Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Batscholar on Episodes 7 & 8

by Joel Eisner

Based on a 1959 one shot Batman comic book villain named Mr. Zero. Mr. Freeze as he was now called was the fourth villain in production order, he had followed the yet to be aired Zelda the Great and preceded the Joker that filmed after him but aired prior to him. Played by George Sanders the former leading villain of the 1930's and 1940's. Also known as the star of the Saint films before turning the series over to his actor brother Tom (Sanders) Conway, when he starred as the Falcon in a new series of movie detective films.

By this time in his career Sanders was doing frequent tv appearance, he had recently appearance on the final episode of the first season of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and had a recurring role as a Bond like villain on the Man From UNCLE. He as also the former husband to future Batvillain Zsa Zsa Gabor. Dozier had known Gabor for years so it was possible he had known Sanders as well. Sanders was born in Russia but lived for many years in England, which is why both he and his brother had pronounced British accents. He had played numerous German villains during the war years, so he was a good choice for Mr Freeze. However, for some reason, he chose to over due it. Having seen his earlier work I know his German accent was quote good. Here it was too over blown. Too stereotypical German mad scientist sounding. It was still a good performance but Sanders like Otto Preminger had no sense of humor. So, it might have affected his performance. Sanders was known as a very cold man to those who knew him, although Vincent Price who knew him well claimed he was quite a practical joker. But that was earlier in his career so he may have grown sour. He later committed suicide when he felt he had had enough with living. Alan Napier was also one of Sanders friends and he told me stories about Sanders. He knew him very well and said he was a very deep and sensitive man underneath this cold exterior. (He was afraid of being hurt so he developed this cad personna). Well, Sanders (and Preminger) being a cold man may have seemed perfect for Mr Freeze.

The episode was originally assigned to writer Leonard Stadd, but when he turned in his script, it was unfilmable. They turned it over to Max Hodge (who also wrote the Preminger episode) who created the entire Freeze personna. The German accent, the real name of Dr Shivel, and the history of him being an evil scientist who created an instant freeze solution, that during a fight with Batman in his lab has the beaker break covering him in the solution. Forcing him to live at a temperature of fifty degrees below zero. With the popularity of the series, the character returned to the comic books as Mr Freeze. He also appeared in the 1967 Filmation cartoon series. Hodge towards the end of his life filed a lawsuit against Warners and DC (when Mr Freeze turned up on the big screen) claiming he created the character and was entitled to be paid for it. It never went away and not long after Hodge died

Sanders despite the restrictions of the accent and the spacesuit he was forced to wear, managed to instill a Bond like villain quality to the character when he is attired in his smoking jacket and sitting around drinking martinis and acting more like Goldfinger than a Batman villain. Of note was his order to his men not to use their guns against Batman. He seemed to prefer his temperature control device. He like his prior German villains of the past prefered to toy and torture Batman rather than kill him outright. He also showed some remorse for having to kill Robin. Having found the location of his frozen headquarters (where in Gotham did they have ice covered mountains in July) so he couldn't let him live.

Many people have wondered why they stuck Sanders in the spacesuit with the helmet and gave Preminger the freeze collar, thus freeing him from the helmet. It was thought to feature Otto's famous bald head. That may have been part of it but as costume designer Jan Kemp remembered “Everybody, including George Sanders, felt he should be inside a helmet. The point I made was that you were going to have difficulty with his speech. As a matter of fact, we had to dub most of his dialogue at a later date. We did fit the helmet with miniature mikes; but the problem was that we’d still get a resonance on his voice which wasn’t quite George Sanders. It was like putting a man inside a bucket. He sounded like he was speaking in an oil drum.” When Preminger assumed the role we took away the helmet and gave him a collar that had little jets to blow the ice-cold air around him. In actual fact, I think we made a point in the script about this, that he was wearing this device that kept him cool.”

As to the rest of the guest cast, Shelby Grant as Princess Sandra she had little to do. She was not Mr' Freeze's girl (Preminger kidnapped Miss Iceland but it wasn't until Eli Wallach that Mr Freeze got a girl). and as a victim she was just there to break up the all male cast members. She is married to Medical Center star Chad Everitt.

