“The Greatest Mother of Them All” / “Ma Parker”
Written by Henry Slesar
Directed by Oscar Rudolph
Season 2, Episodes 9 and 10
Production code 9707
Original air dates: October 5 and 6, 1966
The Bat-signal: The Gotham City Mother of the Year Award ceremony is robbed by Ma Parker and her three sons, Pretty Boy, Machine Gun, and Mad Dog, as well as her daughter Legs. They’re each carrying their own personalized loot bags. Ma and her kids have terrorized the entire country, but this is the first time they’ve hit Gotham City. Gordon immediately calls Batman, relieving Dick by interrupting his Greek lesson. Batman is stunned that she hasn’t been caught yet.
The GCPD has their house on Cherry Blossom Road surrounded—for her part, Ma is unconcerned, feeding dinner to the four kids while firing on the cops with her machine gun. Batman and Robin show up—and Ma is actually happy about that, as apparently the Dynamic Duo is crucial to her plan.
They climb up the side of the house and enter, disarming Ma. Fisticuffs ensue—well, among the boys, anyhow, Ma hides behind her rocking chair while Legs clears the table. Batman and Robin are victorious, at which point Ma weeps and wails, playing on the sympathy of both the cops and the Dynamic Duo not to hurt a sweet little old lady who didn’t mean any harm. They lead her outside, when she pulls a smoke bomb out of her hair. Most of the gang get away, but Batman manages to capture Pretty Boy.
Ma is targeting places where rich folks congregate, and Bruce Wayne gets invited to that stuff. Of the things on today’s society calendar, he feels that a gala showing of The Woman in Red at the Bijou Theatre is their best bet. They arrive at the theatre just as Ma and the gang are leaving with their loot. They hijack a truck, but Machine Gun is caught. After handing him over to the cops, they search the city for Ma’s stolen truck, finding her robbing a drugstore. They stop the robbery, and while Ma and Legs get away, Mad Dog is captured.
After they accept the accolades of the crowd they return to the Batcave to try to deduce where Ma’s hideout is. They strike upon something that fits her regular attempts to convince people she’s a helpless little old lady (right before she pulls her gun on them): the Gotham City Old Folks Home.
The nurse recognizes the picture as being Mrs. Smith, an invalid, but it’s Ma all right. Legs is all set to surrender, but Ma takes off in her jet-powered wheelchair. However, she’s unable to crash through the wall, and she’s captured. Which is too bad, because she has a jet-powered wheelchair, and that’s fantastic!
Batman, Robin, and Gordon meet with Warden Crichton at the Gotham State Penitentiary, along with Ma and her gang. The boys are wearing plain blue jumpsuits, while Ma and Legs are wearing striped prison outfits with their prisoner number on them. Ma’s is 5432; Legs’s is 35-23-34 (wah-HEY!). Crichton gives his usual reform speech.
But once the Dynamic Duo and the commissioner leave, Ma reveals that she’s spent the last several months replacing the guards at the prison with her own people and she’s taking over the prison. It’s the perfect hideout, because who’d look for a criminal hiding out there?
One of those people, a trusty, has left a bomb in the Batmobile, which will explode when the car hits 60 MPH. Unfortunately, Batman insists on going 55 MPH, as that’s the speed limit. But the words of the trusty to Batman before they drove off make him suspicious, as he said the warden likes to go 70 MPH—but the warden would never break the speed limit. Sure enough, he finds the bomb and tosses it aside.
They return to the prison, where Crichton is forced to play along with Ma’s plan, pretending all is well. The family is all in the same cell block—which Batman finds suspicious, but Crichton plays it off as a new reform strategy: “the family that dorms together, reforms together.”
Once the Dynamic Duo departs, Ma gives a speech to the inmates—including Catwoman, inexplicably still in her costume—saying that the harder Batman and Robin work, the more members of the “prison gang” they’ll be supplying.
