Burt Ward — The Man Wonder

Herbie J Pilato
Feb 14, 2019 · 11 min read

An Exclusive Profile of the Legendary Pop-Icon and Humanitarian

Photography by David Laurell

[Note: On January 10, 2020, Burt Ward finally received his much-deserved Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Following is an article that was initially published in 2019 celebrating the life and career of a remarkable human being and a sincerely nice guy.]

Burt Ward was about three seconds late for our phone interview, and he apologized.

But the apology, of course, was not necessary, certainly because his delay was only a minuscule of a moment, and secondly because he was detained due to his non-stop efforts to rescues dogs.

In the realm of classic television, Ward is best known as Robin, the Boy Wonder a.k.a., Dick Grayson, ward (“Holy irony!”) to Bruce Wayne, a.k.a. Batman, played by Adam West (who passed away in 2017) on the Batman TV series which originally aired on ABC, twice a week, from 1966 to 1968.

Today, more than 50 years after the show’s debut, the heroic-based Batman is more popular than ever, as is the heroically-human Ward.

Down-to-earth, bright, energetic, and unassuming, Ward continues to utilize his public persona to make a positive impact in the real world, just as did Robin on Batman.

[Photo courtesy of Neal Public Relations]

In addition to keeping his Robin persona active in the public eye, Ward, and his wife Tracy, own and operate Gentle Giants Dogfood and Products, a company dedicated to the healthy meals and living for man — and woman’s — best friends, and saving the lives of those said canines, and as many beloved animals of every species as possible.

“When you’re involved with saving lives,” Ward said, “…sometimes, it’s a life and death situation,” and time is of the essence. “We’re known for rescuing dogs, but we’ve also rescued cats, horses, pigs, goat, sheep. And when you do that (save lives), and you give more of yourself. We actually get more pleasure of doing things for others, than doing for ourselves. We don’t buy anything for ourselves anymore. We don’t need anything extra. It’s just about the way you look at life. In my opinion, and in the opinion of my wife Tracey,” continued Ward, “…life is the most precious commodity in the world. Every life is precious. That’s how we look at it.”

[Courtesy of Neal Public Relations]

Through it all, Ward’s ego, or lack thereof, remains in check. The legendary TV stardom, the pop-culture status, none of it, ever went to his head. And he credits his mother and father in helping him to retain his priorities. As Ward recalled, his parents told him, “Look, some kids are in school and study and do very well. Other kids don’t study, and they don’t make a lot of their lives. We’re not going to push you. You do whatever you want. But keep in mind, good or bad, it’s going to be the results of your own efforts.”

“And that was a pretty heavy statement for me to hear as a child,” Ward explained. But he took it to heart, and subsequently, soared with success. “I was always very good in school because I saw the importance of it,” he said. “I never took drugs. I never smoked. I never drank…not because I was being Puritan, but because I simply did not think those things were good to do.”

[Courtesy of Neal Public Relations]

Such is remarkable behavior for anyone, let alone someone who grew up in the 1950s and early 1960s, and for a pop-culture icon who came into his own during one of the world's most tumultuousness eras. “The 1960s was a period of free love, flower children, LSD, and on and on,” he observed. “But to this day, both my wife and I are very health conscious. We try to do the best we can. Live as well as possible. Eat as well as possible. And we have kind of an attitude about life…that you do the best with what you’ve got.”

To further explain, Ward shared another memory, this time from when he was taking professional acting lessons from prominent instructor Eric Morris, who trained several young thespians in the process of method acting. One day after class, Morris called Ward aside, and said, “Burt…I just want to tell you something. All the other students in my class want to be an actor so bad and have such a burning passion. And if they don’t make it, they will be devastated. But not you. You’re different from all of them.’

At which point, Ward wondered, “Is that a bad thing?”

To which Morris replied, “Not at all. If you succeed as an actor, you’ll do very well. And if you don’t succeed, and you don’t become a star, then you’ll be just as happy without it. That’s the difference between you and every other young actor in my class. You have this happy-go-lucky attitude that, well, ‘If I get make it, great. And if I don’t, that’s okay, too.”

In other words, from day one, Burt Ward has never been attached to any goal or objective in life, personal or professional and, as a result, he has met with nothing but success in either category. Even when he may have appeared to the world that he may have not succeeded, in his heart, and in his own world, he has always been a success.

For example, in 1966, after he filmed the first 26 segments of the two weekly episodes of Batman, which were then calculated as the Number 1 and Number 2 highest-rated TV shows in the world, the series went on hiatus. At this time, a young producer named Lawrence Turman approached Ward with a job offer. Turman wanted to cast the young actor in a starring role in a feature film that he was producing for 20th Century Fox, which was the same studio that produced Batman for television.”

Naturally, Ward was excited about the prospect. “I would love to do a different role,” he told Turman.

Assuming all would be well if he starred in a motion picture that would be produced by the same studio that did Batman, Ward was surprised when there was a glitch. But as he recalled, it wasn’t Fox that had an issue with his being cast in the film, but ABC. “The network did not want me doing any other role than Robin because Batman was such a huge hit.”

At the time, ABC was just a syndicated network, and Batman catapulted its position into full-blown broadcast status. “So,” Ward observed today, “ABC actually prevented me from doing a movie that I really wanted to do.”

The movie in question was The Graduate, which was released in 1967, and which made a superstar out of the actor who was cast in the lead: Dustin Hoffman.

“So, they couldn’t get me and they hired this young kid named Dustin Hoffman,” Ward mused in perspective. “And what is really funny is that for years, every three or four years, I would run into this Larry Turman, who was the nicest guy in the world. I would seem him at some prominent restaurant, here and there. And he would always say the same thing to me. ‘Burt — I always wanted you for that part.’”

