Holy half century, Batman! Celebrating 50 years of the Batman TV show

“Atomic batteries to power! Turbines to speed!”

Fifty years ago today, January 13, 1966, Batman and Robin faced off against the Riddler in the televised premiere of Batman on ABC. The day after the first episode, the New York Times stated “Bob Kane’s heroes of the comic strip came to television last night as real people, and it looks as if the American Broadcasting Company has something going for it.”  The Los Angeles Times wrote that Batman and Robin “have become new high priests of Camp.”  Many Hollywood actors wanted to become villains for the show.  The most well-known and most used villains in the program were Burgess Meredith as The Penguin, Cesar Romero as The Joker, Julie Newmar as Catwoman, and Frank Gorshin as The Riddler.

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Catwoman (Julie Newmar) kneeling over Batman (Adam West) tied to a giant mousetrap in the episode “That Darn Catwoman.” William Dozier Papers, American Heritage Center.

The papers of William Dozier, the executive producer of the Batman television series, are held at the American Heritage Center. Born 1908 in Omaha Nebraska, Dozier started out as a writer in Hollywood during the 1930s and 1940s.  In the 1950s he worked for CBS and produced shows such as Danger, a dramatic anthology show which ran from 1950 to 1955, and which starred such luminaries as James Dean, Jack Lemmon, Carroll Baker, Grace Kelly, and Paul Newman.

In 1964, Dozier founded Greenway Productions, which went on to produce such shows as The Loner starring Lloyd Bridges and The Tammy Grimes Show.  Of course, Dozier’s best known show is Batman, starring Adam West and Burt Ward.  The show ran for two-and-one-half years and became a cultural phenomenon.

In November 2014 all 120 episodes of the television series were finally released on remastered Blu-ray and DVD.  The long delay was due to the split ownership of the series.   Rights were held by the creator and producer of the series William Dozier, DC Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, and Warner Brothers.  It wasn’t until John Stacks, who began selling model kits of the characters in Batman in 1998 and was then told by DC to stop and desist with his efforts, that he began researching the William Dozier Papers here at the American Heritage Center which then led to what wired.com described as the series escaping “legal purgatory.”

Stacks began researching the Dozier papers for own reasons, but the documents he uncovered and passed along to the Dozier family proved “to be pivotal to bring Batman to home video.”  Eventually, Fox became sole owner of the series and agreed that Warner Home Video would be the distributor of the DVD and Blu-ray set.  Stacks did not benefit in any way from the release of the video.

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Catwoman (Julie Newmar) kneeling over Batman (Adam West) tied to a giant mousetrap in the episode “That Darn Catwoman.” William Dozier Papers, American Heritage Center.

William Dozier donated his papers to the AHC during the 1980s.  The collection includes materials relating to Dozier’s production of television programs with Greenway Productions and other television studios and companies. There are scripts, budgets, cast lists, fan mail, photographs, posters, production reports, shooting schedules, story outlines, titles and credits for mainly “Batman” and for other television programs. Also included is correspondence with actors and others involved in Dozier’s productions, with Lorenzo Semple (Batman writer) and Erle Stanley Gardner (Perry Mason writer). There are related legal documents, memos, notebooks, speeches and articles by Dozier.  The inventory of the collection is available here.

The 50th anniversary of the premiere of Batman on the air has not gone unnoticed by the media. Both CNN and Smithsonian Magazine have covered the occasion, and toymaker Lego has even released a set of the 1966 Batcave and Batmobile in honor of the anniversary.

About Tyler Cline

Digital Archivist at UNC Charlotte
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