Batman has left the building, leaving a generation without the man who embodied the Caped Crusader like no other.
The death of Adam West, who played the iconic superhero on the campy 1966-68 “Batrman” television series, came June 9 after a short battle with leukemia for the 88-year-old actor.
I know that other Batmans were in popular culture, including the black-and-white 1940s and 1950s movies and then a series of later dark and darker movies about “the Batman” on the big screen. However, for those of my generation, the tail end of the Baby Boom, Adam West was Batman pure and simple.
On afternoons, Batman reruns were shown on TV. We re-enacted the show on the elementary playground. I never read the comics — from whence the show got its words on the screen livening up fistfights with villains — and we never could get “POW!!!” to appear out of thin air. We mostly tooled around in an imaginary Batmobile, saying, “To the Bat Cave!” (Trivia: One of my all-time favorite 1960s TV odd moments was when Col. Klink of “Hogan’s Heroes” from CBS greets the Dynamic Duo from ABC, making small talk as Klink leans out a window as they “climb” a building.)
West and Burt Ward, who played Robin, acted their parts seriously, with deadpan humor that adults enjoyed while we kids just enjoyed the show.
Many years later, (cue batwings symbol in blurring motion shot), in 2009 I did an article about bats being in Kingsley Elementary School in Bloomingdale, a school that has since closed, been sold and is to be turned into apartments. Then-Kingsley Principal Sandra Ramsey later told me that West’s agent from California had contacted the school after seeing summer of 2009 reports of the bat issue and that West might be interested in visiting the school.
I thought he should come tooling into Bloomingdale in the Batmobile and that his appearance would be as much or more of a draw for parents and grandparents than the kids. I also asked Ramsey to let me know if she got any more word from the agent, but, alas, Kingsley closed in 2012 and Batman never came in person to Bloomingale to my knowledge. A sinkhole recently opened up on Lucy Road near the school, which officials said was caused by a water line leak. Conspiracy theorists might say it actually was the long-forgotten entrance to a Bat Cave, maybe Batman’s Northeast Tennessee home away from his home of Gotham City.
Anyway, I always thought it was awfully handy that the 1960s Batman and Robin had all sorts of gadgets to help them, most with “Bat” before whatever it was on the label. Bat Shark Repellent was a perfect example, but not more than the Bat Computer. Batman and Robin simply put whatever physical clues they had into an opening in the computer, and it figured everything out and told them where the villain was or whatever they needed to know. The Batphone, of course, communicated with Police Commissioner Gordon.
Of course the Batmobile is still my favorite means of Batman transport even though the Batcycle and Batboat were good, too. The 1960s Batmobile was once in Pigeon Forge at a car museum, although I never got to see it. However, I did sort of get to meet Robin in Pigeon Forge.
On a trip to either Rebel Railroad or Gold Rush Junction circa 1969-71 (the name/ownership change occurred in 1970), I got to meet Robin in person and Mom and Dad paid for a Robin-signed glossy 8-by-10, black-and-white photo of him. (Gold Rush Junction became Silver Dollar City, which became Dollywood in 1986). I think the Robin I met was likely a college student on a summer job, but the photo seemed to be of the real-deal actor, Burt Ward, “climbing” a building without Batman or Klink. I kept it in my parents’ junk drawer for years, but it eventually disappeared into the same abyss where odd socks, loose change and lost keys go for eternity.
Now Batman is gone, too.
Lesson: When will this column return to non-super hero education issues? Tune in same bat time, same bat channel (this newspaper) to find out.
Bonus question: Which came first, Gold Rush Junction or Rebel Railroad?
Rick Wagner is the education writer for the Kingsport Times-News. Email him at [email protected]