Westerns (both radio and television) were largely kiddy fare in the early 1950’s. Kids loved shows like The Lone Ranger, but most of their parents found the stories a bit simple and, well, suited for children.

In 1952, CBS began airing a western that was aimed at adults. The result was a smash hit that eventually dominated both television AND radio. In fact, for an amazing six years, from 1955 to 1961, the radio and television versions of Gunsmoke existed side-by-side, with two different sets of cast members!

The radio cast consisted of William Conrad as Matt Dillon, Howard McNear (better known as Floyd the barber) as Doc, Georgia Ellis as Kitty, and Parley Baer as Chester.

The radio version was one of the last, if not the VERY last network radio drama. I was astounded to find that it was still on when I was born.

But Boomer kids of my age range remember the TV show. Originally broadcast on Saturday nights, it went from a half-hour to a full hour beginning in 1961. In 1967, it moved to Monday nights, and also began being broadcast in color.

I don’t remember Dennis Weaver’s Chester or the B&W episodes. The Gunsmoke that populates my memory banks had Festus (he first appeared in 1964, the same year that Chester limped off into the sunset) and bright colors on our shiny new color TV.

The show made many changes over the years, arguably getting better with each one. However, political correctness reared its ugly head in the late 60’s. I was always a kid who noticed details, and the opening scene was one of my favorite replayed moments in TV. The “man in black” would square off against Mat Dillon on Dodge City’s main street, then crumble into a heap as the marshal would outdraw him.

That scene was endlessly reenacted by my friends and myself in our back yards or in front of the full-length mirror at Montgomery-Ward’s.

But one night, probably in 1968, I noticed that instead of seeing the bad guy crumple, instead the scene cut back to show Matt shooting. What the heck?

By the 1970’s, the PC police had watered the opening down to Matt riding across the desert. Sheesh.

Kate Jackson on Gunsmoke

Gunsmoke had a plethora of guest stars over its 20-year run, and also provided a regular role for Burt Reynolds as blacksmith Quint Asper from 1962-1965. Among its guest stars were Jack Albertson, Claude Akins, John Astin, Cicely Tyson, Slim Pickens, Edward Asner, “Mr. Spock” Leonard Nimoy, John Drew Barrymore, Ed Begley, Ralph Bellamy, “Hoss” Dan Blocker, “The Bad” Lee Van Cleef, Bruce Boxleitner, Beau Bridges, “Batman” Adam West, Charles Bronson, “Mr. French” Sebastian Cabot, “Mr Drucker” Frank Cady, and both versions of Trapper John, Pernell Roberts and Wayne Rogers.

Gunsmoke’s ratings had taken a bit of a dip by 1971, the end of the 15th season, and CBS announced its impending cancellation. A letter-writing frenzy was launched by angry fans, and the show stayed. Ratings went up, too. But in 1975, they had slipped a bit, but the show still placed a very respectable 28th at the end of the season. But CBS pulled the plug permanently this time, as part of the housecleaning it was doing to try to attract younger viewers.

Today, Gunsmoke is one of the most popular shows on TVLand. Many of us former class clowns still offer our drawled imitations of Festus saying “I don’t know, Matthew” when confronted with quandries at work. And I’ve been know to occasionally reenact that shootout scene when nobody’s looking, too. Both The Simpsons and Law and Order will likely eclipse its 20-year run. But that won’t minimize the pleasant memories that we Boomer kids have of watching the daily events unfold in Dodge City all of those years ago.

Gumby and Pokey

Circa 1968, there probably wasn’t an American Boomer kid alive who hadn’t heard of Gumby and Pokey. However, a surprisingly large percentage of them knew them only as toys. There were over 200 TV episodes of Gumby and Pokey produced, yet their distribution via syndication was not nearly as encompassing as Leave It to Beaver, Sea Hunt, or the Donna Reed Show. Those canceled TV series were familiar afternoon fare for schoolkids all over the nation. But Gumby and Pokey didn’t become widely seen on television until the Nickelodeon Network started showing their episodes in the late 80’s.

