Batman 3.17 – The Joke’s on Catwoman

I’m wondering what in the world they used for the “shag” on Catwoman’s car. Some old carpet, perhaps? That honestly looks like my kid brother’s bedroom carpet from 1974-82. Well, they really didn’t have as much money in season three, and brother, does it ever show in this episode. By this point, we’re used to the “limbo” sets of black nothingness dressed by random props. This time out, the limbo set is used for the baddies’ hideout, some rocky outcrop, the interior of a lighthouse, and a courtroom. Writer Stanley Ralph Ross evidently wasn’t told to keep the number of locations to a minimum.

In the one of the strangest casting moves in a series full of odd ones, Pierre Salinger plays Catwoman and Joker’s attorney, Lucky Pierre. Salinger was between careers in 1967. He had been President Kennedy’s press secretary and later, briefly, a U.S. senator, appointed by California Governor Pat Brown to serve the remaining term of the late Senator Engle. In the 1970s, he would become a correspondent for ABC News.

This was the final appearance of Catwoman, and Eartha Kitt, in the series, although the Joker still has another outing ahead. Cesar Romero really functioned more like a loudmouthed henchman than a criminal mastermind this time. It does at least end with a really big fight scene in the courtroom that Daniel adored. Except… rather than hiring another actor to play the Gotham DA, that unseen character gives Batman some offscreen permission to handle the prosecution.

Now just wait a minute. Remember what we learned last episode about Bruce Wayne’s activity with the prison system? So now we see that Batman arrests criminals, AND he tries them, AND, as Bruce Wayne, he decides whether they’re eligible for parole?! I think there’s a story here. Somebody give that Clark Kent fellow at The Daily Planet a phone call.

Batman 3.16 – The Funny Feline Felonies

In the previous installment, I mentioned how they made a trio of three-part(ish) stories in the final season of Batman. So far, there I have not noticed any continuity blunders like the props in the Egghead episodes to suggest that the producers might have run these in the wrong order, but I could be wrong. It’s possible that they intended to introduce Eartha Kitt here, driving a very ridiculous car, and “kidnapping” the paroled Joker, or they intended to introduce her in episode 14. Either way seems to work.

Two huge missed opportunities occur to me: the last time Cesar Romero got to sink his teeth in a really good script was the previous season’s “Pop Goes the Joker” two-parter, where, among other things, he got to really demonstrate a complete contempt for Bruce Wayne. Here, Wayne is the chairman of the parole board – now hang on a minute, he captures all the criminals and he decides whether they’re fit to rejoin society?! – and he gets to wish the Joker well and see him off in a new suit and a crisp new $10 bill, but since Romero is playing the Joker as pretending he’s gone straight and owes his freedom to Wayne, he doesn’t get to sneer at him. That’s a darn shame; that menacing contempt was a real highlight of that story.

Another is that there isn’t any kind of deathtrap this week, which, in a completely surprising development, annoyed my son! Considering how often he’s become annoyed or upset at the traps, I’m frankly shocked that he’d rather have seen another one than seen the baddies waiting outside in the bushes. According to my very badly beat-up copy of Joel Eisner’s Official Batman Batbook, a cliffhanger trap was planned and cut. It doesn’t say whether it was filmed, or if it was cut from the script.

A couple of interesting cameo walk-ons in this episode: Dick Kallman, a pop star who starred in a single season sitcom called Hank on NBC in 1965, plays a pop star hitmaker, and Joe E. Ross has about three lines as his agent. One of those lines, naturally, starts with “Ooh, ooh!”

Batman 3.14 – Catwoman’s Dressed to Kill

Well, here’s something unexpected. Fashion designer Rudi Gernreich appears in this episode as himself. Whose wacky idea was that? He’s the guy who designed the “monokini,” which had everybody at Playboy very pleased for about a decade, and who later designed the Moonbase Alpha costumes for Gerry Anderson’s Space: 1999.

Oh, sorry, I was so surprised to have Rudi Gernreich pop into a Batman episode that it actually overshadowed, briefly, the return of Catwoman, now played by Eartha Kitt. I think she’s tremendously entertaining in the part, even if she doesn’t appear to be the same character who Julie Newmar was playing in the doomed romance storyline across the second half of season two. Perhaps the Catwoman we had been enjoying really did meet her demise in the West River, and this is a new villain who picked up where the original Catwoman left off?

Like the earlier Newmar stories, this is also written by Stanley Ralph Ross, and he didn’t include any real tangible link to Batman and Catwoman’s earlier flirtation. I wonder whether Ross knew that Eartha Kitt had been cast when he wrote the script? American television networks were incredibly worried about depicting interracial romance in the sixties; when NBC allowed William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols to kiss on an episode of Star Trek a year later, half of the network’s executives feared that their affiliates would revolt. So no, West and Kitt do not make goo-goo eyes at each other, much less resume their discussions of a possible married life together.

It didn’t even register with our son that Catwoman had been recast at all, which is nice. He still hated this episode, however, because Catwoman has a particularly gruesome fate in store for Batgirl, leaving her strapped to a conveyor belt to be sawed in half. Come to think of it, the Riddler did something very similar to Robin in season one and he completely hated that deathtrap, too.

There are some really funny lines in this one, as you’d expect from a Ross script. At one point, Catwoman safely ducks into the women’s dressing room, knowing that Batman and Robin will not follow her into this “hallowed and forbidden no man’s land!” Outside, Robin protests that they can’t go in after her, because, yes, that’s right, “it’s a hallowed and forbidden no man’s land!” Pure genius.

Batman 2.50 – Batman Displays His Knowledge

The last time we saw Catwoman in this series, I wondered whether they might have run her last two stories in the wrong order. I’m completely certain of it now. Whatever bonehead at ABC decided that they wanted to get a few viewers on the back of the latest Lesley Gore single and juggled the episode order really should have been kicked in the head. Sure, as continuity errors go, this isn’t as bad as, say, every third week watching Firefly on Fox, or that episode of Homicide: Life on the Street which mentioned one of the characters being dead before NBC showed the hour where his body was found, but it really rankles.

American television in the 1960s just didn’t have continuity like this, and what Stanley Ralph Ross wrote for Catwoman is a genuine arc with progression of her character across three stories, from December 1966 to February 1967, and ending with her tragic demise, choosing death over prison. So for this to open with her in prison and accepting Bruce Wayne, who shows no emotion over this situation after being quite openly – and surprisingly – devastated by her death, without addressing her – and let’s be blunt – attempted suicide, is a mockery of what Ross intended.

I’d strongly suggest that anybody watching these DVDs to swap the order around; watch this story in between the two three-parters in season two, and then watch the “That Darn Catwoman” two-parter in place of this one. You’ll still get the Penguin and the Joker hopping in and out of jail like the door’s a revolving one, but you’ll see the stories in the order the producers intended.

As for the content of what was meant as the second act and not the finale, it’s great fun. Daniel, who was restless and wild last night, was calm and awesome and enjoyed the show, asking me to pause only to get an explanation of what in the world Catwoman was wearing (a mink stole) in the climactic scene, which is set in a real estate agency’s model home with a staircase almost exactly like the one in the Brady Bunch house. Ah, the sixties. Stanley Adams has another scene in this episode, but the real acting surprise is having Jacques Bergerac show up as French Freddy TouchĂ©, a fencing instructor who’s also a fence. Bergerac, beloved to fans of bad old movies as the “Gaze into…The Hypnotic Eye!!!” guy, had been married to Ginger Rogers, and he’d retire from acting a couple of years after this to take a job as a high-ranking executive at Revlon, which is an awfully strange career arc.

So, this was Julie Newmar’s last appearance in the show. When Catwoman returns in season three, she’ll be played by Eartha Kitt. One note on that point: the story that everybody repeats is that Newmar was not available for the three weeks in November 1967 that they filmed those three Catwoman half-hours because she was filming the Western MacKenna’s Gold, which has one of the most amazing casts of any film, ever: Gregory Peck, Telly Savalas, Omar Sharif, Ted Cassidy, Burgess Meredith, Edward G. Robinson, and more are in that movie. But I don’t buy that explanation. MacKenna’s Gold wasn’t released until May 1969. I figure that November in the desert might can look a lot like any other time, and they could have shot it then, but spending a couple of months shooting a Gregory Peck film and letting it sit on the shelf for seventeen months wasn’t how movies were made or distributed in the sixties, I think. Hmmmm….

