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Married to the Cape: Adam West, Batman and Signature Roles on the Small Screen

Carl Sweeney

Résumés

Un paradigme théorique influent postule que la télévision diffère du cinéma parce qu’elle crée des personnalités plutôt que des stars. À travers une analyse de l’image de Sarah Jessica Parker, Deborah Jermyn a questionné ce postulat, en suggérant notamment la nécessité de dépasser l’idée selon laquelle une « véritable star » doit s’illustrer dans une variété de rôles différents. Si son argumentation porte sur des formes de célébrités contemporaines, elle peut également être appliquée à des stars plus anciennes, notamment aux stars de la télévision américaine des années 1960 et 1970, qui étaient particulièrement susceptibles d’être associés à un rôle phare pour diverses raisons.
Accorder le statut de star à un acteur lié à un seul rôle permet de mettre en évidence une forme distincte de célébrité télévisuelle, que cet article explore à travers l’exemple archétypal d’Adam West, connu pour son rôle principal dans Batman (ABC, 1966-1968). En dépit de sa popularité initiale, la série a été annulée après trois saisons et West n’a pu développer une carrière durable en tant qu’acteur de premier plan. Par conséquent, l’association de l’acteur avec le rôle de Batman est restée l’aspect déterminant de sa célébrité. Néanmoins, son image a acquis de nouvelles inflexions au fil du temps, de sorte que West incarne non seulement les inconvénients, mais aussi les avantages de l’association à un unique rôle.

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Introduction

  • 1 Adam West with Jeff Rovin, Back to the Batcave, London, Titan Books, 1994, p. 1.
  • 2 Javier E. David, “Adam West, iconic ‘Batman’ of the 1960s, dies at 88”, CNBC [online], 2017, https: (...)
  • 3 Will Dunham, “Adam West, TV’s campy Batman in 1960s series, dies at age 88”, Reuters [online], 2017 (...)

1In his autobiography, Adam West writes that his strong connection with his starring role in Batman (ABC, 1966-1968) brought him “joy and heartache and frustration with many stops in between”1. Indeed, West represents an extreme example of a performer associated with a particular character, his career being largely defined by the effects of a single televisual part. Writing after the actor’s death in June 2017, Javier E. David echoes this, observing that the actor struggled after Batman’s cancellation because he “found his career defined by the cape and cowl he once donned2”. However, whilst this comment is characteristic of a tendency to think of West’s career in terms of inertia, his interdependence with a specific role need not be understood as a uniformly limiting relationship. For example, Will Dunham’s obituary notes that the actor’s identification with Batman also carried more positive connotations, meaning that the role “was both a blessing and a curse for him3”. As Dunham suggests, West embodies not just the ambivalences of being associated with a signature TV role, but also the advantages. Therefore, the various effects of his flagship televisual part on his star image provide the basis for a reframing of current star theory. To argue this, this article proposes a new category of televisual stardom, described by the term ‘signature role TV star’, evaluating West as an archetypal example of this type of performer.

1. Television Stardom

  • 4 John Langer, “Television’s ‘Personality System’”, in The Media Studies Reader, ed. Tim O’Sullivan a (...)

2In some respects, theorising West as a star runs counter to influential arguments that historic eras of television were inherently unsuited to facilitating stardom. John Langer4, who posits that television established a ‘personality system’ that differs markedly from cinema’s star system, helped steer debates in this direction. For Langer, significant differences exist between cinematic stars and television personalities:

  • 5 Langer, p. 167.

[W]hereas stars emanate as idealizations or archetypal expressions, to be contemplated, revered, desired and even blatantly imitated, stubbornly standing outside the realms of the familiar and the routinized, personalities are distinguished for their representativeness, their typicality, their ‘will to ordinariness’, to be accepted, normalized, experienced as familiar [original emphasis]5.

  • 6 John Ellis, Visible Fictions, London/Boston/Melbourne/Henley, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1992, p. 91
  • 7 Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. New York, Hill and Wang, 1981.
  • 8 Ellis, Visible Fictions, p. 105.
  • 9 Ellis, Visible Fictions, p. 106.

3In an analogous fashion to Langer, John Ellis situates stardom as a predominantly cinematic phenomenon, suggesting that “[i]t may well be that a similar creation of stars is impossible for broadcast TV6”. Throughout his argument, he utilises Roland Barthes’7 concept of the ‘photo effect’, by which still photography indicates the prior existence of a specific visual field. In Ellis’s view, television differs from cinema because it does not participate in the photo effect due to its intrinsic immediacy. Consequently, the medium cannot “produce a play between the ordinariness and extraordinariness of its performers8”, meaning that someone appearing on television contrasts with a film star because they are not seen as a paradoxical figure. Instead, a television performer signifies “as a known and familiar person9”.

  • 10 As an example, Graeme Turner describes Langer’s conception of the difference between film stars and (...)
  • 11 Deborah Jermyn, “‘Bringing out the ★ in you’: SJP, Carrie Bradshaw and the Evolution of Television (...)
  • 12 Jermyn, p. 73.
  • 13 Jermyn, p. 78.
  • 14 Jermyn, p. 83.

4Langer and Ellis’s positions have been endorsed by other scholars10, yet significant interventions have challenged their theories. For instance, Deborah Jermyn11 identifies the need for new theoretical models through which to examine American television’s relationship to contemporary stardom. In her analysis of Sex and the City (HBO, 1998-2004) lead actress Sarah Jessica Parker, Jermyn indicates that “[t]he hierarchy once headed by cinematic stars has apparently shifted as glamorous names from film, TV and other arenas feature alongside one another as equal objects of desire and public interest12”. She links this to several evolutions, including the reach and kudos of modern American television and broader shifts in celebrity culture. For Jermyn, this new paradigm provides the foundation with which to engage with the ordinary/extraordinary discourses of stardom in relation to a television performer. Due to older theories seeming “increasingly fragile13”, she argues that the concept of television’s ‘personality system’ must be revised, asking whether it is “time to revisit the notion that stardom ‘proper’ (i.e. as it has come to be constructed in a cinematic context) must emerge from a succession of separate roles?14”.

  • 15 Robert J. Thompson, Television’s Second Golden Age, New York, Continuum, 1996, p. 36.
  • 16 John Ellis, Seeing Things: Television in the Age of Uncertainty, London, New York, I.B. Tauris, 200 (...)
  • 17 Paul Rixon, American Television on British Screens: A Story of Cultural Interaction, Basingstoke, N (...)
  • 18 Derek Kompare, Rerun Nation: How Repeats Invented American Television, London, New York, Routledge, (...)

5However, the notion of a star being overwhelmingly associated with a signature role is arguably just as relevant to those TV performers who came before Parker. Whilst American television still enjoys a reach that no other nation can rival, this hegemony was especially strong during the 1960s and 1970s. Domestically, the main networks could command upwards of ninety percent of the viewing audience during this period, but this number fell as competitors became more established, standing at less than seventy percent by the end of the 1980s15. Concurrently, other countries’ broadcasting systems were also characterised by scarcity of provision16, with imported American series being a popular scheduling choice in western countries such as Britain17. Parallel to this, national and international syndication became an important factor in terms of consolidating a television star’s image, as it was during the 1960s and 1970s that television repeats became, in Derek Kompare’s words, “the ideal product of U.S. commercial television18”, offering stability in an unpredictable programming environment. Taken together, these factors solidified the bond between a television star and their roles, meaning that earlier stars were likely to be principally defined by their connection to a flagship part in the eyes of a mass audience.

  • 19 Richard Dyer, Stars, London, British Film Institute, 1998.
  • 20 Dyer, Stars, p. 60-63.
  • 21 Dyer, Stars, p. 63.
  • 22 Richard Dyer, Heavenly Bodies, Basingstoke, Macmillan Press, 1986, p. 5.
  • 23 Jermyn, p. 82. Though Dyer does not consider television in any detail, he does state his belief tha (...)
  • 24 This category replaces Dyer’s category of ‘films’, to reflect the fact that West’s image is not pre (...)

