Julie Newmar appeared as Catwoman in six two-parters during the first two seasons of Batman. During that time, the show and her character evolved, and while some might not agree with the direction they took, it’s hard to deny that Julie did both the evil, whip-snapping Catwoman and the Batman-besotted, comic Catwoman-of-a-thousand-disguises very well.
Then in season three, she was gone and Eartha Kitt took her place. Do many of us find ourselves dissatisfied with Kitt’s very satisfactory version of Catwoman, just because Kitt wasn’t the first to play the role? What different characteristics do we see in the two versions - some of them due to the actors’ choices, and others being beyond their control?
Our friend Kyle joins us once again, bringing the power of the “word cloud” to our discussion, discussing our bias toward the first version we see (any who preferrrrr Eartha?), and helping us generally compare and contrast the two takes on the character.
Plus a marching-band take on two different Batman themes, and your response to episode 137’s discussion of Yvonne Craig’s memoir!
-- The Joker, in a line cut from "The Joker's Epitaph"
While Eartha wasn't necessarily bad, I think she was too one note. She was always mad and didn't have the charm.
I recently read Batman Golden Age Omnibus Volume 7, which reprints stories form the early 50s. There is a story where Selina reforms and it is followed up by a couple of "has she gone back to crime/is she still Batman's ally?" stories. Well, one of these stories, "King of Cats" will be reprinted in the next omnibus. Anyway, had these episodes been adapted into TV episodes, I can clearly see Julie showing the charm, good humor, and remorse while giving that hint of naughtiness and keeping the audience guessing up until the end. With Eartha, I think viewers would be, "Nah, she's still a bad guy." With Julie, the audience would maybe even root for her to go straight.
As for potential comic adaptations, I'll go even further. Brave & the Bold 197 from 1983 details how the Earth 2 Batman and Catwoman finally give into their love for each other and marry. While it is way too serious to be an episode of the TV show, there is that part of me that wishes on some other earth where the TV show continued, Julie came back to the role and she and Adam acted out this issue as an episode. It would be such a sweet finale for their characters. Ok, I know there really aren't alternate Earths and that didn't happen, but I still can see that issue as an ending with Adam and Julie's versions of Batman and Catwoman. If you haven't read this issue....why not? For anyone on this board, it is one of my favorite issues in the entire history of Batman. Everyone I know who has read it, loves it.
As for liking something just because you saw it first. Well, most people my age consider Roger Moore their favorite James Bond because he was who they grew up with and was who they saw first. I saw Moore first, but I've always been a Connery man. That could be because I saw the terrible Moonraker when I was 10 and thought it was stupid, even at that age. Later, I saw Connery in Dr. No and thought he was awesome. How weird is it that I didn't like the first Bond movie I saw but I've been in love with the series since I was 15?
I think Connery really fits the role better because he is somewhat unlikeable, and Moore is just too likable and charming. Anyway, I liked some of Moore's movies in spite of him, and didn't really grow to appreciate and even enjoy Roger Moore until later when an actor was cast as Bond that I think was lousy...and no, it wasn't Timothy Dalton. It was that guy who came after him, but before Daniel Craig, who I ain't real crazy about either. See, I was nice and didn't mention any names. I even consider myself a Roger Moore fan now and regularly watch reruns of his 60s TV show, The Saint.
Of course, since you didn't know what Bond movie Ms. Galore was in, you obviously aren't fans of the series. I order you to drop what you're doing and go watch Goldfinger RIGHT THIS MINUTE!!!!!!!
I misread this the first time and thought you wanted them to go watch Goldfoot, as in Dr Goldfoot and whatever we can do for a script to get cute women in gold bikinis.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes is a good movie, but I haven't seen it in quite a while. All the ingenious deathtraps used by Dr. Phibes are reminiscent of the traps on Batman, but thankfully the Caped Crusaders never went up against Dr. Phibes!
Of course, I don't feel that way about second season Julie. To put it in context, she was hitting beats she had done before. The previous season, she had the title role in the sitcom My Living Doll as a female robot, and she had been in two comedy movies, Marriage-Go-Round and For Love or Money. She was well-versed at comedy, the beats, the timing, the rhythm, and was quite good at it. My quibble is that the comedic beats Stanley Ralph Ross was writing for her were not naive camp, but self-aware camp, including some Dick York-esque slow burns. ('Why can't I get good help?' when a henchman would say something stupid--first-season CW would've threatened him with her whip.)
I realize I'm swimming against the tide on this in terms of popular opinion, and I'll admit some of Julie's line readings cracked me up, such as the Robin/baseball line. But the 'I know--we'll kill him' lines came off as stupid, IMO, and I think the evolution of the character helped destroy the Semplian ideal of the show. It also took Catwoman further away from the cat-burglar nature of her character, which also was not an improvement, IMO.
I can't necessarily say Julie was over-the-top, per se, in season 2, but there were a lot of winking nods to the audience that she was in on the joke. Again, it was far from Semplian camp.
As for Eartha Kitt, I agree she was hamstrung by the lack of a Bat/Cat relationship, although I liked the back to evil nature of the character. We will never know how she might have handled a lovestruck CW because of the unfortunate mores of the time. But to be honest, while the reason for it was wrong, I'm not upset with the result. The lovesick CW of season 2 is not my cup of Bat-java.
As for Eartha's performance, I enjoyed it. Obviously, the rolling of the Rs and such was something that came naturally to her. I suspect that is why Dozier and/or Horwitz sought her out. I need to check out her other TV appearances from that era for comparison.
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
On the other hand, Kitt was hired with too many handicaps: no romance (aside from a line or two of her admiring Batman's manliness, which any random woman would do, particularly in early season one, so its not indicative of romantic interest/tension), turning up her "sass / cattiness" dial to 1000, instead of having her be more of a bigger picture, calculating enemy. In a season where Batgirl's incessant "sassy giggler" routine shredded even the most steel-covered of nerves, Catowman being a similar type of character hardly won anyone over. There was no stark contrast between the two main females of the season (as there should have been, not only as women, but as heroine and villainess). Just imagine how Julie or Lee would have faced off against Batgirl...the conflict would have been very short (Cat over Bat), but glorious!
Unfortunately (and obviously), Kitt's race played a part in her poor reception (no matter what opposite reaction a revisionist part of the Batman '66 fan base have ever tried to sell), and for certain 1960s audiences, this was going the first and last thing they ever considered when she was on screen--all because she replaced a white actress. Perhaps if she had an original character written for her the reception would have been stronger (in the way black actresses on other 60s TV series like Mannix, Julia, etc. were simply accepted in their roles), but we will never know. The bottom line is that Kitt's Catwoman was never going to be in any sort of "competition" as the best interpretation of the character.