Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Batscholar on Episodes 43 & 44

By Joel Eisner

The original title of this episode was Mother's Day Madness and according to a copy of a letter found among William Dozier's papers was intended for Bette Davis and not Shelley Winters.

“I hope the report I received is true that you would like to be a Special Guest Villainess in Batman, because we have a script in the works which we shall shoot sometime in July or August which we are tailoring for you and in which you can be a demon villainess who rides herd on a flock of dastardly villains. Holy Field Day!”

By this time in her career Davis was now a character actress. After co starring with rival Joan Crawford and future King Tut Victor Buono, in Whatever happened to Baby Jane? she went to England to work for Hammer Films (Tallulah Bankhead did the same). She might have been a better choice for Parker. Winters while not as fat as she became in the 70's, she didn't come off as the sweet little old lady she tried to portray. For some reason, she felt it necessary to scream almost everyone of her lines and when she wasn't screaming, she was just plain obnoxious.

Based on the notes and reports I found, she was that way in real life. Prior to shooting Miss Winters had several, lengthy wardrobe discussions with producer Howie Horowitz and the wardrobe people at which her wardrobe for the show was discussed thoroughly and settled upon to the mutual satisfaction of all.. On the first day of shooting, Miss Winters held the company up forty minutes after lunch complaining about her wardrobe. The following morning, Friday the 12th, she was forty five minutes late to makeup, holding the company up an additional 35 minutes more complaining about her wardrobe and again insisting on additional changes. Mr. Horowitz was notified and came to the set immediately to talk with Miss Winters. On the last day of shooting, Shelley slipped in a puddle of water near stage 15 and twisted her ankle. Then after she left, the producers found she stuck them with an unpaid bill from the commissary for her meals that she had while filming.

In a letter to producer William Dozier after her completion of filming actress Shelley Winters had this say: “When my wardrobe was being prepared, instead of buying boots which fitted me— which might have cost $12 at Chandlers, I was given some two sizes too big for me and which rubbed my ankles. They had added heels, put on which distorted the fit further’

Instead of renting a wig from Max Factor, which could have not cost very much money, an old one was given to me which constantly had to be pasted together and repaired This held up the production and I was told there was no money in the budget and they had to use Fox’s old wigs, it was extremely uncomfortable to work in.”

‘You returned from Europe three days before I finished, you never called or came over to the set to see how things were. I was treated very strangely by you and your associates. I am not in the habit of working for the fee I received on your BATMAN and I did it for fun and to oblige a friend.”

Winters career at this point of the 1960's was on a downslide. She apparently want to be treated like the prima donna she thought she was, as when she was still a hot property in the 1950's. If she didn't like the fee, ($2500.00, which every villain was paid), then why do it. She claimed for fun, but she complained about everything. To oblige a friend, meaning Dozier, he had someone else in mind, and she may have been a last minute substitute. The character and her performance was overblown, loud, obnoxious and honestly lousy.

She was also a pain to the rest of the cast as well, Actress Tisha Sterling (quoted at the time of filming): “She (Shelley) was a bitch and was a holy terror to me!”

Tisha Sterling was only 22 when she did Batman, she is the daughter of actress Ann Sothern and actor Robert Sterling. She later moved with her mother to Sun Valley,Idaho to become a florist. The character of Legs, was totally misused, she was supposed to be the worst of the bunch and more dangerous than the boys, but she came off as a total dizzy airhead, who gave up at the slighted hint of trouble.

The rest of the gang were made up of unknowns who mostly worked in 60's and 70's westerns and drama shows.

They had the opportunity to hire some well known gangster types for this episode and blew it.

Milton Berle who was under contract to ABC, like Phyllis Diller and Jerry Lewis before him, came on to promote his new tv variety show (he also turned up in the 1966 ABC film 7 Nights to Remember, in which Batman and Robin host clips from the network's fall schedule). Playing a crook named Lefty, dressed up a security guard in the prison. Louie the Lilac was not yet in his future.

Julie Newmar turns up in this episode as Catwoman for a cameo (in her catsuit, no prisonwear for her), in the prison yard. Julie has no memory of this short sequence. She had just finished up Hot of the Griddle and might have been at the studio for a few closeups and they just three her in for an added guest star.