6To address Jermyn’s question about whether a star image can be theoretically constructed from a single role, this article engages with Richard Dyer’s19 pioneering star studies methodology. A film star’s persona, according to Dyer, forms a complex totality with a chronological dimension, with the public typically encountering a star’s constructed image via a range of media texts20. Through this concept, known as the “structured polysemy21”, audience members “can select from the complexity of the image the meanings and feelings, the variations, inflections and contradictions, that work for them22”. Similarly, the effects of a famous role on a TV star’s career can be observed through the characters they play and across a range of paratextual materials, indicating that Dyer’s concept remains relevant in this context and can be utilised to interrogate Jermyn’s statement that “a TV star is likely to have a longer and more particular association with a specific role than is the case of a cinematic star23”. Where this interrelationship becomes the dominant factor in a star’s image, the term signature role TV star can be employed, to describe an actor whose image is primarily defined by their appearance as one particular character on a television series. West typifies this because his association with Batman remained a constant factor in his stardom, albeit in ways that changed over time. By focusing on several significant aspects of his image, namely his onscreen appearances24, publicity artefacts and criticism and commentary materials, this article outlines various dynamics that converge to shape a certain kind of television stardom.

2. Onscreen appearances

  • 25 The serials are titled Batman (Lambert Hillyer, 1943) and Batman and Robin (Spencer Gordon Bennet, (...)
  • 26 West appears in his Batman costume on the front of the issue of Life released on March 11, 1966. Me (...)

7West’s iteration of Batman is a noteworthy chapter in the superhero’s long history. The programme is based on the eponymous comic book character who was created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger in 1939. Following the initial success of the character in print, Batman crossed over into cinema when he was depicted in film serials released by Columbia Pictures in the 1940s25. However, sales of the comics fell after the Second World War, until events served to reassert the superhero’s prominence in the 1960s. Principally, this is linked to ABC’s Batman series, which debuted on January 12th, 1966. As expected, the programme concerns the crimefighting exploits of millionaire Bruce Wayne (West) and his youthful ward Dick Grayson (Burt Ward), who strive to keep Gotham City safe from villainy under the guise of their alter egos, Batman and Robin (see Figure 1). Batman became a significant cultural phenomenon, with the term ‘Batmania’ being coined to describe its popularity, which led to a plethora of merchandising being produced, as well as an upturn in sales for the Batman comics and the release of an accompanying feature film (Leslie H. Martinson, 1966) between the first and second seasons of the television series. This period also saw West enjoying the trappings of widespread renown, including appearing on the cover of Life magazine and being received by the Pope26.

  • 27 Matt Yockey, Batman, Detroit, Wayne State University Press, 2014, p. 2.
  • 28 Dyer, Stars, p. 34.
  • 29 On the importance of the ordinary/extraordinary binary to stardom, a notable overlap exists between (...)

8The actor’s contributions were pivotal to Batman’s status as “the first television program to tap into the increasingly strong undercurrents of ambivalence about postwar American culture27”, such tensions relating to, for example, the contemporaneous civil rights and women’s rights movements. Correspondingly, Batman’s topical ambivalence is an important underpinning aspect of West’s star image, in keeping with Dyer’s view that star images function “in relation to contradictions within and between ideologies, which they seek variously to ‘manage’ or resolve28”. More broadly, West’s star image is notable for its complex blend of ordinary and extraordinary attributes, which ensures that he represents an exception to Ellis’s aforementioned view that performers known for historic forms of television are not associated with this tension29.

Figure 1: Burt Ward as Robin and Adam West as Batman

Figure 1: Burt Ward as Robin and Adam West as Batman

9Related to this is Batman’s calculated polysemic approach, which meant that the programme was able to navigate the strained currents of American culture by presenting crime narratives that facilitate a multiplicity of readings. On the series’ mixed address to viewers, producer William Dozier attributes this to a moment of inspiration he had after being asked to work on the series:

  • 30 Quoted in Lynn Spigel and Henry Jenkins, “Same Bat Channel, Different Bat Times: Mass Culture and P (...)

I had just the simple idea of overdoing it, of making it so square and so serious that adults would find it amusing. I knew kids would go for the derring-do, the adventure, but the trick would be to find adults who would either watch it with their kids, or to hell with the kids, and watch it anyway30.

  • 31 Susan Sontag, “Notes on Camp”, in Camp: Queer Aesthetics and the Performing Subject: A Reader, ed. (...)
  • 32 Spigel and Jenkins, p. 175.

10Batman’s overarching approach aligns the series with camp, this being a sensibility which “is alive to a double sense in which some things can be taken31”. Moreover, the programme has an affinity with the pop art movement of the time, which revelled in “cartoonish characters, cheap industrial tools, gimmicky special effects, a flattened-out and exaggerated sense of color, repetitious imagery, and factory-like production32”. For instance, whilst Batman is narratively formulaic, it is distinguished by aesthetic flourishes such as a vivid colour palette, garish sets and onomatopoeic onscreen text (see Figure 2). The series’ combination of predictable storytelling with a stylistic approach informed by camp and pop art can be understood as part of the series’ general interplay between the ordinary and the extraordinary, which also finds expression in West’s image.

Figure 2: Batman’s fight scenes utilise superimposed onomatopoeic text

Figure 2: Batman’s fight scenes utilise superimposed onomatopoeic text
  • 33 Ellis, Visible Fictions, p. 101.
  • 34 Edgar Morin, The Stars, Minneapolis and London, University of Minnesota Press, 2005, p. 28.
  • 35 Yockey, p. 70.
  • 36 In the case of Ward, meanwhile, his role as Robin represented his first acting job.

11Ellis associates the ordinary/extraordinary dichotomy with a star’s publicity materials, yet he also states that film narratives provide “still some element33” of this binary. Given his lifelong association with Batman, such diegetic oscillation is especially important to West’s image, in line with Edgar Morin’s view that a fictional character’s “exceptional qualities are reflected back on and illuminate the star34”. However, whereas in narrative terms West embodies an extraordinary superhero, in other ways he is notable for the sense of ordinariness he projects. For instance, Matt Yockey discerns significance in the series’ casting of eminent stars as villains, including Liberace, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Tallulah Bankhead, in that their familiarity “informed the show’s collapse of the boundary between the public and the private35”. At the same time, West and Ward’s relative anonymity outside of the programme helped engender viewer identification with their characters. Prior to being cast in Batman, West had already accrued several years’ acting experience, with his most substantial early role occurring in the third season of The Detectives (ABC, 1959-1961; NBC, 1961-1962), a police drama in which he became one of a trio of younger co-stars paired with the programme’s veteran lead Robert Taylor. However, his fame was limited compared to the popularity he experienced when Batman was on the air.36 In terms of West’s image, therefore, the higher profile of Batman’s guest stars accentuated his ordinariness for contemporaneous viewers, while in other respects his superhero character is noteworthy for his extraordinariness.

  • 37 Ellis, Visible Fictions, p. 93.
  • 38 Quoted in Bob Garcia and Joe Desris, Batman: A Celebration of the Classic TV Series, London, Titan (...)
  • 39 West with Rovin, p. 60.
  • 40 Ibid.
  • 41 Ibid.
  • 42 For example, in ‘True or False Face’ (Season 1 episode 17), Batman states that only a devious crimi (...)

12Integral to this paradox is West’s personification of the lead role. If, as Ellis posits, a cinematic star image is made complete through “the synthesis of voice, body and motion37”, then the actor’s televisual star image is exemplified through his idiosyncratic performances on Batman. Comments from Dozier validate the importance of his contributions, with the producer remarking that West “had an immediate and very intelligent insight into what we were trying to do. He grasped the duality of this thing immediately38”. In his book, West further suggests that he was aware of the necessity to convey the series’ productive contradictions through his performance, noting that he had to give Batman “a touch of mystery. And, at the same time, he had to be funny39”. Primarily, West achieves this through his distinctive line readings. Whereas Dozier apparently felt that the character’s voice patterns should be “staccato, wooden, and straight-ahead40”, West thought that “Batman should muse and connect his ideas and sentences fluidly41”. The actor prevailed in this disagreement, with his vocal delivery as Batman characterised by sudden changes in cadence and emphasis, especially when he makes an investigative breakthrough. Meanwhile, by delivering ludicrous dialogue in an unremittingly serious fashion, West makes Batman appear unfailingly moralistic to the point of absurdity42.

