Adam West: Behind the Mask
In the world of superheroes, there was no one quite like his Batman or the man himself
In the world of actors who played Batman, there was no quite like Adam West, who interpreted the character with a unique pizzazz, physical style, and vocal timbre unlike any other before or since his performance on the 1960s cult classic television show of the same name.
In the process, West became what many consider the quintessential Batman for every generation.
On June 9, 2017, the always vibrant West, seemingly immortal, succumbed to leukemia at 88-years-young, and, no doubt for the first time, a bat went to Heaven.
Although the Batman series screened for only three seasons (twice weekly on ABC from 1966 to 1969), its popularity never wavered, exemplified by consistently high ratings in syndicated reruns (and on networks such as ME-TV, where it presently airs).
In 2016, the show commemorated its 50th Anniversary with a posh box set of the entire series released on Blu-ray, as well as an all-new animated Batman movie, Return of the Caped Crusaders.
West lent his distinguished vocals to the film, alongside Burt Ward as Robin, the Boy Wonder, his co-star and cohort from the original live-action series, as well as Julie Newmar, reprising her live-action Catwoman.
The initial pairing and subsequent reunion of West and Ward, who were also referred to as “The Dynamic Duo” (on screen and off), were a joyful far smile from the bleak, edgy performances of the Batman character that was later brought to the big screen with incarnations as “The Dark Knight.”
Ward, a loyal colleague and “ol’ chum” to West from the day they stepped on the set of the original TV series, was heartbroken upon learning of his friend’s passing. The two had last seen one another on April 29 at the Hollywood Show in Los Angeles.
In a statement to the press, Ward said:
“I am devastated at the loss of one my very dearest friends. Adam and I had a special friendship for more than 50 years. We shared some of the most fun times of our lives together. Our families have deep love and respect for each other. This is a terribly unexpected loss of my lifelong friend. I will forever miss him.
“There are several fine actors who have portrayed Batman in films. In my eyes, there was only one real Batman that is and always will be Adam West. He was truly ‘The Bright Knight.’”
West was born September 19, 1928, in Walla Walla, Washington. He was married three times. His wives were: Marcelle Tagand Lear, his wife of 47 years (1970–2017), Frisbie Dawson (1957–1962), and Billie Lou Yeager (1950–1956). His children include Nina West, Jonelle S. Anderson, Hunter Anderson, and Perrin West.
The actor made early pre-Batman TV appearances on shows like Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip, The Outer Limits, and Bewitched, and in feature films such as Tammy and the Doctor (1963), and Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964). Post-Batman, he appeared on Laverne & Shirley, Fantasy Island, and Love American Style, the latter on which he played a version of himself.
He did the same since 1999, by lending his voice, with tongue-in-cheek in check, portraying Mayor Adam West on The Family Guy animated series, and on February 25, 2016, in an episode of The Big Bang Theory titled “The Celebration Experimentation.”
In one of the most comical lines of “Celebration,” West musingly mocks alternate Batman performers whose characters have tended to announce their identity. “I never had to say, ‘I’m Batman,’” West tells Howard Wolowitz, as played by Simon Helberg. “I showed up. People knew I was Batman.”
In an exclusive Foreword to the book, Dashing, Daring and Debonair: TV’s Top Male Icons from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, West himself made clear his appreciation of playing Batman and took seriously the responsibility that went along with it.
“My contribution to Batman changed my life,” he wrote, “…and somehow also altered the lives of those who watched…and those who may have appreciated the absurdities of the juxtapositions inherent in the show; all delivered with a wink and a smile. Batman certainly dispensed some choice advice that helped many restless souls to rise up in faith and confront the ignorance of a bully — or what they may have at one time viewed as an insurmountable obstacle.
“It’s during the many-times surrounding encounters with fans that I’ve realized the unmistakable positive power of television, especially classic TV.
“As to those fans of all positive television programming from every era, and as to my ‘Bat-fans’ in particular, I say this:
“‘Thank you for making my life just a little bit brighter. You are such a happy part of my experience as a human being. You give the world hope. You are my hero.’”
Spoken like the brightest light of any “Dark Knight.”
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Originally published at www.emmys.com.