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Farewell to Adam West

You don’t get to the top with a name like Archibald Leach or Norma Mortenson. That’s why they were changed: Cary Grant was born under the first name and Marilyn Monroe was born under the second. William Anderson did the same. That was the name he born under on 19th September 1928 in Washington, but not the name he became internationally famous under in the 1960s.

No, he used the name Adam West he when he played the superhero Batman. The same actor’s name, if not the same actin g role, might have taken him to fame in the nineteenth century. But if he’d been famous then, he would be long forgotten by now. Acting used to be like food: it had to be experienced in the moment, because it wouldn’t keep. Writers and artists could stay famous long after their deaths, because their achievements fixed in paper, paint or marble. Not so for actors.

Or not so back then. But all that changed with the advent first of film, then of video. Now there was a permanent record of an actor’s performance, one that could be revisited again and again, year after year. The Batman series in which Adam West starred for two hectic and action-packed years in the late 1960s is never going to be lost. It’s stored in too many formats and available in too many places. He’ll keep on winning new fans and securing the affections of old ones.

That was surely some consolation to him during the difficult times he experienced when the show ended in 1968. Few actors make it to the top and even fewer stay there throughout their careers. Batman was a soar-away success for the American network ABC, delighting audiences with its mixture of comedy and action. Adults appreciated the comedy and children thrilled to the action. Adam West and his co-star Burt Ward, who played Batman’s sidekick Robin, became famous around the world.

And in the 1960s fame guaranteed fun for all actors and musicians who wanted it. Batman on-screen was a clean-living character who upheld family values; Adam West off-screen lived an X-rated life of sexual adventure. It was the Swinging ’Sixties and West swung with the best of them. He said that women loved his costume and he was happy to let them have their way. But after those highs, the lows hit hard when the Batman series ended in 1968 and West had to adjust to his slide from the peak of celebrity.

This is a dangerous period for an actor or musician. The bigger the success they’ve enjoyed, the harder it is to lose it. They can seek to dull the pain with drink and drugs, then hit the headlines again in the wrong way: as victims of early death or trouble with the law. Adam West did seek consolation in the bottle as he struggled to find work after Batman ended, but he found success of another kind. It was after his fall from fame that he met and married Marcelle Lear, the love of his life. 

She was his third wife and they would stay together for the rest of his long life. A lot changed in that time for the world of entertainment: video and DVD revolutionized home-viewing, then the internet allowed the most obscure actors, films and programmes to find new fans right around the world. Adam West never became obscure and Batman is still one of the most popular and successful series ever made. He brought fun and laughter to millions and he’ll keep on doing so.