Saturday, March 21, 2020

Batman, "The Purr-fect Crime"/"Better Luck Next Time"

(This blog post is part of the 6th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts)

It has often been said that the Sixties were dominated by the Three B's: Bond, The Beatles, and Batman. Today it might be difficult for many to understand just how huge the TV show Batman was. The show debuted on January 12 1966 to phenomenal ratings. What is more, it maintained those ratings throughout the winter and spring of 1966. In 1966 alone Batman accounted for $150 million worth of merchandise sold. 

For those unfamiliar with the TV series Batman, it was essentially a spoof of the comic book character that was nonetheless faithful to the comic books in spirit, if not in tone. When ABC called upon William Dozier to create a TV show based on the comic book character Batman, he figured there was little way adults of the time would take a show about a man who fights crime dressed as a bat seriously. He then decided to approach Batman in such a way that it would work on two levels: for children it would be high adventure, while for adults it would be high comedy. In reality Batman was millionaire Bruce Wayne (played by Adam West), who took to fighting crime after his parents had been murdered by a mugger. Batman was assisted by his sidekick Robin, who was in reality Bruce Wayne's youthful ward Dick Grayson (played by Burt Ward). Bruce Wayne's butler, Alfred (played by Alan Napier), knew the Dynamic Duo's identities and was often called upon to help them on cases. The two often came to the aid of the Gotham City Police, headed by Commissioner Gordon (played by Neil Hamilton) and Chief O'Hara (played by Stafford Repp).

Of course, much of the appeal of the TV show Batman was the supervillains played by big-name celebrities. Cesar Romero played The Joker. Burgess Meredith played The Penguin. Frank Gorshin played The Riddler.  Among the most popular villains on the show was The Catwoman. Ultimately Catwoman would be played by three different actresses: Julie Newmar in the first and second seasons of the show; Lee Meriwether in the 1966 feature film spun off from the TV series, and Eartha Kitt in the third season of the show. Through the years the best known and most popular of the actresses to play Catwoman has remained the original, Julie Newmar. She made her debut in the first part of a two part Batman episode titled "The Purr-fect Crime," which aired on March 16 1966. It was followed by the second part, "Better Luck Next Time," which aired the following night, on March 17 1966.

In "The Purr-fect Crime" The Catwoman steals a pair of Golden Cat statuettes from a museum. As it turns out, the pair of statues are only the start of Catwoman's scheme. Her real goal is the lost treasure of notorious pirate Captain Manx. "Better Luck Next Time" features the Dynamic Duo trying to foil Catwoman's plot. While "The Purr-fect Crime"/"Better Luck Next Time" is the first episode to feature The Catwoman, from dialogue in the episode we know that it is not the first time she has crossed paths with Batman. In fact, when Batman first encounters Catwoman in the episode, she says to him, "Aw, is that any way to greet an old friend, Batman?."

Catwoman in Batman no. 1
In the comic books, Catwoman had been one of Batman's longest running opponents. She first appeared in Batman no. 1, spring 1940 (the same issue in which The Joker first appeared). In her first appearance she was simply called "The Cat." It was with her second appearance in Batman no. 2,  summer 1940, that she was first called The Catwoman. Over the years she would become one of Batman's most frequent opponents. There can be no doubt that much of her popularity was not simply due to the fact that she was a woman, but because she differed from the rest of Batman's opponents in other ways. Unlike The Joker, Penguin, and Two-Face, Catwoman never committed murder and she was not evil in the way that Batman's other enemies were. What is more, she had a flirtatious relationship with Batman, to the point that the Caped Crusader was always trying to reform her. In the end, Catwoman would become Batman's longest lasting love interest.

Unfortunately, the late Forties and early Fifties would see a moral panic over comic books, spearheaded by psychiatrist Dr. Fredric Wertham. In his 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent, Dr. Wertham attacked Catwoman in particular, referring to her as "vicious" and and noted that she "...uses a whip." While Catwoman certainly used cat o'nine tails, Dr. Wertham's characterisation of her as "vicious" was far off the mark. Ultimately the moral panic over comic books would lead to the formation of the Comics Magazine Association of America and the creation of the Comics Code, a set of rules by which the comic book industry would censor itself. Between Dr. Wertham's attacks and the Comics Code, Catwoman would cease appearing in comic books in 1954. By the time Julie Newmar played her in "The Purr-Fect Crime," Catwoman had been absent from comic books for nearly twelve years.

