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The actor: Adam West, best known for playing Batman in the campy '60s TV series. (The 1966 feature Batman: The Movie is now available on a special-edition DVD and on Blu-Ray.) Unlike other actors who've been typecast after playing iconic superheroes, West has sustained a long and varied career, jumping from character roles in the late '50s to later parts that spoofed his image as an ironically square-jawed good guy.
The Kini Popo Show (early '50s)—"Host"
Adam West: I started at CBS in Honolulu, and the guy who was the first big TV personality on the islands, Kini Popo, was an old school friend. He decided to go south to New Zealand, and I was picked to take his place. And that's what started it all for me. It was like two hours every morning, doing whatever I could to be entertaining.
The A.V. Club: How old were you?
AW: Twelve. No, I was 21 or 22, I believe. I have no sense of time. I'm not being evasive, I just don't.
AVC: You were doing two hours of TV a day at that age?
AW: Yes, Monday through Friday. So you did everything you could to keep people amused, happy, and entertained. I interviewed a lot of people from Hollywood, and I had a chimpanzee for a sidekick.
AVC: Do you ever miss that chimp?
The Young Philadelphians (1959)—"William Lawrence III"
AW: That was the first movie when I was under contract to Warner Brothers. That's all I know about that.
AVC: You played opposite Paul Newman. Did you have any sense of who Paul Newman was going to be at that point?
AW: Oh yes, because he was already a big star, and on his way to being bigger. I felt privileged to have been asked to do a kind of a pivotal role in the picture—that they would take me because of my, I don't know, sensibilities. I'd been doing Doc Holliday and all kinds of Western roles, trying to give them all something a little different, a new flavor. When I was first under contract with Warner, the first role I had was a sniveling cavalry deserter coward. Those were wonderful days for learning the craft, because you got a chance to play all kinds of things.
AVC: How long did your Warner contract last?
AW: One year. A one-year deal with ABC, that was it. Then luckily, I got into The Detectives with the late Robert Taylor. A co-starring role!
The Detectives (1961-62)—"Det. Sgt. Steve Nelson"
Lookwell (1991)—"Ty Lookwell"
AW: I did 30 hours of The Detectives.
AVC: Was it rewarding to finally have some steady work?
AW: Oh my gosh, yes. Because when I left Warner, there was a writers' strike. Lots of different things happened, different setbacks. And you know, you're out auditioning, you're out testing, and this and that. I've done maybe 12 pilots in my career that never sold. Like so many other people, I guess. Conan O'Brien and Robert Smigel wrote a pilot for me called Lookwell. And that was one pilot that I really regret didn't go, because it was a lot of fun, great fun. They did a hell of a job.
AVC: Why do you think that pilot didn't sell? Everybody says it's hilarious.
AW: Well, what happened at that time was, it was Brandon Tartikoff's favorite, who was head of NBC. But then he left, and the new regime came in. And as they do many times, they said, "Oh, we want our own stuff." So I think Brandon went to Paramount. Then he passed on in an untimely way. So nothing ever happened, and I think the ownership became a little murky or something. So I really don't know the answer. But I know that people loved that pilot. To me, it was like Batman; it was just so absurd. I enjoyed it while it lasted.
Batman (1966)—"Bruce Wayne/Batman"
AW: Success! I had been doing films in Europe, and had some success with a spaghetti Western, and I was offered more pictures over there. But I came back to see my kids. My agent said, "There's a big project out at Fox. Would you be interested? They'd like to talk to you." I said, "What is it?" He said, "Batman." I said, "Come on, Lou! I'm trying to have a serious career here!" But I got curious, so I read the pilot script, and thought it was one of the funniest, most absurd takes I'd ever read. So I said to my agent, "Well, if they want to sign me, I'll do it." And they did, they signed me that day.
AVC: How familiar were you with the character before you got the script?
AW: Pretty much. From a young person's point of view, y'know. When I was a kid, I read comics. But when I saw how funny it was, and how wonderfully absurd, I said, "You know, I gotta do this." I fell down like 18 times reading that script.
AVC: Comic-book fans often say it wasn't serious enough. What's your take on that?
AW: Well, I never hear that. The only time it's even suggested is when somebody tells me about the Batman movies. And then it's usually some kid who grew up seeing those movies, with all the violence.
AVC: How old were your kids when you started doing Batman?
AW: I've got kids of all ages, everywhere in the world. I don't even know. [Yells away from the phone.] What, another paternity suit? [Returns to the phone.] Sorry about that.
AVC: How old was your youngest when you started doing Batman?
AW: The youngest? Gee, I think about 4. That was an exciting thing for them. I'd go to their schools and bring a lot of pictures. And occasionally the Batmobile.
AVC: Do you still get to ride in the Batmobile?
AW: I want to, but I'd rather have a Ferrari.
AVC: Do you have any proprietary feeling toward Batman? If you see the newer Batman movies, do you feel like you would have done things differently, or do you just enjoy whatever happens?
AW: Well, I had that sort of proprietary feeling at first. But that passed quickly when I saw bits and pieces of the movies. Because I realized they were doing their thing, and I did mine. We did ours. They're just quite different, for their time. They're gothic, dark… lots of explosions, action. What I would love to see more is human relationships, some extended moments. Not just car races and open flames.
