Costume designer Jan Kemp's presentation from 1989:
(Jan Kemp with Wally Wingert in an Adam West style costume based on his design.)
I have often been asked the question, how did you come up with the costume ideas for the many Batman villains and their various Henchmen? I hope to answer that in my talk today and also tell you some anecdotes about the different stars who played the villains in the series, and how they felt about the costumes they wore.
My first thought on getting the assignment to costume the show, was to get my hands on every available Batman comic book that I could find, then shut myself up in a room with the phone off the hook and absorb all the impressions I could about the original comic strip characters and how they behaved. I soon realized that the series would require a whole new approach to the question of color and I decided to introduce a new and brighter combination of colors than had here to fore been used on television, and by so doing give my actor characters the same vivacity that their comic strip counterparts had.
At that time this approach was somewhat radical since the TV medium had been keeping to a sober middle-of-the-range color scheme in most of the shows and productions, but people soon began to notice what I was doing and I received many compliments on the color aspect of the show during the series.
I should mention that a lot of coordination was needed between myself and the other departments to ensure for example, that set decorators, set painters, property departments, etc. did not use the same colors as my costumes. I wonder how many times you have seen a television show in which perhaps an actress may be wearing a red print dress and go to sit on a red print couch near to some read print drapes and disappear into the background even more effectively than the invisible man ever did!
My first project was to design the Batman and Robin costumes which had to suit not only the characters but also be suitable for the actors to wear, also since I had the story outlines for the first few episodes I knew that my costumes would be in for a lot of rough usage due to action scenes and stunt work, etc. For the basic outfit on Batman I decided on Helenca tights and leotards of a good stretch fabric similar to those used in ballet dancing since I knew that these would take a lot of hard work.
The first minor complication came when I found that they were only available in black or white, so I had to get them in white and then dye them to the grey color I wanted.
Next came the cape, this had to be full and flowing so I shopped around for a blue polished satin fabric that would be light enough in weight to flow easily with action and movement and at the same time be strong enough to give a substantial period of wear without tearing or soiling too quickly. Then I had to find a similar fabric in a stretch satin that could be used for the cowl covers, trunks, gloves, boots. etc. And get a shoemaker organized to make the shoes, a glove manufacturer to make the gloves, the effects department to mold the cowls and teams of tailors and seamstresses to make the capes, and cowl covers and trunks, all of which will give you a hint of the leg work, preparation, and planning that was needed to put it all together.
Multiply these chores with the many extra outfits that were needed for action shots and stunt doubles, etc. and at the same time prepare designs for utility belts and the many pouches needed to carry his Batarang and the variety of tools and weapons he would need during the series and you can begin to see that being a costume designer is not as easy and simple as it may appear to be.
One secret I learned early in my career was to always remain calm and assured and thus inspire the people I relied on to do the various jobs, to get their work done and out on time and ready for use as the schedule required.
A similar routine had to be used in preparing the costumes for Robin. I used the same brand of tights for his legs as I had used for Batman and dyed them a tan color and then had to find a suitable gabardine fabric for the vest. I decided on a red fabric I had used some four years previously when I worked on a Fox film in Canada about the Canadian Mounted Police. The fabric for the police uniforms was exactly right for Robin's vest. Finding a yellow satin for the cape and green wool for the trunks was relatively easy, and a leather supply store in downtown Los Angeles had the right leather skins for his gloves and boots. Again I had to make each outfit in multiples to accommodate the action requirements of the show, as an example of this, do you remember the episode "Instant Freeze" when Mr. Freeze produced a half dozen decoy Batmen, and a half dozen decoy Mr. Freezes? There was a lot of work involved in making those twelve outfits.
Meanwhile, each project was multiplied a hundred fold with the preparation of costumes for the many villains who kept returning to wage war against the caped crusaders.
Of these guest villains I would like to talk about Burgess Meredith first, he was of course, The Penguin. I'm sure you have all seen penguins in the zoo, they are pompous little creatures with a peculiar strut all their own, it seemed a natural choice to fit Burgess Meredith in a slightly outdated black cutaway suit over body pads to give him a portly appearance. By the way, how many of you noticed that his vest was made of a fake fur fabric in white to resemble penguin feathers?
To top off the outfit, what better than a top hat in lavender, and of course spats on his shoes, cotton gloves on his hand, and the ultimate touch, a cigarette in a long holder.
Finally, what weapon would The Penguin use in his battles against the Caped Crusaders? There was only one camp logical answer, a bumbershoot (or umbrella to you) one that could shoot out a paralyzing gas at the touch of a trigger.
