The Bright Knight

The 1960s se­ries Bat­man de­fined Adam West’s ca­reer. But it also lim­ited the ac­tor’s op­tions in Hol­ly­wood be­cause of his as­so­ci­a­tion to the pop­u­lar char­ac­ter.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Showbiz - By BRIAN LOWRY

ADAM West – an ac­tor de­fined and also con­strained by his role in the 1960s se­ries Bat­man – died Fri­day night in Los An­ge­les. He was 88. A rep said that he died af­ter a short bat­tle with leukemia.

“Our dad al­ways saw him­self as The Bright Knight, and as­pired to make a pos­i­tive im­pact on his fans’ lives. He was and al­ways will be our hero,” his fam­ily said in a state­ment.

West be­came known to a new gen­er­a­tion of TV fans through his re­cur­ring voice role on Fox’s Fam­ily Guy as Mayor Adam West, the hor­ri­bly cor­rupt, in­ept and vain leader of Qua­hog, Rhode Is­land.

West was a reg­u­lar on the show from 2000 through its most re­cent sea­son. West in re­cent years did a wide range of voice-over work, on such shows as Adult Swim’s Ro­bot Chicken and Dis­ney Chan­nel’s Jake And The Neverland Pi­rates.

But it was his role as the Caped Cru­sader in the 1966-68 ABC se­ries Bat­man that de­fined West's ca­reer.

With its “Wham! Pow!” on­screen ex­cla­ma­tions, flam­boy­ant vil­lains and cheeky tone, Bat­man be­came a sur­prise hit with its premiere on ABC in 1966, a vir­tual sym­bol of 1960s kitsch.

The half-hour ac­tion com­edy was such a hit that it aired twice a week on ABC at its peak. But within two sea­sons, the show's pop­u­lar­ity slumped as quickly as it soared.

West’s por­trayal of the su­per­hero and his al­ter ego, Bruce Wayne, ul­ti­mately made it hard for him to get other roles, and while he con­tin­ued to work through­out his ca­reer, op­tions re­mained lim­ited be­cause of his as­so­ci­a­tion with the char­ac­ter.

West also chafed against the darker ver­sions of Bob Kane’s hero that emerged in more re­cent years, be­gin­ning with the Michael Keaton-star­ring, Tim Bur­tondi­rected adap­ta­tions that be­gan in 1989, and fol­lowed by Christo­pher Nolan's enor­mously suc­cess­ful Dark Knight tril­ogy.

In Fe­bru­ary 2016, CBS sit­com The Big Bang The­ory , which had hosted a num­ber of geek favourites over the years, cel­e­brated its 200th episode – and marked the 50th an­niver­sary of Bat­man – with an ap­pear­ance by West.

Asked by Va­ri­ety what the char­ac­ter of Bat­man has come to mean to him over five decades, West said: “Money. Some years ago I made an agree­ment with Bat­man. There was a time when Bat­man re­ally kept me from get­ting some pretty good roles, and I was asked to do what I fig­ured were im­por­tant fea­tures.

“How­ever, Bat­man was there, and very few peo­ple would take a chance on me walk­ing on to the screen. And they’d be tak­ing peo­ple away from the story. So I de­cided that since so many peo­ple love Bat­man, I might as well love it too. Why not? So I be­gan to reen­gage my­self with Bat­man.

“And I saw the com­edy. I saw the love peo­ple had for it, and I just em­braced it.”

In­stant suc­cess

Be­fore he donned the mask and cape, West was a ris­ing star in late 1950s and early 1960s TV se­ries, no­tably Westerns and cop shows.

He logged roles on Law­man, Cheyenne, The FBI Story, Colt .45, 77 Sun­set Strip, Mav­er­ick, Hawai­ian Eye, Bo­nanza, The Ri­fle­man, Perry Ma­son, Gun­smoke, The Real McCoys, Be­witched, The Outer Lim­its and The Vir­ginian, among other pro­grammes. He was a se­ries reg­u­lar on the 195962 drama se­ries The De­tec­tives play­ing a po­lice sergeant.

His film roles in this pe­riod were few and far be­tween but in­cluded a part in the 1965 Three Stooges ve­hi­cle The Out­laws Is Com­ing. The ori­gins of the Bat­man se­ries are ac­tu­ally quite com­plex, but the pro­ject even­tu­ally landed at 20th Cen­tury Fox, which handed it to pro­ducer Wil­liam Dozier, who de­vised the show's camp com­edy sen­si­bil­ity.

Both West and Lyle Wag­goner were con­sid­ered for the part of Bat­man be­fore West was cast, play­ing along­side Burt Ward as his side­kick Robin.

In a PBS spe­cial that touched on the show, Ward noted that West's slow, por­ten­tous de­liv­ery was oc­ca­sion­ally de­signed to eat up screen time, thus cut­ting into his co-star’s di­a­logue.

With ac­tors like Ce­sar Romero (Joker) and Burgess Mered­ith (Pen­guin) com­pris­ing Bat­man's rogue's gallery of vil­lains, the show be­came an al­most in­stant suc­cess.

The se­ries spawned a movie – pit­ting the Dy­namic Duo against a team-up of vil­lains – be­fore be­ing can­celled af­ter three sea­sons due, pri­mar­ily, to its high pro­duc­tion costs.

The show came to be viewed with some con­tempt in comic book cir­cles, es­pe­cially af­ter the darker vi­sion of Bat­man be­came dom­i­nant in the 1970s and 1980s.

West found se­ri­ous film work scarce fol­low­ing the se­ries, though he re­mained in de­mand for per­sonal ap­pear­ances as the char­ac­ter and voice work, in­clud­ing a re­cur­ring stint on Fam­ily Guy and an­i­mated ver­sions of Bat­man. Other roles ranged from The Happy Hooker and Hooper to the Michael Tolkin-directed movies The Rap­ture and The New Age.

By many ac­counts, West main­tained a good sense of hu­mour about his fame and his caped al­ter-ego. He re­mained a favourite of many pro­duc­ers for com­edy guest shots, log­ging roles in re­cent years on such shows as 30 Rock, Ge­orge Lopez, The King Of Queens and this year’s short-lived NBC com­edy Pow­er­less.

West was also pro­lific as a voice ac­tor. He worked on dozens of an­i­mated se­ries dur­ing the past 40 years, from nu­mer­ous in­car­na­tions of the Bat­man char­ac­ter to Kim Pos­si­ble, SpongeBob SquarePants, The Fairly Od­dpar­ents, The Boon­docks and Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero.

West wrote two books, one, ti­tled Back To The Bat­cave and pub­lished in the mid-1990s, in which he said that he was “an­gry and dis­ap­pointed” not to have been of­fered the chance to reprise the role in the Bur­ton movies, de­spite be­ing 60 at the time.

Born Wil­liam West An­der­son in 1928 in Walla Walla, Wash­ing­ton, the ac­tor later adopted his stage name, and be­gan his ca­reer in earnest when he moved to Hawaii in the 1950s to star in a lo­cal chil­dren's pro­gramme.

He is sur­vived by his wife Mar­celle, six chil­dren, five grand­chil­dren, and two great-grand­chil­dren. – Reuters

Photo: AP

Adam West 1928-2017

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