Gumby was created by animator Art Clokey. In 1955, he created a claymation answer to Walt Disney’s Fantasia called Gumbasia.

The short was a big hit, and Clokey was invited to create a series that would be featured on Howdy Doody. Gumby made his debut on the show in 1956, Pokey and the pesky blockheads showed up shortly afterward.

They were such a hit that NBC granted the clay characters their own series beginning in 1957. That series lasted a mere single season, but Gumby and friends weren’t done with television.

Gliding Gumby

The show went into syndication, but much less widely distributed as the previously mentioned series. Yet it proved a steady performer, profitable enough that new episodes were added in 1962. A few new episodes would be produced each year until 1967. The syndication continued, but the show was effectively gone by the 70’s.

However, with the debut of Nickelodeon, demand for reasonably priced syndicated series that would appeal to both kids and nostalgic adults brought Gumby and his pals back to the small screen. In fact, new episodes were produced that introduced new characters.

Besides Gumby, Pokey, and the blockheads, there were his parents, Gumbo and Gumba; the yellow dinosaur Prickle; Gumby’s dog Nopey; Goo, the flying mermaid; Minga, Gumby’s sister; Tilly the chicken; and Denali the mastodon. Surreal, fun stuff.

But kids like me, who missed out on the TV series, still had the Gumby and Pokey toys to play with. And play with them we did, even though we knew nothing of their television presence. The toys were cool enough, and responsive enough to a kid’s imagination, that seeing them portrayed on the idiot box was not necessary for a kid to greatly enjoy playing with them.

Clokey, who also handled the much-more-marketed Davey and Goliath, launched the careers of many who would one day be giants in the animation business. Claymation, invented so long ago, continues to be a cutting-edge animation technique.

One last bit of trivia: Gumby’s favorite mode of transportation, gliding around on one foot, was devised by Clokey to keep from painstakingly creating a walking stride, many, many hours of work in the world of claymation. Indeed, the wheeled sneakers commonly seen today on kids’ feet may be a byproduct of an animator’s shortcut.

Gilligan’s Island

In the TV theme song hall of fame, if such a thing exists, surely the Most Hallowed section contains the tune that tells the tale of how first mate Gilligan and his skipper (named, as every trivia fan knows, Jonas Grumby) and the rest of the gang found themselves stranded on a desert island.

I seriously doubt that there is a Baby Boomer alive who isn’t familiar with the ditty.

But what you may not have realized about Gilligan’s Island is that it had something in common with Star Trek. Both shows’ popularity didn’t REALLY take off until after they were cancelled after a relatively short first run.

Gilligan and his buddies got shipwrecked on the Saturday night of September 26, 1964. That was when the first episode aired, and the black and white show did very well in the ratings with that particular time slot. After the first year, it began to be broadcast in color, and it was also moved to Thursday nights. The ratings were still quite respectable, never straying from the Top 25, but a strange set of circumstances would doom the show after its third year. More on that in just a bit.

The show was the brainchild of prolific TV screenwriter Sherwood Schwartz. He put together the motley cast of characters who would have their lives irreversibly changed during a pleasant three-hour trip (although Mrs. Howell must have had some premonition of disaster, otherwise why would she pack so many suitcases???). Who would play the part of lovable, bumbling Gilligan?

Well, that was a no-brainer. It would have to be Jerry Van Dyke.

Van Dyke said no, thanks. He saw the show as a potential bomb. The next year, he jumped at the chance to star in My Mother, the Car. Incidentally, he also turned down the role of Barney Fife.

That’s why we love Jerry. He is just as capable of making dumb decisions at the rest of us.

The show’s plotline was painfully predictable. The gang would be within an eyelash of being rescued when Gilligan would goof things up. The skipper would smack him with his hat. Another week stuck on the island, until the next episode. Sigh.

But we kids ate it up. Our fathers and older brothers enjoyed it too, particularly the recurring roles of sultry Ginger and sweet, cute, innocent Mary Ann.

