Adam West, who portrayed Batman on TV for two years in the 1960s, died recently at 88. There have been Caped Crusaders since — the Batman movies invariably are blockbuster hits — but West is our favorite.
The eldest of our four kids took his time speaking — not necessarily a big deal, but, as new parents, we worried.
Number One was a cute little guy who scooted through our second-floor apartment in Albany — I was a reporter at the now-kaput newspaper Knickerbocker News — on a Tyke Bike, immensely enjoyed his morning bowl of Froot Loops and had great enthusiasm for the Batman television show.
Maybe it was the program’s cartoony “Pow” and “Wham” graphics that captured his 2 1⁄2-year-old attention, or Robin, the Boy Wonder, shouting campy things like “Holy Hi-fi!,” or Adam West — Batman, himself — in mask, pointy ears and all-purpose utility belt. Whatever the lure, Number One, sitting wordless before the black-and-white Zenith we paid off at $12 a month, was totally on board.
Time passed, Number One still withheld comment, and my wife, Wink, and I wondered what was going on.
In fact, it would take time — and speech therapy — for One to become fully conversational. He was going to develop at his own pace, no matter what.
As child and adult, setting a singular pace can have its ups and downs. Standouts are sometimes rewarded, often not. Number One learned that early. At nursery school, in the playground, things sometimes did not go so smoothly.
But, here’s the Batman angle.
One Albany evening, as the television warmed up and Number One took his usual seat in a kiddie armchair, Wink and I were doing the dishes. We looked over at our boy and smiled. He was, as they say, glued to the screen.
“Almost time,” we said.
He turned and nodded. The long week’s wait was almost over. The moment was at hand.
Theme music sounded the familiar “dat-a-dat-a-dat-a-dat-a” — a staccato warning to the world’s evildoers that Batman would not be deterred — and, as the chorus sang out the hero’s name, little Number One got out of his seat.
“Batman!” said the TV soundtrack.
“Ba-man!” echoed Number One.
Yes, indeed, the one and only Ba-man had arrived again to outwit the Joker and Penguin and still get back to Wayne mansion in time for dinner served by Alfred, his confidant and butler. Hurrah.
You’re not kidding — hurrah.
Number One had spoken his first word, the first of millions that would follow.
Relieved, Wink and I shouted and applauded. We laughed and so did Number One.
“Ba-man,” he said with conviction
For so inspiring our little boy, I’ve always been grateful to Adam West, who seemed to us a worthy incarnation of the character he portrayed. In real life, West said he was associated so closely with Batman that, at times, he had trouble finding other acting roles. But, as a Newsday obituary by Verne Gay said, West found peace. “I decided that since so many people love Batman, I might as well love it too. Why not?”
It would have been nice if Number One, now well into middle age, had been able to tell West the important part he played in a single life — how the elegant, pointy-eared, hero so captured the imagination of a wordless little boy that the name, Ba-man, burst forth like the soap bubbles One loved to blow.
The unexpected utterance was a start, a move toward language and connection with the wide, wide world. That was the main thing — to begin, press ahead, and, like Number One has always done, try and try again. Setback and success — for most of us, that’s how it works.
In all this, West had the right idea. Referring to his identification as Batman, West said: “I just embraced it.” His enthusiasm — that embrace — came through week after week and, during one memorable episode, drew a much-welcomed rave review from our own Boy Wonder.