13If West’s acting factors into the series’ interplay between the ordinary and the extraordinary, this is also suggested by the split subjectivity of Bruce Wayne and Batman. Whilst Wayne may be seen as an extraordinary figure due to his enhanced social status, the programme serves to downplay this by positioning his life as relatively unexciting compared to his adventures as Batman. Meanwhile, the porous boundary between Wayne and his superhero alter ego is an integral part of the series in general, which is encapsulated by a sequence in ‘Ice Spy’ (Season 2 episode 59). In this instalment, Gotham City is threatened by Mr. Freeze (Eli Wallach), who plans to build a superweapon. Having kidnapped a scientist, Mr. Freeze contacts the police with several demands, including that Bruce Wayne reads a statement live on television. This request prompts Chief O’Hara (Stafford Repp) to contact Wayne at home, as Commissioner Gordon (Neil Hamilton) simultaneously attempts to reach Batman. Gordon’s call to Batman comes through first, with Wayne answering whilst adopting the superhero’s strident tone. Almost immediately, the Wayne Manor house phone rings, which Dick answers. Wayne (as Batman) excuses himself momentarily from the call with the Commissioner, speaking to Chief O’Hara as Wayne, his voice noticeably less clamorous, as underscored by West’s divergent interpretation of the line ‘Mr. Freeze wants what?’ on both calls. Wayne’s attempts to contain the situation are complicated when O’Hara suggests that, by putting both phones at police headquarters together, he could make arrangements directly with Batman. Thereafter, Wayne alternates between the Batphone and the regular Wayne Manor phone as he holds a conversation between his separate identities, with West shifting his vocal inflection, posture and facial expression appropriately as the discussion ensues. In no other scene in the series is the dichotomy between the ordinary and the extraordinary more intensely realised in West’s performance (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Bruce Wayne holds a conversation with Batman in the episode Ice Spy

Figure 3: Bruce Wayne holds a conversation with Batman in the episode Ice Spy
  • 43 Sasha Torres, “The Caped Crusader of Camp: Pop, Camp, and the Batman Television Series”, in Camp: Q (...)
  • 44 Will Brooker, Batman Unmasked: Analyzing a Cultural Icon, New York and London, Continuum, 2000, p. (...)
  • 45 Torres, p. 331.
  • 46 Ellis, Visible Fictions, p. 91.

14Another aspect contributing towards West’s complicated star image is the pairing of Batman and Robin, which can be interpreted as akin to a closeted homosexual relationship. Sasha Torres notes that “in a culture that sees the nuclear family as the proper route to normative gender and sexual identity, Batman representation’s insistence on […] alternative familial configurations raises real questions about the possibility of straight masculinity for its characters43”. In the case of the 1960s series, Will Brooker points out that its campiness ensured that existent readings of Batman and Robin as homosexual lovers circulated more widely44. While the actors’ embodiment of the characters positions Bruce/Batman as an avuncular surrogate father figure to Dick/Robin, the series’ narrative framework serves as a frequent reminder of their atypical familial arrangement, which can be understood in terms of there being a “homologous relation between having a secret identity as a crime fighter and having a secret identity as a closeted homosexual45”. Elsewhere, Batman evades homoerotic readings on a textual level by indicating that the onerous demands of crimefighting preclude romantic attachments or by occasionally demonstrating the heterosexual appeal of its lead characters to women. Batman’s inability to develop a romantic relationship, for fear of disclosing his secret identity, aligns West with Ellis’s description of a star as a figure “at once ordinary and extraordinary, available for desire and unattainable46”.

  • 47 Dyer, Heavenly Bodies, p. 16.

15A further facet of the programme’s ordinary/extraordinary binary is that Batman may appear to viewers as a reassuringly straightforward crimefighter or as an exaggerated parodic figure, following Dyer’s interpretation that star images function for audiences “according to how much [they speak] to us in in terms we can understand about things that are important to us47”. As noted, Batman is portrayed as unfailingly serious, with the Caped Crusader’s upright attitude carrying contradictory connotations. An illustrative example of this occurs in the series’ first episode, ‘Hi Diddle Riddle’ (Season 1 episode 1), in which Batman’s investigation takes him to a trendy discotheque. Upon entering the nightclub, Batman strides casually towards the bar as onlookers stare. In this full shot, he is central in the frame, with the camera angle showcasing West’s relaxed movement as well as the changing expressions of the customers. The next shot also positions him as a pleasurable spectacle, as Molly (The Riddler’s accomplice, played by Jill St. John) is shown in a close-up looking towards Batman, her smile and her open mouth suggesting attraction. His extraordinariness is reinforced when a female dancer notices his presence and exclaims, ‘Gleeps, it’s Batman!’, and when an attractive staff member eagerly offers to take his cape. This is soon undercut by the humorous dialogue, Batman’s ludicrousness coming to the fore when he refuses a waiter’s offer of a prominent table on the grounds that he ‘shouldn’t wish to attract attention’, before further advancing to the bar in his full superhero regalia to order a glass of orange juice. Molly strikes up a conversation with Batman and asks him to dance, the close-ups of West and St. John connoting a mutual desire. After drinking his (drugged) orange juice, the pair dance enthusiastically to upbeat ‘mod’ music, with Batman at one point shown facing the camera in a medium shot, gyrating his hips and moving his fingers across his eyes in a V-formation (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: Batman dances in Hi Diddle Riddle

Figure 4: Batman dances in Hi Diddle Riddle

16The sequence epitomises a broader sense that West embodies a paradoxical figure, as it alternately showcases both Batman’s stylish extraordinariness, by constructing him as a desirable celebrity figure, as well as his staid ordinariness, signalled by prudish dialogue and a tame choice of drink. West is pivotal to this, because the scene is reliant on the effectiveness of both his physicality and his vocal delivery to successfully activate the conflicting meanings aimed at juvenile and adult audiences. Furthermore, according to the actor, the sequence was largely the result of his improvisation:

  • 48 West with Rovin, p. 80.

[As written], the Batusi was a nondescript dance that simply enabled Batman to move among the revelers. I felt it should be a little more than that, and I worked it out on my own, made it a singular moment of madness inspired by the ongoing debate in the media about whether drug use was mind-expanding or debilitating. I wasn’t trying to make a social statement: I just felt it would be funny and abstract to have Batman slightly out of his well-trained mind, losing control as a result of the drug48.

  • 49 Dyer, Stars, p. 53.

17West’s statement is telling, as it provides an indication that he was an active participant in Batman’s sophisticated engagement with the cultural zeitgeist, able to locate the precise register within which the programme’s straddling of ideologies would work most effectively. As Dyer describes, some stars may embody values regarded as alternative or subversive, though the narratives in which they appear “tend to recuperate rather than promote the rebellion they embody49”. West is an intriguing example of this, because while Batman’s narrative structure reinforces his virtuousness in the face of villainy, its camp tone concurrently provides opportunities for him to satirise patriarchal values and, at times, enact oppositional ones.

  • 50 Dyer, Stars, p. 44.
  • 51 West with Rovin, p. 194.
  • 52 West with Rovin, p. 195.
  • 53 West appears in Season 1 episode 18, ‘Beware the Gray Ghost’.
  • 54 West appears in Season 9 episode 17, ‘The Celebration Experimentation’.
  • 55 Alissa Wilkinson, “7 times Adam West played ‘Adam West,’ and it was great”, Vox [online], 2017, htt (...)

18Following Batman’s cancellation in 1968, West’s career faltered, providing a classic indication of Dyer’s assertion that a star’s success “may be short-lived or a psychological burden50”. He was unable to parlay his television fame into a lasting career as a mainstream leading man, despite starring in films such as The Girl Who Knew Too Much (Francis D. Lyon, 1969) and Hell River (Stole Janković, 1974). Meanwhile, to make ends meet during the 1970s and 1980s, he made personal appearances as the Caped Crusader at such events as “fairs, conventions, rodeos, car shows (with the Batmobile), and circuses51”. In West’s words, he “felt like I was whoring it, and digging myself deeper into a hole to boot52”. Though his immediate post-Batman attempts to establish a distinct onscreen image were unsuccessful, West’s roles were more effective when he embraced the overriding association with his former role. He augmented his signature role connection through various parts that evoked his history, including his lead role in Lookwell (NBC, 1991), in which he plays the star of a cancelled TV show who believes he has the skills to fight crime in real life. A similar knowingness is evident in his touching guest turn in an episode of Batman: The Animated Series (Fox Kids, 1992-1995), in which West plays Simon Trent, the aging lead of a fondly remembered superhero series53. In a plethora of programmes, including The Big Bang Theory (CBS, 2007-2019)54, West played exaggerated versions of himself, often in scenarios which referenced his earlier success as Bruce Wayne. Meanwhile, his role as Mayor Adam West in Family Guy (Fox, 1999-2003; 2005-present) provides a variant on this trend (see Figure 5). West portrays himself as eccentric and possibly psychotic, but references to Batman are typically avoided, which critic Alissa Wilkinson describes as “a kind of recurring joke by omission55”. By embracing opportunities to make self-deprecating appearances, West was able to finally turn his ongoing association with Batman to his advantage. His distinctive comic presence represented a new phase of his screen persona that played down the staid normality he embodied as Bruce Wayne at the same time as it amplified the inherent ludicrousness he displayed as Batman.

