During the BATMAN™ Classic TV show’s two and a half seasons from January 1966 to March 1968, it became quite chic to be cast as a BATMAN™ villain. In fact, established names of the time such as Roddy McDowell, Van Johnson, Shelley Winters, Vincent Price, Tallulah Bankhead, Milton Berle and even Liberace took on roles. But who were the best villains? Below is a list of who I would choose and why. Keep in mind that, in a few cases, two actors (and even three in one case) played the same villain during the series. So my selection is based on both the villain and the actor who played him or her.
The RIDDLER™ (Frank Gorshin)
A number of villains from the TV show liked to leave clues for BATMAN™ and ROBIN™, but nobody did it like the RIDDLER™, whose real name was Edward Nygma. Usually by starting with, “Riddle me this,” he would leave two or three clues in the form of actual riddles, such as, “What does a turkey do when he flies upside down? He gobbles up.” “What has yellow skin and writes? A ballpoint banana.” Individually, each riddle might not make much sense. But put together, BATMAN™ and ROBIN™ would figure out his next crime, or (in some cases) end up falling into a trap they had to get out of. Frank Gorshin, who played the role in all but two of the episodes involving the RIDDLER™, was a successful comic and actor. His performance as the rogue was an athletic one, as he pranced around in his question-mark-covered green suit like an maniacal prankster. For me, though, what made his portrayal so special was that unique giggle he gave the character. THE JOKER™ (Cesar Romero) was known for his laugh as well, but, in my mind, he didn’t come close to matching the power and hilarity of the Gorshin giggle (John Astin, who played the RIDDLER™ in the other two episodes, didn’t even make an attempt to replicate it). RIDDLER™, who would be played by Gorshin in nine episodes, as well as in the BATMAN™ movie, was the villain in the show’s very first episode on January 12, 1966, and he got the series off to a rousing start.
CATWOMAN™ (Julie Newmar)
I was pretty young when BATMAN™ debuted on TV, so I’m not sure I really knew what the word alluring meant. But Julie Newmar’s portrayal of CATWOMAN™ was probably my first introduction to the word’s meaning. Wearing a skintight black body suit, she slinked her way around on the screen with the movements of a cat, licking her paws and purring and meowing like nothing else I’d ever seen before. Selina Kyle had a fascination with cats and everything she did – including her crimes – had something to do with the feline animals. CATWOMAN™ also had a romantic interest in BATMAN™, which certainly added spice to the conflict. BATMAN™ himself found it difficult to resist her feminine/feline wiles more than once. Julie Newmar played the role of CATWOMAN™ in 13 episodes during the first two seasons. After that Eartha Kitt took over the role for three episodes doing a great job herself. And Lee Meriweather played the role in the movie due to a conflict that Newmar had with another film. But Julie Newmar was the first, and in my mind, the only CATWOMAN™.
King Tut (Victor Buono)
Playing one of the villains that did not come from the comic books but was created specifically for the TV show, Victor Buono’s wonderful over-the-top performance helped make King Tut one of my favorite BATMAN™ villains, which considering how over the top most of the actors playing BATMAN™ villains in the show were, is saying something. Dressed like an ancient Egyptian pharaoh, King Tut had one of the more interesting stories among villains. He was William Omaha McElroy, a professor of Egyptology at Yale University, who after getting conked in the head one day with a rock woke up believing he was King Tut reincarnated and that his duty was to rule over GOTHAM CITY™. Usually something would happen that would cause him to revert back to his professor self by the end of the story, until another accident would make him think he was the Egyptian pharaoh for a future episode. King Tut, who appeared in eight episodes, was also unique in that he was one of only two villains who uncovered the true identity of BATMAN™. Fortunately, before he could tell anyone, an accident made him revert back to his original professor self, making him forget all about BRUCE WAYNE™.
Bookworm (Roddy Mcdowell)
Bookworm may have only appeared in two episodes of the series, but he left quite an impression on me. Played by the versatile actor, Roddy McDowell, he wore a very distinctive brown leather suit that looked like old book bindings. Not to mention those large glasses on his face. The way the outfit crinkled when he moved, combined with the soft way McDowell modulated his voice when he spoke sent chills trough my spine. He had a love of books and his crimes were inspired by well-known literary plots, making him one of the more learned BATMAN™ villains. Though created for the show, Bookworm would later appear in the BATMAN™ comic book.
EGGHEAD™ (Vincent Price)
What makes EGGHEAD™ – a villain created for the TV show – so memorable was the wonderfully campy performance of film veteran Vincent Price. Considering himself the world’s smartest criminal, EGGHEAD™ stood out with his large bald head, shaved to look like an egg, and distinctive white and yellow suit. He peppered his speech with egg puns, using them often (exactly became “egg-actly,” excellent became “egg-cellent,” you get the point) and how could I not laugh, even as I groaned, every time he did it. He even had his own supply of tear gas eggs and laughing gas eggs. Perhaps few others could have pulled off the role the way Vincent Price did. His performance was a campy delight for all of the five episodes in which he played the role.
FREEZE™ (Otto Preminger)
FREEZE™ was a “cold” villain. Literally. Forced to exist in a special cryogenic suit because of his inability to live in anything other than sub-zero temperatures, he craved vengeance against BATMAN™ after the caped crusader accidentally spilled “instant freeze” on him while trying to arrest him, turning him into a cold-dependent creature. Revenge drove MR. FREEZE™ as he constantly strove to discredit or kill BATMAN™. He used cold as a weapon and would commit crimes connected with ice and cold, using a special freeze gun that would freeze people in place. MR. FREEZE™ was played by three different actors during the course of the series, but my favorite was the director Otto Preminger, who played the role in two episodes. He may have been one of the most unpopular guest villain actors among his fellow actors on the show, but when I think of MR. FREEZE™, I picture Preminger with his pasty-white face, red eyebrows and gleefully maniacal grin.