In 1966, fans of the legendary comic books were happy to see their favorite characters move into the small screen in Batman the show. Yes, it was silly, and yes it polarized fans, but it was also thrilling. The series lasted only three seasons, yet it was enough time to make a major impact on pop culture. Not only were fans influenced by the fun show, but so were those on the set.
As it turns out, Batman himself – played by Adam West – was a legend in his own right. The most amusing thing about it all is that opposed to his on-screen, family-friendly character, backstage Batman was very much a lady magnet. So much so that he got into trouble multiple times for getting down and dirty when the cameras stopped rolling.
Let’s go behind the scenes of TV’s Batman
TV’s Batman could have been very different if the showrunners had gone with another superhero duo. When casting Batman and Robin, the show’s producers conducted two separate screen tests for their actors to perform a given scene. The two pairs in the running were Adam West and Burt Ward, as well as Lyle Waggoner and Peter Deyell.
Obviously, West and Ward were chosen, and for 120 episodes the pair sure had their work cut out for them. Considering they had mostly equal screen time, it wasn’t very fair that Ward wasn’t compensated as much as West was. The actor reportedly earned $350 per week, which was negligible compared to his co-star’s $2,000 paycheck per episode.
The series that eventually turned into a legendary hit actually started out on a bumpy ride. Adam West revealed in his 1994 book, Back to the Batcave, that the pilot of the show received the worst score from test audiences in television history.
Usually, average scores fall in the 60s range, but Batman initially scored in the 40s. As the story goes, the reason for the poor score was because the series was originally meant to be a crime drama. The producers then had to try and improve the bleak test results, so they added the now-famous features of the show, like the laugh track and narration. Looks like silly wins in the end.
One of the things about the show that made it so memorable were all the villains. After all, if it weren’t for those evil, larger-than-life characters, we wouldn’t need superhuman Batman nor his sidekick Robin to come and save the day. There was a total of 37 villains who wreaked havoc on Gotham City, and each one had his work cut out for him.
For each scene in a villain’s lair, the camera purposely shifted to become crooked as a way to emphasize the crooked nature of the criminals. If you don’t remember this element in the show, just go back and watch an episode. You’ll see the Penguin and the Joker, in particular since they appear in over a third of the series’ episodes.
No one can deny the impact Adam West had on the show. He defined the character for generations to come. West explained how the actor first landed the role, thanks to a commercial he did.
His appearance in a Nestle Quik chocolate milk commercial brought him to Batman, or rather, brought Batman to him. “I think that commercial was responsible for them asking to see me about Batman… I read the pilot script, had a conversation, and they just immediately cast me.” When asked why he thinks he remained popular for over five decades, West’s answer was, “It could be my legs. Not too many guys can wear tights effectively.”
The comic book series was popular in the ‘40s, decades before the show aired. Ironically, though, the TV show eventually influenced the comic books. For instance, Batman’s creator, Bob Kane, killed off Alfred the Butler in the comic series months before the pilot of the show aired.
But when the producers announced that Alfred was one of the characters on the show, Kane resurrected him for the comics. Here’s another fun fact: Alan Napier, the actor who played Alfred, never even heard of Batman before taking on the role.
Long before Joaquin Phoenix, Heath Ledger, and Jack Nicholson, there was Cesar Romero – the actor who played the legendary Joker in the Batman series. Rumor has it that the Joker’s iconic laugh wasn’t created for the camera. Apparently, it was Romero’s actual laugh when he saw his costume for the first time!
Think about it: If Romero never landed the role, we might never have become accustomed to hearing the Joker’s zany laugh. A lot of well-known actors tried out for the role, too, including Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra.
The fan-favorite villainess was obviously Catwoman – a role that was portrayed by two different actresses in the show. Julie Newmar played the femme fatale in the first and second seasons, after which Eartha Kitt played the killer cat for the rest of the series.