Figure 5: West portrayed Mayor Adam West in Family Guy

Figure 5: West portrayed Mayor Adam West in Family Guy

19In addition, West returned to his role as Batman in other texts after the 1960s, including a live-action special and several animated productions. However, his latter-day roles in Batman narratives generally represent a selective use of his persona, because of, variously, a partial evocation of the complex meanings of the ABC series or an incomplete recreation of West’s embodiment of his signature role. For example, the actor’s vocal delivery is often stentorian in the 1970s cartoon series The New Adventures of Batman (CBS, 1977), lacking the dynamic range that characterises his performances on Batman. Similarly, the 1960s series’ particular blend of adventure and parody is not replicated in the cartoon, which is more juvenile in nature compared to the earlier programme. For example, episodes regularly end with a ‘Bat-Message’ scene in which Batman and Robin didactically discuss the lessons that can be learned from their adventure. Therefore, The New Adventures of Batman harnesses the steadfast moralising related with West, without attaching the satirical level associated with Batman.

  • 56 West with Rovin, Back to the Batcave, p.197.

20West and Ward returned to their signature roles again towards the end of the 1970s, in Legends of the Superheroes (NBC, 1979). This production, which comprised two one-hour live-action specials, represents an ensemble piece which teams Batman and Robin with other DC Comics protagonists. Overall, Legends of the Superheroes is ignominious, with the episodes having an inexpensive feel due to being shot on videotape, whilst West’s autobiography suggests that the production was rushed, with scenes “shot even faster than we’d done the original Batman series56”. The episodes aim for an overtly comic register, therefore West employs a broadly humorous style of acting that contrasts with his more deadpan approach from the 1960s. For instance, he delivers lines such as ‘We should always obey our traffic laws’ with a broad grin, his facial expression belying the steadfastness Batman typically exhibits. Likewise, the balanced ambivalence of Batman, through which West’s character could be seen as an affirmation or an implicit critique of hegemonic values, is less evident, because the narrative framework of Legends of the Superheroes is designed solely to generate laughs. For this reason, Legends of the Superheroes provides an interesting contrast to The New Adventures of Batman. Whilst both productions utilise West in a selective fashion that only sporadically evokes his 1960s heyday, the former foregrounds Batman’s ludicrousness, which the latter plays down. Neither approach, however, is entirely successful, further suggesting that the calculated polysemy of Batman is significant to the effectiveness of West’s embodiment of the superhero.

21Appropriately, therefore, the animated films Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (Rick Morales, 2016) (see Figure 6) and Batman vs. Two-Face (Rick Morales, 2017) assiduously replicate the defining hallmarks of the classic series, such as the pop art aesthetic. Despite this, West’s performance represents a distracting aspect of both films. Although the animation presents his character as being around the same age as in his original interpretation, the actor sounds unmistakeably like an elderly man, which generates a level of discordance. Nevertheless, the films’ loving recreation of the milieu of the classic ABC series demonstrates that West’s stardom remains forever bound to a landmark television programme. While his various reprisals of his signature role are less significant to West’s overall image than the 1960s series, they signal that the meanings pertaining to his interpretation of Batman vary in different contexts.

Figure 6: Batman and Robin investigate in 2016’s Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders

Figure 6: Batman and Robin investigate in 2016’s Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders

3. Publicity

  • 57 Jermyn, p. 83.
  • 58 Ellis, Visible Fictions, p. 106.
  • 59 Dyer, Stars, p. 61.

22As Jermyn points out, it is not only the changing nature of television production that contributes to the splintering of traditional star hierarchies, but also that of “those intertexts that help construct stardom57”, such as publicity articles. Whilst this has ramifications for contemporary performers, the recirculation of star images through paratexts also has implications for actors from other eras. Although historic television figures are said to traditionally appear “in subsidiary forms of circulation […] mostly during the time that the series is being broadcast58”, West was interviewed relatively frequently after Batman ended, largely because of the continuing popularity of the 1960s series. If, as Dyer states, the significance of publicity materials are that they are “often taken to give a privileged access to the real person of the star59”, in West’s case this is squarely linked to his interrelationship with his signature role. Once his connection with Batman is taken into account, the actor’s star persona pivots, in publicity texts, on an ordinary/extraordinary paradox that fluctuated over time.

  • 60 Ellis, Visible Fictions, p. 107.

23In Ellis’s view, the tenor of publicity articles about television personalities “is more concerned with discovering if there is a personality separate from that of the television role than it is with the paradox of ordinary-but-extraordinary60”. Conversely, articles about West published during Batman’s initial run do often generate such a contradiction when they focus on the differences between him and his signature role. For instance, Bob Thomas addresses West’s real personality by situating him at opposing poles to the superhero he plays:

  • 61 Bob Thomas, “Man Riding A Tiger Is Adam West”, Orlando Evening Star, 10th February, 1966, p. 9C, av (...)

Batman is the square’s square; Adam West is hip. Batman lives in a manor that looks left over from a George Arliss movie; Adam West has a pad at Malibu Beach. Batman spends most of his time in the company of his ward Robin. When not working, Adam West is often accompanied by a local chick. You see, there is a difference61.

24Whereas Thomas presents West in a favourable manner, elsewhere the star is situated as ordinary by comparison to Batman’s extraordinariness. Such a juxtaposition is evident in Duane Valentry’s profile of the star:

  • 62 Duane Valentry, “‘Batman’ Is a Man of Action, Even Without That Cape and Mask”, The Courier-Journal(...)

There’s this fellow who wears a cape, who can’t go anywhere without being mobbed, with youngsters climbing all over him and adults gaping.
And there’s the other fellow – tall, with horn-rimmed glasses, who can go just about anywhere and never cause a ripple
62.

  • 63 Ibid.

25In other ways, though, the same article plays up West’s extraordinariness, discussing his range of adventurous hobbies such as motorcycling, referring to his Malibu Beach ‘bachelor pad’ and picturing him at the helm of a sailboat. Meanwhile, West himself is quoted on his identification with Batman, noting that “people greet me as Mr. West instead of Batman more and more all the time”63.

  • 64 Dyer, Stars, p.20.
  • 65 Dyer, Stars, p. 61.

26Nevertheless, the constricted distinctions between West and his signature role became increasingly pertinent after Batman was cancelled in 1968, serving to illustrate the extent to which his stardom is defined by the “elision of star as person and star as image64”. Discussions of his later career are often tinged with a sense of ordinariness, which is typically coupled with a focus on his past achievements, which are framed, in various ways, as extraordinary. On this point, a 1972 article in the Lincoln Journal Star is characteristic of how the advantages and disadvantages of signature role stardom informs publicity for other projects, which is significant because publicity is “the place where one can read tensions between the star-as-person and her/his image, tensions which at another level becomes themselves crucial to the image”65. The article begins in this fashion:

  • 66 Anonymous, “Batman (Biff! Pow! Zap!) Image Hurt Adam West”, Lincoln Journal Star, 6th August, 1972, (...)

Think of Adam West and you think of Batman. That’s the trouble.
His Batman image seriously hurt his acting career but the series – Bom! Pow! – made him famous and provided enough money to tide him over in style.
“It’s tough to escape an
identification as massive as mine was,” said West. “Things are beginning to happen, but it’s been a long way. You hang in there, keep struggling and don’t let the Bat thing kill you.66

27In this excerpt, West’s current circumstances are positioned as suboptimal, yet his prior success still resonates. While he expresses a guarded optimism about the former situation turning around, he also displays a level of ambivalence about his career heyday. Meanwhile, the article’s framing rests upon the disparity of fortunes West has experienced since his Batman heyday, as it simultaneously reiterates the closeness of identification said to be responsible for his present circumstances.

  • 67 Quoted in Anonymous, “TV ‘Batman’ Adam West Left Waiting in the Wings”, The Atlanta Constitution, 2 (...)
  • 68 Quoted in Jim Abbott, “Television’s Batman Still Hanging Tough”, Daily News, 26th January, 1993, p. (...)
  • 69 Quoted in John Beifuss, “Adam West is the Self-Proclaimed ‘Bright Knight’, El Paso Times, August 6t (...)

