Monday, October 17, 2011

The Batscholar on Episodes 49 & 50

By Joel Eisner

While the pilot and the first Penguin episode where among the most watched episodes, this one was THE highest rated episode of the entire series. According to William Dozier it was because Liberace had an extremely large fan club, who watched everything he did.

I was told that Liberace had a great deal of difficulty playing Harry. He was seen wandering the sets snearing and trying to act mean in order to get into character, but everyone who saw him said he was just too nice to be a bad guy. He came off as a bad James Cagney impersonator. As for Chandell aka Fingers, he was playing himself. Liberace was not an actor but a trained musician with a gimmick, the flashy clothes and candlelabra atop the fancy piano. But unlike Batman, his gimmick lastest for decades until his death in 1987 at the age of 67.

The episode had a lot going on with the twin roles, the three harem girls/henchmen, who never stayed loyal to either brother and the assorted piano mover henchmen. Plus Batman and Robin on vacation. And Gordon and O'Hara's attempts at interrogation. I never quite figured out if this was an attempt to fill in the episode with action to make up for piano playing.

The part about Chandell wanting to bump off Bruce and Dick to inherit the Wayne fortune is interesting in that how does Chandell know that she will inherit anything at all. They could have left everything to the Wayne Foundation or Alfred for that matter.

Madge Blake was born in 1899 and Liberace was born in 1919. She was 20 years older than him, She could have been his mother. (she was 67, he 47), Madge had a recurring role as the head of Jack Benny's tv fan club, although was five years older than her, she was supposed to be older than him.

The three henchwomen, were made up Marilyn Hanold, a former playboy centerfold and low budget film actress (Frankenstein meets the Space Monster and the Brain the Wouldn't Die). Sivi Aberg, a 1964 Miss Sweden and Miss Universe runnerup and later was a regular on the Gong Shown as well as returning to aid the Joker when he went surfing. And of course there is Edy Williams last seen as the hostess in the Pink Sandbox, in the previous Catwoman episode. Edy is a story unto herself and enough said about that. She was one among the three and had no room to shine or even get her share of the closeups.

I have always liked James Millhollin, he was known for his roles as officials, store manager (The After Hours on Twilight Zone, with Anne Francis) and one of my favorites as the director of the pet mortuary on the Odd Couple. Here he comes off in a similar role that Robert Cornthwaite did for the Archer. In the end both he and Chandell wind up being fed to Harry's piano roll perforating machine (although I thought Batman had disabled it. The machine or should I say the conveyor belt and the surrounding box cover was redressed a number of times, and reused as part of Penguin's campaign literature packager in the next episode and even the Colonel Gumm's giant stamp machine in the Green Hornet episode.

The chief piano mover henchmen was played by Jack Perkins who spent most of his career playing oversized and over intoxicated drunks on sitcoms.

According to Dozier “Liberace brought his own grand piano and his own costumes. He wouldn’t trust anyone else’s piano.” I didn't think the show had the budget for his wardrobe changes.

Liberace remembered Batman this way, “Like some of the children, I loved the villains because they were sort of anti-heroes and you always wanted to see what they could do to put Batman and Robin in a predicament and then, of course, it was fun to see how they got out of it.”

As an interesting side note, I am not sure if it was intentional or just a coincidence but this series attracted a number of gay villains, Liberace, Cesar Romero, Van Johnson, Roddy McDowall, Roger C Carmel, Tallulah Bankhead. no telling how many others appeared in small parts or henchman. Maybe it was the camp atmosphere.

Director Larry Peerce is the son of famed opera singer Jan Peerce.

Dialogue Coach Milton Stark had fond memories of this episode because “Liberace was so kind, at lunch periods, he’d sit at the piano and say ’What do you want me to play. He’d play anything for them. He was very congenial, very nice and a professional.”

The major star of this episode was Madge Blake. She was given something more to do than do her flustered aunt routine. She even gets to use a gun. While going through Dozier's papers I found the following.

Actress Madge Blake (in a letter to producer William Dozier): “It’s about time I said an adequate Thank You for giving me the role of Aunt Harriet. But I can‘t think of an adequate way to say it! Already, kids know me as Aunt Harriet instead of Flora MacMichael (on The Real McCoys) or Joey’s Mother(on Leave it to Beaver!). And how could anyone know that Batman would be a forest fire. Even Johnny Carson on NBC! And did anyone persuade Bette Davis to give us a plug on Hollywood Palace Saturday night? I love it and you for picking me. Merci Beaucoup.

PS Did you know I write verse at the drop of a chewed up pencil? (Sell it too!) I wrote this one yesterday, polished it today and when I read it to my agent on the telephone he insisted I must send it to you. If anyone can use it you’re welcome:.

WHAM!! POW!!!! ZWAPPP!!!!! WHEEE!!!!!
A Crusader he is with his Cowl and his Cape And the wind rides the wake of his steed! With Robin beside him, computers and tape Find clues to the dens where crimes breed..... The Batmobile speeds them through chaos and. noise To the Scum of the world’s Misbegotten, Setting Ethical Traps for all girls and. boys: Platitudes the grown-ups have forgotten. With hearts that are brave and fists that are skinned, Though.their shields are Honor and Truth, (Honor and Purity)They manage to clobber the Villains. who’ve sinned Against Mothers, the Flag and Our Youth …(against mothers and social security!)..With Nuclear Fission, and Batarangs thrown To heights that would panic an eagle, They use Science and Logic and Black Magic blown. In a Crime War that’s lethally legal. All. Hail to our Robin. and stout-hearted BATMAN, May their names make all Criminals quake Until each Dirty Dastard and each Fellow Rat - man Has reformed or been. burned — at — the— stake!And so, while the Ratings remain astronomical, May all of us prosper with plots atom—bombical.
Madge Cummings Blake 1966

Producer Dozier responded with the following note: “I was delighted by your whimsical note and also by your poetry. Little did I realize you are a Special Guest Poetess as well as a delightful Aunt Harriet. It is comforting to have you in the series and you lend a note of real warmth and solidity to it.”

Next Penguin runs for Mayor in one of the best remembered episodes of the series.


  1. Miss Blake wasn't much of a poet, but she knew how to play the lovable flibbertigibbet.

    "… this one was THE highest rated episode of the entire series. According to William Dozier it was because Liberace had an extremely large fan club, who watched everything he did." That's interesting. In Sue Kesler's practically definitive appreciation of "The Wild Wild West," she reports how bowled over its creator and original producer, Michael Garrison, was to receive a story treatment from one of his best writers that would have been written around Liberace. (Picture him in chaps, placing a kerosene lantern atop an old saloon upright before tinkling the keys.) According to Kesler they were going to do move this idea into production until CBS shot it down fast—not because it was too campy, but because it was too gay. Garrison himself was out of the closet in Hollywood, and his flamboyance scared the network to death. If it hadn't, that might have been the most highly rated episode of "West" as well.

  2. Sivi Aberg came back in "Surf's Up, Joker's Under" not the Nora Clavicle episode.

  3. You left out Victor Buono in your list of fey villains. That big man was as gay as they come.

  4. Was it intentional(?) or coincidence that there were many gay actors in batman??? Intentional? Meaning what?