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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.

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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.

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Batman 3.6 – The Unkindest Tut of All

This is a terrific episode. Writer Stanley Ralph Ross is at his absolute best, giving Batman all sorts of civic-minded square and hoary exclamations to the no-goodniks of Gotham City, and not only does Adam West nail all of the overacting, he gets to share lots of screen time with Victor Buono in this episode.

Buono has an absolute ball yelling and sneering at Batman. At the end of the episode, he’s pronounced Bruce Wayne a “deadly dull socialite lump,” trying to warn Barbara Gordon off from returning to their interrupted date that opens the episode. That was a fine afternoon at an accordion recital, listening to “Lady of Spain” eight times.

For all his unbelievable stupidity, King Tut becomes the first villain to absolutely be certain that Bruce Wayne and Batman are the same, and even a silly only-on-TV trick with a supposed dummy Batman doesn’t completely persuade him that he’s wrong. He hates Batman for being so square, and hates Bruce Wayne for being so dull, and doesn’t quite get that they’re two sides of the same coin.

Daniel was not at his best this evening, and, worried for Batgirl’s safety, he ran and hid behind the sofa when she arrived to take on King Tut by herself. He remains a little concerned that she and Robin might get into too much trouble without Batman to save the day.

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Batman 3.3 – The Wail of the Siren

There’s a lovely throwaway gag in this episode that shows that the wall safe in the Wayne Foundation’s private office is hidden behind a painting of a wall safe, and there’s a great line about how soft drinks might make our heroes too relaxed, and there’s Joan Collins, looking amazing in a silver mini-dress. So it has its moments. I do like the more frantic pace, but if any character ever needed a second half-hour to develop, it’s the Siren. This isn’t Stanley Ralph Ross’s finest script, but it’s not bad.

Also this week, albeit a little less interesting, it’s the debut of Batgirl’s theme song, which isn’t very good, but at least it contains the wonderful line “What is your scene, baby, we just gotta know.”

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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….

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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.

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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!

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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!

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