TO THE BATPOLES #161: A Joker for All Seasons

General goings on in the 1966 Batman World

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bat-rss
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TO THE BATPOLES #161: A Joker for All Seasons

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A frequent assertion about Cesar Romero’s Joker is that, over the course of the Batman series, he goes from genuinely evil to just silly or bratty. Others disagree with this and maintain that he’s the same all the way through. We thought (as did some listeners on our recent survey) that this was a good focus for a Joker discussion, so we asked noted Bat-fan and cartoonist Ken Holtzhouser to join us in discussing Romero’s take on the Clown Prince of Crime. We also discuss how Romero compares to more recent film takes on the character, and Ken shares with us his spot-on analysis of the shifting goals of the makers of Batman and how Joker’s characterization evolved with them.

Also: Bat Audio of Romero himself, and a Bat-theme take with both of the qualities we’re sick of: The Ventures and guitar tutorials!

Listen here
"I'm half-demented with whimsical outrage!"
-- The Joker, in a line cut from "The Joker's Epitaph"
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High C
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Re: TO THE BATPOLES #161: A Joker for All Seasons

Post by High C »

Diving it right now. BTW, I am enjoying the new intros you're doing for each episode. Great Vito Scotti, indeed.
'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
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High C
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Re: TO THE BATPOLES #161: A Joker for All Seasons

Post by High C »

This wasn't an easy post to make, and it took me a while to come up with the right way to phrase it. (I apologize for the length.)

To begin with, I want to say that To The Batpoles is my all-time favorite podcast, and something that has gotten me through (and continues to do so) a very difficult time in my life. And that is worth more than I can ever repay. And you two also have done a great job of unearthing vintage documents and scripts, often at your own expense, and analyzing them and attempting to put them into the context of the show at the time. I can name another podcast of a vintage show (Star Trek) of that era that also unearths documents, but often uses them to discuss fanfic, instead of topics germane to the, you know, actual show.

And I always enjoy Ken Holtzhouser as a guest. In fact, he's my favorite of your recurring guests. He's always entertaining, knowledgeable and funny and makes a lot of good points, and I don't disagree with most of what he says--nitpick: it was The Astrologer, not The Astronomer that originally was the antagonist for The Zodiac Crimes. Too bad Carl Sagan wasn't famous yet in 1967. 'I want billions and billions of dollars.'

So, as stated, I am as much a fanboy of this show as Gordon is a fanboy of Batman. I think most of the people who read my posts would agree. But in this particular case, I think Ken kind of violated the Prime Directive, so to speak, of this show just a little bit in the final 20 minutes. Granted, the whole show was not built around it, but it still bothered me a bit. It obviously was the 'Big Finish' for him and something he spent a lot of time on.

But it's one thing to state our opinions on the show and what we liked and what we didn't like and what we think it should and shouldn't have been. That's what fans do. It's why message boards and podcasts exist.

But when Ken talks about the 'mission statement' of the show on the part of the producers for all three seasons, he's kind of violating the spirit of the show/podcast as a "group research project." He's speculating without documentation, without anything to really back up his claims. Don't get me wrong. For the most part, I agree with his assessments of seasons 1 and 3 (at least for the most part on season 3), although I vehemently disagree with his speculation about season 2, and I can point to a Dozier quote in the Joel Eisner Batbook that COMPLETELY gainsays it. (I actually agree with Ken's original assessment of season 2 from four years ago in an e-mail you read on the show--when he wrote that it became a sitcom midway through season 2. I purposely am not giving out the details of his new assessments. I'd prefer to not spoil it and let everyone else hear it in Ken's own words and make their own judgments, beginning at about 54 minutes in.)

I guess what I'm saying is that I don't like the way it was presented. It was speculation, as I said, without documentation, on a show that has set high standards about NOT DOING that very thing--always stressing the need for documentation when making assertions about things such as the producers' intentions and such.

Similarly, when Ken asserts about season 3, "the celebrities are kind of gone. It's sort of downgraded its celebrities." And then he glibly goes on to say it's "D-grade, Love Boat villain of the week" types. Well, that's a judgment call. Let's briefly look at the resumes of the 18 credited special guest villains of season 3:

These villain actors also were in season 1, so that's a wash--Burgess Meredith, Frank Gorshin, Victor Buono, Anne Baxter, Cesar Romero. Vincent Price and Cliff Robertson were in season 2, so the same goes there. Zsa Zsa Gabor originally had been hired for season 2 before canceling for personal reasons.