She was on the set as the photo shows but I don't think she was there with Winters, as they are never together and Julie was filmed with the prison extras behind her. You never see Julie looking at Winters in the same shot.

Having already used the electric chair trap in last season's Joker episode, it was not used as the cliffhanger, but in the final Bat-fight. The cliffhanger featuring a trustee putting a bomb in the batmobile set to go off when they reached 60mph, was not unique but it was a joke on the actual car itself. The batmobile was built around a Ford Futura car body, but it was so overloaded with equipment and extras that it could not travel faster than 40mph and usually not even faster then 25 mph. Per comments by both cast and crew members, the car was a piece of junk, that constantly kept breaking down. Alan Napier told me, the car was a nightmare for him to drive. He was six foot six in height and besides the car not working right (which included the doors), the driver's seat was not adjustable, so his feet kept sliding off the pedals and his legs kept banging into the steering wheel. One wonders what problems they had with Victor Buono getting in and out of the car, last season.

Next up: Walter Slezak, as the Clock King (based on an obscure villain called the Clock), in a performance that actually improved with age.


  1. Casting luck didn't shine on this episode, as Shelley Winters was less nuanced than she needed to be for the part to be funny. As a rule, though, I think that the first choices for villains were usually improved upon in the final casting. Jose Ferrer (and more so Gig Young) would most likely not have gone far enough as The Joker and Mickey Rooney would surely have gone too far as The Penguin. Suzanne Pleshette would probably have been fine as Catwoman, but she lacked Julie Newmar's physical presence, and who knows if she and Adam West would have had the same chemistry? Carolyn Jones was a hoot as Marsha (from her appearances on Burke's Law, The Addams Family, and Batman, Jones really defined the ABC sense of humor in the mid-60s) and as we saw in the third season, first choice Zsa Zsa Gabor was rather more comedically limited.

    Mr. Eisner, were there other early casting choices for the villains?

  2. Ill conceived and poorly executed. I don't think Bette Davis could have saved this turkey.

    Tell you what, though, if Angie Dickinson had somehow been able to play her BIG, BAD MAMA character about seven years earlier -- wow, now THAT would have been something to see.

    I'm still not sure those movies weren't inspired by this story.

  3. I never completely noticed till the last time I saw it how many inside jokes this one has. Obviously there are the names of her sons and daughter, but along with that the movie advertised on the marquee is called THE WOMAN IN RED (a John Dillinger reference) and more than once Ma Parker smokes a cigar (a Bonnie Parker reference).

    Also, there's the fact that she's called by that expression "The greatest mother of them all." The Larry Bishop character calls the Shelley Winters character that sarcastically in WILD IN THE STREETS (was this made before or after that film?).

  4. I've got 3 different versions of this story (sort of) on videotape. Claire Trevor plays "Ma Barker" in an episode of THE UNTOUCHABLES. Then Shelly Winters does a parody of it on BATMAN. Then, incredibly, Shelly Winters plays the real thing in Roger Corman's "BLOODY MAMA", with a real all-star cast behind her.

    More utterly bizarre Catwoman "continuity". When Catwoman shows up in the prison yard, the question is asked about The Riddler, The Penguin, and The Joker, all 3 of whom are said to be in "solitary confinement". WHY? Simple. Look what they tried to do at Gotham's equivalent of the U.N. building. WHY isn't Catwoman in solitary? Simple. THAT WAS SOMEBODY ELSE! When I see stuff like this, I can't help but wonder if somebody involved was thinking the same thing...

  5. I completely disagree with everyone's assessment of Winters' performance. As a kid, I really enjoyed her performance, and I still do, today. I thought she was a riot, and the idea of "nuanced" performances on the 1966 Batman is so funny (as in ridiculous) that I had to read twice to be sure that someone was seriously advocating it. I also think that Winters would have been far superior to Davis, had the latter accepted the part.

    That Eisner actually prefers the dull "Clock King" to this episode and villain shows how subjective these things are. Me, I still find this episode to be a lot of fun, and I enjoy the script writer's sly reference to "Barbara Frietchie", as well. De gustibus