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Burt Ward as Robin

Adam West as Batman & Burt Ward as Robin

Batman Series Overview
ABC TV series
FIRST TELECAST: January 12, 1966
LAST TELECAST: March 24, 1968

Cartoonist Bob Kane’s Batman first appeared in comic-book form in Detective Comics in 1939 and was featured on radio’s Superman series and in two movie serials in the 1940s. In January of 1966 it took television by storm. But in slightly over two years it blew itself out. Batman was the ultimate “camp” show of the 1960s and was definitely not to be taken seriously, even by those who acted in it. The fight scenes were punctuated by animated “Pows,” “Bops,” “Bangs,” and “Thuds” that flashed on the screen when a blow was struck, obliterating the actors. The situations were incredibly contrived and the acting was intentionally overdone by everyone except Adam West, who was so wooden that he was hilarious.

The general structure of the series was true to Bob Kane’s original comics. Bruce Wayne had been orphaned in his teens when his parents were killed by a criminal. Inheriting their fortune, Bruce built a complex crime lab under the Wayne mansion and, as the mysterious Batman, waged war on the evil-doers who plagued Gotham City.

His young ward, the orphaned Dick Grayson. joined him; they were known individually as The Caped Crusader and The Boy Wonder, and together as The Dynamic Duo. The only person who knew their real identity was the Wayne family butler, Alfred, who had raised Bruce after his parents’ murder. In addition to the underground Batlab (where every device was carefully labeled with its function), they used a marvelously equipped car, the Batmobile, to chase and apprehend criminals. Whenever their services were needed, Police Commissioner Gordon could summon them with the searchlight-like Batsignal or call them on the special Batphone.

Batman was an overnight sensation when it premiered in 1966, airing two-part stories that ran on Wednesday and Thursday. The climax of the first part always left the pair in a dire predicament from which they managed to extricate themselves on the following night.

The public’s fancy was caught by the silliness, the absurdity, and Robin’s horrible puns (attempting to scale a building with Batman in the first episode, he was heard to say “Holy fire escape, Batman!”). Both the Wednesday and Thursday episodes ranked among the ten most popular programs of the 1965-1966 season. Appearing as a guest villain on the show became something of a status symbol. Among the more celebrated foes were The Penguin (Burgess Meredith), The Joker (Cesar Romero), The Riddler (Frank Gorshin and, later, John Astin), Egghead (Vincent Price), King Tut (Victor Buono), and the Catwoman (played variously by Julie Newmar, Lee Ann Meriwether. and Eartha Kitt).

By the Fall of 1967, however, the novelty had paused and the ratings began to fail. A new role was added, the part of Commissioner Gordon’s daughter, Barbara (Yvonne Craig), a young librarian who fought crime on her own as Batgirl and who regularly teamed up with Batman and Robin (she had also been in Kane’s comics). But it didn’t help. Cut back to once a week in the fall of 1967, the surprise hit of 1966 was gone by the following spring.

The Dynamic Duo didn’t completely disappear from network television, however. Six months after the ABC prime-time series faded from the air, the animated Batman-Superman Hour premiered on CBS’s Saturday morning schedule. This first animated version lasted two seasons. Batman and Robin surfaced again on ABC’s Super Friends in the fall of 1973. From February 1977 to September 1978 CBS aired The New Adventures of Batman with Adam West and Burt Ward providing the voices.

Batgirl (Yvonne Craig) was added in season three.


Casting Ward as Robin
from Cinefantastique Magazine “Batman Issue” [February 1994]

Looking for someone to play Robin was another matter entirely. The talent search seemed to take forever. “We weren’t having very much luck,” FitzSimans said. “We wanted to find somebody who had that very special Robin quality.

I was in my office. It was six o’ clock in the evening, and a phone call came from the cop at the gate at 20th Century Fox. He said, ‘There’s a young man out here who heard you were looking for a Robin, and he’d like to have a chance to see you. “I was so tired, I said ‘Look, tell him to have his agent contact me.’ The cop came back and said, ‘He doesn’t have an agent.’ “So I said, ‘Well, if he’s about 5’6″ or 7”, if he’s over eighteen but looks fifteen, has black curly hair, blue eyes and he’s athletic, send him in.’

I thought the cop would say, ‘Well, forget it.’ “The cop came back and said, “He says he’s twenty-one but looks sixteen. He has black curly hair, blue eyes, and says he has a brown belt in karate.’ “So Burton Gervis came into my office, and I nearly fell off my chair. Here was the personification of everything we were looking for visually.

“I called Bill Dozier on the intercom and said, ‘Robin has just walked into my office.’ Bill said, ‘Are you out of your mind?’ I brought him into Bill’s office, and Dozier nearly fell off of his stool. So I tested him with Lyle Waggoner. He was it. He didn’t have to act.” Gervis was completely untrained as an actor, and the producers weren’t sure he would work out. So they asked Bob Butler, who they had just hired as director of the pilot, to interview him.

“We went off for an hour or so and we talked and read through the script.” said Butler. “I realized he was just a real primitive, nice guy. Primitive as far as acting techniques. He was a good athlete and had a real ingenuous quality. I think we talked openly about [his inexperience]. “As we talked about it and what he liked to do and what he felt comfortable doing – which was mainly the stunts, he loved physical action – I just realized as long as we didn’t make great demands on him, and he could kind of play himself, he would be very, very good for us. Which he was.

I went back to Dozier and FitzSimons and said ‘This guy’s great. He’s naturally kind of easy and innocent.”‘ Recalled Dozier, “We didn’t test any other boys. We just didn’t figure it was necessary. He was just perfect. He was a very eager kid, worked hard. He didn’t have a dime. He had been living on cashed-in pop bottles before he did Robin. And he was married and he was really on his uppers. It was a delight to see him sort of come alive.”

So Burton Gervis, at FitzSimons suggestion, changed his last name to his mother’s maiden name and became Burt Ward for the role of the energetic, over-eager sidekick to his super straight mentor.

The Dynamic Duo was born.


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End of titanstower.com transmission. About this author:  Bill Walko is an author and artist and the man behind titanstower.com. He's been reading and drawing comics since he was 5 years old and hasn't stopped since. Read more from this author