Although Julie Newmar may still be the actress most identified with the role, she might not have played Catwoman if not for her younger brother John Newmeyer, who would later achieve fame as an epidemiologist, author, and winemaker. Dr. Newmeyer and five of his friends from Harvard were visiting Miss Newmar in her Manhattan penthouse when she received a phone call from the producers of Batman asking if she would play the role of Catwoman. John Newmeyer and his friends told Julie Newmar that Batman was their favourite TV show and that they would actually cut class or take a break from homework to watch it. 

Julie Newmar then found herself flying to  Los Angeles at the last minute on the weekend. As Miss Newmar recalled in an interview with Smithsonian Magazine, she got a script and went in for a costume fitting on Monday and they were already at work on the episode on Wednesday. Being unfamiliar with Batman comic books, much less the character of Catwoman (who at that point hadn't appeared in the comic books since 1954), Miss Newmar drew upon other sources to play the role. Much of this was her training as a dancer, which allowed her to move in ways most humans can't. Much of it was simply acting like a cat. While Catwoman is now Julie Newmar's best known role, she had already had a considerable career before Batman. She played Dorcas in the classic musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) and she had a memorable role as Stupefyin' Jones in the musical Li'l Abner (1959).  In 1964 she received her own show, playing the robot Rhoda (designated by the Air Force as AF 709) in the sitcom My Living Doll. While My Living Doll would last only one season, it would be remembered by many.

Among other things Catwoman is remembered for the costume that Julie Newmar wore on the TV series. Unlike the costumes worn by Cesar Romero as The Joker and Burgess Meredith as The Penguin, Catwoman's costume was dramatically different from what the character had worn most of the time in the comic books (a purple dress with a cowl, complete with ears). On the TV show Catwoman wore a form-fitting, black bodysuit. The costume was made from a fabric called Lurex and was designed specifically to Julie Newmar's body. Miss Newmar would have some impact on the design of the costume. She added the gold belt that went around Catwoman's hips and the inside seams were sown to her specifications. Of course, it must be kept in mind that Julie Newmar stands 5' 11". With the costume's high-heeled boots, then, as Catwoman she stood well over 6 feet.

Gemini 8 launch
"The Purr-fect Crime"/"Better Luck Next Time" aired when Batman was at its peak. The second part of the episode, "Better Luck Time," aired on Thursday, ranked no. 3 for the week in the Nielsen ratings. The first part of the episode, "The Purr-fect Crime," came in at no. 22 for the week. It was as "The Purr-fect Crime" aired that something happened that made it all too apparent just how popular Batman had become. On Wednesday, March 17 1966, the NASA mission Gemini 8, manned by Neil Armstrong and Major David Scott, experienced problems with its control system. Both NBC and CBS pre-empted their primetime programming to cover the emergency. ABC went ahead and aired Batman. That having been said, they interrupted the broadcast three times to report on the Gemini 8 emergency. While all three networks received complaints, ABC received over 1000 phone calls protesting the interruptions during Batman. Many of those calls came from  adults making it clear they were not calling on behalf of their children.

As might be expected, many commentators at the time were critical of those who had complained about ABC's news updates during "The Purr-fect Crime," expressing the opinion that some viewers were more concerned about a television show episode than the fate of the two astronauts. Newspaper readers were divided in their response to the commentators. Some took offence at being criticised for being upset that Batman was interrupted by news updates, with many saying that it was more because the two later news updates were repeats of the first. Others agreed with the commentators and were similarly dismayed that anyone would be more concerned with a fictional television show than a real life emergency involving astronauts. Regardless, the controversy was more proof of just how big the TV show Batman had become.

It is mark of the popularity of  "The Purr-fect Crime"/"Better Luck Next Time" that "The Purr-fect Crime" served as the basis of a View Master reel. It was also perhaps due to the popularity of the episode in part that Catwoman would make several more appearances on the show. Catwoman appeared in the 1966 feature film Batman, although because Julie Newmar was unavailable the role was played by Lee Meriwehter. Julie Newmar would reprise her role as Catwoman in five more episodes during the second season. In the third season Catwoman was played by Eartha Kitt.

It would be Catwoman's appearances on the TV show Batman that would ultimately lead to her reappearing in Batman comic books. As mentioned above, Catwoman had last appeared in comic books in 1954. With the popularity of the character on television, she returned in comic books and she has remained a part of Batman comic books ever since.