Despite what most of us may think of the quality of their performances, Ethel Merman and Milton Berle were still tremendously famous and were big names. Rudy Vallee was coming off a Broadway hit. Glynis Johns also had been doing theater in New York recently at the time, I'm not sure how successful the play was.

Eartha Kitt was (ahem) a world-famous chanteuse at the time and had been on a national concert tour earlier in the summer. She had been nominated for an Emmy two years earlier for an episode of I Spy. Dina Merrill mostly had been making the TV guest star circuit and of course, was hired to play opposite her husband. Ida Lupino was splitting her time between some guest appearances on TV and directing some TV shows. Her estranged but still legally married husband, Howard Duff, was the lead in the series Felony Squad.

Barbara Rush had a key supporting role in a theatrical movie, Hombre, released in March 1967 by Fox.

Last but not least, Joan Collins certainly was no longer a movie star, but from September 1966 to early 1969 she also had lead guest roles on Star Trek, Run For Your Life, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and of course, The Virginian.

I just don't think the evidence shows it was a huge downgrade from season 2 to 3 in terms of celebrity status and star power of the villain actors. Looking at season 2, Art Carney was a TV performer at the time. Otto Preminger was a movie director. Carolyn Jones and John Astin were coming off Addams Family. Yes, Shelley Winters and Walter Slezak had been doing movies, but Tallulah Bankhead was at the end of her career. A big name yes, but not doing much, in essence, a camp curiosity out of Dozier's Rolodex. Michael Rennie was doing TV guest shots and a couple of very low-budget theatrical movies. Oddly enough, de facto villain Roger C. Carmel was also doing small supporting roles in semi-prestigious films, so I guess he was a "name."

In fact, based on cast budgets, I can tell you that per the average three-day shoot, the villain salary actually rose from $1750 in season 2 to $2000 in season 3, with the exception of the two three-parters. The villains were the one aspect of the show Dozier actually spent money on in season 3.

To conclude, I'm saying this as constructive criticism from someone who enjoys the podcast and looks forward to it every two weeks. But I felt I could not hold my tongue. This podcast has set a very high standard for itself and I feel that it is one thing to state an opinion(s). But once you take that next step and say you believe that opinion is clearly what William Dozier, Howie Horwitz, Lorenzo Semple, et al had in mind, the spirit of this show demands you bring something to the table to back up those assertions. That is something you guys have asked for in the past. That did not happen this time.
'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
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Re: TO THE BATPOLES #161: A Joker for All Seasons

Post by Scott Sebring »

Just a thought (not a claim). The new celebrities for Season 3 were not a downgrade of A,B,C or D list from previous castings comparatively. But, the new villains and stories they were given to play in most case were a considerable downgrade making something like the Puzzler almost seem epic ( a comparison I did not think I would ever type).
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Re: TO THE BATPOLES #161: A Joker for All Seasons

Post by robinboyblunderer »

bat-rss wrote: Thu Jun 10, 2021 5:23 am
we asked noted Bat-fan and cartoonist Ken Holtzhouser to join us in discussing Romero’s take on the Clown Prince of Crime. We also discuss how Romero compares to more recent film takes on the character, and Ken shares with us his spot-on analysis of the shifting goals of the makers of Batman and how Joker’s characterization evolved with them.

I've no horse, not even Waynebeau in the 3rd season celebrity-quality race; the problems were budget, less overall energy, the scripts, uninteresting villains, Batgirl and on and on; you've heard it all before; so many more interesting villains from the comics ignored for....Olga. The level of guest star or percieved level viewed from fifty plus years later wouldn't be a talking point if the stories had been better, in my opinion anyway.

EDITED TO ADD:
For me, the actors on the show are secondary to the show, probably because it was my first exposure to all of them; I'm sure it was quite the surprise when someone told me Mickey from Rocky had portrayed Penguin. Aside from one episode of Buck Rogers I don't know what else Gorshin did. Anytime they showed up in something else, it was always a quick realization of "Hey! It's the Bookworm or INSERT-BAT-GUEST VILLAIN HERE." before I accepted their new role.

