An Interview with a Batfan

Scott:    What for you came first?  The comic book or the TV show?

Wally:    The TV show.  Definitely.  I actually got into the comic because of the TV show.  And when the comic got away from the TV show I lost interest and quit buying them.

Scott:    So what drew you to the TV show?

Wally:    Probably the color and the action.  (reflects) Did we have a color TV back then?  Just the action, I don't even think I had a color TV back then.  So probably just the action and the daring do and the heroism and all the cool villains.  I was five.  Because I, unlike most people who are into the show, actually remember it during its first run.  You'll see in the book (Wally’s Mag-Book “Fifteen Years of Batfun”) that I actually had the little… I mean they had all kinds of  T-shirts

with the TV logo on it and little masks you could buy.  Yeah, I had all that original stuff so I didn't have to catch it in repeats.  Now that I think about it, the first time I ever saw Batman in color was the TV Guide cover and that's why I was so mesmerized by it and I just couldn't take my eyes off of it.  It was so cool looking.  I just locked in on the cowl and said, “ how did they do that?”

Scott:    What was the fascination with the cowl?

Wally:    Just to look at it.  It was like a three-dimensional cartoon.  The way it looked kinda cartoony but still 3-D with the black ears and the black face thing and the eyebrows were so cartoony looking.  I don't know, just the sheen of it,  and just how Adam looked in it.  I think the angularity of it. Just how his jaw looked with how the thing curved and with the angularity of that with the ears.  I'd never seen anything like it before.

   I was thinking about this a lot what I was talking to Jan Kemp (the original costume designer for the series).   I think the fact that he went with a light reflecting material like the satin as opposed to like a matte finish material just made that thing sing. The sheen of it was so attractive to the eye and the color worked really well with the TV lights.  But yet he chose points to matte, so it wouldn’t have worked if it was dull and it wouldn't have worked if it was all shiny.  But the fact that he chose his places to go matte, that just gave a thing that was two-dimensional  in the comic books a third or fourth

 dimension to where it looked just so cool looking.  It’s like (as if he were staring at it), “well it’s shiny in some parts and dull and some parts….”  If I had one word to some up the entire show or my love for the show it would be the “COWL.” (laughs)
    I don't know if it was intended or not or just purely accidental.  Maybe it was just a functional thing that just turned out to be so cool.  Obviously, the fans picked up on it because then they made it kind of the staple of a couple of the episodes like the "Contaminated Cowl” where it was the focal point.  It was like the first time anybody had heard the word “cowl.”  Like, “what?”  I mean, people who buy them from me used to say… one gal sent me (a letter), “Thank you for the beautiful COW!” (laughs) She didn't understand it was a cowllllll.

Scott:    You see,  that's why I asked you that question Wally.

Wally:    Yeah, it's all about the cowl, baby.

Scott:    So… how long have you been dressing as Batman?

Wally:    I met Adam in 1980 and realized I had to make a suit and the only pictures that I had was to go off of was the Viewmaster.  So I’m trying to hold this thing to the light looking at these little half inch by half inch pictures trying to figure out how I’m going to make a suit.  But then I met Adam, and saw his suit, but it was not really good reference material.  The boots were original, the buckle was original and the cowl’s shell was original.  The cowl had been recovered and not very well.

Scott:    Was this the “Legends of the Superheroes” One? (referring to the cowl)  Kinda puffy around the neck?

Wally:    It was.  Puffy around the neck.  The skirt wasn’t long enough.  I have one picture of him were it was tucked in and it looked great,  but as soon as he would go [turning his head and making a hand shake gesture], “Oh, hello little boy…” [he then spreads his fingers around his neck like gills]  It’d puff out like a Gila monster. [laughs]  I thought, “I’m not quite sure what’s wrong with that, but it doesn’t quite look like what it did on the TV show.  The cowl still looks pretty cool but…” He had the arched type of eyebrows.  They weren’t like cool looking, they were these pumpkin jack o lantern looking eyebrows.
    Now, years later when I was working on my kid show with a costumer named Paula and we were talking out of the blue about this and she said, “Oh yeah, I was the one who recovered that and stupid me, before I took off the cover I didn’t Polaroid it.   So I had no reference shots of it.”  So she was going purely on memory,” Well, I know the front was black… but I think there was some sort of curved eyebrows there.”  So that’s why it didn’t really look

The Infamous Gila Cowl

right, because she didn’t think to Polaroid it before she ripped off the material.
    But those ears were not hard ears, they were just cloth ears and Adam would just fold the ears back the opposite way and they would conform to shape of the shell and he would put it on his carry-on and off he would go.  And the first time I ever met him, his luggage got lost and luckily he always carried on the cowl because it was worth a lot of money.  It was March in South Dakota [chuckles] and he had his flannel shirt on and his sheepskin jacket right out of  Idaho and wearing the cowl.  He was contracted for a costumed appearance, so that’s all he had was the cowl.  I think there’s a great shot of him there in the book (Wally’s “Fifteen Years of Batfun”) with him wearing that sheepskin jacket on but with the cowl.  It was… pretty surreal.

