TO THE BATPOLES #132: Women of Season One: Not Just "Poor, Deluded Girls"

General goings on in the 1966 Batman World

Moderators: Scott Sebring, Ben Bentley

Post Reply
User avatar
bat-rss
Posts: 2
Joined: Sun Apr 05, 2015 5:27 am

TO THE BATPOLES #132: Women of Season One: Not Just "Poor, Deluded Girls"

Post by bat-rss » Thu Apr 30, 2020 5:46 am

Image

TV in the '60s was, of course, dominated by male characters. It'd be tough to find a series that would pass the "Bechdel Test." How does Batman fare from a woman's point of view in the year 2020? To help us investigate this question, we invited novelist Nancy Northcott to join us this time and screen selected episodes from the first season. Plus, Tim and Paul have identified five "rules" for how women (molls in particular) are portrayed on the show.

Also, "Bat Attack '89" (a Keaton-cash-in-cover of Hefti's Batman theme), and your mail on episode 129 "The Show's Ratings, and Rating 'Godzilla'!"

http://tothebatpoles.libsyn.com/132-wom ... uded-girls

User avatar
High C
Posts: 0
Joined: Mon Sep 03, 2012 8:01 am

Re: TO THE BATPOLES #132: Women of Season One: Not Just "Poor, Deluded Girls"

Post by High C » Sun May 03, 2020 6:23 am

Thanks to everyone for a terrific podcast, especially Ms. Northcott, who was a very interesting guest and who made a lot of terrific points. A lot to unpack here, and I apologize in advance for the length.

Nancy had great points about how even the molls who had a lot of screen time were interchangeable. Sooo true. And as she said, the only reason for Molly to run toward the nuclear pile was to eventually be eradicated. And as she also said, Susie wasn't very sophisticated. Canada and Mexico aren't exactly known for perfume, as Ms. Northcott noted. I agree with her assessment of Blaze as the best season 1 moll and, IMO, some of that had to do with the late Myrna Fahey being a bit more nuanced actress than Jill St. John (no offense to JSJ). Also, credit scripter Stephen Kandel. And remember, Paul, Venus in the Zodiac Crimes was part of a Stanford Sherman rewrite. When you get to Kandel's original draft for 'The Astrologer,' without Joker and Penguin, who knows, maybe you will get a truer idea of how he wrote Venus. Ohhhhhhhh, Batttttmannnnnnnnnn.

Like it or not, Lorenzo Semple, Jr. has to take some of the hit. If you look at his resume, he wasn't known for writing super strong female characters. Granted, some of his movie screenplays involve remakes, such as Flash Gordon and King Kong, in which the sexism was baked in. But I would argue he did not do a whole lot to bring the sensibilities of those films more in line with 1980 and 1976, respectively. And similarly, his adaptation of an unfinished novel by Larry Forrester which turned into the screenplay for the 1967 Fox film Fathom, starring Raquel Welch in the title role as a skydiving spy, directed by Leslie Martinson, shows her at times as being capable (there's an iconic scene of her in a green bikini utilizing an exploding earring on a dude who could pass as Commodore Schmidlapp's brother) but often has her being bailed out by Tony Franciosa.

As for his Zelda, I'll admit we do not know how ineffectual male magician Carnado was in the comics story that inspired it before Semple changed the gender to work more 'dames' (ugh) into the show per Dozier's request. But as Paul said, it is weird that Semple keeps calling a then 42-year-old Baxter a 'doll' in the recap.

I understand why you guys want to devote a whole show to Julie Newmar--she deserves it--but it should be pointed out the first season Catwoman certainly was an outlier. She did not want a relationship with Batman at that point, as you brothers have noted. In season 2, Paul, she uses that phrase you mentioned. She actually says she wants what every woman wants, the love of a good man. Ugh.

Also, Paul, I disagree about the reason for Alfred's 'addiction' to watching a TV show. Remember, it was a Wednesday. Let's just say he probably wasn't watching Lost In Space or The Virginian. I think that was more reflexive than sexist.