Their first job is to hit an armored car outside the Gotham National Bank. They use an explosive, which registers on the Batcave’s seismograph. When the Dynamic Duo shows up to foil it—and hey, if Mr. Fancy Pants always obeys the speed limit, how did he manage to drive the 14 miles from the Batcave to Gotham City, yet still arrive before Ma was done robbing the armored truck?—Ma throws some of the loot into the crowd, which provides enough of a distraction so that they get away, leaving only a strip of sleeve behind. Batman analyzes it and discovers that it’s from prison coveralls. He calls the penitentiary, and Crichton throws caution to the wind and tries to tell Batman what’s really happening. Ma’s gang stops him with the use of a garbage can on his head.
Batman and Robin break into the prison, and manage to get past one guard (by telling him that he only has 48 years to parole and this would jeopardize it), only to be captured by two more. Ma puts them in electric chairs—after feeding them a hearty meal—and then leaves them. She’s holding off on zapping them until midnight so the drag on the power grid won’t be as obvious. But Ma leaves Legs behind to keep an eye on them.
Batman works on Legs, sowing seeds of suspicion that they’re plotting something without her. That causes her to leave and go after Ma and the boys, leaving Batman free to break one wire and use the charge to activate the shortwave radio in his utility belt. Using bat-code, he instructs Alfred to have the electric company cut power to the penitentiary at midnight.
When midnight strikes, Ma and the kids come in to kill the Dynamic Duo, but when they throw the switch, the power goes out. Fisticuffs ensue, but Batman and Robin have the advantage of infrared eyeglasses, and are victorious. Only Legs gets away.
The following Sunday, Batman, Robin, and Gordon visit the pen just in time for a package to arrive for Ma—turns out that, while they had control of the prison, Ma’s kids arranged to have flowers sent to her on this day: Mothers Day.
Fetch the Bat-shark-repellant! Batman manages to whip a bat-magnet and rope out of his utility belt before Ma can fire her machine gun and use it to yank the weapon from her hands. The crime computer tells him that Ma is targeting high-society gatherings, the seismograph tells him that there’s an explosion near the bank, and the hyper-spectrographic analyzer tells him that the sleeve is from the prison. Both Batman and Robin carry infrared eyeglasses that allow them to see in the dark. There’s also the Transistorized Short Wave Radio Bat Receiver (which apparently receives transistorized shortwave radio bats…), which is loud enough to be heard in Wayne Manor from the Batcave by a mercifully not-very-bright Aunt Harriet. Oh, and there’s also a “bat-code,” which sounds a heckuva lot like Morse Code…
Batman also carries “Lock Your Car” bumper stickers in his utility belt to hand out to citizens not bright enough to do so on their own.
Holy #@!%$, Batman! Robin’s response to the threat of Ma is “Holy rocking chair!” Yes, really. His response to Ma’s arsenal is “Holy gunpowder!” When Ma pulls a smoke bomb from her beehive, he cries, “Holy hairdo!” When Batman tells Robin that the crime computer can predict where Ma will strike next—something he had to have seen it do a thousand times before—he cries out, “Holy forecast, Batman, can it really tell us where she’ll strike next?” When Mad Dog is stopped by a greeting card display, he predictably says, “Holy greeting cards!” Robin dully cries, “Holy camouflage!” when they realize Ma is hiding somewhere and cleverly cries, “Holy rheostat” when they’re stuck in the electric chairs. When Batman reveals his instruction to Alfred to cut power to the pen, Robin cries, “Holy Edison!”
But the best of all is when Ma shoots down the old folks home corridor in her jet-powered wheelchair (which is amazing!!!), and Robin cries out, “Holy Wernher von Braun!” (“Nazi, schmazi,” says Wernher von Braun…)
Gotham City’s finest. Gordon rhetorically asks O’Hara why Ma hasn’t struck Gotham before, and O’Hara manages to keep a straight face when he says it’s because they have the finest law-enforcement in the land. Gordon looks at him the way you look at a four-year-old who’s said something particularly stupid and reminds him that Gotham has Batman and Robin, which is who she’s really scared of.
As if to prove it, the cops are utterly incapable of taking out Ma and her kids at her house even though there are a dozen cops and only one woman with a machine gun (the kids are eating dinner during the shootout), who can’t shoot straight.
Special Guest Villainess. Continuing the second season’s theme of famous actors wanting to be a Bat-villain, we have Shelley Winters as Ma Parker. In addition, Julie Newmar makes an uncredited cameo as Catwoman.