Scott:    [crossing out one of my written down questions in my notes]  Well, that answers when was the first time you met Adam.  How about Burt?

Wally:    The first I met Burt was out here (Los Angeles) in ’87 where people knew I had a Batman costume and they said, “ Hey, we heard on KLOS that Burt Ward was going to be doing an appearance at a trade show at the LA Convention Center.”  So I thought this is cool.  So I took the bat costume along with me in a bag just in case he was cool enough to where I can slip it on in a bathroom and we could take a picture together.  He was appearing in costume.  So I show up and they won’t let me in because it was a trade show and they wouldn’t let people in off the street which they FAILED to mention on the radio show.  Why would he go on a radio show and say, “Come see me at the LA Convention Center’…. His manager was obviously not on it.
    Luckily I had the bat suit in a bag and I told my friend Lauren,” Let me take the bat suit.  I have an idea, keep the camera handy.”  So, I brought the bat suit up to the door and went, “HI, I’m with Burt Ward and have this that needs to get to him right away for his appearance.”  And they went,” Oh  Okay.  Go on in.”  So looking at the bat suit he thought I looked official.  I went in and introduced myself and met his manager and we (his manager) started doing other stuff like the Batman fan club and stuff together after I met Burt.  And he (Burt) had seen my Batman scrapbook which I brought along which now I have pictures of him actually looking through it.  But I had met him after I met Bob Kane.  So Bob Kane had already decorated the inside of it with original drawings and he was like, ‘Do you have any idea what these are worth?’  And that was when Bob was still alive.

Scott:    Since we’re on “first meetings.”  When was the first time you met Julie Newmar?

Wally:    That was at her place called Eat a Pita, I believe.  My daughter was in town and my folks were in town, and we went to Eat a Pita, the restaurant that she owned over on Fairfax.  The guy who was Burt Ward’s manager was also managing her for awhile and he said,” Oh yeah, Julie is there every Friday at Eat a Pita.  So it was like, “Okay cool.”  So we got our family over there and we had lunch, sat down and met her and took a couple pictures.  Pretty cool.

Scott:    Did you ever get to meet Cesar Romero?

Wally:    I did actually.  And Burgess at the re-premiere of the ‘66 movie.  The night the Burton film opened in ’89, the oldies station in town did a …(suddenly Wally was distracted by a Mojo Nixon video for “Elvis is Everywhere” that was showing on his big screen television.  After a few laughs, recognizing the Elvis impersonator, and reciting a few remembered lyrics…)  So, at the re-premiere, everybody was there except for Adam because he had another engagement.  But it was great, because I was there as a guest…I was doing some…photo stuff …for… something.  Not in costume.  I wanted to not go in costume that night, because I wanted to not be perceived as… a geek. (We both laugh at this point)  I actually put a tie on and a nice jacket.  It was a monumental evening.  Cesar was there and I was talking to him and I had him sign a photo.  We took a picture together, but the picture didn’t turn out so well.  It was B&W and the contrast was really high so it was…you could tell it was us, but it wasn’t really ideal.  And then Burgess was there, but Burgess was then pretty old and I had him sign a photo and said,” I think your favorite role of mine was in ‘Magic’ with Anthony Hopkins.”  And he was like “--------riiiight??”  As if he didn’t have any idea at all whatsoever.  All the actors who were there went up on stage to do a little talk and there was a full stage where you had to go up some stairs over to the right and walk over to the microphone.  It’s a full house of people who cared very little about the Burton movie and was all about the ‘66 film.  So he gets up on stage and when he walks to the mic he does the little Penguin waddle.  The house went CRAZY.  It was really cool.  I’ll never forget that.

    And that was the night I met Jan Kemp for the first time, because he was standing around and having a beverage.  He was this real unassuming guy and we’re looking at all the madness and I was like, “It’s really something, huh?  Just to think that this movie is this old and still people go nuts over it.”
    He's saying, “Yeah, it’s great, great quite great actually.”
    I say, ‘Well, you’re part of the screening ?”
    He says, “Yeah, I worked on the film”
    I’m like,” Do you… um.. are you the director or something?”
    He says,” No, no I’m Jan Kemp.  I did the costumes”
    [laughing] I immediately dropped to my knees in like one of those [hands raised in the air and bowing] Aaaaaaahh …worshipping positions.  I mean ,out of all the people here…

Scott:    Pre- “Wayne’s World.”

