Batman TV Villains
Batman TV Villains(pop culture)
Holy Casting Call, Batman! When ABC's live-action Batman exploded onto television on Wednesday, January 12, 1966, “Batmania” devoured America— and Hollywood. “People [actors] would call up, or they would send their agents around, saying, can't so and so be on?” recalled executive producer William Dozier in a 1980s interview. Comic-book carryovers Riddler, Joker, Mr. Freeze, Mad Hatter, Catwoman, and Penguin only went so far: the series' twice-weekly production schedule demanded fresh, fiendish faces to fight Batman and Robin. So Dozier and his writers brainstormed a bevy of bad guys to ensure that viewers kept tuning in at the “same Battime, same Bat-channel.” In the two-part opener, 1960s sex-kitten Jill St. John cheekily hijacked the camera from Batman's most manic and memorable villain, Frank Gorshin's Riddler. As Molly the Moll, she seduced the Caped Crusader into a discotheque “Batusi” dance and suckered him with her impersonation of Robin the Boy Wonder. Julie Newmar's kinky Catwoman may be celebrated for elevating the blood pressures of male viewers, but Jill St. John first charted that tantalizing territory. Oscar-winner Anne Baxter beat out contenders Zsa Zsa Gabor and Bette Davis to play reluctant criminal escape artist (“All I ever wanted to be was a poor, honest magician”) Zelda the Great in a pair of episodes loosely adapting writer John Broome's “Batman's Inescapable Doom-Trap!” from Detective Comics #346 (1965). The partner of larcenist Eivol Ekdal (Jack Kruschen), a little-known felon transplanted from Broome's story, Zelda was a substitute for that issue's Carnado when Dozier mandated, “Let's remember we must work dames into these scripts.” “Not even his mother will recognize the actor playing False Face” touted a February 2, 1966, ABC press release promoting the two episodes adapting a minor villain from Batman #113 (1958). The uncredited performer behind the many masks of master-of-disguise False Face was Malachi Throne, whose career of five decades has included fare as diverse as Perry Mason, The Six Million Dollar Man, and Catch Me if You Can. Throne returned to Gotham City by voicing Fingers the Gorilla in a 2000 episode of Batman Beyond. Corpulent character actor Victor Buono donned a scarab-adorned headdress as King Tut, a Yale professor turned ruler of the Nile via a knock on the noggin. Tut attempted to re-create ancient Thebes in Gotham City, surrounding himself with costumed lackeys who never quite shared his compulsion (“How many times must I tell you? Queens consume nectars and ambrosia, not hot dogs”). The first major TV Bat-villain who did not originate in the comics, King Tut was featured in a total of ten episodes during the show's three-season run. Prior to Tut's debut, TV Guide erroneously reported that Robert Morley would portray the character. Best known for his Planet of the Apes roles, former child star Roddy McDowall played season one's last non-comics villain, the Bookworm, a voracious reader whose book-related crimes engaged Batman in a contest of wits. Season two followed summer 1966's hastily produced Batman theatrical movie (featuring Joker, Penguin, Riddler, and Catwoman), an iconic favorite among baby-boomers but a modest performer at the box office. Lorenzo Semple, Jr.'s screenplay was novelized by Winston Lyon as Signet Books' Batman vs. the Fearsome Foursome. The Honeymooners' Art Carney was season two's first new nemesis: the Archer, a Robin Hood knockoff bearing no relation to DC Comics' Archer, the Man of Steel's first costumed foe, from Superman #13 (1941). Van Johnson guest starred as the Minstrel, a lute-strumming menace who manipulated the Gotham Stock Exchange, and Shelley Winters played Ma Parker, matriarch of a family of convicts (Legs, Mad Dog, Pretty Boy, and Machine Gun). Winters found Batman's hectic production schedule harrowing, commenting in 1966, “We didn't even get to read the script or rehearse before shooting.” Clock King was borrowed from Green Arrow's rogues' gallery (actually, Clock King was Green Arrow's rogues' gallery), with bushy-browed, tousletopped Walter Slezak resembling a manic Captain Kangaroo in the role. Clock King and his henchmen (in clock-faced jerseys) nearly drowned the Dynamic Duo in sand in giant hourglass death traps. Veteran horror star Vincent Price hammed it up as Egghead, a hairless crimelord (aided by lackeys named Foo Yung and Benedict) in a suit of (egg) white and (yolk) gold, who schemed to “eggstract” Bruce Wayne's intellect. Piano virtuoso Liberace sashayed into the role of the insidious ivorytinkler Chandell, essentially playing himself (and customarily overacting). The Addams Family's Carolyn Jones was Marsha, Queen of Diamonds, a gem connoisseur who so coveted the Batdiamond (the power source for the Batcave's Batcomputer) that she nearly coerced Batman into matrimony to obtain it. When approached to portray an unspecified Batman villain, actor Cliff Robertson suggested, “It might be kind of fun to play a very, very, very dumb cowboy who took himself very, very seriously.” The result was Shame, lampooning the 1953 Alan Ladd Western Shane. Maurice Evans (Samantha's father on Bewitched) was cast as the Puzzler, confounding the Dynamic Duo with puzzles providing clues to his crimes in a twoparter intended to spotlight the Riddler. When a scheduling conflict made Frank Gorshin unavailable, the script was rewritten to feature a new rogue called “Mr. Conundrum,” but later reworked to borrow the name “Puzzler” from a Superman foe. Returning felons like Newmar's Catwoman, Burgess Meredith's Penguin, and Cesar Romero's Joker added spice to Batman's second season, but a string of derivative do-badders and mediocre performances damaged the show's ratings. Michael Rennie sleepwalked through the role of Dr. Somnambula (aka the Sandman), a European thief whose most distinguishing feature was his mink coat. TV's Gomez Addams, John Astin, was woefully miscast as a substitute Riddler. French dreamboat Jacque Bergerac made stomachs (not hearts) flut-ter as Freddy the Fence, and screen star “Miss” Tallulah Bankhead slobbered her lines in what was to be her final performance as Black Widow, a crime queen with a thing for arachnids. Only Roger C. Carmel's crazed counterfeiter Colonel Gumm sweetened the last cluster of season-two episodes, buoyed by the guest appearances of the Green Hornet and Kato. “I was so bad that it took Batman and the Green Hornet to get me,” Carmel once joked. To counter hemorrhaging ratings, Batgirl was introduced in the September 14, 1967, episode season-three opener and Batman was demoted to once-weekly status. New villains introduced were the Siren, aka Lorelei Circe, a singing seductress played by a pre-Dynasty Joan Collins (her henchmen were the melodically named Allegro and Andante); Ethel Merman as (racing) horse thief Lola Lasagne; the cloying Milton Berle as floral-foe Louie the Lilac; Anne Baxter's return in a different role, Olga the Queen of the Bessarovian Cossacks; Rudy Vallee and Glynis Johns as British mistmakers Lord Marmaduke Ffogg and Lady Penelope Peasoup; Barbara Rush as the crooked women's libber Nora Clavicle, abetted by her Ladies' Crime Club; the “entrancing” Dr. Cassandra, an invisible thief played by Ida Lupino (with Howard Duff as her transparent accomplice Cabala); and Zsa Zsa Gabor, who finally made it onto the show as thieving spa-owner Minerva, a role intended for Mae West. Despite the return of Frank Gorshin as the Riddler and the gutsy casting of Eartha Kitt as Catwoman, ratings in the last season continued to erode, and the series was canceled with episode #120, aired March 14, 1968.
The Supervillain Book: The Evil Side of Comics and Hollywood © 2006 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.