Friday, October 28, 2011

The Batscholar on Episodes 67 & 68

By Joel Eisner

Despite the introduction of Catwoman, changing the story and direction of the entire episode, I like this one. I have always liked Michael Rennie. Having come off playing the Keeper on Lost in Space and The captain of the Titanic in the pilot episode of The Time Tunnel. He had an appeal in just about everything, probably because, he always looked like he was going to break out laughing no matter how serious the part was. Besides his famous role of Klaatu in the Day the Earth Stood Still, he was also famous as Harry Lime in the Third Man TV series (opposite Jonathan Harris of Lost in Space).

Both Rennie and Harris were smokers, Harris told me that they both agreed to stop smoking at the same time, but it was too late for Rennie. He spent his later years living in Geneva Switzerland and died of emphysema while staying at his mother's house in England, he had come to attend his brother's funeral. His last role in the European Horror Film, Assignment Terror (with Paul Nashy) although filmed in English had to be redubbed by another actor since his breathing problems made him too ill to do the job himself. The six foot four inch Rennie died at age 61 in 1971. His real name was Eric Alexander Rennie.

His son David Rennie, is a UK High Court judge on the Lewes, Sussex circuit.

He had a second son, John Marshall Rennie, with longtime companion Renee Gilbert Taylor. Professionally, his son went by John M. Taylor.

This episode has the distinction of having two different titles for the second part. The Sandman Cometh and A Stitch in Time and The Sandman Cometh and the Catwoman Goeth. For some reason they filmed both versions of the 2nd title. It aired in both versions during the reruns.

The story of this episode is a long one, best left to writer Ellis St Joseph, “My experience with ‘Batman’ was a very strange one. I loved doing it, but when I came into it, it was in its second year, and its ratings were falling off. I knew why—it was very clear to me—but it wasn’t to them, because I believe they were so into it. There is a delicate balance between comic or camp and suspense, and if you listen to the critics too much about the camp, you become totally comic and lose suspense. I think that kids as well as grown-ups want a little suspense along with the comedy, but they had lost it. So, I set about creating something that would restore the feeling of suspense and even increase, if possible, the comedic elements. When I wrote it, I tried to think of what parody to use. I have always been fascinated by the German expressionist films and, in particular, 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’. So, I thought of doing a Batman version of ‘Caligari’, and that is what it is. When I handed it in very quickly, I got a letter from Bill Dozier. It said: ‘Dear Ellis, I want to congratulate you on writing the best “Batman” script of the series.’ He said some very, very flattering things about it. Then the next paragraph was, ‘As far as I’m concerned, from now on you can work at this studio for the rest of your life. Thanks and Best Wishes, Bill.’ “This was one of the nicest letters a writer ever got from a producer. So, I stayed around only long enough to say that there is only one actor, I think, who would be perfect for the villain, and that was Robert Morley, who is terrible at comedy but wonderful at wit. However, if he played it seriously, it could become witty. And to do Dr. Caligari played by Robert Morley would have been absolutely right, and it would have suspense, too. They sent the script to Morley, who agreed to play it. I knew we were going to have something explosively successful and wonderful.

“The next news was horrendous. I didn’t hear from Bill, but I learned from other people that they had a commitment with the Catwoman and they didn’t know how to use her. Obviously, they had to use her (I wish they had used her on another script), so they gave my script to the story editor, Charles Hoffman, and he combined the Catwoman with my version of Dr. Caligari. Now, if they had come to me, I think I could have done almost the impossible, I think I could have combined it, but I would have treated the Catwoman the way the musical treats cats; I would have made her a sinister black shadow of a cat on Halloween night. I would have used her the way I used the other characters, but they didn’t do that. It was mishmash, and of course, Morley refused to play it [Sandman] as it was no longer a star role.

“I then heard from a charming actress Spring Byington, whom I have always admired, and I got a letter that just sent me reeling. She said: ‘Dear Mr. St. Joseph, I cannot tell you how I appreciate being given a role like that of J. Pauline Spaghetti.’ What she was referring to was a role I wrote for actor John Abbott, called J. Paul Spaghetti, based on J. Paul Getty. So, this lovely woman, whom I had admired since I was a boy on the screen and stage, was telling me how grateful she was because ‘so rarely a part like that comes an actress’s way, and I hope to be able to tell you this personally.’ I could not answer the letter. How could I tell her the things I have just told you? Then, of course, there was the casting of the Morley role with Michael Rennie. As far as I’m concerned, for ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still,’ he deserves a place in history, but other than that he was a rather stiff actor, and it was not the role for him. So, what had begun as the best script of the series ended up a mess.”

Julie Newmar told me that she never liked this episode. I told her the story, that Ellis just related and she agreed, they should have waited for another episode or just one of her own.

I found someone who found a copy of the original script and here are some of the changes that he found.

Sleeping Beauty was Sandman's moll and not, of course, Catwoman.

Sandman's henchmen were not Laurel and Hardy in nightshirts, but zombies who never smiled, called Sandman, "Master," and had absolutely no fear of heights.

"Sleeping Beauty" "reappeared" in the storefront window, only to be discovered by Batman to be a breathing dummy!

Sandman used a cigar instead of a stethoscope.

The character of J. Pauline Spaghetti was Paul J. Spaghetti and was to marry Sleeping Beauty

The Bookworm was mentioned twice in the script.

Batman and Robin have to Batclimb up a dark elevator shaft. Two pencils of light are emitted from the tips of the ears on Batman's cowl!

P.J.'s butler is bound and gagged in a short scene that may have been the inspiration for the third season "Thugee Knot" bit Batman (deadpan): "We must always take time to help the unfortunate."

