Batman's Success Was A Roadblock For Adam West's Career

There are a few phrases that no actor wants to hear. 

For instance, if a director says "I have a lot of notes," it suddenly means the work day will potentially get a lot longer. "Thank you, we'll let you know" is not something a hopeful performer wants to hear from a casting agent immediately following an audition. Likewise, "We're looking for someone younger." Any one of these can cause great cracks in an actor's ego, which may be an actor's most prominent feature. 

Most terrifying of all, however, might be "We can't see you as anyone other than Batman." This was something actor Adam West, according to a 2017 interview with Moviefone (the actor's last before his death) had said to himself a few times after "Batman" was canceled in 1969.

Typecasting, of course, isn't always a curse. Being typecast as a heavy or a villain, for instance, can sometimes assure an actor that they'll always have a niche to fill. But problems arise for actors when they play a particular role so well that they become forever associated with it. This was an issue, for instance, with many of the actors on "Star Trek." Some were able to move into new career avenues after serving on board the Enterprise. Others, less so. In a 1994 issue of TV Guide, actor Brent Spiner noted that no matter where his career went after "Star Trek: The Next Generation," he would always be remembered for playing the android Data first and foremost. 

West, likewise, seemed unable to shake off Batman. It took him the better part of a decade to accept the fact that he managed to create a role that people loved and to come to peace with his unbreakable association. 

The bad 20 years

Typecasting dogged West for two full decades. He couldn't get a lot of acting work, and recalled some of the low-paying jobs he had to take just to make ends meet in the wake of "Batman." It would take several decades before modern-day geek culture began to form in earnest, and a cult audience of youngsters grew up into passionate adults, willing to sing West's praises. During the "down" period, though, West wasn't the happiest camper. When interviewer Scott Huver asked him about it, he said: 

"That's a wonderful question because suddenly I'm getting terrible stomach pains! Scott, it wasn't easy. What I did, I went out, I did regional theater, I did dinner theater, I did the Mark Taper Forum in [Los Angeles], I did really crappy films — anything I could to keep working and developing, and pay the damn bills." 

It took half that time for West to even embrace "Batman" as something that can be loved. He knew fans enjoyed it, but he saw it more as a job than a mythos or entertainment. Very slowly, it seems, he began to let go of his resentment and also love the bat. He said: 

"I feel, as an actor, that it is essential to keep practicing, keep using your instrument. So I did that, and after five, six, seven years, I began to catch on with a few things. And after 10 years or so, I told myself, 'Look, idiot. If people love Batman, if they enjoy it so much — and you know the whole family spectrum has made that apparent — then you better love it too, or there's something wrong with your head.'"

After that catharsis, West seems to have made his peace. He was Batman 'til the end.

Returning to the role

Had West not had a change of heart — one, it seems, also experienced by his co-star Burt Ward — then he would not have returned to the role a few additional times in his career. West and Ward played Batman and Robin again in 1977 on the animated series "The New Adventures of Batman," which featured bizarre new superpowered villains as well as the truly obnoxious Bat-Mite. Just like in the 1966 series, West and Ward do not phone in their performances, allowing Batman and Robin to stand completely earnestly, but exist with a sparkle in their eyes, denoting that this is all in good fun. 

In 1979, West and Ward appeared as Batman and Robin in live-action in a pair of TV specials called "Legends of the Superheroes." In it, many recognizable superheroes and supervillains from DC Comics enacted a bizarre sitcom scenario, deliberately filming on the cheap to make the jokes more absurd. "Legends" featured Hawkman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Captain Marvel, Giganta, and the Black Canary, as well as The Riddler (Frank Gorshin returned from the 1966 TV series as well), Sinestro, Weather Wizard, and Solomon Grundy. The second episode was most of the same characters, but now all friends and enacting a comedic celebrity roast. It's very weird.

West and Ward, 81 and 70 respectively, returned in 2016 to play Batman and Robin in a pair of animated features called "Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders" and "Batman vs. Two-Face." Those films were written to look like, and match the tone of, the 1966 series. They are more amusing homages than accurate recreations, but golly they're fun. The second film was released four months after West passed away in 2017.

To this day, he is still beloved.