Of course, there is little wonder why "The Purr-fect Crime"/"Better Luck Next Time" should have proven to be one of the more popular episodes of Batman, as it is also one of the best episodes of the show. Julie Newmar lights up the screen as Catwoman. What is more, the traps she sets for Batman and Robin are truly original. And while the episode lacks the level of flirtation that would appear in later episodes with Julie Newmar as Catwoman,  there still appears to be a good deal of affection between Batman and Catwoman. One gets the feeling that Catwoman does not mean to kill Batman with her traps and it is more just a way of playing with him. And when Catwoman is in danger, Batman expresses genuine concern over her in a way he would not if it had been The Joker or Penguin in danger. While the level of flirtation between the Caped Crusader and the Princess of Plunder is less than in later episodes and Julie Newmar's performance is not quite as refined as it would later be, "The Purr-fect Crime"/"Better Luck Next Time" benefits from more realistic traps than would be seen during the second season and a level of seriousness that actually makes the episode simultaneously funnier and more suspenseful.

Since "The Purr-fect Crime"/"Better Luck Next Time" first aired in March 1966, several other actresses have played Catwoman, including Michelle Pfeiffer, Anne Hathaway, and Camren Bicondova. That having been said, it seems likely that for many Julie Newmar will remain the definitive Catwoman. I have to think that much of this is due to the fact that her debut episode on Batman numbers among the best episodes of the show.

Friday, March 20, 2020

The 6th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon

The 6th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon has arrived. This year's blogathon spans several decades worth of classic television.

For those of you who are participating in the blogathon, I ask that you link to this page. I will be updating this page with links to the various blog posts that are part of this blogathon throughout the weekend. If you want a graphic for your post, I have several on the announcement page here.

Anyhow, without further ado, here are the blog posts!

The Midnite Drive-In: "Nuts to You" (The Dick Van Dyke Show, "It May Look Like a Walnut")

Various Ramblings of Nostalgic Italian: "Home Sweet Home – Sanford and Son"

Caftan Woman: Magnum, P.I., "Holmes is Where the Heart Is", 1984 

The Wonderful World of Cinema: "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: 'See the Monkey Dance' (Joseph Newman, 1964)"

Realweegiemidget Reviews: "TV… The Fall Guy (1981-86), S2 Ep6  Reluctant Travelling Companion" 

The Horn Section: "Favourite Episode Blogathon: High Chaparral: "It Takes a Smart Man" (1970)" 

A Shroud of Thoughts: "Batman, 'The Purr-fect Crime"/"Better Luck Next Time'" 

Taking Up Room:"Go Team" (MacGyver, "Halloween Knights")

Dubsism: "Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies – Volume 73: The Rockford Files – 'The Competitive Edge'"

Críticô Retrô: "Desenho Retrô: Manda Chuva Retro Cartoon: Top Hat"

Hollywood Genes: "Faerie Tale Theatre and 'The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers'"

Moon in Gemini: "The Six Wives of Henry VIII: Catherine Howard"

The Movie Rat: "Favorite TV Show Episode Blogathon: Tiny Toons 'Acme Bowl'" 

Hamlette's Soliloquy: "'Showdown in Limbo' (The Big Valley) 1967 "

The Everyday Cinephile: "Police Squad: Testimony of Evil (Dead Men Don't Laugh)" 

A Scunner Darkly: "Baywatch Nights – 'Night Whispers'"

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Godspeed Lyle Waggoner

Lyle Waggoner, who was a regular on The Carol Burnett Show for seven seasons and appeared as Steve Trevor and Steve Trevor, Jr. on the Seventies TV series Wonder Woman, died yesterday, March 17 2020, at the age of 84 after a brief illness.

Lyle Waggoner was born on April 13 1935 in Kansas City, Kansas. He spent a large part of his childhood in Excelsior Springs, Missouri. He graduated from Kirkwood High School in Kirkwood, Missouri. Afterwards he attended Washington University in St. Louis for a brief time before enlisting in the United States Army. In the army he served as a radio operator. Following his service Mr. Waggoner studied mechanical engineering at the General Motors Institute of Technology and later worked as a door-to-door salesman. After being told by many customers that he should be an actor, he appeared in a local production of Li'l Abner. Afterwards he moved to Los Angeles where he signed with MGM's "new talent" school for six months. After receiving no work at MGM, he signed with 20th Century Fox's "new talent" school.