Also, fwiw, women in season 1 deliver knockout gas to men on at least six occasions by my count (Queenie, Blaze, Lydia, Pauline, Finella, Catwoman). Is there some kind of symbolism there? ... 'Poor deluded girl' became such a Bat-cliche that ABC actually used the phrase in a promo photo of Frank Gorshin and Linda Scott when that arc first aired in March.
'I thought Siren was perfect for Joan.'--Stanley Ralph Ross, writer of 'The Wail of the Siren'

My hobbies include gazing at the Siren and doing her bidding, evil or otherwise.

'She had a devastating, hypnotic effect on all the men.'--A schoolmate describing Joan Collins at age 17

User avatar
Jim Akin
Posts: 0
Joined: Tue Sep 18, 2012 8:24 pm

Re: TO THE BATPOLES #132: Women of Season One: Not Just "Poor, Deluded Girls"

Post by Jim Akin » Sun May 03, 2020 4:22 pm

Great conversation, but you missed my favorite season one moll—and one I'd argue deviates at least little from the interchangeability of the ones discussed in the podcast.

Lisa, Mad Hatter's protegée in The Thirteenth Hat/Batman Stands Pat, takes an active role in Tetch's schemes, and she needs no enticements to get on board with Batman's murder: Listen to her gleeful flirtation with Tetch as he describes how machinery in his hat factory will mutilate our hero.

Lisa also has a large part (and lots of screen time without the Hatter) in the episodes—she double-crosses her employer Mme. Magda, passes a "clue" to Batman and Robin at Magda's hat shop, and persuades Turkey Bowinkle to disclose the location of his bowler.

Maybe even more than Lydia Limpet, at the end of the Hatter episodes, Lisa is utterly unrepentant—no sob story to Batman, no eye-batting in his direction, no indication she's glad he survived, etc. She's not deluded, she's just bad—and seemingly proud of it.

Diane McBain did such a great job as bad girl Lisa that I'd been a batfan for years before I realized she was the same actress who played Pinky Pinkston in the Green Hornet crossover. (The wig probably had something to do with that as well.)

I agree the "doll" references in the Zelda the Great episodes are regrettable, but I think it's possible they predated the casting of Anne Baxter in the part. They also might have been meant in the "Guys and Dolls" sense, as a synonym for "dame," not to denote youth or petiteness. (On the other hand, in Season 2 Black Widow calls *men* doll—even "Batdoll.") Both "dame" and "doll" were outdated in 1966, but less so than they are today.

User avatar
kyle
Posts: 2
Joined: Mon May 27, 2019 10:42 am

Re: TO THE BATPOLES #132: Women of Season One: Not Just "Poor, Deluded Girls"

Post by kyle » Sun May 03, 2020 7:49 pm

There certainly are obvious moments in the Season 1 that poorly reflect women and would be unacceptable today. And there's little doubt about the lack of strong female characters in the show. I may differ somewhat in agreeing that *every* situation reflects poorly on women.

For example, in the situation where Alfred felt bad about watching TV instead of doing his job... My viewpoint is this: Men have a natural instinct to be a "hero" to the people they love. Whether it be a soldier helping his comrade, a young man helping an older lady carry groceries, or a father helping a neighbor kid, it's a man's nature to be that hero. So I view this scene not as a slight against a hapless Aunt Harriett, but as Alfred's natural instinct.

The "slight" against women not being involved criminal activities.... To me that points the finger directly at the "idiotic men". Yes I see the inference that women aren't capable of crime or are too naive or can easily be reformed, but I didn't see view until listening to the podcast. I see it more as women are smarter than men. :)

My final comment is actually a question.... The role of the moll. It seems to be like the nature of a moll is similar to that of a henchmen in this show, which means those characters (male and female) are not necessarily going to be portrayed in the best light, imo.

In future episodes like this one, I'd be interested to hear your commentary on comparing the portrayal of men/women in a similar role (like the moll-henchmen comparison); and also perhaps commentary on how scripts could have be done more sensitively.

Thanks for your efforts in putting out the podcast!

