Monday, October 10, 2011

The Batscholar on Episodes 39 & 40

By Joel Eisner

The Minstrel was a unique choice for a villain. Both an electrical genius and a refugee from the Gotham City Renaissance Festival. I supose they could have made him an opera singer or a song and dance man, but a minstral kinda worked.

Van Johnson, who spent of most of his early career playing the leading man roles left behind by bigger stars who went to war, (Johnson had been in a near fatal car accident, which left him with a metal plate in his head, and made him a 4-f for military service) was a good choice for the part. He was smart, intelligent, and despite the clothes was better looking than most of the bizzare villains in Gotham City. As a seven year old child at the time, I didn't really understand the whole stock market plot, it went over my head and I think most of the young audience, but there was something about the character, who sung his own theme song, and almost defeated Batman, that stuck with me. Johnson who by this time was doing mostly musical stage work and tv guest appearances, was one of the few actors who carried off the arch super villain role without going to far over the top. Yet, something went wrong, and he was never to the return. Maybe it was the plot or was it he was more of a James Bondish/Maxwell Smart kind of villain. More intelligent than Batman and not as fiendishly crazy as Bookworm. He was somewhere in the middle, and after the poor showing of the Archer, he wasn't given a second chance. Minstrel was filmed after the return of King Tut, Ma Parker and Clock King, but aired before them, and got lost in the shuffle.

Unlike many other villains, Minstrel intended to stay and watch Batman and Robin roast to death, but were it not for the adhesive bat bombs, planted earlier to set off a deversion, the duo could not have escaped, at least not with an audience.

Besides being an electrical genius, Minstrel was practiced non violence. He refused to get involved in the Batfights. He hated violence, of course it didn't stop him from frying the dynamic duo on an electric barbeque spit over a radar grill. The interesting thing about Johnson was his performance during the final battle. He appeared to be seriously restraining himself from getting in on the Bat-Fight. The character didn't fight, but Johnson, I believe wanted to get in on the fun, and was held back.

Minstrel was one of the first (except for Bookworm who hid in a garbage can) of the main villains who didn't fight. Clock King, Puzzler, Chandell, Lord Ffogg, are among those who stood on the sidelines. I don't think it was deliberate, as I said Johnson looked liked he wanted to fight, but some of them just didn't. While other newcomers like Egghead, Shame, Archer, and King Tut all joined Penguin, Riddler and Joker in the battles.

Minstrel's girl, Octavia (known in both the script and credits as Amanda) was played by Leslie Perkins, who had a short tv career and disappeared after a 1970 episode of Love American Style, added little to the episode. The two main henchmen Treble and Bass were played by veteran stuntman/actors. Remo Pisani and Norman Grabowski (who is better known for designing custom made sports cars) were there to carry out the fighting along with the additional unnamed henchmen.

Making a guest appearance in this episode (and not from a window) is Phyllis Diller as the scrubwoman, who Batman mistakes for the Minstrel. She was there to cross promote her ABC network show the Pruitts of Southhampton, which also starred Reginald Gardiner (Bernie Parks of Pop Goes the Joker) Hollywood Columist Army Archard also made a guest appearance.

The strangest thing about this episode is nobody has or will talk about it. Johnson wouldn't do any interviews. Perkins disappeared, not one of the cast members or producers ever spoke of the Minstrel or Van Johnson. I wonder why?

Next, King Tut returns to reclaim Gotham City with the help of some nasty little bugs.


  1. The Minstrel rocked! i once had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Johnson at the taping of a talk show here in Canada (the Alan Hamel show, or now better known (?!?) as Mrs. Suzanne Somers) - my mother told him how much she loved him in some MGM musical, while I told him I thought he was awesome in Batman. The very tall actor, then about 70, smiled at both of us and looked at me and said "I had a lot of fun with that one."

  2. That color promo shot reminds me of the colorful Topps bubblegum cards.

    I liked The Minstrel's low-key, straight faced approach.

  3. Van Johnson's pronounced heads scars were camouflaged with makeup in almost every movie and TV show he appeared in. A notable exception was THE CAINE MUTINY, where these awful scars were made plainly visible, helping to make Johnson's character more seasoned and sympathetic.

  4. Johnson was an interesting choice for The Minstrel because he ended up looking very much as he did when playing The Pied Piper in a made-for-TV musical during the 1950s. I wonder if Dozier remembered that performance when he cast Johnson?

  5. That is what I keep wondering.