was remastered. “I’m telling you, it’s a work of art — it’s beautiful! I’ve never been lovelier,” West said. “I mean, I look like a young boy in tights, what do you think?”
Holbrook queued up the trailer for the Blu-ray box set, coming November 11. The trailer featured clips across the 120 episodes remastered in HD, plus a bit from the 3 hours of special features. The set also comes with a replica Hot Wheels Batmobile.
The actor characterized seeing the footage as “very exciting” and that he has a lot of great memories from doing the series. “My best memories are working with all those great people,” he said. “We had wonderful guest stars, and they all wanted to do the show so they could watch with their kids. We did the show on several levels so that when you grew up, you got the jokes.”
“Batman” was on two nights in color, and according to West, it was “really up there in the ratings.” “Naturally, every actor in town wanted to do it,” he said. “Our villains were sketched out — almost Shakespearean — they could really make them come to life in a colorful, zany way.”
West discussed how he was cast — saying that the main reason he got the role was that the producers and studio had seen a commercial for Nestle Qwik. “I played a character called Captain Qwik,” West said, which influence the decision to bring him on as Batman. “From the very beginning we had a great creative screenwriter: Lorenzo Semple, Jr. He was really a brilliant screenwriter,” West said. “They were lucky enough to get him to sign on and get him to do that script even while he was in Spain. Maybe that was some of the influence on ‘Batman’ — something he smoked in Spain,” joked West.
“That’s how it started that our late executive producer Bill Dozer taking the lead,” he continued. “He had this great [knack] for putting talent together, and he put me with Burt Ward… It was instant chemistry. I knew within one minute of playing that scene in which we tested Burt that he would be the perfect Robin. And he was. He was so enthusiastic and athletic and young and worshipful of Batman — and it really worked for the show.”
In terms of the costume, West worked with designers for several weeks. “We got the costume right, but I wasn’t really convinced until that first day on the soundstage,” he said. “The setup was all lit and they were ready for me, so I took a deep breath and said, “Is my utility belt slipping or is that my stomach?’ I took a deep breath and walked across the stage with that Batman attitude. I walked into the light and the entire crew stood in awe. It made me realize that these guys believe in Batman and I looked okay in the costume. It was incredible.”
West referred to the costume as “magic” sharing the advice he gave to Ben Affleck: “Let the costume do the work.”
In terms of other onscreen Batmen, West said he ran into George Clooney earlier in the day. “He’s remarkable because he treats it with humor, and he said something to me about killing the franchise,” he said. “I said, ‘You haven’t killed the franchise at all! It’s going on and on! And you were a good Batman!'”
For the first few seasons, they were airing twice a week and during the first season, they were also filming the movie. “It was awful!” West said, saying that all in one week or ten days, they’d be filming segments from many different shows. “They promised me that I could go to France somewhere and go surfing and swimming and sailing. They lied!” he joked. “What happened really was the movie came along, and they thought it was the right time, and I turned it down — until they offered me enough money. And then it all came through. But that’s what it takes! Just send the damn check.”
The veteran actor said his very favorite episodes are the first two episodes with Frank Gorshen as Riddler. “We were really all getting married to the same kind of tone and concept of the show. Gorshen came along and he played Riddler with such manic intensity that I loved it,” he said. “It was great working with all those people like Burgess Meredith.”
Although it wasn’t easy to keep a straight face — “three or four times a day, we would completely lose it” — it was for good reason. West recalled an episode where Vincent Price as Egghead began a massive egg fight amongst the cast and crew. “We had a massive omelet! Egg-sactly!”
The fan situation has certainly evolved since “Batman” was on the air, but West said sincerely that he loves the fans. “I’m the luckiest actor in the world to have had this much fun and success with the fans, and that’s where it is — with the fans,” he said. “It’s why I do comic cons because you get a chance to meet people face-to-face and it keeps your fan base aligned.” West said he hopes that the set creates more fans.
The panel also did a split-screen clip of the Joker to compare what the HD remaster looks like alongside the old original footage with a marked difference between the two. The Joker featured heavily in the clips, and West said he learned things from Cesar Romero.