Of course in time I appreciated McDowell in Planet of the Apes and Hell House, same with other stars, yet even knowing they were famous before the show never really changed my take.

I'm sure it was different for adults familiar with Ethel Merman or whomever to watch them chew scenery. My parents knew who Cesar Romero was...but to me he was first and foremost the Joker. And no, I never knew about his moustache till I was an adult.


Good point about how some of the characters could've worked differently in the second or even first season.

Olga could've had her own stand alone episode; the whole cold war element had a lot of potential there, fltered through the '66 sensibiliy of course.


Nora Clavicle and an insurance scam episode has an uphill battle to compete with Joker or King Tut. She may have been good maybe with a more serious plot in the second season. More than Joker or even Rabe's Two-Face, she would've benefited from Robot Henchmen. Or Henchwomen, surely the Duo could strike a robot "woman." No, scratch that. I think it would be wrong to see them laying on some KAPOWS and RAAAA-AAKS! on women pretending to be robots.


Ken has a good point regarding Zelda; I'd recently rewatched it a few days before your podcast and found it entertaining whereas before it was an episode I ignored based on my perceptions from when I was little, no bat-fight, boring female crook (!) even more boring male crook and Aunt Harriet in a death-trap.

Now I think it's fun partly because it is such a unique episode; the concern for Aunt Harriet, Robin's plea, Zelda's crisis of conscience; all are different from what came later.

It felt like getting a bonus episode of the series after all these years.

Zelda is a pretty well-developed character, Anne Baxter doing a good job of expressing regret at turning to Ekdol for her career. She also has an incredible intro, passing though the orange smoke!

I also have a soft spot for the toy bat/skeleton...it just looks cute.

The Syndicate fellows are hilarious too, only in Gotham City would mobsters (gunsells?) be hired and forced to wait in prop sarcophagi. If other villains hired more like them the Bat-Shield would've been getting even more use than it did.



cheers
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Re: TO THE BATPOLES #161: A Joker for All Seasons

Post by Dan E Kool »

Ken has a nice voice. I like the way he says stuff.
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Re: TO THE BATPOLES #161: A Joker for All Seasons

Post by Ken Holtzhouser »

Whew. Looks like I set a BAT amongst the pigeons this time!
My "Grand Unified Bat-Theory" is a purely mental exercise on my part, largely built on the obvious idea that each season of BATMAN is as much it's own entity as it is part of a whole. Attitudes shift, writers come and go, egos inflate-all natural in the lifespan of a successful television production. My somewhat glib oversimplification is a talking point and a conversation starter. It doesn't take in to account multitudes of factors-like the very real argument that BATMAN changed after Lorenzo Semple stopped being the overseer of Bat-scripts or when ABC slashed the budgets.
Season two , as I'd argued before, marches straight into sitcom land about halfway into the run. Why is that? My theory is that finding sitcom writers is easier than finding "camp" writers-but I can't know for sure. It's fun to speculate, though.
I'm not claiming to greater Bat-insight than anyone else, but I'm familiar enough with storytelling to have a unique point of view and I'm mouthy enough to share it publicly.
The funny thing is, it's just the "whine and cheese" follower to my gushing on and on about The Joker.
Which I can do at the drop of a cowl.
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Re: TO THE BATPOLES #161: A Joker for All Seasons

Post by BATWINGED HORNET »

Intersting show, guys, and an thought-provoking reply from High C.

I've posted the following before, I do agree with Eisner's assessment abut the Joker's total downward slide as a character in his final season two arc. Romero moved from a villain with some menace to one who was "Joker" in name only and just flat out silly. Romero--or possibly Dozier--suffered from the same "Do it again, only turn it up by 1000" approach that torpedoed series with "breakout" characters, whether it was Dr. Smith on Lost in Space, the Fonz on Happy Days, or Rerun on What's Happening!, the more a one-note gimmick about a character (facial expression, catchphrase, etc.) was force-fed to viewers, the more that gimmick became the entire character to the point where it was no better than a parody one might see on SNL or SCTV.

That's what the Joker turned into by the end of season two--that one gimmick so turned up that he was no longer seen as any sort of "threat" to Batman and Robin.