28Over time, West proactively embraced his connection with his signature role, situating himself as an elder statesman figure in terms of the history of the character. On this point, West frequently distanced his incarnation of Batman from newer versions, as evidenced by a statement he made regarding Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film in the Atlanta Constitution: “I guess we’ll see […] if people prefer the Classic Coke or the new stuff67”. On other occasions, West employs equivalent linguistic strategies regarding subsequent Batman films, telling Jim Abbott after the release of Batman Returns (Tim Burton, 1992) that “[t]hey have their vision – dark, kinky, nihilistic, violent – for whatever reason. We continue to have ours, which has worn very well for millions of viewers over the years68”. Meanwhile, after the release of The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008), the second film in a grim trilogy, West frames his version of the character in opposition by foregrounding its lighter attributes, stating that “they have their Dark Knight – I’m the Bright Knight69”. With such rhetorical flourishes, the actor exhibits an uncanny ability to distance himself from new incarnations of his signature character whilst legitimating his own interpretation of the role. By doing so, he signals how continuing associations with his flagship series are related to the alterable iconicity of the Batman character.

29In later years, West’s star image is increasingly defined by his intergenerational appeal. Frequently, the actor reflects on his longevity by highlighting Batman’s mixed address to viewers:

  • 70 Quoted in Barbara Vancheri, “Holy DVD, Batman!”, Pittsburgh Post Gazette Weekend Magazine, August 2 (...)

When you were a kid, you saw things that you were caught up, swept away with, and then as you get older, you see the absurdities and the gags and the puns and the more adult kind of content. That really sort of keeps it fresh, and you know if you have good memories of something when you’re growing up, it becomes important70.

30By highlighting some of the diverse meanings that the programme generates, West provides a plausible explanation for Batman’s longstanding appeal, in a manner that also underlines how his own image is polysemantic. At other times, West associates the durability of his stardom with the direct personal influence the series had on many of its fans:

  • 71 Quoted in Eric Deggans, “Holy Reruns, Batman!”, Tampa Bay Times, April 26th, 2002, p. 1D, available (...)

I have dozens of people who come up to me and say, “Mr. West, I wouldn’t be a doctor, a plumber or an astronaut if it weren’t for you and that show.” I get three generations… the boomers and their kids and sometimes their parents or their kids’ kids. People say, “Little Jimmy’s first word was…” I say, “Mother?” They say, “Batman.” So what can you do? You just go along with it, because you understand it and we’re all human71.

31In this comment, West suggests an ordinary/extraordinary paradox related to his enduring popularity, because he articulates both the extraordinariness of his continuing stardom, in that he has appreciative fans from several age groups, and its ordinariness (‘you understand it and we’re all human’).

  • 72 Matt Hills and Rebecca Williams, “‘It’s All My Interpretation’: Reading Spike Through the Subcultur (...)
  • 73 Liam Burke, “The Pop Culture Petri Dish of Comic-Con”, Irish Times, July 26th, 2011, p. 12, availab (...)
  • 74 Glen Weldon, The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture, New York, Simon & Schuster Pap (...)

32Related to West’s durability is his popularity at conventions, where he regularly participated in Batman cast reunion sessions and publicised upcoming projects. Although he appeared at such events for decades, the wider status of conventions shifted over time, with Comic Con events now treated seriously by film studios and covered regularly in the press. For West, his signature role TV stardom suited the milieu of pop culture conventions, where celebrities often enact “a hybridized actor/character performance of identity72” for the pleasure of attendees. According to Liam Burke, the actor enjoyed an extraordinary stature at major events, with his report on the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con beginning with the statement that “[f]ans walk the same red carpet as Harrison Ford while Francis Ford Coppola hands out Edgar Allen Poe masks and Adam West is king73”. The exalting of West in this context is representative of the mutability of his signature role stardom, which intensified over time in line with broader shifts related to popular culture. As Glen Weldon comments, “[i]t’s no longer just nerds like me who love Batman and things like him. The entire cultural context around him has changed74”.

4. Criticism and Commentary

  • 75 Janet Staiger, Interpreting Films, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1992, p.14.
  • 76 Dyer, Stars, p. 63.
  • 77 Bill Boichel, “Batman: Commodity as Myth”, in The Many Lives of the Batman: Critical Approaches to (...)
  • 78 Spigel and Jenkins, p. 174.
  • 79 Rob Sheffield, “Why Adam West Was the One and Only Batman”, Rolling Stone [online], 2017, https://w (...)

33Another area where such fluctuations are relevant to West’s image is the criticism and commentary produced about him. In terms of critical esteem, West was a maligned or neglected figure through much of his life before later years saw his reputation being positively reappraised. Relevant to this is the standing of his Batman series in general, which has occupied a shifting place in discourse about the superhero. In Janet Staiger’s view, “once you recognize the variability of responsible readings, texts are no longer frozen in the time of their production75”. Accordingly, comparing reactions to Batman over a number of years elucidates the manner in which critical responses to the series, and to its lead actor, have been produced historically. Charting this also aligns with Dyer’s view that distinctions must be made between revisionist criticism about a star and contemporaneous analysis76. As Bill Boichel indicates, the programme was originally popular with mass audiences, but it often “did not appeal to the increasingly organized and vocal Bat-fans77”, many of whom regarded it as an insufficiently reverent adaptation of the comic books. Meanwhile, critics often regarded Batman as passé during the 1970s and into the 1980s, leading Lynn Spigel and Henry Jenkins to state that it once occupied an “uncomfortable position within the traditional canon of television art78”. Nevertheless, the programme has increasingly been praised in more recent years, as has West’s take on the part. This is exemplified by Rob Sheffield’s view in Rolling Stone that the star is the only Batman actor to have “truly defined the role79”.

  • 80 Gerry Coffey, “Batman Cuts A Mean Rug, But Robin Was Too Young”, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 13th Jan (...)
  • 81 Bob Smith, “‘Batman’ Scores As Just Plain Fun”, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 13th January, 1966, p. 6, (...)
  • 82 John Heisner, “Batman: Too Far Out?”, Democrat and Chronicle, 12th January, 1966, p. 5D, available (...)
  • 83 Ibid.
  • 84 Paul Jones, “New Batman Show Is So Bad, It’s Good”, The Atlanta Constitution, 12th January, 1966, p (...)

34When Batman was originally broadcast, West was generally seen by newspaper critics as an appropriate fit for the lead role, although the extent to which his lead performance was noted in reviews was varied. In his discussion of the first episode, Gerry Coffey hails West, stating that he was “perfectly cast as the incredibly brave and delightfully fatuous hero80”. Likewise, Bob Smith declares that the programme’s makers “found the ideal Batman in Adam West81”. If these reviews suggest West’s centrality to Batman’s appeal, other writers offer more qualified praise. An illustration of this comes from John Heisner, who acknowledges that West and Ward “performed with the gusto necessary for their roles82” before he singles out Frank Gorshin’s villainous turn as The Riddler as the most memorable aspect of the opening episode, advising viewers that “it’s worth watching if only to catch him83”. Meanwhile, Paul Jones writes approvingly about the series’ likely appeal to both knowing pop art enthusiasts and children without mentioning West at all84.

  • 85 Jon Marlowe, “‘Gorp’ Turns Decadence Into Trash; ‘Happy Hooker’ Should’ve Stayed Home”, The Miami N (...)
  • 86 Eric Fielding, “Horror Films Prove Horrible”, The Daily Herald, 16th February, 1983, p. 23, availab (...)

35As discussed, West’s stardom faded during the 1970s and 1980s. During this era, many of his new projects failed to achieve critical recognition or commercial success, at a time when analytical reassessments of Batman had not begun in earnest. Where his performances in new projects were appraised, they often reinforce a sense of the actor as an outmoded screen presence. In reference to the sex comedy The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood (Alan Roberts, 1980), for example, Jon Marlowe states that West and fellow television star Phil Silvers get “the rare chance to show the world how they’ve grown inept as well as old85”. Reviews of the horror film One Dark Night (Tom McLoughlin, 1983) provide further examples of West’s abilities and star status being denigrated. As a case in point, Eric Fielding comments that viewers “can tell this is a rather low-budget (and quality) film when the ‘big name star’ is Adam ‘Batman’ West86”. Such allusions to West’s diminished star status tend to function (implicitly or otherwise) in relation to his signature role on a television programme that was often disparaged at this point in time.

