On January 12, 1966, television became more colorful, and not because of any advancement in cathode ray tube technology. That date marked the debut of Batman, a deliciously campy and candy-coated adventure series based on the DC Comics crime fighter.
The series proved to be a smashing success, and helped to popularize a now-iconic character. Other series soon followed suit with in style and tone. Actors lined up to portray Batman and Robin's playful villains, everyone from Vincent Price to Zsa Zsa Gabor. The show made Adam West and Burt Ward — not to mention Yvonne Craig, Julie Newmar and others — household names. It spawned toys, costumes, albums and other tie-ins.
Today, Batman is as American as apple pie and baseball. But we bet some of the following tidbits will surprise you. Here some some fascinating facts to celebrate the 50th anniversary.
Adam West was discovered in a Nestle's Quik ad
West caught the attention of ABC executives after they saw a 1960s Nestle's Quik commercial in which the actor portrayed a secret agent, Captain Q.
Lyle Waggoner almost landed the role of Batman
Two screen tests were filmed to decide on the casting of Batman and Robin. One, obviously, featured West and Burt Ward. The other starred Lyle Waggoner and Peter R.J. Deyell, as you can see in the image. While Waggoner would ultimately lose the role to West, he would end up as another prominent DC Comics hero, playing Steve Trevor on Wonder Woman.
Series creator William Dozier was also the narrator.
Executive producer and creator Dozier provided the narration on the show, including the ever popular "Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel" kicker. He was uncredited for the job, and in fact is listed on the Nelson Riddle–conducted soundtrack album as "Desmond Doomsday." Dozier even appears as a millionaire at the start of the final episode. He reportedly did the acting roles to keep his Actors Guild membership active.
Bruce Lee, Santa Claus and a carpet magnate were just some of the wacky window cameos.
In the reoccurring Bat-climb gimmick, a celebrity would pop his or her head out of a window as Batman and Robin were scaling the side of a building in Gotham. Jerry Lewis was the first, proclaiming, "Holy human flies!" After the comedian, there were window cameos from Dick Clark (pictured), the Green Hornet and Kato, Sammy Davis Jr., Bill "Jose Jimenez" Dana, Sergeant Sam Stone from the series Felony Squad, Colonel Klink from Hogan's Heroes, Lurch from The Addams Family, Don Ho, Santa Claus, Art Linkletter, Edward G. Robinson, Suzy Knickerbocker, and "The Carpet King." The latter was a carpet salesman named Cyril Lord with a series of TV ads, who traded Dozier some carpet for the cameo.
Batman, Robin and the Penguin all released records — one of which was written by Frank Zappa.
Adam West recorded a minor hit single — wearing the cowl in character — called "Miranda." The popularity of the show led to other novelty records, including a single by Burgess Meredith as the Penguin called "The Capture" / "The Escape." Most interesting of all was Burt Ward's release, "Boy Wonder I Love You," which was written, arranged and conducted by a young Frank Zappa.
The show was broadcast twice a week.
The show was envisioned as a television version of the popular newspaper comic strip. The network had already successfully launched an evening serial with Peyton Place. Batman was the only primetime series aside from that drama to air new episodes more than once a week, showing episodes on Wednesday and Thursday.
Batman's neosaurus disguise in "How To Hatch a Dinosaur" was a prop from 'Lost in Space'
Television sci-fi visionary Irwin Allen was big on recycling, but some shows borrowed from his series as well. The 1967 episode "How to Hatch a Dinosaur" featured a big lizard suit that had originally appeared earlier that year on Lost in Space in "The Questing Beast."
The Alvino Ray-Gun that turns the heroes two-dimensional was originally called the Ronald Ray-Gun.
In "The Entrancing Dr. Cassandra," our heroes are zapped by a gun that turns them flat as cardboard. Script writer Stanley Ralph Ross wanted to call the weapon wielded by Dr. Cassandra the "Ronald Ray-Gun," a reference to the California governor at the time. However, the slight knock was censored out and Ross had to pick a new name, which he borrowed from big band leader Alvino Rey.
Jerry "Beaver" Mathers has an uncredited role in "The Great Escape."
"I'm Pop, the stage doorman!" he proclaims. A grown-up Mathers works the back entrance to the Gotham Opera House in this season three episode. "Pop? You ain't old enough to drink," the villain Calamity Jan snorts. "Well, I'm 17," he replies. At the time, the actor was actually 20.
'Batman' received the worst test audience scores ABC had ever seen at the time.
In the interview book Eye on Science Fiction, 20th Century Fox Television executive William Self recalled the test episode of Batman receiving a score of about 50. Most hit shows earned around at least an 80 or about a 90. ABC panicked and wanted out of the series, but too much had been invested. In the show's defense, the animated BIFF!s and SPLAT!s, and other light-hearted pop art elements, had not yet been added. The test audience likely wasn't sure if the show was being serious or not.
Julie Newmar supposedly left the show due to a scheduling conflict.
The popular Catwoman actress was replaced by Eartha Kitt in the third and final season. Newmar was locked in to portray an Apache woman in the western Mackenna's Gold. However, a recent fan theory, supported by evidence from young filmmaker George Lucas, suggests that Newmar might have been free to return as Catwoman. After all, Burgess Meredith managed to do both.