The first time I remember seeing Adam West acting was -not- in Batman! Oh, sure, he had numerous appearances in TV Western shows and a pair of appearances on Perry Mason (was he the surprise killer?). He also appeared for the entire third season of The Detectives in 1961-62, but I not only didn’t see the show when it was new, I don’t even remember watching the reruns later on. There was a pair of appearances on Petticoat Junction, but the character he played then vanished without a trace.
No, the first time I was Adam West in something memorable was a Three Stooges movie! During the thirties, forties, and early-to-mid fifties the Stooges shot an incredible 190 short films. Television was looking for material to air during the day and running the shorts on local kids shows anchored by a local announcer rapidly built up a new generation of fans in the late fifties. After re-re-re-doing their lineup (we got Curly Joe), the Stooges made a series of six films beginning in 1959. The last of the films was made in 1965, and it included Adam West playing a
The last of the films was made in 1965, and it included Adam West playing a tenderfoot lawyer coming to the West to stop a gang of outlaws who were intent on slaughtering buffalo. The Three Stooges did their best to “help” with the quest, but the reason I remember the film so vividly was something different: the outlaws. In a brilliant move that was probably designed to drive promotion for the film in large markets, the outlaws were played by the men who hosted the local Three Stooges television shows. For those of us in the greater metropolitan New York area, that meant that Officer Joe Bolton was in the movie. He wasn’t a real officer, and maybe more an announcer than an actor, but playing an outlaw in a Three Stooges movie was easily within his talents. While I don’t remember much about Adam West’s performance in the film, I can still picture what he looked like in his dude clothing.
Of course, everything changed for Mr. West on January 12, 1966, when the first episode of the Batman television show aired. It’s difficult to explain the impact that episode had. The next day the main topic of conversation in school was the Batman show: the Bif-Bop-Bam cartoon balloons, the costumes, the gadgets, the colors, and most important of all, the cliff-hanger ending for the episode! For a generation that had grown up not watching serials in the movie theaters, a cliffhanger ending was something new and exciting.
Well, exciting for a year or so, and then the crowd moved on the other television shows. Adam West was typecast for years, and it was several decades before he built a second career courtesy of Robot Chicken and Family Guy and other voice over work. Thanks to the growth of modern comic fandom (or whatever name the historians eventually assign to our subculture) Adam West will be remembered fondly as one of our favorite actors.
Here’s the single for Neal Hefti’s theme song for the Batman television show.