Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Batscholar on Batman: The Movie

By Joel Eisner

The Batman movie was originally scheduled to be made prior to the television series. However, when ABC found that many of its television shows were failing, they ordered the Batman series moved back from its September 1966 planned airdate to the midseason premiere of January 1966. The film which was intended to introduce the viewing public to the Batman characters was put on hold until filming was completed on the first season of the series.

Since the series was such a success, one might wonder why they proceeded with the motion picture. Well, apart from the obvious financial incentives, the film served two functions. First, it was intended to aid the studio in selling the series to overseas markets. Secondly its larger budget allowed the producers to create the Batcopter, the Batcycle and Batboat under the movie budget, and then use these impressive vehicles in the series. As the television budget was rather limited, the creation of the above mentioned items was beyond the financial limits of the series. In fact, the footage of the Batboat and Batcopter which was used in the series was lifted directly from the film and edited into the episodes where needed.

A different version of the Batcycle, made its debut in the series (“The Penguin Goes Straight/Not Yet He Ain’t”) but was abandoned in favor of the one created for the movie, so it to could be edited into the series from the feature film..

The obviously rubber shark that attacked Batman at the beginning of the film was a left over prop from producer Irwin Allen’s 1961 feature film Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. The shark was in fact used as actor Peter Lorre’s pet, who ironically kills actress Joan Fontaine (she was the villainess of the film) when she falls into the shark tank. Joan Fontaine was the ex-wife of producer William Dozier.

In the first draft of the shooting script, the jet-pack umbrellas (which originated in a February 1965 Batman comic book story) were supposed to be worn on the villains’ backs instead of being ridden. Also, the umbrellas were supposed to attract the attention of the Air Force, which, under the command of Colonel Terry, chases the villains in jet planes. It was then up to the Joker to sprinkle the skies with his metallic confetti causing to the planes detection equipment to malfunction and thus allowing the villains to escape. (If you look closely in the villains’ headquarters, you can clearly see several file cabinet drawers with different colored confetti signs. A recently discovered behind the scenes photo (published in the booklet accompanying the CD release of the movie soundtrack) exists showing what appears to be Cesar Romero’s stand-in riding the jet pack umbrella tossing metallic confetti into the air. So, there was some attempt to film the sequence before it was abandoned.

The part of Colonel Terry, though never filmed, was listed in the film’s press book as being played by Sterling Holloway. Director Leslie H. Martinson denied any memories of the casting of Holloway in the part. However, a recently uncovered memo to Martinson from producer William Dozier survives in which he addresses Martinson’s misgivings about the casting of Sterling Holloway, Dozier felt that Holloway would be very funny both visually and audibly. (Holloway would soon become the voice of Winnie the Pooh) and to forget his age. To make him a Colonel or a Brigadier, as his flying is non combat, and to remember that General Jimmy Stewart still flies, non combat and he’s older than Holloway.

Commodore Schmidlapp was originally named Commodore Redhead., he was supposed to be a parody of Commodore Edward Whitehead, the head of the Schweppes Bottling Company,. The Schweppes Company objected and Redhead was changed to Schmidlapp and was given a van dyke beard (as opposed to Whitehead’s full beard). The part of Schmidlapp was originally offered to British actor Terry-Thomas but he turned it down. Reginald Denny last seen as King Boris gave his final perfromance in this film.

The film is unique in that it was filmed just after the series ended its first season, in the Spring of 1966 and released just four months later in August 1966. Given many of the sets were already made and most of the casting and makeup design was done, it was still an amazing accomplishment.

The first draft script called for the Penguin’s exploding octopus to be a giant exploding umbrella. Since the octopus was never shown, it was far more economical to use as opposed to building a giant umbrella. (Remember this script was written prior the creation of the giant umbrella used in episode three, and filmed long after it was dismantled, after its use).

