The 1960s Batman TV show has now become a cult classic and is still fondly remembered by fans as one of the most popular, unique and iconic shows of its time. The series ran on the ABC network for three seasons and helped popularize the Caped Crusader comic strip character and bring it to life for the TV audience. The 1960s Batman still holds a special place in TV history and has left a few legacies that have helped influence pop culture today.
The show combined a sassy mix of campy, pop-art humor and Holy one-liners with a sitcom vibe and introduced a whole host of colorful characters onto our screens. The series featured Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as his sidekick Robin as they battled to save the day from a collection of memorable villains. The 1960s show and helped inspire a generation of Batman spin-off productions. So let’s look at some of behind-the-scenes moments, fun facts and trivia behind the campy show.
When the ABC executives first commissioned the Batman TV show, they originally envisaged that it would be a cool and hip crime TV series. They were hoping it would be something similar to The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which was another trendy show in the 60s.
Still, when they took a closer look at the original Batman comic books, they realized that the books had a campy and tongue-in-cheek humor to them. So the executives decided to create a campy and pop-art style show instead.
It’s pretty safe to say that the Batmobile is still one of the most iconic elements of the entire Batman series. It was part of Batman’s superhero charm and helped him save the day every time.
The original Batmobile from the show was actually a modified version of the Lincoln Futura. In 2013, the car proved to be a sentimental treasure for one lucky bidder and was sold in an auction for a massive amount of $4.2 million.
While the series was still in production, the casting agents searched far and wide to find the perfect dynamic duo. So two separate screen tests were carried out. The first included Adam West and Burt Ward, and the second included Lyle Waggoner and Peter Deyell.
After the screenings, eventually Adam West and Burt Ward landed the part. You can still find both screen tests on YouTube, and they show just how different the series would have been if the other duo had landed the job. Thankfully for Waggoner, he went on to star alongside Lynda Carter in Wonder woman in the 70s.
In 1994, the iconic actor Adam West released his book, aptly titled Back to the Batcave. Inside, he revealed that the original pilot episode for the show achieved “the worst score in the history of pilot testing”. While the average score for a pilot episode was typically in the 60s, this show was in the 40s.
So, the producers had to think out of the box and make adjustments. These changes included adding a narrator and laughter. Still, these changes in direction weren’t enough to boost the score after it was retested. So eventually, they added brand new special effects and the producers went from there.
The Batman series first debuted in 1966, which was actually the same year that the Batman movie was released. The movie first premiered in cinemas two months after the first season of the TV series was wrapped up.
The movie featured all the favorite cast members from the series, including Adam West, Burt Ward, as Batman and Robin. Burgess Meredith, Cesar Romero, and Frank Gorshin played Batman’s enemies, The Penguin, The Joker, and The Riddler. While Julie Newmar played Catwoman in the series, Lee Meriwether got the movie role. She later appeared in the TV series as Lisa Carson.
Each season of the Batman series consisted of a total of 34 episodes. In each chapter, Adam West and Burt Ward both pooled all their efforts into playing the dynamic duo, Batman and Robin.
While both actors had their work cut out to star in each installment, Burt Ward was earning just $350 per episode to play Robin, which was pretty meager. Burt was later dismayed when he discovered that his co-star Adam West was earning considerably more than him to play Batman.
The iconic Batman comic books were first released in the 1930s. Even after the series was being aired on TV, the DC comic series franchise was still in full swing. Interestingly, a few months before the TV series premiered one of the characters, Alfred the Butler had been killed off in the comics.
Nevertheless, the producers made the decision to include Alfred the Butler and Aunt Harriet in the TV series. This clearly made an impact, and the Butler was later resurrected for the comic series. Another interesting feat is that Alan Napier, who played Alfred has never heard of Batman before auditioning for the part.
If you remember the original 1960s series, you will probably agree that the real villains of Batman, really stole the show every time they made an appearance. One of the reasons the scenes with each villain were so memorable, was because of some clever camera tricks.
Evidently, every time you were taken into the villain’s lair, the angle of the camera was tilted slightly. This was intended to represent the crooked nature of each of Gotham city’s dastardly criminals. It also made the villain’s scenes a little more comical, pop-arty and dramatic.
Throughout the series, Batman had his work cut out to defeat each dastardly criminal and help save the city from their villainous plans every time. Although there were a few arch-enemies in the show, the two that stand out the most are still The Penguin and the Joker.
The reason these criminals made such as impact was because they managed to take center stage throughout the series and appeared in the most episodes. Batman had to defeat the Joker in 22 episodes and The Penguin in 19 episodes.
