Friday, November 11, 2011

The Batscholar on Episodes 89 & 90

By Joel Eisner

The Black Widow (aka Mrs. Max Black, Widow) was an odd choice for a Batman villain and an obviously ill Tallulah Bankhead was an odd choice as well. Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, or some other over the hill 1930''s movie star would have done just as well. Bankhead who died on December 12, 1968 from double pneumonia, influenza and emphysema, at the age of 66. She used to smoke 150 cigarettes a day and it showed on the set, between takes she had to use an ever present oxygen bottle in order to breath.

She was surrounded by three spider related henchmen and a pair of cheap rubber spiders that almost put the bite on the duo. Bankhead who had just completed her final film the year before (Hammer Films' Die Die My Darling! with Stephanie Powers) would make Black Widow her swan song, before dying. There was something dark about this whole episode and I don't mean the lighting, Knowing she didn't have much longer to live and she was barely alive while doing the show makes it see a more grim episode than it should have been.

It was interesting to have veteran gangster actor George Raft turn up in the bank. For once he didn't rob the bank. It was also rather strange to have Aunt Harriet turn up in the bank dressed in similar clothing as Black Widow, so that she would be mistaken for the old bank robber. Madge Blake was about 67 to Bankhead's 65, so age and height wise (they were both short) made for the mix-up but it still seemed bizzare.

Black Widow's henchmen were made up of B-Movie actors and stuntmen. Michael Lane was also known as Tarzan Mike, a professional wrestler during the 1950's he stood six foot 5, and played the Frankenstein monster in the film Frankenstein 1970 (made in 1958) and later played the monster in the Saturday morning show The Monster Squad.

Don Red Barry was a former henchmen to King Tut during the first season. He was a former B western actor who starred in the leading role in the Adventures of Red Ryder movie serial (which is where he got his Red nickname). He also costarred with Michael Lane in the Boris Karloff film Frankenstein 1970.

Al Ferrara who spent most of the time behind his trap door, was a former Dodgers outfielder who also had several parts in 1960's tv series, including a native on Gilligan's Island. He later returned to play Atlas one of Minerva's henchmen in the last episode of the series.

The two talking dummies of Grandpa and Grandma were played by George Chandler (one of the original founders of the Screen Actors Guild and a semi regular actor on the Adventures of Superman show. He costarred with Robert Sterling in the short lived series Icabod and Me, Meg Wyllie was a long time character actress who portrayed the Keeper in the Star Trek pilot the Cage (aka Menagerie).

Walker Edmiston who played the bank teller provided numerous cartoon and character voices especillay for the Kroft tv shows and played Enik on the original Land of the Lost tv series.

Robert Mintz the series Post Production Coordinator also wrote the scripts for two episodes of the original Outer Limits (100 days of the Dragon and the Mutant).

Robert Mintz“I was Head of Post Production at the time, while that was in production, and I couldn’t keep my hands off that show. It was an extremely busy time. This was what I like to call the golden years of 20th Century-Fox Television, because it was at a point at which we were really challenging Universal for the lead in the number of prime-time hours on the air. In 1966 we had about ten and one-half hours of programs on the air, including ‘Batman,’ ‘Green Hornet,’ ‘Lost in Space,’ ‘Time Tunnel,’ and ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.’ I had offices at three studios. I had an office at Fox; an office at Desilu-Culver, which is where Batman was shooting; and I had an office at MGM. I would leave my office when there was a screening of ‘Batman,’ and I would go over and sit there with Howie Horwitz. He enjoyed my being there because I made comments. I was supposed to be the overall supervisor of all the shows, but I found myself more involved in ‘Batman’ to the extent that I came up with this idea of writing one of them. I had written before, and Howie knew me as a writer. He liked the story, he liked the idea, and he had a commitment from Tallulah Bankhead. She had called and said that she wanted to do the show, and he saw this working as a Tallulah Bankhead vehicle. I was so excited about it, and I was working during the day, and then I would get home and write until midnight.”

The Black Widow episode almost didn’t get made as this note from Producer Howie Horwitz to writer Robert Mintz: relates:

“We have all read “BLACK WIDOW” And I think it is an excellent “BATMAN” possibility. As I told you when you brought it in, we are bought up for the season at this moment, but we do expect a. pickup of a few more shows at which time we will seriously consider your “BLACK. WIDOW” There are is two possible drawbacks; one is, that the network is swinging towards the idea of using our old villains more and more and the other is, that when we do use new villains the men seem to be much more successful than the women. I won’t go into the faults of the story itself at this time, I believe they can be easily remedied. So all I can say at the present time Is “HOLD TIGHT until we get some sort.of a pickup”

Hairstylist Kathryn Blondell: “Tallulah Bankhead was a riot! In the morning we spent two-and-a-half hours getting her ready and never stopped laughing the entire time. Wonderful stories, a funny person; charming and quite a character. She was the first person who made me realize that an actor is an actor no matter how old. This woman would be hunched over and kind of look like a little old lady sitting on the side of the set, but when they said ‘action,’ she straightened up and she was sensational.”

Next the Joker Goes Pop in the art world!


  1. As might be expected, young Miss Bankhead was a pistol. While starring in Hitchcock's "Lifeboat" (1944), she and her fellow actors, including Walter Slezak, had to climb up and into a studio tank everyday for the ocean scenes that made up the whole movie. The irrepressible Tallulah refused to wear underwear, making the climb interesting for those beneath her. When this was reported to the director, Hitchcock mused, "Which department handles this? Wardrobe or hairstyling?"

  2. Mike Lane's most important acting gig was Bogart's last film, THE HARDER THEY FALL, where he played a towering boxer sans killer instinct who is promoted into a sensation by gangsters (Rod Steiger chewing the scenery as only he can -- "all righty!"). But Lane had no problem with savage mayhem as the Megazoid, an oversized "chicken from hell" alien monster featured in the Second Season OUTER LIMITS episode "The Duplicate Man."

  3. Regardless of her condition here, DIE! DIE! MY DARLING! (originally entitled FANATIC in its native England) showed Bankhead still had a considerable amount of moxie. The gradual revelation that she is a psycho rather than a harmless eccentric is beautifully played, aided by Richard Matheson's excellent script, natch. Her onscreen dynamic with Stefanie Powers, who escalates from bemusement to terror, was also well done, and according to the crew members, she had lost none of her mischievous spirit.

  4. And how did you all miss the first of the "Irving" bank managers - Grady Sutton, W.C. Fields's favorite foil?
    (I trust at least some of you are familiar with W.C. Fields?)
    (No? Oh well ...)