Whether you caught it the first time round, spent after-school afternoons watching in the '80s or are leaping into the world of circa-1960s Batman for the first time on SBS, there’s no way to avoid how instantly iconic the baddies are. But depending on your age and/or exposure to the broader contemporary culture of the time, you might not know these actors were far more than the Technicolor villains they portrayed.
Cesar Romero refused to shave his iconic moustache to play The Joker
Today we might only recall Romero as the green-haired, purple-suited villain who got under Batman’s skin more than anyone. But before he was surfing Gotham or joy-buzzing innocent victims, the tall, dark and handsome actor of Cuban descent was better known for portraying smouldering Latin lovers and tearing up the dance floor with Betty Grable. He played The Cisco Kid six times (and Dracula once, if you’re counting). Later, Romero swapped the purple threads for a line of fashionable suits that bore his name. Sharp!
Burgess Meredith went from The Penguin to Rocky’s trainer
Only a talent of Meredith’s level could capture exactly what it would sound like if a penguin laughed. Not surprising, since he was a man with a great deal of onscreen experience (plus the cigarette holder he affected made him cough, so he turning it into a mocking wheeze). So beloved by the Batman team that they always had a Penguin script ready to go whenever he was free, Meredith won a Tony Award in 1960 and was still lighting up the screen as a... you know... in Grumpy Old Men. Between those two high points, a whole generation got to enjoy him as squinty curmudgeon Mickey in the Rocky films.
Julie Newmar was more than a sexy Catwoman
Some entertainers would be content to rest on their laurels after definitively establishing a comic book villain’s look and style. Others, like Newmar here, prefer to make this merely one chapter in a broader career. After coming to prominence in Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, Julesy established her range with roles that included a robot in My Living Doll, Satan in The Twilight Zone and an inventor in real life (she holds a patent on a certain type of sexful pantyhose). And, of course, who could forget her cameo in the film that bears her name, To Wong Foo Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar?
Eartha Kitt – putting the evil back into felines
Fandom has always split into questions of favourites – Kirk or Picard? Ascending or descending Armour Class? Newmar or Kitt? The latter joined Batman for the third season, where she took Catwoman to whole new levels of purring menace. The reason she made this look so easy was clearly that she’d spent years seducing audiences as a singer with tunes like “I Want To Be Evil” and pulling gives-none stunts such as interrupting First Lady Johnson at a White House luncheon to denounce the Vietnam War.
Frank Gorshin did impressions as well as riddles
All it took was nine episodes of giggling madness for Gorshin to enter iconic status. But beyond his questionable fetish for question marks, the Riddler was better known for his dead-on impressions of Hollywood royalty. In fact, he followed The Beatles’ debut performance on The Ed Sullivan Show. A dedicated workaholic, Gorshin has literally hundreds of credits to his name – not to mention all those Las Vegas shows he headlined. Those Trekkies still arguing over Kirk and Picard will tell you one of his finest onscreen moments was as racist alien Bele in Star Trek episode “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”.
Watch Batman every Friday on SBS VICELAND at 6:30pm. Episodes are also streaming via SBS On Demand: