Fan Expo Vancouver 2012: Batman's Adam West and Burt Ward on censors, tights, and golden pussies
The campy TV series Batman only ran for three seasons, from 1966 to 1968. But its popularity never seems to fade. That pop cultural power certainly was in evidence when the stars of the show, Adam West (Batman) and Burt Ward (Robin), took to the stage at the inaugural Fan Expo Vancouver (which runs until Sunday [April 22]). Their names drew a packed house for a question-and-answer session at the Vancouver Convention Centre on April 21.
What’s more, 66-year-old Ward and 83-year-old West exhibited great enthusiasm (and rapport with one another) while talking about the series. Quite impressive, considering that it ended over four decades ago and how many endless appearances the dynamic duo have made since then.
West and Ward kept audiences engaged and entertained as they chatted about everything from itchy costumes to Russian swear words used in the script. But the conversation repeatedly returned to a common theme: censorship (and sex, of course).
Here are a few snippets of what they had to say during the hour-long session:
On the strengths of the show
West: “After the first two weeks, after everything settled down and the memos stopped flying from Europe and different places to the set saying ‘What the hell are those two guys doing?’, then they saw the dailies and they saw something put together, and the nicest thing happened that can happen to any actor—they trusted us…and then everything was just jake. We could kinda do what we wanted. We could improvise, and we could do certain staging or whatever. They took our input, which is a wonderful thing that can happen to an actor.”
West: “When a series starts to fade, as ours did in the third season, because the studio wanted to recoup the money, and we were the most expensive series ever shot, at that point in time. When a series starts to go a little bit downhill…the characters must remain irrepressible because if they don’t, you folks ain’t going to be interested. So Burt and I worked very hard to keep all of this fresh…because Batman was really social satire, if you will.”
On censors (and sexual innuendos)
Ward: “In those days, it’s a little different than it is now, because in those days there were these things called censors, where you’re not allowed to say this, you’re not allowed to imply this, you can’t make funny gestures….For example, I couldn’t put my arm around Adam and say, ‘Gosh, Bruce, you’re right’ because it might have other implications. Because we had such fun doing the show, we couldn’t care less about those censors and we did whatever we wanted to. Most people enjoyed that. We were in trouble every week, constantly….There were problems about how we fit in our costumes, there was every conceivable thing you can imagine, but we had a really great time.”
Ward: “When we were doing the show, you couldn’t do a lot of things that today you wouldn’t even think twice about doing. So there was a lot of censorship, and it was just a sign of the times.
"For example…there was a scene where Batman and Robin are in the Batcave. We had brought Batgirl in to see the Batcave and we gave her a whiff of Bat Gas so she wouldn’t recognize the Batcave, where it was located. And then on the way out, just before we left with her, Batman gave her another whiff of Bat Gas and she kinda went to sleep temporarily. There was some dialogue that Adam and I had, where I said to Batman, ‘Gosh, Batman, you know Batgirl is really pretty.’… He [Adam] had a line that was something like, ‘Gee, Robin, I’m glad you noticed. It shows that you’re coming of age, or something like that.’
"Well, Adam, doesn’t make many mistakes…but when he messed up 14 takes in a row, I knew there had to be another, alternative reason for that. So he’s really [a] very smart man. He knows the director at some point is going to panic and get to the point where the director, if we get through the shot, no matter what we say, he’s going to say, ‘Cut! Print! Let’s move on to the next shot.’ So when we got to that 15th take, and you have to understand, back in 1966, it cost about $30,000 an hour to film Batman…he said, ‘You know, Robin, I’m glad that you noticed that. It shows the oncoming thrust of manhood.’ ”
Ward: “Wait a minute—was this with the two cats that we were trying to put together to make a map and we put them in a numerical position just under the number 70? …You were cross-eyed in your mask laughing so hard, and you made me laugh, and we laughed through 12 takes and the director said we’re going to laugh him out of the business.”
West: “I said, ‘Don’t touch that golden pussy, Robin! It could be radioactive!’ ”
On wardrobe malfunctions
Ward: “Because man is not built for tights, it is normal that a normal person with a tight fabric, tightened around certain parts of their body would have a certain bulge. However, the Catholic League of Decency complained. They thought that was too much. They made me go through this rigmarole where they made me wear different kinds of clothes, and underwear, and restraints, and they finally found this quack doctor at 20th Century Fox who gave me these pills supposedly, and I took ’em once, and after that I said, ‘No, I mean this could really mess me up for life.’ Where the problem came, there was a show called ‘The Londinium Larcenies’…. There were all these girls that were grabbing me while we were on camera, and of course that could cause an irregularity.”
On delivering difficult lines
West: “The over-the-top moments when you first consider them or read them, sometimes are so abrasive to my sensibilities of decency that I don’t want to do it. But then, you know, it’s an actor’s responsibility, you start to cook with it and you think, ‘Now, how can I make this fresh and different? And how can I do this so it isn’t too unseemly, but is absurd and funny?’…I had a line on Family Guy last week. I almost couldn’t do it as a mayor…. The mayor says, “I demand to see your penis!’ You think those are easy lines? No. You see you walk a tightwire, especially when you play something close to yourself.”
On the show being unavailable on DVD/Blu-ray
West: “If there’s any kind of disillusionment or disappointment, or if you’re somehow distressed because you can’t see those [the series], you might punch in Adamwest.com and get the DVD called Adam West Naked, in which I expose all you ever wanted to know about 120 episodes.”
In addition to West and Burt's appearances, the Batmobile was on display at Fan Expo Vancouver.
You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at twitter.com/cinecraig.