"The image of Batman most permanently fixed in the mind of the general populace is that of Adam West delivering outrageously straight-laced dialogue while walking up a wall thanks to the benefit of stupendous special effects and a camera turned on its side."          Alan Moore




Throughout the Golden Age of comic books, Batman's mission was always played straight. The war on crime was fought without self-mocking undertones. This stayed true even through the early 1960's, when the tales were becoming increasingly far-fetched. Why, then, would the creators of the 1966 Batman series decide from the start they were making a comedy? 

Over the years, producer William Dozer and scriptwriter Lorenzo Semple have each said they were the one who hit on the idea of boosting the outlandish quotient right through the roof.  Adding to that, ABC executive Douglas Cramer has implied campiness was his plan before ABC even brought Dozier on board.  None of the three men attributes any outside influence guiding them to this approach.  There had been, however, several high-profile comedic takes on Batman just prior to ABC approving the series.  For whatever reason, a variety of artists and entrepreneurs concluded there was fun and fortune to be had playing Batman for laughs.  These were not standard satires, either; all took bizarre, off-kilter paths. 

Could one of these have served as the inspiration for the Adam West TV series?

Suspect #1

The most oft-cited inspirations are the old Batman movie serials. The first, Batman, was initially set to feature the Joker as the villain.  Unfortunately, it was the middle of World War II, so the plot soon metamorphosed to reflect the times.  There weren't an abundance of Batman war stories to choose from, but "The Brain Doctor" in Detective Comics #55 seems to have served as the partial basis for the serial.  The change in theme must have come after sets were already being built, because the Joker's carnival hideout stayed in the final draft.  Someone decided to change the villain's ethnicity from European to Japanese, so the mind-controlling Dr. Deker from the comics became Doctor Daka for the serial.

A second serial, Batman and Robin, followed in 1949.  The cheaper and more generic of the two cliffhangers, it featured the hooded Wizard as the arch-villain.

By the mid-60’s, these antiquated serials were playing in art theaters.  The cheap costumes, western desert locales, melodramatic music, and clunky camera compositions had made the serials ripe targets for ridicule.  Hugh Hefner also was screening the serials at his Playboy Club in Chicago for his guests’ amusement. 

In November, 1965, Time magazine ran an article describing the re-issue of the 1943 serial as a source of hilarity on college campuses.  “Batman and Robin have recently been rehabilitated into high-camp folk heroes," it declared.  The timing of the article - the same month "Hi Diddle Riddle" was being filmed - raises the possibility that Time's story was some promotion for the upcoming series.

In fact, the TV show seemed to poke fun at movie serial conventions as much as comic books.  The episode-ending cliffhangers were reminiscent of a typical serial chapter.  The episode "Purr-fect Crime" alone used multiple death traps straight from the 1943 serial. The voice-over narration and freeze-frame recaps of the previous episode owed more to the serials than comic books.  Some authors argue William Dozier's breathless delivery was a outright parody of the serials' narration.


  Dr. Deker gets a taste of his own mind-control medicine 


     A 1949 lobby card offers a good look at the mysterious Wizard


Suspect #2

A second humorous take on Batman saw print in 1964, courtesy of author Donald Barthelme.  His short story collection, Come Back, Dr. Caligari, contained the tale “The Joker’s Greatest Triumph.” The story was a direct send-up of a two-year old Batman comic of the same title.  It used the same plot and even lifted whole lines of dialogue (such as Robin’s exclamation on the issue's cover.)  In the first two panels of issue #148, Batman received a small model of a ship from the Joker.  Deducing the Joker’s intended victim from the clue, Batman rushed off to the airport.

The humor in the Barthelme's rewrite springs from the pacing.  Where the 1962 comic book plot rushed along from panel to panel, the crime-solving in Barthelme’s 1964 update is purposefully lethargic.  The story is padded out to ridiculous lengths, with Batman constantly sidetracked by discussion of preferences in alcohol and thoughts on ideal traffic routes.  In fact, the comic book's first two panels take up 1410 words in the short story.

Barthelme's Commissioner Gordon is just as helpless as his TV show counterpart ("Good thinking, Batman!  I probably never would have figured it out in a thousand years!")  Robin barely appears in the story; he’s off toiling through classes at Andover.  Batman’s replacement companion is Frederic Brown, who makes his living selling subscriptions to Grit  

Donald Barthelme was a respected humorist of the day, whose short stories often appeared in New Yorker magazine.  The publication of Come Back, Dr. Caligari could easily have come to the attention of a well-read television executive. 

The story represented a different stylistic approach than the TV series (which tried to emulate the comics’ frenzied pacing.)  “The Joker’s Greatest Triumph” did, however, share the TV series’ penchant for taking plots from the comics and giving them an absurdity makeover

In the comic book, Batman’s secret identity is saved by glare from an airport beacon, preventing the Joker from making out Bruce Wayne's face. In the short story, the dilemma is left unresolved, much as the question of what - if any - impact this story had on the forthcoming series.



Comic Book Version

Short Story Version

But The Joker, alerted, grasped a cable lowered by a hovering helicopter and was quickly lifted skyward! Robin paused at the armored car and put the mask back on Batman's face!