  • 87 Spigel and Jenkins, p. 196.
  • 88 Staiger, , p. 211.
  • 89 Spigel and Jenkins, p. 193.
  • 90 Ibid.
  • 91 Craig Brown, “Dynamic Duos”, The Times, August 22nd, 1993, n.p., available at www.proquest.com/news (...)

36However, Spigel and Jenkins discuss how readings of the Batman series changed markedly by the end of the 1980s87. As Staiger observes, “variations among interpretations are not random but have connections - usually uneven - to available discourses and interpretive strategies88”. In the case of Batman, earlier anxieties about the programme, relating to factors such as disputes over its suitability for younger viewers, eventually “vanished from popular memory89”. Correspondingly, the 1960s series maintained a popular standing around the world through prolific television repeats, thereby providing regular “opportunities for thinking about a decade that is out of focus but still part of our collective and autobiographical past90”. Thus, West’s critical standing relates not just to his post-Batman projects, which were often unsuccessful, but also to regular reappraisals of his signature series. Whilst Batman occupies a changeable position in the broader discourse about onscreen superheroes, an increasingly common factor over time is an identification that it represents a televisual landmark. A characteristic example of this trend is Craig Brown’s 1993 review in The Times, which describes the programme as “in many ways a fore-runner of more self-consciously arty series such as Twin Peaks91”.

  • 92 George Bass, “Your Next Box Set: Batman”, The Guardian, October 10th, 2014, p. 24, available at www (...)
  • 93 Ibid.
  • 94 Ibid.
  • 95 Zaki Hasan, “Batman: The Complete TV Series: The Continuing Case for Camp”, Huffpost [online], 2014 (...)

37If Batman is regarded more favourably in later years, then another aspect of this is that retroactive commentary increasingly situates West as a pivotal component of the series’ appeal. Often, this is tied to events which provide a new justification for critics to write about it, including releases on new platforms. Upon the release of the programme on DVD and Bluray in 2014, George Bass describes West’s superhero as “the definitive Caped Crusader; the only screen Batman to fully appreciate the inherent zaniness of a man choosing to fight crime by dressing up as a bat92”. In Bass’s view, West “played the part of millionaire Bruce Wayne like a dad collecting his son from the disco93”, which contributes to the series’ position as “one of the most enjoyable TV shows of all time94”. Zaki Hasan is even more ardent in his praise for West, claiming that his “canny take on the character, with his absolutely earnest delivery of outrageous dialogue, was inarguably the crucial ingredient in pulling off the delicate balancing act by producer William Dozier […] between high camp for the adults and high adventure for the kiddies95”. If the star’s critical standing was more secure at this time than it had been previously, this is due not to venerated new performances, but to the reissue of his signature role series from many decades earlier. Such variability is a distinctive facet of signature role TV stardom, which can be seen both in terms of stasis and change.

  • 96 Jack Bernhardt, “Adam West’s Campy Batman Was a Joy. Modern Superheroes - Why So Serious?”, The Gua (...)

38West’s death in 2017 prompted a close focus on the star’s accomplishments, with memorial coverage reflecting a wider acceptance of his significance to the Batman character’s enduring appeal. For Jack Bernhardt, West’s Batman is not only “the most fun, it is also the most subversive and truthful Batman we can hope to ever witness96”. In this reading, the inescapable ludicrousness of the 1960s series conceals a challenge to traditional moral values, in a manner that more serious contemporary superhero narratives cannot replicate:

  • 97 Ibid.

So thank you, Adam West, for being the most relevant Batman. At a time when the world is crazier than ever, we need more of his camp Dada-esque, universe-challenging performances, that make us question our own moral compass, not these simplistic grey and gritty reboots, even if they have a smattering of jokes here and there97.

  • 98 Glen Weldon, “Adam West Saved Batman. And Me”, NPR.com [online], 2017, https://www.npr.org/2017/06/ (...)
  • 99 Matt Zoller Seitz, “Holy Influential Actor, Batman: Adam West Continues to Shape Hollywood”, Vultur (...)

39West’s significance to depictions of the Caped Crusader is further referenced by Weldon, who suggests that, whether regarded positively or negatively, “the show, and West's performance in particular, are the reason anyone's talking about the character of Batman today98”. Matt Zoller Seitz also affirms this, positing that “West’s Batman/Bruce Wayne is, and will always remain, the single most important screen incarnation of the character, for better or worse99”.

  • 100 Mike Barnes, “Adam West, Straight-Faced Star of TV’s ‘Batman,’ Dies at 88’, The Hollywood Reporter (...)
  • 101 Rob Hoerburger, “Adam West: A Superhero for his Life and Times”, The New York Times Magazine [onlin (...)

40The notion of West as both an ordinary and an extraordinary figure is also pertinent to coverage of his death. In a general sense, this applies to the commonplace references to the star as someone who experienced both great renown and extended career downturns. This is exemplified by Mike Barnes’ obituary, which notes that West “was at the pinnacle of pop culture after Batman debuted in January 1966, only to see his career fall victim to typecasting after the ABC show flamed out100”. In addition, Rob Hoerburger suggests West’s fundamental ordinariness by emphasising his humanity, stating that his portrayal of Batman “showed us that occasionally we need our superheroes to be a little more like us101”. A less standard instance of West being regarded as a paradoxical figure is evident in Luke Y. Thompson’s memorial:

  • 102 Luke Y. Thompson, “The World Has Lost The Iconic Adam West”, Nerdist [online], 2017, https://archiv (...)

While Adam West [was] best known for puncturing nearly every stereotype of the classically stoic superhero, somehow it was impossible to see him as a mere mortal, vulnerable as all human beings are to the passage of time itself. […] The news that one of our first great TV superheroes was felled by a short bout with leukemia hardly seems possible; surely there was some magically medical Batspray, or a way he could “Bif! Zap! Pow!” his way out again. It was not to be102.

41On the one hand, Thompson posits the prospect of West perishing as unbelievable given his invariable escapes from peril on Batman, yet this is juxtaposed with the sad acceptance of his passing away. This figurative framing of the actor’s demise invokes notions of extraordinariness and ordinariness in an imaginative fashion, which again signals how these contradictory tendencies are important to West’s image.

Conclusion

  • 103 Jermyn, p. 83.
  • 104 Dyer, Stars, p. 63.
  • 105 Dyer, Heavenly Bodies, p. 2.

42Regarding Jermyn’s suggestion that a contemporary star image can be theorised from a single televisual role103, this analysis supports the notion that this is also applicable across a broader chronological timeframe. Dyer’s concept of the structured polysemy104 is a suitable methodological prism through which to approach this, albeit this is challenging, in some respects, when it comes to a star whose signature role series was cancelled after less than three years and who did not achieve many high-profile leading roles thereafter. Due to this, the notion that “[t]he star phenomenon consists of everything that is publicly available about stars105” takes on a new importance. Whereas a broad range of starring roles, and accompanying intertexts, are likely to be significant in the case of a renowned film star, when it comes to West many of the most pertinent commentary materials relate principally to his signature series, which become pivotal to unpacking the specifics of how his image shifted.

43Although the actor’s persona remained principally tied to one role he played, this developed through several stages of adjustment as his career continued. He therefore represents an emblematic example of a signature role TV star, because his association with Batman remained a continuous variable throughout his life. West’s example indicates that the profile of such stars can be summarised as follows. Generally, signature role TV stars are not considered to be at the peak of hierarchies of stardom, especially in historic cases. Admittedly, signature role TV stars may find the parameters of their career delimited by their flagship characterisation, which might interfere with their attempts to transition to other modes of stardom. Despite this, their images may be notable not just for their constancy, but also for their fluidity. Though the signature role is predominantly associated with the series where it originated, often the star embodies the part in other texts and the characterisation becomes a source of intertextual resonance in parts that are nominally unrelated. For the actors who become associated with a signature role, there may be considerable opportunities to reflect on the character through retroactive paratexts, which serve as an adjunct to their star image. In this regard, signature role television stardom need not be seen solely in terms of stasis, but rather as a dynamic process oriented around a durable core.

44Due to the industrial arrangements of American television of the 1960s and 1970s, the category of stardom that West occupies arguably encompasses a range of other notable TV stars from this era. For example, whereas Batman’s unique attributes are pivotal to generating the ordinary/extraordinary interplay that frames its lead actor’s image, comparable dichotomies can be discerned in the personae of other actors associated with fantastical programmes. Consequently, such figures as Lynda Carter, known for the title role in Wonder Woman (ABC: 1975-1977; CBS: 1977-1979), and William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk in Star Trek (NBC: 1966-1969), are obvious candidates to be analysed as signature role TV stars. Therefore, although the analysis in this article reflects the specificities of West’s career, the results present a framework for considering other TV stars that can be extended or problematised as required.

