Adam West dies at 88

Adam West and Burt Ward in a publicity still for Batman

Adam West, star of the 1966-68 Batman television series, has died at 88, according to an obituary published by The Hollywood Reporter.

The actor died Friday after a short battle with leukeimia, the Reporter said, citing a family spokesperson.

Batman debuted Jan. 12, 1966. The show originally was to have come out in the fall of 1966. However, ABC’s fall 1965 schedule produced low ratings and Batman’s development was accelerated. The half-hour show aired twice a week.

Executive producer William Dozier opted for a “camp” approach, having trouble taking the original comic book source material seriously.

Writer Lorenzo Semple Jr., used a 1960s comic story, “Remarkable Ruse of the Riddler,” as the basis for his pilot script.

Semple delivered a story in which West’s Bruce Wayne/Batman took everything very, very seriously amid the writer’s jokes. Batman, though, didn’t have a laugh track.

Batman didn’t test well ahead of its premiere. “It was a disaster,” William Self, then the head of 20th Century Fox Television, said in an interview for the Archive of American Television. The test did not include the comic book-style effects (POW! ZAP!) nor the narration that Dozier himself would provide.

Self said that on the night of Batman’s debut he got a call on his unlisted home telephone number. “Is it supposed to be funny?” Self quoted the caller as saying. When Self said yes, the caller replied, “Then we loved it.”

Batman was a hit. West and Burt Ward, who played Dick Grayson/Robin, were suddenly big stars. A feature film with West and Ward was put into production and its came out in the summer of 1966.

The show’s impact was so powerful that other adventure shows, such as The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and the science fiction shows of Irwin Allen, adopted a much lighter tone.

Batman, though, flamed out. By the fall of 1967, it was cut back to one night a week. The show was done by the spring of 1968.

Adam West, in the meantime, had difficulty finding work having been typecast. He declined to appear as Batman in a 1974 public service announcement promoting equal pay for women. Dick Gautier took West’s place, mimicking West’s delivery as Batman.

Also, sometime after Batman, West received some consideration to play James Bond, according to the documentary Inside Diamonds Are Forever.

The closest West would get to that came in 1978 movie Hooper. He plays the star, apparently himself, of a James Bond-style movie. His character is named Adam and he even is referred to as “Mr. West” at one point.

The story concerned Sonny Hooper (Burt Reynolds), an aging stuntman dealing with pompous “auteur” director Roger Deal (Robert Klein).

Eventually, West’s career did pick back up in character roles. He also did voice over working, including playing Batman in some cartoons.

West discussed that aspect of his career in an interview for the Archive of American Television.

Van Williams dies at 82

Van Williams and Bruce Lee in The Green Horney

Van Williams and Bruce Lee in The Green Hornet

Van Williams, the nominal star of the 1966-67 television version of The Green Hornet, died late last month, according to an obituary in The Hollywood Reporter.

Williams played Britt Reid, the editor and publisher of The Daily Sentinel who battled crime as the masked Green Hornet. Reid had to dodge both hoods and the police, who believed the Hornet was a racketeer.

The district attorney, Frank Scanlon (Walter Brooke) was in on the masquerade. Meanwhile, Sentinel reporter Mike Axford (Lloyd Gough) was determined the Hornet be captured.

The show, however, became a platform for Bruce Lee, who played the Hornet’s assistant, Kato. Lee’s skill in martial arts was a highlight of the series. For youngsters in the audience, Lee’s Kato upstaged Williams’ Green Hornet. Lee (1940-1973) would become a star before his sudden death.

The show, based on a radio series, was an attempt by producer William Dozier to extend his success with masked characters after the debut of Batman in January 1966. Dozier even provided the narration in the show’s main titles, using his “Desmond Doomsday” voice he utilized in Batman.

Dozier’s Batman series also featured a two-part story in 1967 where the Green Hornet traveled to Gotham City, running afoul of Batman. Earlier in that same season, Bruce Wayne (Adam West) and Dick Grayson were briefly depicted watching The Green Hornet on television. In a different episode, the Green Hornet and Kato opened a window and talking to Batman and Robin, who were climbing up a building. Robin (Burt Ward) commented about the strange outfits worn by The Green Hornet and Kato.

Earlier in his career, Williams played private detective Kenny Madison, first on Bourbon Street Beat (1959-60) and then Surfside 6 (1960-62). two Warner Bros. series that aired on ABC.