This stirred up an eternal debate: Ginger, or Mary Ann?

The question was immortalized in a 1993 Budweiser commercial, which was one of the earliest examples of Boomer nostalgia. And yes, I have to strongly agree that Jeannie surpassed them both.

The show came to an untimely end after its third season. Here are the details from its Wikipedia article:

Under pressure from the network president, William S. Paley and his wife Babe, as well as many network affiliates and longtime fans of Gunsmoke (which had been airing late on Saturday nights), to reverse its threatened cancellation, CBS rescheduled the Western to an earlier time slot on Monday evenings. This had been Gilligan’s Island’s timeslot in its third season. (The show ran on Saturdays in its debut season, before moving to Thursdays in season two.) Though Gilligan’s Island’s ratings had slumped from 24.7 (18th) to 22.1 (22nd) out of the top 25 (possibly as the result of two timeslot shifts in two years), the series was still profitable. Nevertheless, it was cancelled at practically the last minute. Some of the cast had bought houses based on Sherwood Schwartz’s news of verbal confirmation that the series would be renewed for a fourth season.

So, the last episode ended just as the other 97 did, still stuck on the island.

Three reunion movies were made, however, bringing closures of sorts to the whole situation.

Today, Gilligan’s Island continues to be a hot syndicated item. Our grandkids are getting as big a kick out of it as we did. And popular opinion seems to continue to favor Mary Ann over Ginger.

But let’s face it. Neither one can touch Jeannie.

Get Smart!

Saturday nights were a good TV night when I was a kid. Flipper was on, as was Pistols ‘n’ Petticoats, a show I loved that was only on for a year. But another show I loved, which lasted a lot longer, was Get Smart!

The show was pretty wacky, but with a deadpan approach. Think of Dragnet, with Joe Friday replaced by a bumbling secret agent. Here’s a typical exchange, delivered in deadpan:

Senator: Mr. Smart, how many arrests did Control make last year?Maxwell Smart: I don’t know.

Senator: Who’s the number one man in your organization?

Maxwell Smart: I don’t know.

Senator: How many cases were assigned to Control last year?

Maxwell Smart: I don’t know.

Senator: What would you do if you were fired, Mr. Smart?

Maxwell Smart: They can’t fire me. I know too much.

The show was brilliant, hilarious, and fun. How could it be anything else, seeing how Mel Brooks and Buck Henry were the main writers? The show’s popularity wasn’t hurt by the appearance of one of the foxiest ladies on 60’s TV: Barbara Feldon. Man, I’ll bet she sold a lot of Mercury Cougars.

Maxwell Smart would, agent 86 of Control, would find himself in one fix after another in his struggles with Kaos. However, he would manage to finagle a solution and get away in time for next week’s episode.

The show’s unforgettable opening involved driving his car to Control headquarters, then making his way though five doors until he gets to the phone booth at the end of the hall. He would then dial a number and drop through the bottom.

Max’s lines were memorable and repeated by us ad nauseum. “Sorry about that, Chief!” “Would you believe…” “Missed it by that much!” “I asked you not to tell me that!” “Ah, the old (fill in the blank here) trick!”

And then there were the gadgets. The Cone of Silence (which worked a little too well). The shoe phone. The car cigarette lighter phone. The potted plant phone. The fireplace log phone. The pocket disintegrator pen. The ping-pong paddle gun. The gun that fires three directions at once. The cigarette butt grenades. And, of course, the aluminum knuckles (cheaper than brass).

This was quality stuff. Brooks and Henry took some outrageous chances with jokes that were unlike any on TV, and they scored big. I laughed as hard as my parents. Some of the adult humor went over my head, but there were enough pratfalls and such that it was fun for all ages.

Max and 99 ended up married and the parents of twins before it was over with. Most agree that the show took a turn for the worse with all this family stuff going on.

Get Smart! the movie is slated for release some time in 2007. It has some pretty big shoes to fill.

For all you would ever want to know about Get Smart!, go to

Dialing for Dollars

Oh Lord? Won’t you buy me a color TV?
Dialing for Dollars is trying to find me!

