Jan Kemp's presentation from 1989:
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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."
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
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
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
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.