Wednesday June 14, 2017
Adam West (1928-2017)
He was the Batman when I was growing up, the only real Batman, but it wasn't until I was an adult that I realized just how funny Adam West was. His '66-'68 take is still the best superhero satire we've ever had. He's lampooning not only superheroes, not ony the movie serials of the 1940s, but our post-war cultural pomposity. What I wrote 10 years ago about the '66 movie is still true:
Batman, who started out as a vigilante, is here not only an establishment figure but the establishment figure. Cops put their hats over their hearts when the batcopter flies by. During a press conference Batman feeds the press misinformation as easily as any politician. The disappearing yacht? “Nonsense. How can a yacht simply disappear?” The exploding shark? “Doubtless an unfortunate animal who chanced to swallow a floating mine.” He and Robin are, according to Commissioner Gordon during that same press conference, “fully deputized agents of the law,” to which Robin responds, fist pounding palm, “Support your police! That's our message!” Batman has access to federal agencies as well, not only phoning the Pentagon but chastising an Admiral (seen playing tiddly-winks with his secretary) for “disposing of a pre-atomic submarine to people who don't leave their addresses.”
A few years ago, in another look at the '66 movie, I wrote, “Donald Trump wishes he were as self-important as Adam West’s Batman,” but that was before the former ran for president, and won, so I guess I have to take that back. But West's Batman is still the funniest in his self-importance. Trump stopped being funny ... OK, he was never funny.
It must be odd to have the world at your feet and then not. West was supposedly type-cast after “Batman” but I remember seeing him as a junior villain/schnook in the 1973 TV movie “Poor Devil,” starring Sammy Davis Jr. and Jack Klugman, and being shocked. Batman? The bad guy? How could that be? I felt the same seeing William Shatner as the bad guy in an episode of “Mission: Impossible.” No one typecasts more than kids—or those who can't grow up.
I still like that slogan: “Be Yourself. Unless you can be Batman. Then be Batman.” West got to do that. And inspired so many others in the process.
Me in the middle of mid-1960s Batmania.