My sister texted me this morning with the news of actor Adam West’s passing at age 88, and it brought back memories and even some regrets…
The memories were of growing up watching him in the TV series “Batman” (1966-8) in afternoon reruns as a kid. Even when we were little we never took it seriously in the least, and easily recognized it for the camp that it was. And we enjoyed it nevertheless. West always played it deadly straight, and really sold it (the joke isn’t nearly as funny if one laughs at their own joke, right?). West kept his lip firm, and tongue out of cheek, as if he were truly saving the world.
My older sister, the one who texted me this morning, had a bit of a crush on the caped crusader as a girl, and yes, we teased her for it; just as she would tease me for my own string of celebrity crushes. Adam West was just part of the background of our young lives. Like my dad listening to famed announcer Vin Scully on the radio when he barbecued outdoors. I wasn’t a particular fan of baseball (still not), but as a kid it was so comforting to hear Scully’s voice announcing Dodgers games from Los Angeles from my dad’s little radio on those Saturday or Sunday afternoons. Like Vin Scully, West was a staple; one of those things you could count on.
But this year Vin Scully officially retired, and now West is gone. You begin to realize as you hit a ‘certain age’ you are often reminded that those things you always counted on in your youth are not permanent; in fact, nothing truly is. Not even the Caped Crusader…
…which brings me to regret.
For many years my wife and I have been attending science fiction conventions; they’ve been a mainstay in our lives since about 2001 (for me, at least; earlier for her). In all of that time and in all of those years, I’ve seen or heard that Adam West was making appearances to sign autographs and I’d always assumed I would get one… someday. Maybe even an extra one for my sister, too (mailed with a teasing note). I thought there would always be the chance to meet that staple of childhood. Now, that chance is gone. It’s a bit of loss tinged with regret, and the all-too-common realization at my age that all things end.
A couple of months ago, I rented (via Netflix’s ‘Discflix’) a copy of “The Return of the Caped Crusaders” (2016), an animated feature continuation of the 1960s Batman TV series, which was done in the exact campy style of the show, but with the unlimited freedom of the animation format.
Adam West, along with Burt Ward’s “Robin” and Julie Newmar’s “Catwoman” returned, with a cast of new actors approximating the vocal stylings of the late Caesar Romero’s Joker, the late Frank Gorshin’s Riddler and even the late Stafford Repp’s bumbling Chief O’Hara.
And though West, Ward and Newmar sounded unavoidably (and even a bit distractingly) older in the movie, it was a fun, clever way to reunite these actors in ‘action’ one last time. They could ride rockets into outer space now (!). Batman even ‘danced’ (along with Catwoman) alongside the end credits, to the strains of that familiar, iconic Batman theme song…
There was no limit to what the characters could do in animated form, even if the actors were in their 70s and 80s. Like the series, it was full of camp and filled with straight-faced one-liners (including a few risqué references regarding the exact nature of Batman and Robin’s relationship that couldn’t have breezed past the television network censors in 1966). It was a wonderfully silly reunion to a beloved and silly TV show.
Who knew this animated feature (released only last year) would truly be the last time for Adam West’s caped crusader? Even at age 88, West always seemed in fine health. He certainly looked younger than most men of his age. I’m 50 years old, and I can only hope to live as long and look 1/10th as good. But all of that changed with my sister’s text this morning. Nothing lasts forever. Appreciate things and people in the here and now. A hard lesson learned.
Before he became a cult TV icon with Batman, West also co-starred in a movie that very heavily influenced my future interest in outer space; the 1964 space adventure, “Robinson Crusoe on Mars.” I’d talked about the movie in this blog before, and I’d only mentioned West in passing, as he played a supporting role as the ill-fated skipper of the expedition, Colonel “Mac” Macready. But as a kid, watching it on late-night television one evening, waaaaay past my bedtime, it was a curious thing to see Adam West in a role that was not Batman (or a guest role on “The Love Boat” or “Fantasy Island”). The trailer below doesn’t do “Robinson Crusoe on Mars” full justice:
West was particularly memorable in a sequence where the movie’s hero, Commander Christopher “Kit” Draper (the late and very talented Paul Mantee) has a nightmare of a post-mortem visitation from his dead skipper. West walks through the scene, ghost-like and without emotion. Draper tries to get him to talk, screaming at him and nearly in tears as he awakens to realize it was a fever-dream from the previous evening’s food poisoning.
To echo Draper’s own words in the scene, “For gods’ sake, talk to me!” I imagine a lot of West’s fans and loved ones are feeling that same emotion right about now.
If only I had taken the opportunity to actually meet him when I had so many chances. It’s a painful, stinging regret right now. But I still have my Batman TV series’ DVDs, and more personally, my Criterion edition release of “Robinson Crusoe on Mars.”
Those hard copy reminders are important for me, since I believe we survive on mainly in others’ memories (not forcing my views on anyone; just my belief). That’s one true and tangible ticket to immortality as far as I’m concerned; philosophers and theologians can argue the rest for as long as they like. At the end of it all, we live on as memories in others and I take comfort in that. All things end, but memories are a way to keep them going on a bit further… some for many generations to come.
Rest in peace, Adam West. The crusade may be over, but the memories live on.