Saturday, August 24, 2013

Batman 1966 Casting Call: Leslie Thompkins, Julie Madison and Kathy Kane

Ben Affleck has just been inducted into an elite fraternity: The League of Batmen. He joins Michael Keaton, George ("Franchise Killer") Clooney, Val Kilmer, Christian Bale and Adam West. He also joins the likes of Olan Soule, Gary Owens, Frank Welker, Jeremy Sisto, William Baldwin, Bruce Greenwood, Rino Romano, Diedrich Bader and Kevin Conroy - just to name a few! - who have voiced The Batman for animation. A petition is being circulated to undo Affleck's casting. At last count it had reached 25,000 signatures. Warner Bros. received 50,000 letters from irate Batman fans about Michael Keaton's casting. Pick one of the many actors to portray Batman, and I'm sure someone is dissatisfied with the performance. I liked Keaton's Batman; his Bruce Wayne was a bit on the weak side. Bale's Batman is much to coarse for me, but I liked his Bruce Wayne. I would describe it as affable. Kilmer was like George Lazenby, the "transitional" Batman. Kevin Conroy managed to capture the best Batman and the best Bruce Wayne with just his voice. Adam West will probably be forever stereotyped as the character.

The 1966 live-action Batman television series starring Adam West and Burt Ward was a groundbreaking, landmark series. It was such a pop-culture phenomenon that EVERY body wanted to be on it.

Lyle Waggoner lost the role to Adam West. I think he would make an awesome regular cast-member as Gotham City District Attorney Harvey Dent. Dent was played in the 1989 film by Billy Dee Williams - also known as Lando Calrissian in the Star Wars films - Tommy Lee Jones opposite Val Kilmer in Batman Forever, and Aaron Eckhart in The Dark Knight. He was voiced on Batman: The Animated Series by Richard Moll, Bull from the '80's sitcom Night Court. The character really shined in both the O'Neil-Adams era of the Batman comics and the Timm-Dini animated universe. Instead of Stafford Repp's memorable Chief O'Hara, I would have loved to see Lyle Waggoner transform from DA Dent into Two-Face.


Alongside Waggoner's Dent, I would add Jessica Walter as Pamela Isley. It would be cool to watch these two actors unravel over the course of a season. Walter's Isley would reveal herself as the pernicious Poison Ivy; Waggoner's Dent would descend into the tormented Two-Face.

As much I like Dick Grayson's aunt Harriet Cooper, I would introduce a character that was introduced much later in the comic books: Dr. Leslie Thompkins. She was introduced in 1976, and became a surrogate mother-figure to a young Bruce Wayne. She and Alfred Pennyworth watched Bruce Wayne grow into The Dark Knight. She would know about both Bruce and Dick's dual idnentity, which would eliminate some of the inherent camp and silliness. Leslie could have added a sense of melodrama and philosophy to the series. The Donna Reed Show was just winding down in the Spring of 1966, I would have cast Donna Reed as Dr. Leslie Thompkins. I would have cast her as a series regular to get around her stance on guest-starring roles.

I would also cast Julie Madison, Bruce Wayne's actress fiance from the early years of Detective Comics. I would cast the character as recurring in a romantic triangle for West's Bruce Wayne. She would be a bit self-obsessed and oblivious to others around her, which would explain why she wouldn't discover Bruce's dual identity. It wouldn't matter. I think she would be the perfect first season romance. She would be in competition for Bruce's affections with the much more adventuresome Kathy Kane. Why these two women were never used on the television series is beyond me. It would be interesting to see Bruce deal with his feelings for Julie, Kathy and the alluring Catwoman. Here's who I would see as Julie Madison: Raquel Welch.

I wouldn't see Bruce and Julie lasting the complete run of the series. Remember, Bruce is supposed to be something of a ladies' man. So, he would be engaged to Julie at the start of the series. She would be perfect as a younger version of Aunt Harriet. Oblivious and clueless. She would be cast in a film at the end of the season, and due to busy schedules, the engagement would be called off.

The other figure in the romantic triangle would be the daring and adventurous Kathy Kane. She would be inspired, much like in the comics, to become Batwoman. not only would she be the perfect counterpart for Bruce Wayne; but, the ideal female counterpart to Batman, before the debut of Batgirl. It would be interesting to see some competitiveness come up between Batwoman and Batgirl. Kathy would be hard to cast, because like Yvonne Craig's Batgirl, the role would be somewhat physically demanding. But, I would cast the late Meredith MacRae in the role. At the time Batman debuted, she was in-between My Three Sons and Petticoat Junction, so she could have been available as Kathy. She could have stayed blonde, and then thrown on a brunette wig as Batwoman.

Most series have a limited licensing. The Batman television series would have a license to use characters related to Batman and appearing in Detective Comics and Batman. So, that would limit the use of Justice League and Teen Titans characters respectively. However, DC could have beat Joss Whedon by decades if they had begun with either The Adventures of Superman, or Batman. With the death of George Reeves in 1959, the potential for Superman to make a guest-starring or cameo appearance opposite Adam West would fall to Mission: Impossible's Willy Armitage, played by Peter Lupus.

Lupus made several commercials as Superman. He has the physique and the look of the Man of Steel. Special effects might be tricky to pull of his appearance; flying being the biggest challenge, but take away the flying, like showing Two-Face's horrific scars, and Superman and Batman could have had been The World's Finest before Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck.

To complete the Trinity, I would have cast dancer Cyd Charisse as Wonder Woman. Diana Prince would have added yet another female lead to the series, and another romantic link, and possibly another romantic triangle; this one between Lupus' Superman and the Amazing Amazon.

It would be cool to see a three-part episode with Superman, another three-part episode with Wonder Woman; and then, a full four-part episode, or two-hour television event with Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. 

Batman could have been one of the longest-running super-hero television series in history. Still, forty-seven years later, we're still enjoying it, and the newly minted merchandising and a DC Comic of original stories based on the landmark series.

As always, I'm open to suggestions. I'd like you to share your comments and thoughts below.

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