Saturday, 17 June 2017

Private First Class Batman

The mood on social media was sombre, even respectful.

Batman had died.

Well, if you grew up in the 1960s, he was Batman. The only Batman. Those guys in the movies later on didn’t count.

And a week after Adam West’s death, people are still posting about it on-line, about how the city of Los Angeles paid a fitting tribute to West’s memory by shining the Bat Signal, just like on West’s TV show (and the comics before then).

I didn’t write about West and the show immediately after the death because I said pretty much all I had to say in this post about five years ago. The first season was great. I loved Frank Gorshin, Burgess Meredith and Cesar Romero. But then ... well, the target viewership—boys like me—started rolling our eyes at how ridiculous it got. And when an 11-year-old is thinking “Oh, please!” while he’s watching Batman play a flute as obviously mechanical mice roll off a pier, you’ve lost your audience. The writers and producers left adventure behind and larded up on the camp. It killed the show.

Anyway, I’ve decided to post something because buried deep within microfilms of old newspapers is found something you probably haven’t read in any of the obituaries, remembrances and tributes to Adam West. It has some funny personal stories from an army buddy of his—better make that an “old chum”—and was published in The Christian Science Monitor of April 12, 1966. The photos with this post come from the Associated Press.

Meet the man behind Batman’s mask
By Milton Gun

“Wow, that’s it!” I exclaimed while viewing a recent Batman episode. “I’ve unearthed the true identity of the Caped Crusader.”
“Everyone knows,” answered my wife, a victim of so-called Batmania, “that’s he’s Bruce Wayne, young millionaire, a dedicated crime fighter who springs into disguise and action as the fearsome Batman whenever evil threatens.”
“No, I mean that I know his true off-camera identity,” I persisted.
“Adam West,” she replied matter-of-factly. “He’s a popular TV actor. Been in hundreds of television commercials and was in ‘The Detectives’ with Robert Taylor.”
“I knew him as Bill Anderson,” I said. “Pfc. William Anderson of the United States Army’s Signal Corps.”
Her answering indescribable stare was upsetting enough to make me set out to verify that Batman is, indeed, an old Army buddy.
Several weeks, letters, and cross-country phone calls later I was basking in the glow of my wife’s idolizing glances. She had listened in on a phone conversation between me and my old friend Batman, alias Bruce Wayne—better known as actor Adam West, nee [sic] William “Bill” Anderson.
● ● ●
She has since bestowed upon me the exalted title “Bat-friend.”
I first met Pfc. Bill Anderson in 1953 in California’s Camp San Luis Obispo where we had been assigned to help establish the first Army post television station. Our backgrounds in radio and television—Bill had been a writer-producer for a Stanford TV station prior to entering the service—made us logical choices for the San Luis Obispo assignment.
My first, and lasting, impression of Anderson was of his personally tailored, custom-fitting uniforms. He was the only nonofficer I had seen in such fine regalia. It’s wasn’t long before the tall, handsome, and studio-looking (he wore horn-rimmed spectacles in those days) Pfc’s capabilities became evident. A former radio-station manager and TV producer, Bill took charge of the production phase of the operation. Soon the station was on a full-time schedule and the facilities fast became a popular site for visiting Armed Forces V.I.P.’s.
The tongue-in-cheek, melodramatic dialogue that has made the current Batman series so irresistible to adults was practiced by Anderson back in those Army TV days.
During one of the several instructional programs that were telecast each day, an electronics-class lecturer continually referred to the industry’s great advancements and credited its great strides with the phrase “. . . and we owe it all to transistors.” He used that expression so often throughout the show that it caught on with the TV crew and subsequently became a catch-phrase that would pop up with regularity. Any conversation concerning any subject from food in the mess hall, to pretty girls or, for that matter, the state of the nation, would inevitably terminate with “. . . and we owe it all to transistors.”
Anderson, usually responsible for conducting V.I.P.’s on a tour of the facilities, would always conclude the demonstration by maneuvering the brass-bearing officers within pickup distance of a microphone and summarize the tour by dramatically intoning, “And all this, gentlemen, we owe to transistors.” The officers would nod solemnly while those of us in the control room howled with laughter.
● ● ●
The recent clamor by the Automobile Legal Association revived memories of Bill’s driving antics and his unique car. The ALA contended that Batman was setting a bad example for drivers. In one episode alone, claimed the Association, Batman disregarded a half-dozen driving rules. Bill drove about in a squat, antiquated foreign car. Unlike the four-wheeled, crime-thwarting Batmobile he drives in the Batman series, the auto was the object of a steady stream of barbs and jibes from members of the TV section. This often ruffled Anderson, whose continual attempts to impress us with the car’s speed and maneuverability resulted in his becoming an unpopular notable with the post’s Military Police.
The little car, often referred to as “the rock,” “puddle-jumper,” or “the toy,” was “car-napped” from the parking lot one day. The TV crew contrived to carry it into the TV building and place it on one of the television stages about to be used in a rehearsal. Bill, assigned to direct a rehearsal, was busily checking the scripts in the control room. When he finally cued the opening sequence of the show, there appeared, in all its ugliness, Anderson’s relic, smack in the middle of a classroom scene.
Bill remained unflustered and went right along with the gag. “No, no,” he shouted, “You’ve got the ‘puddle-jumper’ pointed in the wrong direction!” And then joined the crew in a hearty laugh.
During our recent phone conversation Bill acknowledged his good fortune in landing the Batman role. However, he pointed out that the opportunity came only after a difficult climb up the long ladder to success.
After completing our tour of duty at San Luis Obispo and a similar station-establishment assignment at Fort Monmouth, N.J., Bill celebrated his return to civilian life with a walking tour of Europe.
● ● ●
“I was quite uncertain about my future when I got out of the service,” he confessed. “I thought I wanted to do some writing but wound up doing a lot of absorbing—seeking a purpose, a goal. I subsequently traveled to Hawaii where I returned to direct and, occasionally, act in a good number of TV productions. I eventually returned to the mainland to sign a Warner Brothers contract. They had selected me for the lead in a new TV series called ‘Dark Holiday’ which never got off the ground.”
Actor Adam West spent a year appearing in various Warner Brothers TV productions including “77 Sunset Strip” and “Maverick.” “The Young Philadelphians” was one of eight movies in which he appeared. “Most of them were ‘B’ movies,” he admits. “But coupled with numerous TV appearances they gave me a chance to develop and the opportunity to learn a lot about my craft.”
He got one of the better opportunities when he was cast in the romantic lead, Sgt. Steve Nelson, in the ABC-TV series “The Detectives.” However, it was one of his several hundred TV commercials that led to his being offered the Batman role. “It was the Captain Quick commercial that caught the eye of the Batman producers,” said Bill. “I was wearing a similar costume in that spot and the dialogue was comparable to that in the Batman series, and I guess that did it.” Asked what he thought was the nicest part of his work, Adam answered unhesitatingly, “Getting out of my Batman tights.”
And the most difficult? “Keeping a straight face through some of the dialogue.”
The protagonist who leaped from the pages of a 27-year-old comic strip into millions of TV homes is readily recognized by every American youngster as Batman. Adult television viewers know him as actor Adam West. But his Army buddies will always remember him as Pfc. Bill Anderson.

1 comment:

  1. And when an 11-year-old is thinking “Oh, please!” while he’s watching Batman play a flute as obviously mechanical mice roll off a pier, you’ve lost your audience.

    Even worse than the mice (which were supposed to be mechanical in the story) was the truly awful backdrop that represented Gotham City. A high-school play could have come up with more convincing scenery.