In 1965 Lyle Waggoner auditioned for the title role in the upcoming TV series Batman. He made a screen test with child actor Peter Deyell as Robin, but the pair lost the roles to Adam West and Burt Ward. In 1966 he made his television debut in a guest appearance on Gunsmoke. He also guest starred in a small part on Lost in Space in 1967. It was in 1967 that Mr. Waggoner was hired as the announcer on The Carol Burnett Show. It was not long before he was appearing in skits. He ultimately remained with the show until 1974. In the late Sixties Lyle Waggoner also guest starred on The Governor & J. J. He made his film debut in Swamp Country in 1966. During the decade he appeared in the films Catalina Caper (1967) and Journey to the Centre of Time (1967). He hosted the syndicated version of the game show It's Your Bet.

In the Seventies Mr. Waggoner continued to appear on The Carol Burnett Show. He left the show in 1974. It was in 1975 that he was cast as Major Steve Trevor on the TV series Wonder Woman. When the show moved from ABC to CBS in its second season and was updated from World War II to the 1970s, Lyle Waggoner continued to appear on the show, playing Steve Trevor, Jr., the son of his original character. He guest starred on the shows Maude, The San Pedro Beach Bums, Flying High, Supertrain, Time Express, and Charlie's Angels. He continued to host the game show It's Your Bet until 1973. He also appeared as a guest on such talk shows, variety shows, and games shows as The Merv Griffith ShowThe Sonny and Cher Hour, Tattletales, and The Mike Douglas Show. He appeared in the films Love Me Deadly (1972) and Zero to Sixty (1978).  In 1979 he started the company StarWaggons, a company that rented motor homes for actors, makeup artists, and on for use on film and television sets.

In the Eighties Lyle Waggoner guest starred on such shows as Mork & Mindy; The Love Boat; Romance Theatre; Fantasy Island; Gun Shy; Happy Days; Hardcastle & McCormick; Simon & Simon; Mike Hammer; It's a Living; and Murder, She Wrote.  He appeared in such movies as Surf II (1984), Murder Weapon (1989), Mind Trap (1989), Gypsy Angels (1990), and The Girl I Want (1990).

In the Nineties Mr. Waggoner guest starred on the TV shows Daddy Dearest, Burke's Law, Ellen, Pauly, The Naked Truth, Love Boat: The Next Wave; and That '70s Show. He appeared in the movies Wizards of the Demon Sword (1991) and Dead Women in Lingerie (1991). In the Naughts he guest starred on the TV show The War at Home.

Lyle Waggoner was certainly handsome. He was also charming. Of course, he also had a voice like velvet. That having been said, he was much more than just a good looking guy with a great voice. On The Carol Burnett Show he proved he had a gift for comedy and was able to keep up with such comedic talents as Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman. On Wonder Woman he played Steve Trevor and Steve Trevor, Jr. with a perfect balance of seriousness and humour that was necessary for a superhero show that was largely played tongue in cheek. With his gift for comedy it should not be a surprise that most of Mr. Waggoner's roles tended to be comedic, but he did play dramatic roles from time to time, including guest appearances on Marcus Welby M.D. and Mike Hammer. Any time Lyle Waggoner appeared on the screen, one was guaranteed to be entertained.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Godspeed Stuart Whitman

Stuart Whitman, who appeared in the movies The Comancheros (1961) and Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines (1965), and had regular roles on the TV shows Highway Patrol, Cimarron Strip, and Superboy, died yesterday at the age of 92.

Stuart Whitman was born on February 1 1928 in San Francisco. He was three years old when his family moved to Brooklyn, New York. His family moved to Hollywood, California at the start of World War II. After graduating from Hollywood High School, he served a three year stint in the United States Army Engineer Corps. Following his military service, he attended Los Angeles City College and later studied acting the Ben Bard Drama acting school.

It was while he was at Los Angeles City College that Mr. Whitman was discovered by a Hollywood talent scout. He made his film debut in a bit part in When Worlds Collide in 1951. After several uncredited roles he received his first on-screen credit with the movie The All American (1952). In the Fifties he appeared in such films as Rhapsody (1954), Silver Lode (1954), King of the Carnival (1955), 7 Men from Now (1956), Crime of Passion (1956), The Girl in Black Stockings (1956), Johnny Trouble (1957), Hell Bound (1957), Darby's Rangers (1958), Ten North Frederick (1958), China Doll (1958), The Decks Ran Red (1958), The Sound and the Fury (1959), These Thousand Hills (1959), Hound-Dog Man (1959), The Story of Ruth (1960), and Murder, Inc. (1960). He made his television debut in an episode of Boston Blackie in 1952. He had a regular role on the TV series Highway Patrol. He guest starred on such shows as The Ranger Rider, Lux Video Theatre, Four Star Playhouse, Cavalcade of America, Gunsmoke, Dr. Christian, Zane Grey Theatre, Alcoa Theatre, Goodyear Theatre, Trackdown, Have Gun--Will Travel, and Target.