In the TV show, Cesar Romero took on the iconic role of the Joker. As his character developed, fans might remember that he had a trademark maniacal laugh. Interestingly, that distinctive laugh originally came from when Cesar saw his Joker costume for the first time.
Looking back, it seems that Cesar Romero was made for the part. Nevertheless, Frank Sinatra also expressed some interest in playing the Joker too, and the show would have been entirely different if he had landed that part.
Another iconic villainess of the series was none other than Catwoman. Throughout each series, Catwoman managed to captivate the audience with her spellbinding performances. Still, the female villainess was actually played by three different actresses.
In the first series, Julia Newmar took on the legendary villainess role. Then in the spin-off movie in 1966, Lee Merriweather played the part. When the second series aired, Eartha Kitt took over the role of Catwoman and continued for the remainder of the series.
In season three, when Eartha Kitt landed the role of Catwoman, she actually made TV history. In fact, Eartha became the second African-American female to take a leading role on mainstream TV show in the US.
It’s hard to imagine this now, but at that point, it was still the 1960s. As the Batman franchise continued, the role of Catwoman was later played by Nichelle Nichols, who also starred on Star Trek as Uhura. In 2004, Halle Berry took on the iconic role in the movie Catwoman and actually drew inspiration from Eartha Kitt’s character.
In the Batman series, another legendary villain was The Penguin. When the show was still in production, a few actors were originally considered for the role. One of the potential actors included Mickey Rooney.
The casting agents also scouted another talented actor for the part, which was Spencer Tracey. Funnily enough, Spencer was only interested in the villainous role, if he could be the one to defeat and kill Batman. Clearly, he didn’t read the comics or get the memo of how the whole superhero story works.
While The Joker had his trademark maniacal laugh, The Penguin also had his own signature cackle, or ‘quackle’. The story behind this cackle laugh is a little different than the story behind The Joker’s laugh.
The reason for the actor Burgess Meredith’s infamous laugh is actually the result of years of cigarette smoking when he was younger. Although Burgess quit 20 years before the show was in production, his voice still had a distinctively smoky edge, which was perfect for the role of The Penguin.
One of the most memorable legacies from the show were the endless stream of insane and out-of-this-world gadgets. As the series developed, each new gadget was presented in a catchy way, with the word ‘bat’ attached to it.
Each of these bat gadgets proved essential for the plot and helped Batman defeat his enemies every time. Some of the most iconic and comical-sounding gadgets included the ‘brain wave bat analyzer’, ‘bulletproof bat shields’, ‘bat shark repellent’ and ‘batcillin’, Batman-proof penicillin.
Another iconic legacy that fans will remember, was the infamously tight costumes that Batman and Robin wore. Many were quick to note just how tight-fighting their costumes were, and it made their characters look a little more comical.
While the costumes did help add to the lighthearted style of the show, the National League of Decency were still concerned that their outfits might prove a little controversial for the audience and reached out to the network. So the wardrobe department had to add some layering and adjustments to make them look less exposed.
As the show became a massive TV hit, it seemed like every star in Hollywood couldn’t wait for their turn to shine and be part of the show. In fact, most of the villains were played by some of the biggest names in Hollywood.
Still, there weren’t enough roles available to cast everyone in Hollywood. So the producers devised a plan and created the iconic wall climbing sequence. While Batman and Robin scaled the wall of the building to foil a villainous plan, they encountered numerous celebrities at each window, including Edward G. Robinson, Sammy Davis Jr. and Santa Claus himself!
In the TV series, the part of The Riddler was played by Frank Gorshin. He managed to captivate the audience with his hilarious and memorable performance and became a firm fan favorite. He was even nominated for an award for the role.
Frank added a hilarious and absurd touch to the role of The Riddler. So it seems fitting that he was nominated for an Emmy Award for the Best Supporting Character in a Comedic Role.
While Frank Gorshin wowed fans with his portrayal of The Riddler, he wasn’t the only actor to take on the part in the TV series. Frank played the character in season one and the spin-off movie in 1966 and reprised the role for season three.
Still, in season two another Oscar-nominated actor assumed the part of the Riddler, which was John Astin. He appeared in two episodes in 1967. The actor was also famously married t Patty Duke and is the father of another talented actor, Sean Astin.
Mr. Freeze was another villainous character that Batman had to contend with on the show. Although he only appeared in six episodes, the character still made a memorable impact on the series.
Incidentally, Mr. Freeze was played by three different actors, who all added their own unique twist to the villainous character. In season one, George Sanders took on the part, and in season two, Otto Preminger and Eli Wallach both took their shot at portraying Mr. Freeze.
