It’s become common practice among big-budget adaptations of pre-existing characters to honor the original actors with fleeting, unnecessary cameos. Wonder Woman 1984 featured TV’s Diana Prince, Lynda Carter, Ant-Man included a bit with Garrett Morris, who played the character in an early Saturday Night Live sketch, and even the recent Ghostbusters reboot featured a scene in which Bill Murray shows up and is seemingly murdered by a demon.
But weirdly, although Hollywood has churned out roughly 500 Batman movies in the past 30 years, Adam West, the late star of the classic 1960s Batman series, never made a token appearance in any of them. Why is that?
In the case of the 1989 Tim Burton movie, clearly, the production wanted to distance Batman from his campy, shark-repelling past. But Burton himself certainly isn’t opposed to honoring legacy actors with cameos -- his Planet of the Apes remake included a scene with Charlton Heston, either out of respect or just to rub in his face that the classic role he originated now belonged to the “Funky Bunch” guy.
But the real problem was that Adam West didn’t want a cameo; he wanted to play Batman. Right up until the ‘89 Batman, West was still trying to pitch Bat-projects -- and they were batshit insane. One of them involved a retired Bruce Wayne moving to New Mexico and battling a supervillain who kidnaps “college kids” and sucks out their brains aboard a “Zombie Satellite,” which West compared to a Nazi concentration camp. Yeah …
Before Keaton was cast, West wanted the gig but was told he was “too old.” According to West’s autobiography, he was “profoundly disappointed” to lose the job and argued that he could have “played the part differently” for the gothic movie. He also pointed out that his age wasn’t necessarily a drawback considering that The Dark Knight Returns was ”one of the biggest comic book hits of the 1980s.” And we’d just like you to step back for a moment and imagine Tim Burton’s Batman exactly as it is, but starring Jack Nicholson and a 61-year-old Adam West.
There were rumors that West was asked to cameo as Thomas Wayne, but he later claimed that they were false and that he would have turned the non-Batman part down anyway. West was further hurt by the way this franchise’s pivot towards grittiness meant that his “contribution to the [Batman] legend was ignored, ridiculed, and denigrated.”
Later came Christopher Nolan, who, unlike Burton, was actually a fan of the ‘60s show, which he took completely seriously as a child. When Nolan took the reins of the character, he even included several direct references to the ‘60s show, like the Joker’s mask from The Dark Knight and the fact that the climax of The Dark Knight Rises involves Batman not being able to get rid of a bomb --
– and seemingly dying to the horror of Robin.
But still, an Adam West cameo never happened. There was a rumor that he would pop up in The Dark Knight Rises, but that never materialized. And this time, Adam West was actually game; he talked about how much he loved the Nolan movies and suggested that he could cameo as … another Batman. But one who bursts through Bruce Wayne’s library window riding a giant bat for some reason. When Ben Affleck donned the black rubber jumpsuit, West suggested he could play Thomas Wayne, who is somehow back from the dead and who also slams through the goddamn Wayne library window.
Sadly none of these many Batman movies managed to find a way to incorporate a cameo from Adam West. The only modern Batman adaptation to properly honor West in a guest role was Batman The Animated Series; in the episode “Beware the Gray Ghost,” West plays a “has-been” actor who can’t land a job despite playing an iconic superhero on TV decades earlier. But it was his work portraying the Gray Ghost that inspired Batman to become the Caped Crusader. Clearly, the show’s creators were paying homage to the Batman they grew up with, making him the literal antecedent of their Dark Knight.
Thankfully the Gray Ghost only appeared in that one touching episode, so there was no sequel where he and the Riddler got hammered and crashed an orgy.
Top Image: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment