Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Batscholar on Episodes 19 & 20

By Joel Eisner

This episode set the pace for all the future Catwoman stories. Stanley Ralph Ross wrote all of the Catwoman episodes except the teamup with Sandman, this was however, the only one he co-wrote Lee Orgel. Stanley knew how to capture the sexual tension between Batman and the Catwoman.

Julie Newmar, was born to play the part. This episode unlike those in the second season, kept her in the dark, both on screen and in the story. Her later appearances, while just as entertaining did not hold the mystery of the character in the shadows which kept the viewer in suspense.

Originally the producers wanted Suzanne Pleshette for the role, what happened is unknown. There is no record of her declining the role or not being available. But, I as Julie recalled, it was a last minute decision. “I had lived in New York at the time on Beekman Place. I remember it was a weekend, Friday or Saturday, and my brother had come down from Harvard with five or six of his friends, and we were all sitting around the sofa, just chatting away, when the phone rang. I got up and answered it, and it was this agent or someone in Hollywood, who said, ‘Miss Newmar, would you like to play the Catwoman on the “Batman” series? They are casting it out here.’ I was insulted because he said, ‘It starts Monday.’ I said, ‘What is this?’ That’s how television is done: they never know what they are doing until yesterday. My brother leapt off the sofa. I mean he physically levitated and said, ‘Batman! That’s the favorite show at Harvard. We all quit our classes and quit our studies and run into the TV room and watch this show.’ I said, ‘They want me to play Catwoman.’ He said, ‘Do it!’ So, I said, ‘OK, I’ll do it.’ “ That was it, Julie had the part and the rest was history.

There are however a number of myths about this episode that were spread by a number of people but in particular Burt Ward, (in his book and in person). In particular, the tale of the tiger. During the episode Robin is held captive by Catwoman and tied up on a wooden plank over a pit of tigers. Attached to the plank is a device filled with sand, measured to Robin's exact weight. As the sand slowly is released, Robin is lowered over the pit, sort of like a see-saw. When enough sand is released Robin would fall into the tiger pit. This is where reality ends and myth begins. According to Ward, he was tied up over a pit of live tigers, the would jump up and try to attack him. This was due to a large hunk of meat that was suspended over his head. The director (which in his book claimed was Robert Butler, when it was James Sheldon) and the crew were locked in a large cage to keep the tigers from getting at them during the shoot. Unfortunately, for Ward, the scene was shot in a sort of long wide shot, which enabled Batman to view the scene through a window high above the dungeon set. It was would be impossible to hide this hunk of meat from being seen in the shot. Second and more importantly, the tigers in the pit did not exist. You can see it clearly in the episode the pit was a fake and on close inspection the tigers were grainy stock footage lifted from a past Fox feature film. The entire story is bogus.

There was only one real tiger and that was involved in the cliffhanger with Batman. Actor Joey Tata (soon to be Riddler's henchman in Ring of Wax) was visiting the set and witnessed the following :“On the day they were going to use the live tiger on the set, they warned everyone who had any sort of cut or open wound to stay away as the tiger would go crazy if it smelled blood of any kind. They especially warned any women who were having their periods to stay away from the set.. Well, the giant Bengal tiger went berserk during the shooting, bit a cable, and was severely shocked. I don’t know if the cat died or not. But it was awful; it just went nuts.”

Unlike future episodes Catwoman had three henchmen, Felix, Leo and one unamed one who watched over Robin in the dungeon scene. Played by stuntman Alex Sharp it was a small part, used to move the plot along and aid in the Batfight.

Felix played by Ralph Manza, who had spent most of his career playing stereotypical Italian characters, was just the mousey type for this role.

