Word came out over the weekend that actor Adam West has passed away at 88 years old. I wanted to talk about his career besides Batman, the show that got him famous, as well as typecast, but this article in The Hollywood Reporter already covered most of what I would have said anyway. I do have a few things to add, so this is going to be shorter than I expected, but I should say something.
It gives me a good feeling to see that the 1960s Batman is getting more respect, even by members of the grim & gritty club, who finally realize that the comics were that light as well. (If anything the TV show was still less goofy than anything the Silver Age produced.) West would go on to play the Caped Crusader again in Filmation’s The New Adventures Of Batman, which was based on their previous cartoon once Filmation saw what Hanna-Barbera’s Super Friends was doing and realized they still have the license. (This is why so few of Batman’s foes showed up until Super Powers Team. Also, Filmation’s voice actors for Batman and Robin were now playing them on Super Friends and The New Scooby-Doo Movies so Filmation had the brilliant idea to reteam Adam West and Burt Ward.) For some reason Hanna-Barbera moved Batman’s voice actor to Professor Stein when they introduced Firestorm, and Adam West showed he could play a less campy version of Batman as well. He also played the mayor as a recurring role on The Batman before becoming mayor of The Family Guy and messing with Johnny Bravo as a parody of himself.
West embraced his persona, even playing a Batman-like retired superhero, the Fearless Ferret, on an episode of Kim Possible, as he mentored Ron Stoppable to take on the role. (Ron was played by Will Friedle, who played Terry McGuinness on Batman Beyond, where he was being mentored to take over as Batman. It was a double homage.) He also played a hero who lost his courage on an episode of Goosebumps, and even played Batman in a couple of 1970s live-action comedy specials featuring other DC heroes and villains. But there was a time when Batman was a noose on Adam West’s neck. From that Hollywood Reporter article:
West quickly struggled to find work, forced to make appearances in his cape and cowl at car shows and carnivals and in such obscure films as The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker (1971), written by Semple, and The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood (1980). He and his family downsized, leaving their home in the tony Pacific Palisades for Ketchum, Idaho.
“The people who were hiring, the people who were running the studios, running the shows, were dinosaurs,” the actor said in the 2013 documentary Starring Adam West. “They thought Batman was a big accident, that there was no real creative thought, expertise or art behind it. They were wrong.”
In an episode of Batman: The Animated Series West voiced a former actor who used to play a superhero on TV called The Grey Ghost. When a lost episode held the key to a mad bomber, Batman turned to Simon Trent, the former actor, but because of the typecasting he wanted nothing to do with Batman or the case. However, he decided to put on the costume one more time and learned that the Grey Ghost was one of Batman’s inspirations on his path to become the protector of Gotham City. Simon Trent’s journey is similar to Adam West’s, although West didn’t inspire a superhero. That we know of.
He did, however, reach a lot of kids as well as educate adults. While he wasn’t happy with the new Dark Knight image (although admittedly it was closer to when the comic was first released), he did live long enough to see his “Bright Knight” version reach a new legion of fans. The rights for the TV series, all over the place due to behind-the-scenes in-fighting, were finally released. While the show still aired in syndication, they could finally release it on home video (only the movie was available until then) and it led to merchandise and even a comic based on the show. West, Ward, and Julie Newmar even returned for an animated movie based on the 60s TV show.
It should be noted that the only thing close to a live-action Batman series beyond this was Birds Of Prey, a show based on Batman featuring the Huntress (originally Batman’s daughter with Catwoman before Crisis On Infinite Earths, taking place on Earth 2), and former Batgirl Barbara Gordon. All other versions of Batman on TV have been animated. I’m not sure what the reason for that is, but Batman really hasn’t spent that much time off of television. A few years at best.
But there was more to West than Batman. He could play comedy and drama with little difference in his persona. That could be because he approached the comedy like he did the drama. He played the characters straight no matter how ridiculous the situation was or what was coming out of Bruce Wayne’s mouth, and he played more comedic character than that (I remember one show where he played a cop that makes Frank Drebin from Police Squad look like a genius) the same way, not being silly or being deadpan but just like everything was normal. I have to give him credit for that. He did b-movie horror, westerns, cop dramas, and even commercials like a true professional. Of course he brought that to Batman.
Adam West, born William West Anderson, is survived by his wife, Marcelle, six children, five grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, many friends, and a legion of fans both nostalgic and new. I’m glad he lived long enough to see his Bright Knight, the albatross he would later embrace, be redeemed in fandom’s eyes. He and the show he’s best known for deserve that much. In a lot of people’s eyes, he will always be Batman!