In the third season, another female caped crusader was introduced to the audience, in the form of Batgirl. As the daughter of Commissioner Gordon, the Batgirl superhero used her powers to help Batman and Robin when they were in need.
The character of Batgirl was portrayed by Yvonne Craig, who swooped in to save the day and help win over the female audience. She was also introduced just in time to help boost the show’s ratings, which were beginning to fall. Although a spin-off Batgirl series may have been considered, nothing came of it when the show was canceled in 1968.
The character of Robin will probably be best remembered for his hilarious and catchy one-liners and quips on the show. Although there were a few variations to the theme, each one managed to begin with ‘Holy’ and finish with ‘Batman!’
Throughout the show’s run, Robin created a staggering 352 of these memorable moments, and each managed to be more creative than the last. Some of the most iconic quips were ‘Holy Ravioli’, ‘Holy Schizophrenia’ and ‘Holy Jack in-a-box’.
After Adam West won over the audience as Batman in the show, he could have gone on to play another iconic spy hero on the silver screen. Interestingly, in 1969, he was offered the role of James Bond in the movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Eventually, Adam West decided to turn down that role. His reasoning was that he felt like the role was more suited to a British actor. Incidentally, the role was later given to an Australian actor, George Lazenby.
Batman fans may remember that Batman resides in the infamous Batcave. In each episode, Batman powers out of his Batcave in his legendary Batmobile and embarks on his next crime-fighting mission.
Fans may not realize that this iconic scene was filmed in Branson Cavern in Hollywood Hills. The cavern was also too small for the frame of the Batmobile. So the cameras were under-cranked, and they filmed the Batmobile emerging slowly from the cave. They then sped it up for the play-back to look like the car was zooming out of the Batcave.
While Batman may have spent his nights fighting crime and thwarting villains, he also used his superpowers to help advertise products. In 1996 Batman and Robin swooped in to save the day for a Lava soap commercial, and help Commissioner James Gordon clean his hands. Alfred the Butler, played by Alan Napier also helped promote toothpaste.
During the series run, Batman featured in three public service announcements. In one, he encouraged children to stay safe on the roads. In another, he urged children to support the Vietnam war and save stamps. The third PSA is a little more fascinating, which we’ll get to next.
Amazingly, Batman didn’t just win over fans, he inspired many fans to mimic some of his action sequences. As you might imagine, these sequences didn’t always go as planned and there were multiple incidents in the UK throughout the first season.
So Adam West who played Batman and Burt Ward who played Robin tried to prevent any future incidents. They did this by recording an announcement, which was aired before every show that explained how Batman can’t fly, so viewers shouldn’t try to. Robin added his trademark one-liner, ‘Holy Broken Bones! Way to Keep it light.’
While the show had a successful run, sadly it was eventually canceled by the network. Initially, ABC had anticipated that another network would snap it up and continue to create the show. Still some time passed and they began to lose hope, so they eventually destroyed the sets.
However, then NBC made the decision to purchase the show after all. But as they discovered that all the sets had already been destroyed, they decided to take back their offer. We can only imagine how the series would have developed if they had acquired it!
While the original series was discontinued on the NBC network in the 60s, thankfully the original leading cast members were able to reunite 50 years later. In 2016 they all lent their voices for the animated movie, Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders.
In the movie, all the beloved stars, including Adam West, Burt Ward, and Julie Newman reprised their iconic roles for Batman, Robin, and Catwoman. After lending their voices for the first movie, they returned for the sequel, Batman vs. Two-Face in 2017. They were joined by William Shatner as Harvey Dent/ Two-Face and Lee Meriwether as Lucile Diamond.
While some of the original cast members reunited 50 years later, sadly now the only regular cast member that is still with us is Burt Ward, who played Robin. Over time the other regular stars, including Yvonne Craig who played Batgirl, Neil Hamilton who played Commissioner Gordon passed.
Other late actors which are fondly remembered by fans include Alan Napier who played Alfred Pennyworth, Madge Blake who portrayed Aunt Harriet and Stafford Repp who played Chief O’Hara. Adam West provided the voice over for Batman one last time in 2017, before passing, and left an unforgettable legacy.
Although the original Batman series has been off the air for over 50 years, its legacy still lives on through syndication. In fact, the iconic series is still featured on some other networks, including IFC, TeleXitos, and MeTV.
So, while there have been numerous successful TV show spin-offs and blockbusting movies in the Batman franchise, the original series still holds a special place in most fans hearts. After five decades, the classic 1960s series is still being aired and has stood the test of time.
While the iconic series that we all came to love was first aired on January 6th, 1966, another Batman show almost made it to our TV screens in 1964. A different company, Ed Graham Productions originally planned to create a more dramatic Batman series for Saturday mornings, with a similar tone to The Lone Ranger.