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Weldon, Glen, The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture, New York, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2016.

Weldon, Glen, “Adam West Saved Batman. And Me”, NPR.com [online], 2017, https://www.npr.org/2017/06/11/532411148/adam-west-saved-batman-and-me?t=1606821141074, accessed February 26th, 2021.

West, Adam (with Rovin, Jeff), Back to the Batcave, London, Titan Books, 1994.

Wilkinson, Alissa, “7 times Adam West played ‘Adam West,’ and it was great”, Vox [online], 2017, https://www.vox.com/culture/2017/6/10/15776584/adam-west-cameo-30-rock-spongebob-simpsons, accessed February 26th, 2021.

Yockey, Matt, Batman, Detroit, Wayne State University Press, 2014.

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Notes

1 Adam West with Jeff Rovin, Back to the Batcave, London, Titan Books, 1994, p. 1.

2 Javier E. David, “Adam West, iconic ‘Batman’ of the 1960s, dies at 88”, CNBC [online], 2017, https://www.cnbc.com/2017/06/10/adam-west-iconic-batman-of-the-1960s-dies-at-88.html, accessed February 24th, 2021.

3 Will Dunham, “Adam West, TV’s campy Batman in 1960s series, dies at age 88”, Reuters [online], 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-people-adam-west/adam-west-tvs-campy-batman-in-1960s-series-dies-at-age-88-idUKKBN1910QX?edition-redirect=uk, accessed February 24th, 2021.

4 John Langer, “Television’s ‘Personality System’”, in The Media Studies Reader, ed. Tim O’Sullivan and Yvonne Jewkes, London, New York, Arnold, 1997, p. 164-171.

5 Langer, p. 167.

6 John Ellis, Visible Fictions, London/Boston/Melbourne/Henley, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1992, p. 91.

7 Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. New York, Hill and Wang, 1981.

8 Ellis, Visible Fictions, p. 105.

9 Ellis, Visible Fictions, p. 106.

10 As an example, Graeme Turner describes Langer’s conception of the difference between film stars and television personalities as “a well caught distinction”. Graeme Turner, Understanding Celebrity, Los Angeles, London, New Delhi and Singapore: SAGE Publications, 2004, p. 15.

11 Deborah Jermyn, “‘Bringing out the ★ in you’: SJP, Carrie Bradshaw and the Evolution of Television Stardom”, in Framing Celebrity: New Directions in Celebrity Culture, ed. Su Holmes and Sean Redmond, London/New York, Routledge, 2006, p. 67-86.

12 Jermyn, p. 73.

13 Jermyn, p. 78.

14 Jermyn, p. 83.

15 Robert J. Thompson, Television’s Second Golden Age, New York, Continuum, 1996, p. 36.

16 John Ellis, Seeing Things: Television in the Age of Uncertainty, London, New York, I.B. Tauris, 2002.

17 Paul Rixon, American Television on British Screens: A Story of Cultural Interaction, Basingstoke, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

18 Derek Kompare, Rerun Nation: How Repeats Invented American Television, London, New York, Routledge, 2005, p. 69.

19 Richard Dyer, Stars, London, British Film Institute, 1998.

20 Dyer, Stars, p. 60-63.

21 Dyer, Stars, p. 63.

22 Richard Dyer, Heavenly Bodies, Basingstoke, Macmillan Press, 1986, p. 5.

23 Jermyn, p. 82. Though Dyer does not consider television in any detail, he does state his belief that his methodology “is broadly applicable to […] other kinds of star”. Dyer, Stars, p. 3. Meanwhile, Su Holmes (2005) attests to Dyer’s continuing relevance, finding his work still pertinent despite the expansion of approaches to stardom and celebrity since his original intervention.

24 This category replaces Dyer’s category of ‘films’, to reflect the fact that West’s image is not predominantly associated with cinematic narratives.

25 The serials are titled Batman (Lambert Hillyer, 1943) and Batman and Robin (Spencer Gordon Bennet, 1949). While they are not generally held in high esteem, they are notable because they employed tropes, such as voiceover narration and cliffhanger endings, that the ABC television series subsequently applied.

26 West appears in his Batman costume on the front of the issue of Life released on March 11, 1966. Meanwhile, he was invited to meet Pope Paul VI at the Vatican in May 1967 as part of World Communications Day, an event which had been established by the pontiff.

27 Matt Yockey, Batman, Detroit, Wayne State University Press, 2014, p. 2.

28 Dyer, Stars, p. 34.

29 On the importance of the ordinary/extraordinary binary to stardom, a notable overlap exists between Ellis’s theory and Dyer’s. For instance, the latter refers to the significance in publicity materials of the dialectic of “the stars-as-ordinary and the stars-as-special”. Dyer, Stars, p. 43.

30 Quoted in Lynn Spigel and Henry Jenkins, “Same Bat Channel, Different Bat Times: Mass Culture and Popular Memory”, in Many More Lives of the Batman, ed. Roberta Pearson, William Uricchio and Will Brooker, London, Palgrave, 2015, p. 178 [p. 171-201].

31 Susan Sontag, “Notes on Camp”, in Camp: Queer Aesthetics and the Performing Subject: A Reader, ed. Fabio Cleto, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 1999, p. 57, p. 53-65.

32 Spigel and Jenkins, p. 175.

33 Ellis, Visible Fictions, p. 101.

34 Edgar Morin, The Stars, Minneapolis and London, University of Minnesota Press, 2005, p. 28.

35 Yockey, p. 70.

36 In the case of Ward, meanwhile, his role as Robin represented his first acting job.

37 Ellis, Visible Fictions, p. 93.

38 Quoted in Bob Garcia and Joe Desris, Batman: A Celebration of the Classic TV Series, London, Titan Books, 2016, p. 24.

39 West with Rovin, p. 60.

40 Ibid.

41 Ibid.

42 For example, in ‘True or False Face’ (Season 1 episode 17), Batman states that only a devious criminal would ‘callously park in front of a fire hydrant’.

43 Sasha Torres, “The Caped Crusader of Camp: Pop, Camp, and the Batman Television Series”, in Camp: Queer Aesthetics and the Performing Subject: A Reader, ed. Fabio Cleto, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, p. 331 [p. 330-343].

44 Will Brooker, Batman Unmasked: Analyzing a Cultural Icon, New York and London, Continuum, 2000, p. 227.

45 Torres, p. 331.

46 Ellis, Visible Fictions, p. 91.

47 Dyer, Heavenly Bodies, p. 16.

48 West with Rovin, p. 80.

49 Dyer, Stars, p. 53.

50 Dyer, Stars, p. 44.

51 West with Rovin, p. 194.

52 West with Rovin, p. 195.

53 West appears in Season 1 episode 18, ‘Beware the Gray Ghost’.

54 West appears in Season 9 episode 17, ‘The Celebration Experimentation’.

55 Alissa Wilkinson, “7 times Adam West played ‘Adam West,’ and it was great”, Vox [online], 2017, https://www.vox.com/culture/2017/6/10/15776584/adam-west-cameo-30-rock-spongebob-simpsons, accessed February 26th, 2021.

56 West with Rovin, Back to the Batcave, p.197.

57 Jermyn, p. 83.

58 Ellis, Visible Fictions, p. 106.

59 Dyer, Stars, p. 61.

60 Ellis, Visible Fictions, p. 107.

61 Bob Thomas, “Man Riding A Tiger Is Adam West”, Orlando Evening Star, 10th February, 1966, p. 9C, available at www.newspapers.com/newspage/290559331/, accessed October 27th, 2020.

62 Duane Valentry, “‘Batman’ Is a Man of Action, Even Without That Cape and Mask”, The Courier-Journal, 7th May, 1967, p. 1G, available at www.newspapers.com/newspage/109247949/, accessed October 27th, 2020.

63 Ibid.

64 Dyer, Stars, p.20.

65 Dyer, Stars, p. 61.

66 Anonymous, “Batman (Biff! Pow! Zap!) Image Hurt Adam West”, Lincoln Journal Star, 6th August, 1972, p. 7H, available at www.newspapers.com/newspage/313495554/, accessed October 27th, 2020.

