Monday, 19 April 2021

Batman - A Celebration Of The Classic TV Series

Don’t Deny Your
Eyes To Roam,
This Beautiful,
Titan Tome!

Batman -
A Celebration Of
The Classic TV Series

by Bob Garcia and Joe Desris
Titan Books ISBN: 9781781167885

Just a quick snip of a review to warble the praises of a beautiful book I received for my birthday this year, the wonderful 2016 publication, Batman - A Celebration Of The Classic TV Series (Thanks cousin Steve and Allison). Does what it says on the tin, for sure but, well that’s a good place to start actually, as the gorgeous ‘tin’ in question is a hard bound book presenting a picture of actors Adam West and Burt Ward in their Batman and Robin costumes, nicely spot varnished. Added to this, instead of a regular dust cover we have a dust belt. That is to say, a miniature Batman utility belt, also with some nice spot varnishing highlights on it, wraps around the covers from front to back instead of the traditional dust jacket.

Now, while I would have loved if the book was twice the size and had even more minutia of the show for me to ponder (a sign of a good book, for sure), it’s got a lot of stories, accounts and anecdotes about the production of the three seasons of the Batman TV show, not to mention the tie-in movie, that it certainly enlightened me about a lot of elements of the show I’d not known before.

Continuing the theme of the rhyming couplets of a typical Season 1 or 2 double episode set of titles (the show used to play two nights a week with a cliffhanger at the end of the first of the week’s shows)... such as Episode 21 The Penguin Goes Straight, Episode 22, Not Yet, He Ain’t or Episode 31 Death In Slow Motion, Episode 32 The Riddler’s False Notion...the book is split into lots of mini chapters detailing specific facets of the show and uses similar rhyming couplets for each section title, such as Catwoman Is A Wow, Julie Newmar Take A Bow or Bruce Lee Paid The Set A Visit, Showed Ward His Fighting Spirit. Which is a nice touch.

Following on from an introduction written by Adam West himself, it turns out there’s a lot of information to be found here, most of which is all first hand knowledge garnered from a lot of the show’s stars and production crew from when they were alive and, like I said, most of this is new to me. So you’ll get stuff on script development, screen tests, using discarded props and backgrounds from old Irvin Allen shows, dyeing all the clothes those bright colours, the onomatopoeic typography bursts over the fight scenes, the music of Neil Hefti’s theme and Nelson Riddles scoring. There’s loads of stuff here to please the most avid Batfan.

For instance, did you know that Lyle Wagonner, who people probably best remember for his portrayal of Steve Trevor in the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman and The New Adventures Of Wonder Woman TV shows, was actually one of the people shortlisted and screen tested for the role of Batman along with Adam West? Well, yeah okay, maybe you did but it was news to me. Thinking about it and knocking about ten years off of him (from how I remember him)... I can kind of see how that might have worked too. Although, of course, Adam West totally got the special style of the ‘camp’ humour from day one. 

Similar revelations were the fact that producer William Dozier (who you hear from a lot in this book), did the voice over narrations and cliff-hanger questions for the show. He interviewed a lot of people to do it and none of them could get it the way he needed it to be done... until some bright spark realised that Dozier should just do it for the deadline of the pilot and, after that was successful, should just keep doing it.

Another thing is some of the information on legendary martial artist Bruce Lee. Batman paved the way for a TV version of The Green Hornet and, of course, Bruce Lee stars as Kato in that TV incarnation, highlighting the grand nephew of The Lone Ranger (look it up if you don’t believe me, I’m constantly reminding people of this). Now, I’m sure most people know the story of how Bruce Lee colluded with the crew to wind up Burt Ward and make him fearful of his upcoming fight with Kato in the crossover show when Batman and Robin meet The Green Hornet and Kato, which was a well received joke and, yes, that story is confirmed here. However, what I didn’t know was that they’d been trying to get Lee into a TV show for a while and the show which was in development but ultimately turned down for him, while Batman was still being conceived, was Number One Son. This would feature Bruce Lee as, oh yes, Charlie Chan’s Number One Son but as a secret agent. So, yeah, that’s a show I wish they would have made, to be honest.

There is one big error in the book that I found... which always makes me worry in a tome about something I don’t know much about because, who knows what other errors I can’t identify which could have crept in? In a section about the actor playing The Joker in the show, the one and only Cesar Romero, it mentions that his debut feature was the 1933 production The Shadow Laughs, based on the pulp character The Shadow. Something didn’t ring true with that to me so I looked it up and, indeed, the film has nothing to do with the famous ‘Maxwell Grant’ character of The Shadow, from what I can find.

However, this was the only problem I had with this book and I now know cool stuff like the famous Bat-climbs, where various guest stars pop out of the windows and make funny remarks as The Dynamic Duo Bat-walk up the sides of buildings, were just another quick thing to shorten the queue of the ever rising tide of famous actors and actresses who wanted to appear in what was pretty much the hottest show on television. And, bear in mind, this was in the days (and we’re not all that far out of them) that TV was seen as a lesser media that  an actor could be doing and often a bit of a movie career killer. But what everyone forgets is that... with the deadpan humour, the bright colours, the fiendishly ridiculous devices and the leaps in deductive logic... the show was unlike anything ever seen on television before (or since). So they had actors lining up to play parts but, when the time schedules wouldn’t permit, people like Jerry Lewis would pop his head out of a window and deliver some lines, whereas celebrities with a less tight schedule... such as Vincent Price, George Sanders and even director Otto Preminger... would be given the expanded, guest villain of the week spots on the show.

And that’s that. Whether you’re familiar with the TV series and background detail on the show with its various spin offs or not, Batman - A Celebration Of The Classic TV Series is an absolutely great book to get acquainted (or reacquainted) with it. It even finishes with a detailed episode guide to the three seasons with short summaries of each episode, which is handy if you need to quickly find or refer to something. A great addition to any bat-lovers book shelf and a solid recommendation from me.

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