Sep 12, 2012

Batman and the Boy Wonder


The Batman tv series (1966-68), like The Adventures of Superman and  The Green Hornet (1966-67) was based on a long-standing comic book series.  But only loosely. The characters were the same -- superhero with no superpowers Batman/Bruce Wayne (Adam West), his teen sidekick Robin/Dick Grayson (Burt Ward), butler Alfred, police chief Gordon, even some of the villains -- Joker, Riddler, Penguin, Louie the Lilac (played by comedy legend Milton Berle). But they infused their characters with a "gee-gosh" earnestness that the hippie generation found hilarious.

Playing along, the producers came up with crazier and crazier villains, as famous actors lined up for guest villain spots -- Cliff Robertson as "Shame," Vincent Price as "Egghead," Roddy McDowell as "Bookworm," William Smith as "Adonis."  Boxer Jerry Quarry played a boxer.





And the predicaments that the Dynamic Duo got into during their weekly cliffhangers became more and more ludicrous.  But what gay kid noticed, or cared?  They were tied up and struggling, muscles were straining, and you had to wait a whole 24 hours to see what clever -- or exceptionally lucky -- strategy they would use to escape.

Sometimes Robin was tied up alone, and Batman had to rush to the rescue, providing a "my hero" moment and the only buddy-bonding.  Otherwise Dick and Bruce were aggressively portrayed as adopted father and son, not as boyfriends, as they had been in the original comic stories (why, precisely, do they sleep in the same bed in a 100-room mansion, or need a cold shower afterwards)?


But what gay kid was paying attention?  Both Adam West and Burt Ward were pleasantly muscular.


















And both Burt Ward and Frank Gorshin, who played the Riddler, had extra advantages -- jaw-droppingly obvious even to kids -- that rivaled the enormity of Rupert Grint, 30 years later.  After the first season, complaints from the Catholic League of Decency forced them to tape it down.



Burt's  autobiography, Boy Wonder: My Life in Tights, describes his endowment in intimate detail, and it's also discussed in the Batman biopic starring Jason Marsden, but gay men who had grown up with him were already quite aware.  They had missed the plot details of any number of episodes because it took up the entire tv screen.


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