No abs. No problem.
Fifty years ago today, Adam West squeezed himself into a purple cowl and tights to play Batman on ABC.
“Batman” debuted Jan. 12, 1966. Three seasons later, the comic book show transformed from primetime fodder to cult mainstay … for a very good reason. West’s Batman, along with Burt Ward’s feisty Robin, delivered pop culture whimsy without an expiration date.
The show’s legacy may not be seen in today’s comic book films. They teem with mature themes, splashy effects and random fatalities. Its imprint remains all the same. Just ask John Travolta, who paid homage to West’s infamous Bat dance in 1994’s “Pulp Fiction.”
To celebrate the 50 year anniversary, here are 21 fun facts tied to the show.
1. Let ’em Dangle: Ward once hung roughly 14 feet over three Bengal tigers, which the actor said could leap 20 feet, for one episode. On-set trainers inspired their ferocity by hanging red meat near Ward’s face.
2. Serious Reservations: West didn’t want to read for the part of Batman initially. “I’m trying to have a serious career here,” he told his agent. The agent pressed the issue, and West had a change of heart 20 pages into the first script.
3. To the Bat Pole … Ouch!: Transforming into Batman and Robin wasn’t easy. The actors had to maneuver around the rotating library wall, which didn’t always rotate on cue, to reach the Bat Pole. The actors then dropped about 15 feet to mattresses waiting below.
4. Booze Man: One day, West slid down the Bat Pole and landed on an inebriated soul who West recalls “was sleeping off the night before.”
5. The Chairman’s Bat Wish: Frank Sinatra wanted to play The Joker on the series, a role which eventually went to Cesar Romero, according to Catwoman Julie Newmar.
6. From a Farm to the Batcave: West credits handling all those Bat stunts with growing up on a ranch with horses.
7. Writing Your Legacy: Lorenzo Elliott Semple, Jr. helped write “Batman,” but he also penned serious film fare like “The Parallax View” and “Three Days of the Condor.” Semple told West that “Batman” was, in his mind, his finest achievement.
8. Mmmm, Chocolate: West shot a series of commercials for Nestle Quick in the mid-60s inspired by the James Bond franchise. “Captain Quick” didn’t make a cultural mark, but he caught the eye of several big wigs behind the upcoming “Bat” series.
9. Not Shaken or Stirred: West could have been 007. The actor was offered the lead in the Bond adventure “Diamonds Are Forever” but politely declined. He said a British actor should play the dashing secret agent.
10. Holy Desperation: Due to some serious typecasting, West had to take almost any role once the series went off the air. He even appeared in his Bat suit at county fairs along with dreck like 1977’s “The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington.”
11. A Holy Hangover: West once met Pope Paul VI thanks to his TV fame, but he wasn’t quite up to the encounter. He recalled being so hung over at the time he couldn’t bend to kiss the Pontiff’s ring.
12. Don’t Mind if I Do: West held on to some “Batman” scripts and a few of the show’s props.
13: Young at Heart: Ward was only 20 when the first episode aired.
14: Appearing for a Limited Time: Some of the stars who popped out of windows as Batman and Robin scaled those buildings included Dick Clark, Betty White, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Jerry Lewis.
15: Location, Location, Location: Ward sold real estate in between acting classes at UCLA before winning the role of Robin. He sold a home to a Hollywood power player one fortuitous day, a sale that led to him meeting “Batman” producer William Dozier.
16: Colorful Neighbors: They shot “Batman” on a lot near sound stages where “Peyton Place” and “Lost in Space” were filmed.
17: It’s Hard to Pitck Just One: Ward has said his favorite Bat villains were Vincent Price’s Egghead, Romero’s Joker and Frank Gorshin’s Riddler.
18: What Did She Say? The show’s censors stumbled over a saucy line spoken by singer/actress Lesley Gore. “Hello, Robin. My name is Pussycat but you can call me … Cat.”
19: Plastics: Dustin Hoffman became a superstar thanks to his starring role in 1967’s “The Graduate.” He wasn’t the first choice for the role. Ward was considered for the part of Benjamin Braddock, the lost young man who defined a generation. “Graduate” producer Lawrence Turman wanted TV’s Robin for the role, but Fox put its corporate foot down. The studio reasoned that a potential hit like “The Graduate” would dent West’s image as the Boy Wonder.
20. And … Cut: ABC cancelled “Batman” midway through its third season as ratings fell and production costs soared.
21. A Real Do Gooder: Ward began running Gentle Giants, a dog rescue co-founded with wife Tracy Posner, in 1994.