Sunday, June 11, 2017

Tribute: Adam West (1928-2017)

A few short weeks ago, we lost Roger Moore -- the 007, James Bond, for Generation X (my generation). 

Yesterday, the world lost another bright light: Adam West (1928-2017), the Batman for Generation X.  
The loss is a tremendous one.

I grew up, throughout the seventies, watching Adam West's Batman (1966-1968) in reruns. As strange is it may sound, that series -- and West's work in it -- proved one of the foundational texts of my young life, along with Star Trek, Star Wars, Space:1999 and the Bond films.

Although we know Batman today as "The Dark Knight," Adam West, significantly, termed his version of the character "The Bright Knight." 

It's a telling moniker. 

West's incarnation of the character inhabited a comic book world of color and action, but not, notably, of angst or gloom. He had the same tragic beginning (the death of parents) we associate with his character, but West's Batman turned towards light, not towards darkness.

As a child, I appreciate the heroism and dependability of West's Caped Crusader. He was a rock solid hero, and the defender of justice. He was a hero in every sense of the world...and he had all the best gadgets.

As an adult, I saw how West was able to play Batman seriously, and yet was "in the know" about the the tongue-in-cheek nature of these particular adventures. His Batman worked on two levels simultaneously; for children and their parents. He was both an action hero, and a comedian. His performances were so impressive because they always allowed for both interpretations simultaneously, depending on the age of the viewer.

Adam West went on to portray Batman in voice-work throughout the decades, most notably in the many Filmation Batman series of the 1970's. 

As a result of his association with the beloved character, West forever became associated with superheroes in general. He guest starred on an episode of Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman in the 1990's, and was a super-villain, Breathtaker, in several episodes of Black Scorpion (2001).

Mr. West had a wonderful sense of humor about himself and his career. He did voice-over work for The Simpsons, Futurama, Scooby Doo, and Family Guy, and hosted a Mystery Science Theater 3000 (1988-1999) marathon, even when one of his less-than-stellar movies, Zombie Nightmare (1986) was riffed.

Beyond superheroes, Mr. West had other high-points in his career involving the science fiction genre. He starred in Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964), for example, and also in one of my favorite episodes of The Outer Limits: "The Invisible Enemy."

It is so difficult to lose an icon like Adam West.  His Batman was a father-figure, in a very real sense, and someone who seemed like he would always be there for us.  

Even in this time of loss, we can remember that the performances of Adam West will continue to be there for our generation, and for generations yet to come.


  1. Nice tribute, John, it totally captures my feelings too.
    R.I.P. Adam West

  2. When I was a child, I loved Batman. In my teens I was all high and mighty and thought it was stupid. In my early 20s I finally began to understand the depth of the campy humor (the episode where the Joker opens an art school which was an attack on pop art was particularly witty). And I really began to appreciate how good Adam West was. He and this show ARE BATMAN to me. Not the comics, not the movies. Him and his show. There will never be another.

  3. One of the things that I think gets overlooked in Adam West's portrayal of Batman was that he still maintained that sense that Bruce Wayne was slightly unbalanced. Even his righteous citizen routine seemed to stem from some deeply rooted mental instability. I think that that was just as valid an acting choice as the brooding, dark portrayal we've come to see from his successors. You can see the difference by watching the screen tests of West and Lyle Waggoner. Waggoner played it completely straight, like an actor from the 1950s would have. West brought these odd quirks to the performance that made it funny and captivating at the same time. Just look at the way they handle the line "Up the shoot!". I'm so glad that he lived long enough to get over the period when people dismissed the show and saw a time of re-evaluation for the show and his brand of Batman. He will always be the best Batman in my book!

  4. So many thought his Batman was hokey and beneath them. Really? What's hokey about keeping your word, protecting the defenseless, and striving for self improvement?

    It reminds me quite a bit of the 50's educational films shown during USA's Night Flight in the early 80's. Those also worked on two levels. The shallow level of how corny things were back then. And the deeper meaning of things like being polite, calling if you're going to be late for an appointment, good hygiene, etc.

    Your children could do a lot worse than to emulate the values of Adam West's Batman.

  5. Adam West as Batman was in on the joke on a show that was in on the joke. The whole show was, like Rocky and Bullwinkle, intended to work both as a straight "cartoon" for kids and as a subversive satire for adults. It's hard for people today to realize what a tremendous competition there was in Hollywood for people to get on Batman as guest villains, or even in wall-walking cameos, to get their faces before the youth demographic. The flip side of Batman's approach was The Green Hornet, where similar material was played absolutely straight.

    West's parodic tongue-in-cheek stiffness was an approach adopted by everyone on the show, of course, and none of it could have worked with a different lead. The Hollywood that loved it at as performance art at the time, however, seemed to denigrate Adam West for it--as if it hadn't been a performance and he wasn't a real actor. He wasn't typecast, he was UNcast--proof that he had done his job too well and nobody would take him seriously afterward.

    West didn't take himself seriously, either, at least in his public attitude. That might have been the only way he could deal with the unique problem, yet his own attitude might reinforced the view of him as something other than a serious actor. What a dilemma to be stuck with, and yet West always seemed to be quite well-adjusted and gracious about it in interviews.