As for the casting of Lee Meriwether in the role of Catwoman, while Julie Newmar doesn't remember the reason why she didn't appear. Both Lee and myself had heard that Julie had a back injury which prevented her appearance in the film. Lee joined the film with much of it already in progress. They had filmed around the Catwoman's scenes until a last minute replacement could be found. She was already under contract to Fox for the Time Tunnel TV series which was in production for the Fall 1966 season, but she still had to audition for the part, as she will explain later. As I have mentioned in previous entries, Suzanne Pleshette was considered for the part, but wasn't available. Julie in fact got a call over the weekend to start work as Catwoman, the following Monday. So she in fact was a last minute replacement.

The film was written by Lorenzo Semple, Jr after the pilot and prior to the series premiere. There were a lot of details in the script which needed to be rewritten, because it introduced many of the things and people already seen on the tv show. Had it been produced prior to the series, it would have been fine, but afterward it seemed out of place and almost dated. However, time constraints prevented a massive rewrite, they had only a few weeks between the end of the first season, the start and finish of movie shoot and the beginning of the second season, especially if they wanted to get the film out to the theaters by the end of summer. Unfortunately, the film was released to the general public a few weeks before the Fall tv season so it had a short shelf life before disappeared. (The film didn't reach tv until the summer of 1971)

The film is peppered with Superman and Batman leftovers. Milton Frome as the Admiral who sells the Penguin the sub, was a frequent guest star on the old Superman tv series. (He would later turn up as Laughing Leo, one of Shame's henchmen) George J Lewis who played the Spanish Delegate, also guested on the Superman show and was a henchmen in the original 1943 Batman Movie Serial, besides being remembered as Zorro's father on the 1950's tv series.

The one cameo in the film was Jack LaLanne on the rooftop when the batcopter flies over the city.

As many of those involved with the movie recollect, making this movie was generally a joy and only sometimes a nightmare. Generally camaraderie ruled, and creativity was evident everywhere. There were occasional mishaps and flare-ups, as in all huge endeavors of this nature. During several interviews for this book, people mentioned Burt Ward’s apparent difficulty in adjusting to the series’ overnight success. Producer William Dozier’s only bad experience of this nature occurred during the making of the movie, as he comments: ‘The only time I had a little problem with Burt, and that wasn’t much, was when he would talk about his ‘million-dollar face.’ During those explosions that we would have on the sets, sometimes as part of those special effects, he would become worried about his ‘million-dollar face,’ and he was serious. One day when we were shooting the feature, I went over on the set, and they were sitting around. I said, ‘What’s the matter?’ and they said, ‘Burt is not here. He is over in the infirmary.’ I said, ‘What’s the matter with him?’ They said he had some sort of problem. So, I went over to the infirmary on the lot and said, ‘What is the matter with you?’ Well, he said, ‘I have this pain.’ I said, ‘While you are enjoying that pain, get your ass over to the set.’ He said ‘Yes, sir,’ and went back on the set immediately. But that was the way you had to treat him. He was an absolute baby.”

Dozier recalled a far more serious incident, occurring near the time of the movie’s premiere: “The Bat-Boat was quite a thing. It was built by the Glastron Boat Company in Austin, Texas. That is why we premiered the movie in Austin, Texas. The premiere was on Saturday and Monday was when that 
guy started shooting off the Tower in Austin, Texas, and killed about forty or fifty people. On Saturday, we all rode in an open car down the main street, but he was only interested in killing students, Thank Heaven!.”

A risky premiere and temperamental actors were not the only problems which arose as Director Leslie H. Martinson elaborates: “The one mishap was the fight on the submarine, with all of the men dueling up there, and it was in the tank on the back lot that Fox had out in the valley. Apparently, stuntman Ace Hudkins lost his footing and slipped off the side of the submarine and hit his head on the bottom, which was only about three and a half feet deep. He cracked his head open and knocked himself unconscious. I called ‘Cut,’ and the cameras stopped (there were three cameras going), and suddenly someone said, ‘Where is Ace?’ Just like that, the stuntmen just all disappeared underwater. They dragged him up and rushed him to the hospital. You could just wonder how he survived that tremendous laceration on the top of his head. A friend of mine—a very, very close friend who was a top neurosurgeon and was then chief of staff—happened to be at the hospital and attended Ace, and he eventually recovered.”

