For Adam West, the “Batphone” Will Ring No More.
(For pictures and videos that accompany the blog, click on the link above. Thanks.
By Rob Hoffman on June 12, 2017 at 5:30 AM
I think it’s safe to say that the two most accomplished and revered “B” level actors of all time would have to be Ronald Reagan and Adam West. Scoff if you must, but the similarities are more striking than you might think.
Both men made their names playing heroic individuals – West portrayed Batman of course, and Reagan played the dying George Gipp, the “Gipper,” in Knute Rockne All-American.
Both appeared in classic comedies with comic legends. – Adam West starred in The Outlaws is Coming, the sixth and final theatrical release from the legendary “Three Stooges.” Reagan played the straight man to simian comic legend, Bonzo the chimp, in a movie critics called “Filmed in glorious black and white,” Bed Time for Bonzo.
Both men had awe-inspiring late career comebacks – Adam West became known to an entirely new generation of television fans with his portrayal of “Mayor West” on Family Guy. Reagan, in the role of a lifetime, pretended to be a politician in 1980s America. “Dutch,” read his scripts flawlessly while periodically threatening the Soviet Union with nuclear annihilation
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Reagan excelled at putting his colleagues at ease. As president, he utilized the same techniques that he used for calming “Bonzo” down in order to pacify Tip O’Neil, often putting the hefty speaker on his lap, feeding him bananas, and picking his nits. (You Tube)
The passing of Adam West at the tender age of 88 is a sad reminder that our childhood gets a little further away everyday. There are few “legends” left now from Hollywood’s “Golden Era.” West was a contemporary of a handful of living legends that we are still fortunate enough to have with us. These legends include, but are not limited to luminaries such as, Kirk Douglass, Olivia de Haviland, and Burt Ward.
Yet, there was something special about the handsome leading man with the silky smooth vocal delivery. Really, was there a more distinctive voice on television than the one we heard on Family Guy in the personage of Adam West? Seth MacFarlane obviously didn’t think so, and he brought West back from the compost heap of Hollywood where so many has-been actors and actresses wallow in self-doubt.
West never stopped plugging away at his chosen career, and he was eventually rewarded with numerous voice-over gigs late in life, keeping him in the public eye while other stars from the “campy ’60s” were hardly if ever heard from. West knew the value of not taking himself or his career too seriously, and would happily show up for almost any “Comic Con” themed gathering. West was more than willing to engage the crowd while making middle-aged men’s fantasies come true, (Well, they might have been fantasizing more about meeting Julie Newmar or Barbara Eden, but you know what I mean.) as they thrilled at the prospect of meeting one of their heroes from their childhood.
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Adam West playing alter-ego, Mayor West on Family Guy. In this scene, West is attacking the ocean because you see, the ocean started it. Okay, so it’s not Shakespeare in the Park, but hey, it’s a paycheck. (You Tube)
If you are a man, and you are between the ages of 50 and approximately 62, then Adam West played a part in your life that is not to be underestimated. He portrayed a superhero to be sure, but unlike Superman, his character was a regular flesh and blood human being. Well, perhaps not a “regular” person, after all, not everybody could fill up stately Wayne Manner quite the way West’s Bruce Wayne held court in his palatial estate. Stately Wayne Manner screamed class. Oh sure he’d fight crime, but not before a good poetry reading or art exhibit. Wayne deferred to his loyal butler Alfred, heeding his valued advice, while setting an exemplary example for the impulsive and often overly cheeky Dick Grayson, a.k.a. Robin.
West’s Batman was no brooding “Dark Knight.” No, Wayne’s Batman was a serious but conscientious role model who could woo the ladies, treat his meddlesome Aunt Harriet with the utmost respect, and yet still remember to buckle his seat belt every time he climbed into the Batmobile. There was little conflict for West’s Batman. He represented good, and the arch-villains he battled week after week were bad, and he understood how important that lesson was to impart on all of his young fans and admirers.