"Hello Robin!" Fredric called. "I thought you were at Andover!'

"I got a sudden feeling Batman needed me so I flew here in the Batplane," Robin said. "How've you been?"

"Fine," Fredric said. "But we left the Batplane in the garage, back at the Bat-Cave. I don't understand."

"We have two of everything," Robin explained. "Although it’s not generally known."

Suspect #3

Flash forward 40 years, and Warner Brothers releases the animated adventure The Batman vs. Dracula on DVD.  Even disregarding the notion that any Batman besides Adam West would have a prayer of taking out Dracula, the concept wasn't very original.

Avante-garde artist Andy Warhol had already directed Batman/Dracula decades before.  Shot with major contributions by filmmaker Jack Smith, the project was alternatively known as Batman vs. Dracula and Warhol Batman.  No one seems quite sure what the title was because it hasn’t been shown in 40 years.  Since its screenings were limited to art exhibits, few copies ever existed, and those were assumed lost forever. 

However, the recently released documentary Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis contains footage from this lost Bat-artifact.  Sadly, no person resembling Batman appears anywhere  in the documentary (or in the grainy segments circulating on YouTube.)  Still, this is the first camp film with the Batman name attached to it.

Warhol’s epic starred actress/model Baby Jane Holzer, who soon became the inspiration for the character “Baby Jane Towser” in the Batman episode "Pop Goes the Joker." The "Progress Pigment" character from the episode "The Clock King's Crazy Crimes" (a pop-art alias for the villain) had already presented a possible Warhol caricature. The introduction of the Towser character left no doubt that Batman's writing staff was quite aware of the Warhol crowd.  Furthermore, Baby Jane’s role in the TV show (fetching young heiress duped by the Joker) indicates the writers were taking some digs at Warhol.  Warhol (via the Joker) is suggested to be leeching off his wealthy sidekicks.  If the idea to camp up the Batman show traces back to Batman/Dracula, the Batman staff seemed awfully eager to bite the hand that fed them.  Just the year before, ABC had welcomed Warhol's presence at a lavish nightclub screening party for the premiere episode.  The publicity event was designed to link the series to the national pop-art craze in the public's mind.

Did Dozier or ABC see Warhol's Bat-film before commencing their own production?  No two sources agree on who played which character, or whether the unscripted Batman/Dracula was ever completed (that is, assuming there was a way of telling.)  Could Warhol’s film have gained hip notoriety around the entertainment industry without a single theater viewing? 

Baby Jane Holzer

Baby Jane Towser


And the guilty party is…

Of the three suspects, the movie serials seems like the best bet, for their similarity to the TV show and the amount of attention the re-issue received in 1965.  There is little agreement, though, whether there was a direct influence or not. 

Don Glut, the premiere amateur filmaker of the mid-60's, saw the jingoistic 1943 serial at the Playboy Club.  He maintains that this re-release led directly to the series.  Adam West acknowledges watching the serials in preparation for first taking on the role

Wikipedia states network executive Dale Udoff attended one of these screenings by Hefner, then suggested a Batman TV series to ABC.  In Cinefantasitique magazine, however, Udoff attributes his recommendation to a childhood love of comics. 

Batman creator Bob Kane stated he and an unnamed ABC executive watched the serial at the Playboy Club and observed  the enthusiastic audience reaction.  The two agreed that an intentionally farcical Batman TV series could replicate the serial's appeal.  "Hugh Hefner was really the instigator for ABC to do it," Kane said.  Batman's creator was, however, famous for exaggeration (also claiming he was instrumental in deciding the tone of the Tim Burton Bat-movies.) His failure to identify the network executive raises some doubts.

Filmfax magazine states the timing of the re-issued serials and the new series was entirely coincidental. 

It must be remembered ABC started out looking for any well-known property.  They tried obtaining the rights to Dick Tracy and Superman, before settling for the Caped Crusader.  Clearly, the network's execs weren't  motivated by any individual interpretation of Batman as much as they were his name recognition. 

Dozier and Semple, on the other hand, were hired guns brought in to spearhead the series. Neither asked to do Batman; Semple wasn’t the first choice to write the pilot and Dozier knew nothing of the character.  Thus, either man would have been intrigued by any attempt to do something “hip” with Batman.  Either could have learned about the serials, Barthelme's book, or Warhol’s film and therein found the answers they needed. 

Of course, Dozier and Semple were talented individuals, so their own personal inspiration should not be discounted.  It's possible both were eager to poke fun at the juvenile character with which they had been stuck.  National Periodicals presented Dozier with a long list of rules intended to ensure the Caped Crusader always behaved in a morally upright manner on-screen.  The ultra-square end result may have been Dozier's reaction to the meddling.

Considering the tight reins National Periodicals held on the show, it remains a mystery why the company would approve a campy portrayal of Batman.  Allowing their marquee character to be portrayed as some fuddy-duddy Boy Scout was a novel way of safeguarding their property.  Seldom has an authorized screen adaptation showed more disrespect for its source material.

Did ABC find that by throwing around the term “pop art,” they were able to snowball a befuddled National Periodicals into going along with anything?  Or did National Periodicals just happen to share Andy Warhol’s philosophy: “Don't pay any attention to what they write about you. Just measure it in inches."

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