Of course, these incidents were exceptional, and the overall result was a hit worldwide. Martinson continues: “I will never forget a walk I took from Curzon Street to Upper Grosvenor, which is about six blocks in London. I was there doing a film, another film for Fox immediately following the Batman film, called Fathom. It was Raquel Welch’s first big film. I met Adam at the White Elephant, which is a restaurant on Curzon; sort of a show business restaurant. Adam and I had lunch, and then we had this short walk, and he was just absolutely mobbed. He stepped out onto the sidewalk, and someone recognized him, and from then on it was just sheer bedlam, with hundreds of English people following us.”

Julie Newmar was originally cast to play the Catwoman in the film. She was, however, unavailable (reportedly due to a back injury) when the time came to shoot the film, so the part had to be recast. Actress Lee Meriwether recalls how she got the part: “1 had to read for the part, and there were five girls in the outer office when I got there to read. They gave me a scene, and I went into the office, and I thought, I really have to do something to make them remember me as those other girls were really gorgeous, so I decided I would do things like a cat. So, I curled myself up in the chair, and I licked my hand like a paw and did a little preening and purring and things like that. Luckily, I had a lot of cats, and in one of my lives I was a cat. I remember Les Martinson said to them, ‘I didn’t tell her to do that.’ So, it all kind of worked, and I had the part. To show you how far down to the wire they were, they were already filming while I was reading, because I went in for costumes and they shot around the character in the submarine. My first day was working in the submarine with a lot of things going wrong and steam coming out.”

Having won the role of the Catwoman, Lee now had to face up to working with her three villainous co-stars (all of whom, by this time, were quite comfortable in their roles). Lee recalls her first meeting with the trio: “Cesar was the one who took me under his wing when I came on the set. He welcomed me, and he said, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll do fine. Let me help you, and if there is anything I could do to help you, just let me know.’ So, in the actual filming, he would position me into place, because I was wearing a mask. My field of vision was almost tunnel. So, I missed my mark a couple of times, and he just eased me and pushed me right to the place where we were supposed to end up. He was right there and always wonderful. “Frank was the most subdued of all the gentlemen, and although Burgess was quiet, he and I hit it off and talked for hours and went to the movies together while we were on location in Santa Barbara. We went for two days’ location on the Santa Barbara pier. I remember Frank being very particular about his costume, and he had a suit that had been made for him, a special suit. He wanted to wear it in the movie, because he was tired of wearing the green tights. I remember the jacket was smashing; it really was, even though it was garish. It looked good on him.” ”Both Burgess and I got to play dual characters in the movie, which was fun. Kitanya Irenya Tatanya Kerenska Alisoff—I had to learn that name in five minutes, before I had to film it. It was a delightful experience working with these pros. ‘Burgess gave the girls, my two daughters Kyle and Lesley, each one of his rubberized plastic Penguin noses. I really made it in the girls’ eyes when I became Catwoman. I had to do ‘Star Trek’ or Batman.’ I did both, but if I hadn’t done ‘Batman,’ I would have been nothing.”

Although stunt people were used during the making of the film most of the time, the actors occasionally did their own stunts. Lee Meriwether remembers the stunts she was asked to perform: “During the submarine explosion scene, we fell over on each other; we did a lot of that stuff ourselves. The only time that they had a stuntwoman do a stunt for me, I think, is the one that does not look good in the show, where I trip and fall and my mask falls off. I said, ‘Why can’t I do it? It is such a simple thing. ’They said no’ and I said ‘OK.’ I had been really worried about using the bullwhip on Hubie (Kearns, Adam West’s stuntman). I had to use a bullwhip to pull him back, when he was dressed as Adam and not Batman, and I missed him and hit his leg. It was terrible, and I said I wanted a stuntwoman for that because I was not doing a good job, I was so afraid of hurting him.” “Besides stuntwork we were allowed to improvise, whenever possible I recalled Burgess ad-libbed quite a bit during the scene involving the five dehydrated guinea pigs. While the meanies are pouring the powdery bodies of the men into separate vials, lines about being careful as “each of them has a mother” are all of Burgess’ creation.”