There’s only one way to answer the “Batphone.” If your response is anything other than “Yes commissioner,” you’re garbage! You Tube)
If you grew up with West as your Batman, then at the end of every part one of the two episode arc, you fretted over Batman’s predicament, while at the same time, you fruitlessly attempted to figure out how the “Caped-Crusader” would wrestle himself out of his situation. West played it straight on a program that was as campy as any entertainment that has ever appeared on television. Whether West was espousing his views regarding the wonders of his “Bat-computer,” or “Bat-Shark Repellant,” West always played it straight, or at least 90% straight, with perhaps a wry smile for the older kids and adults in his television viewing audience.
(In the immortal and financially fruitful words of Jon Hein of the Howard Stern Show, Batman may have “Jumped the Shark” when he avoided the shark. You Tube)
West’s Batman played hard to get when faced with his luscious enemy villainesses. My guess is that there is an entire generation of “baby-boomers” who’s puberty was put into overdrive as a result of Batman’s dalliances with the curvaceous Catwoman.
(West’s restraint aside, I’m going to make an educated guess and say that a lot of teenage boys in the 1960s had to be hosed down as a result of scenes like this. You Tube)
Unfortunately for West, he was a victim of his own “success.” (And perhaps his somewhat dubious acting skills?) West had the leading man looks, and the good authoritative voice, but perhaps not the range to make it as a big time leading man. After Batman was cancelled, West’s career took a decidedly downward turn. There seemed to be a dearth of acting roles available to the former Batman star. While voiceover work kept him busy since 2000, the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s were filled with tough sledding. Still, West never completely gave up the “dream,” and took work in somewhat less than stellar opportunities in questionable classics such as…
Tarzan and the Super 7
The Happy Hooker goes Hollywood
Ace Diamond, Private Eye
Young Lady Chatterley Part II (Hey, don’t tell me what happens in this one, I’m barely halfway through the first one. I’m guessing somebody is going to get laid right? Right???)
Adam West often pined for continued opportunities to play his most famous character, but by the time the Batman franchises began to roll off of the Hollywood assembly line, he was considered too old and too, um, Adam West. West claimed that he could and should have been offered the role in the Michael Keaton/Tim Burton original in 1989, saying that he was still in “Batman shape,” but you know those Hollywood phonies. They wouldn’t even entertain the idea. It was the worst example of discrimination when casting for an iconic role since W.C. Fields was turned aside when he begged to be given a chance to play Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind. (“Frankly my little chick-a-dee, I don’t give a damn.”)
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Say what you will about the man, but he eventually made a respectable second career as a voiceover guy, and he kept himself looking good right up to the end. (You Tube)
As a “baby-boomer” who came along at the end of that generation, I was a little too young to grow up as a fan of Superman with George Reeves. That show seemed old and out of date to me, even as a kid. Batman resonated in bright colors and modern fashion. Yes it was Hollywood’s take on the “Swingin’ Sixties,” but it seemed so much more current and timely to me, even as a child. Batman had frailties, he was after all just a human being, so he had to use his brains. He had the same vulnerabilities as anybody else.
Meanwhile, I never quite understood why Superman didn’t just kick everybody’s ass? Using his power to bend pistols against second-rate criminals seemed like a colossal waste of talent. Superman used his super-human strength to subdue tough mugs named “The Boss,” and “Lefty.” Batman did battle with “The Joker,” The Penguin,” and “The Riddler.” Fiendish super-criminals who had to be stopped. (How come nobody ever questioned why these guys stayed in costume even when they weren’t committing crimes. Why would a guy wear a unitard covered in question marks? Riddle me that?)
Adam West played it “straight” for laughs, and with just enough drama and reality that a child of the ’60s and early 1970s could actually get nervous and excited that perhaps Batman won’t survive his predicament. Farewell Adam West. Thanks for sticking to your craft, such that it was. 88 and relevant, not too shabby. Enjoy your final slide down the Bat-poles.