Saturday, June 10, 2017

Obituary: Adam West

Actor Bill Anderson, better known by his stage moniker Adam West, died yesterday at the age of 88. He and his wife were longtime residents of Idaho.

West died after a battle with leukemia.

One could find him everywhere on television in the 1950s and 1960s. He was one of those good-looking guys who populated television in its first two decades. I was never overly impressed with his acting skills, and thought he was downright awful in the title role for which he would become internationally famous, and that was Batman. However, watching the show again after five decades has made me accept his acting ability. He was okay and didn't take himself too seriously. I have seen worse actors in my life.

The show, of course, was a massive hit in 1966, even broadcasting twice a week. Many top actors were cast as the villain of the particular week. Batman (millionaire Bruce Wayne) and his sidekick Robin, played by Burt Ward, would do battle with the villains. Burt Ward was more like Bruce Wayne than Adam West was. After all, Ward would eventually marry into a billionaire family and live happily ever after following a couple of divorces. West was also divorced a couple of times before marrying the last wife for good in 1970, but he didn't marry into opulence.

Anyway, the show eventually burned out in about two years, but it remain a major cult television series, finally coming out on DVD a couple of years ago after many years of legal wrangling.

An appreciation of the late actor:

But after highflying “Batman,” the good roles grew scarce, and Mr. West eventually moved far away from Hollywood for a while. Even the ’70s and ’80s Bat-books, featuring such future comics-industry legends as Neal Adams and Frank Miller, read like dark, long correctives to the long shadow of Mr. West’s “Batman” interpretation.

But after Tim Burton’s 1989 film starring Michael Keaton sparked a Bat-Renaissance, a re-appreciation of Mr. West took hold. As had occurred with William Shatner’s contemporaneous “Star Trek” character about a decade earlier, West’s campy ’60s star-turn gained the distance to become appreciated as warm nostalgia. Burton’s work turned Batman into such a big pop-cultural tentpole that Mr. West could bask in a bit of the franchise’s massive glow.

After that, Mr. West’s career resurgence featured a wealth of voice-acting roles and cameos, from DC’s animated series to “The Simpsons,” “The Fairly OddParents” and “Family Guy.” And when he began to hit the comics-convention circuit with renewed gusto, he appeared to have made peace with his lasting attachment to an American icon.


William West Anderson was born on Sept. 19, 1928, in Walla Walla, Wash., the son of Otto West Anderson, a farmer, and the former Audrey Speer. He moved to Seattle after his parents divorced and his mother remarried.

He graduated from Whitman College in Walla Walla and briefly did graduate work at Stanford University. During his two years in the Army, he worked in radio and helped create military television stations.

His television career really began when a friend suggested he move to Hawaii to work with him on “The Kini Popo Show,” a live daily variety show. The co-star was a chimpanzee.

In Hawaii, he was cast in his first film, “Voodoo Island” (1957), a zombie-laden horror movie starring Boris Karloff; by 1959, he had been called to Hollywood for a screen test.

Before “Batman” came along, Mr. West kept busy with guest roles on television series, including “Perry Mason,” “77 Sunset Strip” and just about every western on television, including “Maverick,” “Bonanza” and “Gunsmoke.” He also appeared in close to a dozen feature films, among them “The Young Philadelphians” (1959), “Tammy and the Doctor” (1963) and “Robinson Crusoe on Mars” (1964).

Here he talks about the villains on Batman:

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