Holy Batman Day!

After a few serious blogs, I decided I needed to write about something a little bit less … deep.  This is about a silly and campy a topic as I can come up with.

Depending on the source, either September 15 or September 21 was National Batman Day.  Either way, I missed it.  It was to celebrate 80 years of the Caped Crusader.  Batman first appeared in the comics in 1939 and has been keeping the folks of fictional Gotham City safe from the onset.

Yes, there have been many different versions of Batman throughout the years, but for me, the version that will always remain my favorite was created in 1966.

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I was not yet born when it first aired on TV, but I watched it faithfully with my brother in reruns.  To be honest, as a kid watching this show, I had no idea just what the show did to pop culture in 1966.  It was HUGE!  Radio stations used the infamous Neal Hefti theme song for their jingles.  People were using onomatopoeias in every day conversations, along with “Holy” catchphrases!  Batman was everywhere!

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The phrase “Same Bat Time.  Same Bat Channel.” were used in everyday language.  It was a reference to the fact that the first episode would end with our heroes caught in a trap.  Certain death awaited the Dynamic Duo.  The cliffhanger episodes ended telling veiwers to tune in tomorrow to see IF they can escape (which they always did!).

The 1966 Batman was quite different than what had been seen on screen or in the comics.  The producers of the show did it with a campiness that was at times, just plain silly.  One has to wonder if the cast had been different, would it have worked?

Adam West played Batman (and Bruce Wayne) and Burt Ward was Robin (and Dick Grayson).

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The Commissioner Gordon of 1966 is SO unlike the Gordon of Fox’s Gotham.  He is played by the great Neil Hamilton.  Chief O’Hara is played like the stereotypical Irish cop from so many movies and radio shows by character actor Stafford Repp.

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In the comics, Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred, had been killed off before the show began.  Needless to say, his death was reversed.  He is played to perfection by Alan Napier.

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Aunt Harriet Cooper was played by Madge Blake, who many will remember from Leave it to Beaver.  Blake fell ill during the show and appeared less and less.

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In season 3, the two day back to back episode format was abandoned and the character of Batgirl (who was really Barbara Gordon, daughter of the Commissioner) was introduced.  She was played by the amazing Yvonne Craig.

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Outside of the campiness of the show, I think what made it such a hit was the villains.  Batman in the comics introduced readers to many of the Batman “staple” villains and so they were known to Bat-fans already.  Personally, I need to give kudos to whoever did the casting of the villains for the TV show!  In all honesty, it is hard for me to imagine anyone else playing these characters (although some have done quite well).

When you watch the show, you will notice that when a villain is on screen, the camera always shoots them at an angle.  The reason is that it was to convey that the villains were a bit off kilter or “crooked”.   By the end of the first season, Batman was such a big hit that celebrities were lining up to be villains.  Many stars just wanted to be ON the show (which explains some of the cameos).  While there are many villains, here are some of my favorites:

Cesar Romero – The Joker. Romero was known for playing romantic Latin lovers in many movies.  When asked to play the Joker, he refused to shave off his trademark mustache.  The cast him anyway and they painted the makeup over his mustache!  Look at the picture below and it is clearly visible.  His over-the-top performance as the Joker and his amazing laugh made the character so much fun to watch!!

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Frank Gorshin – The Riddler.  Gorshin had starred in over 20 films by the time he was cast in Batman as the Riddler.  Those included That Darn Cat, Where the Boys Are, and The George Raft Story.  He was popular in night clubs and on TV and was an amazing impressionist (He did one of the BEST impressions of Burt Lancaster!).  As the Riddler, he was like a cat high on catnip!  He was all over the place!  His laugh was perfect for the role.  The laugh was supposedly inspired by Richard Widmark’s character in 1947’s Kiss of Death.

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Burgess Meredith – The Penguin.  Burgess was called “one of the most accomplished actors of the century” and I would tend to agree.  There is very little that I have seen him in where he is not amazing to watch!  He and Cesar Romero are tied for the most appearances on Batman.  As the Penguin, he is just marvelous!  Penguin trivia:  Burgess had stopped smoking prior to taking the role.  He developed the “quack”ing to hide the fact that he wanted to cough because of the smoke.  Word is that he was so popular on the show, the producers ALWAYS had a Penguin script waiting for him.

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Catwoman – Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt.  Hands down, Julie Newmar is my favorite!  Her sultry voice fits the character.  The way she flirts with Batman, you can tell there is something there, but it can never be because one is good and one is evil.  Julie was a star on Broadway (and Tony Award winner) before Batman. She did many guest appearances on TV too (F-Troop, Route 66, Columbo, and more).  Her Catwoman costume is in the Smithsonian!

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Eartha Kitt makes my list because her take on Catwoman is SO different from Julie’s.  Her growl and the way she rolls her “r’s” is reason enough for her to be mentioned.

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Notice: Julie raised the belt on the costume a bit – so it enhanced her figure.

David Wayne – The Mad Hatter.  I always liked David Wayne as an actor.  He appears in one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes and was in many movies by the time Batman cast him.  He appeared in four films with Marilyn Monroe and also appeared with Frank Sinatra in The Tender Trap.  Like the other villains, Wayne is over-the-top is his portrayal of the Mad Hatter.  His exact pronunciations of words with such great diction makes his performance that much more believable. How can you not dig his crazy hat with the eyes that pop up to hypnotize his victims to steal their hats?!

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Vincent Price – Egghead.  Vincent Price was a star!  He was the Saint on radio, he had appeared in who knows how many movies, and narrated Michael Jackson’s Thriller!  Egghead was a villain that must have been created for the show, as I don’t know that he ever appeared in a comic book.  He was a super intelligent villain, maybe the smartest.  His language consisted of “eggy” puns.  He was just fun to watch.

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Rudy Vallee – Lord Marmaduke Ffogg and Glynis Johns Lady Penelope Peasoup.  I really don’t know why these two make my list.  They only appear in Season Three of the show and it does not take place in Gotham City.  The episodes take place in the fictional town of Londinium.  The entire Gotham crew, including Batgirl, are there (yet no one connects the fact that Batman shows up at the same time Bruce Wayne is visiting!).  I remember these episodes for a couple things – the fact that his pipe can fog up an entire town (or so it seems) and Robin is almost stung by this huge, and obviously fake, bee.  Watching Vallee in this role, you can see (like almost all villains) that he is having a lot of fun with the character.

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Shelley Winters – Ma Parker.  Here is another example of an actor/actress who just is amazing in anything she plays (check her out in Night of the Hunter).  Shelley Winters is brilliant as Ma Parker (an obvious parody of the real Ma Barker and her crime family).  She’s crazy and shows a wide range of emotions throughout her stint on Batman.  I really wish they had brought her back for more!

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Honorable Mentions – Mr. Freeze was played by three different actors – all very differently.  George Sanders, Otto Preminger, and Eli Wallach all took turns in the role.mr freeze

Milton Berle – Louie The Lilac – Uncle Miltie as a bad guy?  Yep.

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Victor Buono – King Tut.  Talk about an over-the-top performance!  Victor is said to have loved playing this role.  He said it gave him the ability to have fun and just be silly.

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Ethel Merman – Lola Lasagna.  What?!  Ethel Merman!?  Yep.  Bonus – she’s in an episode with the Penguin.

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Liberace – Chandell and Harry.  This one is just silly, which is why I love it!  Chandell is a criminal (known as “Fingers”), but only a criminal because he is being blackmailed by is evil twin brother Harry.  Liberace alone is enough, but Liberace playing a dual role – LOL!!!

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There were many other celebrities who played villains on the show – Art Carney, Cliff Robertson, Van Johnson, Carolyn Jones, Joan Collins, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Roddy McDowell, Ida Lupino, and SO many more!  All were great, but really only good for one stint.  The villains really made the show fun to watch.

The wait was long for the show to finally make it to DVD/Blu-Ray, and when it was released, I ran out and bought it!  As silly as it is, I still will watch it and love every minute of silliness!  Happy Belated Batman Day!

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Guest Blogger: My Baby Brother

Introduction:

A week or so ago, I posted a blog stating that I was toying with the idea of inviting someone to be a guest blogger.  Without hesitation, my younger brother Christopher said he would love to write one.  Let me say that he is WAY more qualified to write than I am.  He has published a book and has been writing short stories and other things for as long as I can remember. 

I saw his email this morning as I was getting ready to take the boys home.  I had to open it and read it.  I stood in my kitchen laughing as I read it.  My wife was still asleep, and I thought for sure that I was going to wake her up.  My son, looked at me and asked “what’s so funny, dad?”  I looked at him and said, “Just something Uncle Chris sent me…”

At this time, I’d like to introduce you to my brother, Christopher. I hope that you laugh as much as I did….

What the heck are they laughing at?  By Christopher Louis

Growing up my brother and I were crazy and rambunctious kids.  There is no denying that we gave our parents a run for their money.  If we weren’t pushing their patience by staying up long past our bed time or begging them to buy us the newest Star Wars figure, we were beating the snot out of each other or purposely egging the other on to do something totally stupid.  While we were not angels, we also weren’t devils.  We just loved to have fun, laugh, and have a good time.  We wanted to make each day an adventure.  Sure, it got us in trouble sometimes, but it was almost always good natured.