User avatar
Jim Akin
Posts: 0
Joined: Tue Sep 18, 2012 8:24 pm

Re: TO THE BATPOLES #132: Women of Season One: Not Just "Poor, Deluded Girls"

Post by Jim Akin » Mon May 04, 2020 6:59 am

kyle wrote:
Sun May 03, 2020 7:49 pm
My final comment is actually a question.... The role of the moll. It seems to be like the nature of a moll is similar to that of a henchmen in this show, which means those characters (male and female) are not necessarily going to be portrayed in the best light, imo.
This is a good point for discussion. In some bat-episodes, molls took on the traditional role associated with the term in pulps and film noir—the girlfriend/lover of the primary (male) villain. (The only equivalents among guest villainesses were Cabala, who was explicitly presented as Dr. Cassandra's husband, and arguably Egghead, who was as much Olga's "moll" as she was his.) Yet in other episodes, female accomplices had no greater claim to the villain's affections than any other stooge. Thus, we can distinguish two categories of molls—"girlfriends" and "henchwomen."

When they existed, sexual relationships between villains and molls were never too overt—Shame making out with Calamity Jan was as hot and heavy as it got—but many episodes include flirtation and the odd caress that hint at intimacy between villain and moll. Examples of "girlfriend" accomplices include Riddler's Molly and Moth; Joker's Queenie and Jill, Mad Hatter's Lisa, Egghead's Miss Bacon, Mr. Freeze's Glacia Glaze and Minstrel's Octavia. (Per Nancy Northcott's comments, I don't mean to demean grown women by calling them "girlfriends," but "lover" and "paramour" seem too strong for these chaste portrayals.)

"Henchwoman" accomplices may have more prominent roles in their episodes than male thugs, but they're otherwise just part of the gang. Susie is a good example, as Joker was ready to kill her once she outlived her usefulness (not to mention that a relationship between Joker and a teenager would have been totally creepy). Other "henchwomen" who come to mind are Blaze, Lydia Limpet, and every Penguin moll except Miss Clean. (Pengy, like Mr. Freeze, had no female accomplice in his debut episode and, perhaps because his schemes so often entailed "seduction" of female victims, he was strictly business with female accomplices until that final episode.)

My lists are incomplete of course, and I haven't rewatched episodes to confirm them, so some of my categorizing may be off. But while there may be a few judgment calls, I bet we could assign each villain's female accomplice to one of these groups, and then maybe see if the villains (or writers) treated henchwomen differently from girlfriends, etc. As with all analysis of Batman, this exercise is unlikely to reveal any truths for the ages, but it might be fun.

User avatar
BATWINGED HORNET
Posts: 0
Joined: Fri Sep 07, 2012 5:32 am

Re: TO THE BATPOLES #132: Women of Season One: Not Just "Poor, Deluded Girls"

Post by BATWINGED HORNET » Tue May 05, 2020 9:52 am

Interesting episode, and thanks to guest Nancy Northcott.

Nancy said (of Burt) "luckily, we all outgrow crushes." Welllll, she would have been safe with Burt, after all, he was not the adult who kissed a minor guest star like a certain series lead did with Donna "Suzie" Loren, who was underage during the production of "The Joker Goes to School"

Some alternate takes on this week's general perception of season one molls:

Molly's initial fear was of Batman; with her identity was exposed, gun rendered inoperable, she was essentially running for her life, and was petrified with terror once she found herself on the reactor walkway. I never viewed her behavior on the reactor as Molly being stupid or incapable of thinking her way out of a bad situation.

Suzie thinking Canadian or Mexican perfume is exotic was not the character being demeaning as a female, but her being a naïve teenager who is easily conned by a master criminal who knew what buttons to push or bait to drop in the water. We can assume Suzie is just a typical American teenage girl of 1966 and would not be worldly or experienced with anything outside of her American city and/or suburban worldview.

Why is Gordon calling Lydia a "child" jarring? Given his generation and the character's profession, I've always believed he was speaking in the same way real world judges or parole officers refer to criminals as "child" or "children" because in the grand scheme of things, they are still the wayward kids who started off on a bad path--essentially trapped in that off-the-rails childhood. I did not believe his use of "child" was born of a sexist perspective at all.

