Meet Every Classic Hollywood Star Who Played a Villain on the Adam West ‘Batman’ TV Show of the 1960s

There are probably a lot of people who look back at the Adam West and Burt Ward Batman TV series from the 1960s as a campy part of the road that would eventually lead to The Dark Knight. What gets lost to time, however, is just what a pop culture phenomenon that show really was, turning its leads into superstars, spawning a feature film version released just two months after its first season concluded, inspiring an unbelievable amount of Bat-merchandise and attracting many Hollywood stars who were thrilled to play a member of Batman’s rogues gallery.

“Celebrities wanted to be a part of it, because it was the hip thing to do,” suggests author Jim Beard, who serves as editor of and contributing writer to Gotham City 14 Miles: 14 Essays on Why the 1960s Batman TV Series Matters“The really cool thing to me about the Batman TV series is that it burned bright for — let’s be kind — two years, maybe only about a year-and-a-half,  of its three seasons, and then it burned itself out. But at that moment in time, it was just this magnet for everybody. It’s something that really has never been duplicated and it’s not something that’s easily explained. Maybe the closest thing we’ve had are the Marvel movies and the stars they attract. Some of the Batman actors were encouraged by their kids to be in the show. Lee Meriwether said that her kids told her she needed to be in Batman or Star Trek, and she did both.”

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Moviestore/Shutterstock

The guest stars of the 1966 to 1968 series — which is currently airing on the Heroes & Icons network — included the big four of Cesar Romero as the Joker, Burgess Meredith as the Penguin, Frank Gorshin as the Riddler and Julie Newmar as Catwoman, but also people like Academy Award winner Cliff Robertson, Art Carney of The Honeymooners, Shelley Winters, Vincent Price, Ethel Merman and Milton Berle.

“Those characters were so vivid and so clear to the actors,” points out Robert Butler, who directed the pilot for the show as well as five additional episodes. “Burgess Meredith — who they called Buzz — is a great example. He knew so much about acting and the classics that he brought in that kind of humming sound that he did when he had the cigarette holder in his mouth, which was very funny. But he — all of them — just knew how to do it. And it was so fun.

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20th Century Fox

“And so was the show itself,” he adds with a laugh. “I felt kind of blessed to be chosen to do the pilot. I had a great time, and I didn’t overly respect the material. That was helpful directorially. I remember [producer] Bill Dozier, a very good boss, telling me at one point, ‘Don’t get funny. Believe me. Please don’t let anybody know you’re having a good time.’ So I wasn’t about to gag it up.”

Adam West, in what the director describes as a “loving battle,” had a very different approach and was constantly adding jokes — which would then have to be taken out.

“In one,” Robert says, “in a serious scene with Robin, where he was imparting some knowledge, he closed the dictionary with a gentle slam and there was a puff of dust that came out of it. He had gotten some fuller’s earth and put it in the dictionary so that there would be this puff. And it was, like, ‘Cut. Adam, no, no. Please no.’ And that went on all the time. But we had a lot of fun with it. There was a tag to a scene related to go-go music of the time when Jill St. John expires in the Bat-generator. Adams says, ‘What a way to go-go.’ It took two days for anyone to realize it. When I complained, they thought I was nuts, but the show was nuts and everything was off-kilter. They kind of eventually came to the party and it all worked out. And all of those actors, of course, were brilliant.”

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20th Century Fox/Greenway/Kobal/Shutterstock

A real standout to both Jim and Robert was Frank Gorshin’s take on the Riddler. Notes Jim, “A lot of that is because his performance is just so intense. That’s really the go-to word right there: it’s so intense and then there’s what he does with it. I’ve often said that I wouldn’t necessarily mind being in the same room as Cesar Romero’s Joker, but I would not want to be anywhere near Frank Gorshin’s Riddler, because maybe I’m not walking out of there. He just had that manic energy and intensity. A fire in him.”

Adds Robert, “He was phenomenal. I tweaked the edges of his performance at the very most, because it was his notion to be so giddy and goofy and hilariously self-involved. It was just wonderful.”

Please scroll down to meet each of the stars who brought the villainy of Batman to life.