Holy smoke, Batman! It’s Robin! From 1966 to 1968, Burt Ward played the Boy Wonder on TV’s satirical hit, Batman. “It was a tremendous thing,” Burt exclusively tells Closer Weekly, on newsstands now. “On the night we premiered, January 12, 1966, we had a 55 share. That meant that in North America, 55 percent of all televisions that were on were tuned into Batman.”
Today, Burt, 76, is still a do-gooder. He and his wife, Tracy Posner, run Gentle Giants Rescue and Adoptions, a nonprofit, no-kill organization that specializes in large breeds. “People ask, ‘How did you go from being Robin to rescuing animals?’ Well, if you think about it, in Gotham City, we were saving lives,” he says. “We’re still saving lives. But I’m now the canine and cat crusader.”
What was your childhood like?
My father owned the largest traveling ice show in the United States. It was called Rhapsody on Ice, and it was the predecessor of the Ice Capades. He believed in having a strong work ethic. He had me working in the show as a performer at age 2. I was in Ripley’s Believe It or Not as the world’s youngest professional ice skater.
What do you remember from that period?
Not too much! I remember the lights and my skates, which were like six or seven inches long.
As a little boy, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a superhero — Super Boy. I have photos of me when I was 3 on a tricycle wearing a cape held on by clothespins. I would daydream about becoming a superhero. I believe that thoughts can become reality.
How did you get the role of Robin?
I was studying acting at UCLA and helping my father sell real estate. A producer came in, and I asked if he would be willing to watch [me perform a] scene. He got me an agent, and my first interview was for Batman.
That was some wild beginner’s luck! What was your first experience with Adam West, who played Batman?
He and I got along incredibly well. Within five minutes of meeting, the two of us were laughing so hard they had to tell us to quiet down. We just clicked. He was the funniest person I have ever met in my entire life.
Did your friendship carry over into real life, too?
Yes. On the weekends, we would play tennis together. We were going to public courts, and people would look over and say, “It’s Batman and Robin playing tennis!”
Did you win a lot?
Yeah, because I was much faster. But he would say things like, “No, my shot.” Or, “We can’t count that one.” He tried to make it a little more even.
Is it true that you did a lot of your own stunts? And got hurt while filming?
Every single day. I mean, you can’t imagine. One time I was tied down to a table, and Batman was supposed to blow a hole through the wall. The studio forgot to build a breakaway wall, so the special effect guys used real dynamite to blow the soundstage down. I couldn’t hear for a week after that.
Ouch! I think you needed hazard pay!
It was dangerous. I kept seeing the same doctor at the hospital. He told me I should consider a different line of work because I was in practically every week with something broken or burns. The studio took out a $3 million life insurance policy on me. I think by the end, they were trying to collect! [Laughs]
Did playing Robin on such a popular show bring you any other acting opportunities?
There was a young producer at Fox who wanted me to star in his movie. The studio approved it, but ABC stepped in and said they didn’t want me to do anything but Batman. At the time, Batman was the biggest hit in the world. So I didn’t get that movie. You may have heard of it. It was called The Graduate.
The film that made Dustin Hoffman a star!
Every now and then, I would run into that same producer, and he always said, “Burt, I always wanted you.”
Was it hard to avoid being typecast after Batman ended?
Oh, that never bothered me. I still got a chance to do a ton of different things. I’ve done 40 movies for television. I played the pope. I’ve played a really evil demonic character. I look at [life] as my glass always being half full.
You founded your pet rescue, Gentle Giants, with your wife, Tracy. Is it hard to live and work together?
We have an unusual thing because we are together 24 hours a day. But we love each other very much. We don’t always agree on everything, but we do think alike a lot of the time. I’ll start a sentence, and she finishes it. We support each other, and we believe in each other.
It’s obvious you are passionate about your work with animals.
Yeah, I tell everybody that I have gone to the dogs — literally! [Laughs] But 15,500 dogs have lived in our house over the past 27 years. All of them would have been put to death, but we were able to save them and put them into good homes. We’re the largest giant-dog free rescue charity in the world.
That’s wonderful! In addition to your rescue organization, you also started a Gentle Giants pet food.
Yes, it’s the same name as our rescue, Gentle Giants and also Gentle Cat. We’re in Walmart, Target and grocery stores. My wife and I don’t take a salary. It’s all about the charity. We think it’s nice that people who love their animals can buy the best dog food in the world at a low price. We try to make it affordable.
Do you have any ideas you live by?
I have many! But the best one is that there are three essentials to happiness. They are: to love someone, to have something to do and to have something to look forward to. If you have all three of those, you have happiness.
— Reporting by Lindsay Hoffman
For more on this story, pick up the latest issue of Closer magazine, on newsstands now.