“The moment he was called onstage, he would leap up and laugh. He has that instant energy that you get from pacing yourself,” he said. “It’s like a great athlete — you really have to pace yourself.”
On set, West said he made up his mind to go on stage every day and set the mood. “Make sure everyone had fun and they were aware of the comedic attributes and to get involved,” West said. “I said something once to Yvonne Craig as Batgirl and I said, ‘Yvonne, do every scene in this series like it’s your last.’ She looked at me like, ‘Who is that conceited idiot?’ But I was right.”
Holbrook emphasized that all the answers to questions on the Internet were “Yes.” Leslie Goor’s two numbers are both in the episode, the Green Hornet/Kato crossover episodes are included, every episode will end with the tag and the teaser for next week’s villains, and all the window cameos are included.
The window cameos put the actors into a small little box for an hour — until they popped out and did their thing, according to West. “By the way, we were not walking up the building. The camera was on its side,” he said. “I had the guys hook fishing line to our capes and pull them as we were going up.”
“Hanging With Batman” is one of the special features on the Blu-ray, where it’s all about hanging with Adam West. “It’s what it was to be doing the show and what my life is like today,” West said. Pivoting topics, West said he borrowed the Batmobile one night on Halloween. “I had the costume on, but they wouldn’t let me off the lot! I jumped in my truck and randomly around the lot, I knocked and said, ‘Trick or Treat!’ and one lady fainted. At least I got a bag of candy!”
West also entertained the crowd with a bit of his Mister Freeze impression — and said that viewers will have the chance to pick up some nuances of jokes if they pick up the set. The actor also did a brief Liberache impression of him trying to get into character. “There were so many experiences with these people!” he said, referring to guest stars.
The first episode was interesting for West because he knew shortly after when he was losing any last trance of anonymity — and related an anecdote when he was grocery shopping. “I heard the women at the checkout stand yelling at the clerks — get us out of here! Batman’s on tonight! I think we’ve got a hit, but I thought, ‘I think I’ve lost my anonymity.”
Fan experiences are part of losing that anonymity — including one at an airport when fans came up to him and asked if they could reenact a scene for him. Despite his celebrity, he keeps very busy with voiceovers — and he’ll be writing new sections of his “Back to the Batcave” book with Titan.
Another special feature for the Blu-ray is an overview on the collectibles that came out of “Batman.” Ralph Garman, the collector of Batman morobilia. His collection is vast, almost like a museum. Garman went through the room with Adam West, looking at hand puppets, lunch boxes, peanut butter, an official Batman club card and much more.
The panel opened questions up to the audience, and West addressed where he got his inspiration for his portrayal of Batman.
“I don’t want to give an acting lesson and be pretentious. What I did was very simple — you let the costume work for you,” West said. “I remember when I was a kid playing Batman. … If I could give that same kind of enthusiasm and the same kind of childlike energy to it, then it would work. … Do funny things, and maybe say a funny thing or two. It got to the point where every time I pulled on that cowl, it was instant. The dynamic duo is dynamic because we were always moving. That was an important thing I put in the mix, to always be moving and musing and thinking.”
When asked if he would reprise his role as Bruce Wayne for a hypothetical “Batman Beyond” movie, West said, “How could I refuse?”
The actor also lent his voice to “Beware the Grey Ghost,” from “Batman: The Animated Series.” “It was great fun, and people come up a lot about the Grey Ghost. I think it’s a nice character. They’re talking about doing it as a series in animated forms,” West said. “I’m so old, I could be the Grey Ghost.”
Inevitably, West discussed the challenge of voicing the Mayor of Quahog from “Family Guy.” “The Mayor of Quahog is so silly and fun — when Seth called me about that, because we’d worked together before, I immediately said yes because it gave me the chance to make fun of myself and do something absurd and different — and believe me, it’s different.”
Presented with a vast number of praise, West said his fans were the reason why he was so happy to be Batman. “What does an actor want to do?” West said. “He wants to be loved, I guess, but more importantly, you want to entertain, make them thing, make them laugh, make them imagine — live other lives outside their own. And I think we’ve done that.”
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