RIP Adam West: Thanks For Making My Childhood Awesome: Adam West’s portrayal of Batman helped shape my childhood. I know I’m not alone.
Adam West passed away today at the age of 88. And with that, yet another iconic, indispensable piece of my childhood is gone.
West is synonymous, of course, with playing Batman on the camp classic 1966 television series of the same name, and his portrayal of the Dark Knight (or as he called himself, The Bright Knight) made him beloved to kids of all ages.
I grew up in the early 70’s, and before cable television, the only alternative to major network programming were UHF stations who thrived on reruns. And that’s where I, and so many other Generation X kids were exposed to West’s crime fighting antics (accompanied by Dick Grayson as his trusty sidekick Robin).
I would race home from school, switch on the tv and become entranced–feverishly anticipating the next cliffhanger and hoping the Dynamic Duo would escape unscathed from the likes of the Joker, Riddler and Catwoman. To say I was obsessed with the series was an understatement. And Adam West cast a long shadow.My best friend Jason and I would try to duplicate Batman and Robin’s adventures regularly–but we always fought over who would be Batman (no one wants to be a sidekick).
To end this stalemate, my mother came up with an ingenious solution: she used an egg-timer. This way we could each take turns playing Batman, and once the timer was up we’d switch roles. Everybody got their Adam West-fix (our friendship and Batman obsession continues. He took me on a hike in the Hollywood hills to see the batcave used in the series a few years back).
The show also fed my love of comic books–I begged my grandmother (who ran a bookstore) to grab every Batman-related comic she could find (it’s worth noting the show had a similar effect in the late 60s: it helped revive the character when comic sales were plummeting and reinvigorated the entire industry).
William Dozier’s televised adaptation of the D.C. Comics character was a thing of genius: for adults it was a campy comedy that played upon the inherit silliness of superhero mythology.
But for kids? It was serious stuff: we treated every deadpan utterance from West with reverence. While we knew deep down inside that no one could beat the Dynamic Duo, every Biff! Bam! Pow! battle with their colorful rogues gallery kept us in rapt suspense.
West’s portrayal was the key to the show’s duality. It wouldn’t have worked without him. His goody two-shoes demeanor and insightful detective skills made him a wholesome role model, while his deadpan delivery was delightful subversive comedy.
How he threaded that needle so delicately and expertly speaks volumes about his talent, which he explained in a 2015 interview: “My Batman has endured because it had something for everyone. When you were a kid you could enjoy all the adventure, the color, the crazy costumes, the wonderful villains. Then as you got a little bit older you saw the satirical elements, the bizarre stuff.”
I’m not sure at what age I deciphered that Batman was a comedy, but it felt like an odd betrayal, taking advantage of my naiveté. I gravitated towards the grim and gritty Batman of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, and became dismissive of the show that captivated my youth.That feeling was short-lived however, and I revere it wholeheartedly. I have room for both the grim and the goofy Batman in my life.
I think its safe to say that with the exception of my parents, a few teachers and George Lucas, no one had a bigger impact on my young brain like Adam West.
It’s unfortunate that West’s association with the role limited his career. He became frustrated with typecasting, and struggled to get more work after the series ended its three-year run, relegated to B-movie fodder like The Happy Hooker and Zombie Nightmare.
My personal favorite post-Batman West role was Lookwell, a hilarious comedy pilot developed by Conan O’Brien, with West playing a washed up TV action-star who thought he could solve crimes in real life. It was both a brilliant send-up of his own career troubles and a showcase for his comedic genius.
His career would eventually be reinvigorated by his cult status, appearing as himself on shows like Family Guy and The Big Bang Theory, showcasing his ever-sharp comedic chops.I had the pleasure of seeing West introduce a screening of the 1966 Batman film at Austin’s Paramount Theatre in 2010 ( the same theater that hosted its original world première), and he didn’t appear to be a man in his 80’s. He still had a youthful glow and warm presence that put a big dumb grin on everyone’s face. And that film remain such a joy (“Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb” remains his most defining moment as the character).
I’m glad West made peace with playing Batman and was able to soak in all the love his fans had for him. The world would be much poorer without his indelible contribution to pop culture. And he’ll remain immortal for it.
I think this quote is particularly lovely in summing up his career: “How many actors have a shot at being a part of something that became a part of pop culture? It’s been very rewarding. I’m not getting the 20 million bucks for the new movies, but at least I’m getting warmth and recognition from people wherever I go.”
Thanks for everything Adam West. I’ll do the Batusi in your honor today.