- Jim Bessman
Adam West--An appreciation
Adam West, as "Batman"
Nick Lowe stopped his show in the middle last night at New York's City Winery to ask the SRO room to raise a glass in a toast to Adam West, the immortal Batman of the campy 1960s TV series, who died Friday at 88.
"I'd rather see him as Batman than any of the others," he said after the show, echoing comments appearing on social media throughout the day. "He had a sort of timeless timing in that role, and seemed like such a good bloke: And he wasn't pissed at being typecast as Batman, but was funny and self-deprecating—and very elegant."
West, recalls Gary Sohmers, said people were always surprised that "he could keep straight when it was manic around him" on Batman.
"That is what made him the great Batman--calm among chaos and a voice of confidence and reason," said Sohmers, the toys and music memorabilia dealer and appraiser best known as “The King of Pop Culture” from his PBS appearances as an appraiser on Antiques Roadshow.
Adam West, left, and Gary Sohmers at the NorthEast Comic Con & Collectibles Extravaganza in March. (Photo courtesy of Gary Sohmers)
Adam was kind to fans, but snippy to mercenaries who were just trying to cash in on his fame—and could tell the difference when he met people," continues Sohmers, who was close to West for many years and frequently presented him at various fan conventions.
"His sense of humor was always wry, always a bit raunchy, usually above the heads of those he was joking with. But he took Batman comedy seriously--he understood that the character was serious about the subject matter within a preposterous environment."
Sohmers notes that while West "has always been a super hero to me, most people may not realize that he suffered from serious depression after he was deemed a has-been by Hollywood in the 1980s--not even allowed to do the voice of Batman in cartoons!"
Sohmers credits Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane for keeping him relevant, and on Twitter yesterday, MacFarlane thanked West "from the bottom of my heart" for playing Mayor Adam West for 17 years on the animated series.
“You’re irreplaceable," tweeted MacFarlane, expressing the sentiments of so many. West, he said, "was a joy to work with, and the kind of guy you always wanted to be around. His positivity, good nature, and sense of fun were undeniable and it was always a big jolt of the best kind of energy when he walked in to record the show. He knew comedy, and he knew humanity."
Author and pop culture observer Gene Sculatti, who included West in his book The Catalog of Cool, references The Los Angeles Times' "spot-on" West obituary.
"What West loved about the show, he said, was 'Batman's total lack of awareness when it came to interaction with the outside world,'" says Sculatti, further quoting West on his Batman character: "He actually believed nobody could recognize him on the phone, when he was being Bruce Wayne, even though he made no attempt to disguise his voice."
"That's always been the source of the best humor," says Sculatti, who coincidentally had just watched the 1967 "Louie, the Lilac" Batman episode, where the villain played by Milton Berle stole the flowers from Gotham City’s Central Park to prevent the hippies from having a "flower-in."
"West described the Bat-guy going into a nightclub in full Batman costume in the first Batman episode: When the maître d' offers Batman a ringside table, he demurs, 'No, thank you. I’ll stand at the bar. I would not wish to be conspicuous.' As any major dude will tell you, his run amok camp cat burns rubber on all the somber and vengeful film Batmen who followed--and West was at it early on."
One major Batman dudess agrees.
"Adam had an exceptional cadence vocally that was unmistakable—heroic, if you will," says singer-actress Donna Loren, a regular on the '60s rock TV show Shindig! and spokesperson then for Dr. Pepper.
Loren played Susie, a high school cheerleader who aids and abets The Joker in the 1966 Batman episodes "The Joker Goes to School."
"I love a man who can fill out his tights—although his lips were soft and tender when he greeted me each day on the set," notes Loren, whose kiss with Batman's "old chum" Robin--played by Burt Ward—reportedly prompted a flood of fan mail.
"My episodes were filmed at the old Selznick Studios, and a few maniacal fans gripped the chain link fence at the guard gate as I entered begging for a glimpse of Batman and Robin! It's an end of an era in one sense--and an eternal memorial for an original: No one ever measured up to Adam's portrayal."
Ward contrasted "lifelong friend" West's Batman with the "Dark Knight" versions of latter Batmen.
"There are several fine actors who have portrayed Batman in films," Ward said in a statement. "In my eyes, there was only one real Batman that is and always will be Adam West. He was truly the Bright Knight."
And using West's Twitter account, his family tweeted yesterday, "Our beloved AW passed away last night. He was the greatest. We'll miss him like crazy. We know you'll miss him too."