“Uncle” Batman: Adam West (1928-2017)

Adam West, who died Friday from leukemia at age 88, played Gotham’s Cape Crusader in ABC’s campy after-school series, inspired more by Lichtenstein’s pop art than DC’s brooding Dark Knight. Once the show was canceled, West was legally forbidden to don Bat-cowl for commercials or Comic-con. This didn’t stop him, however, from sounding off about his feuds with Warner Bros., DC Comics and Burt “Robin” Ward. Here’s our 2001 interview with West, who, more recently, appeared on “Family Guy” and “The Big Bang Theory.”

By Glenn Lovell

Twice a week for two and a half seasons, Adam “Batman” West donned cape and cowl, planted tongue firmly in cheek and BIFFED!! and KAPOWED!! the Penguin, Riddler and other garish archenemies into submission. Flash forward 35 years. West’s greatest nemesis in the 21st Century? DC Comics and then-parent company AOL Time Warner, which held the copyright to Batman and his likeness.

Holy Corporate Skullduggery, Caped Crusader! Your creator has turned spoilsport!

Yes, Robin. Sad but true.Adam

Fear not, Trusty Sidekick. The Cowled One won’t be cowed. Even now, disguised as boomer icon, he battles on.

West, tanned and robust at 71, used the DVD release of “Batman: The Movie – Special Edition” to finally stick it to DC Comics and anyone else who would deny him access to the bat cowl. The low-budget 1966 feature was spun off from the ABC series, which ran 1966-1968.

“I’ve been asked to be in very lucrative national commercials or on billboards, but DC Comics makes it very difficult – they want a lot of money for the costume,” West said over the phone from his farm in Ketchum, Idaho. “Unlike our incredible fans, they’ve given very little acknowledgment, credit, to the older TV Batman. I think it’s hypocritical, and arbitrary, on DC’s part.”

To illustrate, West recalled an offer to appear in a Canadian campaign for Yoplait yogurt. West said yes; DC handed Yoplait a bill for the Batman costume. The deal fell through.

What invariably happens at this point is that they hire a younger, less-expensive model who looks and sounds like West or those other square-jawed guys (Keaton, Clooney) in the more recent “Batman” movies

OnStar Corp., the satellite guidance system, used a West look-alike in bat-cowl and Batmobile in its national campaign, he pointed out.

“Yes, that’s happened quite a bit over the years,” West said. “That’s why I use the word ‘hypocrisy.’ They could get me, the real thing, if they paid my price. But if I want to do something in costume, they have to also pay DC a lot of money. Why should they turn me down and allow others to do it?”

If someone mAdam2et his and DC Comics’ price, he’d gladly don the bat suit again, said West. “I know it still fits.”

Warner Bros., which holds the rights to numerous DC Comics characters, said the Bat suit is not for rent or personal gain. “It’s our job to protect the integrity of the icon,” said Warner spokeswoman Barbara Brogliatti. “And sometimes we have to make judgments that seem specific. Batman is Batman – not the actor who dons the suit.”

West insisted he harbored no bitterness, that he was still in demand for movie cameos and voice-over work.

Then, too, there were six or seven annual “Batman” conventions, religiously attended by himself and Burt “Robin” Ward. Sadly, the fearless duo are now feuding. West cites Ward’s unflattering tell-all, “Boy Wonder: My Life in Tights.” “Burt thought he was Jackie Collins – there isn’t much truth in the book. But maybe I should be flattered: he made me look like a cross between King Kong and Errol Flynn.”

West and Ward attended conventions in street clothes. “That we’re not in costume doesn’t bother me, and it doesn’t seem to bother the fans.”

The events sounded as wild as “Star Trek” conventions.

“Yeah, they have their ‘trekkies’ and we have ‘batties.’ We have super-fans who dress up like characters and come play entire scenes from the movie. There are those who are maybe too deeply into the show.”

Have there been Bat-stalkers?

“Not for a while. There was a time when a guy did stalk me. He even followed me onto an airplane … People are usually warm toward the Batman phenomenon, very funny about it. There doesn’t seem to be any dark element … anything sinister to deal with.”

Here, West paused, then deadpanned: “Except a few nights at a couple of bars.”

Everyone wants to kick Batman’s butt, eh?

“Yeah,” he cracked. “I should have never worn my costume into a biker bar.”

At once pompous and playfully self-mocking, sort of like his stuffy Bruce Wayne-Batman persona, West liked to hold forth on the universal appeal of the TV series, which has been lumped – incredibly– with the Beatles and Bond phenoms. In the late ’60s, as the war in Vietnam raged, an entire generation of Bat-fans raced home from school to watch West and Ward do battle in a pop art world of hokey gadgets, bad riddles and almost chaste double entendres. (“You give me curious stirrings in my utility belt, Catwoman.”)

“It was unique – it had never been done,” explained West, who got the gig after spoofing a secret agent in a Nestle’s Quik commercial. “It was a comic character brought to life in a kind of absurd way. The kids got caught up in the crazy characters, the crime-fighting pizazz. And as they got older, they saw the gags, the double entendres, the absurdity of it. It was a family-friendly show, you know. Nobody got hurt.”

Except West and Ward, victims of a double whammy: They didn’t share in DC’s and 20th Century Fox’s lucrative syndication deal (their residuals stopped after six airings), and they suffered from terminal typecasting.

“I had to face being typed,” West acknowledged. “I knew it was coming. That wasn’t an easy thing to overcome. It took me several years to get out of the cape and cowl and, you know, do other things. I did theater, several TV pilots, guest shoots and a number of movies, some of them real turkeys.”

West would have been a natural for a cameo in Tim Burton’s darker, more operatic “Batman.” He, however, saw himself, even at age 58, as the lead. Warner Bros. and Burton didn’t race to the Bat-phone..

How did he feel when Burton’s “Batman” starring Michael Keaton broke records at the box office?

“When the first one was being promoted, I felt a little bit, um, left out. But that lasted about 10 minutes … The new ‘Batman’ movies are special-effects driven … The relationships aren’t there. Somehow, they don’t have the warmth, the wit, the silliness of our show. Overall, they’ve become too dark and sinister.”

Obviously there’s a need for a kinder, gentler Batman.

“Yes, they really need me,” he laughed. “So many heroes have let the kids down. They need Uncle Batman.”

 

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One Response to ““Uncle” Batman: Adam West (1928-2017)”

  1. Audrey Says:

    never knew about this controversy. loved watching Batman with my lil brother back in the day…

    Like

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