Janis immortalized a local TV phenomenon with her very last recording, “Mercedes Benz.” Indeed, this writer may have completely forgotten about the home-grown giveaway program if not for that lyric, memorized many years ago.

Dialing for Dollars was a part of Boomer memories, as well as those of subsequent generations. Incarnations of the show ran on local affiliates until the 80’s, and may indeed still exist.

It all started in 1939. WCBM radio in Baltimore began running a money giveaway show hosted by Homer Todd. Dialing for Dollars was a local hit, and as television began coming into the picture throughout the late 40’s, it moved to that medium.

The show was franchised, meaning that a fee was paid to use prebuilt props and the like, as well as the familiar format and the ever-more-popular name. Thus, local stations all over the US had their own versions of Dialing for Dollars.

And Boomers, no matter where they grew up, likely can remember such shows.

The concept of the show was simple and effective. The host would announce a passphrase (example: a count and amount). The show might feature interviews, local talent, stuff like that. At some point or points, a telephone number would be selected at random. The number might have been submitted, or it might have been clipped or copied from a local phone directory. I remember a big wire mesh drum that would be rotated and a door being opened and a number being selected. The call would be placed live, and the recipient of the call would be challenged to provide the passphrase.

If they were watching and paying attention, they would win! The money rewarded was appropriate for the budget of a local TV station, perhaps a few hundred bucks.

It was very addictive to a nine-year-old kid home on summer vacation watching television during a weekday afternoon.

Another way the show was conducted was to be featured as commercial breaks during a MOM (moldy old movie) that would be shown in an afternoon time slot, perhaps on a Sunday afternoon when there were no network sports shows available.

In researching this piece, I learned that my own local channel that carried Dialing for Dollars was KODE in Joplin, Missouri. I can remember the canned theme song, a strings tune that was probably used for a dozen other local shows all over the country. And I can remember eagerly sitting by the phone just in case it was our number drawn from the big wire mesh drum.

Of course, it never was, but I experienced excitement nonetheless when a viewer would indeed be watching and win a nifty cash prize in exchange for being in the right place at the right time.

Expanding network offerings and the ready availability of syndicated game shows did Dialing for Dollars in. That was also the case with a plethora of other charming local shows that were designed to fill otherwise dead air time, like this, this, and this. The original DfD left the Baltimore area in 1977, after a 38-year run. They gave away some $800,000 during that period, a few hundred bucks at a time.

So, I guess I can quit waiting by my phone now. Looks like Dialing for Dollars has ceased trying to find me.

Davey and Goliath

“Ooooooh, Davey!”

Those ominous words were regularly coming out of our black and white TV on Sunday mornings. That was the despairing sound of Goliath, world’s wisest claymation dog, who was helplessly observing Davey, world’s most naive claymation boy, ignore his sage advice.

Davey and Goliath episodes were produced by the Lutheran Church, and were widely syndicated from 1962 throughout the rest of the decade. Stations frequently showed them on Sunday mornings as spiritual guidance for little kids who didn’t make it to church that day.

However, they weren’t overly preachy, as I recall. They would concentrate on being a good person, with Davey’s screwups being the basis for instruction given by wise Mr. Hansen at the end of the brief episode.

I really got a kick out of the graphic above (thanks to Davey and Goliath’s official site). It shows the whole family sitting in a living room that is classic 1965. Paneled walls, low-set wood coffee table, landscape print on the wall. That’s what my house looked like.

Goliath was a physical manifestation of the conscience that we all have talking in our ear, but frequently ignore. And when we ignore it, it’s up to a figurative Mr. Hansen to bail us out, as well as sit down with us afterwards and gently tell us the error of our ways.

There was an episode of The Simpsons when Homer rang Ned Flanders’ doorbell, and it played the familiar theme from Davey and Goliath. Good stuff.

Captain Kangaroo

In 1955, a TV show debuted on CBS. It was a morning show aimed at children. The show’s creator, Bob Keeshan, was a talented individual with a love for kids. He was low-key, patient, and appealing to young ones.