One thing about fans who lean in the direction of giving points to Romero's Joker based on how close his interpretation was to the comic book Joker of the same period is that they seem to forget (an honest mistake or deliberate choice) that in the 60s, when Batman comic readers were more than vocal in their criticisms of the '66 series tarnishing the image of the characters, they did not isolate a comparison source to the 1960s, but zeroed in on the early, Golden Age history of the characters. It is the reason '66 critics were expressing their wish that Batman would be treated with respect, and take him back to his darker, mysterious days from the Golden Age, because that early interpretation was defining, which extends to the early Joker, who was a sadistic killer, not a "Hoo-Haw-ing" man-child committing crimes, as Romero's Joker would be in late season two / all of season three.

As I see it, Ledger Leto and Phoenix's Jokers were closer to the essence of the character as originally written than Romero, or just about anyone else. The clown face--a projection of constant happiness--is he ultimate contrast to a dark soul that's no laughing matter.
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Re: TO THE BATPOLES #161: A Joker for All Seasons

Post by High C »

BATWINGED HORNET, thank you for the kind words.

Ken, I agree with most of your theories overall. I think you are spot on about season 1 in terms of the original goals. Of course, it changed a little once Dozier and Co. saw the audience and critical reaction, hence Dozier's 10 rules memo which led to more camp and MANY more stolen Batmobiles, a complete repudiation of the Batmobile security system we saw in the pilot. But you were talking about the original goals, and you were right-on. It was an action-adventure with camp elements.

As I alluded to, for anyone interested in how season 1 evolved, I recommend To The Batpoles episode 136 with Dozier's 10 Rules memo. It's fascinating to see how a show changed based on word of mouth and critical evaluation a long time before message boards and social media existed. The discussion starts at approximately 46:40, with the Dozier memo below it.



https://www.dropbox.com/s/smghrcl8phmv1 ... 6.pdf?dl=0

In terms of season 3, we differ about the celebrities being 'gone,' but not about the goal. As you said, syndication was the be-all and end-all. Getting to the finish line was the objective. I would say it was aimed at kids AND hipsters with all the ridiculous stuff about surfing, hippies (aka flower children), Londoners, etc.

As far as season 2, you are absolutely right about it becoming a sitcom, which you said a long time ago in your e-mail to the podcasters in episode 56, Batman Jumps The Lizard. Tim quotes it at approximately 10 minutes in.



But it wasn't aimed at teens, IMO, and I think there is evidence that demonstrates that. Dozier told Eisner for the Batbook that their research said that kids lost interest in their early teens, and then got interested again around college age. I'd also add that the median age of the villains increased significantly in season 2, from 39 in season 1 to 50. (Similarly, the mean age increased from 43.25 to 49.) Yes, there are some villains that certainly had appeal to the teenybopper set, but I would argue that the likes of Van Johnson, Slezak, Liberace, Preminger, Bankhead and the originally scheduled Robert Morley didn't exactly have great appeal to teenagers. But we can debate that until the bovine return from wherever they go.

Again, however, Ken, you put it so eloquently with your previous Bewitched comparison in 'Lizard.' I really think that by one-third of the way through season 2, it had lurched (no pun intended despite the Ted Cassidy in character cameo) toward a fantasy sitcom. I mean, just look at some of the story elements. Time machines, love-potion darts, voice erasers (that work over the phone?, and, as Tim and Paul noted, also steal the notes from your guitars!), bagpipes that put people to sleep, Sandman's sleeping powder, etc. I mean, even that silly throwaway bit of Alfred briefly changing Cornelia into a little girl with the time machine--doesn't that reek of an Aunt Clara spell gone wrong on Bewitched? As you noted (and they had a similar opinion on John S. Drew's Batcave Podcast), the Marsha solo arc is a melange of different elements that have no connection with one another--witchcraft, Arabian themes, diamonds--it's a bunch of stuff thrown into a blender. As you said, it's as if fantasy storytelling has no rules, so why not?

