The man who put the POW! WHAMMO! in 'Batman'
With "The Dark Knight" box-office blitzkrieg in full force, it's easy to forget that the caped crusader is a lot like the bat with nine lives, having survived all sorts of strange pop transformations, from comic book superhero to B-movie serial protagonist to kitschy TV comedian to Hanna-Barbera kids cartoon star to today's brooding Hollywood tentpole warrior. As a devoted Bat Fan, I've always loved hearing my 85-year-old neighbor Lorenzo Semple Jr. recount the improbable events surrounding his creation of the 1960s "Batman" TV series, which made him a lot of dough when he was a struggling playwright and helped create enough career momentum for him to launch a fabled screenwriting career (he co-wrote such classics as "Three Days of the Condor" and "The Parallax View").
Lorenzo has finally put pen to paper and told the whole "Batman" TV tale, which is quite a treat, not only for hard-core "Batman" fanciers, but for anyone fascinated by how much more spontaneous and unstructured the entire showbiz universe was back in the day. Living on the cheap in Spain in 1965, trying to write a play, Lorenzo got a cable from producer pal Bill Dozier that turned out to be an offer from ABC to write the "Batman" pilot. Here's how different the world was then:
"Faxes were in the future. I didn't even have a telephone in our Torremolinos house; communication was entirely by ordinary airmail and the very occasional brief cable. There was never a treatment or an outline involved. I never exchanged a word with an exec from ABC or 20th Century Fox, where the thing would be shot, nor did I suffer any creative consultation with DC Comics, owner of the character.... I was in hog heaven. I was sent four issues of the comic for plot ideas, each featuring one of the Big Four villains. The Joker seemed the best pilot choice, though I'm not sure why.... After the show went on, I stayed in Torremolinos and served as executive story editor, still without a phone in my house, reworking other writers' Batscripts, simply sending pages back and forth by ordinary airmail--prop-plane airmail, the 707 was still around the corner."
You can read the whole account here. These days, along with Marcia Nasatir, Lorenzo reviews movies on Youtube as part of the Reel Geezers octogenarian critic team, so I'm expecting to see their take on "The Dark Knight" coming soon.
Photo of Adam West and Burt Ward in ABC's "Batman" from the Museum of Radio & Television