Screenwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr.—best known for developing the 1960s Batman TV series—has died at the age of 91. A nephew of the playwright Philip Barry, who is remembered for such sophisticated comedies as Holiday and The Philadelphia Story, Semple studied playwriting at Columbia and had two plays produced on Broadway—Tomorrow In Samarkand (1955) and The Golden Fleecing (1959)—while in his thirties. But he hit his full stride after he moved to television and created the Batman series, which led to movie assignments that gave him the chance to put a witty, camp spin on other pop-culture reboots.
Semple began writing for television in the mid-1950s, generating scripts for such series as The Rogues and Burke’s Law. He claimed that producer William Dozier hired him to write the Batman pilot as a consolation prize after another project that Semple has initiated, a Charlie Chan spin-off called Number One Son, was rejected by ABC, mostly because the network didn’t want a show with an Asian-American lead. Semple wrote the first four episodes of Batman and was essential to developing its satirical pop art tone. He stayed on as executive story editor thereafter.
He also wrote a two-part episode of Dozier’s short-lived follow-up series, The Green Hornet, as well as the 1966 Batman movie.
Semple continued his movie career, first with the inauspicious Raquel Welch vehicle Fathom (1967), then with the neo-noir cult classic Pretty Poison (1968), with Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld.
Semple’s other credits include The Sporting Club (1971), The Marriage Of A Young Stockbroker (1971), Papillon (1973), The Super Cops (1974), the Harper sequel The Drowning Pool (1975), and two movies that epitomized the paranoid feel of political thrillers in the mid-70s, The Parallax View (1974) and Three Days Of The Condor (1975).
After Batman, he was probably best known for a string of high-profile, big-budget jobs he did for the producer Dino De Laurentiis in the late ‘70s and ‘80s: The critically drubbed (yet very funny) 1976 King Kong remake; a disastrous remake of the John Ford film Hurricane (1979); and the high-camp 1980 comic-strip adaptation Flash Gordon (1980).
Semple also wrote the original treatment for the 1983 rogue James Bond movie Never Say Never Again, which lured Sean Connery back to the role of 007, with its promise of using Ian Fleming’s creation to make money for someone other than the hated “official” longtime Bond producer, Albert “Cubby” Broccoli. After the producers scapegoated Semple for some changes to the budget that annoyed Connery and dropped him from the production, the writer—by now an industry veteran—was philosophical about it. “I really didn’t want to go on with it,” he said, adding, “I also agree a human sacrifice is required when a project goes wrong; it makes all the survivors feel good.”
Semple’s last official big-screen credit was on the disastrous 1985 Sheena. Toward the end of his career, he returned to television with the TV movies Rearview Mirror (1984) and Rapture (1993). "Almost all the good scripts I've been involved with, I've been fired off of, for one reason or another," he said while reflecting on his career last year, adding that he never minded it much. "I'm really not that enthusiastic about movies in general."