Aight. Over the years writing for this blog I have made no secret of my deep, undying affection for the Hollywood B-Listers. I have devoted several posts to the films of Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, and Christopher Lee, including one entirely on the fact that they didn’t make the A-List. Today I focus in on another of the much-beloved, widely-recognized, critically-overlooked darlings of decades past: the man who defined heroism for a generation of television viewers, whose legacy continues to overshadow the comic book world: Adam West.
A couple of years ago I wrote a distracted, meandering article about the iconic Batman of 1966, in which a tight-wearing, definitively campy Caped Crusader faces his deadliest opponent of all: all of his opponents at once. Complete with baffling riddles, even more baffling solutions, awkward Catwoman seduction scenes, amazing knock-outs, shark-repellent bat spray, and a sequence in which Batman must confront the perils of bomb disposal, Batman ’66, as it is now generally called, remains one of the truest, most genuinely endearing displays of a man dedicating his career to teaching kids not to snack between meals, a lesson that didn’t stick to this particular young mind.
I recently watched the 2013 Kickstarter documentary Starring Adam West, which, if you can’t guess, delves into the career and personal life of the main man himself, set against the backdrop of his daughter’s struggle to acquire him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I’m no good at critiquing documentaries on any sort of cinematic level, because basically if I find it interesting, informative, and entertaining, it succeeds in my book. I am far less discerning about documentaries than I am narrative films. So, I don’t know if Starring Adam West is a great movie, but it told its story very well and I learned a great deal. What more can you ask for?
The film tells a story of a young man who dreamed of making it as a Hollywood star, who entered the gambit alongside Clint Eastwood, Roger Moore, and Steve McQueen, who churned out cheap westerns just like they did, and, like they did, got his big break in the late 1960s. Where Eastwood became Dirty Harry, Moore became Bond, and McQueen became STEVE MCQUEEN, this young actor took a starring role in a goofy action comedy for children. Although it ran for only three years, his performance became so iconic, memorable, and otherwise definitive that it came to define not only the rest of his career, but the rest of his life also. As one can reasonably understand, this fate does appear altogether attractive to someone who began life with hopes of a serious dramatic reputation.
And here the story goes from interesting to inspirational. Adam West struggled for decades to distance himself from Batman and in that time kept falling lower and lower (with the aid of alcohol, womanizing, and one too many costumed car show cameos). He was not the man we knew and loved. Eventually, though, he had an epiphany. People did love him, and they loved him for being Batman. He finally came to the realization that, although it wasn’t what he originally wanted, he achieved a level of stardom that few people do, and even more importantly, he did so while truly making a difference in the lives of millions of viewers. He owed it to those people to shape up, embrace his legacy, and do his best to continue to bring light into their lives.
And what a classy dude he’s transformed into. He goes to conventions, signs autographs, takes pictures with people, happily engages in conversation with fans, shakes hands, cracks jokes, and just seems like an all-around good guy. He’s the exact kind of Hollywood star I love the most. Adam West has moved beyond the pretension and egotism all but inherent to his craft, and has embraced his place in the public consciousness. Actors are capable of doing only two things: creating art and entertaining; the best among them do both. We can enter into a long, heated, and pointless argument as to whether or not Batman ’66 counts as art, but we can agree on one thing: it is hella entertaining. Adam West has accepted that and has reaped the greatest possible benefits for it: he’s got his star on Hollywood Blvd. and, more importantly, he has been immortalized in Lego. He’s even playable in Lego Batman 3. And does it get better than that?