1967: Dick Tracy vs. spies

Dick Tracy by Chester Gould

Dick Tracy by Chester Gould

Producer William Dozier had a hit with 1966’s Batman television series and sold a second series with The Green Hornet, based on a radio show. So, in 1967, he tried to extend his streak with a pilot for a Dick Tracy series.

The final product ended up being influenced by ’60s spymania.

To write the pilot, Dozier hired Hal Fimberg, who wrote or co-wrote the two Derek Flint movies starring James Coburn. Rather than use an established member of Tracy’s gallery of villains, Tracy’s foe in Fimberg’s script was Mr. Memory (Victor Buono).

Mr. Memory is kidnapping various ambassadors as part of a plot to disrupt NATO on behalf of an unspecified froeign power. They’re being abducted in Washington and taken to Tracy’s unnamed city. In the comic strip, the city wasn’t specified either, but seems like Chicago. Cartoonist Chester Gould, Tracy’s creator, lived near the Windy City. Gould’s successors, on occasion, drew the city to closely resemble Chicago.

The Tracy of the pilot was influenced by Dozier’s Batman show. While there was no “Tracy Cave,” the detective has a sophisticated lab in the basement of his house, accessible only by a secret entrance. Evidently, the city’s police lab wasn’t up to Tracy’s standards.

Besides Mr. Memory’s plot and the presence of writer Fimberg, there are other influences of 1960s spy entertainment.

One of Mr. Memory’s goons is played by Tom Reese, who played Ironhead in the Matt Helm movie Murderers’ Row. Fimberg’s script also lifts a bit from The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

In that spy show’s second episode, The Iowa Scuba Affair, Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) is locked in while poison gas is being pumped into his hotel room. Solo gets out by setting fire to a container of shaving cream and blowing the door open. In the pilot, Tracy ends up in a hotel room. Mr. Memory injects poison gas and Tracy pulls the same trick.

Actor Ray MacDonnell certainly had the Tracy look. If you ever seen Victor Buono playing a villain, you know what to expect. The proceedings aren’t subtle but they’re not as campy as Batman was.

Dozier’s failure to secure a buyer for this was an indicator his hot streak was coming to an end. Also in 1967, ABC canceled The Green Hornet after one season. The network also cut Batman back to a single episode weekly as it limped into its final season.

The pilot is embedded below (though there’s always the risk the video will get yanked). There’s a snappy theme song from The Ventures.

One oddity in the closing credits: There’s a credit the show is “based on and idea and characters created by” Gould and Henry G. Saperstein. Saperstein owned the UPA cartoon studio that made some bad Tracy cartoons in the early ’60s. All of the primary characters (Tracy, Sam, Lizz, Junior, Chief Patton) in the pilot are from Gould’s comic strip. Also, at the very end, you can hear Dozier in his best “Desmond Doomsday” voice.

Writer Lorenzo Semple Jr. dies

Lorenzo Semple Jr. scripted the Batman pilot and 1966 feature movie

Lorenzo Semple Jr. scripted the Batman pilot and 1966 feature movie

Lorenzo Semple Jr., a writer best known for the 1960s Batman television show but who also did spy-related scripts including Never Say Never Again, has died at 91, according to an obituary in THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER.

Semple wrote the pilot for the 1966-68 Batman series as well as the quickly made 1966 feature film starring Adam West and Burt Ward. When executive producer William Dozier decided on a less-than-serious take, Semple devised a simple format for other writers to follow.

The opening of Part I would establish a menace. Batman and Robin would be summoned by Police Commissioner Gordon. The dynamic duo proceeded on the case, ending with a cliffhanger ending. Part II opened with a recap, the heroes escaped and eventually brought the villains to justice.

Among Semple’s memorable lines of dialogue: “What a terrible way to go-go,” and “Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb!”

Never Say Never Again's poster

Never Say Never Again’s poster

Semple always was drawn more than once to the spy genre. In the 1950s, he worked on drafts of a script based on Casino Royale, the first 007 novel, but nothing went before the cameras. Decades later, he was the sole credited writer on Never Say Never Again, a Thunderball remake not produced by Eon Productions but starring Sean Connery. Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, writers brought in by de facto producer Connery, did uncredited rewrites.

Between Semple’s Bond work, he scripted films such as 1967’s Fathom with Raquel Welch (featuring a Maurice Binder-designed title sequence), 1974’s The Parallax View with Warren Beatty (a movie about a conspiracy to assassinate political candidates) and 1975’s Three Days of The Condor, a serious spy film with Robert Redford.