We see Batman on the subway, giving up his seat to a "Negro Lady!" (that's what it says in the script! Remember, it was the '60s!)

While Batman's predicament in the cliffhanger is the same, instead of being turned over to Catwoman, Robin is bound in the Batmobile as it is about to be crushed in an auto salvage yard. This trap may have inspired the second cliffhanger in the Penguin/Marsha trilogy.

Chief O'Hara and Commissioner Gordon fall under the Sandman's spell.

Batman opens a safe using an Audio-Magnetic Computer. Again, this turned up as the Three-Second-Flat Batvault Combination Unscrambler in the last story of the series, Hoffman's Minerva, Mayhem and Millionaires.

Spring Byington a long time character actress and star of the 1950's sitcom December Bride. Her last roles besides this one was on The Flying Nun and as Larry Hagman's mother on I Dream of Jeannie. She also died in 1971, but at the age of 84.

The henchmen who resembled Laurel and Hardy in nightshirts, Richard Peel (Snooze/Hardy) died in 1988 at age 68. He had a recurring role as a butler friend of Sebastian Cabot's on Family Affair.

Tony Ballen (Nap/Laurel) was bit player who appeared on drama shows through the 1980's. he died in 2001 at age 71,

Catwoman's three female assistants were all unknowns, who appeared in small parts in the 1960's and all disappeared shortly after. Gypsy Rose Lee was the famous ex-stripper, whose life they based the Broadway show Gypsy on.

The Morpheus Mattress Factory is located on Derwin Alley, which is named for series assistant director Bill Derwin.

Has the script remained intact, had Catwoman not been included in the story and had Robert Morley remained in the role of the Sandman, would it have changed the course of the series. As much as I would like to believe it, I don't think it would have changed a thing. Sandman was meant to be a one shot villain. The character was based on a film, and once the story was done, what would they have done with him. Even if Ellis came back and wrote another script for him, it couldn't save the show from the likes of Charles Hoffman. They would have been like diamonds in the rough. The entire series would have to had changed not just a couple of scripts. Ellis tried to bring the show back to the first season, but as he said they became aware of themselves and now pushed the comedy ahead of the plot. Hoffman who producer and wrote for several tv series in the 1950's and even the cartoon series Jonny Quest, ended his career writing for the Brady Bunch, before he died in 1972 at age 60 of skin cancer.

I think it is possible that Hoffman deliberately sabotaged this story. He could have picked any story to use including some of his own, but this one I feel was a threat to Hoffman and his writers. Dozier thought it was one of the best, but he might have had to give in to Hoffman to keep peace among the regular writing staff. Who knows? Despite the changes, there is still a decent episode here. But if you want to blame anyone for the problems of the episode and possibly the series, you should blame Charles Hoffman.

Next David Wayne, is dragged kicking and screaming back to revive the Mad Hatter.


  1. I could believe the argument that the story problems were intentional if Hoffman's other scripts were substantially better. Since they aren't, I will choose to believe he did what he could. Not having read the original version, do you have anyone's opinion of it besides Ellis St. Joseph's? Nothing personal about him, but I'm sure Hoffman liked his own scripts, as did Ross, as do most writers. Did you find anything among Dozier's papers to confirm his high opinion of the original script?

  2. The Batscholar has told us a far more interesting story than any we saw onscreen.

  3. Always felt that Rennie was a most reluctant Guest Villain. Didn't want to wear a proper costume and flubbed his lines. He said something like "Alright,Wonder Boy,or Boy Wonder,or whatever they call you." By the way,the new Spencer Tracy biography says that he was offered a Bat-cameo and turned it down.

  4. There's definitely a period of highly-concentrated Newmar in the middle of Season Two, and that must have been based on availability and, it seems, a determination to get as much time out of her as possible. But without Ross writing the initial problem is made worse because it really could have been any other villain as Hoffman wrote it. Always felt Rennie's final cry of "Noodles!" was an expression of disgust with the whole experience.

  5. Ellis St. Joseph's ideas were spot on and incredibly creative. However, I doubt it would have been that great simply because of the lack of imagination of the episode's director George WaGGner.(who brought us the awful Egghead. This despite having brilliantly directed Lon Chaney's "The Wolf Man"!) To illustrate my point, look at the maze sequence with Robin trapped inside. A fantastic idea that has almost zero visual creativity to it. This was supposed to be a Caligari nightmare! For this episode to work the way it was supposed to (i.e. suspense) it needed the direction of Robert Butler.

  6. Dozier promoted his WORST writer to story editor, and I suspect Hoffman ruined a LOT of scripts before they made it before the cameras.

    While professional insecurity or jealousy may have played a part (I've seen it in other professions), I think it's safe to put the blame squarely on Dozier for this, since whoever did what, HE was the one in charge of everybody else. He set the tone. He WANTED a bad show, and by God, he got one.

    All the same, Catwoman's brief scene with Batman (and then O'Hara) was my favorite of the whole thing. I loved how she was FLIRTING with him, as if, crime aside, what she really wanted all along was to be close to BATMAN!!!

    He says he'll "put in a good word for her", and, whatta ya know, he does!! We next see Catwoman PAROLED from jail, and going to college...

    ...or, we WOULD have, if they hadn't SWAPPED the last 2 Newmar stories. It took me ages to figure out why something that stupid happened. It was because Leslie Gore's new single came out that week. (They should have waited a month...)

    Fortunately, when I assembled my own videotapes over 20 years ago (I had to copy-edit to get rid of all the commercials), I swppaed those stories. So for 2 decades, I've been watching them in the RIGHT order.