In 1966 when I was a youngster, I remember watching the now-classic TV series “Batman”, which starred a then-relatively unknown actor named Adam West along with his sidekick Robin, played by a young, equally-unknown actor named Burt Ward. Like most kids back then, little did I know the phenomenal impact this show would have not just for kids back then, but even until this day. To many viewers back then, Adam West did not just play Batman, he WAS Batman. To this day, whenever Adam West makes an occasional guest television appearance or other public appearances, he is only remembered as Batman, even though he has played numerous roles before and since the TV hit show which made him an international star.
Adam West was actually born William West Anderson on September 19,1928 in Walla Walla, Washington, to Otto West Anderson and Audrey V. Speer. He was the oldest of two sons; he has a younger brother, John. In the 1940s when William was a teenager, he attended Walla Walla and Lakeside High Schools. He attended Whitman College, where he graduated from in 1951, with a B.A. in English (which probably explains the perfect diction he would later use in his TV role as Batman). In 1950, when he was in his early 20s, William West married 17-year-old Billi Lou Yeager. He also served a stint in the U.S.Army for two years. William and his first wife(it would be the first of three marriages) would be married for six years.
In the mid-1950s, in Hawaii, where the Wests had moved, William had his first taste of show business when he appeared in a Howdy Doody-like children’s TV show called “Kini Popo”, which featured a chimp. He was originally a sidekick but later became the star of the show. In 1959 he moved to Hollywood where he changed his name to Adam West. He made his first major screen appearance that year (he had appeared in movies since 1957) in the “Young Philadelphians”, which starred screen legend Paul Newman. In 1960 he came to television in a serious role in the police drama “The Detectives” (Which was a rival of the immensely popular cop show “Naked City”) playing the supporting role of Sgt. Steve Nelson. in 1964 he appeared in the movie “Robinson Crusoe on Mars.”
But it was the TV series “Batman” that would indefinitely define and typecast West and turn him into a phenomenal star. Television producer William Dozier saw Adam West cast in a Nestle Quik commercial as Captain Quik,a James Bond-like spy (interestingly, West was invited to play James Bond after Sean Connery, but he turned it down. Imagine Adam West as James Bond!) He was so impressed with West’s stage presence and rugged handsomeness that he was unquestionably chosen for the role for his new show “Batman” (Batman, the comic-book character had been created by artist Bob Kane in 1939, in which the ominous superhero’s alter ego was handsome playboy Bruce Wayne, which Dozier felt evidently fit West’s character.) The series debuted on Channel 7 (ABC) TV on January 12,1966 and ended on March 14,1968-just 2 1/2 seasons). It came on Sunday evenings and would be followed by a sequel the following evening. Soon , kids (like myself), would tune in to that “same Bat-time on the same Bat-Channel” to see if Batman and Robin would manage to get out of the death-trap they were put in in time by the Joker or Penguin or some other nefarious fiend (which of course they always did).
The show featured Adam West as Batman/Bruce Wayne, Burt Ward as his young sidekick Robin/Dick Grayson, legendary actors Neil Hamilton and Alan Napier as Commissioner Gordon and Alfred the Butler respectively, Stanford Repp and Madge Blake, and in it’s final season, Yvonne Craig, who played Batgirl. It featured the most famous stars of the time-in villainous roles-such as Cesar Romero as the Joker, Burgess Meredith as the Penguin, Art Carney as the Archer, Frank Gorshin as the Riddler, Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt as Catwoman. It even featured true-life guest stars, such as Sammy Davis, Jr. The show was a smash. It set off a Batman craze. Soon there was Batman T-shirts, Batman clip-on ties (I had one in 1968), Batman lunchboxes, Batman boots, seemingly Batman everything! There was even a dance called “the Batman” (Which West performed on one episode). In 1966 there was also the feature film “Batman”, which of course was a hit. It even made the comic-book character more famous than he ever was (even though Batman had been around since the late 1930s, he was moderately popular, but with the Batman craze in 1966, his comic-book sales soared tremendously!)
But by 1968-as hard as it seemed-it was all over, in just a little over two years. West and Ward would still continue to act in numerous roles over the following decades, but they were never able to recapture the Batman and Robin fame they had in the 60s. They didn’t have to, because to this day everywhere they have made appearances, they had become perpetually remembered for the TV roles they briefly played. Adam West has appeared in numerous TV shows that has continued into recent times. For example, in 2005, he made a guest appearance on the TV comedy “King of Queens”. He has also done voice-overs for TV shows and movies such as the Simpsons, The Boondocks and Johnny Bravo. At age 80, Adam West is as active as ever, but regardless of what roles he plays, he will always be remembered as Batman.