The show would last an incredible 29 years, providing loving memories for many generations of Boomers.

The Captain had familiar guest stars, including Mr. Green Jeans, the New Old Folk Singer, and Mr. Bainter, the Painter. These were all played by veteran character actor Hugh “Lumpy” Brannum.

The Captain himself played the Town Clown who had the most enormous shoes I have ever seen.

Another funky visitor was the Banana Man. Here’s his act in a nutshell, from original Banana Man A. Robins’ brochure:

Dressed in clown attire and pushing his trunk on wheels, Robins enters singing his shrill, absurd melody. He then proceeds to produce from his pockets whole bunches of bananas, pineapples, watermelons, banjos, violin, about everything under the sun – he changes wardrobe and character three times, right before your eyes – he fills three trunks with his hundreds of props, converts the trunks into a train, and as the engineer, drives the whole string of cars offstage.

Now THAT’s entertainment!

Other familiar faces were the puppets: Mr. Moose (whose corny jokes always seemed to trigger a ping-pong ball shower on the hapless Captain), Bunny Rabbit, Miss Frog, Mr. Whispers, and Miss Worm.

Additionally, Dancing Bear would come out and do his thing every show.

The show also featured a really cool picture that would draw itself while you watched. The pen lines would magically appear while a song played in the background.

And the songs! The first time I watched Oh Brother, Where Art Thou, I recognized opening tune Big Rock Candy Mountain as one I’d heard on Captain Kangaroo in the 60’s. Cool stuff!

There is an urban legend going around that has Lee Marvin giving kudos to Keeshan for being a war hero. While you want to believe it, unfortunately there is nothing to it. Keeshan signed up for the Marines, but didn’t see any action.

Keeshan did have discernment, though. When a remake of the show was launched in 1997, he was invited to appear as the Admiral. He viewed a few episodes and declared that he wanted nothing to do with it.

Good call, Captain.

Cable TV (The Early Version)

As I have mentioned in previous columns, TV reception in the 1960’s was a hit-and-miss affair. There weren’t nearly as many TV stations back then, and if you lived in small-town America, your signals might be coming from a hundred or more miles away.

An antenna rotor would be of great assistance in getting a good sharp picture to our brand new color TV’s. But they were prone to freezing up, leaving you stuck watching one channel in perfect definition, with the others reduced to snowy, static-laden annoyances.

A strong storm wind could also cause your antenna to become a tangled mass in your back yard. How could a homeowner get all local channels clearly with no worries?

Beginning in 1966 or so in Miami, Oklahoma, the answer was Cablevision.

Cablevision was a radical new concept. It was known as CATV, which stood for Community Antenna Television. And that’s just what it was. Multiple antennae would be mounted on a tall tower, each aimed to optimally capture distant stations’ signals perfectly. The signal would be greatly amplified and sent out over coax cables on telephone poles. Customers would tap into the signal for perhaps ten bucks a month and be treated to razor-sharp images of programs from as far as 150 miles away.

You might get ten channels, VHF and UHF. But the differences would be limited to local programming. There would be two NBC, three CBS, and two ABC affiliates among the dozen. There would probably be an Educational Channel affiliate, and perhaps an independent or two who might only broadcast for a few hours a day.

Micom Cablevision makes it to Miami, Oklahoma, 1965

Dad, of course, would never hear of paying someone for TV signals he could pull in for free. So I never experienced Cablevision. BTW, I know that was the name of the company offering cable service in my hometown. But in 1973, a much larger Cablevision was founded which serves a goodly portion of the northeast USA. No relation, to my knowledge.

I distinctly remember the night Cablevision came to town. They hired a couple of WWII-era spotlights to trace lines of light across Miami’s skies. I was terrified. I had never seen spotlights before, and I was convinced that we were going to be attacked!

My imagination has proven very rewarding over the years, but I’m afraid it was a bit overactive at the age of six.