AVC: Do you stay in touch with the old cast?
AW: Yeah, once in a while. If we do a personal appearance or something at a Batman convention, I'll see them.
AVC: Is it like having a high-school reunion? Is there a sense of comparing where you've all gone in your lives, and catching up and that kind of stuff?
AW: That's a good question. I've tried to analyze that from time to time. I think what it is mainly, is just… It's not anything effusive. It's just, "How you doing, nice to see you," and a little peck on the cheek. Especially with Catwoman.
AVC: Which one?
AW: Any of them! But we really don't sit around and talk about old times from the series at all, no.
The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1969)—"Johnny Cain"
AW: Well, let's see, it was with Nancy Kwan. And Buddy Greco, the jazz pianist and singer. What I recall is getting into that movie because my agent said, "You've gotta do something different from Batman." And I said, "What have you got?" Knowing that it would be very difficult to break outside the typecasting. The more successful you are in a role, the tougher it is to get out of it, especially on TV. So I did The Girl Who Knew Too Much. And I thought, "Well it gives me a chance to do something else, something different." And it was different. I played a nightclub owner who's a private eye sort of thing. Your basic modern shoot-'em-up.
AVC: Did you find it difficult to shift from campy mode to playing a straight part?
AW: Not really, no. It isn't difficult. I've done a lot of movies, maybe 50, 55 films… Some of them really dumb. I think The Girl Who Knew Too Much wasn't the brightest of all films. You do your work. You bring to it what you can.
Alexander The Great (1968)—"Cleander"
AW: William Shatner and I did this as a pilot. He was Alexander, I was Cleander. We were to take turns, every other week: I was the star, he was the star. And we spent weeks in short shorts and leather, like Arabian studs, riding around in the desert outside the St. George, Utah airport. It was probably one of the worst scripts I've ever seen. Just terrible. But they had wonderful people. Joseph Cotten, John Cassavetes. See it sometime. You'll see what an uphill battle it was.
AVC: It's available to be seen?
AW: Several times, people have walked up to me and given me copies. Not that I want to see them.
AVC: Do you recall when that was shot?
AW: I'm sorry, I don't. I have no sense of the calendar at all. What day is this?
AW: I've gotta leave on Friday.
AVC: Where are you going?
AW: I'm going to New York; I'm going to Atlanta.
AVC: For fun or for promotion?
AW: This is promotion in New York. The Today Show, et cetera. And in Atlanta, I'm doing a live appearance. By the way, I finished a live appearance recently in Canada, and I was flown in the Bat-Copter. Talk about an entrance! My back is still bothering me.
The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood (1980)—"Lionel Lamely"
AW: That was pretty ridiculous. Again, I got a chance to play a kind of comedy, something that was different. When I signed on to do it, I didn't know they were going to sneak in a B-unit, in someone's back-yard swimming-pool area, which they did. But you know, I'm not a prude.
AVC: You weren't aware it was going to be a sort of smutty, R-rated film?
AW: No, it was the funny stuff, the comedy, that interested me. I didn't know the extent to which they'd go. Which is nothing nowadays.
Fantasy Island (1980)—"Philip Breem"
The Love Boat (1983)—"Elliot Norton"
The New Age (1994)—"Jeff Witner"
AVC: You did a lot of TV guest appearances at the end of the '70s and the start of the '80s. What was it like to show up on the set of something like The Love Boat or Fantasy Island? A little vacation?
AW: In a sense. But I don't think I looked at it like that, as a vacation. I really try to bring whatever I have, the best in me, and do whatever is required to keep moving forward. I have a simple attitude: "Send the check." I think it behooves an actor to keep working, whatever comes along.
AVC: How was that era of TV different from when you first started?
AW: Nothing's changed. Maybe people tell you it has. But you know, it's the same old routine. Wardrobe, makeup. Then you start to cook.
AVC: Do you have a different attitude if you're doing something like The New Age, a more serious-minded independent film?
AW: Oh yeah. I enjoyed that because it wasn't frivolous. The New Age and a few others—The Marriage Of A Young Stockbroker, for example—I think they're rewarding in a different way. And my reviews were really good.
AVC: Do you keep a file with clippings and that kind of thing?
AW: I have my foot on something, yes. [Laughs, pauses.] I'm in my office and I have a drawer of actual clippings that people send me. And my foot was on it when you asked.
Family Guy (2000- present)—"Mayor Adam West"
AW: Seth MacFarlane had written a pilot for me with Butch Hartman, who does The Fairly OddParents. Seth called about Family Guy, we talked about it, and it was that simple. Because I love his work, and he's a fan of me. So I went over, brought what I could into it. Gave him a caricature of myself. It's worked. Y'know, it's been beautiful for me, because it's gotten me a whole new audience. The Fairly OddParents, too, has brought me a whole new audience of really young fans.
AVC: On shows like Family Guy and in your appearances on The Simpsons, you seem to be unconcerned about the idea of sending yourself up. What makes you so unselfconscious about your public image?
AW: I don't know, really. I think it's just maybe not taking myself too seriously. And kind of having a sense—and I've never said this—but kind of having a sense of what I can get away with. Because you really do have to walk a tight line there, to retain some kind of dignity doing a parody or caricature of yourself or whatever. Y'know, Shatner does too. But I'm much younger and better-looking.