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"Puzzling" question about Batman villain with Shakespearean twist

Rick Wagner • Mar 28, 2018 at 11:12 AM

Holy Shakespearean phrases, Batman, from whence did a villain who was an expert on Shakespeare emerge? Hint: It’s a “puzzle” about a one-hit wonder of sorts, with due apologies to the Boy Wonder, Batman sidekick Robin.

As most folks who grew up in the mid-1960’s to mid-1970’s know, the campy 1960’s “Batman” television series was first broadcast on ABC television in prime time before prolific reruns in the 1970’s, and it still is in reruns today, including on MeTV. I used to watch “Batman” reruns after elementary school each day and we used to play Batman on the playground during recess, plus I learned maybe a little Shakespeare from Batman, so this definitely relates to education.

WHO WERE COMMON ‘BATMAN’ VILLAINS?

The comic book-inspired show included a cast of recurring villains over 120 episodes: including the Joker, (Cesar Romero), the Riddler, played by two actors (more on this later), Catwoman played by two actresses (Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt), Penquin (Burgess Meredeth), False Face, Mr. Freeze (played by three actors), the Mad Hatter, King Tut, Egghead (Vincent Price), Chandell (Liberace), Marsha, Queen of Diamonds, Shame, Sandman, Lord Marmaduke Ffogg and Lady Penelope Peasoup. (No, I didn’t make up any of these.)

HOW LONG DID THE SERIES RUN, AND HOW MANY VILLAINS DID IT HAVE?

It ran for three seasons, 1966, 1967 and 1968, and also spawned a 1966 made-for-TV movie. In the regular series, all told, 30 villains played by 37 actors and actresses crossed paths with the Dynamic Duo. Four of those villains, the Joker, Penguin, Riddler and Catwoman, appeared in the movie.

However, for one 1966 two-part storyline or arc in season two, a villain emerged and then vanished: the Puzzler. (The third and final season had no such two-episode arcs since it appeared only once a week on the network by then instead of twice a week.)

WHY THE APPEARANCE OF A NEW NEMESIS?

According to multiple sources online, the unavailability of the Frank Gorshin, the actor who played the Riddler, lead to the slight revision in the script for a villain called the Puzzler. One source says simply that Gorshin was unavailable, the other says he had a pay dispute with the show and declined to appear because of that. He appeared as the Riddler later in the series, although John Astin of “Adams Family” fame played the part twice before Gorshin’s return.

Either way, the Riddler’s guest appearance became the Puzzler’s, and Maurice Evans made his only appearances on the series. I recently misremembered him as the Quizzler, a non-existent villain. And the TV show had to get permission to use the Puzzler name because it was the name of a villian in the Superman universe.

With campy art reflecting life, Royal Shakespeare Company repertory artist Evans, known for his acting of Shakespeare plays and knowledge of them, played a villain who knew Shakespeare through and through, possibly overall better than Batman, a.k.a. millionaire Bruce Wayne. The two throughout the two episodes quote Shakespeare more than your high school English teacher would, and in the final scene Batman corrects the Puzzler in the play line number of a quote from “Macbeth.” Remember, Wayne (Batman) and his ward (Dick Grayson) activate the sliding bookcase Bat Pole entrance to the Bat Cave by flipping back a Shakespeare bust and flipping the hidden switch.

WHO WERE THE OTHER VILLAINS?

Zelda the Great, Book Worm (Rodney McDowell), the Archer and the Minstrel, the Clock King, Colonel Gumm, the Black Widow (Tallulah Bankhead in her last role), Siren (Joan Collins), Lola Lasagne, Ma Parker and Calamity Jan each appeared in a single two-story arc, like the Puzzler. Louie the Lilac (Milton Burle) appeared in two separate but non-sequential episodes, as did Olga, Queen of the Cossacks. Nora Clavicle appeared in one episode, as did Cassandra Spellcraft, Cabala and Minerva (Zsa Zsa Gabor).  

QUIZ QUESTION: Was Milton Burle a guest villian on the 1960s “Batman,” and if so, what was his character?

BONUS QUESTION: Was the Quizzler a guest villian, and if so, who played that character?

 

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