I think season 2 got to that point because, as you noted, they were leaning into the phenomenon aspect of the show, without grasping that there also was an underpinning of strong storytelling, too, in season 1 that was responsible for the show's great success. I think, as Tim and Paul pointed out in their season 2 wrapup, without Semple's firm hand, there wasn't a clear direction. I also would submit that, whether we think of her as a diva or not while she was on the Bat-set, Shelley Winters hit the proverbial nail on the head with one of her complaints. That is, Dozier not being on set to adjudicate some of her concerns. In the run-up to season 2 going before the cameras, he was preoccupied with the movie shoot (and subsequent promotion and premiere), The Tammy Grimes Show, Green Hornet, etc. (The amount of correspondence between Dozier and Trendle around that time is quite large.) He, in effect, had become an absentee landlord. And Hoffman and Horwitz, as I've noted before, were grinders, not visionaries. They needed more direction.
'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
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Re: TO THE BATPOLES #161: A Joker for All Seasons

Post by robinboyblunderer »

High C wrote: Fri Jun 18, 2021 11:48 pm As I alluded to, for anyone interested in how season 1 evolved, I recommend To The Batpoles episode 136 with Dozier's 10 Rules memo.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/smghrcl8phmv1 ... 6.pdf?dl=0
If I'd seen it originally I must have forgotten it, or just missed this one totally. Either way, thanks for posting it!

cheers
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Re: TO THE BATPOLES #161: A Joker for All Seasons

Post by robinboyblunderer »

Ken Holtzhouser wrote: Wed Jun 16, 2021 2:34 pm ...to my gushing on and on about The Joker.
Which I can do at the drop of a cowl.
It's understandable, Cesar's perfomance is great, I pretty much enjoy nearly every Joker episode across all three seasons, even when he plays second fiddle to Catwoman. I think he's my favorite version of the character next to Ledger's amazing, disurbing interpretation.

"...that lack of consistentcy..."
"...don't need Joker to be symbolic..."

Good points and I feel the same way, I can just enjoy the zany antics and endless hooting. The malleability of the character was a good thing and fun to see how he could fit into any type of plot. When a Joker episode started, waaaaay back before BluRays and Eisner Bat-Books, a big part of the excitement was in not knowing where the story was going. Faked kidnapping, flying saucer, surfing contest, giant clams...it's all tied together by Cesar's bravura acting.

Darker Edge. "...you can't go too far with it otherwise the character is unpalatable." I agree.

From flipping through recent comics or checking some trade paperbacks out from the library, the current Batman comics are victims of this, the Joker is way overpowered and so completely evil as to be nearly unstoppable, even when he's arrested the characters acknowledge he'll escape again or that he really wanted to be back in Arkham Asylum. I'd list some of the horrors he's perpetrated, making Batman '89 seem tame except this is meant to be a family-friendly message board and it wouldn't be right.

"...doesn't get that kind of twisted..."

Right. So far, across comics, tv and movies, the '66 Batman stands alone as both bright and colorful and the most accurate to the comics of the time, from costumes, gadgets and villains. And it's the sole shining light amidst grim renditions of varying darkness.

"...a deeper y'know psychological trauma, of the character as in the Ledger......the character loses something of what the character like had become..."

I disagree when it comes to Ledger and to Nolan's take on the Batman. The movies pull from the earliest apperances of the character, taking that cheerful, psycopath and merging it with this chaotic energy; it's impressive how they maanaged to make Batman feel nearly realisitic while keeping and refining so much of the material for two movies. It shows, I think, that the characters can, to some extent carry on in a deeper and more thoughtful way without becoming relentlessly grim or returning to camp. Those first two movies feel operatic yet grounded at the same time, an impressive balancing act!

Dreadful Birthday Dear Joker is the story you're thinking of, one of my favorite comic stories. With some tweaking it could've been a '66 episode, of course, had it been written in the '60s. Holy Anachronism!

Batman '89 stinks. That's it. What a boring movie that looks good.

Interesting episode guys.

I recently watched Pop Goes the Joker and while the art contest goes on too long, I really enjoyed the satire of the art community; between this and Hizzoner, I wonder if the show missed some potential by not picking other areas of society to skewer.

As someone who's seen amazingly beautiful paintings in museums as well as many a modern art collage of what look like quickly cut out magazine articles glued to a board and covered in scribbled drawings with a pricetag of four figures I could really appreciate the comedy of the patrons inventing meaning where there is none.

cheers
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