Wally:    Yeah. Exactly.  “I’M NOT WORTHY!”  I said,” I’ve been dying to meet the guy who made the costumes for years!”  I said,” I made this costume nine years ago when I first met Adam and I was just not happy with it.  You know…we…we gotta talk.  I’ll pay you any amount to like consult on all the stuff.  I need to know.”
    He goes,” Yeah, yeah, that’s fine.”
    So we exchange numbers and I called him and we agreed on a price to learn all his secrets.  And I interviewed him on tapes and all kinds of stuff.  I still have those cassettes somewhere, I should dig them out.  I asked him all my questions and he showed me all of his notes of all the places that he had all the boots and the fabrics that he purchased.  You know, like “Michael Levine’s” “International Silks and Woolens” (two fabric places that are still in Los Angeles).  The boot maker, who I can’t remember and “Hammer Gloves” on Melrose in Hollywood, made up of a Mom and Pop, Mr. And Mrs. Hammer.  All the great stuff.  He told me that the cowl was actually a hard shell underneath, because you know I had that scuba head I used.  I knew that looking at Adam’s that there was something under there holding it together.  That it wasn’t just a piece of fabric sewn together.  That there was something to hold it’s shape.  I think he said something about that he tried that, but it just didn’t look any good.  They had to have something hard there to make it look smooth.  And he was explaining that it was noted to the prop department to cast Adam’s head and made a full shell and kind of sketched it out to what it would look like. I was like, “ oh yeah…”  It’s starting to come back to me now.  And I’m like, “ [scratching his chin thinking hard] Actually, I would have to have my head cast…”  At that point it was too much of a thing.  But it was great,  just learning about all the stuff.
    He said that the thing that got him the job was that he costumed some obscure movie with Mounties in it.  And I guess Dozier or somebody had seen this movie and loved the red fabric and said, “ Good.  That guy has a great for color and fabric.  We got to call this guy”  So, that’s how he got the job on Batman because of the Robin vest.  They wanted it to look like the Mounty vest.  He said it was a great time because he got to meet all of these legendary stars and he went out to Liberace’s house and saw his closets and closets and closets of costumes.  {doing his best Liberace voice] “If you see anything in here you want to use, just take it.”  He [Jan] said that out of all the cool costumes that Liberace had the thing that tickled him [Liberace] the most was using the idea of  putting  him in a low-life sharkskin suit.  He thought that was just the coolest.  Here’s this guy in diamond studded costumes and furs but he loved the sharkskin, that he thought that was really cool.  And he was, ‘First of all, call me ‘Lee.’”

Scott:    I guess a question that probably should comes up is, “Was there anybody from cast members that  you didn’t get to meet or regret that you didn’t get to meet.” 

Wally:    [thinking really hard]  Umm…?

Scott:    Like Neil Hamilton or Stafford Repp?

Wally:    Yeah,  those two [he never met] and they were cool, but unlike Star Trek where I met everybody from the main cast except for McCoy…which that sucks.  But for Batman,  I think I pretty much met everybody.  I mean Neil Hamilton and Stafford Repp were okay, but I was more into the costumed characters.  I mean pretty much the four main villains: Riddler, Joker, Penguin and Catwoman.  And I met all the Catwomen, ‘cause I met Eartha Kitt at the Roosevelt Hotel singing for one of her cabaret shows.  And even Alan Napier, during the Fox Late Night thing, I got a great shot with him.  He was in his wheelchair.  Actually, it’s in the book.

Scott:    So nobody was missed?

Wally:    Maybe Vincent Price, not really because he’s Egghead, but because he was such a horror icon as well.  Never met him.  But Cesar was so great and so polite.  Yeah, I think I got to cover all the bases on almost all the Batman people, so I was really lucky.


Scott:    What would you say is the most fun thing about being in costume?

Wally:    Umm…there’s so many fun things.  I guess the look on a kid’s face.  Because when we were in Austin [ for a 2004 1966 Batman convention where he appeared with the Gotham Gang] it was cool  because the parents came to meet Adam, Burt and Frank.  But they said, “Oh Timmy…Batman, Robin and the Riddler are going to be there.”  Thinking that the kid is going to think Adam West, Burt Ward and Frank Gorshin, but as a kid,  he’s thinking of the TV show that he just saw last night which was over thirty-five years ago and that they are going to be there in costume.  So they mean different things to