In 1969, we moved to a rural area, and I spent the next nine years of my life living in the country. Cable TV was not an option. So we were limited to whatever the antenna would pull in. One farm was nestled in a valley, so I spent a couple of years without watching a single CBS show on my TV. However, some of my city-dwelling friends had cable and I was thus able to occasionally catch a Red Skelton Show.

We moved back to town in 1976, and my father decided enough was enough. We got cable, and it included a station out of Atlanta called WTBS. The first Superstation turned my Cardinal-loving father into an additional fan of the Atlanta Braves, as it did with millions of other viewers who lived far from Georgia.

TV Guide didn’t carry TBS programming listings, so you never knew what would be on. But I watched it a lot for the great reruns of old comedies. I watched a bunch of Braves games with dad, too.

And, in a strange twist of retro-technology, I today watch HDTV programming via an antenna I mounted on my roof, due to Dish Network dragging their heels in getting our local channels in that format.

A distinct minority of viewers today choose not to use cable or satellite TV. Many of them take a break form a service, then return when they realize how much they miss a favorite cable-only channel. But once upon a time, cable was brand new, and largely scorned by frugal fathers who saw no reason to pay for something you could get for free.


A time traveler from 1960 would be bewildered by today’s network television offerings. Obviously, the risque content would be shocking. But the dearth of Western dramas would be puzzling as well. For many years, television schedules were heavy with horse operas.

Two series that anchored the genre firmly to Saturday and Sunday nights for many years were Gunsmoke and Bonanza.

Gunsmoke will certainly rate its own future column. Today, we discuss the inhabitants of the Ponderosa.

Bonanza originally aired on Saturday nights beginning the year I was born, 1959. While its rival CBS series had managed to garner good ratings on that particular evening, Bonanza never found its audience. NBC slated it for cancellation, but it received one last chance: a move to Sunday nights.

It was just what the show needed. Ratings skyrocketed, and Bonanza won the yearly ratings crown from 1964 through 1967 as the most popular show in the country.

The show starred Canadian broadcaster Lorne Greene, Georgia singer-actor Pernell Roberts, Texas teacher-turned-actor Dan Blocker, and Teenage Wolfman Michael Landon.

Roberts’ time with the show was marked by many disputes with series writers and show creator David Dortort (who was depicted as the mine overseer in the show’s opening credits). It all came to a head in 1965, when he left the series. Adam was occasionally mentioned afterwards as off traveling somewhere, but eventually was forgotten.

Various characters were introduced to fill Adam’s void, but most lasted only a short time. The longest lasting was David Canary’s Candy, who lived with the family from 1967-1970.

Each show would go one of two directions: serious or comedy. My parents weren’t fans of the funny shows, but they were certainly my favorites. It took the first five minutes of each episode to reveal its nature.

The humorous episodes invariably involved Hoss. Little Joe did his share of funny bits, too. And of course any scene that featured Hop Sing would elicit laughs.

Victor Sen Young, Hop Sing’s portrayer, was a great, underappreciated actor. There simply were no serious roles for Asian-American actors from the thirties onward, so he found himself playing stereotypical roles in the Charlie Chan films and other movies he appeared in. The actor accepted the role of the ranch’s cook, and was in fact an excellent chef in real life. He also had his own real-life adventures, having been wounded in the taking of a hijacked airliner in 1972. Tragically, Sen-Yung died of carbon monoxide poisoning in his home in 1980.

Many say the show was never the same after Adam’s departure, but it garnered its highest ratings nonetheless. However, as we entered the 70’s, Bonanza showed signs of aging. The untimely death of Dan Blocker in 1972 sealed the show’s fate. A last-season-move to Tuesday night was the final nail in its coffin.

Thus ended one of the two longest-running Western series on television, and NBC’s own longest running one until it was dethroned by Law and Order.

Sunday nights in the 60’s wouldn’t have been the same without that familiar theme song coming out of that TV speaker and the Cartwrights riding up on the screen in full-color glory. Here’s to an hour a week that contributed lots of data to my memory banks.

