Holy part of my childhood is gone, Adam West, simply the best 'Batman' from the best Batman iteration has died at the age of 88. The 1960s Batman television series was a wonder of glorious camp and day-glo surrealism, and Adam West, despite his outrageous costume, was the greatest straight man in the history of television. Surrounded by a coterie of fine character actors playing outrageous, insane villains, Adam West came across like a player from the Walla Walla Shakespeare Company who wandered onto the set, delivering even the most ludicrous lines with a gravitas fitting the Bard's tragedies:
Like any Shakespearean actor worth his doublet, Mr West knew how to handle himself in an onstage 'affray':
He had the chiseled good looks to play a millionaire playboy philanthropist, this particular scene is a funny showcase of his acting, with him using different mannerisms for his two personae, even though the conversation is taking place on the phone:
There was just a hint of kink, by 60s standards, to Bruce Wayne, a guy who dresses in tights and has an ambiguous relationship to Dick, but Batman was a total square:
He did, though, have some great dance moves to impress the ladies:
One of the best aspects of the show was Adam West's chemistry with Julie Newmar- there was a funny dynamic between the glacier-cool, cerebral Batman and the smoldering, amoral Catwoman:
That one scene perfectly encapsulates the comedic-yet-sexy vibe of the series, with Adam West unflappably portraying the straitlaced Batman and Julie Newmar practically burning through the television screen with her provocative performance. MEE-OW! I imagine Mr West had some serious acting chops to maintain his composure during that scene.
The 1960s Batman show was bright, fun, and clever, with Adam West's Batman being an erudite goody two-shoes (in one episode, Batman pauses to put a nickel in a parking meter, in another episode, a bomb in the Batmobile fails to detonate because Batman won't exceed the speed limit). The Gotham City portrayed in the show wasn't a 'grimdark' hellhole, merely a fictionalized New York City, complete with a Mayor Linseed. Adam West's Batman, a cultured man, wouldn't deliver a stupid line like this:
The best contrast between Adam West's Batman and the 'gritty reboot' Batman of the Tim Burton movie can be seen in this juxtaposition between the best scene from the 1966 Batman movie and the decidedly less fun Burton film:
Adam West's Batman, as opposed to Burton's grinning sociopath, imperiled his own life to save a bunch of ducks, he sure as hell wouldn't have killed a villain, no matter how bad. This was a character without a hint of cynicism, a noble and incorruptible figure who evinces optimism- there was no problem that brains, skill, and a bit of bat shark repellent spray couldn't solve... and even Catwoman could be forgiven, once she did her time for the crime. This is comic book superheroics done right- a show that is equally appealing to little kids and to adults. If I want noir, I'll watch real noir not some Frank Miller fake tough-guy noir-for-numbnuts.
It's a shame that Adam West's career was sidelined for a while because he was overshadowed by the character he played, but he made his peace with the cape and cowl and garnered a multi-generational fanbase. The guy had a great sense of humor, and projected class... if your kid is going to have a television character as an idol, Adam West's Batman would be an optimal choice... for all of the *BIFF BAM POW* cartoon action on the screen, there were brains and heart as well.
The good people at Tor Books had a blog series recapping the entire run of 1960s Batman episodes. It's a fun read, and a nice way to remember Adam West.