Watching Batman

 

Batman_and_Robin_1966-crop

There was not a color television at my house until 1970.  There was certainly a television – a 19 inch Admiral black and white “portable” TV that my parents bought some time before 1961.  Back then a “portable” television wasn’t meant to be actually carried around.  It only meant that it had a handle on the top and could roll around on the flimsy fake-brass cart with the clear plastic wheels that scraped across the linoleum floor as it was wheeled from the family room to the kitchen so that we could watch as we ate.  Which got me into some trouble once.

My mother liked westerns and for awhile one of the local stations (there were only three) showed reruns of Rawhide during dinnertime.  I was pretty young and don’t remember much about it, other than that the black and white cowboys who were on this perpetual cattle drive were never very fond of the food being served up by the grizzled old guy in charge of the chuckwagon.

After becoming immersed in the ways of the wild west, I sat down for dinner one evening to discover that whatever was on the menu was not something I would have chosen.  It could have been my mother’s potato soup, but I no longer remember.  In my best imitation of Rowdy or Pete, complete with the imagined big hat and a pair of six shooters at my hips, I asked the question I had heard on TV:  “What is this slop?”

My mother worked and was not fond of time spent in the kitchen.  She also had a bit of a temper.  Have you ever seen a missile launch?  I did that night.  I don’t remember exactly what happened after that, but it was dramatic, I assure you.  I am surprised that none of the tableware melted.

But I digress.

In 1966 black and white TVs were still the norm in my suburban neighborhood – except at Kevin Bordner’s house.  I was part of the second half of the baby boom and my neighborhood was chock full of kids my age.  We spent most warm days and evenings out in a group at each others houses.  Until it was time for Batman.

The Batman TV show went on the air in early 1966 so by the time the weather was warmer it had become a favorite of everyone in the neighborhood.  Everyone under ten, at least.  It was even more of an event because it aired two nights in a row every week.  The Wednesday episode would begin the story and end in a cliffhanger, guaranteeing that anything short of major parental discipline would see us in front of our sets to watch the exciting conclusion on Thursday.

That was the season that Kevin Bordner became the King of the neighborhood.  Kevin’s father was an attorney.  Kevin was their third son whose two older brothers were in college around the time the rest of us were 7 or 8, which had the effect of making him pretty much an only child.  Material wealth, no sibling competition (in the natural predator sense) and older parents who were probably ready to move on from the hard-core discipline that the older boys likely got, well, you get the picture.

It wasn’t really Kevin’s fault that he became a bit of a despot.  I think anyone in Kevin’s situation and at that age would have been tempted to do the same thing.  I know that I would have.  Our better nature usually needs some help to eventually come forward and his eventually did.  But 7 or 8 years old is usually too soon for that to happen.  In case you are curious, it got worse when his family got the neighborhood’s only in-ground swimming pool the following summer.

Every Wednesday and Thursday the ritual was the same.  One of us would be chosen to do his very best job of hiding the urgency in his soul and, as nonchalantly as he could manage, ask Kevin: “Do you think your parents will let us come over and watch Batman at your house?”  “I’ll see” was always the response.  And this was when the sucking-up started.  We knew that it was all in the question Kevin would ask.  “Can some friends come to watch Batman tonight?” is a lot different from “You’re not gonna let my friends come over to watch Batman tonight, are you?”  We all hoped that with enough buttering up, Kevin would ask “the good question” and then with some luck we would be soaking up our favorite show as the Good Lord himself intended that it should be watched.

Batman2

Just look at this scene.  It is plain that the stakes were high and we kids with black and white TVs knew it.

Looking back, I feel sorry for Kevin’s parents.  They probably only had one television like the rest of us, and adults in their 40s were probably ready to watch something other than Batman at the end of a long day.  I have no idea what else was on at that time on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, it was completely irrelevant to me.

About one time out of ten we would get invited over and crowd around the color TV to watch Adam West and Burt Ward mete out justice in Gotham City in glorious, spectacular, full, living color.   And anyone who has ever seen the show must acknowledge that if there was a show that just demanded to be seen in color, it was Batman.

We finally got a color television in 1970.  It is probably no coincidence that this was around the time that my Uncle Bob went to work for Magnavox, which meant that he could get us “a deal” on televisions.  Moving from a 19 inch black and white screen on wheels to a 21 inch color screen on wooden legs may not sound like a big deal, but let me tell you buster – it was.

I still remember the first show we tuned in:  It was a prime time prison escape movie called “Breakout” that has been forgotten by virtually everyone on the planet.  I didn’t really care what was on, just watching it in color was a huge improvement in our lives.  But I still remember a single regret that went through my head as we watched James Drury and his inmate cohorts make their way out of confinement:  if only we had gotten this grand Magnavox set four years earlier, I could have given Kevin Bordner some competition for the neighborhood crown.

19 thoughts on “Watching Batman

  1. “I didn’t really care what was on, just watching it in color was a huge improvement in our lives.” Thank you, Uncle Bob! 🙂 Isn’t it crazy to look back on your childhood and remember how huge a technological leap it seemed to go from black and white to color TV? Thanks for sharing your memories — and in so doing sparking a few of my own.

