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Directing the Batman Pilot in 1966 interview with Robert Butler

Directing the Batman Pilot in 1966

Director Robert Butler talks about the origin of the Batman TV series that debuted in 1966.

“I did the pilot and then about three more, two or three more,” Butler recalls. “Bill Dozier, the head of Fox then, somehow singled me out. Lorenzo Semple the writer and I were very good friends. Maybe Lorenzo mentioned me to Dozier. Maybe I was just accruing enough credit so that I seemed the logical guy to do that.

What Lorenzo Semple was attempting to achieve was a live action comic book. “It was totally crazy, crazy material,” Butler says. “Lorenzo taking the spirit of it right out of the comic book and then twisting it with his ironic intelligence. It was crazy wonderful material and the crew didn't get it. I remember Jill St. John, a gorgeous actress of the time, perished in the bat generator that generated all his computer power. She went down. A puff of smoke came up, and that was the end of her. And because go-go dancing was in vogue at the time that Batman said, ‘What a way to go-go.’ Cut, print, move on. ‘Wait, wait, wait.’ The operator moves up to me and says, ‘Did you hear what you said?’ ‘Yeah, yeah.” Et cetera, et cetera. Anyway, he thought it was a mistake. And I said, ‘No. That's great. Onward.’

The crew remained baffled for several days of filming. “The guys were all kind of looking at each other for a couple of days,” Butler states. “Because it was so crazy. [Batman] explains the Riddler to the police commissioner and says ‘He contrives his plots like artichokes. You have to strip off spiny leaves to reach the heart.’ Now that isn't exactly a joke, but it ain't straight either. So the trick was to get that tone, kind of crazy, but not too cute. That's accurate, crazy, but uncute. A lot of fun. A lot of fun.”

As for the look of the series, which was revolutionary for the time, “Took a lot of the visuals right from the comic book,” Robert Butler says. “The Dutched angles, pow, biff, swat, crash. Took that right from the comic strip in the garish colors, sadly. We should have taken it a little easier with those colors, but that's my bias creeping in there too, about primaries.

“Dozier, I learned later from biographies that I read, was a very savvy Hollywood producer and executive who knew writers and knew how a script should be prepared, et cetera. That was his big skill. He had been previously, or maybe subsequently, President at CBS here on the coast. So he knew his way around and was a very savvy guy, as I said. And when I got on the thing, he said, ‘Hey, don't get funny. Just remember, play it straight.’ And what he meant was don't let it get cute. I didn't quite even know what he meant, but I sensed it in my own terms and that was the only discussion ever.”

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