The actors were not the only ones who improvised on the set. Director Leslie H. Martinson recalls his creation of the infamous bomb sequence: “I improvised the sequence where Batman tries to get rid of the bomb. I mean, it was one little thing, and I put in the thing with the ducks and the lovers and the other things. It was a good film.”

To top everthing off, Adam West decided to push his luck and star power by demanding a huge salary for the series.

From the files of Executive Producer William Dozier comes the following memo to studio chief Richard Zanuck concerning Adam West’s salary demands for the feature film: “Adam requested $150,000 for the film but would cut it to $100,000 if he were given a non-Batman feature the following year with his name above the film for $125,000. It was decided that we should recast with another actor and interviews should start right away. We should also consider replacing Robin as he ‘making noises like the very top stars in Hollywood.’.

Richard Zanuck’s handwritten response (on the bottom of the memo) was “I don’t want West in the picture even if he offered to do it for nothing!’” After reviewing the still existing production reports, it appears that Adam got his $100,000 but never got that second non-Batman feature film.

Final Salaries for the Feature Film:
  • Adam West ---$100,000
  • Burt Ward-- $35,000
  • Alan Napier-- $3,750
  • Neil Hamilton--$4,400
  • Stafford Repp--- $3,300
  • Madge Blake----$1,250.00
  • Cesar Romero---$16,000
  • Burgess Meredith----$35,000
  • Frank Gorshin---$12,000
  • Lee Meriwether---$10,000
  • Gil Perkins (Bluebeard)---$4,000
  • Dick Crockett (Morgan) ---$2,400
  • George Sawaya (Quetch) ---$2,000
  • Milton Frome----$500.00
  • Reginald Denny----$1,500
  • U.S President (voice) $250.00
  • Security Council Delegates---$250.00
  • Leslie H. Martinson (director) ---$23,250.00
  • Lorenzo Semple (writer) --$50,000 (includes screenplay and treatment)

Total Budget $1,432.,000 for 26 day shooting schedule including 5 days location and 5 days 2nd Unit shooting

For Comparsion here are the regular cast salaries for the first season.
  • Batman $4000.00 per two part show ($2000.00 per half hour)
  • Robin $700.00 per two part show ($350.00 per half hour)
  • Alfred $1000.00 per two part show ($500.00 per half hour)
  • Gordon $900.00 per two part show ($450.00 per half hour)
  • O’Hara $900.00 per two part show ($450.00 per half hour)
  • Harriet $1000.00 per two part show ($500.00 per half hour)
  • Guest Villain $2500.00 per two part show (1250.00 per half hour)

Next The Second Season!


  1. Dozier: "On Saturday, we all rode in an open car down the main street, but he was only interested in killing students, Thank Heaven!" I'm going to pretend I didn't read anything so heartless, and move on.

    Joel: Love the deep background you've given us here. (I may enjoy reading this more than I enjoyed watching the movie.) The comparative pay-scales for movie and TV series are really something. Glenn or somebody on this board with a head for figures should adjust them for inflation in today's dollars. I think it would still come out mighty cheap. How much did the movie end up making for the producers?

    In terms of Hollywood seniority it makes sense, but I can't help wondering if Gorshin knew he was the lowest paid of the series' regular villains, making a third of what Buzz Meredith copped. Maybe that explains why we didn't see him in S2. At the very least he should have gotten a better agent.

  2. I suspect that the villain salaries (excluding Ms.Meriwether) were probably dictated more by number of days filming than anything else. Meredith has a LOT more to do than Romero and Gorshin, and on the more leisurely schedule of movie filming, that difference was surely reflected in their days on set.

  3. G'day Clifton. In 1966, the average annual salary was about $4,900, so, to keep things simple, as a rough estimate just multiply by ten. In today's terms, Adam West picked up a cool million for 26 days work, on a movie that cost less than fifteen million to produce.

    Glenn :)

  4. Thanks, Glenn, for putting things into perspective. To throw things OUT of perspective: nowadays, I reckon, somebody would spend $15 million only for a movie's early project development. Anyway, that's chump change in Hollywood, and this chump wouldn't mind retiring on it.