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As with any siblings there are lots of growing pains as you discover new interests, new friends, and truly come into your own and the relationship between you and your sibling changes. Sometimes for the good, and sometimes not so good. Despite our many differences, there has always been one thing that could bring us together – laughter. Laughter has helped us to remember and rebuild our bonds. When friends ask about my brother, I love to share how we can have the other laughing within seconds simply by sending a photo (usually of William Shatner), copying a movie quote (Airplane is always a good bet) or sharing an inside family joke (usually something our dear Grandpa mispronounced).

I admit there was a time when I swore I had to be adopted because I could not understand the joy that Keith, my dad, and my grandparents found in watching Sanford and Son.  However, the same could be said for him in my guilty pleasure of watching Dynasty.  While I am sure neither of us would relish the idea of sitting down and watching either of those shows together, there are still so many movies, TV shows, and old radio shows that provide us with so much laughter and delight.  I thought I would share a few of them with you now.

Your Money or Your Life!

Mugger: Your money or your life.

(Long, awkward pause)

Mugger: Look bud, I said your money or your life.

Jack: I’m thinking it over!

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The first to share is one of the greatest comedians of all time – Jack Benny.  I am forever thankful for my dad introducing us to the joys of old radio shows.  While we both love many others (Fibber McGee and Molly, Burns and Allen, or Suspense), The Jack Benny Program is our favorite.  Whether Jack is giving sales clerk (Mel Blanc) the worst time possible by constantly exchanging show laces (he can’t decide between plastic tips or metal tips), or constantly insisting he’s 39 years old (which can’t be confirmed because there is a hole in his birth certificate from erasing it too many times) it is comedy gold.  Plus, both of us can totally tell you what LSMFT means or what the six delicious flavors of Jell-O were.  (For those not in the know, those are both from sponsors of the Jack Benny Program – Lucky Strike Cigarettes and Jell-O).

(Keith Note:  Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco!  Strawberry, cherry, raspberry, orange, lemon, and lime!)

“Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb!”

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The 60’s Batman TV show is a treasure trove of comedy genius.  Adam West’s portrayal of the Dark Knight is played so straight and even that it is impossible to not start laughing at the utter absurdity!  Don’t get me wrong – I love it, but it is odd to think how anyone couldn’t see that Batman and Bruce Wayne were one and the same.

(Keith Note:  I pointed out to my brother how he hits the nail on the head here!  It really is absurd!  Proof of the absurdity – and how Commissioner Gordon must be clueless – can be seen as Adam West has a conversation with himself as both Bruce and Batman in the following video clip!)

Of course, the many guest stars paraded through as villains brought much of the laughter.  There was Cesar Romero as the Joker with white paint over his mustache, Frank Gorshin jumping all over the set as the Riddler, Victor Buono running around as King Tut, and Vincent Price as Egghead making more egg puns that you can imagine. Of course, part of the fun is trying to count how many times Robin says “Holy ____” in an episode.  My favorite will always be “Holy Hole-in-a-Doughnut, Batman!”

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(Keith Note: Oh, and I had to add the above picture because of the sub-title of this section!)

“What’s the matter, Colonel Sandurz?  Chicken?”

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There are truly so many wonderful Mel Brooks movies and while I am not as into Blazing Saddles as Keith is, we can’t deny the laughter that comes from watching his films. I’m choosing Spaceballs for this blog. Plus – what’s not to love about this amazing spoof of Star Wars, a movie Keith and I both loved and played and recreated more times than I could count with many, many action figures.

Some of my favorite quotes include:

  • No sir, I didn’t see you playing with your dolls again.
  • How many Assholes we got on this ship, anyhow?
  • Keep firing Assholes!
  • We ain’t found shit!
  • Why are you always preparing? You’re always preparing. Just go!
  • Smoke if you got ‘em.
  • So the combination is 1-2-3-4-5. That’s the stupidest combination I’ve ever heard in my life. That’s the kinda thing an idiot would have on his luggage.

(Keith Note: Love the bumper sticker – “We Brake for Nobody!”)