These are not examples comparable to Batgirl--who is supposed to be a superheroine above it all (we assume a detective..?) yet she was a cultural dinosaur by 1967 compared to the oft-mentioned characters who hit the airwaves before she did, such as Honey West, Cathy Gale or Emma Peel.

Paul refers to an allegedly sexist "women cannot drive" scene from Laverne and Shirley, but one might ask if that's just comedy and not sexism? After all, several years earlier, an episode of The Brady Bunch titled "The Driver's Seat" (airdate 1/11/74) explored the split among the Bradys about the superiority of one gender over another as drivers--specifically Greg vs. Marcia. When the two teens compete to see who is the better driver, Marcia was the cooler, more careful driver and won. So, portrayals of women were not headed in a one way, sexist direction in 1970s TV.
Beneath Wayne Manor

User avatar
P “Junior Batman” Y
Posts: 2
Joined: Thu May 31, 2018 1:23 pm

Re: TO THE BATPOLES #132: Women of Season One: Not Just "Poor, Deluded Girls"

Post by P “Junior Batman” Y » Tue May 05, 2020 2:06 pm

These representations of women drivers are comedy, true, and sometimes they flip the stereotypical hierarchy (viz. BRADY V. BRADY). My point is that such representations, even played for “pure” comedy, depend on a very recognizable trope of the “Bad Lady Driver” that saturated US mass culture (particularly comic strips, but lots of sitcoms too) in the fifties, sixties, and seventies. Reversals like the Bradys example are reversals, which is great, but they’re still reversals that presume the ubiquity of the stereotype, and could be construed as “exceptions that prove the rule.” Is that gender-bias progress? Probably a necessary stage of that progress, but it ain’t there yet. Remember that much mainstream mass cultural production ALWAYS plays it cagey when it comes to breaking through stereotypes: the goal is offend no one (that is, no potential viewer-consumer) and make everyone feel as though their points of view have been acknowledged, even ribbed, but not dismissed.

User avatar
BATWINGED HORNET
Posts: 0
Joined: Fri Sep 07, 2012 5:32 am

Re: TO THE BATPOLES #132: Women of Season One: Not Just "Poor, Deluded Girls"

Post by BATWINGED HORNET » Wed May 06, 2020 3:47 pm

P “Junior Batman” Y wrote:
Tue May 05, 2020 2:06 pm
These representations of women drivers are comedy, true, and sometimes they flip the stereotypical hierarchy (viz. BRADY V. BRADY). My point is that such representations, even played for “pure” comedy, depend on a very recognizable trope of the “Bad Lady Driver” that saturated US mass culture (particularly comic strips, but lots of sitcoms too) in the fifties, sixties, and seventies. Reversals like the Bradys example are reversals, which is great, but they’re still reversals that presume the ubiquity of the stereotype, and could be construed as “exceptions that prove the rule.” Is that gender-bias progress? Probably a necessary stage of that progress, but it ain’t there yet. Remember that much mainstream mass cultural production ALWAYS plays it cagey when it comes to breaking through stereotypes: the goal is offend no one (that is, no potential viewer-consumer) and make everyone feel as though their points of view have been acknowledged, even ribbed, but not dismissed.
Ah, but outside of comedy, you also had 70s female characters handling themselves as drivers on popular crime series such as Police Woman (1974-78) and Charlie's Angels (1976-81). One could argue that they made the bigger statement that women were just as capable as drivers than my Brady example, suggesting 70s TV was not using women as the "bad driver" stereotype to any growing degree. The audience simply took the characters seriously and never doubted their abilities behind the wheel, and obviously, the producers of either series were not claiming that the idea of equally capable women behind the wheel was "unrealistic because women can't drive!" (insert appropriate pig snorting sound here).
Beneath Wayne Manor

User avatar
P “Junior Batman” Y
Posts: 2
Joined: Thu May 31, 2018 1:23 pm

Re: TO THE BATPOLES #132: Women of Season One: Not Just "Poor, Deluded Girls"

Post by P “Junior Batman” Y » Wed May 06, 2020 4:40 pm

Now I’m not sure what we’re disagreeing about, BWH. Did I say in the podcast that sexist representations of female drivers were “growing” in number in the seventies? If so, I was wrong, but I don’t think I did. Also, I believe that stereotypical and progressive images of women can and do coexist in the same culture. Do you agree?

