Sunday, May 20, 2012
YEAR 1966: THE CATWOMAN
Prior to the 1966-68 teleseries, Catwoman, like the rest of Batman's classic villains, had never been translated to audiovisual media. For its first season, the BATMAN producers seemed incapable of making a bad casting-choice-- though they'd make up for it by going in the opposite direction in the following two seasons.
Like the other villains introduced in the first season, this version of Catwoman is a ruthless career criminal, capable of double-crossing a hireling at a moment's notice. Unlike the comics-Catwoman, the villainess appears more than willing to kill the Dynamic Duo on several occasions. She becomes a little more merciful in the second season, when the writers incorporate her frustrated desire for Batman, and on occasion she merely tries to reduce the Crusaders to helpless slaves rather than killing them. Nevertheless, even the more merciful death-traps have a strong sadistic vibe.
Strangely, though Julie Newmar only played the role once in the Spring 1966 season, the version of Catwoman that appears in the big-screen BATMAN movie-- quickly filmed in the summer to take advantage of the teleseries' mammoth popularity-- seems a much less formidable character-- perhaps making it fitting that she's played by another actress, Lee Meriwether. In all likelihood this bush-league Catwoman came about because the scripter chose to focus on the evildoing of her three male partners-- Joker, Riddler, and Penguin. Still, she seems to possess so little supervillain-moxie that one wonders why she's even in the group. Her only skill appears to be her ability to pull off a masquerade as a Russian journalist, which seems to have no great relevance to the villains' overall scheme. That scheme rested on the improbability that the Batman in this filmic universe had never seen the Princess of Plunder unmasked, but I doubt that the scripter was even thinking of continuity here.
In the second season Newmar returned to the character and she takes on a much stronger persona once more, in spite of being played for more romance and more humor. Like the TV-Batman she makes a lot more use of super-scientific gadgets than the comic-book character had up to that point, but resembles the comic-book version in that neither possessed any martial abilities.
Newmar was perhaps wise not to play the character in the third and last season. The character was played with some aplomb by Eartha Kitt, though the plots had become silly and threadbare.
During this period Catwoman made her first prose appearances, in an original novel-- BATMAN VS. THE THREE VILLAINS OF DOOM-- and in a novelization of the film, retitled BATMAN VS. THE FEARSOME FOURSOME, both credited to one "Winston Lyon." Interestingly, THREE VILLAINS describes Catwoman's costume along the lines of her classic green-and-purple togs.