But Ward, again, kept his head together and his emotions in check, reflecting once more what his acting teacher had observed a few years before his potential casting in The Graduate. “Anyone else might have been devastated in not getting that part,” Ward observed today. “They might not have gotten over that. But I was fine.”

“Here’s my philosophy,” he said with a smile, “…the first hundred years are the hardest. After that, it’s pretty smooth sailing.”

“But seriously,” he added, “Sometimes, things happen for a reason. We all have complexity in our lives, and we all do the best we can. When confronted by a challenge, you might think, ‘Oh, that’s so unfair…how could this be?’ And yet, at other times, you just have to say, “That’s just the way things work out.”

For the highest good of all concerned?

“Exactly!”

As to his days on Batman, Ward has no regrets. He knows and appreciates the impact he’s made on millions of people for more than five decades, and embraces and cherishes it all. In starring on the show alongside Adam West, he made a life-long friend who he misses dearly, and had the opportunity to work with “an incredible group of people.” Those being, not only Batman stars like West, or Julie Newmar (Catwoman), Frank Gorshin (The Riddler), or Cesar Romero (The Joker), but other actors like martial arts legend Bruce Lee, the latter three of whom are now gone.

Of West, Ward recalled, “I loved Adam, “who first encountered on the sound stages of 20th Century Fox where both actors screen-tested for Batman. “There were 1100 young actors that were considered for my role,” Ward said. “And Adam and I were put together to screentest. And I remember meeting him about 15 minutes before we auditioned. I introduced myself, sat down next to him, and we started talking. In the first five minutes the two of us were laughing — and for more than 50 years we never stopped laughing.”

“We were great personal friends,” Ward said, “…and even though we worked terribly-long hours on the set, sometimes on weekends we’d go out and play tennis together.”

“One time,” he continued, “we were on a public court in Pacific Palisades [CA] across from where Adam used to live. And people were kind of looking at us, watching back and forth, and all of a sudden somebody said, ‘Oh, my gosh! That’s Batman and Robin playing tennis!”

Ward’s memories of West are joyful, fond and sometimes poignant. “The only time that it’s really hard for me,” he intoned, “…is when a make a personal appearance and I’m sitting there signing autographs. I turn to an empty chair where Adam would have been. That’s when it’s tough.”

Before Bruce Lee, another of Ward’s good friends found superstardom in the motion picture world of martial arts, he was cast as Kato the right-hand-man to Van Williams who took the lead in The Green Hornet TV series, another ABC superhero show that was similar in tone and style to Batman, and which was also produced by 20th Century Fox.

As it turned out, Ward lived in the same condominium complex that also housed Lee, and as he recalled, “Bruce Lee’s first filmed fight scene of his career, was fighting me as Robin on Batman. Because we were friends, we sparred together,” said Ward, who studied martial arts, and who, in 2015, was inducted into the International Karate and Kickboxing Hall of Fame.”

In early 2019, Ward appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show to talk about his Gentle Giants Dog Food and Products company. Both Degeneres and her wife, actress Portia de Rossi, wanted to help spread the word about Gentle Giants. And as Ward relayed, he and Tracy “were thrilled and so very thankful with the results. The same day of our appearance on Ellen’s show, Wednesday, January 2nd, Gentle Giants sold-out in every Walmart in America and Canada the same day in about two hours.”

“And since then,” he enthused, “…we’ve been fielding hundreds, perhaps thousands of phone calls asking for food, and it was really an amazing thing that happened. We were very, very surprised to say the least.”

Ward has nothing but appreciation for that appearance, and high praise for DeGeneres and de Rossi. On Batman, he and Adam West were known as “The Caped Crusaders,” and in real life, Ward and his wife Tracy refer to Ellen and Portia as “The Kindness Crusaders.”

“Ellen was so easy to talk with,” he said of his appearance on the DeGeneres Show. “What a wonderful sense of humor. She has just a funny way to look at things. And I have the greatest love and respect for her and Portia. She’s the pillar of success in her world. And in our world, we’re amazingly happy. She and Portia have a wonderful life, and Tracy and I have a wonderful life.”

“We’re very happy,” confirmed Tracy Ward, who like her husband, is dedicated to rescuing and caring for canines. “Our life’s cause,” she said, “…is to help every dog live the happiest, longest life possible, and to make every person on earth realize that every one of us can be a superhero. We’re all superheroes if we do whatever we can to help animals or anyone in need. We're very busy, but it’s a privilege to know that we can make a difference — and that’s what life is all about.”

With that said, what does Burt Ward see for the future?

To answer that question, he references a line from the original feature film edition of the Batman TV series that was released theatrically in 1966. In one scene of that movie, Batman and Robin were conferring with Commissioner Gordon, as played by Neil Hamilton, in his office. Gordon, ever concerned about the safety of their mythic Gotham City, turns to Batman, and says, something to the effect of, “The Riddler, The Penguin, The Joker, The Catwoman…any one of those heinous villains could wreak havoc on Gotham City. But the four of them together, I can’t even imagine what they have in mind. What do you think their objective is?”

As Ward recalled, “Adam, in his incredibly stoic voice as Batman replied, ‘I think their minimum objective is the entire world.’”

“So, that’s what I would say my minimum objective is, too,” Burt Ward concluded with one more wonderful smile in his voice, while also adding a bit of sound advice for attaining what he described as “The three essentials to happiness…Someone to love…Something to do…Something to look forward to.”

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For more information about Gentle Giant Dog Food and Products, please click on the link below:

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Herbie J Pilato

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Visit me at www.HerbieJPilato.com. Reach me at HJPilato@yahoo.com.

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