Biff!!! Bam!!! Pow!!!

In May, 1939, DC Comics introduced an unusual super hero with that month’s issue of Detective Comics. This dude had no super powers. He relied on his wits, his physical fitness, and a belt full of cool gadgets. He also had a cave full of nifty stuff like the Batmobile, the Batplane, the Batcycle, and other bonzer crimefighting contrivances.

Batman was a comic book character, sure, but kids (and many adult fans) took him pretty seriously. These hardcore fans must have been taken a bit aback when ABC debuted Batman in January, 1966.

ABC was the perennial loser back then in the ratings race. The loser is the one most likely to take a chance on an outrageous new series to shake things up. In fact, they might try something REALLY crazy, like show two different episodes two nights in a row!

The villains I loved

That’s what they did with Batman. Of course, it helped that the show was an instant hit, taking TWO places in the Nielsen Top Ten its first season. Kids like me were completely entranced by the uniforms, the gadgets, the jet-powered Batmobile, and the biffs, bams, and pows. But the show had an appeal to ADULTS, as well.

The producers of Batman decided early on that things were not to be taken too seriously. Hence, comedic camp was a part of every episode, and many moms and dads tuned in to see intentionally silly criminals and crimes.

I remember DC comics of the era and reading letters from angry Batman and Robin fans decrying the campy TV series. “Robin would never say Holy New Year’s Eve!” one man ranted. “They’re making a mockery out of the greatest super hero in the world!” Batman’s storylines remained fairly consistent in comics like World’s Finest, Detective Comics, the Justice League of America, and Batman’s own comic, as I recall. But hard core fans were calling for a return to the old days, when things were taken much more seriously.

All DC knew was that sales of comics featuring Batman were soaring. So what if the TV show poked fun at his image? What mattered to them was that millions of 12 cent sales were being made all over the world.

Batman was an early adopter of cell phones

The show’s campiness made it a hit with potential guest stars. Executive producer William Dozier told of all sorts of Hollywood stars contacting him for roles as villains. Many got the gigs, including Burgess Meredith as the Penguin, Cesar Romero as the Joker, Frank Gorshin as the Riddler, Eartha Kitt as the Catwoman, and Vincent Price as Egghead, to name a few. There were also THREE Mr. Freezes: George Sanders, Otto Preminger, and Eli Wallach. According to Dozier, many others were turned down simply because no parts could be envisioned for them.

That’s okay, though. Stars could still get in on the action with batclimbs.

As Batman and Robin would climb up the side of a building, as they frequently had to for some reason, a celebrity would pop his head out to have a brief chat. Some witty repartee would be exchanged, and back to the business of climbing buildings and smashing crime. Celebs included Jerry Lewis, Dick Clark, Art Linkletter, Bill Dana, Sammy Davis Jr., Edward G. Robinson, and even a guy who sold Dozier a carpet.

As you can see, there was plenty of comedy to keep the grownups tuning in, but we kids ate up the action. One lucky neighborhood denizen had a black cape complete with an eared hood. A black mask completed the disguise. He was Batman! How the rest of us envied him. We would fashion masks of our own, though, and ride our Batcycles all over the neighborhood terrorizing criminals. It was as much fun playing the Joker and getting whipped as it was being the good guy. We would take play swings at each other and holler Biff!!! Bam!!! Pow!!!

I saw Adam West in a parade in Austin, Texas in 1966. I still get a smile on my face when I remember how thrilled I was.

The show lasted three years before its campiness got old. Still, 120 episodes were in the can, thanks to the two-nights-a-week format of its first season. Therefore, it made a lot more bucks for ABC (and ultimately DC) by being an after-school show for many years afterward. I remember seeing it on local stations as late as the 80’s, and of course on Nick at Nite after that.

If you were a boy in the 60’s, you were profoundly impacted by the Batman show. You doodled pictures of that masked face on your Pee-Chee folder, you imitated the characters in the playground, and you lived for Wednesday and Thursday nights to watch the fun.

Well, that’s about it. Tune in tomorrow, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.