In the Sixties Stuart Whitman played the lead role on the single-season Western television series Cimarron Strip. He guest starred on the TV shows Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre and Bracken's World. He appeared in the films The Mark (1961), The Fiercest Heart (1961), Francis of Assisi (1961), The Comancheros (1961), Convicts 4 (1962), The Longest Day (1962), Shock Treatment (1964), Rio Conchos (1964), Signpost to Murder (1964), Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 hours 11 minutes (1965), Sands of the Kalahari (1965), An American Dream (1966), Ternos Caçadores (1969), The Last Escape (1970), and The Invincible Six (1970).

In the Seventies Mr. Whitman appeared in the films Captain Apache (1971), Night of the Lepus (1972), Run, Cougar, Run (1972), Welcome to Arrow Beach (1974), Shatter (1974), Las Vegas Lady (1975), Crazy Mama (1975), Mean Johnny Barrows (1975), Una Magnum Special per Tony Saitta (1976), Eaten Alive (1976), Cuibul salamandrelor (1977), The Ransom (1977), The White Buffalo (1977), Ruby (1977), Run of the Roses (1977), La mujer de la tierra caliente (1978), Guyana: Crime of the Century (1979), Delta Fox (1979), The Treasure Seekers (1979), Cuba Crossing (1980), and Traficantes de pánico (1980).  He guest starred on such TV shows as Ghost Story; Night Gallery; The Streets of San Francisco; The F.B.I.; Love, American Style; Hec Ramsey; The Wonderful World of Disney; Police Story; Cannon; S.W.A.T.; Ellery Queen; Harry O; Quincy M.E.; The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries; and Fantasy Island. He appeared in the mini-series The Last Convertible and The Seekers.

In the Eighties Stuart Whitman had recurring roles on Knot's Landing and Superboy. He guest starred on Tales on the Unexpected; Knight Rider; The Master; Fantasy Island; Matt Houston; Cover Up; Finder of Lost Loves; Tales from the Darkside; Hunter; The A-Team; Simon & Simon; Hotel; J.J. Starbuck; and Murder, She Wrote. He appeared in the films Demonoid (1981), The Monster Club (1981), When I Am King (1981), Butterfly (1981), Horror Safari (1982), Vultures (1984), Treasure of the Amazon (1985), First Strike (1985), Deadly Intruder (1985), Bersaglio sull'autostrada (1988), Deadly Reactor (1989), Omega Cop (1990), The Colour of Evening (1990), and Smoothtalker (1990).

In the Nineties Mr. Whitman continued to appear on Superboy. He guest starred on the TV shows The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.; Walker, Texas Ranger; and Courthouse. He was a guest voice on the animated series Aaahh!!! Real Monsters and he appeared in the TV movie The President's Man. He appeared in the films  Sandman (1993), Lightning in a Bottle (1993), Trial by Jury (1994), Improper Conduct (1994), Land of Milk & Honey (1996), and Second Chances (1998).

While he was best known for Westerns and action roles, Stuart Whitman was a remarkable actor. It was with good reason he was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role for The Mark. Over the years he played a wide variety of roles. Of course, he may always be best known as the roguish hero of The Comancheros and Marshal Jim Crown on the TV show Cimarron Strip, but he played everything from heroes to villains during his career. He was Jonathan Kent (the adopted father of Clark) on Superboy, the title hitman in the movie Shatter, a character obviously based on Jim Jones in Guyana: Crime of the Century, a singer forced to help mobsters in Murder Inc, a heroic pilot in Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines.., and many other roles. Stuart Whitman was certainly versatile. It should be little wonder he was so prolific.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Reminder: the Sixth Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon Begins This Friday

As my close friends and possibly even my loyal readers know, the past two weeks have been hard on me. That having been said, the show must go on, so that the the Sixth Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon will take place this coming weekend as scheduled.

On Friday I will publish a page for the blogathon. For those participating in the blogathon, I ask that you link your posts to that page. On the announcement page for the blogathon, I have some graphics that you can use.