Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Batscholar on Episodes 93 & 94

By Joel Eisner

The final episode of the season has Eli Wallach taking over the role of Mr Freeze. Wallach gives a far more different version of the cool fiend. While not as sophiscated as George Sanders or bizzare as Otto Preminger, Eli made Mr Freeze his own by installing his comedic ability and little bits of business making it an enjoyable episode.

While I still perfer Otto because he came off as a version of Bela Lugosi had he been cast as Freeze. Eli however grows on you. Unlike the other two episodes, Freeze spends most of his time indoors either at the ice rink or on his iceberg hideout (a pity we never get to see his icesub). He also does not get involved in the bat fight, and his ice gun is reduced to a throwaway prop. It was a deadly weapon with Sanders and a useful tool for Otto but for Wallach it was a prop (Quick! the gun!)

When the idea of bringing back Mr. Freeze was discussed, according to a memo I found in Dozier's collection, Otto was asked to return to the role.

Producer William Dozier in a note to Otto Preminger dated January 3 1967, asked if he would like to return to the series for another Mr. Freeze episode. Which would be filming between February 6th and March 10th,, as you were a big smash and we like you to repeat it.. Otto for whatever reason was unwilling or unable to repeat and Eli Wallach stepped in. This was similar to how Otto got the part, when George Sanders was unable to change his schedule to return to the series, the part was recast with Preminger.

Actor Eli Wallach,“When my kids were little, they’d always plead with me to appear on ‘Captain Kangaroo’ or ‘Batman’ or ‘Rawhide,’ ‘Howdy Doody,’ . . . Otto Preminger (the previous Mr. Freeze) was unavailable for one sequence, so I stepped into that character, with his German accent intact. I saw little of Batman and Robin since I was the heavy, but it was a fun experience for me. For years afterward, I was respected and honored by my kids. Later I did Trader Eli on ‘Captain Kangaroo,’ but received only half the kudos that I got for Mr. Freeze!”

Many years later I happened to by chance to meet up with Eli Wallach in an now defunct Manhattan appliance store, where I reminded him about his previous contribution to the Batbook. He told me “I am still getting fan mail from Batman. In fact, I have gotten the most fan mail from being Mr. Freeze, than for any other role I have played.” He then told me told me about his wife’s (actress Anne Jackson) comment to him when he became upset about the millions of dollars Arnold Schwarzenegger received for portraying Mr. Freeze in the Batman and Robin feature film., while he only got twenty-five hundred dollars. He asked her what he has to do to get that kind of money. She answered, “Grow muscles!” The punch line happened not long after when Eli had written his autobiography and started making the rounds of the talk shows, where he related the same story. Governor Schwarzenegger heard Eli’s lament and sent him a pair of miniature gold barbells.

Actress Leslie Parrish last seen in the first episode of the series (not including the pilot) as Dawn Robbins now she ends the series (as we know it as a twice a week cliffhanger series) as Glacia Glaze aka Emma Strunk Mr Freeze's girlfriend. Interesting change for the character of Mr Freeze, as Sanders was a loner and Preminger had to kidnap Miss Iceland in the hopes of getting a girl.

Actress Leslie Parrish: “Working with Eli Wallach was like working with a devilish little imp. He was really into that character. I could barely control myself at times because he was so funny. Eli was a very fun man to work with. He brought such energy and joy. What was fun was the seal. I got up close and personal with the seal. He was so cute. I have the most wonderful pictures with him.”

As the series began to cut back on expenses, the henchmen were among the first to go. In this episode only H.M Wynant was the only credited actor to have a speaking part. Wynant is best remembered for his role opposite John Carradine in the Howling Man episode of the Twilight Zone.

Actor H.M. Wynant: “One of the things, I remember was my fight scene, we would always start with Adam West hitting me and I would bounce back right out of camera range and then my stunt double would come back in to take my place. Working on Batman allowed us to do the kind of acting that was way over the top. You have got to have an inner truth in yourself to do it. You have got to believe what you are doing, no matter how bizarre, if you believe then you create a reality. Otherwise you are painting a phony picture; you are trying to make somebody laugh.”

“Eli Wallach was fabulous (I had worked with him years earlier on the play, Teahouse of the August Moon’), he went as far out as you can go and you know he was enjoying it. We all did. Elisha Cook was an interesting actor; he could play vulnerable better than any actor I ever met. The cast was wonderful, Leslie Parrish and also the creator William Dozier. Bill Self was in charge for Fox and he was around a lot too.”

“I knew Adam, but we didn’t have much communication during the show. I spent much of my time with Leslie, Eli and the seal (I loved the seal; it was like having puppy dog on the set; everyone wanted to pet that seal), except during the fight scene.”
Elisha Cook, Jr was a fantastic character actor, he was always playing nervous and vulnerable characters. Cook, who was the last surviving member of the cast of the Maltese Falcon died in 1995 at the age of 91. He had played Wilmer the Gunsel. His part here was limited but he made the best of it. To me one of his best roles (and according to an interview he gave shortly before his death, he agreed) was as Watson Pritchard, the owner of the House on Haunted Hill. The Wiliam Castle Vincent Price horror film which help establish Price as a horror star. He later rejoined Price for a role in the Haunted Palace. He had a wonderful role as an undercover Elliot Ness playing a gunsel called the Heel on an episode of the Odd Couple tv series. He spent the last years of his life as a regular character called Ice Pick on the Magnum PI tv series.

Actor John Archer last seen at the Mushroom club with King Boris and the Riddler returns as the captain of the SS Gotham Queen.

Skye Aubrey appeared in a small role as Carol one of the ice skaters, she would return next season to join Louie the Lilac as Princes Primrose.

The strangest window cameo was by Cyril Lord, aka The Carpet King. He was unknown outside of the Greater Los Angeles area. He was a staple on tv back in the 60's, selling, what else, exotic Persian rugs. Lord sold Dozier some expensive rugs and was paid by a cameo on Batman.

Series Writer Stanley Ralph Ross “When the producers requested another Bat-Climb guest star be added to an episode, I would have to come up with stuff that ran 22 seconds or so. They would call me up and say, ‘Stanley, we’ve got so-and-so coming in tomorrow,’ sometimes I wrote it on the set. More often than not, I had a day. That was all decided by Bill Dozier and Howie Horwitz and it was all personal friends. People were waiting in line to do it. Everyone wanted to be on the show.”


Next, we make way for major changes to the series. Reduction to one episode a week, the departure (except for 2 cameos) of Aunt Harriet. The elimination of the cliffhangers, the introduction of Batgirl and several new villains. Alfred's upgrade to additional screen time with new disguises (such as the world's oldest hippie and a dottering dodo). The Third Season arrives!

2 comments:

  1. "The Third Season arrives!"

    NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Cyril Lord was "unknown outside of the Greater Los Angeles area"? Well, if you discount the fact that he was extremely well known in his native UK...

    ReplyDelete