Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Batscholar on Episodes 27 & 28

By Joel Eisner

Whatever you think of the absurdity of the episode. The bizzare nature of a Yale professor of Egyptology being hit over the head in a student riot and turning into the reincarnation of King Tut, and believing that Gotham City is a new version of the ancient city of Thebes, The fact that a man weighing in at over 350 pounds could be the skinny boy king, doesn't change the fact that Victor Buono was a genius.

Charles Victor Buono (he was half Irish and half Italian, was the most unlikely candidate for the role of King Tut. In Fact, TV Guide actually announced that British actor Robert Morley was to play the part of King Tut. Morley who was the original choice for the Sandman (but dropped out over script problems) was never in the running for Tut.

Buono who had just finished up playing an obese scientist on the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea episode the Cyborg and would portray the villain Mr Memory in Bill Dozier's failed Dick Tracy pilot film, was Dozier's choice for the role, as he related to me, “Between producer Howie Horwitz and me, we just decided that Buono looked the part of a big Arab King. He was marvelous, and so was that beard. Although the part was not created for him, we knew he was Tut as soon as we saw him.

On the subject of Tut's beard, Makeup Artist Bruce Hutchinson recalled “The first time we made Victor Buono up they wanted this exotic Egyptian looking makeup on him. Well, we did the makeup. Everyone looked in the mirror and fell on the floor. He looked like an old opera diva, an old fat man in drag. He said ‘No, no. This won’t do.’ So we just washed his face and put this little chin piece on and the costuming, and he sold it.”

While this was not Tut's greatest moment, that would not come until King Tut's Coup and to a lesser extent the two third season episodes, with Stanley Ralph Ross taking over the Tut episodes, It gave Victor a showcase that allowed him to rise about the material and make Tut a regular villain. When I first saw Tut back in 1966, I was only six and far too young to appreciate the amount of work Buono put into the character. (When we get to Ross's episode, I will related the story he told me about Victor). Years later, I grew to love his work. He was to some a ham, but Victor was a serious Shakespearean actor who knew how to overplay the role. He commented once about his role on Batman, besides calling himself the Fatman from Batman (he was also the Fatman from Beneath the Planet of the Apes, yes Fatman was his character's name) he admitted he loved the role because it allowed him to do the one thing actors are taught never to do , Overact!. He would later play a variation of this role as the evil Mr Schubert on the short lived Man from Atlantis tv series.

Buono was a mountain of a man over six foot four and over 350 pounds. In fact when he died of natural causes on New Years Day 1983 at the age of 43 he weighed in at over 400 pounds. Nobody realized that Buono was only 28 years old when he played Tut for the first time, Adam West was 35. Buono was the youngest villain on the series, but because of his weight appeared much older. A few years later, when he began to lose his hair, he grew a greyish white beard that made him even older looking. Some of his best performances were on tv, the two Odd Couple episodes and as Christopher Lloyd's (Reverend Jim) father on the Taxi tv series. Lloyd was actually a few years older than Buono.

Buono was like an oversized kid who never really grew up and Tut gave him the opportunity to do it. He adlibbed much of his dialogue and mumblings (like Jack Mercer did for Popeye during the early Fleischer cartoons). He broke character in the next episode and switched to an Irish brogue when directing Chief O'Hara (who was under his spell) to perform acrobatics on the outside flagpole. He sometimes broke through the fourth wall and spoke to the audience. He played it for all its worth. As you can see I am a Buono fan. The thing about him was you could expect him to play Tut in anthing he did. When he was nominated for best supporting actor in Whatever Happended to Baby Jane, and his later starring role as the Strangler, he was quite subdued. But later no matter what, Tut peaked out. This is most evident in one of his last feature film roles that of the devil in the film The Evil opposite Richard Crenna. The humor, the mutterings, the laugh, it was Tut. He was the only bright spot in the film and worth watching only for him.

As for the rest of the cast, Don Red Barry, a former B western actor, would later return as a henchman to Black Widow. Ziva Rodann, aka Ziva Shapir, aka Ziva Blackman, a former Miss Israel, appeared in low budget features such as the Pharaoh's Curse and numerous tv shows, she returned to Israel in the 1970's and retired. Nothing has been heard from her since.

The one interesting note to the cast is Olan Soule, as the newscaster. The following year, Soule who was best known as the Coroner on the Dragnet TV series, would become the voice of Batman in the Filmation cartoon tv series. He would continue the role until his death on the Superfriends tv series. He also appeared (with Casey Kasem who played Robin to Soule's Batman) as a guest on the Scooby Doo Movies, as Batman. (Kasem did double duty as Robin and Shaggy).

Director Charles Rondeau who directed numerous sitcoms returned to film Gorshin's last appearance for this season, before moving on the short lived Captain Nice tv series.

One final note about this episode, It was the first of many jokes at the expense of the series itself. After Tut has Batman and his queen released from their ceramic vases, he has Batman dance for him and orders his men to play music, Bat-Music. His men then play the Batman theme music on the record player. Adam then recreates the Batusi with a few new moves. There would be more moments like this in the future.

I would still like to know how Victor managed to squeeze into the batmobile and still manage to drive it. More on Tut and Buono when we get to the second season.

Next Up, Roddy McDowall as the Bookworm


  1. All hail, Victor! I would add to Joel's line-up of Mr. Buono's roles that of the evil magician, Count Carlos Manzeppi in two episodes of "The Wild Wild West" (1966, 1967). Some complained that he underplayed that role with a kind of bored diffidence; since they were immediately contemporary, I've wondered if he was trying to draw a bright line between two outlandish characters on two popular series spoofs. The thing I love about Buono—and it will show up in spades in S 2—is how you just knew that he knew he was way over the top, and loving every minute of it. It's the joie de vivre of a classically trained actor who's been handed the scenery and instructed, "It's okay: just chew away."

    If you can lay hands on his record (later, CD) "Heavy," in which he recites his own poetry before a live audience—including such immortal verse as "The Fat Man's Prayer"—do it. His wit sparkles and his delivery is inimitable. He nearly puts Sydney Greenstreet in the shadows, and that's no small thing.

  2. Buono also was cast as Karafatma in the 1966 I Spy episode of "Turkish Delight." He played a middle man kidnapping scientists and selling them to the highest bidder. It was a decent episode, even if he borrowed part of his performance from Sydney Greenstreet and the writers borrowed part of the plot from "The Ipcress File."

  3. Don't forget his guest appearance on The Odd Couple, where he has to exorcise the spirit of the deceased former resident of Oscar and Felix's apartment!

  4. In addition, Buono is fun to watch when he steals scenes in the movie Who's Minding the Mint? (1967).

  5. I once told Richard Matheson how much Buono (especially as he appeared with the beard in the rent-strike episode of THE ODD COUPLE) reminded me of him, although of course Richard is and always has been much thinner. He related to me that when he was playing President Garfield in the miniseries CAPTAINS AND THE KINGS, he sat down in the makeup chair and the guy said, "Victor, I didn't know you were going to be in this!"

  6. I've always been very attached to Captains and the Kings, but it's so underrated that a reference to it always surprises me. I had to be told by IMDB that Richard Matheson played that part, since it's uncredited.

  7. I didn't know any Batman director was also a Captain Nice director, but it makes perfect sense. (Even though Captain Nice was an all-out sitcom.)