What’s a caped crime fighter without crimes to fight? Batman might have had his name on the door, but more often than not it was the bad guys that made an episode memorable. So how well do you know your Bat-baddies? We dug up a bunch of facts it’d be criminal to ignore.
The villains were (initially) comic-accurate
Despite what fans of the comic would claim in following years when both DC Comics and fandom were trying to steer Batman back to his “more authentic” darker roots, the first season of Batman was largely faithful to the comics – and that included its portrayal of the bad guys. For example, the episodes “Hi Diddle Riddle” and “Smack in the Middle” were adapted from “Remarkable Ruse of the Riddler” from 1965’s Batman #171, and the episodes “Zelda The Great” and “A Death Worse Than Fate” lifted their plot from “Batman's Inescapable Doom-Trap!” from Detective Comics #346. Bad luck, fans of the grimdark Dark Knight – wacky schemes and crazy antics are just as much a part of Batman as that broken string of pearls.
Why were there three Catwomen?
It’s impossible to imagine anyone but Caesar Romero as The Joker (painted over moustache and all), and when Frank “The Riddler” Gorshin was holding out for more money in the second season after being nominated for an Emmy (US$5000 per one-hour episode rather than US$2500), the character was basically written out of the show aside from a single appearance with John Astin in the role (Gorshin returned for season three). Sure, Mr Freeze was played by a bunch of different actors (including Eli Wallace), but he wasn’t exactly a memorable character. So what was the story with the three Catwomen?
Julie Newmar was the first Catwoman, but when the movie came between seasons one and two, she wasn’t available due to a back injury. With the movie featuring all of Batman’s top villains, Catwoman had to be there, so former Miss America Lee Meriwether was cast. Then, when the third and final season came around, Newmar was off preparing for a role in the movie MacKenna's Gold, so Eartha Kitt took on the role of the felonious feline. Supposedly, she was chosen because a script required Catwoman to speak French and Kitt, who was a singer as well as an actress, had toured extensively in France.
Newmar’s performance is probably the most popular of the three, but with Jada Pinkett-Smith doing a pretty decent Kitt impression as Catwoman in the current series Gotham, she just might have had the bigger impact.
Frank Sinatra wanted to play The Joker
Once the series took off, landing a guest role shot to the top of many a Hollywood power player’s list. Some had to settle for an uncredited cameo – Jerry Lewis, Dick Clark, Sammy Davis Jr, Lurch (Ted Cassidy), Santa Claus and Colonel Klink (what?) were just some of the famous names who stuck their head out a window to watch the dynamic duo wall-walk by. Even the Chairman of the Board himself expressed an interest in playing The Joker. Sadly, for him, that role was already locked down. Somehow it’s hard to imagine Sinatra delivering the role with the required energy – or the Joker crooning "Some Enchanted Evening".
Now you’re just making it up
Batman was a huge hit by the time the second season rolled around. To freshen things up – and take advantage of the big names wanting to get in on the action – the series started coming up with brand new bad guys to pad out the villain roster. Enter threats like The Bookworm (Roddy McDowall, above), Lord Ffogg (Rudy Vallee), Louie the Lilac (Milton Berle), Egghead (Vincent Price), Minerva (Zsa Zsa Gabor), and twins Chandell and Harry (Liberace). It’s safe to say most of these guys weren’t exactly classic villains. Egghead seemed to exist almost entirely as an excuse to make egg-based puns, and they’re hardly primo puns at the best of times.
Not all the comic bad guys made it onto the show
While the producers were making up new Batman villains, some of the comics’ heavy hitters were left on the bench. Leaving out guys like Killer Moth, Deadshot, Clayface and The Scarecrow was no big deal – they were either minor characters or a bad fit tonally for the series. The biggest surprise absence was disfigured lawyer-turned-coin-flipping menace Two-Face, who’s obsession with the number two seems like the perfect fit for the series’ outsized antics. A script featuring Two-Face was written by noted Hollywood scribe Harlan Ellison but never used, although it was recently turned into a comic by DC.
The resurrection squad
As most celebrities know, an appearance on a hit TV series can revive a dying career in a heartbeat – and so it was with Batman. The most obvious character resurrection was Alfred the Butler (Alan Napier), who had been killed off two years earlier in the comics, but was swiftly brought back after the TV series made him an essential part of Bat-lore. The series also boosted the fortunes of various bad guys. The Riddler had been a bit player with only a handful of comic appearances before the series made him an A-list antagonist and Mr Zero’s fortunes were living up to his name until the series revived him as Mr Freeze. If only the show could have found a slot for Calendar Man and his holiday-themed crime sprees…
Watch Batman every Friday night on SBS VICELAND. Our companion podcast BATMANLAND discusses the episodes that air every week, ready to listen to after you watch the show. You can also watch episodes anytime at SBS On Demand: