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William Dozier’s 1966 TV series “Batman,” starring Adam West, Burt Ward, and a rotating bevy of charismatic character actors as the villains, possesses a rare genius. It is many things at once. A younger viewer will likely look at the fun costumes and colorful fight sequences and see an exciting adventure program. A savvy teen will look to the cackling, energized villains, and understand they are having more fun than a stuffed shirt like Batman. For a teen, the villains are the real heroes. An adult may look to “Batman” as a savvy, hilarious satire. The titular superhero and his loyal sidekick are both so fecklessly upstanding, and such loyal lapdogs to the local police department, that they become caricatures of 1950s moralism. All three of those age groups will likely, first and foremost, appreciate the joy and comedy of the show. It could be argued that Batman hasn’t been part of a better TV show or movie since. I said it. Come at me.
The key to making “Batman” as brilliant as it was rested in the hands of its two stars, West and Ward. Without their deadpan comedy delivery and energetic willingness to perform silly-yet-dangerous stunts (Ward particularly got knocked around a lot), a lot of the show’s hilarity wouldn’t read nearly as well. West and Ward became so vital to the success of the show, it becomes difficult to imagine anyone else playing their roles.
It turns out West’s on screen energy was the result of an unusual quirk of his full-body costume. In Les Daniels’ 1999 book “Batman: The Complete History,” West admitted that his constant need to move around on set was a direct result of itchy tights.
In the book, Adam West said he felt a little trepidation about accepting the role of Batman, feeling he would be typecast. Sadly, that was exactly what happened, and West’s career was colored by “Batman” for decades thereafter. The actor was very candid about his resentment and eventual acceptance of being Batman for most of his life. While on the job, however, West was wholly committed, happy to work out the show’s comedic tone and his character with creator William Dozier.
One might notice while watching “Batman” that West often holds his arms like a bat, wheels around and points, or leaps through windows with a very particular flourish. West admitted that the constant movement of his character was because the skintight costume irritated his skin. It was uncomfortable, and one can easily see how the mask cuts off West’s vision and hearing. West explained that his discomfort was an opportunity, explaining:
“The trick is to let the costume work for you. […] The tights were itchy. […] If you’ll notice, my Batman was always moving.”
West, it seemed, didn’t have it nearly as bad as Burt Ward. In his 1995 autobiography “Boy Wonder: My Life in Tights,” Ward admitted that his Robin trunks left little to the imagination. Because of Ward’s amply sized genitals, the producers gave him unusual “shrinking” pills, and equipped him with usual underclothing appliances to make him less pronounced. Ward wisely stopped taking the unnamed pills, fearing for his fertility. It’s a good thing he did. Ward’s first daughter was born in 1966.
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