No sex, please, we’re superheroes. Robin remarks that Legs has legs that reminds him of Catwoman, to which Batman replies with an indulgent, “You’re growing up, Robin,” adding that he should keep his sights raised (ahem) while fighting crime.
Na-na na-na na-na na-na na.
“Now what do you want to do first: parse, conjugate, or decline?”
–Aunt Harriet trying to get Dick to do his Greek homework, and Dick using wordplay to try to get out of it.
Trivial matters: This episode was discussed on The Batcave Podcast episode 23 by host John S. Drew with special guest chum, Jay Smith, creator of the audio dramas HG World, The Googies, and The Diary of Jill Woodbine.
For the second time, the titles don’t rhyme, but this time, they do combine to form a sentence.
Although he’s been mentioned several times, this is the first appearance made by David Lewis as Crichton since he was introduced in “Fine Feathered Finks” / “The Penguin’s a Jinx.” He’ll be back later this season in “The Penguin’s Nest.”
Besides Newmar’s uncredited cameo, famous funnyman Milton Berle also appears in an uncredited role as a convict working for Ma in the prison. He’ll be back as Louie the Lilac in the third season.
Catwoman mentions Joker and Penguin, but says they’re in solitary confinement. Ma keeps them there, probably figuring they’d try to horn in on her action.
Ma Parker was based, not on a comic-book villain, but rather on Kate “Ma” Barker, who was a machine-gun-toting criminal in the 1930s who committed crimes with her children. Shelley Winters would go on to play Barker in the Roger Corman film Bloody Mama in 1970.
Writer Henry Slesar was a veteran mystery writer as well as a screenwriter; he was a regular contributor to Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. This is his only contribution to the series.
At one point, Batman pauses to urge a citizen to lock his car, and also hands him a bumper sticker. There was actually a major Justice Department initiative in the mid-1960s urging people to lock their cars for safety. It’s an open question whether or not the show was adopting it or lampooning it.
Pow! Biff! Zowie! “Let’s help a little old lady across the street—and into the penitentiary!” This seems to be a recurring theme this season: famous person is on the hip new show as a villain, famous person is horrendous in the role. We’ve already seen this with Art Carney phoning it in as the Archer and Van Johnson blanding it up as the Minstrel, and now we have Shelley Winters, who basically shouts her way through the role of Ma Parker.
Allegedly, Winters sustained a back injury on the set, which explains why she looks like she’s pained throughout the story, but it results in a performance that is just not all that compelling. Mostly, the issue is that she never modulates her tone, it’s just one long shout with no variation. This is especially problematic when she has to shift into little-old-lady mode—it ruins her attempts to fool people, because she’s doing a shouty monotone regardless of whether she’s shooting her machine gun, feeding her kids, or trying to appear helpless.
It’s too bad, because Henry Slesar’s script is actually pretty good. Ma’s plan is unique, and while it may strain credulity for her to be able to replace every guard in the prison with one of her people without Crichton noticing, Crichton is enough of a crusading caricature, that I can see him missing the forest thanks to his major focus on the trees. For once, the show acknowledges that there are places outside Gotham City, as Ma has been menacing every place but Gotham leading up to this episode—I like the idea that she’s stayed away because of our heroes. The Catwoman cameo (and name-check of Joker and Penguin) is a nice touch, and Ma zooms down the corridor of a nursing home in a jet-powered wheelchair! Holy crap that’s awesome! I would’ve preferred an extended chase scene, perhaps with the Batmobile and the jet-powered wheelchair, but I’ll take what I can get, I suppose.
All in all, it’s yet another second-season story done in by an actor who can’t live up to the standards set by the regular bad guys. I’m only rating it as high as a 4 because jet-powered wheelchair!!!!!!
Keith R.A. DeCandido has several novels due in the next year or so, including the Tales of Asgard trilogy based on the Marvel heroes Thor (already out), Sif (just approved by Marvel and due as an eBook very soon), and the Warriors Three (in progress), as well as Stargate SG-1: Kali’s Wrath, the urban fantasy A Furnace Sealed, and the fifth book in his “Precinct” series of fantasy police procedurals, Mermaid Precinct.