William O'Connell who managed the Diamond Exchange was the Andorian Spy in the Star Trek episode Journey to Babel. John Zaremba as Freeze's butler Kolevator later became Dr Swain on the Time Tunnel tv series. Robert Hogan was a staple on many soap operas and prime time detective shows. Freeze's henchmen were the usual bunch of actor/stuntmen. Troy Melton who played Chill had a long history as a Fox stuntman and also doubled for actor Richard Webb on the Star Trek episode Court Martial.

Since Batman for the first season was filmed at both Fox and Desilu (which produced Star Trek) and shared the same casting directors, there was a great crossover between the shows. When the series moved completely to Fox, the crossovers changed and there were more crossovers from the Fox feature and series players.

Sanders was supposed to return as Mr Freeze but was unavailable so they recast the part with Preminger (when Preminger couldn't come back Wallach stepped into the role). The villains never had a contract. They were paid a flat fee of $2,500 for a two part episode and no residuals (no additional money for reruns). Not having a contract, gave the producers the advantage with the guest star, when Gorshin demanded more money to return for the second season. They could recast the part (although in Gorshin's case it was a mistake) But it allowed Preminger to step in without having to wait for Sanders to available.

Next Zelda The Great and Eivol Ekdal


  1. Interesting info, Joel... William O'Connell also played one of the stranded aliens in OUTER LIMITS' "The Chameleon," penned by Robert (CHINATOWN) Towne.

  2. "Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck." That was the note Sanders left behind after his suicide. In The Moon's a Balloon, David Niven writes that in 1937 Sanders told him that he would kill himself when he was 65. He did just that.

    Joel, some questions for you:

    1. What made Stadd's script unfilmable? Was it too expensive or too bad?

    2. Why wasn't costumer Jan Kemp given onscreen credit?

    3. Why wasn't onscreen credit given to the authors of the original comics stories on which were based this episode and all the others produced to this point?

  3. George Sanders may have not been the most energetic or invested baddie among Batman's villian-logue, but he classed it up quite nicely. The tone of the show, or perhaps the writing, seems to take a different gear for the next few episodes -- maybe Dozier and co. were catching their collective batman breath or were logging too many OT hours... still, half-speed batman was still 5x better than anything Tammy Grimes could cook up.

  4. The reason that the writers of the original comics don't get on-screen credit:
    They were only just starting to get credit in the comic books themselves at that point. Also, the Screen Writers' Guild tended to be quite territorial about these matters, wanting to preserve their claim on royalties and such.

    Why the costumer didn't get credit:
    TV credits, especially those from the big studios, generally didn't credit anyone below a certain level of function.
    If you take note of the week-to-week crawls of Fox-produced shows, as an example, you'll see many of the same names on all the shows. These are usually the various department heads, such as art director Jack Martin Smith and set decorator Walter Scott. They get credit on the features Fox made during this period as well, with the individual show's actual Art director and set decorator coming in second. As to other credits, again department heads, such as makeup's Ben Nye, get the onscreen nod while the actual artists aren't named at all. This was common practice at all the studios, and didn't change until sometime in the '70s, when contracts expired or were renoegotiated.

    One last note: Shelby Grant passed away a few weeks ago. She had been married to Chad Everett for more than 40 years. RIP.

  5. Just a quick note - the series George Sanders turned over to his brother Tom Conway was the Falcon movies - Sanders then went on to star as The Saint - not much difference between them, so you wonder why he bothered...but it did give the world The Falcon's Brother - which featured both men and was extremely fun.

  6. The Saint (1938-41) preceded The Falcon (1941-46), the fourth Falcon combining both brothers and enabling Tom Conway to continue this series for another four years (the estranged brothers did only one other picture together in 1956). David Niven worked with Sanders in the 1938 John Ford picture FOUR MEN AND A PRAYER, which followed George's first starring role in INTERNATIONAL SETTLEMENT, both with villainous turns from John Carradine. At least Nazi villain Martin Kosleck managed to do the John Astin Riddler episodes.

  7. George Sanders had a wonderful, off-beat sense of humor and it shows in his Mr Freeze portrayal, telling his men to make the car go "zoom zoom".