Forever Batman: Remembering Adam West
An actor’s dream is to find a successful role, but a successful role can sometimes lead to an actor’s nightmare-the inexplicable phenomenon of being typecast. Adam West was one such actor who found himself immortalized, only for the rest of his career to be seen as an escape from the role that made him a household name. Nevertheless, Adam West rolled with the punches (I’ll skip the POW! BAM! etc. references), living with the hand that was dealt him.
Just about every kid loved watching Batman when they were say, four, five, or six years-old. Bigger than life superheroes battling grandiose arch-criminals, lavish sets, groovy music, and crazy camera angles. What wasn’t to love? However, as they grew older, it was almost like they realized the joke was on you them. Batman wasn’t the cool superhero you tuned in to watch, he was a super-square people were laughing at. Some comic book fans seemed to take this as a personal attack, complaining Batman ruined the comic book character. Some of these critics overlook the goofy science fiction Batman books of the 50’s that nearly killed the comic or the psychotic Batman that followed The Dark Knight Returns. Like many enduring characters, Batman has changed with the times and in hindsight, the Batman TV series was a child of the late 1960’s. Its ability to entertain new generations clearly makes it a television classic.
Fame is difficult to achieve in Hollywood and even then, it can be fleeting. Through the years, Adam West dealt with typecasting by finding work, no doubt hoping he’d find that magical second chance. Unlike other typecast leads such as William Shatner (who found success later in Rescue 911! then as Denny Crane on Boston Legal), the closest Adam West came to escaping the role of Batman was as Mayor Adam West on Family Guy. Along the way he never gave up, and a review of the Internet Movie Database shows he found work on a regular basis. He never had any true droughts of work like other typecast actors such as much of the cast of Gilligan’s Island or Star Trek: The Original Series. Adam West made his fair share of appearances as a weekly guest star, appearing on fare such as Emergency!, Police Woman, and The Love Boat. Roles in R-rated films like The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood or Young Lady Chatterley II may not have been his finest performances but these were the exceptions which likely got him through the occasional dry spell. Adam West’s ability to serve as a leading man may have been over once he put on the cape and cowl, but
Of course, for Batman fans, West’s best roles were when he reprised his role as Bats or made a tip of the hat while playing other roles. For example, he appeared as inventor Henry Wayne on the syndicated series Zorro (the Zorro character of course, has connections with Batman and some have seen West’s Zorro character as an ancestor of Bruce Wayne). West didn’t seem reluctant to reprise his role as Bats either, doing voice work as Batman in The New Adventures of Batman animated series and a live action role in the two Legends of the Superheroes TV specials. He even popped up in professional wrestling! West showed up in Jerry Jarrett’s Memphis wrestling promotion sometime in the 1970’s, making a one-time appearance to confront heel wrestler Jerry Lawler about his evil ways. West appeared to be promoting an appearance at a local car show and popped into the studio wearing is cowl.
In the end, Adam West was best known as Batman, and as his career reached its end, he had a chance to reprise his most famous role. Recently I had the pleasure of watching Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders, a DC Animated film which featured Adam West and Burt Ward lending their voice talents to the characters that made them famous. The film was true to the spirit of the TV series with campy humor and lots of in-jokes to Batman lore in general. There was talk of a sequel featuring William Shatner as Two-Face but I had not heard anything more. A check at imdb.com shows the film is in post-production so it’s fitting that Adam West’s last role may be as Bruce Wayne/Batman.
Adam West was typecast as Batman but as long as there is television and home video, people will remember his name. Some may scoff but many will remember the joy and magic he brought to their television screens, whether they were kids watching a superhero battle crime, or adults having fun with the campy character and the bizarre world that could only been shown in the late 1960’s. I'll always remember the fun of the character he played and remember the persistence in staying with the profession he loved, regardless of typecasting.