Happy 84th birthday today to Adam West, original Batman of the camp variety and Mayor of Quahog on Family Guy.
West, with his distinct style, slow, William Shatner-esque vocal patter, and outlandishly controlled temperament, is best known for his portrayal of Batman; patriarchal superhero to Robin, the other half of the Dynamic Duo. Originally airing during the mid 1960s on ABC-TV, Batman aired twice a week at first and became a huge smash. The camp was turned way up and television audiences, who were living in a hotbed of Vietnam overseas, gathered around the escapist fun, gazing at ridiculously irresistible capers that occurred during each episode, as the Caped Crusader had to battle a wildly garish yet colorfully effective evil criminal each and every week. West had a perfect handle on the character of the millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne who lived a double life as Batman, and played the role with a straight-faced earnest approach to the consistently purposefully dry tone and style of the show, which made fun of every type of convention that Batman was.
West became a star from the success of Batman and later became a sort of cult figure to the masses in a way, the first time in comic book history that an on its ear turn of the classical standards of being a superhero occurred. Much of the success of the program came from the fact that it was injected with humor, albeit tongue in cheek, much of it due to the parched burnt toast style of West’s delivery of his dialogue on the program. Batman ran for two seasons and then was cancelled.
Adam West’s life after Batman was not as auspicious. Completely typecast in the role, he sort of seemed to settle into understanding and even feeling comfortable with cultivating his sort of “Adam West” persona, which since Batman, always has a lot of Batman in it. His distinct voice has a lot to do with that.
He appeared in mostly forgotten films as the 1970s began, films like Burt Reynolds’ 1975 gumball race car yarn Hooper, and the revelatory Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood. In both of those West still comes through with his clear-as-a-bell voice and in the tights and Batman mask persona. It became wholeheartedly his stock in trade post Batman, like the way Clinton Moore was able to portray The Lone Ranger on and off the screen for the public. Adam West also has that kind of luxury about his career, he’s been able to ride the coattails of the Batman image since its inception, and he parlays the whole thing in an effused, easy, relaxed manner, which makes his self-effacing ways even more welcoming.
West also appeared on a lot of TV shows during the 1970s, the anthology Love Boat-on-land comedy/drama Love American Style, dramatic firefighter program Emergency!, Laverne and Shirley, and The Love Boat itself. He endeared himself to a whole new generation of fans with his animated counterpart, who is the mayor of the town of Quahog on the popular Family Guy animated series, which allows him to take his already full on parody of himself and up the ante tenfold, putting the animated West in some of the most bizarre and hilarious situations.
While his career certainly never stayed the level it was when Batman was such a rousing success, West remains a viable figure who is still very much in the public eye, beloved by millions of Batman fans to this very day. His appearances at Comic conventions (including an upcoming one at this years NY Comic-Con, alongside his Robin counterpart Burt Ward) still draw large crowds, a testament to the staying power of a man who never forgot his roots, and was able to spread those roots to countless generations of fans ever since.
Happy Birthday, Adam!