In The Hollywood Reporter’s obituary, Semple is quoted about the ups and downs of film production. Here’s a passage involving Never Say Never Again:

Semple met with Sean Connery in Marbella, Spain and sold him on his 70-page treatment for Never Say Never Again, which saw the aging actor return as 007 in the much-litigated Warner Bros. film based on Thunderball. But when some action scenes were cut as a cost-saving measure, the producers pacified an angry Connery by blaming — and then booting — Semple.

“I was quite relieved; I really didn’t want to go on with it,” he said. “I also agree a human sacrifice is required when a project goes wrong; it makes all the survivors feel very good.”

To read the entire obituary, CLICK HERE. There’s one mistake. It says Semple only wrote the first four episodes of Batman. He wrote or co-wrote 10 episodes during the first season, though he penned fewer in the final two seasons.

Cesar Romero and a Man From U.N.C.L.E. mystery

A video has surfaced on the Internet from 1966. An Austin, Texas, television station interivewed cast member of the 1966 Batman movie, based on the 1966-68 Batman TV series. The movie had its world premier in Austin in the summer of 1966. In one of the interviews, Cesar Romero (in full Joker makeup but wearing an undershirt and smoking a cigarette) says one of his upcoming project is a two-part episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Romero had earlier played a villain in a first-season episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. By the time of the Austin television interview, production had begun on the show’s third season. In August of 1966, The Concrete Overcoat Affair, a two-part episode, would begin filming. Later, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer would re-edit the show into a movie for international markets called The Spy With the Green Hat.

The plot of The Concrete Overcoat/The Spy With the Green Hat had U.N.C.L.E. enlisting the aid of three old mobsters, the Stiletto brothers, against Thrush, the criminal organization that was U.N.C.L.E.’s main opponent. Romero likely would have been portraying one of the Stiletto brothers. Initially the U.N.C.L.E. production team wanted Edward G. Robinson to play the Thrush chieftain of the story; instead, Jack Palace got the part.

Still, why did Romero bow out? We’ll probably never know. Romero died on Jan. 1, 1994. Key U.N.C.L.E. production staff of that era (producer Boris Ingster, associate producer Irv Pearlberg and supervising producer David Victor) are no longer with us. To view the Austin television station footage JUST CLICK HERE.

The Romero footage appears in the middle of the video. It begins with Lee Meriwhether (in full Catwoman costume), followed by Romero, followed by Adam West (also in full costume) and producer William Dozier (who also was the narrator of both the 1966 movie and the 1966-68 television series).

007 cross dresses for equality for women

In the U.K., there’s a new video where Daniel Craig, playing James Bond, is told about gender equality by an unseen M (Judi Dench). As part of the spot, Bond dresses like a woman.

Here it is:

The reaction? Our guess is supporters will say that Bond has been enlisted in a worthy cause. This was one reaction to the video posted on YouTube: “I expected to get a laugh seeing Daniel Craig ‘in drag.’ Instead, I was mesmerized and sobered. I had no idea the gap between the sexes still loomed so large. ‘Equals’ is an excellent piece of work.”

The cons, we suspect, will be along the lines that the character has been emasculated in the spot.

Here’s an excerpt from GQ.com that has some details about the origins of the spot, including the participation of co-Eon Procutions boss Barbara Broccoli:

It’s Daniel Craig as you’ve never seen him before. The James Bond star and former GQ Man Of The Year faces arguably his toughest mission yet – fighting gender inequality in support of International Women’s Day. Shot by artist turned director Sam Taylor-Wood, scripted by Kick-Ass scribe Jane Goldman and overseen by 007 producer Barbara Broccoli, the stunning short was commissioned by the Annie Lennox-led charitable coalition Equals and boasts a creative team which frankly wouldn’t disgrace the 23rd instalment of the film franchise.

To view the Web site of We Are Equals, the group that put together the video, JUST CLICK HERE.

On some fan message boards some people have questioned whether Craig and Dench are actually playing Bond and M. They are. You can view a press release on the topic BY CLICKING HERE. An excerpt:

In the film ‘M’ interrogates Bond with a series of searching questions on gender issues, from pay inequality to domestic violence.

It’s not the first time a popular character has been enlisted in the cause for gender equality. Here’s a 1974 public service announcement featuring some of the cast of the 1960s Batman show. Burt Ward (Robin),Yvonne Craig (Batgirl) and William Dozier (narrator) reprise their roles while Dick Gautier, aka Get Smart’s Hymie the Robot, subs for Adam West: