They were well-known in households across the land for their roles as The Caped Crusader and The Riddler on the old (or classic, depending on the viewpoint) Batman TV show. But Sixties comic book characters Adam West and Frank Gorshin had a colorful situation of a whole other kind on their hands when they accepted an invite to a party in Hollywood.
The pair didn’t know what to expect, but it all seemed above board. Everything appeared to be going swimmingly, with the men enjoying a drink or two, little suspecting what lay in wait around the corner.
Wandering the floor in an attempt to mingle, they soon encountered mingling of a type they never expected to see. West and Gorshin had walked smack bang into the middle of an orgy.
How did these two show-business pros handle the crazy situation? With inspired perfection. To the surprise of the assembled throng, they jumped with gusto into the roles of the Dark Knight and his cryptic nemesis Edward Nygma.
West mentioned the incident during an interview with Blastr in 2014: “We walked in … and it was an orgy. So I immediately went into the Batman character, and Frank went into the Riddler character because we were getting the big giggles. It was so funny to us, what we walked into. And we were kicked out. We were expelled from the orgy.”
It might be best not to dwell too much what exactly impersonating Batman and The Riddler at an orgy would involve. Bearing in mind the tone of the show, there may well have been a few wisecracks flying about the place. Either way, their reactions on that fateful night were as a direct result of Batman’s phenomenal small screen success.
Producer William Dozier saw potential in the millionaire playboy who decided to adopt the form of a bat following the tragic slaying of his parents. It was an unusual move, but then Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s creation had already experienced some wild and wacky adventures on the printed page.
This was in the days before the Batman film franchises, when Bruce Wayne’s alter ego became permanently associated with angst-driven moodiness. If it wasn’t for Dozier and writer Lorenzo Semple Jr. the outcome might have been very different. Acclaimed author Eric Ambler was originally crafting a teleplay but left when he heard what Dozier had in mind.
The humor and campiness of the series, which ran from 1966-68, came from the producer’s unfamiliarity with its source material. Had 20th Century Fox employed someone who knew the comics, they might have released something a little grittier. As West himself commented: “The new Dark Knight movies, they’re wonderful in their own way. But, you know, we just did the Bright Knight, and it seemed to work.”
West was known for his strait-laced performance, which really brought out the tongue in cheek aspect of the program. As for Gorshin, his elastic-limbed, giggle-laden turn in green spandex cemented his position in popular culture. If they weren’t good buddies before that moment, they surely would have been afterwards.
In fact, the very first installment of Batman featured Gorshin as the guest villain, something West reflected on fondly during the interview when asked about his favorite episode: “we were setting the tone of the show and all kind of getting married with the same concept and attitudes.”
The Globe and Mail quoted Gorshin from 2002, where he remarked, “It really was a catalyst for me. I was nobody. I had done some guest shots here and there. But after I did that, I became a headliner in Vegas, so I can’t put it down.”
Dozier’s approach attracted younger viewers, particularly with the casting of Burt Ward as Robin. Ward explained the popularity of the show in an interview with SyFy Wire this year: “To capture those people, you had to capture a whole campy style with double meanings and I’m telling ya, the ratings on our first show when it came out was a 55 share. That’s more than you have (for the) Super Bowl.”
Despite the younger demographic, there was as the actor says a double meaning to some of the content. The events of that steamy night in Hollywood had a single and very direct meaning for West and Gorshin. However, a touch of naughtiness has always played a part in the antics of Gotham City.
For starters there was the latex-clad, whip-wielding Catwoman of 1992’s Batman Returns, directed by Tim Burton. Michelle Pfeiffer played Batman (Michael Keaton)’s seductive adversary, though it wasn’t a walk in the park for the actress, as revealed by costume designer Mary Vogt in a 2012 interview for AnOther magazine. Remembering the distinctive outfit she said:
“We were afraid that it would rip, because she had these cat claws, and because it’s latex, once it ripped it’s over, you can’t repair it. So we had to make about 40 cat-suits, but actually, it never ripped, it was very strong.”
Bat-signal lit to tribute Adam West
Co-starring with Pfeiffer was Danny DeVito’s Penguin, alarmingly portrayed as a sewer-born sleaze merchant. This addition didn’t make Warner Bros. feel any more comfortable about what to put on their fast food merchandising.
In 1997 Batman and Robin evoked the spirit of the Adam West version, though even William Dozier would have resisted putting those infamous molded nipples onto the Batsuits. Helmer Joel Schumacher addressed the controversial issue when he spoke to GQ about it last year:
“(I also think that) audiences really have to understand, and I think they do, no one sets out to make a bad movie. People don’t sit down and say, “Let us make a bad movie and disappoint everyone.” There are all kinds of fans of any superhero, and it’s kind of hard to please everybody, but that’s okay. I had a ball making them and I’m really glad I did them, but yeah, I’m not going to apologize anymore.”
The dark, adult tone continues to this day, in productions such as the Gotham saga. With bleakness just a fact of life in Bruce Wayne’s home city, viewers may well wish to see the downbeat stylings of modern Batman poked fun at a little. That’s what makes Adam West’s orgy-avoiding anecdote relevant today.
Thankfully he continued playing the role after the series concluded, in such varied output as TV specials, public service announcements, and animated offerings. Talking of which, his last ever performance was behind the cowl for Batman vs. Two-Face, where he battled against William Shatner’s villain. He passed away from leukemia last year, aged 88.
As for Gorshin, he too reprised his part of The Riddler after the show’s cancellation and continued his career as a comedian, impressionist, and character actor. Not even the rubber-faced Jim Carrey in Batman Forever (1995) could depose his reign as what many saw as the definitive interpretation of the character.
What surely helped the legacy of Dozier’s Batman to endure was its absence from the home entertainment market. It was tied up in more knots than The Caped Crusader and Robin The Boy Wonder during one of the show’s legendary cliff-hangers. Legal knots that is.
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It wasn’t until 2014, over four decades since its original broadcast, that the episodes were finally released on Blu-Ray. Now a new generation of fans can get involved in the retro action, and older ones can relive those thrills while chuckling at the thought of Batman and The Riddler stumbling on an erotic escapade all those years ago.