Batman 2.49 – Catwoman Goes to College

So of course, happy tender moments like the one shown here never last. Robin rushes in and spoils Batman and Catwoman’s milkshake date with the news that the police are after our hero! Stanley Adams, whom we saw a couple of months ago in a Ghost Busters episode, and who would get to have his pair of iconic guest star roles in Star Trek and in Lost in Space in the next TV season, has this very oddball guest part as Captain Courageous, an officer on exchange from Los Angeles who has never heard of Batman, and arrests him because twenty eyewitnesses saw him rob a supermarket.

This is all part of Catwoman’s plan, of course, to get him out of the way while she leads a student riot, and slips away in the confusion to steal some jewels. Things don’t go quite as planned, there’s a Batfight, and the episode ends with our heroes tied up in a giant coffee cup on a motorized billboard, with sulfuric acid about to be poured over them.

So yes, this is a suddenly silly installment for Catwoman, and it has one of the funniest moments in the series, when Bruce Wayne knows that the Batphone is about to ring, and just pauses with his hand above the receiver. I had to pause the DVD from laughing.

Daniel was in little mood for any of this tomfoolery, especially Batman and Catwoman sharing a milkshake. The boy just cannot stand the mushy stuff.

Batman 2.41 – Scat! Darn Catwoman

This is an extraordinarily strange episode. It is clearly, emphatically, meant to be Catwoman’s last appearance, and yet there’s one more story with Julie Newmar to come. I think that the producers had both in the can and chose to run this one to capitalize on the publicity with Lesley Gore and her “California Nights” single.

See, the climax is a chase across the rooftops with periodic back-and-forths between Batman and Catwoman, trying to convince her to surrender and considering a life together, she as a reformed criminal, offering insight into the villainous mind. But when Batman asks “What about Robin,” she can’t think of anything better to suggest than to kill him. There’s no hope for her. She finally chooses a death in the West River, leaving a glove behind for Batman to wipe his tears. I may not have seen it in decades, but I don’t believe for a minute that the next story should be set after this one. Even if villains always return, this had to have been intended as her grand finale.

Daniel hated this one. The main problem is that Lesley Gore’s Pussycat has developed a crush on Robin, and she serenades his framed photo, and then he wants to start a-smoochin’, and Daniel has no time for that. He rolled on his back and hid his face in his blanket to block out the mushiness.

Batman 2.40 – That Darn Catwoman

I have not written much here about camp, because that’s a great big topic and this is a very small blog, and if I were to go off on too far of a quasi-academic tangent, I think that hundreds of you would hit the back button and never return, but Stanley Ralph Ross’s episode “That Darn Catwoman” is a really good place to pause and indulge me a little.

If you’ve never read Susan Sontag’s essay Notes on “Camp” before, you really should, because it’s incredibly interesting. As an aside, one of the things I like to play with is that pretty much everything that we may consider as camp today – Jack in Will & Grace, Anthony Ainley and/or Paul Darrow in Doctor Who, armies of shirtless men in Bananarama videos, and, of course, the entire Batman show – came after Sontag defined the term. If you read the essay, she comes up with some completely surprising examples, like Aubrey Beardsley drawings and Warner Brothers musicals of the 1930s, which really makes her point so much clearer. It’s been diluted by decades of people being too deliberate, rather than genuine.

So while genuine camp has often been obfuscated by incredibly mannered and affected acting in the modern day, with actors – most obviously Sean Hayes as Jack – really playing to expectations of type in an unnatural way, Batman was often pretty effortless in its goofball naivete. So if you were to ask me what’s the most camp episode of the series, I’d argue it’s this one, without a doubt.

Exhibit A: Pressed to portray a drugged and evil Robin, Burt Ward has no clue whatsoever what he should be doing. That should be all that’s necessary to give this one the award, but then there’s Catwoman’s new protege.

