Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Stars Jumped at the Chance to Play 'Special Guest Villains'

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Stars Jumped at the Chance to Play 'Special Guest Villains'

Article excerpt

"When they first called me about playing Catwoman," Julie Newmar recalled in a 2002 interview with The Record, "we were sitting on the couch in my apartment on Beekman Place. My brother John was going to Harvard at the time, and was visiting me with five or six of his friends. We were just about to go to a restaurant when the call came in, and I said, 'Batman? What's that?' And my brother leaped off the couch said, 'Do it! Go do it!' "

By then, Newmar was a Broadway star, and had a resume of showy parts on screens large and small. But, appearing on "Batman" made her a television icon and, to many fans, the only Catwoman.

Technically, she wasn't. Cabaret star Eartha Kitt stepped into the role in the third season of the series, when Newmar was working on a film. And Lee Meriwether played the part in the "Batman" movie (a big-screen version of the TV show) that was released at the beginning of the show's second season. (Newmar's big-screen successors included Michelle Pfeiffer, Halle Berry and Anne Hathaway.)

Frank Gorshin, who played The Riddler, was the first "special guest villain," to take on the Caped Crusaders in the debut episode of the show. And he, Newmar, and two veteran screen actors, Burgess Meredith and Cesar Romero (playing Penguin and Joker, respectively), were among the show's most memorable baddies.

(Onscreen, Joker was played in Tim Burton's "Batman" by Jack Nicholson, who earned over $60 million for his work, thanks to a hefty percentage deal, and Heath Ledger, who was awarded a posthumous best supporting actor Oscar for Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight.")

As the TV series grew in popularity, more and more established names were brought in to play dress-up, get as hammy as possible and, in the process, bring in the adult audience.

Three of them -- Meredith, Roddy McDowall (Bookworm) and Maurice Evans (Puzzler) -- later turned up in two popular film series: Meredith in the "Rocky" films and McDowall and Evans in the "Planet of the Apes" series. …

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