Burgess came up with some mannerisms of his own that were perfect for The Penguin, a duck-like waddle when he walked, and his famous sound when he was pleased with himself...quack quack! Actually, Burgess is a non-smoker and the quack quack sound was to cover up the fact that the smoke made him cough.
Inventing these costumes was a lot of fun in a creative sense. And in spite of the hard work and long days, there is a great satisfaction in seeing your ideas come to life.
When you think of a well-dressed actor who is a perfect gentleman and add the terms suave, debonaire and a man the ladies still swoon over, a consummate actor from stage and screen you are thinking of Cesar Romero.
When I learned that he was cast for the part of The Joker, I was hesitant to suggest to him that, as the Joker, he would have a white face and a green wig. His initial reaction was a hysterical laugh that broke us all up so much that he decided to make it his trademark in the show. I then told Cesar that although he was playing a clown in The Joker role, I would like to preserve the Cesar Romero image and fit him with a nice tail suit with striped pants. Cesar nodded soberly in approval as I continued. "Of course," I said, "it will be a purple suit with black stripes on the pants, the shirt will be green and you will have a floppy black tie and green socks." More of that famous laugh of his and we have been good friends ever since.
Frank Gorshin as The Riddler was a somewhat different proposition. At the time of his casting in the show, he was doing comedy routines in Las Vegas and around the country, and I spent a small fortune in phone calls discussing measurements and costume fittings etc. before we finally got together. At the fitting he kept the entire costume department in stitches with his jokes and very clever impressions.
I had decided to use more of the Helenca tights for his working outfit and in keeping with the character I put a large question mark on the front and back of his leotard. For a change of costume, I designed a three piece suit in green with a multi pattern of small question marks, worn over a dark green shirt with a light green tie and a bowler hat. I wonder how many of you noticed that his tie pin was...a jeweled question mark!
Vincent Price as Egghead was a pleasure to work with. The costume fittings and the fitting of the bald skull took quite a time, but throughout it all he was most patient and we had many pleasant conversations about show business in general and his roles in horror movies in particular. These roles were quite a contrast to his personal interest in art and we talked at length about his art gallery. He was keen to learn how I approached the matter of selecting and putting together the colors and fabrics of the various characters I designed the costumes for, and he mentioned that an artist's selection of color had a lot to do with the paintings he chose to display in his gallery.
During the period of the Batman series, Vincent was appearing in a play on Broadway and the New Yorker magazine interviewed him about his role in the Batman show. Later, Vincent sent me a letter and a clipping of the New Yorker article in which the reporter said, "Vincent Price was Egghead, with a splendid high rise head and wearing a beautiful white Tweeledum suit that Pierre Cardin ought to think about seriously." In his letter Vincent said, "It is always a pleasure to work with you. Thank you my Pierre Cardin of the costume department."
If you were to ask me what my biggest challenge in costuming the Batman series, I would have to answer that it came when the producers cast Victor Buono for the role of King Tut.
Victor was probably the largest actor in show business at that time. A gentle giant he stood nearly 6'5" tall, weighed over 350 pounds, had a hat size 8, needed a suit about 60xxl, had a huge waist, large hips, and needed a size 12 shoe. Imagine designing Egyptian robes and accoutrements for a figure these sizes! One costume of those dimensions is enough to give any designer a headache. Then the producers said they would need a stunt double, also a water wagon was going to burst and swamp King Tut with water. Well, now my problems became astronomical. Not only did I need an extra long measuring tape, I wound up with so many yards of fabric in the work rooms to make King Tut's costumes that the studio personnel would refer to me as "Omar the Tent Maker."
I think the most fascinating person to meet was Liberace. He had been engaged to play the dual role of Chandell, a concert pianist who had a crooked twin brother named Harry. And when I spoke to him on the phone, he suggested we have a meeting at his home in the Hollywood Hills. It was a mansion set high in the hills with a superb view of the Los Angeles basin.
We sat and talked in his fabulous living room filled with exotic crystal items, beautiful ceramic antiques, dozens of the famous glass candelabras sitting on rich wood side tables and on oriental cabinets. In one corner of the room was his favourite glass grand piano, in the opposite corner a Wurlitzer organ, with wall rugs and draperies, making a setting more lush than any movie set you may have seen.
Liberace had a way of making everyone feel at ease, immediately suggesting that I call him Lee. Then the housekeeper served us tea and English crumpets while we discussed the costumes he would need for the show. His valet took me on a tour of Liberace's wardrobe to pick out the costumes he would wear for the part of the concert pianist. The wardrobe was a series of rooms off a circular staircase each containing glass fronted cases with hundreds of the famous jeweled clothes hanging in row after row, each outfit complete with all its jewels and accessories. I could have spent a whole day there just browsing!