Exhibit B: Pussycat is played by Lesley Gore, who, halfway through the episode, brings the show to a screeching halt because Gore had a new record in the charts that week and she needed to sing it to Catwoman’s henchmen. (It’s “California Nights,” which was her final hit in the US.) I think that casting Lesley Gore effectively straddles both Sontag’s original explanation that genuine camp is natural and without affectation, and the more modern and deliberate mutation of what we perceive. On the one hand, while Lesley Gore is a wonderful singer, she doesn’t seem to know what the heck she’s doing in this show, and on the other, perhaps larger hand, Gore is one of that crowd of sixties female singers who got big new audiences years later after male singers with large gay fan bases (Neil Tennant, Calvin Johnson, Morrissey) started championing them. Bryan Ferry covered “It’s My Party” on his first solo record – yes, a 28 year-old man singing as a 14 year-old girl – and there’s not a cabaret or drag club in the western world that hasn’t had a queen lip-synching to Lesley Gore since.

Exhibit C: Batman tells Catwoman: “I find you odious, abhorrent, and insegrievious.” The line was so ridiculous that Gary Owens started using it on Laugh-In a year later. Adam West delivers it as naturally as he might order a pizza.

Thanks for the indulgence, we’ll get closer to normalcy with part two tomorrow night!

Batman 2.34 – The Catwoman Goeth

To be sure, this story is disjointed and a little odd, but we all ended up really enjoying it. I think some elements of the compromised production are still fumbles, most notably the bizarre maze in which Robin and a policewoman are trapped, and which was achieved on a budget of… well, practically nothing, and it shows. But turning J. Pauline Spaghetti from the male character that writer Ellis St. Joseph devised into an elderly widow brings things to a deliciously fun climax that couldn’t have been present in the original draft.

But before we get there, we have a second appearance from James Brolin, this time playing a rookie cop who doesn’t know who Batman is, and doesn’t really care. He’s found the Batmobile, stolen by Sandman and parked illegally, and wants to write our hero several citations. Frankly, for letting his car get pilfered for something like the eighth time in this show, he deserves a ticket or two.

It’s established early on that Catwoman and Sandman clearly intend to betray each other, but surprisingly it’s Sandman who gets the drop on Catwoman. It’s a great betrayal, too. He and his bride-to-be stop by one of her banks to cash a whopper of a cashier’s check, and he leaves Catwoman’s address with the bank’s president, asking him to phone Commissioner Gordon.

The funniest moment of the episode comes when Batman confronts Catwoman, and asks where Robin is. “…who?” she replies.

But there’s just a lovely, lovely twist yet to come, when Sandman and J. Pauline arrive at her island getaway. It’s very, very subtle, but there’s this lovely bit where J. Pauline shows her future husband these four plaques set into the wall of her noodle factory. Each of her previous four husbands has taken her last name… and each of them has met a grisly end in this factory. And look, there’s a fifth, blank plaque.

They never draw attention to it, but Michael Rennie’s eyes tell the story. In a few months, Tallulah Bankhead would appear on the show as the criminal Black Widow. She came late to the party. It’s only the silly convention that demands there be a Batfight, and that, down two henchmen, Sandman has to shed his coat and join this fray. If the man had a lick of sense, he’d have surrendered and gone away without fuss, before J. Pauline entombed him with the other four fellows!

Batman 2.33 – The Sandman Cometh

To begin with this week, I’ve done you all a disservice by not mentioning another blogger who is writing about the ’60s Batman series. He goes by the handle “The Squonk” and he’s writing a new installment every Friday at Channel: Superhero. He’s just finished the fourteenth episode, which is Mad Hatter’s first story, so go check that out and enjoy!

Anyway, tonight’s episode is… odd. The original draft was written by Ellis St. Joseph, who is best known for writing several live productions from the late 1940s and early 1950s, back when quite a lot of TV drama came via anthology programs. Joel Eisner’s Official Batman Batbook gives this story a little more space than most, as the writer had a very high opinion of what he had submitted, and considerable disappointment at how it was rewritten by Charles Hoffman, and talked at length about it.

Briefly, St. Joseph contended that his submission was very unique and original, and owed a lot to German expressionist cinema and Dr. Caligari. Robert Morley was cast as the villainous Sandman, a rare example of a villain whom Batman has not met before, but then the reality of the grind of TV production reared up. The problem was that Julie Newmar had been contracted for several episodes, since the ratings were slumping and she was just about the only thing that could reliably prop them up a little. They had Hoffman bolt a Catwoman plot onto St. Joseph’s script, and Morley was less interested in playing the role if he was going to be Newmar’s second banana. Michael Rennie was cast in his place.