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    • And isn’t it hard to believe that it was once possible to be thrilled with a 21 inch screen? My Grandma later got a 25 inch color set (Uncle Bob again) and we thought it was positively decadent! And now my 50 inch screen seems so modest.

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      • You’re right that it’s crazy how our expectations have changed, JP. In our household we have one rule: If the screen is taller than I am, it’s too big. 🙂

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  2. We were a family that evolved from color to black/white and back to color.

    The huge RCA console television that was in use when I was born died around the time I was six or so. I can remember watching Hawaii Five-0 (in first run episodes of the original, infinitely better series) on the color TV (might I nominate Hawaii Five-0 as the second most demanding show to be seen in color?).

    That RCA died and we wound up watching TV on some ancient black and white set my father had purchased at a sale of used hotel televisions (the sale filled about half the rooms of the Howard Johnson’s in Cape Girardeau, it seemed). When that thing finally crapped out, which took a very long time, they broke down and bought a Magnavox color set in 1985.

    Jim, thanks for dredging up lost memories. As the old Virginia Slims commercial said, you’ve come a long way, baby!

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    • Yay Magnavox! I kind of experienced the same thing when I got out on my own. Mom replaced the 1970 TV with a new Magnavox set around 1983. I adopted the old one which still worked well. Until I moved in 1987 and it couldn’t handle the ride. I lived with a 13 inch black and white set for several months before I could afford to buy a real TV of my own. And by then consumer electronics had become so cutthroat that Uncle Bob’s employee discount couldn’t touch the prices being offered in the big stores.

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  3. We got colour (even better than color!) TV in the mid 1970s. A big RCA baroque cabinet. I remember being shocked: Gumby really was green, Fred Flintstone’s clothes were orange! Wow!

    Being not quite old enough to have seen Batman during it’s original run, I did enjoy it in syndication. One thing that strikes me now about Batman is that watching it as an adult you can tell those people are obviously having a good time making a silly TV show. Same is true of Gilligans Island.

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    • There really were a lot of silly (if not downright stupid) shows on TV in the 60s. A comedy about POWs in a German prison camp? Really? Or mountain people who struck oil and lived in Beverly Hills? But they were in constant reruns for years when I was a kid and I just considered them as normal entertainment.

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  4. Dad was a skinflint. The 1966 RCA b/w console kept working, so we kept using it….right through 1976. Now, I didn’t come along until 1967, so I missed Batman the first time around. But growing up in South Bend, and having fledgling cable television, I grew up on Chicago TV. Channel 32 ran Batman every afternoon for years.

    It was a revelation to finally see it in color!!

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    • The sad thing is that by the 70s, TV took color for granted and didn’t really use it for “Wow-Factor” like some shows did in the 60s.
      BTW, I had to laugh when you featured an essay with a similar theme on your Saturday edition a couple of weeks ago, as I had knocked about 85% of this one out the day before. Great minds, I guess. 🙂

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  5. Good read. Many of the men around your age have a strong love for this show. My dad was a pretty big fan of it as well back in the day; learning that was actually a turning point in my relationship with him: as I was enjoying the terrific and acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series in the 90s, it blew me away to learn that my father, who I never associated with such stuff, had been a fan of his own version of the character. It was one of the first cracks in my monolithic view (the kind most children initially have of their parents) of him and showed me that he was a human being with interests not entirely different than my own.

    I admit I sort of envy your generation in the shear variety of Batman you were able to experience first hand as the character developed over television and film. You were able to personally witness everything from the bright and fun Adam West show to the dark and gritty Nolan series. That’s quite a contrast to see over the years. It speaks to the strength of the character that so many valid interpretations exist.

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    • I will admit that the grim Michael Keaton version took a long time to gain traction with me. After Adam West set the template it was a little hard to adjust.

      I still remember introducing my kids to the Adam West Batman by renting the 1966 spin-off film (on VHS, of course.) Watching them get sucked into its campy fun was almost as enjoyable as the movie itself.

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  6. I wasn’t quite born yet when the Adam West Barman was on, but have seen a few episodes.

    The Micheal Keaton movies & the animated show from the ’90s would be my pick. The various movies of the last decade have been just relentlessly grim, and the ’60s version was just a little too silly.

    I think my folks got a color tv a year or so after I was born, so I don’t remember not having one, but I did watch a lot on the old b/w set we had as well.

    Like yours, it was “portable”. On the other hand, I once moved a “27 CRT up half a flight of stairs, which made the “19 set seem pretty reasonable.

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    • I think that one’s Batman of choice must be generational. The one you see first tends to become the standard you measure the others against.

      And yes, those big old tube Tv’s were nasty to move. I had a 32 incher at one time and wow, what a job!

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  7. I’ve only seen the Batman series in black and white. My family didn’t even get a TV until 1969, and it was B&W, but we spent the summer of 1966 in Colorado and our rental house had a TV. Batman was must-see TV for 9-year-old me. My parents didn’t get color until long after I left home in the late ’70’s.

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