by Joel Eisner
The first appearance Cesar Romero as the Joker almost never happened. The Joker we all know and love was not the first choice nor even second choice for the role. Producer William Dozier had someone else in mind as he told me, “Jose Ferrer was my first choice for the Joker. He either didn’t want to do it or couldn’t. He has kicked himself ever since. ‘Butch’ Romero, whom I had known forever, was the second choice for the Joker, and I am not sure he did not turn out better than Jose. I am not sure that Jose would have captured the frivolity and the ludicrousness of the character. I think he may have taken himself a little too seriously as an actor to do that.”
Years later, after going through Dozier's production notes, I uncovered letter from Dozier to Story Editor Lorenzo Semple, Jr, informing him that “We couldn’t clear scheduling problems with Jose Ferrer (1st choice) or Gig Young (2nd choice) for Joker, and are going with Cesar Romero (3rd choice). I think he’ll be fine. He’s a dancer, you know, moves well, and has both style and menace. With bright green hair and alabaster face, he’ll look hugely bizarre. Week after next we re-Riddle Gorshin, then Catwoman, hopefully with Suzanne Plesehette.”
How Jose Ferrer or Gig Young would have handled the Joker is anyone's guess. Ferrer never really played anything as comedic as the Joker before or afterwards. Gig Young never struck me as the comedic type. Even when he portrayed the psuedo comic relief sidekick to Robert Culp in the Roddenbery Spectre pilot film, he wasn't very funny.
As for Cesar he told me, “I was very surprised when the producer of the show called me and said that he was doing a series called ‘Batman’ and the important characters were the villains. They had done the first two with the Riddler and the Penguin with Frank Gorshin and Burgess Meredith, and now they were ready to do the third, and the villain was the Joker. He said, ‘I would like you to play the part.’ So, I said I would like to read the script and know what it is all about. So he said, ‘Come on over to the studio, and I will show you the film of the first episode.’ Of course, it was great. I said, ‘Let me read this Joker part, and if it is as good as the first one, hell yes, I will do it. So, I read the script, and I thought it was a gas, and I said, ‘Sure, I’ll do it.’
Cesar was however perplexed as to why he was offered the part of the Joker, "Why Dozier wanted me I’ll never know because I asked his wife, Ann Rutherford, ‘Why did Bill think of me for this part?’ She said, ‘I don’t know. He said he saw you in something, and he said’, ‘He’s the one I want to play the Joker‘ “I haven’t the slightest idea what it was they he saw me in, because I had never done anything like it before.”
A possible explaination was the Dozier had seen Cesar play a circus clown on an episode of ‘Bonanza. Otherwise, Cesar's most recent performance at that time period was as the crazied magician in the comedic horror film Two on a Guillotine. Oddly enough, his performance in many ways mirrors what he did as the Joker.
Nancy Kovack like many other guest stars from Batman found themselves cast on Star Trek. This was due in part to the casting directors at Fox. One of which was a guy named Joseph D'Agosta. He used to work at Fox and mostly for Batman and Irwin Allen's shows. He was later fired and went to work at Paramount for Star Trek and Mission Impossible. One of Batman's other casting directors was Larry Stewart, a former actor who later turned director, who also worked for Irwin Allen, and like most casting directors, they would hire their friends who had worked for them before (Larry cast the Bookworm episode, more on that when we get to that episode).
Kovack who later gave up her career to marry Zuben Mehta, the symphony conductor, had worked with Vincent Price in Diary of a Madman and as the female lead in Ray Harryhausen's Jason and the Argonauts, but she seemed out of place here. She faced better as the alien witch woman in the Private Little War episode of Star Trek. It wasn't until second season that Joker found woman who could keep up with his wild antics. Kovack, Donna Loren and Jane Wald got lost in the shuffle. My favorite was Diane Iverson, Baby Jane Towser from the Pop Goes the Joker episode, she was as crazy as the Joker.
While this was the third episode aired, it was actually the fifth episode filmed (the episode production numbers prove this out) Mr Freeze and Zelda the Great were actually filming while they were still casting the part of the Joker. Remember they were filming two episode back to back at different studios to have the series ready for the January premiere. The pilot was already finished, and the optical overlays for Mr Freeze's Blue/Red temperature controls at his hideout plus the frozen glowing effects around his victims, took longer to complete and Zelda was not a name villain, so they rushed the Joker ahead of the line for an earlier broadcast.
In this episode (and the next one,) Joker seems to have a lot of replacement henchmen. The first batch of henchmen named for famous movie comedians are captured but he has more back at the hideout to take their place. Stranger things occur in his next appearance, which I cover when we get to it.
This episode was written by Robert Dozier, producer William Dozier's son. The series had such a short startup time, Dozier told me he ordered his son to write an episode for the series. Robert Dozier is currently married to actress Diana Muldaur (another Star Trek connection).
Director Don Weis directed this episode and Hot off the Griddle with the Catwoman) loved the show but years later remembered "Adam West was a pain in the ass. He once had a quote in TV Guide for which I never forgave him. He said an orangutan could direct Batman. He was pretty pompous. Burt Ward wasn’t an actor. He was kind of sweet because he didn’t know anything, and he was very receptive to direction. Neil Hamilton was marvelous, he was a real pro. Cesar was a doll, a charming man and a good actor. I loved him. All the professional actors were very good.”
The Joker's utility belt was a wonderful idea, which was also used in the comic book, was actually underutilized here. It doesn't come in until the second part and then used very little. Joker later found that his trick streamers and sneezing powder worked better for him when he carried them in his inside jacket pockets. I loved those streamer effects, they looked silly going on but they really great afterwards.
If you look closely at the Joker you can see it was Cesar's stuntman who was battling Batman in the battle at the warehouse. The Joker lead the dynamic duo to this location by interrupting the rerun of an old western movie. The next season Joker interrupts Batman's viewing of the Green Hornet tv show, It was a sneaky way of cross promoting Dozier's both series. The Green Hornet would also appear in the Spell of Tut popping out of a window and later in their own Batman episode. Incidentally, the villains in the Green Hornet episode The Ray is For Killing are seen watching an episode of Batman.
On a closing note, there was an unverified rumor that Frank Sinatra was upset with Cesar for beating him out of the part of the Joker. Since Sinatra was never in the running, I doubt was any truth to it. Sinatra however, was rumored to be playing Falseface, but then were several other actors. Sinatra who was filming at Fox during the second season did make a pop in on the set (unfilmed unfortunately) during the Hizzoner the Penguin episode.