Archive for July 20th, 2018

by Sam Juliano

One of my fondest childhood memories dates back to the summer of 1967.  At that time television was all the rage for the baby boomer crowd especially programs that spoke directly to adolescent tastes and sensibilities.  Invariably this meant re-runs of the Man of Steel, the Swiss Family Robinson in space, an exciting new series set on a star-ship guided by a dynamic captain and his pointy-eared communications officer and underwater adventures negotiated from a high-powered submarine.  Each of these fantastical shows enthralled us as we followed uncompromising schedules where not even a single miss was conceivable.  Many of us found no trouble connecting with characters whom by the sheer power of their personalities stoked our imaginative embers.  The small screen infatuation ascended to an interactive plateau after I was invited to join a “Batman Fan Club” by an enterprising friend and classmate who is now a famous heart specialist.  The meetings for this fledgling fraternity were held in young Richard Palu’s basement in a meticulously maintained and manicured suburban one-family, where a family dynamic comparable to that played out in Leave it to Beaver made for some happy experiences.  Patricia and Nello were model parents who brought up their two sons (at the time 13 and 11) dotingly, imparting in them purpose and responsibility.  The patriarch was active in the community, coaching sports’ teams and serving a scout master, while the brood’s dedicated housewife was active in community and church groups.  (In a remarkable aside, Patricia is now entering her 97th year and continues to live in the very same Fairview, New Jersey home where the specters of the Caped Crusader and Boy Wonder once inhabited, and she’s as sprite and as sharp as ever, even maintaining an active Facebook account).

The mid-week meetings of the club were held at 4:00 P.M. and could be described as disciplined talk sessions.  Each of the eight or nine members would discuss the current week’s episodes and what they liked best about the airing.  A favorite related activity as I recall involved the group dressing up as the villain of their choice, though the selection wasn’t limited to the show aired that week, but rather to all the shows seen over the first year and beyond.  This included the Riddler, the Penguin, the Joker, Catwoman, Mr. Freeze, the Mad Hatter, King Tut, the Puzzler, the Sandman, Zelda the Great, Minerva, Ma Parker, Olga, the Clock King, False Face, Bookworm, Minstrel, Louie the Lilac, the Archer and others in a lineup that eventually numbered 34 Caped Crusader adversaries.  Since the membership was exclusively male, the Catwoman never had a taker, and there was always heated competition for the Big Three, particularly the Joker, the most iconic nemesis of all, and the character boasting the best portrayal on the 60’s show than any other subsequent incarnation – better than Jack Nicholson, better than Heath Ledger and Jared Leto.  On Batman 66 Joker often had the best episodes because the shows he starred in usually had the most appealing story-lines.  Villainous ambition was never as elaborately conceived and staged, and Cesar Romero in an inspired updating of Gwynplaine from Paul Leni’s The Man Who Laughs rigs a high school basketball game so he can bet money on the underdog, invents a machine that can stop time and place and even in one show builds a flying saucer.  Romero’s vitality matches Frank Gorshin’s acrobatic Riddler, and his defining high camp was always perfectly attuned to the unique vibe of the show. The Riddler is a criminal genius capable of extraordinary lateral thinking in decoding and formulating puzzles of all kinds was of course a membership favorite as was the Penguin, portrayed by one of the series’ most renowned stars, Burgess Meredith.   The actor’s trademark purple hat, monocle, cigarette holder, umbrella and signature voice, when he mimicked the squawk of his polar namesake.  His thugs wear black bowler hats and dark clothing adorned with names of various animals of prey, such as birds (“Hawk”) or fish (“Shark”), or sometimes simply “Henchman.” (more…)

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