67 Quoted in Anonymous, “TV ‘Batman’ Adam West Left Waiting in the Wings”, The Atlanta Constitution, 20th June, 1989, p. D3, available at www.newspapers.com/newspage/400391169/, accessed October 27th, 2020. West’s analogy is a relatively topical one. In 1985, Coca-Cola introduced a new soft drink formula, but after an adverse reaction from the American public the original flavour was reintroduced several months later, now branded Coca-Cola Classic.

68 Quoted in Jim Abbott, “Television’s Batman Still Hanging Tough”, Daily News, 26th January, 1993, p. 67, available at www.newspapers.com/newspage/470511627/, accessed October 27th, 2020.

69 Quoted in John Beifuss, “Adam West is the Self-Proclaimed ‘Bright Knight’, El Paso Times, August 6th, 2008, p. 3, available at www.newspapers.com/newspage/432397736/, accessed October 27th, 2020.

70 Quoted in Barbara Vancheri, “Holy DVD, Batman!”, Pittsburgh Post Gazette Weekend Magazine, August 24th, 2001, p. 38, available at www.newspapers.com/newspage/93300497/, accessed October 27th, 2020.

71 Quoted in Eric Deggans, “Holy Reruns, Batman!”, Tampa Bay Times, April 26th, 2002, p. 1D, available at www.newspapers.com/newspage/327126214/, accessed October 27th, 2020.

72 Matt Hills and Rebecca Williams, “‘It’s All My Interpretation’: Reading Spike Through the Subcultural Celebrity of James Marsters’, European Journal of Cultural Studies, Vol. 8, No. 3, 2005, p. 352 [p.345-365].

73 Liam Burke, “The Pop Culture Petri Dish of Comic-Con”, Irish Times, July 26th, 2011, p. 12, available at www.proquest.com, accessed February 26th, 2021.

74 Glen Weldon, The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture, New York, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2016, p. 8.

75 Janet Staiger, Interpreting Films, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1992, p.14.

76 Dyer, Stars, p. 63.

77 Bill Boichel, “Batman: Commodity as Myth”, in The Many Lives of the Batman: Critical Approaches to a Superhero and his Media, ed. Roberta E. Pearson and William Uricchio, New York, Routledge, p. 15 [p. 4-17].

78 Spigel and Jenkins, p. 174.

79 Rob Sheffield, “Why Adam West Was the One and Only Batman”, Rolling Stone [online], 2017, https://www.rollingstone.com/tv/tv-news/why-adam-west-was-the-one-and-only-batman-111101/, accessed February 24th, 2021.

80 Gerry Coffey, “Batman Cuts A Mean Rug, But Robin Was Too Young”, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 13th January, 1966, p. 7, available at www.newspapers.com/newspage/641513096/, accessed February 24th, 2021.

81 Bob Smith, “‘Batman’ Scores As Just Plain Fun”, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 13th January, 1966, p. 6, available at www.newspapers.com/newspage/640448178/, accessed February 24th, 2021.

82 John Heisner, “Batman: Too Far Out?”, Democrat and Chronicle, 12th January, 1966, p. 5D, available at www.newspapers.com/newspage/137987390/, accessed February 24th, 2021.

83 Ibid.

84 Paul Jones, “New Batman Show Is So Bad, It’s Good”, The Atlanta Constitution, 12th January, 1966, p. 10, available at www.newspapers.com/newspage/398263153/, accessed February 24th, 2021.

85 Jon Marlowe, “‘Gorp’ Turns Decadence Into Trash; ‘Happy Hooker’ Should’ve Stayed Home”, The Miami News, 2nd June, 1980, p. 6C, available at www.newspapers.com/newspage/302478182/, accessed February 24th, 2021. Silvers is best known for his role as Sergeant Bilko in The Phil Silvers Show (CBS, 1955-1959).

86 Eric Fielding, “Horror Films Prove Horrible”, The Daily Herald, 16th February, 1983, p. 23, available at www.newspapers.com/newspage/469448399/, accessed February 24th, 2021.

87 Spigel and Jenkins, p. 196.

88 Staiger, , p. 211.

89 Spigel and Jenkins, p. 193.

90 Ibid.

91 Craig Brown, “Dynamic Duos”, The Times, August 22nd, 1993, n.p., available at www.proquest.com/newspapers/dynamic-duos-television/docview/318009845/se-2?accountid=14685, accessed February 25th, 2021.

92 George Bass, “Your Next Box Set: Batman”, The Guardian, October 10th, 2014, p. 24, available at www.proquest.com, accessed February 26th, 2021.

93 Ibid.

94 Ibid.

95 Zaki Hasan, “Batman: The Complete TV Series: The Continuing Case for Camp”, Huffpost [online], 2014, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/batman-the-complete-tv-se_b_6140676, accessed February 26th, 2021.

96 Jack Bernhardt, “Adam West’s Campy Batman Was a Joy. Modern Superheroes - Why So Serious?”, The Guardian [online], 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/19/adam-west-batman-superheroes-serious, accessed February 26th, 2021.

97 Ibid.

98 Glen Weldon, “Adam West Saved Batman. And Me”, NPR.com [online], 2017, https://www.npr.org/2017/06/11/532411148/adam-west-saved-batman-and-me?t=1606821141074, accessed February 26th, 2021.

99 Matt Zoller Seitz, “Holy Influential Actor, Batman: Adam West Continues to Shape Hollywood”, Vulture [online], 2017, https://www.vulture.com/2017/06/adam-west-batman-legacy.html, accessed February 26th, 2021.

100 Mike Barnes, “Adam West, Straight-Faced Star of TV’s ‘Batman,’ Dies at 88’, The Hollywood Reporter [online], 2017, https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/adam-west-dead-batman-star-832264, accessed February 26th, 2021.

101 Rob Hoerburger, “Adam West: A Superhero for his Life and Times”, The New York Times Magazine [online], 2017, available at https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/12/28/magazine/the-lives-they-lived-adam-west.html, accessed February 26th, 2021.

102 Luke Y. Thompson, “The World Has Lost The Iconic Adam West”, Nerdist [online], 2017, https://archive.nerdist.com/the-world-has-lost-the-iconic-adam-west/, accessed February 26th, 2021.

103 Jermyn, p. 83.

104 Dyer, Stars, p. 63.

105 Dyer, Heavenly Bodies, p. 2.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1: Burt Ward as Robin and Adam West as Batman
URL http://journals.openedition.org/tvseries/docannexe/image/5508/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 312k
Titre Figure 2: Batman’s fight scenes utilise superimposed onomatopoeic text
URL http://journals.openedition.org/tvseries/docannexe/image/5508/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 328k
Titre Figure 3: Bruce Wayne holds a conversation with Batman in the episode Ice Spy
URL http://journals.openedition.org/tvseries/docannexe/image/5508/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 280k
Titre Figure 4: Batman dances in Hi Diddle Riddle
URL http://journals.openedition.org/tvseries/docannexe/image/5508/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 264k
Titre Figure 5: West portrayed Mayor Adam West in Family Guy
URL http://journals.openedition.org/tvseries/docannexe/image/5508/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 216k
Titre Figure 6: Batman and Robin investigate in 2016’s Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders
URL http://journals.openedition.org/tvseries/docannexe/image/5508/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 184k
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Référence électronique

Carl Sweeney, « Married to the Cape: Adam West, Batman and Signature Roles on the Small Screen »TV/Series [En ligne], 20 | 2022, mis en ligne le 27 avril 2022, consulté le 30 juin 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/tvseries/5508 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/tvseries.5508

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Auteur

Carl Sweeney

Carl Sweeney is a PhD candidate at the University of Wolverhampton, researching television stardom. His other research interests include star images in film and Foucauldian spatialities in narrative television and cinema. He completed an MA in Film Studies at Wolverhampton in 2018, with his final thesis representing a re-evaluation of Robert De Niro’s star persona. His publications include chapters in A Critical Companion to Steven Spielberg (Barkman and Sanna [eds.], 2019) and A Critical Companion to Stanley Kubrick (Colombani [ed.], 2020).

Carl Sweeney est doctorant à l’Université de Wolverhampton et étudie les stars de la télévision. Ses autres domaines de recherche incluent les images de stars au cinéma et les spatialités foucaldiennes dans les fictions télévisées et cinématographiques. Il a obtenu un Master en études cinématographiques à Wolverhampton en 2018, avec un mémoire sur la persona de Robert De Niro. Ses publications incluent des chapitres dans A Critical Companion to Steven Spielberg (Barkman et Sanna [eds.], 2019) et A Critical Companion to Stanley Kubrick (Colombani [ed.], 2020).

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