The release of the 1979 Legends of the Superheroes television specials on DVD doesn’t exactly salve the open, festering wound from the absence of the 1966 Batman series on similar stratum…but it helps. A little bit. Okay, not so much.
But, c’mon; despite their, ah, dubious worth, these specials stand as one of the only times Adam West and Burt Ward donned their famous roles outside their legendary TV run of the 60s, so cut them some slack. We Batman ’66 fans are mostly-pathetic creatures, scrounging for scraps and watching for signs and sigils of the Second Coming. We deserve the Legends of the Superheroes DVD from Warner’s Archive Collection (only available online through their “burn on demand” program—order yours today!).
So, while waiting for my order to arrive I came across Chris Mason, a Facebook friend who’s late father, Tom Mason, actually worked on the specials. Yeah, for real! I know! How cool is that? Chris also claimed to own some actual set pieces and a few choice anecdotes from his dad on the making of the shows. Hold that Bat-Signal, old chum! This could be one of those “six degrees of separation from Adam West” things that Batman ’66 fans dream about—so, I convinced Chris to let me interview him (check’s in the mail, pal!) and he agreed to dig out those set pieces and dig into his memories.
Jim Beard: Chris, how did your father originally become involved in the project? What was his role?
Chris Mason: My dad worked for ABC-TV in Hollywood for nearly 40 years beginning in 1961 (a year before I was born). Any show that was shot on the lot he had his hand in, in one way or another; at the time of the specials he was the head of the Engineering Maintenance Dept. He worked on programs like The Laurence Welk Show, Let’s Make A Deal, General Hospital, and dozens of Academy Awards telecasts—the list goes on and on!
Jim Beard: That had to be pretty cool, to have a dad who worked in television. What did you think of the specials (which ended up aired on NBC) at the time, especially since he was involved?
Chris Mason: I grew up on the Adam West Batman, so at the time I thought anything with superheroes was cool, but even then these specials I knew were cheesy and camp. My dad worked on so many shows and I would visit the studio all the time, so, I’ve always been sort of unimpressed with the whole celebrity thing. I was more interested in how everything worked, the whole “man behind the curtain” of it all.
Jim Beard: Well, your dad managed to save some set pieces from the specials and you still have them (Envy! Jealousy!). How did it happen that he saved these?
Chris Mason: My dad was a huge comic book memorabilia collector. He would drop in on the set while they were shooting and watch; he was pals with all the crew guys and they all knew about his love of superheroes because his office walls were covered in comic book posters. I believe the special effects guy (or the set dresser) may have saved the logo pieces for him…but, it’s highly possible, knowing my dad, that he went in after the set was struck and pulled them loose!
(The pieces are the oval hero logos from the “headquarters” set, the ones that sat in front of each of the characters. They’re 19 x 26 Masonite panels and painted flat colors. The Batman piece has a black tape stripe up the center.)
Jim: Sadly, one of the most memorable things about the specials is that Adam West went around with his cowl’s neck piece outside his cape, instead of tucked in like on the 60s series. You have an anecdote about that, don’t you?
Chris Mason: Apparently, the sound guys had to mike Adam with a wireless RF microphone and they couldn’t hide it anywhere on the skin-tight leotard, so they had to put it under the cowl neck and leave it un-tucked so it wouldn’t interfere and rub the mike. Pretty funny; most people just think they forgot to tuck the cowl into the cape—heh!
Jim: Conversely, über-Batman fan Wally Wingert says he’s spoken with the specials’ costume lady who claims the entire situation arouse from her not having the original pattern for the cowl and making it too short!
Chris Mason: I won’t argue with what Wally says—he’s a big time Bat-historian, as you know—I only know what my dad recounted from his time working on the shows and his sound guy buddies. I’m sure both stories are true. I would wager the sound guys never knew about the short comings in the cowl from the costume designer, and simply took advantage of the poor design when they had problems with hiding the mics.
Also, Hawkman left a wake of feathers where ever he went. My dad always joked, too, that there was a rumor that the actress who played Huntress was an adult film star. I don’t know how true this was…
Jim Beard: Well, it’s certainly one of the strangest, most unique, most baffling sidenotes in the overall saga of the 1960s Batman series. Thanks for your time, Chris! I dig stuff like this the most!
There you have it, folks: behind-the-scenes scuttlebutt from Legends of the Superheroes. We now return you to your regular yearning for Batman ’66 on DVD or Blu-ray…
Jim Beard, a native of Toledo, Ohio, is a comic book writer, historian and journalist. His credits include work for DC, Dark Horse, IDW and TwoMorrows and he currently provides weekly content for Marvel.com. His second favorite comic book character is Shelly Mayer’s Ma Hunkel, the original Golden Age Red Tornado. He is the editor of Gotham City 14 Miles, which will be published in late December 2010. Please check your local comic shop or online comic ordering service for availability. For more info and a sample chapter from the book, please visit www.sequart.org/books/7 and join its official Facebook page at www.facebook.com/gothamcity14miles. Batteries to power, turbines to speed!