[Edited to add "in the seventies," 5/7/20]

User avatar
P “Junior Batman” Y
Posts: 2
Joined: Thu May 31, 2018 1:23 pm

Re: TO THE BATPOLES #132: Women of Season One: Not Just "Poor, Deluded Girls"

Post by P “Junior Batman” Y » Thu May 07, 2020 7:20 am

High C wrote:
  • Also, Paul, I disagree about the reason for Alfred's 'addiction' to watching a TV show. Remember, it was a Wednesday. Let's just say he probably wasn't watching Lost In Space or The Virginian. I think that was more reflexive than sexist.
You are so right, man!! What kind of Bat-fan am I for missing that in-joke?

User avatar
High C
Posts: 0
Joined: Mon Sep 03, 2012 8:01 am

Re: TO THE BATPOLES #132: Women of Season One: Not Just "Poor, Deluded Girls"

Post by High C » Mon May 11, 2020 3:26 am

Jim Akin wrote:
Sun May 03, 2020 4:22 pm
Great conversation, but you missed my favorite season one moll—and one I'd argue deviates at least little from the interchangeability of the ones discussed in the podcast.

Lisa, Mad Hatter's protegée in The Thirteenth Hat/Batman Stands Pat, takes an active role in Tetch's schemes, and she needs no enticements to get on board with Batman's murder: Listen to her gleeful flirtation with Tetch as he describes how machinery in his hat factory will mutilate our hero.

Lisa also has a large part (and lots of screen time without the Hatter) in the episodes—she double-crosses her employer Mme. Magda, passes a "clue" to Batman and Robin at Magda's hat shop, and persuades Turkey Bowinkle to disclose the location of his bowler.

Maybe even more than Lydia Limpet, at the end of the Hatter episodes, Lisa is utterly unrepentant—no sob story to Batman, no eye-batting in his direction, no indication she's glad he survived, etc. She's not deluded, she's just bad—and seemingly proud of it.

Diane McBain did such a great job as bad girl Lisa that I'd been a batfan for years before I realized she was the same actress who played Pinky Pinkston in the Green Hornet crossover. (The wig probably had something to do with that as well.)
All excellent points, Jim. I wonder if McBain's performance is not remembered as much as some of the others because her character had a normal name and normal costumes, as opposed to some exotic name and skintight costumes to match. No matter--it was a terrific performance, as you noted.
'I thought Siren was perfect for Joan.'--Stanley Ralph Ross, writer of 'The Wail of the Siren'

My hobbies include gazing at the Siren and doing her bidding, evil or otherwise.

'She had a devastating, hypnotic effect on all the men.'--A schoolmate describing Joan Collins at age 17

User avatar
High C
Posts: 0
Joined: Mon Sep 03, 2012 8:01 am

Re: TO THE BATPOLES #132: Women of Season One: Not Just "Poor, Deluded Girls"

Post by High C » Thu May 14, 2020 3:20 am

Jim Akin wrote:
Mon May 04, 2020 6:59 am
kyle wrote:
Sun May 03, 2020 7:49 pm
My final comment is actually a question.... The role of the moll. It seems to be like the nature of a moll is similar to that of a henchmen in this show, which means those characters (male and female) are not necessarily going to be portrayed in the best light, imo.
This is a good point for discussion. In some bat-episodes, molls took on the traditional role associated with the term in pulps and film noir—the girlfriend/lover of the primary (male) villain. (The only equivalents among guest villainesses were Cabala, who was explicitly presented as Dr. Cassandra's husband, and arguably Egghead, who was as much Olga's "moll" as she was his.) Yet in other episodes, female accomplices had no greater claim to the villain's affections than any other stooge. Thus, we can distinguish two categories of molls—"girlfriends" and "henchwomen."

***
My lists are incomplete of course, and I haven't rewatched episodes to confirm them, so some of my categorizing may be off. But while there may be a few judgment calls, I bet we could assign each villain's female accomplice to one of these groups, and then maybe see if the villains (or writers) treated henchwomen differently from girlfriends, etc. As with all analysis of Batman, this exercise is unlikely to reveal any truths for the ages, but it might be fun.
Excellent question by Kyle and terrific answer by Jim. I would add that occasionally a girlfriend/arm candy type would be entrusted to do one task or two, such as when Cornelia pressed the lever to send The Duo down a trap door, or Anna Gram bringing in the cake in the teaser scene of Astin's Riddler arc. And Moth does some minor criminal work for Gorshin's Riddler. And I'm sure there are others who do even more but have the at-least implied affection from the villain,

Another female category was the dupe, someone such as Sophia Starr, who was unaware she was being used by Penguin. Baby Jane Towser probably was the best example of this.
'I thought Siren was perfect for Joan.'--Stanley Ralph Ross, writer of 'The Wail of the Siren'

My hobbies include gazing at the Siren and doing her bidding, evil or otherwise.

'She had a devastating, hypnotic effect on all the men.'--A schoolmate describing Joan Collins at age 17

User avatar
BATWINGED HORNET
Posts: 0
Joined: Fri Sep 07, 2012 5:32 am

Re: TO THE BATPOLES #132: Women of Season One: Not Just "Poor, Deluded Girls"

Post by BATWINGED HORNET » Thu May 14, 2020 7:29 am

Jim, great point about Lisa as portrayed by Diane McBain; she was completely confident, sly and just as much into being on the wrong side of the law as the Mad Hatter. She--like Blaze and Limpet go some way in breaking the "poor, deluded girl" narrative of season one's female characters/molls. I would add Zelda to the list, since she was all in on the crimes almost until the final death trap showdown, and after all, she suspended a certain elderly lady above a vat of fire while she knitted. You would have to be pretty coldblooded and calculating to pull that off.
Beneath Wayne Manor

User avatar
zippgun
Posts: 3
Joined: Thu Aug 27, 2015 2:09 am

Re: TO THE BATPOLES #132: Women of Season One: Not Just "Poor, Deluded Girls"

Post by zippgun » Thu May 14, 2020 9:57 am

The moll/henchwoman characters in Season 1 can maybe be categorized in this way --


Women who are free agent criminals and as ruthless as the male villains, with no indications of being reformable -
Molly, Lisa, Lydia Limpet, Queenie, Pauline

A bad lot, but with an attraction to Batman which makes her slightly pleased her side didn't win -
Mousie

Immature dupe fallen in with the wrong sorts -
Susie

Women who see the light and come to rebel against the villain's ruthlessness/reject crime -
Blaze, Finella, Jill

Half hearted criminals -
Moth, who is, in all, rather wet.

It's notable that the dyed in the wool villains in this season are played by slightly older actresses - or they appear older (Diane McBain)- with the exception of Sherry Jackson.

I agree with the comments about Diane McBain's Lisa, an often overlooked henchwoman.

User avatar
High C
Posts: 0
Joined: Mon Sep 03, 2012 8:01 am

Re: TO THE BATPOLES #132: Women of Season One: Not Just "Poor, Deluded Girls"

Post by High C » Wed May 20, 2020 2:21 am

Zippgun, that was a very well-thought-out and good summary of the molls and their motivations.

My one minor quibble was we never got a chance to see if Jill might have regretted her decision not to reform in the final Joker arc of season 1 because she was absent for the last 15 minutes or so of part 2. It was a foreshadowing of season 2, when the molls' character arcs often seemed less important to the writers.
'I thought Siren was perfect for Joan.'--Stanley Ralph Ross, writer of 'The Wail of the Siren'

My hobbies include gazing at the Siren and doing her bidding, evil or otherwise.

'She had a devastating, hypnotic effect on all the men.'--A schoolmate describing Joan Collins at age 17

Post Reply