“Louie, the Lilac”
Written by Dwight Taylor
Directed by george waGGner
Season 3, Episode 7
Production code 1710
Original air dates: October 26, 1967
The Bat-signal: All the flower-children in Gotham City are gathering in the park for a flower-in—but there are no flowers! Turns out that Louie the Lilac has cornered the market on Gotham City’s petaled flora. He intends to control the minds of Gotham’s young people, since they’re the future leaders of the city.
Meanwhile, the hippies are having themselves a party in the park, led by Princess Primrose—real name Thelma Jones, Barbara’s former college chum—and Louie shows up and tosses flowers to them all. He uses his boutineer to hypnotize Primrose and take her off in his Flowermobile. And then it turns out that the flowers are all fake! Louie then finds out from Primrose that the commissioner’s daughter was there, so he has one of his henchmen find and tail Barbara while he locks Primrose in his hothouse.
Barbara reports the kidnapping to her father, who is singularly uninterested in the kidnapping of a hippie. So Barbara grabs the Bat-phone and calls Batman—it turns out he and Robin are to be guests of honor at the flower-in. Batman and Robin head to GCPD HQ, where they promise to investigate Louie. They head to the Batmobile, where they find a lilac-colored card for Lila’s Lilac Shop. Our heroes arrive there, where Lila—who works for Louie—hits them with poisonous lilacs. Batman figures it out in time, but then Louie hits him over the head with a flower pot. Louie then traps them amidst man-eating lilacs to be eaten alive.
Gordon calls Batman, but Alfred says he hasn’t been seen since he went to GCPD HQ. Gordon says that he was heading to the Batcave to check the Bat-computer for info on Louie. Alfred decides to go through with that search, and the computer spits out Lila’s Lilac Shop.
Louie’s henchman follows Barbara to her apartment and attempts to kidnap her. She locks herself in the bedroom, and then sneaks out to change into Batgirl. Before she can stop him, Gordon shows up, and the henchman takes a powder while Batgirl quick-changes back to Barbara and reassures her worrying father that she’s fine living on her own and shouldn’t move back home, even though she’s already been kidnapped twice and had her library nearly blown up…
Alfred then shows up and lets Barbara know what’s happening so Batgirl can get in on the action.
Louie’s attempt to get Primrose to recruit the flower children for his side fails, as Primrose shakes off his hypnosis. Louie beats a hasty retreat. He arrives at his hideout just as Batman and Robin manage to escape the man-eating lilacs by kicking a flower pot through the hothouse door, the colder air killing the lilacs.
Batgirl also shows up, and fisticuffs ensue. She hits Louie with a mildew spray that makes him all gunky. The flower children followed Louie, and they take care of the henchmen. But even as they clean up after Louie, Batman and Robin hear hoofbeats, and see that Egghead is back in town, alongside Olga Queen of the Cossacks…
Fetch the Bat-shark-repellant! The Bat-computer is used by Alfred to track down where Batman and Robin may have gotten to. Batman’s utility belt is eaten by the man-eating lilacs, thus forcing him to actually use ingenuity to escape the deadly flora.
Holy #@!%$, Batman! When trapped by man-eating lilacs, Robin grumbles, “Holy purple cannibals!” followed by “Holy Luther Burbank!” which is one of his cleverer religious utterances. And when Egghead and Olga ride by on horseback, he cries, “Holy hoofbeats!”
Gotham City’s finest. The GCPD evinces no interest in solving the kidnapping of a hippie, which is actually a pretty accurate depiction of the police in 1967. Although they move heaven and earth to protect the commissioner’s daughter…
No sex, please, we’re superheroes. The henchman tries to convince Batgirl that he and Barbara are a couple, which wouldn’t have been convincing even if Batgirl wasn’t actually Barbara.
Na-na na-na na-na na-na na.
“The flower children think we’re cool, man, like, we turn them on, y’know?”
–Robin’s rather pathetic attempt to show that he’s down with the other kids.
Trivial matters: This episode was discussed on The Batcave Podcast episode 54 by host John S. Drew with special guest chum, Jay Smith, author, scripter, and creator of the Parsec Award-winning audio drama HG World (on which your humble rewatcher was one of the company of actors providing voice work).
Milton Berle was signed to an unprecedented thirty-year contract by NBC in 1951, but by the mid-1960s, NBC freed him from his obligations, due to his declining popularity (in 1960, he was reduced to hosting a bowling show). He started working for ABC, but his variety show for them didn’t last past its first season. He continued to make guest appearances on TV shows like this for the rest of his career.
Writer Dwight Taylor was a co-founder and past president of the Writers Guild of America, West, and also was one of the first editors of the “Talk of the Town” feature in The New Yorker magazine. This was the last script he ever wrote for the screen.
At the end of the episode, the Batgirl theme is played in full for reasons passing understanding (but probably because the script came up short).
Pow! Biff! Zowie! “I strongly suspect that this lilac-colored card could be—a plant!” Okay, I have a confession to make—I have never liked Milton Berle. I remember growing up and seeing him and Bob Hope and Johnny Carson and never understanding what the fuss was about. To be fair, I mostly saw them in the twilight of their careers, but even watching old clips, I was less than impressed. The only time I actually liked a Berle performance was when he appeared on The Muppet Show, specifically when he tried to do a standup routine and was mercilessly heckled by Statler and Waldorf. Of course, the whole routine is predicated on the fact that Berle isn’t funny… (Amusingly, one of the inspirations for Statler and Waldorf was Sidney Spritzer, a character played by Irving Benson on Berle’s variety show who heckled Berle from the balcony.)
So I’m not particularly predisposed to this episode anyhow, but even the biggest Berle devotee wouldn’t find a lot to like here. For one thing, aside from puffing on a cigar, there’s none of Berle’s trademark bits here, nothing that stands out aside from the comedian’s rather distinctive face.
There’s comedy gold to be mined by having a fedora’d, suited gangster straight out of the 1930s who has a thing for flowers and tries to suborn flower children, but while Dwight Taylor’s writing of the hippie movement isn’t quite as tone-deaf as, say, Arthur Heinemann in Star Trek‘s “The Way to Eden” or Jack Webb and his team of writers any time they portrayed the movement on Dragnet, it’s still pretty awful. Taylor does, at least, acknowledge that the movement is basically one of peace and love, and the flower children are no worse caricatures than the heroes, the cops, or the gangsters, at the very least.
But still, the episode just kind of bounces from scene to scene with very little rhyme or reason. Louie’s long-term plan sounds good when he’s talking about it, but the execution is so ham-fisted, you’re just staring at the screen wondering what everyone was thinking when they were making it.
I’m still wondering. The only performance that actually works is Jimmy Boyd’s incredibly earnest Dogwood, who commits far more to his flower child persona than anyone else does to their role.
Keith R.A. DeCandido‘s latest release is the Super City Cops novella Undercover Blues, the second of three novellas about police in a city filled with costumed heroes and villains published by Bastei Entertainment. The first, Avenging Amethyst, is also available. Full information, including the cover, promo copy, ordering links, and an excerpt can be found on Keith’s blog. The next novella, Secret Identities, will be released in February.