The finished product is still pretty entertaining, much better than the last couple of stories. Catwoman really doesn’t have a lot to do in part one, but Newmar still controls the screen when the two villains are together. Still, Rennie has a calm demeanor that most Batvillains don’t have, and it’s refreshing watching how he plays the part. I like the way that during the Batfight, Sandman mostly stays out of the way while his henchmen brawl, looking on with his hands in the pockets of his fur coat, waiting for a chance to gas a hero with his sleeping powder.

Daniel enjoyed it all, but the episode did come to a crashing, noisy halt with one of the stupidest moments of the whole series. They’ve asked the Batcomputer to identify any wealthy insomniacs in Gotham City, who Sandman, alias “Dr. Somnambula,” may have targeted. The computer suggests the rich J. Pauline Spaghetti, not by a name on a card, but by belching pink spaghetti out at Robin. This sort of dopey Hanna-Barbera comedy moment is probably precisely the sort of thing that St. Joseph was trying to avoid with his German expressionism storyline.

Batman 2.30 – The Bat’s Kow Tow

Chad and Jeremy got to banter in part one, but this time, we get to hear parts of two of their songs. Catwoman has a voice eraser, and she zaps the duo’s voice before escaping. The following morning, Batman and Robin appear on Steve Allen’s TV show to reassure the public. (Allen, like Don Ho, who has a Batclimb cameo, is uncredited.) This leads to one of the show’s all-time great exchanges:

Allen: “Millions of the world’s teenagers are in virtual mourning…”
Batman: “Yes, that’s quite true, but on the plus side, millions of parents are delighted!”

It’s impossible to put ourselves in the mindset of parents in 1966. Chad and Jeremy are remarkably inoffensive, and besides, we learned in part one that their manners are impeccable.

But really, any singers could have been in this story and been window dressing for Batman and Catwoman’s flirtation. This is the first of four Catwoman stories to be broadcast from December 1966 to February 1967, three of which were written by Stanley Ralph Ross. It was Ross who spotted the fun chemistry between West and Newmar and amped up the flirtation between the characters. It’s absolutely wonderful and charming in every way, especially when compared to the Bruce Wayne-Miss Kitka business from the movie.

Catwoman is so completely smitten by Batman, but has no idea how to get through to his square heart. And Batman wants to respond, but he’s just too square to do it. Think about the flirting between Cisco and Golden Glider in today’s The Flash series, only written down for younger viewers, who are certain to find this stuff gross and yucky. Adding to the fun: Catwoman cannot stand Robin. She just detests him, and so of course he interrupts their almost-kiss. Neither of them even look at Robin as they walk past, leaving him to whine “Holy mush!”

Daniel knows how Robin felt. He likes it when the episode ends with the fight, not three minutes of these two purring at each other. Gross and yucky, indeed!

Batman 2.29 – The Cat’s Meow

Hollywood used to have this remarkable habit of presenting TV episodes in which past-their-chart-peak musicians play alternative versions of themselves who are the biggest acts on the planet. The Davy Jones episode of The Brady Bunch, which aired six months after Jones’s solo record missed the Billboard Top 200 entirely, is probably the best example of this trend, but the Chad & Jeremy episode of Batman is another good one.

It really is peculiar. This version of Chad and Jeremy are shown as arriving in “the colonies” for the very first time and have a press conference that reads like this episode’s writer, Stanley Ralph Ross, was cribbing from a two year-old memory of A Hard Day’s Night. There’s a big crowd of screaming fans, and among them, below, on the left in purple, is Judy Strangis.

This is notable, of course, because ten years later, Judy would play the Robin role in Electra Woman and Dyna Girl.

Anyway, of course, in our world, Chad and Jeremy had already peaked, and after a short run of hits (three top 20 singles in 1964-65), they visited the top 40 for the final time six months before this episode. And they were fairly familiar with the United States; they’d lived in this country for three years before filming this. They’ll sing a couple of songs in part two, but the silly timing means that, like Jack Wild on Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, and Boyce and Hart on Bewitched, these songs were not the hits in our world that they were in TV Land.

Daniel was more concerned with holding his little toy boomerang like a pistol and making “pt-chow!” noises whenever Catwoman was on screen. There wasn’t anything in Chad and Jeremy’s two scenes to make him pay attention to them, but he’s never liked Catwoman and she needs to be shot at. More on Catwoman and her wicked plan next time.