When Kitt showed up as Catwoman in 1967, it came as a shock to many – not only seeing a Black woman on TV, but in a leading role no less. Nonetheless, Kitt’s persona and ponytail set her apart, and to this day, she’s seen as one of the best Catwomen of all.
It’s hard to imagine the show without all the Penguin’s “quack, quacks,” right? Burgess Meredith played the iconic villain, and he apparently improvised the trademark noises on his own. The reason for it had to do with his cigarettes…
The Penguin notoriously smoked his cigarettes out of a fancy cigarette holder. But Meredith had quit smoking 20 years before taking on the role. All that smoke irritated his throat, of course, making him cough. Thus, the quacks were born out of his desire to hide his coughs.
Fun fact: Mickey Rooney was originally offered the role of Penguin but turned it down.
Another memorable villain was the Riddler, played by famed character actor Frank Gorshin. His role as Riddler was his big Hollywood break; it was so well-received that he even earned an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.
Gorshin’s performance in the show made Riddler a more prominent character in the Batman comics. The strange truth is that the Riddler was never intended to be a major part of Batman’s villain repertoire. In addition, Gorshin’s aversion to the skin-tight suit led him to choose a business suit instead, for which he became famous.
The third season introduced us to a new recurring character: Batgirl. Yvonne Craig played Batgirl, a caped crusader who helped the dynamic duo escape from trouble. But she had another purpose, too. Since the show’s ratings had dropped before the third season, Batgirl was the producer’s way to garner the attention of a new, young, female audience.
But it didn’t really go according to plan, which was to make a spinoff of the show about Batgirl. The pilot was filmed, based on Barbara Gordon (Batgirl’s “real” name), but it never came to fruition. Batman was then canceled in 1968.
You’ve probably noticed all the “holy”s up to this point. Well, Robin was more than just Batman’s trusty sidekick. He was known for all his witty exclamations with the word “holy.” Over 120 episodes, Robin used these “holy” catchphrases 352 times!
His “holy” outbursts were essentially used as punctuation marks to emphasize extraordinary moments. Fans of the show surely have their favorites quips that Robin said, but if we have to choose the best, “holy hole in a donut” and “holy ravioli” might be the winners.
We have more “holy” remarks to make, so let’s keep going!
Burt Ward said that 90% of his catchphrases were written ahead of time. He did, however, have some flexibility if something didn’t make sense. He explained how they would shoot back-to-back episodes, sometimes simultaneously.
They had 32 different directors over three-and-a-half years, so not every director had the same style. The studio let Ward do whatever he wanted. They saw the chemistry between him and West and let the duo have some fun with their lines. And it all just worked out with West being the natural comedian that he was.
Adam West was 37 when he became Batman, and he had already been divorced twice by then. By 1966, he had been single for four years. To be more precise, he was single and ready to mingle. West was ready to move past his failed marriages and enjoy being the lover boy on set.
And boy, did his time on TV make him a ladies’ man, similar to his alter ego Bruce Wayne. West did marry a third time, though, a couple of years after the show wrapped, to Marcelle Tagand Lear. And the third time really was a charm, because they remained married until West’s death in 2017.
The night before West was going to meet Pope Paul VI, he drank too much (as usual). And so, when he was standing in line, waiting to see the pope, he realized just how severely hungover he was. If he were to do the accustomed gesture of kneeling down to kiss the pope’s ring, he probably wouldn’t be able to stand up afterward.
What he did instead was bow slightly and then shake the pontiff’s hand. Luckily for West, Pope Paul VI was a Batman fan. He said to West: “Oh, Signor West! I have seen all of your shows. I love pipistrello!” (Which is the Italian word for bat.)
Fans got to know the wholesome Batman, but what they didn’t necessarily know is that off stage Batman was very scandalous. Adam West grew so popular with the show that he became a legend just based on his off-stage antics while shooting it. Apparently, women were melting over him and his skin-tight suit.
