In the mid ’60s there was a marvelous impressionist and comic named Frank Gorshin whose biggest claim to fame was playing The Riddler on Batman, the corny TV series starring Adam West and Burt Ward. Later, in his memoir, Adam West told the backstage account of the Batman series. The amount of acid taken by stars and co-stars was mind-boggling. A lot of counter-cultural figures found work on Batman; Wally Cox (the Bookworm), a Brando confidant, Tallulah Bankhead, the regally slutty bi-sexual Grand Dame of stage and Screen, Caesar Romero, the elegant and deeply closeted Joker, Victor Mature as King Tut, and Lee Meriweather, who launched a million teen-age hard-ons as Cat Woman.
It was a goofy show and a lot of fun. Gorshin appropriated Richard Widmark’s devious cackle from Kiss Me Deadly and made the Riddler limber, scary and kind of crazy. Gorshin was a gifted actor in dramatic roles as well. He also made a name for himself in Vegas as a crack impressionist and stand-up comic. He was one of those old-school guys who could act, dance, and do comedy. In short, he was an entertainer. He was not a big guy. He was rather built like an acrobat and his talent was rendered of this sensiblity as well. Reflexive, quick, percussive are the words I think of when seeing old clips of him working four or five different personalities into his bits of mimicry. The stuff today’s comics don’t do nearly as well.
Part of what I loved about the Riddler was the outfit; a sickly green, laden with question marks. As a kid I could not stop drawing this costume. It intrigued me and it still does in an existential, comic kind of way.
We are all different identities to different people. We are not the same people around our friends as we are around our parents. Men are not the same way around women that they are around other men. Our personas shift shape and we acclimate according to what is appropriate for the company we are keeping.
What if we didn’t do that? What if, right in front of our mother we outed with: “That Angela Jolie is smokin’ hot. I’d like to floss with her thong.” This would probably be thought to be inappropriate, no?
I like certain costumes and uniforms. They are there to function as a reminder, to the wearer, of who they are at that moment. What the Riddler’s costume told you is that he wasn’t sure who he was going to be from one minute to the next, and boy, I liked that. The whole nut-factor has some appeal for me. I loved this kind of thinking as a kid. Sitting in my Cathlic school with a bunch of twats dressed in Cub Scout uniforms like douchebags made me feel glad that I wasn’t one of them. Like I hadn’t been captured by the hall monitors who wanted to tell you who you could be. I only wanted to be like myself.