 different people.  So the parents were there to meet Batman, Robin and the Riddler meaning Adam, Burt and Frank.  But the kids were there to see the costumed guys, because to him that was Batman, Robin and the Riddler.  So it was really funny, because the kid would say, “Can I get your picture or could I get your autograph Batman?”  And I’m like,” Well, don’t you want the real Batman and Robin?  Because they’re right over there.”  And they look at you like,” Whatta you mean?  That’s just a guy.  You’re Batman.” [laughs] So I’m there,” Okay then, I’m Batman.”  Because the folks are going to know, you know 
    But that is probably the coolest thing, to watch the kids study the suit.  Because I can put myself in their place when I first met Adam.  Maybe he thought I was checking him out, but I think he was probably use to be people just looking at the suit going,” Wow.”  But yeah,
that’s just so cool to look at that little face.  And they look at the boots because they never seen boots like that before.  And they get up to the cape and look at the points on the cape, and then they go to the belt and they just stop and look at the belt because they’re looking at the snaps, and if you have your cell phone or whatever on there then they’re looking at that and they look at the buckle and it just catches their eye.  And they just look at the gloves.  It’s funny to watch them try to check the whole out and drink it in  wishing that I could climb into their little skulls and wonder what they were thinking about.

Scott:    What’s the worst thing about being costume?  Adam complained about the cowl and the tights being itchy…

Wally:    Um...yeah… [thinking] All the stuff he hated about it we made improvements on.  A comfortable fabric.  Supplex is more smooth finish than the original tights that were kind of a Nylon and scratchy.  The boots are extremely comfortable.  The belt’s fine.  The cape is fine, though you kinda develop a thing for moving it around.  The cowl once I got it to a point where it was looser and I got the foam in it .  It sat there really nice.  I guess the lack of peripheral vision is the only thing I can think of.

Scott:    Now, from being around you and even looking around Wallywood, you have a lot of other interests other than Batman.

Wally:    Yeah, but very few interests that have hung around as long.  I kinda come and go on stuff.  I’m into Kiss and out of Kiss, into Austin Powers out of Austin Powers.  But, Andy Kaufman and Batman are the only to…well Batman is the longest thing that I’ve had and I’ve had that since I was five.

Scott:    Well, the other part of the question was that out of all these other interests, was there a point where you drifted away from Batman and then came back?

Wally:    When the TV series took a real low profile and it was the new Burton stuff I really got out of the whole Burton-rubber-black-Batman-thing, I was like, “I’m not much into it anymore.”  But once the series started showing up again and there were internet sites and showing up on TV again, I was like, “Oh, well this is kinda cool.”  But the whole violent Batman thing really…eh, I got out of it.  I’m not into that.

Scott:    Which leads to the last question.

Wally:    Uh oh, the pay off question.

Scott:    What would you like to see in Batman’s future?

Wally:    Well, the sixties thing is done.  There’s just no way they can recreate that.  The sensibility of popular culture is completely different and it was a show for its day.  And while it sure looks cool in re-runs and it sure is funny, they could never do that again.  First of all they could never find the correct cast members who could do those characters like that.  I mean it’s a formula that is lost.  Forever lost.
    Future of Batman?  I don’t really care. [laughs]  I’m not into the character anywhere beyond the TV show.  I use to be kind of.  But in ’66 you see the TV show and the comics kind of reflect that and then in the late sixties and then TV show goes off the air.  And then in the early seventies, and Batman is looking a little pointier and a little meaner.  By ’73, I was like,” Um…Batman’s not really speaking to me anymore.”  The heroism is gone, it’s just all about the darkness now, and it then it really got bad in the eighties and then I was ,”Man, I’m out.”  I used to be interested in the animated series, but now…beyond the ’66 show I have no interest in Batman.  If I see a guy in the new Batman costume, either the rubber suit or one of the official DC ones like at the comic conventions, I don’t go rushing over to get my picture taken.  I’m like, “ Nah, that’s not Batman.”  Batman to me was a cool TV show first and a cool character second.  It’s really all about the TV show.

    I think it’s cool if people the whole TV show and they like other movies and they like the
  animated series and if they are Batman fans all the way.  I started to realize later in the eighties when it started to change so much, “Wait a minute, this really isn’t Batman too me.  Maybe I’m really more into the TV show than I am the Batman character.”  I think that’s probably it.  So in retrospect, I realized it was really all about the show for me and not about the character and the other stuff at all.  But a lot of people are different.  A lot of people on the boards, you know, they like anything Batman.  Which is fine.  But only the TV show spoke to me.
    The future of Batman?  I don’t know.  God bless them and whatever they want to do with
him.  Just release those damn episodes on DVD.  That’s all I want.  I think that probably will be the big final swan song.  It’s finally out.  There’s’ nothing else to want after that.  The actors have appeared all over the world.  Everybody who has pretty much wanted to meet them has found some way to meet them.  Everybody who has wanted an autograph has found a way to get an autograph.  Everybody has their stories.  They’ve pretty much flooded the market.  The only component missing in the completion in the full circle of Batdom is the release of those episodes DVD.  Once that’s complete, then we’ll all be complete and happy Batfans. [laughs]

Scott:    Thanks Wally.