“Kiddie Car, June Bride, Rookie, Phantom Fox, Blarney Stone, and Clunker”

AKA – The North Avenue Irregulars.  We loved this movie!  It was one of those great Disney gens of the 1970’s that we found and just loved as kids.  I remember how excited we were watching our dad record our own copy of the movie from one VCR to the other.  I also remember the exact spot where it cut out for a moment.  Oh, those good old days of VHS tapes…

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Anyway, who would think that kids would love a movie about a group of church ladies who work to take down an illegal gambling ring? But we did! It had so many big stars of the era; Edward Herrmann, Barbara Harris, Karen Valentine, Cloris Leachman, Michael Constantine, Ruth Buzzi, and Dena Dietrich (famous for playing Mother Nature in Chiffon Margarine commercials).  Each character was different and came with their own burdens and personal issues but came together to bring down the bad guys. As with many 70s movie, it includes its own car chase / demolition derby.

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One of my favorite scenes includes three of the ladies “going undercover” to place a bet and they are all wearing trench coats and sunglasses.  One has a tape recorder hidden inside her coat and just as she is about to place her bet, she is advised to start recording.  She accidentally presses “play” instead of “record” and the song “Roll Out the Barrel” starts blaring from her coat.

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(Keith Note:  My Favorite quotes:  “It’s her money.  Get two” and “Butt out, lady!”)

“Help!  Help!  The Alcalde has all my money!”

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George Hamilton playing dual roles!  Enough said!

Zorro the Gay Blade is one of those movies that just makes me smile and laugh. While George is hilarious as Don Diego and his twin brother Ramon (aka Bunny Wigglesworth), Brenda Vaccaro and Ron Leibman as Florinda and Esteban are so over the top and crazy you can’t wait for them to come back on the screen.

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Some of my favorite lines:

  • You naughty, evil Alcalde! I’m going to do . . . such . . . terrible things . . . to you!
  • Two bits, four bits, six bits, a peso. All for Zorro, stand up and say so!
  • Thank goodness for small favors!
  • Know me? Sink me! We were once womb-mates!
  • There is no shame in being poor! Only in dressing poorly!

(Keith note:  It’s funny that Chris mentions this movie.  Look for a full write up on it from me in early September for the “Costume Drama Blogathon”!)

“Jim never has a second cup of coffee at home …”

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Airplane! One of the great comedies of the 1980s. There is something about spoofs that if not done correctly are painful to watch. This is not one of them. I think Keith and I have quoted this movie since our first viewing and haven’t stopped yet. There are just so many great lines that I could do an entire post on this movie alone!

Some of my favorite lines:

  • It’s a big pretty white plane with red stripes, curtains in the windows, wheels. It looks like a big Tylenol.
  • Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.
  • Surely you can’t be serious? I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.
  • Joey, do you like movies about Gladiators?
  • A hospital, what is it? It’s a big building with patients in it, but that’s not important right now.
  • Get me someone who won’t crack under pressure. How about Mr. Rogers?
  • I haven’t felt this bad since I saw that Ronald Reagan movie.

There are many, many more movies and TV shows I could have included here, but I decided to focus on just a few for now, but as I near my wrap up, how can I not share the one photo that I think we’ve shared back and forth more times than I can possibly imagine? I mean, I even mentioned the person’s name at the beginning of this blog. Without further ado, I present the one image guaranteed to make both of us laugh.

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You can totally hear him right now, can’t you??  The king of the dramatic pause – William Shatner.  There are no more words necessary – this image is all you need.

(Keith Note:  Ricardo Montalban should have won an Academy Award for his performance in this film.  He is brilliant!  My brother once got me a Khan figure to put on my desk for Christmas!)

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Laughter.  It has been a delight revisiting these few memories as they have helped spur so many more that could fill numerous more blog posts.  Thank you for joining me on this guest post, I hope it brought you some laughter as well. I will end with one final image that encompasses a big part of our childhood: Keith and me playing with our Star Wars figures.  The fun and adventures we created beyond the films!

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(Keith Note:  My brother could not have picked a more awful picture of me – ok, maybe he could have.  What makes me laugh about this picture is that he has Star Wars figures, and I have that Fisher Price motorcycle dude (who we called “Ginge”)!  I am also appalled that I am wearing black socks in this picture!  The picture, however, is a wonderful time capsule, though.  Besides the toys of the 70’s and 80’s, you will notice ugly shag carpeting, HUGE books called phone books (where we used to look up phone numbers), a stack of newspapers (where we got news before the internet), and one of the first video game systems – the Atari 2600!

It’s always fun to see what others remember and what you forgot.  The North Avenue Irregulars was something I had forgot about!  I am so glad he mentioned it.  In speaking to my brother after reading this, he stated that writing this blog for me, brought about many other things that he “could have” wrote about.  I am encouraging him to keep notes on those things and return for another “guest” spot.  Thanks, Chris!  I love you!)