Atomic batteries to power. Turbines to speed.
T.V. shows from the 60’s hold a special place in my heart, and none more than the ’66-’68 Batman series with its gloriously colorful, over-the-top villains. Apparently, doing a guest spot on the show was such a blast that producers had big name actors lining up for a shot to chew up the scenery. Over the course of its three season run, the show featured roughly three dozen villains (and variations thereof including three version of Mr. Freeze, three Catwomans [if you count the movie], and two and a half Riddlera [I say a half because in addition to Frank Gorshin and John Astin’s portrayals, stage veteran Maurice Evans was brought in to play the role of the suspiciously similar Puzzler following Gorshin’s departure].
Anyway, this is one of those classic shows that you can still re-watch and enjoy, this time as an adult with a whole new level of appreciation. There’s so much to love, from Adam West’s gloriously straight-laced Batman to that insanely convenient utility belt to those incredibly manic villains.
These were my Top 10 Favorites…
#10 – Shame (Cliff Robertson)
I ain’t all bad. Just mostly.
Unlike most of Batman’s villains, Shame was a bit of an imbecile and that, I suppose, is what made him somewhat sympathetic. Decades later, Robertson would return to the world of comics, playing Peter Parker’s uncle Ben in one of the innumerable big screen features.
#9 – Bookworm (Roddy McDowall)
“Now the fact is that our bats have flown the belfry, unaccountably still squeaking.”
Not only was he a literary-themed villain, but he was played by Roddy McDowall, star of my favorite film series at the time, The Planet of Apes. You get the sense McDowall truly relished his delightfully low-key performance (Well, certainly restrained in comparison to many of the other big screen greats who graced the Bat set).
#8 – Mr. Freeze (Otto Preminger)
“Batman, but–but you were supposed to be a famous frostie freezie by now!”
Sure, the series boasted a slew of outlandish casting coups, from Liberace to Tallulah Bankhead, but one of the wildest was famed director Otto Preminger who positively revels in the role of the villainous Mr. Freeze (changed from the originally conceived Mr. Zero). Rumor has it, however, that his demanding nature made the behind-the-scenes interactions with co-stars a little…chilly.
#7. Catwoman (Earth Kitt)
“Karate isn’t effective unless accompanied by yelling. Let him howl until he springs a vocal cord, then get him!”
While she wasn’t the first actress to play the feline-themed seductress, she certainly sunk her claws into the role and made it her own. Some southern affiliates objected to the casting and threatened not to broadcast her episodes to which the producers responded: “We don’t care.”
#6 – Egghead (Vincent Price)
“Please, please, Miss Bacon. All of you are approximately the right age, in your early thirties, but I have eliminated you, Mr. Tyler, because you are lefthanded. No, the Caped Crusader is not portsider, and you, Mr. Savage, are out because of your accent. So aside from a couple of aging rock-and-roll singers, you, Mr. Wayne, are the only Gotham city millionaire who is athletically inclined with eggsessive agility. Therefore, you must be Batman!”
As someone who grew up on Hammer horror films, seeing Vincent Price guest on my favorite t.v. show was a real treat. Yet another actor who really makes the most of his onscreen presence, Price was said to have loved the series which he considered well ahead of its time.
#5 – Penguin (Burgess Meredith)
“Politics is wonderful! I can use all my lowest, slurpiest tricks, but now they’re legal! I should have been a politician years ago!”
Meredith (who took on the role after both Mickey Rooney and Spencer Tracy turned it down) holds the record for most villainous appearances in the series at a whopping 20 episodes. The actor freely admitted his bird imitation was decidedly more duck than penguin (due to the fact that the smoke from his “prop” cigarette irritated his throat), but that trademark Waugh! Waugh! Waugh! became as essential a part of his character as his umbrella.
#4 – King Tut (Victor Buono)
“It isn’t that I love you any less, Batman, simply that I love me more.”
Buono delivers a tour de force performance as the Professor-turned-King-of-Egypt going from zero to one hundred and back multiple times over multiple scenes. I imagine filming his episodes must have been a hell of a lot of fun. According to Buono: “Batman allowed me to do what actors are taught never to do, overact”.
#3 – Catwoman (Julie Newmar)
“If you pick the right door, I’m yours, Batman. If you pick the wrong door, you’re mine. So which is it, Batman? The lady or the tiger?”
My first true t.v. crush. She always struck me as one of Batman’s most formidable villains. The fact she could wield a whip certainly helped cement that impression. According to Newmar, she was going to turn down the role only to have her brother, and his friends from Harvard, convince her to take it because it was their favorite show.
#2 – Joker (Cesar Romero)
“Uh, Susie, Sweetie. A special extra bonus. A half pint bottle of the most exquisite Canadian perfume.”
Yeah, yeah. Many other actors have portrayed the clown prince of crime on the big and small screen, but nostalgia makes it hard for me to love anyone else in the role. Apparently, Frank Sinatra loved the character so much that he threw his hat in the ring in the event Romero ever grew tired of playing the Joker. Still, as much as I loved Romero, his decision NOT to shave his mustache for the role (requiring a heavy application of make-up that never really held up in close-ups) kept his character from taking top spot.
#1 – Riddler (Frank Gorshin)
With money, who needs friends?
Gorshin left the show after its first season due to a contract dispute, but returned for its third, garnering an Emmy nomination for his memorable performance and turning a relatively (at the time) obscure comic book villain into a formidable Bat-foe. He apparently developed his character’s high-pitched laugh at Hollywood parties – and that laugh was won him the role.
Agree? Disagree? Weigh in with your opinions, Bat-readers!