So many tributes and reports about Adam West are circulating today, but I had to make a personal contribution to the lot, because of the indelible impression Mr. West as the invincible but predicament plagued caped crusader Batman, made on me at the impressionable and enthusiastic age of 10. I wasn’t alone. Comic book addicted kids of my age group watched “Batman” with breathless anticipation as did older viewers, who interpreted its tongue in cheek, satirical subtexts.
Escapist and wacky was the coin of the realm in television during those years of “Get Smart”, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”, “the Munsters”, the “Addams Family”, “I Dream of Jeannie” and “Bewitched”, just to name a few.
Whereas Batman of the iconic DC comics originated by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, was a serious protagonist of action, mystery and suspense – the televised Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder played by Burt Ward, were spectacles of pop art framed in campy melodrama, farce, endless sight gags, hilariously choreographed fight scenes, outlandish costumes and delightful cameo appearances by household names in great entertainment.
To seal the effect, half of the acting involved Adam West’s unique and unmistakable voice.
Adam West, born William West Anderson in Walla Walla, Washington in 1928, didn’t start with Batman or end with him either, even though being typecast as the masked superhero. The caped crime fighter portrayal likely limited some opportunities while offering others.
Prior to the role of Gotham City’s greatest nemesis of super criminals, West, as a young contract player in Hollywood at Warner Bros – and moving in the same circles as Clint Eastwood, Chuck Conners and Burt Reynolds, appeared first on the big screen in a supporting role to Paul Newman in The Young Philadelphians in 1959. Next West played Major Dan McCready, one of a team of explorers in Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964).
West starred opposite Chuck Conners of TV’s “Rifleman” fame, in “Geronimo” in 1962, also appearing in one episode of “Rifleman”. And as Wiki notes, Adam West portrayed Doc Holliday, the gunfighter and occasional dentist of Wyatt Earp lore, on ABC western series’ “Sugarfoot”, “Colt .45”, and “Lawman”. Notably, West was among the cast of the Three Stooges’ final comedy feature, “The Outlaws Is Coming.”
Mr. West was even cast as a Texas Ranger, on the trail of bad hombres in an authentic Spaghetti Western on location in Italy in 1965 – “The Relentless Four”.
West did the occasional commercial, as in the guise of debonair “Captain Quik” for Nestle’s iconic chocolate powder:
The pace of filming the Batman episodes was frenetic. 94 episodes and a full length feature were shot in the span of just 16 months.
Even though the Batman role, which lasted three seasons on ABC, and was slated to be picked up by NBC (until they found out that the Gotham City sets, valued in the hundred’s of thousands in labor and materials had been absent mindedly torn down), was not a launching pad for major roles, West did manage to keep busy frequently enough to maintain visibility in the industry.
Burt Reynolds welcomed West to the set of “Hooper”, where West played a cameo of himself. Reynolds, as the rumor goes, was also originally considered for the Batman role. No doubt, when all was said and done, Burt never regretted not making the cut.
West made appearances in a cornucopia of television episodes over the years following Batman;
Maverick; Diagnosis: Murder; Love, American Style; Bonanza; The Big Valley; Night Gallery; Alias Smith and Jones; Mannix; Emergency!; Alice; Police Woman; Operation Petticoat; The American Girls; Vega$; Laverne & Shirley; Bewitched; Fantasy Island; The Love Boat; Hart to Hart; Zorro; The King of Queens, among others.
In the 90’s – West showed up on episodes of NewsRadio , Murphy Brown, The Adventures of Pete and Pete, The Ben Stiller Show, and The Drew Carey Show.
The recent generation of TV viewers didn’t know Adam West from Adam, but they knew him as “Mayor West” – an animated version of West from the fictional town of Quahog (pron. “ko-hog”) on “Family Guy”. Seth MacFarlane, the show’s creator and voice of Peter Griffin, remembers West:
Family Guy has lost its mayor, and I have lost a friend. Adam West was a joy to work with, and the kind of guy you always wanted to be around. His positivity, good nature, and sense of fun were undeniable, and it was always a big jolt of the best kind of energy when he walked in to record the show. He knew comedy, and he knew humanity.
Burt Ward, who played West’s sidekick Robin, in the Batman series and believe it or not, is 71 years old himself, was a lifelong friend of West.
“I am devastated at the loss of one of my very dearest friends. Adam and I had a special friendship for more than 50 years. We shared some of the most fun times of our lives together; our families have deep love and respect for each other. This is a terribly unexpected loss of my lifelong friend, I will forever miss him. There are several fine actors who have portrayed Batman in films, in my eyes there was only one real Batman and that is and always will be Adam West; He was truly the Bright Knight.”
Here is a sampler of “Mayor West”