West was invited to party after Hollywood party, navigating the racy underground scene. Some of the parties West was invited to – and gladly attended – were sexy parties. He even went to one with his co-star Frank Gorshin (Riddler), where they both immediately went into their famous characters. While they made people laugh so much, they were still thrown out of the party.
Rumor has it that West partied so hard one time, he got banned from Aspen, Colorado for 15 years. The city was a favorite stomping ground with celebrities back in the day. Stars like Johnny Depp, Bill Murray, and Jack Nicholson all have ties to the place.
Party-goer West was also one to tear up the slopes during the day and clink glasses with ladies at night. He once partied so hard that the city effectively banned him from returning! West only revealed three key elements of this legendary party: women, liquor, and police. Years later, West received a letter from the city allowing him to return.
When it comes to a man in uniform, women tend to find them sexy. But there are superhero costumes, and there’s Batman. And the ladies loved the Batman costume. According to Robin’s Burt Ward, it was all about the costume and how they wore it.
“If you look at our show, you’ll see that we always stood with our legs open, our fists on hips, and our bat bulges forward, which had a profound effect on women.” Ward described how it was basically a “lure for women.” And it didn’t just end there. Of course, West took it to another level.
According to Ward, he started the show as a “naive 20-year-old who had only dated a couple of girls.” And then he met Adam West, and suddenly he was introduced to the “wildest sexual debauchery that you can imagine.” To give you an idea, West was so randy that he would try to fill his downtime on set with quickies.
And this is the star of the show, who was in most scenes, so his breaks were typically short. So, when it came to fooling around on breaks, he had to stay in costume. “Because of the physical limitations of the costume, you gotta have quickies,” West explained. Removing the suit was clearly not an option. Not that the ladies were complaining.
There is no shortage of legendary Adam West stories (we can thank Family Guy for keeping his legacy alive), and one of the tales has to do with him having eight women at one time. West allegedly “made love” to eight women in a single sitting.
According to Batman himself, “I remember one night with eight different women. ‘Sex party’ is a harsh word, but it was eight at one time.” He may not choose those two words together, but let’s be honest here – it was a good old-fashioned you-know-what.
Aside from being something of a sex god, Adam West was also known for being dedicated to his craft (as actors love to say). He put in a lot of effort into his role and took the job seriously. That meant arriving on set as early as 7:45 a.m. The fact that women waited for him in his dressing room didn’t hurt.
West reportedly had “young female co-stars in his dressing room at 7:45 in the morning.” The word on the set is that women would form a line to both West’s and Ward’s dressing rooms. “We often found that women were banging on our windows while we were bedded down with other women,” Ward revealed.
West’s popularity happened to peak at the right time. The 1960s were all about “free love,” and West knew this cultural climate very well. In an interview, he said he and Ward “were like kids in a candy store. It was the Swinging ’60s with free love, and women threw themselves at us.”
While West was 37 years old, his wingman was all of 20 years old. Naturally, West became something of a mentor to Ward. That said, Ward was always ready for whatever West wanted to do. In a radio interview, Ward admitted that West was the “primary instigator.”
Their time together on the show was, without a doubt, wild for both actors. Ward said how he loved working with West, and not just because of their endless attention from women. He didn’t even mind that West never got in trouble, and he, Ward, did.
Ward recalled the time when he drove the Batmobile out of the Batcave and accidentally hit the set. “I got yelled at for a week, whereas he could crack it up, and everybody would think it’s funny.”
But after the show ended, Ward and West had a falling-out. While they continued to make appearances together in costume, they were barely speaking by the time the show fully wrapped.
Ward’s memoir explained his animosity toward West. Boy Wonder, published in 1995, sees Ward accusing West of pretty much everything: drunkenness, lustfulness, greed, and self-love. In addition, West was portrayed as a poor tipper which Ward attributed to West’s “modest” manhood. As for Ward, well, he describes his own manhood as “the monster” and “the beast in the bat trunks.”
In 2005, West made a statement in reaction to Ward’s claims: “It was apparent to me… that Burt fell victim to making up stories to sell books. But in a way, it was flattering because he made me sound like King Kong.” (I wouldn’t call those claims, flattering. But okay, Batman, you win.)
The Batcave acted as both a hangar and research facility, and it had everything Batman needed to make sure he could save the day. The production crew went under L.A.’s Hollywood sign, choosing Griffith Park’s Bronson Caves to film all the scenes where the Batmobile sped out from the Batcave.
It may have looked like the Batmobile was driving at lightning speed, but in reality, it was moving at a snail’s pace. That’s because the Batmobile was only a prop and it was too wide to fit in the cave. What the crew had to do was slowly film its exit and speed it up in post-production.
In 2013, the original Batmobile, which in actuality was an altered Lincoln Futura, was auctioned off for a whopping $4.2 million. Sure, the iconic vehicle takes most viewers back to the good old days, but such fond memories might be the most vivid for Burt Ward.
Since Ward wasn’t always provided with a body double, he had to perform dangerous stunts once in a while, and it left him with his fair share of serious injuries. In one case, he was ejected from the Batmobile when making a sharp turn around a corner. The incident landed him in the hospital.
Former Catwoman Julie Newmar explained what she thinks was the secret to the show’s success. She told The National Enquirer that “The secret of it was playing it very straight.” She clarified that the head producer was always saying, “Straight, straight, straight – do not play it for laughs!”
The point was the straighter it was played, the more ridiculous it was. The dry humor definitely accentuated the campy feel. Some say the storylines were lost in translation, especially for all the kids who watched the show. The fact that kids watched the show was a factor in the series’ demise…
By the end of the third season, ABC noticed Batman’s ratings were dropping significantly. It led them to cancel it on March 14, 1968. But ABC was still hoping that another network would save the day
But after waiting for a long time, the network assumed they were out of luck and went ahead and dismantled all the sets. Then, NBC announced they wanted to take over the series. The thing is, they withdrew their offer once they heard all the sets were already destroyed. Bad timing, Batman!
Bruce Lee was a martial arts master, known for all of his fighting flicks, but did you know that his first television appearance was on Batman? He was on the episode “The Spell of Tut” in 1966. In addition, he appeared in the 1967 episodes “Batman’s Satisfaction” and “A Piece of the Action.”
Lee played Kato, the Green Hornet’s sidekick and limo driver. In one scene, he and Robin get into a fight. Ward later revealed that he and Lee lived in the same condominium complex and would even spar together! Ward was actually a black belt in karate.
One of the most iconic moments took place in the very first episode, “Hi Diddle Riddle.” In it, Batman drinks from a spiked drink that Riddler gave him. His inhibitions were then lowered, and he starts dancing. His groovy dance was later dubbed the “Batusi,” which is a spoof on the ‘60s dance craze, the Watusi.
West later told Nerdist how it all began, when he was learning lines in the car on the way to work. “I was listening to jazz on the radio, and I switched around, got some different music. I began to move on my car seat, and people looked at me strangely. I was watusing, then batusing while I drove.”
West’s interpretation of Batman was arguably one of the best. What, or who was his inspiration? According to 100 Things Batman Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, the late actor said that some of his influences were Sherlock Holmes and Basil Rathbone.
“People like that who were always musing and deducing and pacing,” West explained. “Suddenly, just a thunderbolt of deduction. I used that in a comedic way,” he said, adding that he tends to borrow from everything “as an artist or an actor or whatever.” Well put, Batman.
Batman made several public service announcements during the show’s run in the U.K., which aired before each episode. The PSAs were mainly targeted towards children. The first one was made to motivate kids to support the Vietnam War!
Batman was seen encouraging kids to buy American savings stamps. The second announcement involved Batman urging kids to be safe on the road. It came after a year of the show’s debut when multiple English children had been jumping from high surfaces in an attempt to be like the beloved caped crusader. Batman and Robin filmed a PSA stressing the fact that Batman cannot really fly.
When Batman premiered, almost every celebrity in Hollywood wanted to be on the show. Ward told Nerdist that “everybody was so excited to be on the show” – that the producers were flooded with requests “from every major star.” It was because their own kids were hammering them.
But there were only so many villains the showrunners could create. So they came up with a clever idea: the iconic Gotham City wall-climbing scene was the result. In the famous scene, Batman and Robin climb up a building, and on their way up, different celebrities popped their heads out of windows, including Sammy Davis Jr., Dick Clark, and Betty White.
The legacy of the Batman series has lived on. 50 years after the show premiered, the original cast reunited in 2016 to voice their characters in the animated movie Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders. And that was only the beginning. A year later, the sequel movie hit theaters: Batman vs. Two-Face.
Newmar, Ward, and West voiced the characters, but new actors were also added to the cast. William Shatner did the voice of Two-Face/Harvey Dent, and Lee Meriwether (who played Catwoman in the original 1966 movie) was the voice of Lucilee Diamond.
West died from leukemia in 2017 at 88. Despite their falling out, Ward made a public statement: “This is a terribly unexpected loss of my lifelong friend; I will forever miss him. There are several fine actors who have portrayed Batman in films. In my eyes, there was only one real Batman that is and always will be Adam West. He was truly the Bright Knight.”
Fans of West know of his recurring character on Family Guy. Before he passed, he had pre-recorded five more episodes as Mayor Adam West, which were released posthumously in the hit cartoon’s 16th season.
Burt Ward is still kicking it at 76 years old. And he nearly didn’t make it, solely based on his days on the Batman set. Ward recounted one episode where Catwoman captures Robin, and he was put on a plank face down, tied up with his arms tied down to his sides.
He was facing down, 10 feet above three live, wild Bengal Tigers. The handlers told Ward that these cats could jump 16 feet, so yeah, he was worried, to say the least. There were four crew members in a steel cage 10 feet above him but out of range of the tigers. The tigers were standing on their hind legs, almost reaching him, nearly pawing at him.
Ward heard the director say, “Oh, no no no. I need more than that. I want them jumping up.” So, the handler said the only thing they could do is have their food there – to hang meat over Ward’s head. And that’s exactly what they did, and the tigers jumped up towards his face.
“I pulled against my bonds and after the shot,” Ward said. They even did three or four versions of it! When the director told him how great and “realistic” he was, Ward responded with: “What do you mean realistic? I really was trying to get away from them; they were trying to kill me!”
The danger started on the very first episode of the show. On the first day and during the first shot, they were at Bronson Canyon, shooting the Batcave with the Batmobile. Ward was supposed to be coming out of the cave at 55mph and make a sharp turn.
So, he gets in the Batmobile, “and it’s dark, it’s in a cave,” and he looks over to see what he thinks is Adam West in the costume. But it wasn’t West; it was West’s stunt double. The stuntman, Hubey, told Ward, “Well, this is a very dangerous shot, and they don’t wanna take a chance of Adam West getting hurt, so I’m doing the shot.”
That’s when Ward started thinking – how dangerous is this shot? So, he asked Hubey how risky this shot really was. The stuntman told Ward, “the more broken bones I get, the more money I get paid.” Ward then discovered that he also had a stuntman of his own, but where was this guy?
After complaining to the director, the director told him his stunt double couldn’t be used for this shot because he supposedly didn’t look like him. Ward asked why they would even bother hiring someone who doesn’t look like him. The director told him he was all they had.
And so, they went ahead with the shot anyway, and as Ward was making the sharp turn, his door flew open unexpectedly, knocking the cameraman off his truck, and the truck turning over. Ward was almost thrown out of the car. It was all very, very dangerous.
Ward really injured his hand in the act – his little finger was twice its size. They wanted to take him to the hospital, but first they needed to do another shot. He had to sit and wait for hours, his hand in agony, just so they could finish the shot. Poor Ward, right?