Whether you’re a kid of the 1970s who spent many hours glued to your TV or a lover of campy shows of the past, you probably know who Adam West is. Known for his kitschy portrayal of Batman for three seasons and 120 ass-kicking episodes, he brought Batman to meteoric heights in popularity.
The Passing of a Legend
On June 9th, Adam West died at the age of 88 from Leukemia, and with him he took a legacy. Known for his tongue in cheek lines in the 1960s Batman and his tight Caped Crusader suit, he had a hard time finding work once the superhero series was canceled. He then went on to do voice overs, including his hugely popular stint as the mayor of Quahog on the TV cartoon Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy, which introduced him to a whole new crop of fans.
Batman premiered in January 12th, 1966 at 7:30pm and made West a pop culture legend. He was discovered by Batman producer William Dozier when he was playing Captain Quick, a James Bond type of character, for Nestle Quik commercials. West read the first 20 pages of the Batman script and knew it was gold and the type of comedy he wanted to do. After signing the contract on the spot, he asked to approve his sidekick, Robin, the Boy Wonder. He later approved Burt Ward, who was a brown belt but had no acting experience.
West chose to play Batman in a “serious, square-jawed, straight-ahead way”, but always gave the audience “the sense that there’s something behind that mask waiting to get out, that he’s a little crazed, he’s strange”. Each episode had a cliffhanger that was resolved the next night at the Same Bat-time! Same Bat-channel! The series was filmed in eye-popping bright colors and featured some of the most famous actors of the time, playing villains, including the Riddler (Frank Gorshin), Joker (Cesar Romero), Penguin (Burgess Meredith) and Catwoman (Julie Newmar). It was an immediate hit.
Despite the cheesy scripts, Batman was nominated for an Emmy Award its first year. 20th Century Fox put a movie for it in production and it was in the theaters by summer before the second season of Batman kicked off. Season two kicked off in September of 1966, but the show’s popularity plummeted, even though Yvonne Craig was brought in as Batgirl. The show was cancelled in March of 1968 after its third season.
West did lend his voice to play Batman in cartoons and appeared in The New Adventures of Batman, Legends of the Superheroes, SuperFriends: The Legendary Super Powers Show, and The Simpsons, and Warner Bros.’ DVD release of ABC’s Batman in 2014 brought him back into the spotlight.
Batman continues to be one of the top cosplay outfits that’s only topped in popularity by Superman. If you attend any comic book convention, cosplay event or look around any Halloween, there are tons of people dressed as Batman, both men and women. Of course, there are many incarnations of Batman from the Old School look from the TV show to the modern movies (where he was played by Val Kilmer, Christian Bale, Ben Affleck, and others) to futuristic Batman of somewhere in the future. No matter what frame of reference is used, Batman is always recognizable and respected.
Fans got to see the man behind the mask in a documentary called Starring Adam West. It shows him receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2012. West also did the Comic-Con rounds for years and fans would be standing room only to hear him speak about his Batman days. He loved to talk about his days as the Caped Crusader. He thought when the show was cancelled it was the end of the world, but then he realized what they created with the show would last longer than their three seasons. West enjoyed seeing the adult who grew up with him and believed in him, along with their children. He considered himself to be one of the luckiest actors in the world. And West’s family also considered him a hero, because he made a positive impact on his fans’ lives and theirs. Even the Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck gave him a tribute after he died—they projected the bat-signal on Los Angeles City Hall at Spring Street in Downtown Los Angeles.