07 September 2008

All Virtues Are Tough, Old Chum

In all my weekly Robin postings, I've said very little about the Batman TV show that cemented the character in so many people's minds in 1966-1968. And that's because it means very little to me. For whatever reason, when I was a young boy I didn't watch this show, and if you didn't watch it as a young boy you're exempt.

Batman reruns therefore hold no nostalgic power over me, as they do for British Batman scholar Will Brooker. Nor do I resent, as some fans do, how the show cemented the mid-1960s campy version of Batman in most people's minds, even after the Batman comics moved in a more serious direction. The show is what it is.

College drama student Burt Ward was cast as Robin. After that show, Ward went on to...not much. He was typecast. And perhaps not talented or ambitious enough as an actor to overcome that obstacle. So Ward continued to make appearances as Robin, titled his self-published memoir Boy Wonder: My Life in Tights, and snagged RobintheBoyWonder.com as his official website.

Ward performed with all the enthusiasm left over from Adam West's deliberate and deliberately stiff line readings as Batman. (West had experience as a straight man in the Three Stooges feature The Outlaws Is Coming! Not as good as The Three Stooges Meet Hercules, but I digress.) As most of the cast emoted, West stood out by quietly investing even the most trite or ridiculous lines with freighted meaning. And that meant Batman's supposedly meaningful lines received enough gravitas to bend light.

Which brings me to "Batman Lecturing Robin", a list of quotes from the show that appears on so many webpages that I can't tell who compiled it. It preserves such dialogue as:

Robin: "You can't get away from Batman that easy!"
Batman: "Easily."
Robin: "Easily."
Batman: "Good grammar is essential, Robin."
Robin: "Thank you."
Batman: "You're welcome."

Robin: "Boy! That was our closest call ever! I have to admit that I was pretty scared!"
Batman: "I wasn't scared in the least."
Robin: "Not at all?"
Batman: "Haven't you noticed how we always escape the vicious ensnarements of our enemies?"
Robin: "Yeah, because we're smarter than they are!"
Batman: "I like to think it's because our hearts are pure."

Robin: "Where'd you get a live fish, Batman?"
Batman: "The true crimefighter always carries everything he needs in his utility belt, Robin."
In punctuation terms, Ward delivered almost all of Robin's lines with exclamation points! West's line readings seemed to be...spread out...over ellipses.

Despite the camp, there are surprising pearls of wisdom in this compilation:
Batman: "That's one trouble with dual identities, Robin. Dual responsibilities."

Batman: "Nobody wants war."
Robin: "Gee, Batman. Belgravia's such a small country. We'd beat them in a few hours."
Batman: "Yes, and then we'd have to support them for years."

Robin: "Self-control is sure tough sometimes, Batman!"
Batman: "All virtues are, old chum. Indeed, that's why they're virtues."
And as long as I'm emptying my thoughts on Burt Ward as Robin, I'll mention a record I learned about from JB's Warehouse Music Annex. In 1966, Ward released a 45rpm single of two songs: "Boy Wonder, I Love You," supposedly based on his fan mail, and "Orange Colored Sky," originally sung by Nat King Cole. (The record company must have been attracted to the "Flash! Bam!" part.)

The arranger and conductor of the music, and composer of the A-side song, was Frank Zappa. Here are his deathless lyrics:
Boy Wonder, I love you
Boy Wonder, I love you
Ooh ooh ooh

Hi, kids! It's me, your pal, the Boy Wonder, taking this opportunity to catch up on my fan mail. Even as a Boy Wonder it's really hard to read all the tons of mail I get. Here is a happy letter from someone just about your age:

"Dear you, wonderful, fabulous, magnificent, exquisite Boy Wonder, A cold chill runs up my spine everytime I see you sock a villain, and, oh, how I cry when you're even scratch. Please, don't send me a mimeograph copy of interesting facts about you, I want your handwriting. I have a whole wall on my room dedicated to you.

"Oh, Boy Wonder, I'm making a gum wrapper chain to symbolize my love for you. It's going to be as long as I am tall, and I'm 5 foot 10 inches in stocking feet. Please, Boy Wonder, PLEASE, come next Saturday and sleep for a week or two. I will feed you breakfast in bed, I will make your bed for you, and I like you so much that I want you to spend the whole summer with me.

"(I hope you know this is a girl writing.)"
(swoon, shriek)

Boy Wonder, I love you
Boy Wonder, I love you
Boy Wonder, I love you
Boy Wonder, I love you
According to this site, there are still two unreleased tracks from Burt Ward in 1966: "Teenage Bill of Rights" and "Autumn Love". I'm not holding my breath.


Gail Gauthier said...

I did watch the Batman TV show when I was young, and it still means little to me. I never saw the attraction.

While I was not a manic comic book fan when I was a kid, I had read them, including Batman, before the show came out. I can remember watching the first episode and wondering what the heck was going on. This wasn't Batman. I wanted the real thing.

I was also disappointed when I first started watching the British TV series The Avengers because it wasn't the Marvel comic book of the same name. I came around to that show, though.

J. L. Bell said...

Yeah, I remember seeing a TV Week listing for The Avengers, or maybe it was The New Avengers, and feeling miffed when it had no resemblance to the Marvel superhero group. I should have gotten over my disappointment and watched the show; it probably would have appealed to me.