The producers had originally lined up a former American football star and actor, Mike Henry to take the lead as Batman. Mike even posed in costume to gain some publicity for the anticipated series. However, the negotiations broke down with CBC, so DC Comics eventually re-obtained the rights for the Batman character.
In 1965, a top ABC executive, Yale Udoff attended a four-hour screening of ‘An Evening with Batman and Robin.’ The screening was based on the 1943 Caped Crusaders on-screen adventure. As he was impressed by the crowd’s reaction, he was interested in bringing the Caped Crusader to his network.
So Yale Udoff reached out to the network. Luckily the other ABC executives were already considering adapting a comic strip hero for a TV series, so carried out a public survey. Batman was the most popular public choice, so they obtained the rights from DC Comics and shared them with 20th Century Fox to produce the series.
In the initial stages, the producers decided to switch the show from a drama to a comedy series. So one of the secrets of the success was that all the cast managed to give deadpan performances. So even when a hilarious, wacky or absurd sequence occurred, the cast managed to carry on and keep a straight face.
Julie Newmar, who played Catwoman later explained, “The secret of it was playing it straight. The comment from the head producer was always, ‘Straight, straight, straight – don not play it for laughs!’ – because the straighter you play it, the more ridiculous it really is.” This also meant however that many younger fans didn’t quite get the irony until they were older.
While many actors may have competed for the role of Batman, Adam West managed to land the part. Interestingly, one of the reasons that helped seal the deal and get him the part, was because he had starred in a children’s commercial for a dessert drink.
Adam West starred in an advert for Nestle’s Kwik and played the part of a 007-style spy. He later said that commercial “was responsible for them asking to see me about Batman. They cast me right away.”
When Burt Ward managed to secure the role of Batman’s trusty sidekick Robin, he was actually plucked out of obscurity. Incidentally one of the reasons he was cast was because of his naïve charm. However, this would prove to be an issue for him later on.
While we already mentioned that Burt Ward was paid less than his co-star, he also wasn’t given the luxury of a stunt double on several occasions. This resulted in some injuries and he was even sent to the hospital after one scene on the Batmobile. Interestingly, Batman was given a stuntman for that scene as it ‘was a very dangerous stunt’.
While Bruce Lee is renowned for his martial arts prowess and for kung-fu classic movies like Enter the Dragon, he also graced the set of the Batman TV series twice. Bruce played The Green Hornet’s sidekick and limo driver in the 1966 episode and reprised the role in 1967 for a two-part episode.
As you might expect, Bruce Lee managed to wow the audience with his kung-fu fighting skills. Incidentally, Bruce and Adam Ward were friends off-the camera and lived in the same apartment complex. Adam later said, “I was a black belt in karate and he was the ultimate martial artist…it was funny at the time because Bruce Lee was really new.”
Amazingly, the Batmobile was originally bought for just $1. The Lincoln Futura concept car had initially been built by Ford for around $250,000. Still, Ford eventually decided that there was no future in the concept vehicle, and so a car customizer, George Barris was able to buy it for just $1.
The car ended up sitting on George’s property for a few years until Fox contacted him to help create the Batmobile. Since the Futura had fins, accents and an open cabin, George started customizing the concept car to create the beloved Batmobile that we all fondly remember.
In the very first episode of the Batman series, titled “Hi Diddle Riddle”, the Caped Crusader had his drink spiked by the Riddler. As he threw his inhibitions to the wind, he impressed the audience with some groovy dance moves.
That dancing sequence was later dubbed the ‘Batusi’ and it later became of the most iconic moments in season one. Adam West later explained in an interview that the scene was actually just the result of some goofy improvisation. As he was listening to music while driving he began to ‘move on my car seat…I was watusing, then batusing while I drove.’
Adam West’s comical portrayal of Batman was one of the major appeals of the show. In fact, Adam West later revealed that one of the biggest inspirations behind his character was from another iconic detective, Sherlock Holmes.
Many fans loved how he played the detective crime-solving genius in a hilarious way. Adam West later explained in an interview how “Some of my influences were Sherlock Holmes – Basil Rathbone… always musing and deducing and pacing. I used it in a comedic way.”
While the Batman series had a successful run throughout the 1960s, it also inspired bat-mania. Nevertheless, after the second season, the ratings began to fall and the producers had to think of some creative ideas, like introducing Batgirl.
While the producers manage to continue the show for the third series, their creative ideas weren’t enough to help salvage the show. After 120 episodes, the Batman series came to a finale. However, it’s campy, the pop-art legacy still lives on and it helped inspire the next generation of Batman-inspired shows and movies.