The following morning we met at the studio costume department where I was to fit him in the cheap shiny mohair suit that he would wear as Harry, the twin brother. It was like going from the sublime to the ridiculous but Lee took this all in good part and in fact told me, and I quote, that he enjoyed "this dressing up."
Contrasting the suit to the jeweled costumes I thought to myself that this was more like dressing DOWN! When we were shooting the scenes of Liberace doing the concert pianist part, it seemed that the entire studio staff tried to get on our sound stage to hear him play.
Of course one must not forget the ladies, bless them, who were equally as villainous as the men. Who could forget Julie Newmar as the puuuurrrfect Catwoman. That part was later played by Lee Meriwether in the Batman movie when Julie was working on another film. Then the third season with Eartha Kitt as Catwoman.
And what about Shelley Winters as Ma Parker, Ethel Merman as Lola Lasagne, Tallulah Bankhead as the Black Widow, Anne Baxter as Zelda the Great, Ida Lupino as Dr. Cassandra, and of course Zsa Zsa Gabor as Minerva and Joan Collins as The Siren.
We had a constant stream of celebrities who clamoured to play roles in the series. George Sanders was our first Mr. Freeze, a character who could only live in an ice cold temperature and my first design was for a space-like suit with a helmet to enable him to breathe in the normal atmosphere. Unfortunately, George Sanders found this helmet to be too restrictive for him, but since we were now shooting the episode there was not time to change the design of the costume. So, in later episodes when Mr. Freeze was played by Otto Preminger and then by Eli Wallach, I devised a circular collar with jets projecting refrigerated air to keep their heads cool, and made it easier for the actors to deliver their lines.
You probably noticed George Raft make a cameo appearance in a bank scene in the Black Widow episode. How many of you noticed Milton Berle play an unannounced part as a prison guard in the Ma Parker episode? Later he played a major role as Louie the Lilac, for which I used a loud plaid suit with a predominately Lilac color, and topped it off with a cowboy hat.
Talking of cowboys, we did two episodes with Cliff Robertson playing the part of the villain Shame, a sort of take-off of cowboy bad guys. For him, I used a combination of fringed leather and modern print shirts. My favourite character in those episodes was the somewhat dirty Mexican henchman in large sombrero and pancho, who spoke with an impeccable English accent. This is the kind of camp humour that the Batman series became known for, and we all had the aptitude for making things a little larger than life.
Some other examples that come to mind are David Wayne playing The Mad Hatter, a villain with a craving for hats. A famous Shakespearean actor, Maurice Evans playing the role of The Puzzler. For him the ideal costume seemed to be a Norkolk Suit with a Fedora hat and a flowing ascot tie. And Roddy McDowell as The Bookworm. Since his character was an avid book reader it was natural camp humour logic to attach a small extension reading lamp to his hat, a practical prop that he could switch on and off as he desired.
And of course the countless hoards of henchmen. Each villain or villainess had their own particular group of henchmen and in every case I would give them costumes preserving the look of the comic strip characters, but at the same time having a look applicable to the villain they were serving. For example, The Catwoman usually had henchmen who wore black pants, a tiger striped shirt, and a hat with fur ear muffs. The Penguin on his submarine in the movie had henchmen dressed in dungarees with striped shirts, wool caps and a swashbuckling belt reminiscent of the pirates of old. In keeping with the camp humour I would often print the henchmen's names on their shirts. For example, Hood #1, Hood #2, etc. In the Clock King, the villain called his henchmen Second Hand Three and Second Hand Five and so on. So I put a clock face on each shirt with a second hand only pointing to the hour.
For The Riddler, the producers asked how could I make his henchmen look like rats without spending a fortune on real rat costumes. I used hooded sweat suits with sneakers and had the make-up department give each of the henchmen a whiskered moustache, and hey presto. Instant Rats! All that remained was to have each actor twitch his nose once in awhile.
A major part of successful costume designing is the ability to visualize a concept that may only be a writer's words on paper, and then produce a tangible working outfit with the most practicality plus the least expense and thus keep the artists and the producers happy, and give you, the viewing audience a feeling that what you are seeing is believable and real. The successful costume should not be the dominant thing in the scene, but rather the adjunct to add to your viewing pleasure.
I hope that all the foregoing has given you some idea of the work involved, and the creative fun of designing the unusual in costumes. It was one facet of a multi-talented project that turned out to be one of the most successful series in television.
I like to feel
however, that much of that success was due to the costumes! Thank you.