It was the part of Leo, that was rather unusual casting. According to Batman, Leo had rather big feet, (witnessed by his footprints), like Blaze before, Batman knew who he was without having met him in the episode which led you to believe, he was one of Catwoman's regular gang, sort of a male moll. Jock Mahoney, who had a long career in westerns, which began with the Three Stooges, was best known for being of the actors who played Tarzan of the Apes. He was now reduced to playing a catman on Batman. (He would later return in the tiny role of HL Hunter the mining engineer in the King Tut episode I'll Be a Mummy's Uncle. at the end of the third season). Mahoney might have made a major villain given the chance but here is wasted.

There is a funny story about the two golden cats that Burt Ward recalled that goes like this “When we did the first Catwoman show; it was late in the afternoon and we had been under the hot studio lights all day, and were sweating in our costumes. Adam was supposed to put two cats together to form a map. He put them together in the ‘69’ position. I started laughing, then he broke up, and we blew the take. My back was to the camera, so Adam could see tears of laughter rolling down my face. He said I looked like a raccoon in my mask. I told him he was cross-eyed in his cowl. The director, James Sheldon, rushed up to us in a panic. He said, ‘You guys are going to laugh me out of the business.’ “ You will notice, he recalled the name of the director correctly this time.
The scream heard when Catwoman falls into the pit is actually a monster from Lost in Space. I guess Fox used whatever was available at the time.

One final note, Julie told me that for most adolescent boys she was their first crush, I was six years old at the time and prefered the Bat-Fights so the male villains were more interesting, years later that would all change. But I do love a good Bat-Fight!

Next Penguin Goes Straight or does he?


  1. While I enjoy a perverse delight in watching BM and CW date over milkshakes, this remains for me the best of her episodes.

    — "To Julie Newmar, Thanks for Everything, Wong Foo"

  2. The punctuation in this article is terrible. The "Review" page on this episode says the tiger looks like he was going to fall asleep, and here it says it was going crazy and chewed through an electrical cable. Which was it? I certainly have doubts about Julie's claim to being cast for the part of the 10th episode when her brother said the show was already a sensation at Harvard. So I call into question this article's impeachment of Robin's memory of the tigers, and mocking him for it.

    I don't think this episode "set the pace" for all the other Catwoman episodes, but it clearly set the bar. I have no idea what you mean by Catwoman was kept in the dark in this episode.

    I like the info you provide, as it enriches my enjoyment of watching the shows as an adult.

  3. The comments seen in the review portion of this site are the opinions of two guys who watched the episode prior to writing their reviews. As the author of the official book on the the tv series, I had personally interviewed the actors and others involved in the production of the series. Joey Tata was physically on the set when the tiger smelled blood, went berzerk and bit the cable. As for Julie's claim to being cast for the tenth episode when the show was a big success. The series was physcially in production in about six weeks prior to airdate. The show aired in January and the Catwoman episode was not filmed until after a few episodes had aired. It was last minute casting for the Catwoman part which is why it was done so fast.
    As for Burt's memories. they like most of the stories in his book are either total lies or half truths. Both Adam and Julie have attested to it. Burt's book was self published because he coudl not get a regular pulbisher to take it. There are several obvious factual errors that could have easily been corrected but weren't.
    In fact, many years ago both Julie and Burt were appearing at a convention together. Burt went on first and was telling his tiger story and the one about how fast the batmobile was travelling when he fell out. (the car had a maximum speed of about 40mph but barely could reach above 25mph the car was filmed and then the camera speeded up to make it appear faster than it was.Burt claimed hw fell out of the moving car at about 60mph. Anyway, I was visiting with Julie backstage while Burt was on, and we both heard him spinning his tales. It was almost time for Julie to go on, so she grabbed a microphone and from backstage she told the audience that Burt was lying to them about the car and the tigers. Burt got flusted and stormed off the stage. He got caught in his lies and couldn't take it.
    As for Catwoman being in the dark, I was referring to the lighting of the episode, She spent more time in the shadows than in later episodes,
    Setting the pace or setting the bar, to me it is about the samething. The love interest between Batman and Catwoman and their playful encounters is what I was refering to .