Adam West: remembering the real Batman

Adam West, the campy television star who delivered zingers with a straight face on the hugely-popular 1960s series “Batman,” never recovered from being typecast as the Caped Crusader.

Eventually he came to embrace that fate, doing voice-over for animated comedies and gamely participating in pop culture conventions. A few years ago he told a convention crowd, “I’m the luckiest actor in the world, folks, to have you still hanging around.”

Adam West, 88, died Friday night, after a graceful final chapter in an iconic career.

He recognized that his place in the pop culture firmament was limited. But it was also comfortable and durable. So he celebrated it.

By the time I spoke with him in 2010, just before he came to Atlanta to make an appearance at the Wizard World Atlanta Comic Con, he had parlayed “Biff!” “Bang!” and “Pow!” into steady work.` He had a house in Ketchum, Idaho, and another in Palm Springs. I called him at the latter locale, and asked about his surroundings.

“Right now,” he told me, in a typically rhapsodic exchange, “I’m on a balcony of tile and wrought iron in an old Tuscan-type villa, looking up at a searingly hot, rocky, barren mountain, in which you can’t imagine any living thing. However, it’s populated by the most amazing creatures and vegetation. And immediately below me, I have palm trees and water. And one lonely pine.”

Wow, I said. You’ve just painted a picture with words.

“That’s what I’m paid for,” he said. “It has been part of my career. I’ve ghost-written a number of screenplays, television series that were optioned. I started early on as a TV director in live television.”

Read and sign the online guestbook for Batman star Adam West

Batman is a writer. This comes as something of a surprise, though a glance at West’s autobiography, “Back to the Batcave,” from 1994, reveals a familiarity with Dickens, Wilde and Henry James.

“But Bo,” he goes on, “I’m lazy. Really, really lazy. I decided since they wanted me as an actor, why the hell not? Then I discovered it’s harder than it looks. But the trick is to make it look easy.”

Though he made it look easy, I don’t buy West’s claim of laziness, since that year, at age 82, he would be traveling to Atlanta to sign autographs, chat on a panel and brighten the day for some fan boy or fan girl.

He also continued to pursue outlets for his creative urges, branching out into painting. Later that year he would drive the original Batmobile to the opening of his first show at the David W. Streets Beverly Hills Art Gallery. (His pictures were mostly cartoonish super villains and the like.)

“What they call me now is a ‘pop culture expressionist’,” he said. “What that means is you don’t have to be able to draw.”

What I gathered from this interview was that West was making a conscious, liberating choice. Instead of brooding and complaining that he couldn’t get “serious” roles, he decided to enjoy the role that had been handed to him.

Feature writers inevitably interview long-in-the-tooth television stars, old warhorses out to promote a dinner-theater appearance or a repackaged set of DVDs.

Sometimes the experience is disheartening. You are presented with a tired celebrity whose sell-by date has passed.

Not so with West. He was a droll fellow who was having a blast in his golden years.

“I decided that because people have gotten such fun and joy and happiness and whatever out of the show, who the hell am I not to go with it?” he said. “How many actors have a chance to create a character that’s iconic like that, and brings people such laughs and fun?”

Would he be charging for autographs, like some comic con celebrities?

“Bo, I never talk about money or necking,” he said. “I could have said spooning,” he added.

His conclusion: “I’m delighted to be anywhere.”

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